Thursday, February 17, 2011

Meeting the Edgewater parakeets

Given the seasonably warm weather we'd been having, I decided to take a solo trip to check out the Monk Parakeets of Edgewater. I've known about them since I worked for PSE&G. The birds tend to build their enormous nests next to pole-top transformers, which is a fire danger and has the potential to short out the electrical service to entire neighborhoods.
Edgewater monk parakeets
Parakeets, nicely obscured.
Kinda nice photo, don't you think?

Parakeets flying free in the New Jersey suburbs? Yup... more than 200 of them, apparently, and they've pretty much been spiritually adopted by Edgewater residents, who put out bird feeders for them and enjoy their antics. The birds themselves are about a foot long with a 19 inch wingspan, and are mostly a delightful shade of green, with a gray chest and underbelly.

Finding them could be an adventure. Edgewater isn't a huge town, but I didn't really relish the idea of driving slowly up and down streets, looking for flashes of green and listening for squawks. Before I left, I did a quick Google search to see if I could locate a street, at least, where they'd been seen, and go from there. That, I was able to find.

My route took me close to the Lincoln Tunnel and then north through Union City and then Weehawken (note to self: next time, stop at the park and look for the site of the famous duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr). The whole time, I wasn't more than a few blocks from the shoreline of the Hudson River, sometimes with spectacular views of Manhattan. No doubt, some pricey apartments along the way.

Once in Edgewater, I quickly found the street I was looking for, but as I drove it slowly, I saw no evidence of the parakeets. Hmm... maybe they'd moved? I went back to River Road, the main drag, and figured I'd try another cross street a little farther up.

Waiting for a traffic light, I saw important evidence in a park on the opposite side of the street. One of the trees had a few very large nests constructed of sturdy sticks. Yup: former parakeet condos. There could be something nearby! I made a quick left and parked the car a few yards up from the tree.

Before leaving the house, I'd made the strategic decision to bring only the camera. Somehow, I felt that using binoculars in a residential neighborhood would look a little suspicious. This thought, however, did not occur to me when it came to the moderately long lens I was using, and the unipod I set up to ensure I got some shake-free closeups. Accustomed to visiting birders, the locals wouldn't think twice about bins... it's the camera that might seem a tad weird.

In any case, it didn't take long for me to spot the birds just across the street from where I'd parked. They seemed to be attracted to two trees -- one vine covered and the other totally lacking any foliage. Some were perched there as if it was their 9-5 job; others flew in and away periodically. It took a few moments for me to grasp that I'd actually found them so easily (initially I was convinced they had to be really weird pigeons or something), but once I had, I started snapping photos rapidly. I didn't know what kind of shots I'd get, but that's the glory of digital photography: you just shoot and ask questions later. What you're seeing here are just a few examples of what I was able to crop from larger photos. I'm starting to think that maybe there's something to this nature photography stuff (another note to self: resist urge to buy several expensive camera lenses).

A guy from a nearby pizza place came out to ask me if I was taking pictures of the birds. He proudly told me they'd been there about 15 years and that "they own those two trees." Good location info, and I'm glad I got there before the leaves start to bud and obscure the swarm of perched birds.

You might be asking why it is that tropical birds have made a home in Northern New Jersey. Well, it's a good question, with many hypotheses. These guys have settled in several places around the country, including, most locally, Brooklyn. The unproven theory is that the original birds escaped from a shipment at one of the airports about 30 years ago, but nobody really knows. Like so many New Jerseyans, they came from somewhere else, and regardless of how they got here, they seem to be sticking around for the long haul, through tough winters and sizzling summers. You've got to give them credit for that. And at least they don't have to pay property tax.



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