Last week, I participated in my third Christmas Bird Count in the Meadowlands, and I saw all sorts of amazing birds.
(American Kestrel, right)
They ranged from a Common Raven perched on a pole on Chubb Avenue in Lyndhurst to bald eagles all over — in a Carlstadt marsh, a DeKorte Park electrical transmission tower, and a North Arlington landfill.
The Meadowlands Commission’s team of six, split into two groups, covered most of the major birding areas in the district west of the Hackensack River.
We were once again reminded of how many great birds the 30.4-square-mile district attracts – even in winter, a time when folks tend to think most birds have headed south for some R & R.
The reason is simple, says NJMC Naturalist Mike Newhouse: “The habitats in the Meadowlands are diverse, and they attract many species during the winter.
The open-water impoundments and tidal areas attract several waterfowl. The uplands support birds with an abundance of fruit and berries. The fallow lands are perfect of raptors and sparrows.”
At DeKorte alone, we saw America’s largest raptor, a bald eagle, and our smallest raptor, an American Kestrel — both perched near the entrance and easy to spot.
All told, we counted 62 species over roughly 11 hours, with highlights that included a great horned owl, three barn owls, snow buntings, horned larks and a great cormorant.
Fourteen of the 62 species – or more than 20 percent – were ducks, once again confirming the region’s reputation as a prime destination for wintering waterfowl.
In fact, these days, DeKorte Park has become DucKorte Park – with more than 10 species often here at the same time.
What’s the attraction? Food.
“The variety of marsh plants produce an abundance of seeds that ducks feed on,” says Newhouse. “And the micro-invertebrates in the water provide them with food as well. Also, the Meadowlands has several types of water bodies such as freshwater ponds, tidal flats, and impounded brackish water. These habitats attract different species.”
For Newhouse, one of the highlights of the Christmas count was a duck seldom in the district, a long-tailed duck. “It’s primarily a sea duck, so it’s unusual to be seen inland,” he says.
The best places to look at ducks are in the Saw Mill mud flats along the Transco Trail, the back of the Marsh Discovery Trail, and in Teal Pool, also along the Transco Trail.
On a lunchtime walk last week, I saw the long-tailed duck and another rarity – a common goldeneye – as well as canvasback, American black duck, northern pintail, northern shoveler, bufflehead, ruddy duck and more.
If you plan to see these beautiful waterfowl, we suggest dressing warmly (it can get cold and really windy out there by the open water) and bringing a good pair of binoculars – if not a spotting scope. If you plan to take photos, a telephoto lens is a good idea.