Archive for Birding New Jersey
Join Rick Wright, the author of the new ABA Field Guide to New Jersey Birds, in discovering the birds of Brookdale Park.
Our two-hour walks begin at 7:00 am in the parking lot between the grandstand and the maintenance building, reached by turning into the park from Bellevue Avenue in Bloomfield, New Jersey. We’ll walk approximately one mile on wide, level sidewalks and paths; our pace will be slow and relaxed, with plenty of time to appreciate and learn about the migrant and resident birds we find.
Bring water, a snack, and a notebook and pencil; if you have them, binoculars can be useful, too.
There is no fee for these walks, but donations will be accepted by the Brookdale Park Conservancy.
May 13, 15, 17, and 19; 7:00 to 9:00 am.
Brookdale is the next “neighborhood” over from ours, and its namesake park — one of Essex County’s many Olmsted designs — is conveniently on the way to any place we have to go in Montclair.
After a few quick visits with Gellert when we first moved back to New Jersey, we gave up going: too many off-leash dogs, too much of their leavings on the sidewalks, too few dark and brushy corners. But I’ve decided — inspired by a lecture by Jean the other day about her experiences in the park — to give the place another chance.
I’ve found that the the west edge of the park, from Bellevue south almost to Watchung, offers the best birding. It is there, away from the ballfields and playgrounds and dog runs, that remnants of scrubby woodland edge persist, and there are even a few dead trees scattered around, to the obvious delight of the woodpeckers.
I’m expecting some good passerine migrants along this band of vegetation this spring. And so are the park’s birds of prey, I’d guess.
Red-tailed Hawks nest everywhere in our wooded little suburb, and I’m sure the birds in the park are local breeders. Today, I also found a fine little juvenile Cooper’s Hawk (“why doesn’t that feeder have any birds at it?,” I asked myself a moment beforehand), and a gang of noisy Blue Jays found me a dashing gray male Merlin, that latter a “good bird” around here (and presumably not averse to a blue-jay breakfast).
The night shift seems to be active, too. If anything, Great Horned Owls are more common than Red-tailed Hawks in Bloomfield, and it’s hard to imagine there’s not a pair hard at work somewhere in Brookdale’s tall conifers.
I haven’t found them or their nest yet, but I will. Meanwhile, there’s abundant evidence that at least one owl roosted in the park this winter.
Let me know if you happen to be birding Brookdale some morning, and maybe we can meet up. I’m sure there will be a lot to see as time goes on.
This was the sight that greeted me yesterday noon as I pulled in to DeKorte Park in the Meadowlands. Rough-legged Hawks aren’t exactly rare here in northern New Jersey, but these tiny-billed visitors from the Arctic are always exciting — and I think I’ve seen more Snowy Owls this winter in the state than members of this species.
Whenever you pause to admire a rough-leg, of course, you also have to smile at the bird’s scientific name, Buteo lagopus, the “bunny-footed buzzard.” Erik Pontoppidan, the original Great Dane himself, named the bird 250 years ago, following in the tradition of Linnaeus’s name for the ptarmigans and anticipating Pallas’s for the Common House-Martin. Though the Danske atlas is not available on line (tsk tsk), I assume that all three scientists were thinking of the birds’ feathered tarsi, which recall, to the eye and to the touch, the furry hind limbs of a hare.
It all makes very good sense. But why do we English-speakers call this bird Rough-legged rather than “fuzzy-footed”? Are rabbits’ feet really that abrasive?
It turns out that I just don’t know the word “rough” very well. Our friends at the OED remind me that in special application to animal integument, the word has — like its German cognate “rauh” — long had the sense of “thick” or “bushy” or “fluffy,” without necessarily connoting any sort of harshness. Animals — birds, horses, dogs, even bats and turtles — are “rough-legged” or “rough-footed” simply by virtue of having feathers or fur or conspicuously keeled scales on the extremities. “Rough-legged,” in other words, means “fuzzy-footed,” or even “soft-footed.”
Now don’t tell that to a vole or mouse, of course.
I’ve been watching Red-bellied Woodpeckers since way back in Centurus days, and we weren’t at all surprised to see this one using the rock-hard ice crust of our backyard as an anvil for opening tough oilseeds this morning.
Whenever I see this species on the ground, I’m reminded of a red-belly I saw years ago in eastern Nebraska, gleaning something or other from among the ballast stones on a railroad track. As I watched, the bird actually grasped one of the pieces of pink quartzite in its bill and moved it to the side; I didn’t measure the stone, or keep it, and I don’t know what the standard size of ballast is, but I have it in memory as more than two inches across.
That impressed me. These birds can do anything.
How do you know it’s February?
Finally, after brightening the landscape for nearly six months now, those festive red sumac fruits are drawing birds. With softer, more palatable food sources pretty much gone, American Robins, Northern Flickers, and other frugivores are turning to these rock-hard, bristly little citrus-bitter seeds.
Yes, it’s a sign of desperation. But it’s a sign of spring, too. Bring on the sumac banquets!