Out and About With the Montclair Bird Club

Photo Sanford Sorkin

I’ve been out twice recently with the Montclair Bird Club, always a fun group. Summer is a good time to explore local hotspots that don’t get birded much in the heat and haze, and we started ten days ago with a trip to Brookdale Park, a pleasant oasis straddling the Bloomfield / Montclair line.

Alison and Gellert

It was hot, it was humid, and I was delighted with the turnout: small as it was on a steamy weekday morning, I’d left the house that morning almost prepared to bird by myself. But our little party soldiered on together, filling in the only remaining gap in the eBird bar charts — Brookdale has now been birded every week of the year. (Obviously, someone sometime, and probably lots of someones lots of sometimes, had birded there the third week of July at some point in history, but more and more it seems not to count if it isn’t “ebirded.”)

I hadn’t expected a terribly birdy morning, and so we weren’t disappointed. Northern flickers gave an excellent show in one of the park’s remaining dead trees. American robins and European starlings were busy on the fields, and as the day grew brighter, barn swallows swooped in to keep us bug-free.

As usual at this season, the best birding was in the grove of big trees at the south end of the park. There were plenty of blue jays; one of the red-bellied woodpeckers there was a juvenile, proof that Brookdale’s commonest breeding woodpecker had brought off young again this year. Best of all, though, was what we heard just as I’d given up hope: a singing wood thrush, which we eventually saw beautifully on his perch in the woods. This species, present each summer in the park, is in every sense the most eloquent reminder of the importance of patches of faint wildness like this here in the megalopolis.

I’ll be leading another walk at Brookdale Park October 13. It’s free, but if you enjoy the park as much as I do, please consider joining the Conservancy, which does such good work to keep Brookdale such a welcoming place for people and wild things.

semipalmated sandpiper

If the turnout for our Brookdale outing was gratifying, yesterday’s was startling. We were a group of 22 at Mill Creek Marsh in Secaucus, the site every July of one of New Jersey’s most underappreciated natural spectacles. Each year, in the last couple of days of the month, the rising tide pushes hundreds and thousands of shorebirds — the vast majority of them adult semipalmated sandpipers — to the edges of the marsh and then onto the ancient stumps of the Atlantic white cedars, where they huddle in clumps before taking off in search of open mud elsewhere.

Photo Sally Poor

Our tally yesterday morning was 4600 semipalmateds, an impressive number but still 2000 shy of the expected high yet to come today or tomorrow or the next day. A single pectoral sandpiper was “good” for the date and locality, too. Among the bigger waders, a glossy ibis was a very nice surprise, and the earliest birders among us got to see a little blue heron pass over, too, the first adult of that species I’d seen at the marsh.

Marsh wrens, great and snowy egrets, Baltimore and orchard orioles, Forster terns, and just about every other expected bird species showed up and showed well for our group. We’ll do this trip again, too.