Don Torino's Life in the Meadowlands: Missing the Birds and Especially the Birders

It’s tough out there for birders right now. Spring is a special time of year. We wait impatiently for the first migrants of spring like our warblers to hit our area. Then we are out at dawn from April to June absorbing the wonderful sights of the Pines, Palms, Prairies and Parulas.

Having led field trips at least twice a week for more than 10 years I was personally feeling a loss being denied the privilege of wandering the many places I have since childhood. My solace as far as the birds are concerned is that although I miss seeing them I know that they and the natural world are doing well, in some cases even better without the constant interference of humanity.

But there is however an empty place in my heart right now for all the birders I miss so much and fret about with every day that goes by. Of course there are many I am able to keep in touch with and so happy they keep in touch with me. Yet there are so many folks I have walked the Meadowlands trails with over the years that I am always thinking about. After all birding is not only about the birds it is also about our journey and the people that join us along the way.   

Just as we learn to find a special place in our hearts for the birds we love we should never forget to appreciate and cherish the people that we go birding with. We may not know much about them, what they do for a living or even where they come from, but we do know how much we enjoy the passion of birding along with them and how they along with the birds enrich our lives and make our trips afield memorable and irreplaceable. 

Through all the rainy days, summer heat and winter cold we get the privilege of experiencing what we love most together bonded by that special bird when no words are possible or ever really needed.

 I hope for the day when we all can enjoy  the sounds of the Red-winged Blackbirds and the flight of the Tree Swallows together, when the breezes of the Meadowlands combine  with our quiet  chatter of how have you been? and did you see that bird?

Our life’s journey is an integral part of the birds and places we have come to love but perhaps even more it is about each other and how nature connects and in the end how much we need each other.

  See you all soon and stay well,

Don

Don Torino's Life in the Meadowlands: A Meadowlands Earth Day Message

The last place any of us planned to spend the 50th anniversary of Earth day was indoors and yet sadly here we are. It was supposed to be the Earth Day of all Earth Days, with celebrations, events and speeches like never before. For now that will have to wait for another day. 

But we nonetheless should still be celebrating all the accomplishments, battles and victories that were born from that very first Earth Day. For they are still very much out there and part of our lives none more wonderful, dramatic or exemplary than our very own New Jersey Meadowlands 

My family moved to Moonachie when I was 12-years-old. I came from a town where every kid played baseball and football to place where nature was a fundamental part of our childhood.  Picking blackberries, hiking the railroad tracks and making rafts to float on the old clay pits occupied our summer vacations from sunup to sundown.

My childhood was intertwined and deeply connected to the natural world. The Red-winged Blackbirds, Red-tailed Hawks and Great Egrets were an everyday reality to us. We didn’t have to wait to switch on TV or wait to visit the zoo to view wildlife; it was just outside the front door. But along with that as a child of the Meadowlands I grew up to witness the worst crimes that could ever be done to the environment. But I was also fortunate enough to see the amazing things that could happen when good people from all walks of life who care join together to do the right thing and save a place they loved. 

Our Meadowlands was once left for dead, considered best covered up and built upon, the butt of bad jokes and snickers especially when I told people where I lived, and by the way I still do proudly. And yet because of what came from that first Earth Day, like the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act, it gave us all a healthier and better place to live and a very special gift: Our Meadowlands. Just like the Bald Eagle and the Peregrine Falcon it has come back when many thought it was impossible and that is was not worth the effort.

Today our Meadowlands has become one of the most incredible restorations of a natural area that could be imagined anywhere. A place where endangered species seem common, a wilderness in the shadow of New York City and respite for the folks lucky enough to discover its magic.

 As we sit at home this Earth Day we should not think of as an end or feel sorry for ourselves. Rather this Earth Day may be the best of one all. For now we realize how much we still need to do and how much we will depend on each other to do it.

 From great tragedy comes great wisdom and like the Meadowlands we will come back stronger than ever to be sure we will all work to protect the Meadowlands and places like it for generations to come. 

Before you know it we will all be together again walking the trails and fields of our Meadowlands. But for now we are together in spirit and resolve, always with the understanding that the Meadowlands still thrives and is continuing on as it has always meant to be. 

 Happy Earth Day! See you all soon.

50th Anniversary of Earth Day Is Tomorrow (Wednesday, April 22)- A Message from Gaby Bennett-Meany

The NJSEA’s Gaby Bennett-Meany sent in the following Earth Day message:

The very first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970, with more than 20 million Americans taking to the outdoors demonstrating the need for environmental reform.  The rallies were a huge success with speeches focused on pollution air quality, water quality, natural resources, waste, and endangered and threatened species. Earth Day is recognized as a national holiday and celebrated in every community.

Although the “50th Anniversary of Earth Day” was scheduled with huge celebrations everywhere it will still be recognized globally in a unique, digital delight. Take the time to search for the digital celebrations on TV and online and absorb all that our planet has to offer. Go to www.earthday.org, the official Earth Day site which will bring you events and more all day tomorrow.

