I went on a *special excursion* today with NJ Audubon to the NJ Meadowlands. I don’t know how far the reputation of this area travels outside of NJ, but it’s not a pretty place. All those awful things people like to say about NJ are because of the Meadowlands. If you’ve ever flown into NJ via the Newark Airport and traveled on the Turnpike you know what I’m talking about. A mess of chemical plants and trucking companies, factories and warehouses, and garbage dumps. Lots and lots of garbage dumps. All of this in the middle of a marsh and meadows.
Times being what they are, all but a very few of the landfills have been capped and closed and environmental groups are working to mitigate the damage done through years of environmental abuse. Despite its history as a wasteland, the Meadowlands is a thriving ecosystem that supports many wildlife species, some of whom are endangered or threatened. There are some 8,000 acres of wetland that remain and which constitute one of the largest tracts of open space in the NYC metropolitan area.
The point of our trip today was to get a special peak at the area and learn more about the research NJ Audubon is doing in the area, including an avian abundance and contaminants study. Our plan was to explore some of the nature trails through the marsh and wetlands, and then to take a cruise on the Hackensack River in a pontoon boat. Unfortunately it was pouring rain most of the day and the trail walk was abbreviated and the boat trip cancelled. But we had a nice free lunch. Here we’re walking in Harrier Meadow which had been the disposal site for rock from the construction of US Route 280 in the 60’s. Next to the meadow is a landfill, once the repository of municipal waste, that will one day be capped and turned into a golf course.
Feeling wholly unsatisfied after driving two hours and braving the wilds of North Jersey, I set out on my own in the rain to see what I could see. The impoundments around DeKorte Park had lots of waterfowl and newly arrived Forster’s Terns, and gazillions of newly hatched midges. I’m terrible with grebes, but I think this might be an Eared Grebe in fancy breeding plumage.
Tree swallows were everywhere, but I particularly liked this cheeky one! One of the scientists at the environmental center told us that she puts out between four and five hundred nesting boxes for tree swallows each spring. They were feasting on midges and busy setting up housekeeping today. We also saw some barn swallows and chimney swifts. Strangely, they have trouble attracting purple martins.
Finally, a very suspicious black-crowned night heron that had been feeding along the edge of one of the impoundments with a few egrets until I came along. The egrets high-tailed it across the marsh, but this guy hung around looking at me from his perch on an old tire. I spotted a few peeps and some yellowlegs also.
Aside from the birds, there should be lots to see here later in the season – fiddler’s crabs and diamondback terrapins and butterflies and dragonflies. Part of the park is actually built on a garbage island; a landfill site that has been capped and revegetated. There is the faint odor of garbage on the breeze and the roar of the NJ Turnpike in the background, but the wildlife seems to like it anyway. Oh and I got a raincheck on the boat ride, so look for sunnier pics sometime in the future.
Just a reminder that tomorrow is Good Planets Day at Vicki’s. Be sure to stop by and cheer her on for her hard work.