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Coastal Brooklyn Winter Waterfowl

Today I had the great pleasure of taking a group of birders from New York City Audubon on our Brooklyn Coastal Winter Waterfowl tour. We had warm temperatures and plenty of sun, great for puttering along the waterfront and looking out at the long vistas over the New York Harbor. Realizing that there was no way to squeeze in every site on a trip that lasts from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM, and since we were travelling in a 15-passenger van that would need ample parking wherever we went, I adjusted the itinerary to include only Bush Terminal Piers Park, Gravesend, Calvert Vaux, Plumb Beach, and if time allowed, Canarsie Pier.

Many of my fellow travelers had some knowledge of Brooklyn, but had no one had ever been to Bush Terminal Piers. I could hear the unease in their voices as we made our way through the industrial neighborhood that surrounds the park. I reassured everyone that indeed there is a fabulous new park here, and we were going to love it.

Parked the car and just about the only other people were another group of birders. We stopped first by the piers, and got some great ducks: Bufflehead, Greater Scaup, American Wigeon, as well as a Great Cormorant. Moving up the hill and overlooking the double impoundment, lots of Ring-billed Gulls, Herring Gulls, Great Black-backed Gulls, but no Glaucous Gull. A pair of Northern Shovelers.

At the other side of the hill, Lesser Scaup and Bufflehead. Moving out towards the open water, someone from the other group said excitedly, “A Golden-eye!” Indeed, a female Common Goldeneye was swimming and diving offshore. On the way back, we found some Red-breasted Mergansers.

The double impoundment at Bush Terminal Piers Park. Photo by Kellye Rosenheim

We got back into the van, and there was much conversation about this gorgeous park and about the changes underway in Brooklyn and in New York City in general. Since we had some inveterate gullheads and because everyone seemed eager to see it, we drove out onto the Brooklyn Army Terminal pier and took a little time to see what was going on. Not much, so without getting out, we drove on to Gravesend.

We had lovely views of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and Forth Wadsworth, a couple of Bufflehead, and were able to verify that a young cormorant was a Double-crested Cormorant. We drove on to Calvert Vaux.

A Killdeer was feeding in the grass right by the car. We walked along the tidal flats of Coney Island Creek, enjoying the Gadwall, gulls, American Black Duck, and Canada geese, hanging out amongst the wrecked ships and submarine. A Great Blue Heron flew in and rested on a burned out deck. One of us got a great photo of an America Tree Sparrow. We picked our way along, avoiding the patches of ice, marveling at how lovely the fresh snow looked in the sun. There was a loon out on the open water, but so far away that we couldn’t tell whether is was a Common or Red-throated. Popular vote was for Red-throated. On the way back to the car, a male kestrel was perched very close on the rusted ribs of an old barge and delighted us all by flying from there to a nearby tree.

We all seemed to want to maximize the day, so ate lunch as we drove to Plumb Beach. Not a lot of birds, but another American Tree Sparrow. We had more looks at Red-breasted Mergansers and paused to reflect on the importance of places like Plumb Beach in the ecology of New York Harbor for it is here, among other such places, that horseshoe crabs climb ashore to mate and lay eggs, feeding the thousands and thousands of passing shorebirds during migration.

Elated by a truly successful day outside and, for me, showing adventurous people some of the more esoteric pleasures of city birding, we made our way back to Manhattan.

American Kestrel © Amanda Bielskas

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