Excerpted from BIRDING AT THE BRIDGE: IN SEARCH OF EVERY BIRD ON THE BROOKLYN WATERFRONT. Used with the permission of the publisher, The Experiment. Published June 2016. Copyright © 2016 by Heather Wolf. All rights reserved.
Heather Wolf is a bit of an expert when it comes to finding great birds in picturesque places: She spent the last few years living in the pristine, shorebird-filled community of Pensacola Beach, Florida. So, when she moved back to Brooklyn, New York, to start working for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, she was eager to find a new birding paradise.
Lucky for her, Brooklyn Bridge Park was just the spot. Its 85-acre, post-industrial grounds, which skirt the edge of the East River, gave Wolf "endless opportunities for study and entertainment." In winter, she watched Buffleheads and mergansers frolic in the waters; in spring, she looked for orioles and warblers tittering in the trees. "I was having the time of my life on my adventure but I started to feel a bit of guilt for keeping this all to myself," she writes. "I wanted others to experience the magic."
And that's how Birding at the Bridge—Wolf's brand-new guide to the birds of Brooklyn Bridge Park—came to be. The lively book is filled with close-up shots and anecdotes of 100-odd species, all taken and written by the author herself (with an intro by David Lindo, also known as the Urban Birder). Armed with a mega-long lens and camera from B&H Photo, Wolf started documenting her constant forays to the riverfront, photographing urban staples like Red-tailed Hawks and Ring-billed Gulls, as well as fun surprises like Soras and Savannah Sparrows. She shared a few of her freshest finds with Audubon—check them out here and on our Instagram feed all this week!
Ring-billed Gull (above)
On a slow birding day in fall, I came across this Ring-billed Gull perched on a Pier 1 railing. The Brooklyn Bridge was a perfect backdrop, but there was one problem—to get the right angle I had to sit smack dab in the middle of a pedestrian path. The park wasn't packed on this late-November morning, so at the risk of looking like I was staging some sort of sit-in, I took a seat on the cement. I got some strange looks, but it was worth it. The gull rewarded my admiration and efforts by belting out its long call with what seemed like a classic Brooklyn accent.
My friend Bob and I were surprised by this Green Heron, perched high in a honey locust tree on Pier 1. We watched in awe as it edged along a branch in real-life slow motion.
Barn Swallows build nests under the park's piers. They combine the mud with dry grass to create a cup-shaped nest and line it with feathers. By July, young fledglings are perched on the railing and ridges of the piers, awaiting a feeding from their parents. Adult birds can occasionally be seen mobbing and dive-bombing any crow that dares to hunt for a Barn Swallow brunch.
Brown Creepers usually scale a tree upward as they probe the bark for insects and insect eggs and pupae. And, once at the top, they tend to fly to another tree. I got lucky with this one; after scaling up the oak, it blew back to the bottom for another round of insect extraction.
This Yellow Warbler is a common park migrant in spring and fall. Its favorite foraging spots [in Brooklyn Bridge Park] include the catalpas and paulownia trees on top of Granite Prospect, just under the canopy of the Dark Forest, and in the treetops of Bridge View Lawn. This colorful songbird breeds in Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Queens as well as farther north and into Canada. In fall, it migrates to its wintering grounds in Central and South America, often flying nonstop over the Gulf of Mexico (a feat also accomplished by the much smaller Ruby-throated Hummingbird).
In May, the Common Tern arrives from its wintering grounds—mostly along the coasts of Central and South America—to breed in New York City. A small colony sets up shop less than a mile away from Brooklyn Bridge Park on a defunct pier section on Governor's Island. Local naturalist Gabriel Willow discovered the colony and worked with NYC Audubon to protect it.
Though the Sora is considered a rare sighting in Brooklyn Bridge Park, it is the most common rail (member of the family Rallidae) in North America. Even where common, the bird can be difficult to spot; it often remains hidden in the marsh grasses of its preferred wetland habitat.
Birding at the Bridge: In Search of Every Bird on the Brooklyn Waterfront, by Heather Wolf, The Experiment, 279 pages, $14.95. Buy it at multiple locations.