Naturalist Witkowski, from the Bergen County Audubon Society, is conducting a new survey of birds in the area. The "scientific sampling survey" is funded by the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.
"I'm very happy to do this. I love to be outdoors counting and collecting data," said Witkowski.
A total of 34 species have been recorded at a 13 separate stops (points) in Secaucus.
The project includes the tidal wetlands, palustrine wetlands, and uplands along the lower Hackensack River north of Jersey City. These areas support significant concentrations of waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds, raptors and other avian delights.
Witkowski said each point, or stop, is visited once every two to three weeks. During 10-minute intervals, every bird seen or heard within 250 meters is counted and recorded in a log.
The log allows the birds to be recorded by distance, habitat, and compass direction. Based on the sampling data, population densities can be estimated.
The data will also be used to determine which locations have the greatest numbers of birds and species diversity. This information can also be used to prioritize conservation efforts.
"Ken has a very meticulous point of view when conducting the survey," said Hackensack Riverkeeper Captain Bill Sheehan. "This information will allow intelligent decisions to guide restoration efforts."
Sheehan assisted Witkowski on the project by providing access by boat to areas in the district that could not be reached conveniently over the course of a day.
Mill Creek Many birds set their sights on the intertidal and intermittently flooded common reed marshes known as Phragmites australis and lesser areas as such as shallow tidal bay/mudflat and low salt marsh dominated by low marsh cordgrass.
For recording birds, there were five points on Mill Creek, one at Schmidt's Woods, three on Cromakill Creek West, and four on Cromakill Creek East.
Witkowski said the highlights of Friday's survey included the sighting of two Peregrine Falcons, 25 Snowy Egrets, and more than 100 Semi-palmated Sandpipers at Mill Creek, and one Osprey on Cromakill Creek East. "As the tides come and go, fish will stay in one spot and the birds show up for an easy meal," said Witkowski. "It's slow this time of year, but at times, several thousand migrating shorebirds can be seen at a given location feeding on the mudflats in the Dekorte area as well as Mill Creek and Cromakill Creek."
Wild turkey There are 27 different locations being surveyed at 113 points in the Meadowlands, Witkowski said. As of Friday, there have been 183 species recorded in the designated spots supporting seasonal or year-round bird populations. Plus, there are additional species not noted before in NJ Meadowlands Commissions checklist.
Witkowski said that since he started surveying in August 2004, he saw a Common Raven at Laurel Hill Park in Secaucus, Eurasian Wigeon in Kearny, and Great Cormorant on the River at Laurel Hill Park. There was a Wild Turkey seen at the Sawmill Landfill in North Arlington and the Empire Tract in Carlstadt.
Other birds that are not seen often included the Black-necked Stilt on the Hackensack River, and Wilson's Phalarope and Blue Grosbeak on the Sawmill landfill. There were Bald Eagles in the fall and winter along the river from various locations and also at Dekorte.
"This type of survey is beyond a snapshot of bird populations. It can show how the bird population changes over time," said NJMC Director of Public Information Chris Gale. "The controls allow you to repeat the process - it sets the stage for future surveys."
When the survey in finished next week, the data Witkowski collected will go to the Audubon Society's Cape May Bird Observatory Center for Research and Education.