Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Hawks -- and others -- rise above Linden

Parks in highly-developed areas can be a bit of a roulette game from a birding perspective. Depending on the site's location and size, you could find something as profound as a pair of nesting eagles (as in Ridgefield Park's Overpeck Park, hard by I-80 and the Overpeck Creek), or as mundane as grackles (multiple places I'll not name to protect the innocent). I wasn't sure quite what we'd find when I suggested we check out the newly-opened, 95-acre Hawk Rise Sanctuary in Linden this past Saturday.

To the average person, Hawk Rise's location might not sound all that promising, stuck on the broad strip of land between Route 1 and the Turnpike, amid warehouses, a tank farm and a recently-capped city landfill. Then again, that description isn't much different from the way many people would characterize the Meadowlands, and we know how vibrantly alive with wildlife that region is. Plus, New Jersey Audubon was actively involved in developing the sanctuary with the City of Linden. I felt pretty confident that the trip would bear at least some good sightings.

Hawk Rise Sanctuary Linden NJ
The path from the parking lot leads you through woods.
Signs at the park's Range Road entrance mark out the course of a wide 1.25-mile gravel and plank trail that brings visitors through a variety of habitats. While the landfill is off limits, you can see it at the eastern edge of the preserve, covered with grasses and the occasional shrub. We began our trek through the wooded area just as police at the nearby shooting range started practice. Between that and the sound of barking from the adjacent animal shelter, it was hard to imagine that we'd soon hear the chatter of more than 30 species of birds.

That, however, is exactly what happened. The farther we walked in, the more the outside noise faded away,  replaced by the sounds of nature. By the time we made our way through the woods to the edge of the landfill (Mount Linden?) Ivan was recording names of birds he'd heard but not spotted, which I've never seen him do.

Hawk Rise Sanctuary Linden NJ
Marsh with capped landfill in the distance.
The trail straightens out once you get to the landfill, so the mound is to your left and a healthy wetland is to your right. As we walked along, we caught the song of the oft-heard-but-rarely-seen marsh wren, along with the call of the ubiquitous red-winged blackbird. A willow flycatcher stood atop one of the marsh reeds, occasionally adding his voice to the chorus.

Looking up and tracking, with binoculars to eyes, Ivan called, "Osprey!" Not unexpected, considering how close we were to water, but a nice find.

I heard something else rapidly approaching us overhead. "L-10-11," I called, checking out the recent take-off from Newark Liberty. We never quite forgot we were within ten miles of the airport, but the jet noise stayed well within acceptable limits.

The trail ends in a cul-de-sac boardwalk about twenty feet or so from the edge of the Rahway River, and while you can see houses and a little bit of industry at the far side, there's plenty of nature to observe. A killdeer picked through the mudflat a few feet ahead of us, and a snowy egret was doing some morning fishing in some shallower water farther away.

Hawk Rise Sanctuary Linden NJ Rahway River
The eagle was just on the other side of the river. I swear.
The real surprise of the day was perched beyond the egret, at the far bank of the river. From the size and coloration of the bird, there was no question: it was an adult bald eagle, looking very comfortable in his (or her) environs. The majestic bird stood there patiently, giving us a nice side view and leaving only as a small motorboat approached. Even then, it didn't go for altitude, simply gliding a few feet above the water for as far as we could track it. Given that eagles tend to avoid human activity, it was kind of surprising to note that when we sighted it, the bird appeared to be just a few hundred feet away from the edge of a residential neighborhood. We hadn't heard anything about a nesting pair in the vicinity, but I guess anything's possible.

Our walk back through the woods netted us a few more species, including Baltimore oriole, indigo bunting and a heard-but-not-seen red-bellied woodpecker. Oddly, we didn't see a single Canada goose on the landfill or near the river. Could we have found the one place in Union County they haven't discovered?

Even considering all our great finds, I think I was most heartened by the potential for Hawk Rise to make so many more people aware of what's living -- and what's possible -- in our most industrial settings. Audubon will be running a series of events there, and the organization is working with Linden schools to include the sanctuary in the local science curriculum. We need more stuff like this in New Jersey.


  1. Sue I lived in New Jersey for 43 years of my life and I always marvel at the spots you find that either I have never been to or had a clue of why or how or by whom it was named after. I really enjoy reading your blog!

    1. Thanks, John! I'm glad we can introduce you to those lesser-known parts of the state.

  2. Replies
    1. We've been there several times with no problems. Plus, the police firing range is right nearby, and they patrol the trails periodically.


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