Monday, May 7, 2007

Birding Bayonne

ayonne's Rutkowski Park and Hudson County's Gregg Park are contiguous parcels fronting on a three-quarter-mile stretch of Newark Bay. Though they comprise a relatively small area, the habitats present are tremendously diverse.

Gregg Park's upper level is traditional, urban parkland -- widely spaced deciduous growth sans understory (home to a variety of Woodpeckers and the hunting purview of at least one Merlin, which I watched pursue and snatch a Downy last week). It's lower level is level athletic field stretching westward to a promenade along the bay and encompassing a small grass-edged pond.

Separating the two levels is a steeply graded, woody escarpment that is a Warbler and Vireo bonanza (Black-throated Blue, Black-and-White, Ovenbird, Redstart, Yellowthroat, Yellow-rumped, Magnolia and even a Cerulean Warbler on Saturday 5/5, with Blue-headed, Warbling and White-eyed Vireo also in evidence). It offers easy views of tree-top birds when you walk the upper path, and the upslope facing the lower path steals depth from the understory for good views of ground-feeders and tangle-hoppers like Thrasher, Towhee, Common Yellowthroat, Thrushes, Ovenbird and Catbird.

Rutkowski Park begins with a quarter-mile boardwalk that traverses a small lagoon and a three-acre mudflat/tidal stream/tidal pool (depending on the tide). This has yielded Egrets, Kingfisher, Gulls, Diving and Dabbling Ducks, Peeps, Greater Yellowlegs, and Herons. The boardwalk exits onto a sandy beach on Newark Bay (Double-crested Cormorant and Spotted Sandpiper in May; Great Blue Heron, Red-breasted Merganser, Bufflehead, Greater Scaup, and Red-throated Loon in April) that gives access to a brushy meadow with six well spaced pines (Palm and Pine Warblers in April; Kingbird, Phoebe, and several varieties of Sparrow now) and a scrubby edge where I saw Ring-necked Pheasant in a Saturday morning mist.

Oddly, despite this concentrated variety of birding vistas (I've had 50+ species on two occasions in less than three hours), these two parks are sparsely birded compared to North Hudson County Park in West Bergen, and Jersey City's Liberty State Park and Lincoln Park West. Two regular Hudson County contributors to the indispensable Jersey Birds listserv -- one of whom lives in Bayonne -- never seem to file reports from these areas.

Other advantages are a good proximity to the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail stop at 45th Street, and a pleasant, old-style New Jersey neighborhood surrounding the landward side of the parks (full of House Finch). It only takes five minutes to give the Great and Snowy Egrets a moment of privacy and grab a cup of coffee from a bodega, or a slice of great pizza from Johnny's on Avenue C (try that in Wisconsin or Southeast Ohio!). Give it a try if you're in the neighborhood.

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