Some weeks ago I went to Floyd Bennett Field and Marine Park with the Brooklyn Birding Club. Apart from the mad journey of getting there, hiking in the area was relaxing. It was my first time birding in a big group. Usually I bird alone or with 2 or 3 people at most. I don’t know many birders, so it’s all the more reason why being there was a necessary learning experience.
The initial trip was hectic thanks to an email confusion that made me late. Once I arrived to Floyd Bennett and stepped off the bus, I was in the middle of nowhere. Some part of me asked: is this still NYC? It was no man’s land at the edge of Brooklyn. I felt far away from urban life. Only the road with the fast cars on the side reminded me. Up ahead was the aviator building followed by a parking lot. I asked a park ranger which way was North 40 and he directed me to walk past the circus tents. I advise anyone going to Floyd Bennett, to get there by car.
I walked to the entrance of North 40 where I was greeted by Red-winged Black birds and a large group of Canadian Geese. I was in the right area. The sun was hitting the cement, getting hotter, but up ahead near the foliage it was cool. I walked to a small trail up ahead, as I waited for the group behind some tall trees for a short while. My phone was without service, so I decided to take a peek out, and there I saw a large group of people in the field with binoculars, large cameras and binocular tripods. I used by binoculars to inspect them and they did the same in my direction. It was the Brooklyn Birding Club. I greeted the organizer and smiled as I walked toward her. Someone from a far said, ” I don’t think I would have made it this far.” I was starting to feel like a soldier coming from Queens. The driver introduced me to the other guy in our car—“this is our lost passenger.” Would I go by that nickname the whole way through the hike?
We headed to the surrounding areas. First a community garden where I saw a goldfinch, plenty of house sparrows, a Northern-flicker and a Kestrel later during lunch, which no one took a picture of since it wouldn’t let you get near. There were rows of gardens separated by gray and white fences. The people working on them smiled at us as they kept fixing their small land. At some point, I got too excited thinking I saw a strange bird, and one of the experienced birders looked at it, and said “A robin.” It felt like someone had dropped a cement block on me. I only saw the bird’s backside, and the mix of bird noises confused me.
I realize for experience birders some birds don’t excite them anymore, since they see them repeatedly, so they search for the rarest. I see this with myself too, but I also don’t want to completely ignore the common birds that may need conservation. Ideally you should first get comfortable with the birds around your neighborhood and in your backyard, studying them (shape, size, color, behavior and sound), and then progress to rare birds outside your comfort zone. I’m at that level where I can easily recognize birds near my house and those at local parks. Also using binoculars doesn’t come naturally, so adjust, take your time, and don’t get too overly excited when you can’t spot a bird.
We took a drive to the nearby beach. The sun was in all its glory, raining down, without the shade of trees. We stopped at the walkway before the shore. The air was still breezy here. It was hard to concentrate just on one side of the beach. Some birders were looking far into the distance with their tripod lenses while us binocular-users concentrated on the ducks close by. Duck species are the hardest to determine for me, since I rarely see them. But luckily some of the other birders knew, and they were nice enough to share. In the distance we saw: wood ducks, American coot, buffleheads, among others.
I looked to the blue sky and these black birds were circling. They were vultures searching for a high post to perch from. When they flew closer to us we could distinguish their pink-red naked heads. I believe someone caught a good shot with their long lens camera. Looking around the area, I saw what appeared to be an abandoned airplane facility. It was wide, beige and filled with flying dust. Some of the windows were cracked and broken, rusty from old age. A vulture descended down on the roof of the building and faced us, only as a detective would.
We later headed to a marshy area. We came upon an almost barren beach marsh. Without inspecting much of the area, it appeared empty and dead. But there was life in the waters beyond: mallard ducks, American black ducks… The leader of the trip let me use her tripod binoculars, and I was able to see a kill deer. To the side there was an old building with graffiti with random drawing and letters. Nothing too discernible except for a quote about the seconds being wasted in sadness. The breeze later blended with the meaning of those words.
At the last spot in Marina Park, everyone was searching for the Pin-tailed Ducks. In the meantime we saw the hooded merganser, oystercatchers, forster terns, parakeets (someone released them in the 1970s), among others. After walking through the trail, I saw an osprey sitting on a nest above a long pole. And just as half the group was leaving the trail, I slowed down a bit, turned around thinking maybe the Pin-tailed duck would be there. A couple of minutes later my blind faith paid off. The few who stayed behind were able to see this cute duck.
I heard some rumors about the Prothonotary Warbler roaming Prospect Park. I had not seen any warblers in Floyd Bennett Field or in the marina. About half of the group went to Prospect Park, and I followed them. After a quick pizza slice, I trotted down to the park, running from one corner to another based on rumors from other birders. I caught the bird craziness, and now I was looking for a Prothonotary Warbler. A guy on a bike was trying to get a photo with his long lens camera, going from one site to another, meanwhile the rest of us were still trailing on foot, feeling slow as ever.
I had no clue what I was searching for until I saw a glimmer of yellow between some branches near a pond. The little Prothonotary was a quick fellow, but we were able to see it clearly when it perched from a branch sticking out of the dense foliage. Then it was gone. We hurried across to the other side of the pond where it was rumored to be. Just for our luck, the feisty bird was gone again; it went back to the other side. From this new angle we could clearly see it without other branches in the way. About 5-6 birders were looking at this tiny yellow bird across the pond, and right in front was a guy lounging—not fazed one bit by the bird. One of the birders later said, “2015 still life: bird and park lounger.” Birding is all about patience and going back for seconds. Just when I thought the warbler left us for good, it flew directly to the tree in front of us, and we all had a front row view and a good laugh. In all the Brooklyn Bird Club counted 60 species during this trip.