September 14, 2008
White ibis, rare in these parts, excites birders
By Jim Beckerman
Bird is the word at the New Jersey Meadowlands this weekend.
One bird in particular: a juvenile white ibis, a rare visitor to these climes that had the 80 or so birdwatchers traipsing through Harrier Meadow on Saturday, as part of the two-day fifth annual New Jersey Meadowlands Festival of Birding, all atwitter.
“It would be nice to see it,” said Jennie Gaitskill, 81, of Waldwick, a birder of 30 years’ standing, who was there with her daughter Lee. “I’ve never seen it in New Jersey.”
The white ibis, more typically a Southern bird, was spotted Aug. 19 in Harrier Meadow and intermittently seen there since. It was last sighted, said tour leader Mike Newhouse, a wetlands specialist, Sept. 6 – but birders were anxiously peering through their Nikons, Canons, Zeisses, and Leicas, in case it should return.
“This has burned through the information sharing that goes on in the birding community,” said Bill Sheehan, the Hackensack Riverkeeper whose organization co-produced the event, which will continue today.
“Before you know it, everyone was talking about this bird we spotted.”
Harrier Meadow, a roughly 70-acre restored wetlands site whose two brackish pools, tidal mudflat and marshlands are teeming with life, usually is closed to the public.
The area is adjacent to the Erie Landfill, the site of a planned construction project that could pose an insurance risk, said Jim Wright, communications officer for the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.
However, the Hackensack Riverkeeper Inc., the New Jersey Audubon Society and the Meadowlands Commission have joined forces to create the festival and open the area once a year so that naturalists can get some supervised access. More frequent guided tours are in the works for the future, Wright said.
“I’ve got woodpeckers!” Edna Duffy, 57, of Secaucus, shouted at she peered through her binoculars. “Right in front of us! Over to the left. They went to the back of that shrub.”
The Harrier Meadow hike was just one event in the festival, which drew more than 200 visitors, paying $40 a head, to the Meadowlands Environment Center. There were lectures and exhibits, nature walks, pontoon-boat trips on Saw Mill Creek and Mill Creek Marsh, and a keynote address by Jonathan Trouern-Trend, author of “Birding Babylon.” Further field trips are planned for today.
Ultimately, the goal is to raise awareness about the Meadowlands, a 30.4-square-mile district that has been a dumping ground — both literally and as the butt of mosquito and Mafia jokes — for nearly a century. But that’s changing.
“This is a way to get people here to see [the Meadowlands],” said Jeff Fucci, 25, of Carlstadt, a volunteer boat tour narrator. “I like to refer to it as a gem that’s seven miles from New York City.”
By the middle of the day, birders had spotted about 27 species, including peregrine falcons, stilt sandpipers, green herons, magnolia warblers, yellow-billed cuckoos, ospreys, marsh wrens, blue-winged teals, northern pintails, brown thrashers, song sparrows, kestrels, and belted kingfishers. But no ibis.
Blame the high tide, Newhouse said. The ibis is more a mid-tide bird.
“It’s driving me nuts,” Wright said. “It seems like I’m the only one the staff who hasn’t seen it yet.”