By Steve Kelman, Trail Walker Contributor
On what may prove to be one the coldest days of this winter season, a small group of birding enthusiasts gathered at the cabin in front of the Closter Nature Center to take part in the Bergen County Audubon Society’s Annual Christmas Bird Count.
After a spate of unusually warm December weather, the mercury took a nosedive on this particular Saturday morning (Dec. 19) as this assemblage took to the Center’s nature trails in an effort to learn about and identify resident birds and waterfowl as part of the Audubon Society’s 67th annual event. More than a dozen species of birds were identified on our walk, which took us through a mix of wetlands and woodlands and around two ponds located within the Nature Center property: Ruckman and the “Hockey,” or Second Pond.
A highlight of the morning was getting a rare opportunity to view a screech owl as it rested (trying not to be seen, I’m sure) in an exposed tree stump along the Center’s Fern Trail. A serious effort was required to see this very small owl due to the fact that it perfectly blended in with its environs. Among the other bird species observed on our walk were tufted tit mouse, white breasted nuthatch, kingfisher, mallards, mourning doves, grackle, black capped chickadee, cardinal, downy and red headed woodpeckers, a pair of turkey vultures, and a red tail hawk. Some of these birds also were seen at feeders located near the cabin and Nature Center parking lot.
In addition to the numerous bird species, other wildlife was also observed on this outing. A group that took a separate trail spotted a coyote from what was, they said, “a safe distance.” And then there were others who watched “a floating log” on Ruckman Pond; that log was none other than a resident muskrat fishing for his breakfast.
The Christmas Bird Count took place throughout Bergen County. The objective was “to count all birds within a 15-mile diameter circle centered at the River Edge train station,” according to information in the Bergen County Audubon Society’s Newsletter, The Blue Jay. The official count period was from December 16 through 19; more than 80 species of birds were identified, Bergen County Audubon President Don Torino said.