Last year, the N.J. Meadowlands Commission sponsored a “Big Year” contest, asking top area birders to see who could see the most species in 2012.
The grand prize winner, Chris Takacs of Lyndhurst, saw an astounding 211 species -- and only five more than NJMC staffer Mike Newhouse, who set the bar for the dozen entrants.
Chris, a dedicated birder, regularly helps with the NJMC Banding Project and often participates in the twice-monthly walks sponsored by the NJMC and Bergen County Audubon Society.
In the “out of district” category, we had a two-way tie. Doug Morel of Mahwah and Ramon Gomez of West New York each saw 171 species.
For their Herculean efforts, all three birders receive an autographed copy of “The Nature of the Meadowlands,” an NJMC pontoon boat ride for two and a one-year membership in the Meadowlands Environment Center public programming.
Because Chris had the highest tally, the BCAS is donating $211 -- one for each species -- in Chris’ name to buy native plants for a Meadowlands park or natural area.
We caught up with Chris recently to get his thoughts on the Big Year -- and on birding in the Meadowlands.
How long have you been birding here?
Ever since I started birding in 2003. It's like my "backyard place" to bird. I can easily walk or bike there.
Did you have a target number for the Meadowlands this year?
My target was 200 birds. I didn't think I would make it because I was spending a lot of time birding other areas of Bergen County. But working for the banding site kept me there 35 to 40 hours a week in the fall.
What were you “best” birds?
I saw a lot of great birds here last year -- whimbrel, Baird's sandpiper, white pelican, tundra swans, Hudsonian godwit, yellow-throated vireo and common redpoll. But redpoll and white pelican were probably my favorites because I had the opportunity share them with many others.
Why is the Meadowlands such a ripe area for birding?
The Meadowlands is the greenest place amongst all the development around the area. Just look at a Google Earth map, The Meadowlands is an oasis. It gives the birds a great place to rest and feed during migration along the Eastern Flyway.
Do you have a favorite spot to bird in the Meadowlands?
My favorite spot is Harrier Meadow. Just seeing the numbers of yellow-rumped Warblers (400+), Bobolinks (70+) assorted sparrows (up to 1000 birds) and shorebirds (5,000+) in a day during migration is pretty amazing.”
Advice for new birders for 2013?
Go out with binoculars whenever you have the time. Don't be afraid to ask other birders questions. Most are very willing to share ID tips and other places to bird.