Elizabeth, New Jersey is home to skyscrapers, parking lots, and one of the busiest seaports in the eastern United States, but may not immediately come to mind when thinking of a location for bird watching as part of the Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count. Appearances can be deceiving though, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with the Friends of the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Groundwork Elizabeth, and the National Wildlife Refuge Association, successfully hosted their third-annual Christmas Bird Count in Elizabeth on December 17, 2022.
The city of Elizabeth, which was designated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as an official Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership City, has many green spaces that serve as an oasis for a number of birds. Elizabeth residents had the opportunity to see a wide variety of bird species on a chilly Saturday during the holiday season with some guidance from a number of experienced birders.
The event started at Mattano Park, where a juvenile bald eagle was spotted soaring in the wind. “A great start for the count” exclaimed Randi Emmer, a member of the Friends of Great Swamp NWR who has participated in all three Christmas Bird Counts in Elizabeth. The group then traveled to Marciante Jackson-Millet Park on the Elizabeth Waterfront where they observed a variety of waterfowl and ended the event at the Phil Rizzuto Outdoor Nature and Education Center where several songbirds were spotted. Many of the event’s participants had no idea about the diversity of species that could be found in their community, such as Groundwork Elizabeth Green Team member Juelz Trinidad who shared that the event was “honestly a great experience and something I never thought I would do and enjoy here in Elizabeth.” Fellow Green Team member Chris Palacios agreed, stating that “the amount of birds in a city environment is great…it was fun to go to different parks in Elizabeth.” Helping to guide the adventure through the different green spaces in Elizabeth was life-long Elizabeth resident and Community Engage Specialist for the National Wildlife Refuge Association Lucy Crespo. A ten-year member of Groundwork Elizabeth before embarking on her new position with the Refuge Association, Crespo shared that “it’s vital that we preserve these open spaces for local flora and fauna, it’s all they have left.”
The annual Christmas Bird Count is a great opportunity to educate local residents about the birds in their community and highlight the wonderful green spaces in an urban setting located a short drive from New York City. All the partners work with the City of Elizabeth year-round to maintain the parks through a variety of community-led stewardship events, including native flora plantings, trash clean-ups, and invasive flora removal. Jared Green of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shared that the Elizabeth Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership is a success “due to the efforts of our outstanding partners and the support of the residents of Elizabeth, who are learning today about the amazing array of bird species that can be found right in their own neighborhoods.” The Count was particularly fruitful this year, with 28 different species of birds observed, including a red-headed woodpecker, according to Friends of Great Swamp NWR member Kathy Woodward. In addition to providing bird identification assistance during the event, the Friends of the Great Swamp NWR generously gifted Groundwork Elizabeth several sets of binoculars to use in their educational programs, with the hope that they will inspire the next generation of birders.
For those interested in joining the next birding event as part of the Elizabeth Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership, the Audubon Society’s Great Backyard Bird Count will take place on Friday February 17th, 2023 at the Peterstown Community Center at 11AM.
This article was written by Lucy Crespo, Urban Community Engagement Specialist for the National Wildlife Refuge Association and Jared Green of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.