As the sun sank lower, cars started to arrive at the Liberty Loop parking lot. They pulled in by ones and twos. I had been standing there for hours with my feet ice cold in the snow jawing with some bird photographers. We watched Harriers, Red-tailed and Rough-legged Hawks, a Merlin and loads of Canada Geese and Sparrows. A Barred owl started to inquire about our dinner arrangements.
One of the photographers had been coming to the marsh for weeks and had not seen a Short-eared Owl in all that time. I had not seen one there since mid-December. As people arrived asking about the Owls, we all just shrugged. Many people left, heck, I left. But after a tongue-burning cup of cocoa, I came back to resume the vigil.
Friends of mine from Long Island arrived bubbling with news of having seen Long-eared Owls. As they told there story again and again for new arrivals, I idly scanned the marsh. They must have brought owl luck with them for as the sun inched further in the west and the sky’s pastels turned fiery, a Short-eared Owl rose from the marsh and started to course back and forth. I whirled around shouting at the photographers chatting in the parking lot. “We’ve got owls!” Everyone hustled up to the upper level.
In the end there were 4. The cool thing was that it was light enough that you could easily see the differences between the male and females and tell them apart.
I just learned the answer to the burning question. How do muskrats eat in winter? It is the question that is keeping you up nights, I know. While I was at the Liberty Loop of the Wallkill National Wildlife Refuge today, I saw a muskrat trot across the snow and burrow into a footprint. Very smart I thought, since there is a hard crusty layer of ice on top of the snow. I walked over to peer at the dark lump and all I saw was scuffed up grass and a tail. Being vegetarian, he had burrowed into the snow to get at the grass underneath.
Then, with his tummy full, he was off. “Home Again, Home Again, Riggity Jig.” He reminded me of Ratty from Wind in the Willows.
His little snow covered den looks cozy doesn’t it.
I signed up for the 1st pontoon boat eco-cruise through the marsh at 7 am. Of course this meant I left my house at 5:15. I thought I would spare you the early morning drive and give you a virtual ride.
3 boats left the River Barge Park and Marina in Carlstadt. Our boat was captained by the RiverKeeper himself. My friend from Oak in the Seed has a great post on the trip.
It was hazy and misty as we motored away from the dock.
As we went up river, turning past the school park and gliding into the marsh, the sun started to burn away the fog.
We startled some Snowy Egrets.
While this Black-crowned Nightheron just watched us go.
We turned and went down river, sometimes ducking or bending over in our seats as we passed under bridges until we reached the open marsh. We heard loads of Marsh Wrens in the reeds. There were Red-winged Blackbirds, Great and Snowy Egrets, Double-crested Cormorants, juvenile Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned Nightherons, Great Blue Herons, Greater Black-backed Gulls, Ring-billed Gulls, a Common Yellow-Throat and an American Kestrel on a light post. We saw an Osprey snag a fish only to lose it. Since it was high tide, we saw no shorebirds on the trip.
As we floated amongst the byways, a commuter train crossed the trestle. I sat watching it go, reflecting on all the birds I used to see from the train windows when I commuted into the City every day to work; crossing this same marsh but not knowing it. Now I was on this side of the glass.
The Meadowlands Commission has evening cruises and canoe paddling trips into the marshes. Time is running out this year. Call now if you are interested.
Filed under festival, Travel
When I think of Ibis, I think of heat, marshes, phragmites, salt on my lips and in the air. And most definitely the south. While on a business trip to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in the dead of summer, I decided to go for a swim at 6am. The heat had not yet set in and it was wonderful out. As I trudged across the sand, stepping around people sleeping on the beach; I stopped in my tracks astounded when I saw several White Ibis digging through the garbage cans. I had never seen anything like it. Here I thought Ibis delicately probed in the muck for insects, fish or crustaceans. But let me tell you these Ibis were fighting it out with the gulls for the tastiest morsels. The shadow in the picture is the garbage can. I wish I had zoomed out so you could see it. Huh, who knew? Ibis prefer stalking the garbage bins for food instead of working the mud. Or at least these did.
Filed under Photos, Travel