A Profile of Disposal Road

We recently wrote a column for The South Bergenite about one of our favorite birding spots, Disposal Road, which was until recently (as far as we know) the three-month home base for a Northern Shrike. Here's the column:
   Where is the best birding spot in all of the Meadowlands?
   For most people, several spots managed by the Meadowlands Commission come to mind – from Mill Creek Marsh in Secaucus to DeKorte Park in Lyndhurst to the Kearny Marsh.
   But for the past few months, a little-known two-lane road named Disposal Road just might hold the crown.

 IMG_7343   The road, which got its name because it used to provide garbage-truck access to the Erie and Kingsland landfills, has seen better days. Caught in a no-man’s land of sorts between Lyndhurst and North Arlington, the road is a latter-day minefield of speed dumps and potholes,  even though many of the ruts have been repaved recently.
   The roadway now leads to an AMVETS carillon, a methane-recovery plant and a PSE&G substation, but bird-watchers have found far more lively attractions, beginning with a Northern Shrike, a rare predatory songbird that flew in from the Arctic in mid-December and has been terrorizing mice and smaller birds ever since.
   Because the shrike is elusive – it can disappear for hours or days at a time, bird watchers tend to spend a lot of time looking through binoculars. They may not see the shrike every time, but they sure have seen a lot of great birds – including a virtual who’s-who of raptors.
   Here are some of  birds at the top of the food chain that have been seen from Disposal Road since mid-December: several bald eagles, a great horned owl, a rough-legged hawk, umpteen northern harriers (including the rare and striking male, a.k.a. “the Gray Ghost”), Cooper’s hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, merlin, kestrel, peregrine falcon, turkey vulture and the ubiquitous red-tailed hawk.  For those keeping score at home, that’s an amazing 11 species of raptor.
    What’s more birders recently have seen snow bunting, pheasants (in North Jersey virtually non-existent outside of the Meadowlands), the first Meadowlands killdeer of the spring, and — just last week – the first tree swallow of the season.
   It turns out that there’s a name for the Disposal Road phenomenon: the Patagonia Picnic Table Effect.
   Just when I had seen it all on Disposal Road, I got perhaps the biggest surprise of all.
   As I was driving down the road at dusk earlier this month, I watched in awe as a big and beautiful coyote ambled across the roadway. It was a wily one at that.

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