Saturday, February 02, 2008

A Day at the Meadowlands

Richard W. De Korte Park in Lyndhurst concentrates in one small preserve the mix of human and natural landscapes typical of New Jersey. Natural gas and power lines cross through the park, while bridges, refineries, and New York's skyscrapers are visible in the distance. Despite the industrial surroundings, it is quite good for birds - especially shorebirds in migration and waterfowl in winter.

Most of the impoundments at De Korte Park were frozen. Where the water was open, particularly along the Saw Mill Creek Trail, there were loads of waterfowl. The largest single flock consisted of about 250 Canvasbacks all huddled together in a ditch between two mudflats. In addition, there were a couple hundred Black Ducks, as well as smaller numbers of Northern Pintails, Gadwalls, Ruddy Ducks, Common Mergansers, Northern Shovelers, and Buffleheads.

Near the end of the walk we encountered a small group of Green-winged Teal. Along with them was a single Eurasian Teal (a.k.a. Common Teal). Some sources, including the IOC, list the Eurasian Teal as a separate species; others, including the AOU and ABA, list it as a subspecies of Green-winged Teal. (Here are some tips for separating them.) In either case, it was a life bird, since I had not previously encountered this form. Whether it was a life species depends on which list I choose to follow. A really bad photograph of the two teal forms is at right. (There is a better picture of the same bird here.)

In addition to the waterfowl, there were several large flocks of sparrows. Most were the common White-throated or Song Sparrrows. Along the road near the entrance, there was a small group of White-crowned Sparrows, most of which were first winter birds. Several of these were singing short snippets of the more complex song they will sing as adults. I knew that White-throated Sparrows practiced their songs all through the winter, but it was the first time I had heard White-crowned Sparrows doing this. Also, a few American Tree Sparrows were present near the natural gas pipeline.