Posts Tagged ‘suburban’

Ducks and drakes celebrate spring

April 9, 2010

I don’t know about the bees, but the birds seem to think spring is here – at least the ducks are in an amorous mood.

Since my discovery of Coles Brook, I’ve taken to doing my laundry in River Edge, around a corner from the brook’s meander towards Hackensack. While the laundry is drying, I wander along the stream, taking note of the level of trash and the clarity – or not – of the water. As I was heading back to the laundromat last week, I heard a commotion coming from the stream, and a loud quacking overhead.

At the edge of the stream, two mallard drakes were fighting. They wrestled and flapped, on the bank and in the water, the female sticking close, almost touching them. Eventually, one of the males climbed onto the back of the other one and held him underwater. When he let go, the loser flew off upstream. The winner promptly followed him.

I looked around to see where the quacking was coming from. A crow, seated on top of a pole, was making strangely duck-like noises. It shut up soon after the drakes disappeared.

The female mallard swam around in the shallows, reared up and flapped her wings, climbed onto a wheeled board stranded in the water. When the victorious male returned, they swam together, the female in front. They did a little preening, a little bill dipping.

A great honking announced the arrival of a pair of Canada geese, which settled onto the water just around the bend. It’s hard to say whether the prospect of being interrupted pushed the male to pounce, but a few moments later, he darted at the female, climbed onto her back, grabbed the nape of her neck in his bill, and for half a minute or so, they wriggled. Then he slid off and released her neck.

They dipped their bills in the water, swam to the shallows and preened. The female put her head underwater, probably seeking a snack, while the male remained alert nearby. I suppose he was guarding his woman against his opponent’s return.

The geese swam idly past, paying little attention, but I was delighted to have witnessed wild duck love, right in River Edge.


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.

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!

Deer in the suburbs

November 8, 2009


At 9:00 a.m., in suburban New Jersey, I’m watering the hollies, one of the few shrub species that thrives in the streetside pollution. Suddenly a white-tailed doe bounds into view from across the street and darts into the strip of woods alongside the driveway. I’m not totally shocked, since we often see deer in the 20-acre nature preserve that surrounds the house on three sides. But the fourth side is a four-lane road with cars zooming by at 40 m.p.h. most of the day and night, and in the year I’ve been staying here, I’ve never seen a deer along the street in the daytime.

I’m tempted to follow the doe, who is now browsing in the thickets, but I hear leaves rustling on the other side of the street, so I turn to look. A buck with an impressive rack of antlers is poised at the curb, aiming at a gap in the traffic. He bounds across the eastbound lanes to the median and leaps forward just after a car passes. However, the next car is pretty close behind. The buck lowers his head and strains ungracefully to put on speed. He lands on the sidewalk just inches ahead of the black SUV, whose bewildered driver turns to look. The buck catches up with the doe, and they wander south, browsing. Does they know it’s Sunday morning, and traffic is light, or are they simply driven by hormones?

I stalk them clumsily through the woods. The buck notices me right away and stares. Population is too dense for hunting here, so the deer are relatively incautious. I stand still until he goes back to feeding, then I sneak forward. They avoid me casually until I can see, over the stately antlers, traffic going by the south edge of the preserve. I want the deer to turn east into the bulk of the woods, but what if I chase them into the road again, and one of them gets hit by a car? I would feel terrible. I go back to watering hollies, bemused by that Sunday morning treat.