NYC Audubon DeKorte Park Field Report

Gabriel Willow of NYC Audubon submitted the following recap of his group’s visit to DeKorte Park for the first time held last Friday. It was a great day for all involved, with the early morning snowfall making for especially beautiful views of the park and bird photos. Thanks again to Bergen County Audubon Society President Don Torino, NJSEA Natural Resources Department staffers Drew McQuade and Gabrielle Bennett-Meany, and Meadowlands nature photographer Ron Shields for joining the walk and offering their insight and expertise.

From Gabriel Willow:

Hello all, thanks for braving the snow today for what turned out to be a remarkably beautiful walk around DeKorte Park, and easy 30-40 minute drive from Midtown Manhattan.

First off, a big thanks to Don, Ron, Brian, Drew, and Gabrielle, for welcoming us to this former landfill and waste site, which has been transformed over the years into a rich ecosystem of meadows, wetlands, and woodlands, and was further transformed today into a winter wonderland.

The five of you offered wonderful expertise and insight into the area.  I think many of us will be visiting again!

In spite of the snow, the roads were clear and there was virtually no traffic, so getting there was a breeze.  The snow was somewhat heavy at first, and wet, sticking to every tree branch and phragmites frond, making the place look quite enchanted.  We first stopped at the Nature Center, and then explored a wonderful series of boardwalks and bird blinds through the wetland (you can see some of my photos of the day attached).

The focus of the walk today turned out to be waterfowl, as we saw a pretty fantastic diversity of ducks but not a whole lot else. The waterfowl-watching started on the highway, with Canada Geese and Northern Shovelers being spotted from the NJ Turnpike (although I kept my eyes on the road of course).  Incidentally, we had some entertaining discussion about the name of the Canada Goose… its name is a bit unusual in not using an adjectival suffix that most animals with country names have (eg American Crows and Spanish Eagles).  But what I do know is that they most certainly were not named for the fictional ornithologist “John Canada”.  You can read more about this here.

As we walked out in the snow onto the boardwalk, we spotted flocks of Mallards and American Black Ducks, and their hybrid progeny.  We also encountered a flock of beautiful Pintail, not a common duck in the city.  Further along, three Hooded Mergansers took flight and circled repeatedly overhead, and a flock of Bufflehead splashed, dove, and displayed.  A Great Blue Heron flew by and stretched its neck out in anticipation of landing.

On the opposite side, I was excited to find four Canvasback, which would later prove to be the most abundant bird of the day, but are always a treat to see.  There was a single female scaup with them as well, which appeared to be a Lesser (much more likely on fresh/brackish water as well, although either could turn up there I imagine).

At a blind at one end of the board-walk, we were treated to nice views of a half-dozen Common Mergansers, as well as an additional 22 Hoodies, and a bunch more Black Ducks, Buffleheads, and Mallards.

As we approached a ridge separating the ponds from a series of mudflats, a flock of Canada Geese roused themselves and walked off ahead of us.  Then we were treated to a stunning sight: over 250 Canvasback arrayed across the mudflats and waterways that came into view!  The took flight and swirled around a couple of times before alighting on the water again.  There were also a great number of gulls (the locally common 3 species), Mallards, and Black Ducks.  We also found a few Gadwall.

By now the snow had stopped falling, and blue sky was visible along the horizon. After looping around on the trail, we took a break at the Nature Center, and checked out their glass case containing a Passenger Pigeon and Heath Hen specimens (can I add those to the list!?).  We then continued on to Harrier Meadow, a part of the park usually off-limits to the public.  En route, we spotted another large flock of Pintail, at least 25 birds, as well as more Northern Shoveler and yes, Mallards and Black Ducks.

Inside the gate at Harrier Meadow, we spotted a bunch more Common Merganser, Pintail, etc.  A Red-tailed Hawk soared by.  A pair of Green-winged Teal were found feeding along a mudflat.  The rarest sighting of the day was actually a pair of Killdeer, generally an abundant and widespread bird, but unusual at our latitudes in winter.

A few Fish Crows called their nasal “caw”s overhead.  A pair of Northern Cardinals flew across the path and Black-capped Chickadees were heard calling.  A hawk, which appeared to be an immature Sharp-shinned Hawk, flew out of a stand of cedars.

By now, the sun was out and the snow was rapidly melting from the trees and ground, and everything sparkled.  It was pretty magical!  But, it was time to head back for lunch and then to return to the city.  We made great time on the way back (30min)!

You can learn more about DeKorte Park & the Meadowlands at their blog here and on their calendar here; more about the Bergen County Audubon chapter is on their site here.

Thanks again to our hosts for a wonderful day, and for you all for joining us today! Here’s what I recorded for sightings today:

Species seen and heard (if heard only, denoted with a ♫, notable sightings in bold), 2/5/16:

  1. Canada Goose Branta canadensis 150
  2. Gadwall Anas strepera 30
  3. American Black Duck Anas rubripes 60
  4. Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 80
  5. American Black Duck x Mallard (hybrid) Anas rubripes x platyrhynchos 12
  6. Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata 25
  7. Northern Pintail Anas acuta 45
  8. Green-winged Teal Anas crecca 2
  9. Canvasback Aythya valisineria 270
  10. Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis 1
  11. Bufflehead Bucephala albeola 35
  12. Hooded Merganser Lophodytes cucullatus 35
  13. Common Merganser Mergus merganser 22
  14. Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias 2
  15. Sharp-shinned Hawk Accipiter striatus 1
  16. Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis 1
  17. Killdeer Charadrius vociferus 2
  18. Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis 70
  19. Herring Gull Larus argentatus 30
  20. Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 12
  21. Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens 1 ♫
  22. Fish Crow Corvus ossifragus 2
  23. Black-capped Chickadee Poecile atricapillus 2 ♫
  24. American Robin Turdus migratorius 19
  25. Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos 4
  26. European Starling Sturnus vulgaris 3
  27. Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia 9
  28. Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis 2
  29. blackbird sp. Icteridae sp. 6
  30. Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus 3


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