By Keith Michael
June, July, and August are when my exhausted academic schedules get crammed into binders for the summer and I get out!
Yes, I love the West Village—my morning, afternoon, and evening walks with Millie circumnavigating her corgi-friendly blocks continue to delight me with their sights. But, give me a map to unfold and a subway or bus to rush to, and off to pursue avian surprises I go. Not a contented traveler, Millie prefers to spend her summers scrolling down her Facebook page under the air conditioner while daintily sipping a Pimm’s. What could be more Thoroughly Modern? This stay-at-home-girl predilection leaves me without guilt as I venture forth toward the wilds of NYC.
Of course, one doesn’t need to travel to other boroughs for great birds. Right in Hudson River Park, sleek flocks of Cedar Waxwings feed youngsters, Mallards swim by with parades of attentive ducklings gleaning snacks along the river wall, our usually-to-be-ignored pigeons get entertainingly inebriated on the late-season fermented Juneberries, and Fish Crows harass the ever-vocal Blue Jays. (By the way, Fish Crows look exactly like Common Crows, except that when they call out they have a distinctly nasal uh-uh rather than the more familiar full-throated caw-caw-caw.) Without even going near the river, Mockingbirds wake up the neighborhood with moonstruck ramblings about their latest identity crisis, Robins try out new variations on their same old tunes in the cherry tree at Charles and Greenwich Streets, and sparrows and starlings gossip on street corners as usual. You might even be lucky enough to see a handsome blue-and-orange Kestral-fellow scoping out the best new neighborhood lunch spot from a roofline.
But, ah, what wonders there are to be seen at the ends of the subway lines! Maybe a Great Horned Owl nest at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx or Green-Wood Cemetery (shh) catches your fancy. What about Barn Swallows’ exquisite mud-nest architecture under the bridges of Prospect Park? (We do have Barn Swallows here too, but get thee to Brooklyn.) There are long-limbed egrets and herons galore almost anywhere there is fresh water though I’ve seen them dashing through salt water along the coast as well. There are feisty green-and-gray Monk Parakeets in many neighborhoods of Queens and Brooklyn (the A train to Howard Beach is a great day-trip to see their condo stick nests). Take the American Princess Whale and Dolphin Watch cruise out of Riis Landing, Queens for a hit of Wilson’s Storm Petrels—how these white-rumped starling-sized aerialists survive most of their lives swooping and foot-pattering over the ocean waves is a mystery. Oh yeah, and seeing humpbacked whales and dolphins cavorting with the New York skyline in the distance is cool, too.
I’ll confess, though, that two of my summer favorites are the Bald Eagles of Staten Island and the Piping Plovers of Breezy Point. Since Vito and Linda produced two eaglets last summer, they are the glamour couple of the City. Head out to Mount Loretto Unique Area (take the Staten Island Ferry and the Staten Island Railway (SIR) to Richmond Valley), have lunch on the beach in the shade of the light tower, and wait. Vito is soon likely to fly in and hold court.
Don’t tell Millie, but Piping Plover chicks are nearly unbearably cute. Unlike plumpish corgis, they seem to be all legs and can run remarkably fast. Their parents are fiercely protective and are no slouches for cuteness themselves. Piping Plovers have the added bittersweet cache of being seriously endangered because they like to summer on the same beaches as people. Seeing a surviving family feels like a possibly once-in-a-lifetime experience. If you’re not up to the trek all of the way out to Breezy Point, though I seriously recommend it, Fort Tilden usually has a few nesting couples as well (take the 2 Train to Brooklyn College and then the Q35 Bus to Fort Tilden).
I’m starting to get the twinge that I’ve been out and about too long. It’s close to Millie’s dinnertime. Home again, home again, jiggity-jog.
For more information about NYC nature outings, birding, photographs, and books, visit keithmichaelnyc.com.