Jim Wright, who keeps this blog, also writes a twice-monthly nature column for The South Bergenite. His latest column is on birds that have been wintering in the Meadowlands this season.
“Is that heron supposed to be here?”
I’ve gotten that question on many Meadowlands Commission guided walks this winter — two seconds after folks see one of these stately birds in a marsh and do a double-take.
After all, great blue herons are regarded around here as a bird seen in the warmer months — not on most winter walks down DeKorte Park’s Marsh Discovery Trail.
When I reply that we have seen more great blues and other warmer-weather birds this winter, the follow-up question is invariably either: “Why?”
NJMC Naturalist Mike Newhouse is happy to provide us with the answer.
“There hasn’t been as much snow or frozen water to our north this winter, so there’s more food sources around,” he says. “If the birds have the ability to winter here, why waste the energy to fly south and then fly back north again?”
Newhouse offers two other examples of birds that have been hanging around this season.
* Greater and lesser yellowlegs — two members of the sandpiper family — have been seen feeding in DeKorte Park’s aptly named Shorebird Pool or the Clay Avenue wetlands just down the road.
* Several great egrets have been seen in Harrier Meadow in North Arlington and elsewhere.
And we have gotten some nice winter species — most notably the Orange-crowned Warbler, which attracted birders from all over the metropolitan area.
We’ve also seen a bird that’s a nice find any time of year. In the past few weeks we have seen an elusive American bittern fishing along the shoreline of the Shorebird Pool in DeKorte Park. That has drawn dozens of birders as well.
“American bitterns are here during the winter months,” says Newhouse. “I’ve seen their tracks in the snow in some of the marshes in other winters. This bird happened to hang out in DeKorte because with the open water, he was able to hunt here — and we were able to see it.”
This winter has also been notable for the birds we haven’t seen. Newhouse says that with so much open water, ducks that sometimes raft in large numbers in the Meadowlands are more spread out this year.
In addition, we usually get at least one rough-legged hawk coming down from their northern breeding grounds. This winter they have been seen in Pennsylvania and in upstate New York, but not here.
And though there have been reports of Snowy Owls across North America this winter, we have had no verified sightings here in the Meadowlands yet.
“That doesn’t mean that there haven’t been any here, says Newhouse. “With so much habitat for them, they’d be easy to miss.”
We’ll keep looking — even as more and more birds of spring start arriving in the next few weeks.