Thanks so much to Regina Geoghan for sharing her thoughts on last Thursday’s Birding By Boat trip in vivid detail with some great analogies. We look forward to more of Regina’s writing!
A slight breeze ruffled the humid, warm air under hazy skies, foretelling a sultry, hot August afternoon to come. At 10 a.m.,though, it was comfortable as people boarded pontoon boats for a trip along the Hackensack River and its tributary creeks.
Birders of all levels, binoculars and cameras ready, were eager to head out to explore the sights and sounds that the New Jersey Meadowlands waters and marshland would reveal to them on this day. Gulls and cormorants, perched on marina poles, squawked a bon voyage as we departed and headed south.
With the boats purring along at a leisurely pace, the breeze picked up, and the magic of the Meadowlands took hold. Before long, a few Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets were spotted on the river banks and any thoughts other than enjoying the peacefulness and the anticipation of the trip were blown away with the gentle wind.
Winding down and around the river, slightly different environments unfolded with each new turn, like walking from room to room in a lovely, aged home, where each room has its own special ambiance. At first, bordered by the urban life along Meadowlands Parkway on the left and the hum of turnpike traffic on the right, the group traveled under Route 3 bridges on gently rolling current past sunlit banks, where gulls congregate and egrets, herons and ducks fly in and out.
Heading into tributary channels and creeks, the waters settled and smoothed, glasslike at some points. Stillness and silence reign with marsh cordgrass reaching towards the sky, blocking signs of civilization. Diamondback Terrapins sunbathe on rocks and creek banks. Black-crowned Night Herons, Great Blues and Snowy and Great Egrets are visible, letting boats get close but not too close before fluttering off a few feet to their safe space.
A clapper rail is spotted, camouflaged by shade at the base of a clump of grasses. Here it is easy to let thoughts wander into imagining what these wetlands were like when Native Americans paddled through the then pristine waters and the white cedar swamps of those times to fish and hunt.
At almost low tide now, another turn brings large spans of mud flats into view where Sandpipers, Yellow legs, a Plover and other shorebirds scurry about and share space with the egrets and herons, all feeding on bounty revealed by the retreated waters.
Continuing on and passing by Laurel Hill Park, yet another environment emerges with multiple bridges, tall towers and other manmade structures competing with the serenity of the river. An Osprey is seen flying in and then perching high above its nest on a tower beam to savor a fresh catch.
Two Peregrine Falcons are spotted in the shade of a bridge underside and the boats slow to almost a halt while binoculars search for a view of them. It’s a place to marvel at the adaptability of these raptors as they use the progress of man to their advantage for shelter and safety.
With the noontime sun high in the sky, it was time to head back up the river and return to the marina. The hours had passed too quickly and I wasn’t ready for the trip to end. Yet, at the same time, it felt as though I had been on a long, relaxing, meditative retreat somewhere far from the hustle and bustle of the urban city life we lead.
The trip was a wonderful sampling of the amazing environment that comprises the New Jersey Meadowlands District and a great way to be reminded of what a treasure this oasis is, and how important it is to preserve it.
Back at the docks, the gull and cormorant sentries were there to welcome us back, some atop the poles, some napping on the pier and several cormorants dipping into the river for an underwater swim and their lunchtime meal.
Sadly, time to leave the river and do the same, although I opted for a cold drink in a glass and a nice crispy salad, in lieu of raw fish. A big thanks to Bergen County Audubon Society for sponsoring the trip. Information about BCAS events can be found on the group website and schedules for NJSEA 2017 pontoon boat cruises and canoe trips can be found on the NJSEA website.
-Regina Geoghan, August 2017