Sunday, January 04, 2009

A Taste of the Tundra

Yesterday morning we set off for New Jersey's Meadowlands. As I have written before, the Meadowlands area is part nature preserve, part suburban development, and part post-industrial wasteland, with a sports/entertainment complex plunked down in the middle of it. Despite its oddness (or perhaps because of it?), the area offers excellent birding and attracts some unusual species for New Jersey.

DeKorte Park is perhaps most reliable for its masses of wintering waterfowl. In that regard, the day did not disappoint. Among the flocks, there were a few Northern Shovelers, Gadwall, Northern Pintails, and a Green-winged Teal, with somewhat larger flocks of Canvasbacks, Buffleheads, and much larger flocks of the other usual suspects. (There were between 250 and 300 American Black Ducks, for example.) The reported Eurasian Teal, which I saw last year, was not present today, as far as I could see.

Songbirds were pretty sparse, but there was a nice flock of American Tree Sparrows along the Transco Trail near the Kingsland dump. Other than that the only noteworthy songbirds were a few Ruby-crowned Kinglets that were hanging around a small group of cedars. Those two species were among several of my sightings from the day that gave eBird fits.

The real treat was the raptor show that continued all day. There were at least three Rough-legged Hawks, and it would not surprise me if there were more coursing among the retired garbage dumps. The two we saw in the morning were both light morphs. One hovered at relatively close range over the Kingsland dump; the other exhibited similar behavior over the far dump to the west of the park. The latter appeared to be an immature, as its white wing panels were apparent at a great distance. In the afternoon we saw the Kingsland light morph again (at least I presume it was the same bird). It was joined by one dark morph – the first time I have the latter form. The roughlegs were accompanied throughout the day by an assortment of Northern Harriers and Red-tailed Hawks, as well as an American Kestrel and a Peregrine Falcon.

After leaving De Korte Park, we checked for the Snowy Owl that had been reported near the entrance to the park. It was still present along Valley Brook Avenue around 1:30 pm. The owl had moved from the ballfield to a construction area across a side street (Woods Court?), as someone was flying a toy helicopter in the ballfield. It was still close enough for a satisfying view – a much more satisfying view than the first time I saw a representative of the species.

The Rough-legged Hawks and the Snowy Owl combined to give us a little taste of tundra bird life in New Jersey.