On Saturday, May 12, before sunrise, a team of three intrepid birders will begin scouring Bergen County for as many species of birds as they can find in one day.
The team is the Meadowlands Marsh Hawks, led by N.J. Meadowlands Commission naturalist Mike Newhouse, and their goal is simple: to raise money for a new native-plant garden for birds and butterflies in DeKorte Park.
The Marsh Hawks, named after one of the region’s signature raptors, a.k.a. the northern harrier, are competing in the World Series of Birding, a New Jersey event known around the world.
The Marsh Hawks will compete for the second year in a row in the “Limited Geographical Area” category, counting only the bird species they see in Bergen County. Last year, they saw 127 species — good for an impressive second place in the category their very first time out.
For Newhouse, the event is a perfect fit: “The World Series of Birding is a fun way to promote birding not only in New Jersey but also in the Meadowlands, since it is a big part of the area we’ll cover on May 12.”
One reason that Newhouse and his fellow Marsh Hawks, Chris Takacs of Lyndhurst and Mike Wolfe of Hackensack, will spend so much time and energy on the Meadowlands is because of its diverse habitats. And they pass along what they learn to the rest of us.
“One of the cool things about competing in the World Series is that it gives us a great snapshot of all the birds in our area this time of year,” says Newhouse. “And this time of year is absolutely prime time for bird-watching in the Meadowlands because we have so many new arrivals as well as birds migrating through our region along the Atlantic Flyway.”
Last year, for example, brought a couple of surprises. The team found a boat-tailed grackle along Berry’s Creek in Rutherford and a very early black skimmer roosting on a mudflat in Harrier Meadow in North Arlington.
The team raises money for environmental projects in the Meadowlands by asking the public to pledge money to the team — either a certain amount per species or one lump sum.
“Last year we were raising funds to support the bird banding project that is taking place at Harrier Meadow and Erie Landfill,” says Newhouse. “Our supporters helped us raise more $2,300 for equipment that helped us have the best bird banding season since we started in 2008.”
This year’s goal: to see 140 species and raise over $3,000 for that new native-plant garden.
Says Newhouse: “We want to create a refuge for butterflies and birds, but also allow people to come and enjoy these critters up close.”
For more information on the Meadowlands Marsh hawks, go to http://bit.ly/HOAYhL. (Make donations payable to the N.J. Meadowlands Commission.)