200 Bird Thursday – week 12 (spring!)

piping plover

Cute-as-a-button piping plover. (Photo credit: Peter Colen)

I missed the official “first day of spring in Prospect Park” bird walk – I was too busy running the NYC Half – but spring is definitely in the air. And so are birds – in the air, in trees, on ponds, and along the shore. This week’s list reflects that. Eight new birds (the most since week 3, when I was just getting going), two of them lifers.

Here’s the list (79 to go):

114. Golden-crowned kinglet
115. Osprey
116. Ruby-crowned kinglet
117. Redhead**
118. Green-winged teal
119. Northern harrier*
120. Turkey vulture
121. Piping plover**

*New York first
**Life bird

My search for new birds took me to several new-to-me sections of the city. To see the redheads (for the uninitiated, these are a type of duck), I headed to Ridgewood reservoir, just on the Queens side of the Brooklyn-Queens border. My trek there involved some complicated train logistics (the F to Jay St, the A to Broadway Junction, the J to Van Siclen) and a short run up a very steep hill to Highland (the name is appropriate) Park.

It was worth the trip, and not only for the redheads. Highland Park and its eponymous Brooklyn neighborhood are lovely. The area is resolutely untrendy – a land of lunch counters and bodegas, with nary a pour-over coffee bar in sight. The residential streets at the bottom of the ridge, off Fulton (where the elevated J/Z train runs), are lined with modest, single-family homes, either attached or so close together they might as well be attached. As you climb up the ridge (my legs, which had run a half marathon the day before, were not at all happy about this), the housing stock becomes grander, until you reach Highland Boulevard with its rambling houses and big front yards. From the park, you can see all of eastern Brooklyn and Queens spread out before you.

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(If you’re interested in learning more about the neighborhood, the indispensable Forgotten New York is on the scene with a two-part series. Click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.)

But we were talking about birds . . . redheads in the Ridgewood reservoir on Monday, an epic run from the Canarsie pier to Jamaica Bay on Tuesday, during which I picked up green-winged teal by the wastewater treatment plant and a northern harrier at the national wildlife refuge (the yin and yang of birding), and finally – piping plovers at the Fort Tilden beach on Wednesday.

I am totally in love with these birds, and declare them “bird of the week” by virtue of their sheer adorability. They are tiny little things, with backs the color of sand, white collars, stubby, black-tipped orange beaks, and orange legs. When they race along the water’s edge, their legs blur like a cartoon roadrunner’s. They have a habit of pawing at the wet sand with their feet, not unlike a cat, and then lunging forward to dig up insects with their beaks.

Piping plovers are, sadly, a threatened species. It’s their misfortune to breed in the same habitat – flat, sandy beaches – where humans like to swim, drive ATVs and build summer homes. At the Gateway National Recreation Area, which includes Fort Tilden, rangers and volunteers try to protect the birds by erecting temporary fencing around their nesting sites.

So if you’re out enjoying the sun and surf and artisanal food offerings at Riis Beach this summer, and you should see some odd barriers, please – give these cute little plovers their space.

(Many thanks to Peter Colen for his kind permission to use one of his photographs. You can find more of Peter’s work at petercolenphotography.com. Parental advisory: his shorebird series includes some graphic shots of hot plover sex.)



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