Gabriel Willow of New York City Audubon sent along this report from yesterday’s Bergen County Audubon Society walk that covered DeKorte Park in Lyndhurst, River Barge Park in Carlstadt and the Eagles’ nest in Ridgefield Park. We thank NYC Audubon for their interest in the Meadowlands and their camaraderie!
I hope you’ve all warmed up by now after our chilly (but beautiful) walk yesterday. I always enjoy visiting the hidden gem of Richard W. DeKorte Park in the heart of the NJ Meadowlands, and it was a pleasure to share it with you all.
A big thanks goes out to Chris, Don, and the other knowledgeable locals from the Bergen County Audubon chapter who showed us around, and to the NJ Sports & Exposition Authority for letting us warm up and use their facilities.
Although the park is not (as far as I know) accessible by public transit, it is very quick & easy to get to from midtown Manhattan: it took about 25 minutes to head through the Lincoln Tunnel, past Weehawken, across the Hackensack River, and into the marshes & landfills of DeKorte Park, which lies between the Hackensack & Passaic Rivers. Although the Meadowlands are now much reduced through landfill, changes in salinity and hydrology, and pollution, they still cover nearly 40 square miles of marsh and estuary habitat.
This park gives a wonderful sense of the abundance and diversity of wildlife these habitats support (although there’s a lot more wildlife when the waterways aren’t all totally frozen!). Our first sighting of note were some Song Sparrows on the drive in, and a lovely female Northern Harrier quartering low over a landfill to our left.
We gathered outside the nature center (where several American Tree Sparrows and White-throated Sparrows were feeding in some brush), and then after some introductions headed down towards the marshlands. The boardwalk was closed due to icy conditions, so we skirted the frozen wetlands past the buildings. At the new bird-feeders by the building complex, we encountered a flock of White-throated Sparrows and a handsome single Fox Sparrow. Golden-crowned Kinglets called somewhere nearby but remained elusive.
Down by the tundra-like marshland, several Song Sparrows scratched in the icy grass, slightly warmed by the wan sun of the south-facing slope, and a Downy Woodpecker tapped on some resonant hollow phragmites stems.
As we approached a ridge or dike covering a gas pipeline and separating what are normally small ponds from a larger lake-like body of water. In this frigid weather it was all reduced to ice. Far out on the icy surface sat several large birds: a trio of Bald Eagles! Two immatures and an adult loafed on the ice; one of the younger birds appeared to be eating something. A fourth eagle landed on a nearby electrical tower, and then a fifth and sixth soared overhead!
Other sightings of note included a flyover Common Merganser (looking a bit at a loss as to where to land, between the lack of open water and the lurking eagles), and a Cooper’s Hawk.
After that, we took a well-earned break at the visitor’s center, where we lingered to warm up and to view their specimen case with various taxidermied birds, including a stuffed Passenger Pigeon and two Heath Hens! Can I add them to our list?
Given the lack of open trails in the area, Chris & Don decided to take us to River Barge Park (where, during warmer months, you can take a pontoon boat tour to explore the Meadowlands up close). The Hackensack was mostly frozen as well, but we did find a little mixed flock of American Black Ducks, Mallards, a Gadwall, and a pair of Buffleheads sleeping on the ice next to a tiny patch of open water.
The undoubted highlight, in addition to several more Bald Eagles, was a pair of Merlins hunting along a small stand of trees nearby. One of them, a male, caught a sparrow of some sort and perched for a long while to devour his meal and then digest and bask a bit.
We had amazing views; I also captured many photos and videos on my phone through my Swarovski ATX 85 spotting scope. Sadly, my computer had some kind of freakout when I was uploading said pics & video, and they were all deleted! Luckily I had texted the best one to a friend, so was able to recover that single Merlin pic, which I have attached.
Then it was time to return to the city. As we sat in the van eating some lunch & warming up, a dozen or so Common Mergansers wheeled around over the frozen river, and a Northern Mockingbird popped up in a line of cedars. We made great time on the way back (30min). What an interesting and easy place to visit! Thanks again to our hosts for a wonderful day, and for you all for joining us.
I should also mention that registration is now open on my nine-day trip to Maine at the end of May. We will take a boat out to an island where Atlantic Puffins & other seabirds nest, and spend our days in scenic inns and exploring the incredible coast of my home state.
Species seen and heard (if heard only, denoted with a ♫, notable sightings in bold), 1/7/18:
American Black Duck
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)
Golden-crowned Kinglet ♫
American Tree Sparrow