Hackensack Riverkeeper Joins NJ Audubon Society
In Meadowlands Bird Survey
By Hugh M. Carola
On my desk is a copy of one of the most important reports ever generated about our watershed: The Hackensack River Migratory Bird Report with Recommendations for Conservation by Richard P. Kane and David Githens and published by the New Jersey Audubon Society (NJAS) in 1997. Two things made the report special: it was the first comprehensive study done on nesting and migratory bird species within the Hackensack River watershed and, because of its thoroughness, it clearly illustrated the value of the Meadowlands as essential bird habitat.
“Now that we’ve won the war for the Meadowlands, it’s sometimes hard to remember that we once had to fight for every acre,” explained Capt. Bill Sheehan, who provided the authors with the critical assistance they needed to complete the report. “Rich’s book was one of the few weapons we had to combat the developers who were saying that it wasn’t worth preserving.”
It’s been a decade since the research for this report began. Fortunately our friends at New Jersey Audubon came up with the perfect way to refresh it: by doing it again. In discussions we had this past spring with Kane’s successor, Eric Stiles, the idea of creating a new bird survey began to take shape. In early September Capt. Bill once again took to the river in the role of citizen scientist, this time accompanied by Ken Witkowski, NJAS associate naturalist.
During September and October, the two of them spent a total of 27.5 hours aboard the Edward Abbey between Overpeck Creek and Newark Bay methodically observing and listing every bird they could find. Beginning early in the morning, each trip was designed to cover points along the river as well as predetermined observation areas within several marshes. In addition, Witkowski also surveyed the Mill Creek Marsh and several other hard-to-navigate areas via kayak.
Although covering less area that the earlier work (the NJ Meadowlands District vs. the entire New Jersey portion of the Hackensack watershed), the new one reflects advances in sampling techniques and avian surveying that have been perfected over the past 10 years.
“Nowadays there are right ways and wrong ways to count birds,” said Witkowski. “When you’re birding for fun, you can do what you like but when you’re doing it as part of an official survey, it’s all about scientific protocol and collecting your data in an approved way.”
Needless to say, it isn’t all just work for the two of them. For example, towards the end of this fall’s survey period, they discovered a Black-necked stilt foraging on the riverbank in Carlstadt. While quite common along the southern U.S. coast, these strikingly-patterned shorebirds are extremely rare in New Jersey and almost never observed this far north. While kayaking, Witkowski noted another rarity: an American golden plover - a bird that’s more common on the onion fields of Orange County, NY than in the marshes of the Meadowlands. Until now, that is.
The new Meadowlands Bird Survey is being conducted by the NJAS Office of Citizen Science in cooperation with Hackensack Riverkeeper and should be fully completed by 2007. Until then, Hackensack Tidelines will publish survey updates.
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