S. Bergenite Column: A Great Birding Month

roy bittern sbJim Wright, who keeps this blog for the N.J. Meadowlands Commission, also writes a twice-monthly column for the South Bergenite. His latest column is on some nifty birds seen of late in DeKorte Park.  (Roy Woodford provided the Least Bittern photo above):

An American white pelican, an American avocet, a least bittern, and thousands of imperiled sandpipers: This has been a wild month for bird-watching at DeKorte Park in Lyndhurst.

Actually, the story begins way back on July 6, when a rare American White Pelican was seen flying above the park’s Saw Mill Creek mudflats. Folks on our first Sunday of the Month walk got nice looks at the bird — seen maybe once a year in the Meadowlands the past few years.

The bird, one of the largest in North America, is typically seen out West or along the Gulf Coast. And it apparently has grown accustomed to DeKorte Park. At this writing, the bird had hung out on the mudflats (with an occasional foray to the Kearny Marsh) for roughly six weeks, attracting lots of bird watchers from all over the region.

The American Avocet, one of the most distinctive waterbirds around, arrived on Sunday, Aug. 9, and stayed for many days in DeKorte Park’s Shorebird Pool. Its thin, slightly upturned bill is a thing of beauty.

The avocet is seen most often west of the Mississippi as well, and it attracted a bit of a following at DeKorte.

But the real crowd-pleasers have been least bitterns, small, secretive herons that live in phragmites clusters throughout the Meadowlands — including DeKorte Park. If you time it right, you can look at certain spots along the shoreline of the Shorebird Pool and watch one of these little guys appear from out of the phrags to literally grab a meal (a small fish swimming by).

Although the bitterns are native to the region, their numbers have dwindled to the point that the state has categorized them as a bird of special concern.

Add the fact that their habitat is usually not so accessible (think “kayak”), and you can see why a chance to see one at DeKorte Park is a great draw. For many birders, seeing a least bittern is a “life bird” — the first time they’ve ever seen one.

But the biggest seeming anomaly at DeKorte this month has been more than 1,000 semipalmated sandpipers that hang out on a mudflat at high tide — also a bird of special concern in New Jersey.

How can that be? How could it be a bird of special concern if there are so many of them?

Everything is relative. Although you can see thousands of semipalmated sandpipers in the Meadowlands this time of year as they migrate from the Arctic to South America, their numbers have been dropping sharply in recent decades.

According to the New Jersey Audubon, studies of these birds in their major breeding grounds have shown an annual 5 percent drop for more than a decade, and their numbers in their two prime wintering areas in South America have declined since the 1980s by 80 percent, from 2 million birds to 400,000.

Seeing these special shorebirds in such great numbers — and all the other birds I’ve mentioned here — is one of the joys of living and working in the Meadowlands.




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