A Day in Clinton

Do you get cabin fever in January and February? I know I do! One winter weekend I couldn’t take it any more, so we piled into the car and off down the road we went. After a bit of driving, we found ourselves in Clinton, New Jersey. Clinton is the perfect town to kill some time and wander. Coffee shops, stores with plenty of window shopping opportunities and the Red Mill Museum, which is well worth a visit if you are in the mood!

While taking a minute to snap a few picturesque shots of the Red Mill, we discovered another couple had the same idea as we did, and they were taking a stroll along the Raritan River. A pair of Mallards came walking up the ice, slip-sliding as they waddled. I know it isn’t nice, but I couldn’t help chuckling. While some Mallards do migrate to warmer climates in winter, much of the Northeast retains its Mallard populations through the winter. Look for them in places were the freshwater has not completely frozen. They seek winter homes where they will have access to their aquatic food sources.

We also spotted a few Ring Billed Gulls, who were much braver than us and decided to dip their feet in the water!

If you are interested to know more about the Red Mill Museum, visit https://theredmill.org/

Winter Visit To Mills Creek Marsh

Having been under-wowed, and cold, on a winter walk in Richard W. DeKorte Park, my expectations for Mills Creek Marsh in the winter were extremely low. However, I should have realized that Mills Creek Marsh is more sheltered from the bitter winds we encountered in Lyndhurst. Therefore a few more birds seem to shelter here in the winter. Regardless of the number of animals we encountered, the frozen landscape at the Marsh is also much more interesting, with the tree stumps planted in the ice covered water.

We spotted many of the winter residents we expected to see, Mallards, Canada Geese and Ring-Billed Gulls. They all seemed to be managing with the icy water. There was enough of a current that some of the water was still flowing ice free and many of these birds had turned the icy patches into a shortcut, walking across the ice with the ease of a figure skater.

One Mallard was so impressed by my camera that he stopped his march across the ice to pose for me. He turned his body and his head several times, holding the pose just like a runway model, complete with attitude. I took several great photos, but the one I selected below I think expresses his personality the best.

The lack of vegetation on the surrounding trees also allowed us to get a good look at a few feathered friends that we know are at the Marsh, but don’t usually see so clearly. A very cold and fuzzy Northern Mockingbird was trying to get some shelter in the branches of a naked tree. He kept his eye on us, but decided we weren’t so scary that he needed to hi-tail it. A female Northern Cardinal also showed herself to us. She took a high open vantage point in a pine tree, and while she was looking around, I moved a bit closer and took her photo.

The water in the Marsh also flows on the outer edge of the trail and in the winter that water seems less prone to freezing. While taking a few more photos of the Canada Geese and the Mallards, I noticed a different duck that I had never seen before. He was a Green-Winged Teal. According to my New Jersey book he should have been migrating thorough this area in the Autumn, but it was definitely winter and he seemed pretty content. I don’t think he had received the memo. The Green-Winged Teal’s chestnut brown head has a vibrant patch of green. A matching patch of green on his wing (as his name implies) is harder to see when swimming.

The Mills Creek Marsh trails are a must visit in winter.

New Year’s Day in Richard W. DeKorte Park

My husband’s family have a lovely tradition, they like to take a walk on the beach each New Year’s Day. It blows out the cobwebs, helps with the hangover and is a good move toward working off all of the Holiday’s tasty treats. We have carried on the tradition, and every New Year’s Day we try to go for a walk somewhere, although we don’t always choose the beach. A few year’s ago, I suggested we take a turn around Richard W. DeKorte Park in the meadowlands. Previously we had only ever visited these trails in the spring and summer, but they were always chuck-full of wildlife of every description, so I didn’t see why winter would be much different.

However, what I hadn’t accounted for was how exposed to the elements we would be. The same open landscape that was so great in the summer meant that we were beaten by the cold winter wind from the moment we left the car, with no relief. It was a particularly cold winter that year, which certainly didn’t help.

