Daily Archives: February 17, 2011

South Bergenite: Pheasants and more

The NJMC's Jim Wright, who keeps this blog, also writes a nature column for The South Bergenite. His latest is on Ring-necked Pheasants and other winter birds. You can read it here:

It may be mid-winter, but the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission’s DeKorte Park and environs are buzzing with unusual birds.  

   Not only are the Canvasback Ducks, the Rough-Legged hawks and the White-crowned Sparrows — our visitors from Canada – still hanging around, but we also have been treated to great looks at a bird that has become increasingly rare just about everywhere else in the state.

    The bird is the Ring-necked Pheasant, and its size and wonderful plumage make it like no other bird around.

   The great thing is, you can see all four of these birds within a few hundreds yards of each other – albeit with a little luck.

   The pheasants, the Rough-legged Hawks and the White-crowned Sparrows have been regularly along Disposal Road by the AmVets Carillon. The canvasbacks have been rafting by the dozen in the Saw Mill Creek Tidal Impoundment in nearby DeKorte Park.

    “The Meadowlands are the perfect place for ring-necked pheasants for three reasons — food, cover and water,” says NJMC naturalist Mike Newhouse. “Our closed landfills provide all three requirements.”

    The landfills, Newhouse explains, are covered with mugwort, which produces plenty of seeds each fall. Also, phragmites provides protection from predators. And pheasants also like to be near wetlands – which they are abundant here.

     The Rough-legged hawks are beautiful cousins of our common Red-tailed Hawk. They flew down from Canada after food supplies got scarce, and have been seen hunting over our closed landfills ever since.

  That’s great news, since these hawks visit our region sporadically. Last year, for example, only one was seen — and then only for a couple of days. This year as many as five Rough-legs have been spotted.

  Although these large hawks come in two plumages, light morph and dark morph, this year we have had primarily light-morph rough-legs.

   The Canvasbacks and White-crowned Sparrow are dependable winter visitors. The only questions each year are when they’ll arrive and how long they’ll stay. We typically see them just about every day from mid-December and then, before we know it, they’re gone.

   The adult White-crowned Sparrows are easy to spot because of the three white stripes on top of their heads. The juveniles are harder to identify. Aside from their pinkish bills, they are a one-way ticket to Drabville.

   The Canvasbacks are easy to find in the Saw Mill Creek Tidal Impoundment because they are large ducks with reddish brown heads, black chests and light bodies, and they tend to raft in large groups. 

   “The canvasbacks and other waterfowl should still be plentiful as long as the water doesn’t freeze,” says Newhouse.

All About “Snake Hill”

Laurel Hill in Secaucus is the locale for many of our free guided walks, including one next month — on Sunday, March 20. But the site offers more than great birds — it offers an amazing history lesson as well.

Laurel hill present
Rising 150 feet from Laurel Hill County Park in Secaucus and abutting the eastern spur of the New Jersey Turnpike, Snake Hill is a common sight for Secaucus residents and those passing through town on the Turnpike.

Officially known as Laurel Hill, the rock formation’s summit offers spectacular views of Laurel Hill Park.

Just as impressive is Snake Hill’s fascinating history as the one-time home to Hudson County’s most notorious institutions, including the County’s Almshouse, Penitentiary, Asylum and Tuberculosis Sanatorium. Laureal hill 1948

Snake Hill 1948

Hudson County purchased Snake Hill in 1855. At the time the rock jutted 200 feet into the sky, and its base area consisted of 25 acres of rugged open space.

As legend goes, early Dutch settlers found the rock infested with  numerous snakes as long as 15 feet. They named the area “slangenberg,” Dutch for Snake Hill. L. E. Travis, editor of the Bayonne Evening News, reported in the late 1870s that, upon sailing the Hackensack River near Snake Hill, “for not less than a quarter mile of shoreline, the steep bank was a mass of hissing, squirming, villainous water snakes.”

The County Almshouse was constructed in 1863 to provide a home to the feeblest of the region’s residents. A penitentiary followed in 1870. The asylum was built in 1873 with accommodations for 140 patients. A county general hospital, a tuberculosis sanatorium, a boy’s camp and churches were soon added to the sprawling base of the hill.

A report produced in 1873 noted that 427 people were housed in the almshouse at a cost of $89 per person per year. A new almshouse was built later and the original facility came to serve as an infirmary. The number of residents at the Almshouse increased to 689 by 1913, with the per capita cost of care soaring to $150 per year.

Click “Continue Reading …” below for more on the history of Snake Hill Continue reading

What Will Be the ‘Next Big Thing’?

A friend of this blog wrote in to ask:

"I wonder what the 'next big thing' will be, after Bald Eagles, Gray Ghost (above, from Tuesday's Mill Creek Walk), Short-eared Owls, Pheasant, Rough-legged Hawks– Northern Shrike?"

We think that ship may have sailed for this winter, but one of the great things about the Meadowlands is you never know what might drop in.

What do you think? Suggestions welcome!