River, lake, estuary, fjord – these conjure majestic, pristine waterways. But I have a particular affection for the lowly creek. Like the black sheep of the family, the creek is not savored or preserved. It’s usually the place to dump things, and the place you don’t want to live near.
My interest dates back to childhood, growing up across the street from Hart’s Creek. Though allowed to freely explore the outdoors in my suburban neighborhood, I was forbidden to even look over the high banks leading down to the creek. Between steep slopes, consuming mud, sewage, stormwater runoff, and swift currents in rain storms that claimed a few lives, it was not a place to visit.
Yet, I remain intrigued by creeks.
So it was a treat to join three intrepid souls from the Newtown Creek Alliance early this morning for a drive around this waterway looking for birds. In the industrial landscape of waste transfer stations, shipping companies and scrap metal yards, an ecosystem manages to eke out an existence despite decades of degradation.
During just two hours, some of which was spent in a car navigating around the factories and buildings, we spotted 11 species including Killdeer, Barn Swallows, Black-crowed Night Herons and an unidentified sandpiper. Even a Gray Catbird managed to serenade us over the din of truck engines. Black Locust trees were in full flower and pockets of greenery showed great potential for wildlife.
I visited Hart’s Creek just twice in my life. Once with my mother to release a catfish caught at a local lake which I didn’t have the heart to allow on the dinner table, and once in a move of teenage derring-do.
I doubt I’ll ever visit Hart’s Creek again, but am happy to have the Newtown Creek to explore.