It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s superman, oh wait, no, it is a bird! Most residents in Elizabeth, New Jersey, may not be aware that their city lies along the Atlantic Flyway (the route that millions of birds take as they migrate between their nesting and wintering areas), but one local partnership is working to change that through a series of introductory birding events in downtown Elizabeth. Home to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Elizabeth Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with the Friends of the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Groundwork Elizabeth, Josephine’s Place, the City of Elizabeth's Peterstown Community Center, and the National Wildlife Refuge Association, recently hosted their annual Great Backyard Bird Count in Elizabeth on February 17th, 2023. Elizabeth residents had the opportunity to see a wide variety of bird species on a rainy Friday morning with some guidance from several experienced birders.
The event, which took place along the Elizabeth River, started at the Peterstown Community Center with some introductory bird-watching tips before the over 65 participants headed outdoors. Sierra Hairston, Recreation Leader for the Peterstown Community Center, offered to host the event at her site because “it’s important for seniors to get out into nature and enjoy activities like bird-watching because it provides an opportunity to exercise, improves mobility, and helps reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.”
The Friends of Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge generously donated binoculars for community members to use at the event and for future bird-watching trips, as well as serving as guides to assist the participants in identifying the different bird species. Randi Emmer, Vice-President and Outreach Chair for the Friends of Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, stated that the participants “are not only eager to go birding, but want to learn as much as possible about the birds they see, and I am more than willing to provide interesting facts on those birds to make the day extra special for them." The Friends of Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge also generously donated a pizza lunch for the participants to enjoy after they had wrapped up their bird-watching activities.
Community members taking part in the bird count had the opportunity to see and learn about a wide variety of birds, including a flock of over 165 Canada geese, red-winged blackbirds, and even a downy woodpecker. The chance to introduce Elizabeth residents to birds they may not have seen before was very important to the event’s organizers, with Groundwork Elizabeth Director of Youth Initiatives Beren Delgado sharing that “we at Groundwork Elizabeth believe everyone has the right to explore nature. We work with our partners…to ensure anyone can have access to green spaces in order to cultivate an appreciation of nature in all of its beauty."
While many of the participants were inspired by the many birds they observed, inspiration was also found in the people taking part in the event. Groundwork Elizabeth Youth Leader Darian Griffin said “while learning about the environment is fun, I feel that learning about why the friends that I have made so far at these events are so invested…that they use it as a way to connect with nature. To take a moment out of their lives to appreciate the things that literally fly over their heads means a lot to them, and in turn it means a lot to me.”
For those interested in joining the Elizabeth Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership’s next event, please join us at Phil Rizzuto Park on Friday April 21st at 1PM for the annual “Boots Not Suits” Earth Day Celebration.
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.