Here is NJMC Staffer Jim Wright's latest "Nature Next Door" column for The South Bergenite's latest editions:
As readers of this column know well by now, the N.J. Meadowlands Commission’s DeKorte Park is a great place to go birding.
But did you know that it is also a great place to go cross-country skiing and – better yet – bird-watching while cross-country skiing.
When Lyndhurst got seven inches of snow last week, I took advantage of the opportunity and brought both my binoculars and cross-country skis to DeKorte Park.
Few people realize that after a solid snowfall, this one-square-mile park is a great place to ski, and for several reasons.
First of all, the Transco Trail (just beyond the Administration Building) is flat as an pancake and straight as an arrow for almost a mile. If you park in the far lot at DeKorte, you can ski the adjacent Transco Trail a half-mile to the western spur of the New Jersey Turnpike, and then ski back all the way to the Amvets Carillon on Disposal Road – a full mile.
Throw in the return trip to the parking lot, and that’s two miles of skiing. The trick is to get there just after a snowfall. The trail does get plowed.
The easy alternative is the park’s Lyndhurst Nature Reserve, which offers less room to ski but plenty of birds.
Keep in mind that DeKorte Park can be windy. Skiing into the wind can be bracing, and sometimes the snow gets blown off the trails – though the latter was not a problem last Wednesday when I did my little lunchtime ski birding trip.
If you bring binoculars while you cross-country ski, you can do some great birding along the way. In fact, with a lot of snow on the ground, it is actually easier to travel around DeKorte on skis than on foot due to the depth of the snow in places. At one spot in the Lyndhurst Nature Reserve, a drift was above my knees and I just pushed through it on my skis.
But here’s the coolest part: You can really see some great birds, and you can get closer than usual (at least I did). On my lunchtime ski birding, I had 10 species of duck: American black duck, mallard, northern shoveler, northern pintail, canvasback, lesser scaup, bufflehead, hooded merganser, common merganser and ruddy duck.
What was really neat was the way I could get closer than usual. Maybe it was because of the skis and maybe it was because of the cold, but usually timid Green-winged Teal swam and foraged on a nearby mudflat while I watched with binoculars from my skis.
You may see some great raptors as well. I have been seeing northern harriers and red-tailed hawks daily – typically several at a time. You also have a decent chance of seeing a peregrine falcon, an American kestrel, a red-shouldered hawk or even a bald eagle. And you get a nice workout in the process.