Birders Flock to the Hudson the Morning After Hurricane Sandy

“It’s amazing how variable the experiences can be. We were basically fine. No power loss and yet 8 million people are apparently without power.”

That was how a passerby summed it up for me when our respective paths came to a halt before a downed tree in Riverside Park. It was one of dozens of majestic tress struck down by the massive storm.

Famished animals, many left homeless by the hurricane, forraged for food among the litter of leaves and branches.

In the course of a walk by the river I saw feeding squirrels and starlings, some ducks and even a red-tailed hawk. A group of birders gathered at the 79th Street Boat Basin Cafe to watch storm-tossed ocean birds make their way up the Hudson toward New York Harbor, and ultimately back to the sea.

“Storm Petrels and jaegers are things that we wouldn’t ordinarily see here but after hurricanes they often turn up,” said Dr. Richard Fried a veterinarian and local birder.

“A lot of birds that get blown off course never make it back to where they’re supposed to go because they’re exhausted or injured or they’re in the wrong habitat to get food or they’re preyed upon by predators they don’t normally have to defend themselves against.”

According to Fried, The Ornithology Department for the Museum of Natural History has put out a call asking birders to bring the bodies of rare species they might come across to the museum to be added to their collections.

POSTSCRIPT: 1/5/13 Columbia University Journalism School students Matthew Claiborne and Salima Koroma produced this great piece on post-Sandy birding using some of the above footage shot along the Hudson River during and after Sandy.

Occu-pirates Sail the Hudson, Dolphin Watch


I tagged along with members of Occupy Wall Street’s marine contingent Saturday as they sailed out of the 79th Street Boat Basin bound for Staten Island. Read the full story here.

Several crew members remained on board after the tour, flying protest banners and drumming well into Sunday. They anchored 20-30 yards southwest of the derelict 69th Street Transfer Bridge, an area beyond the boat basin mooring field the protesters had been prohibited from demonstrating in by the Parks Department. Around 3:00 Sunday afternoon, crew member John Eustor shot this footage of a dolphin swimming around the boat.



A fellow disenfranchised American? Crew-members speculated that it may have been drawn to the boat by the vibrations from their drum playing. A number of people photographed the animal as it made it’s way toward New York Harbor. Sadly, a dead dolphin was found floating in the marina at Chelsea Piers several days later. Many assume it was the one spotted on Sunday afternoon. Results of a necropsy by the Riverhead Foundation are forthcoming. Read more here.

Gull Under Glass

Earlier this year, Brooklyn artist George Boorujy began putting renderings of ocean birds in bottles and setting them adrift in New York’s waterways in an effort to connect with other New Yorkers and gather information on their interactions with the ocean and local marine life. He recently launched one of his bottles from the deck of The Frying Pan, a lightship docked on the Hudson River, as part of an exhibition New York’s P.P.O.W. Gallery held in collaboration with Underwater New York. Check back in the days ahead to track the bottle’s progress, or visit NY Pelagic.

The Wild Parakeets of Riverside Park

“They started building the nest around the end of November. A pair came over here. It was wonderful,” said Milton, one of several local anglers who fished near a Monk parakeet nest that hung like a massive lantern from the branch of an oak tree in Riverside Park until last week, when stunned passers-by found the refrigerator-sized nest gone.

Monk or “Quaker” parakeets (Myiopsitta monachus), which are native to Argentina, have been colonizing the Northeast for the last four decades. In New York, they are like a South American gang that has managed to carve out a niche for itself in every borough except for Manhattan. Several years ago, a colony that briefly set up shop in Central Park was driven out because it was thought to pose a threat to migrating birds. In other parts of the city, Monks have been persecuted for nesting on utility poles, obstructing line maintenance and causing power outages. The Riverside colony, which consisted of 8-20 individuals, appeared to have been the first to evade notice long enough to gain a foothold on the island. The colorful birds began to draw attention this summer as they went about the business of feeding, breeding and noisily nesting above a busy Greenway path near 155th Street.

Christopher Lyons, a local birder and blogger, was puzzled by the nest location.

“You wouldn’t think a bird would choose to live here. It’s kind of a public area. There’s bike traffic. There’s pedestrian traffic. There’s automobile traffic.”

