Archive for New Jersey


Brookdale Park Birding

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Hairy Woodpecker

A warm spring morning — at long last — in Brookdale Park, and Helen, Mollie, Gary, and I ran into a couple of arrivals during our leisurely walk around the edges of the park.

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers whined and buzzed here and there, and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, even tinier, was the first of what should soon be the regulid onslaught.

The arrival of the kinglets usually coincides with the earliest warblers. Though I did have a couple of Myrtle Warblers early on, I was beginning to worry that that would be it for the morning. But no: a creeping sprite in the dead wood below the tennis courts turned into a glorious male Black-and-white Warbler, my first this spring in our area.

We were just as excited to see the local Red-tailed Hawks still in residence and acting decidedly broody. One bird slunk around quietly in a tall pine, as if hoping to get onto a nest without being seen, while the other soared overhead with a rat in its feet. I was impressed once again by what good hunters these birds are: I could look for rats all day and not find one. (Not complaining about that, of course.)

Winter isn’t that far behind us, though. White-throated Sparrows were just as abundant and as conspicuous as Chipping Sparrows, and a lone Slate-colored Junco was still lurking around the stream, perhaps taking her last bath before heading into the Adirondacks to breed.

Best of all, perhaps, was a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers quietly feeding together on large snags on the west side of the park. Fingers crossed that these birds stick around and breed: a little bit of wilderness in Bloomfield.

Join the Brookdale Conservancy and me for May bird walks in the park: schedule is here under “Upcoming Events.” 


Yard Bird!

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Coming into our third spring in this house now, we’re still ticking off the occasional “yard bird” — birderspeak for a species detected for the first time in or from or over our little suburban postage stamp of a lot.

It’s always fun to see something new, but we’ve lived in so many places over so many years that our cumulative yard list, as opposed to our current yard list, is distressingly close to hitting a brick wall. That made doubly exciting this afternoon’s visitor, a bird I can’t recall ever having seen before from the comfort of my own window.

Red-shouldered Hawk

This adult Red-shouldered Hawk flew in to perch behind our back fence early this dim, rainy evening. Almost certainly a migrant (and almost certainly about to face a tough day or two as the temperatures fall and the ground freezes again), it surveyed the surroundings, a bit disdainfully, I thought, and then flashed off through the woods. I’d gladly offer it a Slate-colored Junco or a Red Fox Sparrow or two if it would like to stay around.


Brookdale Bird Walks: May 2014

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Join Rick Wright, the author of the new ABA Field Guide to New Jersey Birds, in discovering the birds of Brookdale Park.

Red-tailed Hawk

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 Park

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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.

dead tree in Brookdale Park

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).

Blue Jay feather

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.

owl pellet

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.


Rough-legged Hawk

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.


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