Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: Why We Love the Meadowlands

On this past Sunday morning nine Black-Crowned Night Herons stood like sentinels along the banks of a small marshy area constrained by the New Jersey Turnpike and surrounded by countless other stone and asphalt structures of our Garden State.

Like many of our Meadowlands birds and birders we all seemed oblivious to the roar of the cars, trucks and airliners overhead. These most regal and stately of birds seemed to ignore the gazing binoculars as one of our group members dropped her binoculars, looked up at me and said “The birding is wonderful, you are so lucky to live here in the Meadowlands!”  The comment at first took me by surprise. It was music to my ears and such a wonderful thing to say, but I was taken back, not use to hearing those kind and flattering comments.

Now, maybe I was just over sensitive to all the bad jokes about the Meadowlands I had to endure over the years that I just overlooked the nicer things folks had to say. Nevertheless I looked up and smiled and said, “Yes, we all are more lucky than we realize.” I asked her where she was from and she told me she was visiting from Maryland and usually did her birding on the Chesapeake Bay (a world class birding location by the way).

I don’t think she knew how important those words were to me. I always remind myself of them whenever I am privileged enough to lead a walk in the Meadowlands . So now I thought it was way overdue that I asked everyone else why they feel we are so lucky to be here in the Meadowlands.

“My favorite part of the Meadowlands is the reeds and the dragonflies,” Mary Kostus told me “When I was a kid growing up in NJ, dragonflies marked the beginning of summer …and there is nothing more beautiful then listening to the Red-winged Blackbirds singing “herculeessss” (that’s what it sounds like to me) …Me too, Mary. Thanks!


Joe Koscielny also told me why he is so lucky to bird th Meadowlands.  “What I love about the Meadowlands is its great diversity of things to see throughout the year and the ease of accessibility. It’s amazing what one can see in this urban jewel. The variety of birds, from sparrows to eagles, the many different plants, waterfowl, animals, and butterflies. We are often surprised by special visitors such as the Snowy Owl and American White Pelican. It’s an area that we need to preserve so that our future generations can see what we have and learn the   importance of maintaining it.” Thanks Joe, well said.

Expressing our passion for the Meadowlands would be incomplete without a comment or two from our own Jim Wright.  “I love the Meadowlands because it is a symbol of hope.  What once was a wasteland of pollution — a testament to a wholesale human disregard for nature — has become an amazing environmental success story.  The Meadowlands still has a ways to go, but it has come back so far in a matter of decades. I love its birds and butterflies, its marshes and muskrats, and its sunrises and sunsets.” Thank you Jim. Many people have come to love the Meadowlands because of you.

I have lived in the Meadowlands for almost 50 years, and yes I am lucky to live in a place where nature has become such an important part of the local culture. But that pride was not always felt among its residents. Today the Meadowlands is a standing testament to what we can accomplish when we all join together to do the right thing and protect and defend such an important and vital part of our ecosystem. We have brought the Meadowlands back from the brink and in a way part of ourselves at the same time .

The Meadowlands are as diverse as the people and the wildlife that thrive there.  It is magnificent and yet imperfect. Nature’s Eden in the shadow of steel and concrete.. It is a strong as it is vulnerable. It gives its people as well as its wildlife  a place to rest and rejuvenate, a haven for all who care to take the time to enter.  The Eagles, Osprey , Peregrines and the people  have returned  home to join togther once again in a celebration of our earth and the Meadowlands. I hope you will all join us out there soon

As Earth day approaches I would love to hear your personal thoughts on why you care about the Meadowlands . You can contact me at We’ll also be hosting an Earth Day (Friday April 22) talk on raptors at the Meadowlands Environment Center in DeKorte Park, followed by a walk around the park. The event is free and takes place from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.

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