Let me tell you about a rare bird that has been hanging out in North Arlington for more than five weeks.
It is an American avocet, a beautiful shorebird with a thin, upturned bill, and it has found a home in a 70-acre New Jersey Meadowlands Commission natural area called Harrier Meadow.
NJMC Naturalist Mike Newhouse and Lyndhurst birder Chris Takacs found the bird the Monday morning after Hurricane Irene ripped through area. The storm probably sent the 18-inch-high bird off-course.
“The American avocet is usually found south here, and Delaware and beyond,” says Newhouse. “Texas is a great spot to see them.”
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That’s why news of the find brought birders from all over the state to see the bird – including a couple of ardent bird-watchers who had driven to the Jersey Shore several times in an unsuccessful attempt to add the bird to the list of species they have seen in New Jersey in 2011.
“Birders in this state flock to see this bird because it is an uncommon bird this far north,” Newhouse explains. “This bird usually shows up in New Jersey along the coast a couple of times per year, but it is unusual to find them this far inland.”
Last year, an Avocet hung out in the Shorebird Pool in DeKorte Park for a few days in August, and one was seen from a pontoon boat in Secaucus, but previous sighting have been few and far between.
As a result, Mike and I ran a couple of special noontime walks at Harrier Meadow so birders could see the avocet before it split — but the little guy seemed to like it here.
In early September, I jokingly posted on the NJMC nature blog that I hoped the avocet would hang around for the Meadowlands Festival of Birding in mid-month.
Incredibly, the bird hung around and became one of the highlights of the event. Even more incredibly, it has been hanging around for at least 3.5 weeks after that.
A few things we have learned about this avocet. It is fairly oblivious to people. I have gotten to within 25 yards of it as it was feeding in the shallows in the back of Harrier Meadow, and it didn’t miss a beat, sweeping it narrow bill side to side and using it like a pair of chopsticks to catch aquatic invertebrates – little critters that live in the water.
We also are beginning to suspect that the avocet may think it’s a snowy egret, a white bird of similar size that feeds in the shallows much like the avocet. On several occasions, I have seen the avocet feeding alongside the small egrets, or chilling next to them – standing on one leg in shallow water, its head and bill tucked into its chest.
What will become of the Harrier Meadow avocet? We suspect it will fly south for the winter with its snowy egret buddies any day now – if it hasn’t left already.