Birding with the Empire State Building as background

I had a nice day’s birding today.  And I think I saw another warbler species.

I went to Jamaica Bay – over the Queensboro bridge from 59th St Manhattan, then get lost a bit, and you are there!

A walk through some scrub and then you are looking out over a wetland.

Many of the usual birds and some new ones besides – Glossy Ibis, Osprey, Yellow Warbler, Towhee, Tree Swallow, House Wren, Willet, Forster’s Tern, Canada Goose, Brown Thrasher, Laughing Gull and more.  The new birds for the trip were Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Ruddy Duck, Lesser Scaup and Black Brant.

And this warbler.  Help me out here US birders, please. It had a very obvious double wingbar, was yellow and olive green, generally unstreaked and had a partial yellow eye-ring.  Prairie Warbler I think – am I right? As soon as I saw it I thought ‘I haven’t seen one quite like that before’.  What I didn’t notice was any white on the tail but it might have had some.  Does the location and date fit or not – looks like it does actually?  And if not, then what was it – I don’t think it was a female Blackpoll – far too yellow and green.

I met three other birders – which was nice because each stopped to chat.  The first lady had seen a few warblers and was happy.  The second lady struck me as a good birder – just by the way she spoke about the birds.  She was very pleased to have seen a Willow Flycatcher – I tried to look pleased for her too even though I have not much idea what that look like.  She had also seen Dunlin and Red Knot (neither of which did I see) but she didn’t mention Ruddy Turnstone or Willet (maybe because they were not worthy of mention? but both of which I did see).  She had heard there was a Black-billed Cuckoo around and was keen to see it.  I hope she did – I didn’t.  And the third birder was a bloke who told me a bit about what he’d seen and the best path to take.

We are a band of brothers and sisters we birders.  Almost all of the birders I have met have been much chattier than the average English birder – it’s nice.  Loosen up, you Brits!

I drove down to the ocean.  I knew of a site for Piping Plover and when I got there the beach was fenced off to give the birds a chance to nest in the dunes.  I saw Oystercatchers and Least Terns but in the rain there were no Piping Plovers.

But I did look out into the Atlantic and thought that home was 3000 miles that way.  But I was going 3000 miles the other way, West, and I would be seeing another ocean in three weeks time.

In some ways, after one more day in New York, my journey would start.  It was due West from here, in the direction that the continent was opened up (not that it was closed to people before), in the direction of European progress or exploitation – depending on your view.

But tomorrow I will visit Ground Zero, take a look at the Statue of Liberty and spend my last night in a big city for a while.  My last bite of the Big Apple.  And why is it called the Big Apple? – click here.


The living and the dead

I walked north 8 blocks to Central Park and on the way saw countless house sparrows and starlings – I won’t keep going on about them but it is really striking how common they are here.  Indeed, Greg Butcher, from National Audubon, made a good suggestion – that Audubon and the RSPB should do a joint study of the species to try to elucidate the reasons why they do so well over here in the middle of big cities which look, on the face of it, very similar to our big cities.

More by luck than judgement I came across the part of Central Park which is best for birds – The Ramble.  So I rambled.  There were plenty of others rambling too – with cameras and binoculars.  Earlier there had been a Bittern (that’s an American Bittern) apparently but I think it had gone.

I met a man who said it was rather quiet because after 4 days of rain and northerly winds there was nothing about.  A good birder yesterday had, apparently, only seen 15 warbler species in the day and that had taken a lot of effort.  The norm would be around 20 or so.

Well, I saw 11 and they were: Redstart, Yellowthroat, Bay-breasted, Chestnut-sided, Black-and-white, Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Blue, Ovenbird (sounding like a very loud Marsh Tit – Wallace Kornack taught me that one in Rock Creek Park), Canada, Blackpoll and Nashville.  Of these, I had my best-yet views of Black-and-white (which is a little like a Treecreeper or Nuthatch in manner – always edging along the branches and trunks) and Nashville (one of which was singing its little heart out).  And I added Black-crowned Night Heron to my USA list.

One birder told me that when he starts seeing Blackpoll Warblers it signals the coming end of  the migration season.  I thought it appropriate that a black-capped warbler marks the coming death of migration until the fall season, or for these warblers, in their finery, until the next year’s spring. 

Rather luckily my ramble ended just where I wanted it to finish and I was facing an imposing statue of President Theodore Roosevelt sitting astride a horse with two native Americans by his side at the entrance to the American Museum of Natural History.

Roosevelt lived from 1858-1919 and served two terms as President.  He set up the USA’s National Parks, with Yellowstone (where I intend to be in early June) being the first of all.  As I queued to buy my ticket I read inspiring words from the great man on the walls around me.  I’d be hard-pressed to think of a single UK Prime Minister who has been eloquent about the environment – but they haven’t been a very eloquent bunch since Churchill.

I eschewed the dinosaurs and went straight to the gallery of ‘Birds of New York’ which was a dry old exhibit of the stiff and the stuffed, the dull and the sad.  I walked quickly through here only pausing to look at the Passenger Pigeon case which was rather well done with 11 PPs in it and a nice commentary.

Onwards to the display of American birds.  This was rather good – including, as it did, a number of tableaux of scenes from different habitats  with the relevant birds in them.  There were Bald Eagles and Limpkins, Sage Grouse and Cormorants and I enjoyed looking at them.