The 50th Anniversary of Earth Day will be a new beginning as we all join together in years to come as a new generation of environmentalist activists that will focus on sustainable initiatives and local and global action.

Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day will be a new beginning and hopefully encourage us to desire a healthier place to live while prompting the small changes that everyone can make that together will have a far-reaching local and global effect on our planet.

Don Torino's Life in the Meadowlands: The Time Is Now For Our Environment

As the country joins together to save lives and put an end to the worst health catastrophe of our time and desperately searches for ways to try to be sure it never happens again, we need to also at the same time recognize the need to come together as part of the very same battle for the long term health of all of us by saving and protecting our environment – not only for our generation but also for the health of future generations to come.

Even as the Federal government sadly attempts to loosen environmental standards and, as understandably, our priorities are focused on fighting this insidious disease, we can and should be fighting to improve our environment. In fact, this may be the best chance we have had in generations to help our environment and make giant steps forward to improve the world for all of us for many years to come. 

Now some folks may believe we can’t be sidetracked, that every bit of our efforts need to focus on the battle ahead, and that the environmental issues should be put on the back burner in favor of big business or for just another day.

 But just for a minute let’s go back to another, even more desperate time in our history, when the battle to pass the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 was in the national spotlight. This landmark law that is now under attack continues to save countless birds, from the backyard Cardinal to the Peregrine Falcon. The events that occurred in our history at the time when the struggle to pass that law was being fought may surprise you.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act was passed in an era when many bird species were threatened with extinction by the commercial trade in birds and bird feathers. The groundbreaking statute makes it unlawful without a waiver to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, or sell birds listed therein as migratory birds. 

And yet as that law was being fought for, the United States was in the depths of World War I and the Spanish Flu epidemic and despite the tragic and historic   losses of millions of lives we still thought it was important enough to stand up and protect our bird life before it was too late. After all, even then we knew that where birds thrive so do people.

This is not the time to take a step back and say the environment can wait for another day. Our time is now more than ever to fight climate change which allows more disease to threaten human life, not only wildlife. Making sure our air gets cleaner and stays that way is imperative not only for the natural world but for example preventing future cases and protecting people with asthma especially in inner cities where they are more prone and the most vulnerable from the effects of breathing dirty air. And I am sure that I don’t need to remind us all how important clean water is not only to wildlife but also to every one of us as in the atrocious cases of Flint, Michigan, and Newark, New Jersey. 

The fight against climate change, protecting clean air and clean water, is all connected to protecting and preserving not only on own health but our natural areas and ecosystems as well. In the words of John Muir, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” That is more true now than ever. 

Saving, preserving and protecting our environment are not only about protecting the birds and animals, it is in the end about protecting and preserving ourselves, humankind. 

Whether it is working to stem the decline of pollinators or making sure toxic waste gets cleaned up entirely no matter where it is there should be no going backwards. We can only go forward, and creating a healthier habitat for us and wildlife is one and the same. 

We cannot forget how much we needed our forests and fields when it seemed the world was coming apart for many of us and we will need to never let ourselves and especially our elected officials forget about how important having healthy food, water and healthy places for our families was at this time and always will be.

After every catastrophe America stood up and did better, and this should be no different. Starting now we will have a chance to improve many aspects of our society from health care to Government. A healthy environment is a fundamental right of everyone no matter where you live and it will be a good place to start to improve the lives of all of us as we heal and rebuild from such a devasting time in all of our lives.

Don Torino's Life in the Meadowlands: Our Favorite Birds

I thought this might be the perfect time to discuss a subject very close to all our hearts. At a time when most of us are at home, contemplating our future and what is next for all of us there are some things that are forever and constant, and hold a place in our hearts no matter life will bring us.

Now one of the questions I get asked most often by friends, school children and even newspaper reporters is one that may seem harmlessly simple at first but at times can be a very, very complicated and a complex question to say the least. The question usually starts innocently enough for sure but then is presented almost as an attempt to throw me off, even stump me or confuse me.  “So Don, what is your favorite bird?” they ask with a teasing big grin.

That can be a question that ranks right up there with, “What is the meaning of life” or “Why is it always that the line that I am standing on always moves the slowest?” As a very astute friend once pointed out to me, “picking your favorite bird is like trying to pick your favorite child; it just can’t be done because there are so many wonderful things about each one of them.” Those are wise words for the ages to be sure.

But sometimes I am pressed for an answer, especially when there is a cute little boy or girl looking up at me holding their breath, just waiting and waiting for my answer, which most people expect for some reason to be incredibly insightful and thought provoking.

Now I have to admit at times I feel pressure to say what people think I should say. After all the President of Bergen County Audubon Society must have at the very least the Bald Eagle as his favorite bird, or maybe a Peregrine Falcon, an Osprey or some regal looking bird that will make everyone nod their head in agreement. I apologize but favorite birds do not work that way. 

My favorite bird tends to surprise many people. It’s a common bird, to some maybe not the most beautiful of birds. At times passed over as folks look for the rare, more exotic species. But as my close friends well know my favorite bird of all without hesitation is the Red-winged Blackbird.

