The original plan had been to bird upstate New York on my way back from Michigan. Fortunately I was able to change plans to instead do my birding in Brooklyn earlier in the trip and to try to join the Brooklyn Birding Club on a walk in Prospect Park on Sunday May 5th. The really good part of this was that it would enable me to visit my son Alex who lives in Brooklyn. He has a hectic travel schedule but not only would he be there but he would be able to join me for at least some of the birding. He is not a birder so this was a major deal. Specialty coffee has been his passion and I am sure he knows more about that than I do about birds – that is he knows A LOT. So this was great news.
The Brooklyn Birding Club is a big deal. It was founded in 1909 and has a large and active membership. For me the best part was its many trips and walks in Prospect Park, a 585 acre mixed used park with a big lake in the heart of Brooklyn. It is not quite but almost as famous for city birding as Central Park in Manhattan which is 50% larger. On a good day in spring migration it could easily give me 50+ species. I would get to New York after birding in Rhode Island probably arriving late on the 4th and having dinner with him and then do the birding the next day. The bad news was that some pretty heavy rain was predicted for the 5th but the good news was that Rhode Island was easier than it might have been so I could get into Brooklyn early on the 4th and do the birding then. Alex would not be able to join me that day but we could still have dinner and if the 4th didn’t work the 5th was available as Plan B – rain or not.
More bad news was that there was rain on the morning of the 4th as well. A surprise was that I easily found a parking spot across from the park. I had seen a half dozen birds including a surprise Merlin on my way into the City. It was 8:00 a.m. and I was ready to go. My only plan was to walk around and hopefully find some birders as well as birds. I managed to do both but the birders were less welcoming than has been my general experience. Not entirely and not all of them, and I maybe was less gregarious than usual as well. I managed good visits with a few but mostly with birders who were on their way out. In the wet morning, the birds also seemed to be less active and I heard few songs – not that I would have identified most of them alone anyhow. I definitely could have used Mike Resch or a formal Birding Club Walk.
I did manage some birds though – 39 species including 9 warblers. The best was a very brief look at a Blue Winged Warbler without a photo. Second was probably a Northern Waterthrush. I was being very careful to keep my camera dry so not tons of photos, but I was happy to get what I could.
White Throated Sparrow
I am sure I missed birds on the Lake any many more in the trees but one I was glad to get was a Mute Swan. Unlike in Washington, they are “countable” in the East. I heard many stories though of why they are not a welcomed bird – doing a lot of damage. Definitely a striking bird, however,
I spent 4 hours at Prospect Park – including more than 30 minutes being completely disoriented and heading off in the wrong direction. I had wisely saved the intersection where I parked the car on my phone and GPS bailed me out. The Park is heavily used including lots of runners, power walkers, strollers and birders. Not surprisingly given its location, the users and the birders were of many ages, races, colors and nationalities. I heard many languages. English was predominant but I heard a lot of Spanish, Russian, Korean, Chinese and German in addition to many Eastern European and African languages that were not identifiable to me. There were more non-white birders there than I think I saw at all other places I visited on my Eastern birding marathon combined. A positive thing but telling in contrast to those other places.
Including the earlier birds seen I had 42 species. I was hungry so I left the Park and grabbed some street food, found my car and headed off to Jamaica Bay. The weather was improving and I wondered if maybe I would return to Prospect Park tomorrow after all. On the North Channel Bridge to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife area I added 11 new species in the totally new habitat with a mix of ducks, shorebirds, waders and gulls and terns. And the additions continued at the Refuge itself adding another 23 species with some more ducks, a Least Tern, some more shorebirds and a Clapper Rail plus numerous passerines.
By no means a rare bird, but a fun one to watch was a House Wren that seemed to be gathering material to build a nest. I have no idea what it intended to do with this stick which was at least twice its size.
House Building House Wren
My favorite shot was of a White Eyed Vireo – easy to see where it gets its name. Earlier I had seen Warbling and Blue Headed Vireos but not a Red Eyed which I had expected. And there were some warblers as well including a Prairie Warbler which was new for the day. I had seen Yellow Rumped and Yellow Warblers at Prospect Park but no photos in the wetness. Much better here.
White Eyed Vireo
Yellow Rumped Warbler – Myrtle
A species I was glad to see and photograph was the Brown Thrasher looking very brown indeed. This guy was singing almost non-stop and stayed in the open most of the time.
One more photo. Nothing unusual but I loved this Tree Swallow – good light and a nice pose with everything in place – except one contrasting white feather. What was that all about?
As it turned out I could have skipped Prospect Park altogether and just come to Jamaica Bay as I had 56 species there in less than 2.5 hours. Many of the birds had been seen at Prospect Park earlier and I ended the day with 76 species. The places were great but the local intersections were less than I would have liked and it was disappointing not to be able to include Alex in at least some of the birding – although that would be more than made up by visits later. But there was going to be a great local intersection after all – one of my favorites on the whole trip.
As I was coming back to the parking area in now beautiful weather, a young family was walking towards me – dad, with an infant in a chest carrier, a mom and a toddler who was not much older than my grandson – maybe 18 months old. Who know why these things happen, but the toddler was looking straight at me as we got closer and closer. Maybe it was the binoculars. Maybe the camera, maybe just the happiness that could have been apparent on my face as I had seen my 50 species for the day. Maybe just my boyish charm (wink). She walked away from her parents and straight towards me…and reached out her arms. I learned long ago that the best thing to do with small kids is to bend down – get to their level. So I did and asked her her name. No answer, but now she actually grabbed my hand and clearly wanted to be lifted up. I also learned a long time ago that you just do not pick up little kids you do not know. By now Mom was next to us and she said she was dumbfounded as her little girl had never done that before. The little girl then said “up”. My eyes met mom’s and I got the OK approval. I lifted her up and she gave me a hug which I reciprocated. I told her how pretty she was and that I loved birds and wondered if she did too. No response except for a smile.
After probably no more than 15 seconds I returned her to the ground. Both Mom and Dad had big smiles, so I guess everything was ok. I told them all to have a wonderful day and continued towards the car. The toddler started to follow me away from her parents but Mom took her hand and they were off. Not the local intersection I expected for a birding trip but it was as good as it gets. I am almost teary remembering it. A truly beautiful moment.
There was still time to visit Alex in his new apartment – his first one on his own in very expensive Brooklyn. I had been apprehensive about that – just about safety, but although not luxurious and small, it was certainly safe and comfortable. Later we went to dinner and again somehow i found a parking place on the street near the restaurant. My son definitely knows his food. The dinner was superb as tasty as any I can remember – clearly the work of a serious chef and a restaurant that is all about quality. It was a good visit.
It did indeed rain the next day and with the success of the previous day, I skipped a return to Prospect Park. I got to extend the visit with Alex and yes there was more good food, a great lunch. And then I was off – heading to New Jersey where I would visit Cape May for the first time. New York was the 3rd state on this trip – 10 more to go – and the 28th with 50 species in a day. And fond memories of kids – my fine son and that lovely little toddler. Maybe she will enjoy birds on her own someday.