The Ur­ban Birder

Start spread­ing the news – this tourist hotspot is also great for birds

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents - WORDS: DAVID LINDO

David Lindo vis­its New York and finds it’s not just full of tourists – but birds, too

HE SE­CRET IS OUT. The Big Ap­ple is not only the city that never sleeps, but it’s also the city for ur­ban bird­ing. Si­t­u­ated on the North Amer­i­can east coast, New York lies along the At­lantic Fly­way, which is one of the four ma­jor mi­gra­tion routes taken by Neotrop­i­cal mi­grants tran­sit­ing be­tween Canada and the US in the north, and Cen­tral and South Amer­ica. Lit­er­ally, mil­lions of birds can pass through the city dur­ing mi­gra­tion times. For an ur­ban birder, New York is a very ex­cit­ing place to be dur­ing those times, as ev­ery­thing can turn up any­where. A re­cent ex­am­ple of this was the Chuck-will’s Widow (a mem­ber of the night­jar fam­ily) that broke off its jour­ney for a few days to perch along a branch of a tree just a few blocks away from the su­per-busy Times Square. You’ve no doubt heard about Cen­tral Park’s avian mag­netism, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing mi­gra­tion pe­ri­ods. The park’s bird list is leg­endary.

TAs a re­sult, most bird­ers grav­i­tate there, see­ing it as the only city spot worth vis­it­ing. There is even a fan­tas­tic doc­u­men­tary about Cen­tral Park called ‘Bird­ers: The Cen­tral Park Ef­fect’ di­rected by Jef­frey Kim­ball. It doc­u­mented a year of bird­ing in the park, fo­cus­ing on the fas­ci­nat­ing char­ac­ters at­tracted by the lure of masses of mi­grants dur­ing spring and au­tumn. New York is more than just stacks of sky­scrapers and eater­ies on ev­ery street cor­ner – it’s home to 28,000 acres of park­land and, sur­pris­ingly, 14 miles of beaches.

It is the most pop­u­lated city in the US and con­sists of five bor­oughs: Man­hat­tan, Bronx, Queens, Staten Is­land and Brook­lyn. Un­sur­pris­ingly, the bor­oughs out­side Man­hat­tan hold the most prom­ise, so you should def­i­nitely head for th­ese.

Brook­lyn Bridge Park

This small rec­tan­gu­lar-shaped wa­ter­front park, run­ning for a mile along the east­ern side of the Hud­son River, is a new­comer to the New York ur­ban bird­ing scene. The iconic Brook­lyn Bridge casts a long shadow over the site while the lower Man­hat­tan sky­line cuts an im­pres­sive vista across the river to the north. De­spite the en­cir­cling ur­ban­ity, with its con­stant traf­fic, deaf­en­ing pneu­matic drills, wail­ing sirens and gos­sip­ing jog­gers, the bird­ing here is eye-open­ing. Brook­lyn Bridge Park is an un­likely spot that was put on the or­nitho­log­i­cal map by Heather Wolf, a lo­cal bird­er­who saw the po­ten­tial and made it her lo­cal patch. She has dis­cov­ered more than 140 species, in­clud­ing good city rar­i­ties, such as 2014’s Sora. The habi­tat in­cludes play ar­eas, man­aged gar­dens with small shrubs and a wildlife area. There’s an ar­ti­fi­cial creek run­ning through it and it’s a ma­jor draw for many species, in­clud­ing East­ern Towhee, Fox Spar­row and Swamp Spar­row. Scan the river dur­ing win­ter, es­pe­cially around the pier area, and you might wit­ness flights of Brent Geese, and pos­si­bly even Snow Geese, head­ing to the marshy ex­panses of Ja­maica Bay, fur­ther up­stream. Look for ducks, like Buf­fle­head, Red-breasted Mer­ganser and Black Duck among the more reg­u­lar Gad­wall. A sum­mer visit to the park should re­ward you with breed­ing Grey Cat­bird and nu­mer­ous other species, in­clud­ing Amer­i­can Crow, plus crowds of peo­ple! Dur­ing mi­gra­tion pe­ri­ods, this lit­tle park can be over­run with birds. Dur­ing my au­tum­nal visit, I saw Her­mit Thrush, Golden-crowned Kin­glet and Blue-headed Vireo among the nu­mer­ous Yel­lowrumped War­blers. On the river were the oblig­a­tory Ring-billed Gulls, al­though I did no­tice over­head com­mut­ing Laugh­ing Gulls, that were cut­ting across the first of the win­ter’s Brent Geese, or Brants as our Amer­i­can cousins call them. This site is still bed­ding in, so the pos­si­bil­i­ties for more great records are end­less.

Brian Kush­ner / Alamy Gray Cat­bird Ex­pect Ring-billed Gulls, even in front of the Brook­lyn Bridge Buf­fle­head duck

Cen­tral Park Prospect Park A l C a n d a

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