You have to give us credit though, we braved it. We walked the entire perimeter of the West Pool. Despite the cold we did spot a few birds, hearty enough and brave enough to have endured these Baltic conditions. One single, very fluffy Song Sparrow was trying to look unaffected by the cold. He posed for me on top of a reed, making sure to turn his head a few times, so that I definitely got his best side.

Opposite the West Pool, the Saw Mill Creek Mudflats were mostly frozen over with the exception of a thin flowing stream running through. They were occupied by a very large flock of Mallards. Unlike the Sparrow, they were not trying to prove anything. They all had their faces buried deeply into their chests, hiding their bills from the cold.

A few Gulls were also around. One was very busy hunting, hovering over the water, peering into the depths. His persistence was rewarded in the end and he did catch a rather large fish, which he most definitely did not offer to share with any of the others.

Looking back on the experience, I think I can say with confidence that the wind was definitely fresh. But so far we have never repeated the experience of visiting Richard W. DeKorte Park in the “off-season.” I leave that to those who are made of sterner stuff than myself.

A Wintry Walk in the Celery Farms

One of the things I like most about the Celery Farms in Allendale, NJ is that it provides an interesting walk, regardless of the season. I know I have said Autumn is my favorite season to visit, and it is, but winter is definitely nice as well. Especially if the weather is snowy and the lake has frozen. In fact many of the locals play hockey on the ice, so on an early morning winter walk (especially during the school break) one often finds the parking lot full.

Winter at the Celery Farms is not really for the unadventurous. If you think the path is muddy in other seasons, wait until you experience it in the winter. What makes it more interesting is that the mud sometimes freezes awkwardly making footing complicated. Definitely don’t forget your boots. Besides slip-sliding on the paths, the platform stairs can also be a bit slippery, so take extra care.

But this extra effort to walk safely around the trail only makes the few sightings you have all the more rewarding. Usually winter at the Celery Farms yields the sightings you would expect. All our year round residents are there including Sparrows, Mallards, Canada Geese, Northern Cardinals, Dark-Eyed Juncos and Woodpeckers.

However, the lack of vegetation makes it possible to see some of the smaller birds that winter here, such as the Golden-Crowned Kinglet. The Golden-Crowned Kinglet is actually smaller than a Chickadee, making it really difficult to spot. But they have a tendency to flick their wings around as they hop from branch to branch, so the extra movement helps to attract one’s attention. They eat insects, fruit and drink tree sap (sans pancakes) as a part of a healthy balanced diet.

If you are having a particularly cold spell, you might see other birds and animals, flushed from discrete roosts to hunt for food. The deer are always foraging about and you never know if you will see other mammals wandering about.

Autumn in the Celery Farms

The Autumn is one of my favorite times to visit the Celery Farms. The air is usually crisp, the temperate is usually perfect for a leisurely stroll, and if you hit it just right, the trees around the lake just explode with color.

Taking advantage of a rare weekday off, I headed to the Celery Farms mid-morning and had it more to myself than I usually do. The weather and light couldn’t have been more perfect. I had all the time in the world, so I sat on benches, went up every platform and even made a second loop on the trail.

Waterfowl was the main attraction. There were all kinds of birds taking advantage of the water. Most prominent due to their size, were four Muted Swans, whose pure white was such a stunning contrast to the palette of colors behind them.

Canada Geese and Mallards were present, as they usually are, but with the aid of my telephoto lens I noticed that some of the ducks looked different, and their bills seemed longer. Once I got a good look at the male, I confirmed it, Northern Shovellers. It was really amazing I was able to see them at all, or their fronts at any rate. As soon as they got a breath of air, they were right back in the water, butts in the air. I can tell you, one duck butt looks much like the next.

Another smaller bird was also in the water. Swimming solo, it was so small my camera had trouble focusing on it. The largest challenge to photographing it was that it kept submerging and would pop up somewhere just beyond where I expected it to be. Quite the little swimmer. My photos didn’t come out as clear as I would have liked, but I am fairly certain it was a Pied-Billed Grebe.