The cause of the nest disappearance is unclear. One account casts a pair of stick-wielding boys as culprits. Another blames a crew of poachers equipped with lassos and ladders. Lyons allows that the nest could have fallen under it’s own weight. Most agree that it came down at night and the bulk of the debris was carted away by park maintenance staff.

“Even eagle nests (at least those in trees) will eventually topple of their own weight,” Lyons wrote in an e-mail message about the fallen nest. “It’s impossible to rule out vandalism of some kind, but I’ve been wondering for a while now how long that branch would hold.”

In a sense, this is only the latest chapter in a long immigration saga.

Steve Baldwin, a natural storyteller with a broadcaster’s baritone, is the Metro area’s ambassador to wild Monk parakeets. In addition to maintaining, he leads frequent tours to Monk nesting sites. Baldwin believes Monk parakeets were originally brought to the area to supply the pet trade in the 1960’s. The birds’ pattern of distribution in New York indicates that they were part of a large shipment that escaped from Kennedy Airport.

“Way back in 1967 or ‘68 there was this huge shipment (of Monk parakeets from Argentina) that was coming through Kennedy Airport. You know that movie Goodfellas? It’s about the mob running things in Brooklyn and New York and they controlled the airport so anything that came through the airport they would sort of open up (and check to see if there was anything of value inside). It’s speculated that this big crate showed up and they opened it up and Boom! the parrots flew out.”


“(Monk nests) are basically like condominiums,” says Baldwin in the shadow of a large mass of twigs heaped on top of a stadium light pole on the campus of Brooklyn College. “There’s several holes in each nest and each one leads to a multi-chambered ‘apartment’ and inside there are multiple rooms. They call it the living room and it’s sort of like the main area where the birds live. And then there’s a little side room called the bedroom where the hens lay the eggs.”

Baldwin is speaking to a group of about twenty people who have gathered near the locally-renowned Brooklyn College nesting colony to take part in one of his wild Monk parakeet safaris. While the Monks are basically unfussy feeders who will eat anything from weed to weevil, Baldwin encourages the urban birders who take part in his free tours to bring along some good-quality bird seed. In return for these offerings, participants get to view the birds at close range and get a crash course in Monk parakeet ecology peppered with fascinating facts like the Monks’ habit of mating for life, co-rearing their young, and branching off into smaller colonies once large communities like the one at Brooklyn College have reached critical mass. Baldwin tends to keep the locations of new splinter colonies under his hat.

“I try to avoid telling too much about (the location of) these birds,” he says. “Back in 2006 I started getting reports that there was a small group of men on bicycles who were going through Brooklyn in the middle of the night. They would scare the birds out of the nests and capture (them) and my sources tell me that they would then sell these parrots to pet stores to use as breeders…disclosing the precise geographical coordinates of a particular nest is something that I don’t like to do anymore. It wouldn’t take much effort to decimate the population of parrots where they’re living in exposed locations.”

Whatever happened to the wild Monk parakeets of Riverside Park, a few of the birds remain in the area and there is still time for the them to build a new nest before winter. The precariously slung 155th Street parakeet co-op had reached two storeys and was tempting gravity even before it attracted human interest. The optimistic view is that it’s better that it came down in mid-August than in a mid-January snow storm. The Monks’ remarkable resilience and determination to keep on living in New York City despite obstacles ranging from blizzards to wilding boys is a true reflection of what it takes to make it here. Their industriousness, vivacity and charm have drawn legions of admirers to the park throughout the summer and with enough good will, a few well-placed feeding stations and a bit of luck, perhaps the Monks will rally and return to Riverside Park.

Meanwhile, wild parrot watchers eagerly await the passage of legislation currently before the New York State Senate to protect Monk parakeets from poaching and unnecessary nest takedowns.

POSTSCRIPT: As of January 11, 2011, wild Monk parakeet colonies have been protected by law in New York per  A1718-2011.

Happily, Riverside Park’s monk parrots survived both the destruction of their nest and the subsequent fire at Harlem’s Northriver sewage treatment plant. They’ve relocated and at last sighting there was a healthy group of them in the trees near Washington Heights. 10/15/2011


Ana- Latin Remix by Alexo MirAttribution Noncommercial Creative Commons License