Despite everything – birds!

19 03 2010

The Park - West Side Highway NYC

After finding myself sans power on Sunday after the pretty devastating storm which hit Fairfield County on Saturday last week I retreated back to New York City  to stay with my girlfriend for a few days. She lives just a stones throw from the West Side Highway and the Hudson River in what real estate agents like to call Chelsea (it’s a fine line up there!!!). With winter finally appearing to break, I decided to see whether the glut of spring migrants I was expecting to follow the clearing of the ‘blocking weather’ that the storm had caused would even touch down on the little strips of ‘park’ that exist between 30th and 20th Streets just blocks from her house. Amazingly I was not to be disappointed, in what amounts to little more than a smattering of trees, a few patches of lawn and some areas that construe some type of ‘natural’ habitat there were birds to be found.

I’ve always had a soft spot for urban and suburban birding, perhaps because I’ve always been a city boy. There is also something beautiful and gratifying about discovering birds eking out a living in places that just seem so relatively unlikely. I love finding birds wedged between the industrial wastelands of Stratford and enjoy heading into the Big Apple to see the throngs of migrants that touch down in Central Park each year. I think there is something gratifying in seeing these birds making the most of a bad job and carrying on regardless of the obstacles that we have placed in their way. Here on the West Side Highway I’d discovered a Central Park in miniature. This little scratch of ‘habitat’ held a few migrant birds, probably somewhat shell shocked to find themselves flying over an endless concrete, steel and glass metropolis as sun rose they had flocked to what provided a best of a bad bunch choice that morning.

As I turned the corner off of the cycle path and into the pedestrianized area of the park I spotted my first true sign of spring, a lively Eastern Phoebe perched on a chickenwire fence scanning eagerly for flying insects. As I watched it, it flew a few times dipping down to the ground to inspect for morsels before again alighting on a conspicuous lookout perch. Phoebes to me are the real sign of spring – forget blackbirds they are always to be found should one look hard enough in winter, but the chances of a Phoebe making it through a full winter in the Northeast are pretty much slim to none. The bird called a few times as they always seem to do early in the season before the break into their full ‘song’, such as it is. A magical moment as my spring started with the accompaniment of the drone of West Side Highway traffic and the overhead throb of private helicopters touching down on the helipad just a few hundred yards upstream.

For me I guess part of the joy of seeing birds in this kind of environment is the incongruousness of it all. The idea of something completely wild showing up in the most unlikely of places. These migrants aren’t city birds like the pigeons, gulls and house sparrows but mere tourists on their way to something more recognizably home to them. I do sometimes wonder what they are thinking when they find themselves confronted with these somewhat confusing and hostile surrounds. As I arrived in the park I watched one unidentified passerine jump off from the park and head up into the great unknown northwards into the city. I found myself wanting to shout after him to come back and stick it out here from the day as it wasn’t going to find that it got much better. That said though in 30 or 40 blocks it might have spotted the haven of Central Park and spent the day hanging out with some more of its feathered brethren in much quieter and more appealing surrounds than a splash of greenery jammed between the dirty river and the constant cacophony of New York traffic.

Anyway the sight of these few waifs and strays on New Yorks west side made me think that this park might be a fun little place to check out over the spring to see what might possibly turn up. As well as the Eastern Phoebes (I found a second a little further down), the park also held 2 somewhat noteworthy Fox Sparrows, a handful of common sparrows: Junco, White-throated and Song, as well as an American Robin and a couple of Mockingbirds (staking out territory?) On the water as well as the ubiquitous three common gull species and Canada Geese were a flock of over 100 migrating Brant and a couple of American Black Ducks. I see a new bird list forming – West Side Park birds. An adventure to be continued…



3 responses

19 03 2010
Chrissie T

a joy of a find!

20 03 2010
Brian Webster

Sounds like a nice little patch! Now you just gotta find a Harris’s Sparrow or something of the like… like Allen’s Meadows! BTW… would you be interested in a birding walk w/me there before I leave (May 1st)? I’ve never been, always hear good things, and it is indeed ‘your’ patch. =)

I hope to hit up Central Park for spring migration on my way out on my road trip, as I am heading west first…. a quick stop in NYC for Central Park and Jamaica Bay wold be worth it in the first week of May. If I wait until I get back, after the loop, it will be already early-mid July. So my best chances for good migrants will be if I make it my first stop. (Delaware Water Gap, and Bald Eagle SP are next on the list!).

Any tips for CP birding?? I know NYC like I know arabic, and Cenrtal Park… less than that. I do have an unlimited time frame for my trip (well, 70 days is the max), but I want to get to Indiana Dunes Nat’l lakeshore for PIPL, and out to South Dakota as quick as possible. The route I took to Alaska is exactly the same as the first leg of my route until I hit South Dakota, so I’ve already seen the sights…. just not the spring migrant birds. I was there in Aug/Sept that time.

My aunt called me a little while ago to tell me she has a Phoebe singing away right next to last years nest. Ahhh spring…. a wlk in my woods yesterday produced about 50 Wood frogs, 3 Red-backed salamanders, my first snake of the season in a BIG garter, 3 Mourning Cloaks, and oodles of displaying Red-wings. I also watched )and was being watched) as the local Red-tail pair worked on their nest from last year.

Great time of year to be anywhere a bird might be. I’m putting my hummer feeders up this weekend!! Too bad the temps are going to drop into the 50s for a few days.


20 03 2010

Howdee! Soon more migrants!! have you seen Woodcreepers migration blog lately? the birdies are comin!

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