The Spring Plumage Review
We’ve covered the fine feathers that the fashion industry has offered us for the coming season, but so far we’ve neglected the plumage on the city’s spring visitors. What am I talking about? We are now in the full swing of the spring bird migration. Up and down both sides of the Hudson, there are a slew of waterfowl to be seen just passing through, some of whom you’d have to do some serious travel to see at any other time of year.
While you can see a lot of these birds anywhere along the shoreline, for city dwellers, Liberty State Park is a great place to take a nice walk and check out the waterfowl. It’s a very easy drive from the city, but it’s also accessible via New Jersey Transit Hudson-Bergen light rail from the Hoboken or Pavonia/Newport PATH stations for the carless.
So why bother? Well, if you’re at all interested in nature, there are some pretty cool things that pass through during the spring migration. Brants, for example (photo at top), pass through here only for a few months in the spring. These duck-sized geese spend their entire summers in the Arctic and nest farther north than any other goose. If you want a feeling for how far north that is, take a look at this map:
At this time of year, you’ll find them exploring the coastline up and down the whole length of Manhattan and hanging out in flocks of hundreds in Liberty State Park. Also on regular offer at this time of year is the world’s largest gull, the Great Black-Backed Gull.
These gulls are so big they make the local ring-billed gulls look like wind-up toys. Not that you’ll see the ring-bills cozying up to them. The smaller birds tend to give them a wide berth.
A recent quick stroll along the waterfront also showed red-throated loons in winter plumage, ruddy ducks about halfway between winter and breeding plumage, horned grebes, coots, and all the regular residents, including double-crested cormorants, herring gulls, ring-billed gulls, gadwalls, and mallards. If you go, it’s also worth taking a look at the marshy inland areas, where you’ll see a slew of other birds on their way through. The New Jersey Audubon Society puts the total park species list at over 200 different kinds of birds. In the winter, snowy owls apparently regularly show up, although I’m sorry to say I’ve never seen them myself. Something to think about in January.
So, take advantage of the (intermittently) great weather and head out to the park to take a look at our seasonal visitors. They’ll only be here for a few more weeks, so do it soon!
Maps and photos courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the NJDEP Division of Parks and Forestry.