Our Latest South Bergenite Column: Birding by Pontoon Boat


Jim Wright, who keeps this blog for the N.J. Meadowlands Commission, aslo writes a column twice a month for The South Bergenite. His latest, on taking a pontoon-boat cruise of the Hackensack River and its marshes, follows.

If you are looking for a great local escape this summer, consider a guided pontoon-boat  cruise of the Hackensack River and its marshes are the answer. These cruises are a great way to see nature up-close.

“So, far this has been an exciting year for our guided cruises, especially with the grand opening of River Barge Park in Carlstadt,” says Naturalist Gabrielle Bennett-Meany, the dean of the NJMC pontoon-boat narrators. “Ospreys are nesting in several locations along the river, and you can see them from the boat — and there is an active marsh-restoration project by the Hackensack River, right next to the new park.”

In fact, this summer has been a record season for osprey nests in the Meadowlands.  In 2006 and the decades before, the region had no nesting pairs of this threatened species — the result of the overuse of the pesticide DDT.  Fast-forward to last year, when three pairs nested along the river.

In 2012, the number of osprey nests has climbed to six, including several that are clearly visible from the pontoon boats.   And since our eco-cruises offer “loaner” pairs of binoculars, you can get exceptional views of the ospreys and other wildlife.

The two-hour NJMC pontoon-boat tours feature Gabrielle or another narrator who can talk about the checkered history of the river and its amazing comeback — and point out all sorts of critters along the way, from fiddler crabs to diamondback terrapins.

Gabrielle says the comment that she most often hears from the folks on her cruises is: “I never knew this was here."

Now is a really good time to plan a trip. Many shorebirds are beginning their long migration, and you can often see sandpipers perched on the shoreline and open docks. You’ll also likely to get some good views of great blue herons, great egrets, snowy egrets and black-crowned herons.

If you want to take an NJMC pontoon-boat cruise with a special focus on wildlife, you might be interested in our special “Birding Cruise” next Tuesday at 10 a.m. (July 17).

Many of the birds you’ll see on the cruise are emblematic of the river’s recovery. Without clean water, you wouldn’t have fish, and without fish you wouldn’t have ospreys, cormorants, kingfishers, herons or egrets.

The $15 pontoon-boat cruises leave from the Meadowlands Commission’s new River Barge Park, 5.5 acres right on the river with great views of Manhattan and local wildlife. You can also launch your own kayak or canoe at the park — free of charge.

Here’s Gabrielle’s advice for anyone planning an NJMC [pontoon-boat trip this summer: “Hurry before we fill up!”

For more info on the cruises, go to http://www.njmeadowlands.gov/environment/tours.html. For more info on the “Birding Cruise,” call 201-460-1700.


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