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