The birdwatcher of Brooklyn Bridge Park
In her task of birdwatching, Heather Wolf has detected more than 150 species at Brooklyn Bridge Park.
An adventurous encounter with a bird in 2006 in Pensacola Beach, Florida, where she previously lived, made Wolf interested in birds for the first time. The shorebird that was flying straight to her while protecting its nest aroused fear and curiosity in Wolf, who back home wanted to know more about the flying animal.
She never imagined that this was the beginning of a lifelong passion. “Bird watching for me is not really a hobby, it’s a way of life,” Wolf said.
When the birdwatcher moved back to Brooklyn in 2012, she set a new goal, apply all she had learned in Florida observing birds, to Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Since then, Wolf has observed 153 species of birds in the one-mile stretch along the Brooklyn waterfront, most of them native to North America. The rock pigeon and the European starling are the few that are native to the wharf.
Species like the north mockingbird and the mallard duck are also park residents. “They either live in the park year-round or partial year, whether they’re breeding or building a nest there during the summer,” Wolf explained.
In winter, it’s possible to see diving ducks like buffleheads and red-breasted merganser. Wolf’s last sighting is the common goldeneye, a diving duck that visits the waters that border the park.
Thrushes, flycatchers, chimney sweep hunting in the wind and flying over Brooklyn Heights and wood warblers passing through in search of better weather and food up north are not rare in spring as New York City is part of the Atlantic Flyway, one of four main migratory routes for North American birds.
Wolf filed every sight in eBird (ebird.org), a real-time checklist application from Cornell Lab of Ornithology, where she works as a web developer.
The application allows citizens to keep track of the observed species. The sighting data gives researchers, biologists and ornithologists an idea of the abundance and distribution of birds.
It’s hard to believe that all these species can be seen right below the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. That’s why the birdwatcher highlights the importance of creating habitats in pocket parks like Brooklyn Bridge Park that permit birds to come to urban environments during migration.
At the park, Wolf, a self-taught photographer, has managed to witness wild scenes in an urban landscape like common grackle nestlings clamoring for food above the basketball courts and two male mergansers dancing in the waterfront while seeking courtship from a female next to them.
These and other findings appear in Birding at the Bridge, a book with photographs of more than 100 species where Wolf shares her journey as a birdwatcher.
“The idea was to inspire people, especially in urban environments to just take a closer look because there are definitely more than pigeons passing throughout here or at your feet,” she said.
Binoculars and camera in hand, Wolf can be easily recognized in the park. Through any season, she will be there, roaming and observing.
“I’m stuck with it, I’m gonna be birding for life and I’m happy about it.”
Wolf leads bird walks in Brooklyn Bridge Park. If want to join her, check the dates at heatherwolf.com.
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