Jim Wright, who keeps this blog for the N.J. Meadowlands Commission, also writes a twice-monthly nature column for the South Bergenite. Here’s his latest, an interview with 2013 Big Year winners Ray Duffy and Dennis Cheeseman:
The results of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission’s 2nd Annual Big Year competition are in, and it turns out that 2013 was quite a year for birding in our own backyard.
More than dozen birders competed to see who cvould see the most species of birds in the Meadowlands last year. The overall winner, Ray Duffy of Secaucus, tallied 187 species, and Dennis Cheeseman of Camden County took first place in the “out of district” division.
In honor of Ray’s victory, the Bergen County Audubon Society is donating $220 worth of native plants to DeKorte Park in Lyndhurst, the home of the NJMC, and both Ray and Dennis are receiving several nifty prizes, including NJMC pontoon boat rides for two, a year’s membership to the Meadowlands Environment Center, and copies of the coffee-table book, “The Nature of the Meadowlands.”
We asked Ray and Dennis to share their thoughts about participating in the event.
Why do you participate?
Ray: I live and work in the area and I am a very active birder.
Dennis: The big year gives me the incentive to go out and find something new each day and then brings the enjoyment of comparing what I find to previous years’ tallies. In addition, I love to walk, so as I walk around I love to hunt for the pictures I shoot. Things change from season to season, birds migrate, flowers bloom and die, so it is always something different even though you may be in the same spot.
What bird are you most proud of seeing this year?
Ray: I found a female Red Phalarope Harrier in Meadow during the World Series of Birding. It was a big surprise as a big thunderstorm had just rolled through, and a breeding-plumage female was swimming in one of the pools — extra neat because the female is more colorful than the male.
Dennis: There are so many to choose from, but birds that are rare for this area come to mind first — American Avocet, Nelson’s Sparrow and Hudsonian Godwit.
What was your biggest surprise?
Ray: The American White Pelican that showed up in Kearny Marsh in February. It’s an unusual bird for the state and really unusual for the time of year.
Dennis: That I won! There are so many people out there looking, I am just honored to have been lucky enough to see what I have seen.
Has your opinion of birding in the Meadowlands changed since you started competing?
Ray: I’ve known for years that our area is an underrated spot for birding. I’m still surprised by what shows up here sometimes.
Dennis: Before I started walking the Meadowlands, it was just a spot to drive by on the turnpike. Once I got into walking and birding in the parks, I found many places to visit with a wide range of habitats. I had no idea. Now, I try and hit a different park each day on my early-morning or lunchtime walks.