The reaction of many people when I finally come clean seems to be a bit of puzzlement. Really? They ask like a deer in the headlights. Yes, really.

Growing up in the Meadowlands I have a special connection to the Red-wings. Since it is one of the first birds to return in spring migration we kids could not wait to see the very first one of the year. For we knew then that spring could not be far away.

As the years went by I would point out the Red-wings to my two boys as I drove them back and forth to school. We had fun trying to see who would see the first one singing from the top of the grasses. Now, leading nature walks in the Meadowlands I enjoy telling stories about those special very birds, what it was like growing up in the Meadowlands, and the passion and love that we all inherited having the privilege of being raised in such a very special place.  

That is what favorite birds really are all about, ones that mean something very special and personal and touch our hearts and souls.

Favorite birds are the ones that bring back fond memories of friends and family. Favorite birds are not just simply something that is added to a page in a book, APP or computer and then left to itself and forgotten. They are birds that we will brag to our grandkids about, daydream about when we get too old to wander the trails that are only left to recollections.

Favorite birds live in our hearts and play a significant part of our lives. They are our memories, ones we recall with delight and at times with much examination and considerable contemplation. They recall special times in our lives not only about the birds themselves but also the people in our lives we enjoyed them with and the wild places we have all come to love.

Favorite birds are just that: Birds that have become part of our lives and stay in our hearts and become who we are and what we are truly about forever.

Please let me know what your favorite bird is and why it is special to you. You can email me at greatauk4@gmail.com

Don Torino's Life in the Meadowlands: 50th Anniversary of Earth Day – Don’t it always seem to go, that you don't know what you got till it's gone?

In just a few weeks we will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day and in the words of the classic Joni Mitchell song we seemed to not know what we had till it was gone, or in this case at least denied access.

As Covid-19 devastated our communities and their usual destinations were forced to close, more and more people were drawn to our local nature areas and open spaces. Whether it was out of nowhere else to go or a kind of primal urge to turn back to nature, individuals and families alike turned out in big numbers at our local, county and State Parks.

Sadly, that desire to return to the natural world may have been its undoing as officials began closing all those special places that many of us have grown to love over the years  and maybe, more importantly, more had just now discovered and quickly found a passion for places they never knew were even there. As a close friend expressed to me, just when we needed nature the most it closed up.

On this very special anniversary on which we will celebrate victories like the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act we will also understandably be denied access to the places that are the results of those victories, the places we cherish and revel in. 

Sadly and perhaps ironically part of the reason is human kind may have started the outbreak is by the crimes we still commit against nature like in this case the  ghastly and inhuman way animals are sold and marketed. And before you say it didn’t start here, I don’t know anyone who thinks our commercial corporate farms and slaughterhouses although better are not going to win any humane awards, at least in my book .

As the special day approaches, separated from the places and in some cases the people we love, we should never forget this Earth Day, as it was a time we faced human  devastation, sacrifice and heroism never seen in this generation. But perhaps we also have come to realize how important and how much we crave the wild places in our State and communities. I hope we can and will recall that we needed meadows not malls, running streams and trees not an amusement park,  wildlife not warehouses.

This no doubt will be saddest and most difficult Earth Day of all but this also could be the time in our history when Earth Day has a new beginning and a new  special meaning not for just a few but for all of us as we join together and realize our love for the environment and our love for each other is inseparable, and if we allow it to exist and flourish, nature will bring joy to our hearts and heal our souls, something we could all use right now

   Stay well, see you in our Meadowlands   

Operation Osprey Uplift Update!

1E Landfill, North Arlington

Our Osprey have arrived for the spring migration and are finding new nesting spots at several places in the Meadowlands as part of Operation Osprey Uplift. The multi-party collaboration by the NJSEA and its partners, which was spearheaded by the Bergen County Audubon Society, provides much-needed nesting space for the NJ Threatened Raptor.


Nest platforms have been installed in the past few months at the Erie Landfill in Lyndhurst, the 1E Landfill in North Arlington, the Keegan Landfill in Kearny, and at the River Bend and Hawk Marsh sites along the Hackensack River in Secaucus. While not pictured here, Osprey have been observed using the nest platforms. 

Keegan Landfill, Kearny

The nest platforms and materials were donated by PSE&G and Joseph M. Sanzari, Inc. The Hackensack Riverkeeper assisted in the design of the platforms. 

Operation Osprey Uplift team members also include the Bergen County Audubon Society, Meadowlands Conservation Trust and Conserve Wildlife Foundation.

River Bend, Secaucus

The Osprey population has made a remarkable resurgence in the region over the past four decades, to the point where Osprey in the Meadowlands outnumber suitable nesting locations. Operation Osprey Uplift is working to develop a variety of nesting approaches for the bird tailored to specific locations to assist in the continued resurgence of these majestic raptors.

Hawk Marsh, Secaucus
Erie Landfill, Lyndhurst