Besides the water birds, I was able to spot several others as I made my way around the trail. One Robin even decided to pose for me, changing the position of his head back and forth like a supermodel in front of a lovely Autumn leaf backdrop. A Red-Bellied Woodpecker was likewise inclined.

While sitting on one of the platforms, a very fluffy and slightly frazzled looking Sparrow (Song Sparrow I think) was so intent of getting all the berries on the floor that he came right up by me. I couldn’t even photograph him with my lens, he was too close. We hung out together for quite a while. He wasn’t phased by my presence in the slightest. You could almost hear his inner monologue, “…eat the berries…there’s a berry! Eat the berry…need some more berries…there’s a berry!” as he zigzagged along the platform floor.

Some less common sightings for me on this particular walk were a female Ruby-Crowned Kinglet and a female Magnolia Warbler. I think both the decreased vegetation and my meandering pace helped me spot them, and both birds stayed in place long enough for a few nice shots.

A deer crossed my path as well. It wouldn’t be a day at the Celery Farms, no matter what season, if you didn’t see at least one deer.

Richard W. DeKorte Park, Lyndhurst, NJ

Another of the twenty parks managed by New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, Richard W. DeKorte Park (https://www.njsea.com/parks-and-trails/ ) was one of the first locations I ventured to when I started birding. It probably wouldn’t be a stretch to say that this park inspired me to become a bird watcher. We would pass it on the train and I kept wondering what this amazing place was, and how could I get there. One day I finally tried it, and it didn’t disappoint. I still go there regularly, and it never fails to amaze. In the heart of New Jersey’s Meadowlands, this wetland habitat is visited by over 285 different species. The 3.5 miles of trails include a boardwalk through the wetland area itself, as well as some grassy, treed areas. The Manhattan skyline is visible in the background with the highway and train line. Nature truly co-exists with man in this spot.

I always start by heading out on the Marsh Discovery trail with its boardwalk and bird blinds. There are many birds that you are sure to see here in the summer months. Top of the list is tree swallows. They truly dominate the area. Little wonder really. The whole habitat has been populated with tree swallow sized nest boxes, out in the middle of the marsh. They are constantly gliding overhead and chirping to each other in their hyper-active way. They do settle on banisters, nest boxes and vegetation if you are patience enough to wait. I can never get enough of photographing them. The sheen of their feathers in the direct sunlight is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

After the tree swallows, it is Great Egrets and Great Blue Heron you should expect to see. Sometimes, especially in spring and summer, there will be dozens of them, slowly making their way across the marsh, with their steady, exacting steps, heads down watching for anything tasty they might flush out of the mud. It is actually the Great Egrets that first attracted me to this place.

Being a marsh, Seagulls and Terns are also species you are likely to encounter on a walk here. The Seagulls tend to congregate at the mudflats, while the Terns like to explore the whole area. Their antics are more than a bit amusing. The Terns often remind me of the Three Stooges (even when there are more than three), as each of their actions always seem to be a direct reaction to some action another in the flock took. He hops away, I hop after. He flies up and lands, I fly up and land a little farther. These waterbirds are some of the only birds who remain on this spot through the winter, not a light-hearted prospect. I give them a lot of credit for braving the exposed waters, especially when the icy winter wind blows.

Other waterfowl can also be seen and at some points, such as early spring, you can see five or six different kinds of ducks. Mallards are usually abundant, but I have also spotted Northern Shovelers, Bufflehead and Greater Scaup. Canada Geese are sometimes here and the occasional Muted Swan can also be found floating around. Double-Crested Cormorants really like the mudflats. They usually congregate their in large groups, but you can sometimes see a lone Cormorant drying off its wings in the sunshine.

The song birds need their acknowledgment as well. Song Sparrows and Marsh Wrens fill the air with their songs. Red-Winged Blackbirds also make their presence known either with a loud call or a sudden appearance in the reeds. Catbirds, Robins and the occasional Grackle also like this spot, particularly the more forested areas.

