Posts Tagged ‘Hackensack River’

Bald Eagles visit the Hackensack River

March 14, 2010

Two great dark wings stretch up above the water and then fold back down. The tide is running out, and swaths of mud flats are exposed along the shores of the river. As I approach, I see the big bird in the shallows near the opposite bank, struggling with something. I notice its white head and think of the large black-backed gulls that soar over the river. But when the wings go up again, I see that the whole underside of the bird is dark, so it can’t be a sea gull.

My presence distracts the feathered one from what is probably its dinner. It stares at me, then lifts off and traces two swooping arcs over the water, showing its white tail—it’s a bald eagle, right here on the Hackensack River!

A dark shape flops a few times in the shallows—presumably a fish, making its way back to the deep water. The eagle settles in a tree, and I see that another eagle is already sitting in the branches. I step closer, and my boots almost disappear in the sucking mud. One of the eagles flies to a tree slightly upstream, and I loop inland to a better vantage point. When I step out of the brush onto the bank, it takes off, circling again before it disappears downstream.

I sit on a concrete block, a remnant of some past shoreline structure, regretting that I chased the eagle away and wondering what the other one will do. A gull lands on a distant wedge of mud, near the eagle’s tree, and pecks at something repeatedly.

A common merganser flies past. It’s a female, her grey body low over the water, reddish-brown head stretched out, wings beating in that rapid rhythm characteristic of ducks. Three males follow her, flickers of black and bright white.

The eagle launches from the tree, causing the gull to take off hastily in the opposite direction. The eagle soars downriver, and the gull returns to its ministrations.

I wondered if the eagles were nesting in the area, so I checked in with Capt. Bill Sheehan of Hackensack Riverkeeper. He replied, “There are two known nest sites in the Hackensack Watershed. One is on United Water property in Haworth near the water treatment plant. The other is also on United Water property at Woodcliff Lake. The birds you saw are regular visitors to this part of the river this time of year. They come down from the Great White North and feed on carp and anything else they kill or find.”

I regret that my eagerness to get a good view chased the eagles away. I recommend carrying binoculars and remaining in the shelter of trees if you happen to spot our two visitors.

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Found: Coles Brook

January 29, 2010

Coles Brook is a small creek that empties into the Hackensack River at New Bridge Landing, once the site of a tide-powered mill and a wharf that serviced boats transporting goods up and down the river.

One day I was watching Canada geese noodle around the mouth of the brook, and I wondered where the rest of it was. In my travels around Hackensack and River Edge, I had never noticed a body of water flowing among the buildings. Maybe it just vanished underground! I decided to track down Coles Brook.

On a nippy afternoon, I set out on my bicycle, crossed the Old New Bridge, and noted where the brook passed behind some apartment buildings, its bank inaccessible due to a chain link fence. I could see the culvert conveying the stream under Hackensack Avenue, a six-lane throughfare leading to two malls, 1/8 mile down the road.

Across the avenue, I parked my bike in the lot beside the train station, and stepped into a narrow, litter-strewn patch of woods. There I discovered a five-story parking garage that formed the opposite bank of the brook. A dozen geese drifted in its meager current. I picked my way through the scraggly trees and around the bend of the stream to see it flow into its next culvert, beneath the railroad tracks and under Johnson Avenue.

On the other side of Johnson, I picked up the brook between a line of two-story apartments and the back yard of a building supply store on Route 4. The stream was about 20 feet across at this point and up to a foot deep. Despite the trash adorning its banks, the water was surprisingly clear. I could see every rock, stick, hubcap, and chunk of plastic on the stream bottom.

On the grass behind the apartment buildings, six geese were foraging. I moved forward slowly, so as not to alarm them. Instead of retreating, they all turned and walked toward me. When I failed to toss out any stale bread, they wandered away. Occasionally, they would dip their heads in an odd little gesture, followed by a movement of their bills. Sniffing the air? Communicating in some subsonic mode?

In the strip of woods beside the stream, three squirrels were cavorting in a spiral chase around a tree trunk. Two of them crawled out a branch to nearly the end, their weight lowering the branch to a power line that paralleled the stream. The lead squirrel leapt onto the cable, and from there to a tree on the other side of the stream.

The lightened branch sprang up into the air, Squirrel #2 hanging on. It made a daredevil leap for another twig, but couldn’t reach the power line. Finally it found the right branch and followed its friend across the stream.

There is so much to see along Coles Brook!