Last week, I went on a sneak preview of the 2011 New Jersey Meadowlands Commission’s pontoon boat rides, and all I can is: Wow!
I had not been on the river in nice weather since last September, and I had almost (but not quite) forgotten what an amazing place the Hackensack River is.
The two-hour cruise, which began at Laurel Hill County Park in Secaucus, was not only a delightful way to spend a sunny spring morning but it was also packed with one highlight after another — from rare birds to rare turtles, with plenty of great scenery in between.
Column continues below, with pic of Yellow-crowned Night Heron.
For me, the first trip on the river each spring is filled with both anticipation and concern. Several threatened and uncommon species have nested on the Hackensack River each spring in recent years, but there is never a guarantee that they will return.
You can see some birds, like the nesting common ravens at Laurel Hill, with a pair of binoculars from an easily accessible location, but the only way to get a real good look at others is by boat.
So as we headed out onto the river, questions start to creep into my mind. Would the ospreys be nesting again by the swing bridge in Kearny? Would the peregrine falcons return to under the Route 3 Bridge? Would we see yellow-crowned night herons in the marshes just south of Harmon Cove? And, as one fellow passenger wondered aloud, would we see any bald eagles?
One by one, Mother Nature addressed my concerns. By the swing bridge, I could see an osprey perched in the nest, as she had the past two springs. I couldn’t help but hope that this would be the third year in a row that the nest produced offspring.
Moments later, as the 20-foot pontoon boat throttled along the river, a distant osprey flew nearer and nearer, until it glided past the boat. The hawk flew so close we could see, with our naked eyes, that the osprey was clutching a large fish in its talons.
Next we saw a yellow-crowned night heron, in full breeding plumage, walking along the back of Anderson Creek Marsh.
At the Route 3 Bridge, we spied a peregrine falcon perched atop an abutment. At the entrance to Mill Creek Marsh, we saw a diamondback terrapin, a national species of special concern.
And, as if on cue as we returned to the dock at Laurel Hill, a bald eagle flew directly overhead.
The past few years have been incredible when it comes to imperiled birds and other wildlife making a comeback in the Meadowlands District. Last week’s boat trip was confirmation that that the great birds are back, and the river — backbone of the region and bellwether of its environmental health continues — its remarkable comeback.