Three months into my biggish birding year, I’ve seen 128 species in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx. (I’ll get to Staten Island eventually, but the transportation logistics are daunting for someone without a car.) Within Brooklyn, I’ve ventured far beyond my well-trodden Prospect Park birding paths, to Coney Island (beach and creek), Floyd Bennett Field, Dead Horse Bay, Plumb Beach, the Salt Marsh Nature Center at Marine Park, Calvert Vaux Park, Highland Park, Green-Wood Cemetery, Canarsie Pier, Fresh Creek Park, Spring Creek Park, the strip of green between Hendrix Creek and the Gateway shopping center, the middle parking lot off the Shore Parkway, the back of the BJ’s Wholesale Club, and other hot spots I’m surely forgetting.
I’ve learned at lot about birds, and I’ve also learned a lot about buses. There’s the B3, wending its slow course down Avenue U from the F or B/Q trains to the Salt Marsh Nature Center (and on out to Kings Plaza on Flatbush, where the ambitious birder can catch the Q35 from Brooklyn College and continue on to Floyd Bennett, or across the Marine Parkway bridge to Fort Tilden). There’s the B42 to Canarsie Pier, which you can board without having to exit the Rockaway Parkway L station (the only station in the MTA system where the bus stop is within fare control). And if you don’t feel like running all the way up or down Cross Bay Boulevard between 157th Avenue and the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, the Q52/53 bus will give you a lift.
I’ve picked up some great new running routes, too: Coney Island beach to 37th street to Coney Island Creek to Calvert Vaux to the Shore Road bike path and on into Bay Ridge, for one, or Canarsie Pier to Jamaica Bay. And that’s not to mention the runways at Floyd Bennett Field, which are pretty freaking awesome.
As much fun as it’s been, I have to acknowledge that it’s also been kind of exhausting. I’m looking ahead to peak spring migration with the same mixture of excitement and dread that I felt in the months leading up to last year’s New York City Marathon. It’s given me a new appreciation for people who do genuine big years.
The week’s list:
122. Great egret
123. Yellow-crowned night heron
124. Blue-winged teal
125. Belted kingfisher
126. Snowy egret*
127. Laughing gull
128. Chipping sparrow
*New York first
Bird of the week honors go to the snowy egret. It wasn’t a bird I set out to see, which is what made it so great. Just yesterday, I had a conversation with another birder about serendipity. There are birds you run to see because someone else has spotted them and tweeted out their location (birding and Twitter were made for one another). The blue-winged teal were like that – lovely ducks, pint-size, with a white crescent moon on the side of the male’s face . . . and yet, seeing them in the pond at Floyd Bennett Field felt like checking a box.
The best birds, we agreed, are the ones you find when you’re not looking for them. The snowy egret was like that. I’d been tromping through Spring Creek, hoping to see snipe but succeeding only in scratching up my bare legs (it’s shorts weather for runners, at least) on the dried stalks of phragmites. I was scanning Old Mill Creek where it flows under the Belt Parkway, seeing tires, wrecked shopping carts . . . and a diminutive white egret with showy plumes. A very considerate great egret flew in to join it, just to dramatize the difference in size – and when they took off in flight together, I could see the snowy egret’s bright yellow feet. (The picture at the top of this post was taken by my friend Gus at Jamaica Bay last year, but it captures the two egrets hanging out just like the ones I saw this morning.)
Snowy egrets aren’t especially unusual in Brooklyn’s salt marshes, but this was the first I’d seen in New York, and as far as I know, this was their first day in the borough in 2016. (Someone else also saw one this morning over at the Salt Marsh Nature Center.)
I felt . . . privileged.
Next week, I’ll be continuing my quest for a Wilson’s snipe – my nemesis bird, it appears – and hopefully seeing other cool and serendipitous stuff along the way.