Birds Put on Show for New York Harbor Cruise

When a boatload of bird-watchers set forth on an "eco-cruise" of New York harbor, it was almost as if the birds knew they were coming.

NEW YORK — When a boatload of bird-watchers set forth on an "eco-cruise" of New York harbor, it was almost as if the birds knew they were coming.

From the upper deck of a big yellow water taxi, eagle-eyed veterans of the binocular-toting, sensibly shod "birding" fraternity spotted at least 20 different ducks, gulls and other species that most people might not even notice, let alone be able to identify.

The two-hour trip in 40-degree weather Wednesday was a preview of New York City Audubon's plan for a series of winter cruises to discover the wintering wildlife "hidden around New York City's islands," said program director Yigal Gelb.

"Falcon! Is it a merlin?" cried Joe Giunta, as a small bird soared overhead just moments after the catamaran left the South Street Seaport dock on the East River. After a quick discussion, it was decided that Giunta, a retired teacher who lectures about birds for the local Audubon society, was correct.

The public tours, aboard New York Water Taxi's new ecology friendly boats, are scheduled for Saturdays beginning Feb. 18.

As the boat headed down Buttermilk Channel between Governors Island and Brooklyn, expert eyes zeroed in on bufflehead ducks, black ducks, mallards and red-breasted mergansers loitering along the shoreline.

Afloat in Erie Basin was a flock of brants -- small geese resembling the ubiquitous Canada geese -- for whom the arctic is a regular habitat, and New York in winter is the tropics.

"For a lot of birds, this is south," said Gabriel Willow, a Brooklyn-based naturalist who served as emcee for the tour, explaining everything from New York's geological origins during the ice age to the recently improved cleanliness of its rivers.

The waterborne tours will help people connect with the "archipelago city" of New York in new ways, he said. "To know the city, to know where you live, you have to know what else lives there, too," said Willow.

As the water taxi cruised toward the Statue of Liberty and then turned for home, the experts racked up more sightings: ring-billed gulls, the most common in New York; a great black-backed gull, the largest; a greater scaup; a black-and-white duck; a gadwall; a ruddy duck; an American widgeon and a horned grebe.

Giunta had no sooner mentioned that two peregrine falcons -- a predatory species barely saved from extinction after being ravaged by the pesticide DDT some 30 years ago -- were living in a niche on a tower of the Brooklyn Bridge, than he spotted a small, sleek bird circling high overhead.

"It's a peregrine," he exulted. "Right on cue."

Source: Associated Press

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