But the warblers came out badly in their little display.  They looked so small and lifeless.  The Black-and-white somehow looked half the size of the one which had been clinging to a tree trunk 10 feet from me not half an hour before.  It was as if the absence of life had drained the birds of their very essence – which I guess it had.  And the Cerulean Warbler – the only one on display which I have not yet seen – certainly did not send my pulse racing as I am quite sure a live one would.

I then spent some time in galleries dedicated to eastern American woodland native Americans and Plains Indians.  Is it just me who finds it bizarre that these peoples of the continent are rather treated as another form of wildlife alongside African Mammals and Primates?

So it was with mixed feelings that I enjoyed gathering some knowledge about Native Americans.  I was particularly struck by the Societies of Native American culture.  I knew nothing of these and was struck by the Arapaho Dog Society (whose members had to remain fixed to the spot under certain circumstances – whatever the personal danger) and the Arapaho Crazy Society whose members acted in bizarre ways and said the opposite of what they meant – that does take us back, perhaps, to UK politicians.

As I left the Museum I was thinking of live and dead warblers and live and dead native Americans, and live and dead Presidents but as I walked down the West edge of Central Park, heading to meet my niece for lunch (nice niece, nice lunch, not for this blog) my mind turned to another day when presumably Central Park was full of joggers and tourists, the streets were full of yellow New York cabs, NYPD officers were directing traffic, the sharp-suited were walking briskly through Manhattan, people were picking up coffees from Starbucks and two planes crashed into the skyline and the world changed.

Presumably some, perhaps many, of the people I passed were here then, having a normal start to the day which then went apocalyptic.  I’ll go to Ground Zero over the next couple of days to…I don’t know what exactly.  But it would seem wrong to mourn the passing of the Passenger Pigeon, as I do, and not mark, in some way, the much more recent and personal extinctions which took place on 11 September 2001 a few blocks from where I am writing this blog .


I’m driving in my car

Actually, I’m not, as I am still in New York, although gas is so cheap and parking so expensive, and the traffic moves so slowly, that driving around Manhattan might work out cheaper than parking!

‘My’ car is a tank! It’s a Dodge Grand Caravan – which would easily seat 6  people.  It’s very comfortable, quite a nice drive (for an automatic transmission – I never did say that PRND is Park Reverse Neutral Drive did I? But you probably knew that any way) but not what I ordered at all.

I spent quite a lot of time choosing between hire car companies on the basis of the fuel efficiency of their cars on offer and then I get upgraded to a comfortable tank!

There was a moment of confusion when I picked the car up at Union Station in Washington DC and was told I could have a van but we got over that.  Although it is a white van – so I am white van man in the USA.

The upgrade will cost me quite a bit in extra fuel and the planet too for the same reason but I mustn’t grumble as I was lucky…I’ll tell you that story when I am safely home.

And when home – which is ages away – I will work out the carbon expended on this trip – the amount will be huge.

And when back home – which is ages away – this blog will revert to commentary of the UK environmental scene.  Remember I have a book out of previous blogs which is selling well and will help to pay for the fuel on this trip and a newsblast which will start in July. So cough up for the book and sign up (free!) for the newsblast.



A few people have commented that my waistline must be expanding even further given the breakfasts I’m having – obviously in the interests of research with waitresses.

And I’ve just had breakfast at the Morning Star Cafe (open 24 hours) on 2nd Avenue just around the corner from the Pod Hotel where I am staying.

Breakfast was bagel and cream cheese, fresh orange juice and two coffees – $8.35 plus tip (that’s a fiver in UK).  ‘Bout the same as in a similar place in London as far as cost is concerned.

And I survived – I only mention that as there is a large and somewhat incongruous poster above the kitchen hatch entitled ‘Choking victim’ with diagrams and everything.  The bagel was very nice.

And from the photos on the wall President Carter and Mayor Giuliani also survived.

But my waistline has shrunk – breakfast has been the main meal of the day, exercise is up and consumption of booze is down.  Just thought I ought to correct any misconceptions.

It has stopped raining – or is that a pause?


Let’s swap?

My Republican friend in Washington DC (whose name must be kept a closely guarded secret because if his colleagues knew he had been meeting with an effete, European, pinko-liberal like me he would be doomed) and I came up with a great deal.  It’s going to change your life.  It’s coming soon.  And it goes like this – we swap President Obama for David Cameron. MRfiWDC will be happy and so will I – done, sorted!

Having cracked this one I have been trying to engineer another swap but I can’t find anyone, even after a few drinks, who will go for this.  How about if the USA takes back all those grey squirrels and Canada Geese and we take back our House Sparrows and Starlings?

Nobody will say yes to this one.

If you haven’t seen for yourself, you may find it difficult to believe how common these two introduced species are in the USA.  Starlings were, you may remember, the first species I saw in the USA on arrival.  And I have seen both species every day since.

I would guess that the only species I have seen every day since leaving Washington DC and starting birding are: Starling, House Sparrow, Common Grackle, American Robin, Red-winged Blackbird, Mourning Dove, American Goldfinch and American Crow.

It was a strange love of Shakespeare that may have persuaded Americans to introduce these two species to the continent.  And Starlings were released in Central Park – just a few blocks from where I am now in New York City.

Both species flourished, as non-native species sometimes do, and are spread right across the USA.  I wonder whether I’ll see them both every day – including in the Rockies?  And their success here is in contrast to their current status back home where, although quite numerous, both species have declined a lot in recent decades.

It certainly won’t be the weather that puts them off here – it’s still raining in a very British way (this is Day 5 of rain) – although I gather from home that you need more rain.  I’ll get Pres Obama to bring some with him when I send him over.