Birds Of A Feather
Recently my wife and I cruised the East River and lower Long Island Sound with Audubon New York. Leaving from South Street Seaport at 6 PM, we tracked the habitats of shore and wading birds for three hours as the lights of the city glowed down upon us. On U Thant Island, an islet no longer than a San Remo living room (and far less wide) we counted over 30 cormorant nests and witnessed a beehive of activity as the birds came and went, diving for their dinner. Further north we visited the shores of both North and South Brother Islands, home to flocks of snowy egrets, great blue herons, black capped night herons, and numerous species of gulls.
New York is a waterfront city, with rivers, bays, and inlets surrounding us on every side. Yet for those of us who grew up in Manhattan, our connection to that waterfront has been tenuous at best. Both the West Side Highway and the FDR Drive separate the city from its waterways, and it is only in recent years that work has been done to beautify these shorelines and create additional access points. Today the Hudson River Park system allows for continuous entry to the lower Hudson from Tribeca all the way to Riverside Park, making a lush green belt, which fully utilizes the advantages of waterfront property. Along the piers opportunities abound for kayaking and sailing, with wonderful seascapes, island scapes, and urban scapes on every side.
The reintegration of our urban coastlines demonstrates the city’s ongoing commitment to quality of life improvements. It increases opportunities for birders (who already enjoy the myriad migratory sightings in all our parks), reminds us that we are island dwellers, and provides that inexplicable serenity which only the sight and sound of large bodies of water can engender. Each year I see more people taking advantage of the gift inherent in these urban oases. The parks, the rivers and estuaries (not to mention the magnificent marshlands and transitional habitat provided by such spots as the Jamaica Bay Reserve, literally steps from Kennedy Airport), even the High Line remind us that life has more to it than asphalt streets, concrete sidewalks, and towering buildings. These areas create both stress and heat relief while reminding us that, in the heart of the city, we remain creatures who need the sustenance of the natural world.
We should all be explorers in our own city. Not just of its museums and cultural events but of its natural wonders: the wildflowers in the Ramble, the hills and cliffs of Washington Heights, the turtles in the Turtle Pond below Belvedere Castle, the grasses on the High Line, the red tailed hawks scanning Central Park, the flower gardens at Chelsea Piers, the cherry blossoms in the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. As the city has become safer and our huge green spaces, waterfronts and pocket parks have been rejuvenated, we can all access and enjoy the smell of grass or the feeling of a cool breeze off the water. And as the sun is setting behind the towers, we might even catch a glimpse of a snowy egret or a black crowned night heron winging by!