One of the things that keeps me coming back to this location is the surprises that seem to be waiting at every turn. Yes, I see a lot of the same birds each trip, but I never know what other birds and animals might be waiting around the next curve in the boardwalk. I have seen woodchucks, painted turtles and so many lovely butterflies here. Some of my other favorite rare encounters include a pair of Lesser Yellowlegs wandering in the mudflats, a bright yellow Palm Warbler and a Yellow-Rumped Warbler.

Barbour’s Pond- Garret Mountain Reservation, Woodland Park NJ

Garret Mountain Reservation is a wonderful urban park. Located in Woodland Park, New Jersey, the park has at least two different vantage points where visitors can look down/out at the city of Paterson and beyond. Along with the paved paths frequented by walkers and joggers and the many picnic areas (some recently updated) with grills and picnic tables, there are also hiking trails. According to Passaic County’s website, the park welcomes over 150 species of birds throughout the year and the County sponsors Bird Watching meet-ups throughout the summer. While they are not as intense, nor as remote as the Appalachian Trail, they do provide good terrain for a short walk. I typically do not follow the whole trail (which basically works its way around the outer edge of the park. Instead I usually walk an easier and shorter loop around Barbour’s Pond.

Well shaded, the trail at Barbour’s Pond has lots of lovely ledges to sit on and watch the swallows. There are also many outlets to the water’s edge, though you often have competition for these spots from fishermen. In the many times I have walked this loop (often my go to spot between the end of the workday and an evening activity) many times and seen a great many birds. Most are the common New Jersey birds you would expect, but I have also seen a Palm Warbler, Killdeer, Ovenbird and what I believe was a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker.

On one particular summer afternoon in July the landscape was dominated, not by the flapping of feathered winging, but rather the flitting of an army of blue dragonflies

While the dragonflies stole the show, there were also Robins, Grackles, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Catbirds and mourning doves around and about. A pair of Canada Geese were surprisingly the only members of the species near the water. At one point I came across three Blue Jays, all a bit unsure of themselves. Upon closer inspection, you could see a few downy feathers still among their mostly adult plumage indicating that they were juveniles. The shrill of a baby Blue Jack was gone, but they still made a racket.

The swallows at Barbour’s Pond are usually far too busy to stop and pose for photos. One did land on a tree. Being darker blue/black, I believe it was a Bank Swallow. Bank swallows sometimes nest along stream bank and I think in the case of Barbour’s pond, they like the rock ledges which line one whole side of the pond. I have also seen Tree and Barn Swallows at the pond, but not on this occasion.

There were three Mallards hanging out in the shade by the edge of the pond, two males and one female. The males were between feathers, just molting into their breeding plumage. Their partially green heads were particularly odd to see. There are apparently six different plumages for the Mallard, four of which are different phases of the male’s feathers. You can see am great image of them all together at: www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/metro/urban-jungle/pages/110830.html?noredirect+on&noredirect=on

Besides the dragonflies, there was a lot of other interesting insect activity. Moths fluttered around and one beautiful blue-black butterfly. I didn’t get an amazing photo of it, but I can see enough of the wings with their iridescent blue to determine it was a Red-Spotted Purple. You can learn more about this butterfly at the North American Butterfly Association’s website: https://www.naba.org/chapters/nabanj/butterflies/red_spotted_admiral.html

Painted turtles were also everywhere, particularly in the algae covered edge of the pond directly in front of the boathouse. At first I didn’t realize quite how many there were. Most weren’t moving an inch. Rather, they were perfectly still, mostly submerged with the exception of just their heads popped up above the blanket of green algae. At first I thought they were the ends of sticks or maybe jagged rocks, but I knew I hadn’t seen that many rocks here on earlier visits. There were at least seven or eight turtles in this concentrated section, floating along, just chillin’.

To learn more about what Garret Mountain Reservation has to offer, and for a map of the trails, visit: www.passaiccountynj.org/passaic_county_park_system/parks/garret_mountain_reservation.php