The two feet of snow dropped by the Historic Blizzard of 2016 had mostly melted by last weekend. Nonetheless, you’ll find no snark here on the Brooklyn Bird Club’s decision to cancel a planned Sunday excursion to “Brooklyn’s southwest coast” (starring the back of the BJ’s Wholesale Club) because of “unsafe conditions” . . . other than to say that I managed a solo trip to Coney Island that day without incident.
This week’s new birds:
87. Sharp-shinned hawk
88. Surf scoter*
89. Common raven
90. Common merganser
91. Eastern towhee
*New York first
I made the rounds in earnest this week. Multiple trips to Prospect Park didn’t turn up the winter wren I was looking for, but offered a sharp-shinned hawk as a consolation bird. During a trip to the Brooklyn Army Terminal pier to look for ducks, I heard the unmistakable hoarse croak of a raven coming from . . . where, exactly? I couldn’t spot the damn bird, and as I deliberated whether hearing its call was sufficient to include it on my list (honor being important in birding), I finally saw it, all shaggy and heavy-beaked, atop a nearby industrial building. From the Brooklyn Army Terminal to Bush Terminal Piers Park (nothing new there) to the D train – this is where being a runner is a definite advantage – and on into Manhattan to find the (uncommon) common merganser on the Central Park reservoir, along with a bonus towhee at the edge of the Ramble. (I also said a respectful “hello” to a great horned owl.) The next day, it was the F train to Avenue U to the B3 bus to the Salt Marsh Nature Trail at Marine Park.
Whew. I was more relieved than disappointed to learn from the New York state birds listserv that the Lapland longspur seen previously by the Randall’s Island ballfields had moved on, since it saved me a trip there. (One month into my “biggish year,” and I’m already exhausted!)
The outing of the week, which produced the Bird of the Week, was Sunday’s trip to Coney Island. I love everything about Coney Island in winter, from the long ride to the end of the F train, to the empty streets and fenced-off amusements and fake palm trees that promise summer will return, to the cold-weather beach-goers, some of them bundled in fur parkas and others stripped to bathing suits.
All that, and birds, too.
Standing on the Coney Island fishing pier, I saw one, two, three and finally – as my eyes adjusted – several dozen red-breasted mergansers, as well as a couple of common loons (one quite close to the pier) and what may have been common goldeneye, but without a scope, I couldn’t tell for sure.
The prize was a group of three surf scoters – they were far away, but not so far away that I couldn’t make out the bright, orangey-red bills on the two males, otherwise all black except for the high-contrast white stripe on the back of their necks. I’ve seen surf scoters before, but not for a long time, and these were a first for me in New York.
Besides, there’s something special about watching sea ducks while standing next to half a dozen fisherman on a January day on Coney Island the weekend after a blizzard blanketed the city in two feet of snow.
From the pier, I headed to the private community of Sea Gate to see if I could charm or brazen my way in. Failing at that, I jogged up 37th Street to Coney Island Creek Park, where I watched loons and long-tailed ducks and bufflehead to my heart’s content. It was pretty much the perfect Sunday morning.
Back home later, I prolonged the feeling by listening to the great Garland Jeffreys singing “Coney Island Winter” – and you should, too. (Just click here.)