Posts Tagged ‘migration’

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.


Whooping cranes still migrating

January 7, 2010

I am still fascinated by the whooping cranes and their slow migration behind the ultralight aircraft. They are flying today, expected to reach Georgia. It’s been a rough migration, with a lot of down days due to bad weather and winds, but their Florida destination is not far off now.

See or to watch live streaming video on flight mornings.

When these cranes fly on their own next year, the 1200-mile trip back from Florida to Wisconsin will take only a few weeks, now that they’ve learned the route and can fly at up to 5000 feet on the thermals. Up there, they soar for 10 to 12 hours a day, but the ultralights can’t go that high. At around 1000 feet, the birds get support from the vortex off the plane’s wing, but they still have to flap a lot, a more tiring flight, and the plane carries only three hours worth of gas. Therefore, they fly in legs of one to three hours per day, depending on whether there’s a helpful tailwind or crosscurrents they have to fight. So the assisted migration, which began in late October, is just now nearing its completion, almost 3 months later.

It’s a lot of work saving an endangered species.

All along the route, landowners with open fields have been contacted, and those that are willing prepare themselves for the arrival of 20 young whoopers, four ultralight “trikes”, several trailers to house support crew, and trucks to haul the pen that is set up in the field for the duration of the birds’ stay. The hosts often cook for the crew and open up their home for use of bathrooms. No one can tell them exactly when the whole gang will arrive or how long they will remain, since the weather is in charge. And if they hit a good tailwind, the pilots might decide, on a moment’s notice, to skip a stop, and all the hosts’ preparation will be for naught.

The pens must be set up out of sight of the house, since the protocol requires isolating the cranes from all human contact, except for non-speaking crew members in baggy white bird costumes.

But people who agree to host the cranes say they are glad to do it, just for the privilege of watching the flyovers and feeling they’ve been a part of the inspiring work of saving these ungainly yet beautiful birds from extinction.