Bird watching, stargazing, and exotic animals

Meadowlands center offers free events for fall

Have a burning desire to see a few dozen shore birds? Ever wonder what a Hooded Merganser looks like?
If so, the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission (NJMC) has an event schedule chock full of guided bird walks, butterfly sightings, and other opportunities for you to get up close and personal with nature.

For the birds

This being migration season, bird watching is, naturally, a major staple of the NJMC’s fall calendar.
Jim Wright, who leads guided bird walks through the state agency’s campus in Lyndhurst, said this is a particularly exciting time for the hobby. Construction work at the NJMC has led to lower levels in the waterways on the property, which has attracted more birds.


“We’ve had a lot of neat bugs this summer.” – Jim Wright

“For example, we have all these shore birds passing through,” Wright said. “They see the low water and know they don’t have to work too hard to get food. It’s easy to catch fish. So they’re stopping and staying awhile.”
In collaboration with the Bergen County Audubon Society, the NJMC will offer guided bird walks the first Sunday and third Tuesday of each month. Special impromptu walks are also scheduled whenever there’s a rare bird sighting in the area.
This month, the NJMC led four bird walks, Wright said. Bird watchers flocked to see a Northern Wheatear along the Transco Trail two weeks ago. Those who have tracked birds in the region for years believe this may have been a first for the Meadowlands area. (Incidentally, Wright said “wheatear” is an Old English term for “white arse.”)

Stargazing, wild butterflies, and composting – oh my

For those who couldn’t give two feathers about the difference between a parakeet and a pigeon, the NJMC has other events on tap. (The cold-natured may also be happy to know that most of these other events will be held indoors.)
Weather permitting, every Monday and Wednesday evening, the NJMC will host public viewing nights at its William D. McDowell Observatory, which just opened last year. Part of the NJMC’s Meadowlands Environment Center, the observatory features a 20-inch Cassegrain Telescope. On each of these special nights, the observatory staff will show members of the public two major objects and two celestial events in the nighttime sky.
On Oct. 3, Rick Mikula, a “butterfly farmer,” gave an interactive presentation. There are still a few live butterflies fluttering about outdoors, Wright said.
“We’ve had a lot of neat bugs this summer,” Wright said two weeks ago. “We had a lot of butterflies. The peak monarch migration was a few days ago, but we’re still getting them. I saw some Black Small Tails today. So they’re still around.”
In the second in a series of “green living” programs, the agency will present a workshop on “green remodeling” on Oct. 19. The workshop will help participants discover ways to conserve energy and rebuild sustainably. The workshop will be led by Karen Halo, who frequently shares her personal experience of being overcome by chemical fumes while renovating her own home some years ago. Halo will share what’s she’s learned about indoor air quality and energy conservation.
For the truly green at heart, there will be a workshop on the brass tacks of at-home composting on Oct. 17 that will offer insights on, among other things, indoor worm bins.

Music, animals, and stuff for kids

Ed Alstrom, the weekend organist for the Yankees, will bring his musical trio to the NJMC on Oct. 25 for a concert from the “great American songbook.” Two weeks later, violinist Eric Silberger will join pianist Yelena Grinberg for a classical music concert on Nov. 8. Together they will perform the works of Mozart, Schumann, and Paganini, among other composers.
A Nov. 14 performance by the Thunderbird American Indian Dancers, who incorporate narrative storytelling into their shows, rounds out the trilogy of cultural events coming up at the NJMC this fall.
Joe Fortunato, better known as “Jungle Joe” of Animal Junction, will return to the Meadowlands on Oct. 29 for an exploration of the origins, habitats, and diets of live exotic animals, including a baby kangaroo, lemur, and several reptiles.
There will also be a Halloween party for children ages 5 through 10 on Oct. 29 complete with hay rides, games, food, and a “mystery walk.”
“We’re trying to reach as many people as we can,” Wright said. “With increased ecotourism, we’re trying to get the word out that the Meadowlands is a great place to see. Also, people can’t save what they don’t know.”
Most of these programs are offered free of charge. For more information, call (201) 460-1700.

E-mail E. Assata Wright at


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