The South Amboy Landfill in the northeastern corner of Middlesex Co. has been a productive birding location for many years. Most of it is covered with coarse grass and scattered trees; there is a brackish marsh on the east end that hosts Long-billed Marsh Wrens, Seaside and Sharp-tailed Sparrows, and Clapper Rails in season. The chief attraction, however, is the extensive mud-flat, which is exposed for about two hours on either side of low tide (which occurs at approximately the same time as Sandy Hook low tide). Historically, this has been especially attractive to the European Black-headed and Little Gulls. The former seems most frequent in late winter and early spring, while the latter often appears in numbers in mid-April or May and sometimes lingers well into the summer. As many as eight Black-headed and over twenty Little Gulls have been seen here at one time, but they are unpredictable day-to-day; individuals are possible at almost any season.
Gulls and terns of practically every possible species are frequent, including Black and Caspian Terns during migration; even an Arctic Tern was photographed here in May! Perhaps because of pollution or disturbance, shorebirds and herons are not particularly numerous here, although most species occur in small numbers, Curlew Sandpiper has occurred in the last week of May.
In winter, the landfill usually hosts flocks of Horned Larks and Snow Buntings and occasionally a few Lapland Longspurs. Short-eared Owls can often be flushed with enough effort. Offshore, thousands of Greater Scaup and smaller numbers of Canvasbacks, Oldsquaws, Buffleheads, and other diving ducks are present unless the bay has frozen over. Double-crested Cormorants are abundant in migration and in summer. Both loons and Horned Grebe are regular.
The South Amboy Landfill can be reached by crossing the railroad tracks just east of the post office at the corner of Bordentown Ave., and Broadway, and jogging left one block to George St. From the area of the boat club, first scan for gulls along the shoreline to the West towards the old coaling docks. Then walk east on one of the major dirt roads (beware of soft spots) as far as possible and continue on foot along the shoreline to the most productive part of the flats. The area can also be reached from the railroad tracks themselves, nearer to where they pass under Route 35. In winter the entire fill should be driven where feasible for buntings, owls and larks, especially near the ball fields on the southwest side.
--P. William Smith
Reprinted from NJ Audubon Magazine, Volume VI, number 3