Heather Wolf’s delightful Birding at the Bridge: In Search of Every Bird at the Brooklyn Waterfront (at Amazon or Public Library ) begins with a quest. In order to hone her urban bird-watching skills, she set the goal of spotting 100 bird species in the Brooklyn Bridge Park. How many birds would visit the limited habitat of a new city park? No one knew the answer and Heather was determined to find out.
A Charming How-To for Beginning City Birders
Often bird field guides look dry and daunting for someone who is just starting out. Birding at the Bridge is different — it makes bird-watching approachable, fun, and even exciting.
Heather began watching birds in NYC in 2012, after bird-watching for a couple of years in Florida. On her first birding adventure, she didn’t know she needed binoculars. For all you complete beginner birders out there, Heather started out just like you.
“To me, (birding is) exhilarating, challenging, saddening, maddening, and addictive. There’s potential for adventure at every moment, as interesting birds exhibiting entertaining behavior can show up nearly anywhere.”
She vividly describes the thrill of identifying her first bird and the rush of adrenaline with the discovery of each new bird sighting. Her enthusiasm is contagious.
Mapping Patterns in a New Urban Landscape
Brooklyn Bridge Park is a new park along the East River waterfront. Its first section, Pier One, opened in 2010. For birds, as well as urban birders, this is new terrain.
Heather’s quest to see 100 bird species in Brooklyn Bridge Park was a challenge. She would need to spend hours outside, in all types of weather, to spot new species in such a small urban park. But her daily perseverance paid off. She began to see the patterns of bird visits and behavior for each location and season.
To help keep track of her bird sightings, Heather invented her own evocative names like Magical Knoll and Dark Forest for the micro-areas in the park. For anyone visiting Brooklyn Bridge Park, her mapped hotspots are extremely helpful.
A 100-Bird Quest Can Make You An Expert
As Heather continued to seek more birds, she expanded her expertise. She catalogued her daily sightings on eBird, a bird checklist application whose data is used by scientists. Longing to share her knowledge with others in-person, Heather organized a group on meetup.com and began to lead bird walks in Brooklyn Bridge Park. (Full disclosure: I’ve met Heather and have attended her wonderful bird walks.)
To throughly document rare sightings, Heather would need photographic proof. Though initially hesitant, she invested in a serious camera lens and learned how to use it. She then launched the site brooklynbridgebirds.com. When you see her stunning photographs, it’s difficult to believe that she wasn’t a wildlife photographer before she began her quest.
A Smart and Friendly Field Guide to the Birds of Brooklyn Bridge
Birding at the Bridge: In Search of Every Bird at the Brooklyn Waterfront will help you discover birds in one of NYC’s most beautiful parks. It’s a portable, handsome guide featuring remarkable photographs and informative descriptions of common and rare birds. The book is organized by season — this is especially helpful as many of the birds you may see in Brooklyn Bridge Park are migrants.
Birding at the Bridge is more than just a field guide. It’s also an instructive example that we can all take to heart: one’s curiosity about nature in the city can change you. Heather’s (successful!) quest to see 100 birds transformed her from a beginner to an expert. She looked deeply at a small green space; the more she looked, the more she saw. Birding at the Bridge is the delightful and generous result.
“Birding was the ultimate urban escape, but most people had no idea that something like a gorgeous scarlet tanager was hiding in the bush they just passed. I had to let them know.”
For more books about nature in the city, check out what else I’m reading.