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Monday, June 02, 2008

Governor's Island & Water Street

I've lived in New York for my entire life, most of it within the city's 5 boroughs and the last 20 in Brooklyn. Somehow, during all that time, I managed to overlook Governor's Island, which is a mere 400 yards west of Brooklyn across Buttermilk Channel. Last Sunday I made up for lost time and took the free ferry service from Slip No. 7 in lower Manhattan over to the island. The historic 172-acre island is scheduled to undergo a major renovation. There's an interesting slideshow by the Dutch firm that, supposedly, won the design bid here.

I arrived fairly late in the day (by birding standards, anyway) so didn't observe much bird activity. Williams Castle, one of five forts that protected New York Harbor, was pretty cool, though. Only the main courtyard is opened to the public pending renovation. On the east side of the island, on Buttermilk Channel, there is a large, modern pier for ships to dock. The south end of the pier looked as if it is unused by vessels and was occupied by a boisterous flock of terns. I didn't have my scope, but through bins they looked to be mostly Common Terns and a few Forster's Terns. Next time I go, I'll bring my scope because it's always possible that some other wayward species is mixed in with the expected birds.

There was one other unexpected find. As I rounded the northern-most end on my counter-clockwise walk around the island I spotted a brown swallow perched on a low, cyclone-style fence. It turned out to be a Northern Rough-winged Swallow. I took a few photos through my binoculars, which sort of worked. These brown swallows are usually only seen on migration around New York City and, generally, flying low over ponds and lakes in the company of other swallow species. It seemed odd to find a single bird and, in retrospect, I think it was the only time that I've observed one that was perched. Like most New Yorkers, they always appear to be in a hurry.

After returning to lower Manhattan, I walked north towards the South Street Seaport. The building at 55 Water Street has a Peregrine Falcon nest box that is visible from the street. Through my bins I was able to spot three, nearly ready to fledge falcons. While watching them, one of the adult peregrines flew passed the aerie, made a halfhearted attempt at grabbing a pigeon near Slip No. 7, then returned to a perch on a build adjacent to the nestbox. The young falcons waddled back and forth along the narrow ledge where their small shelter is located. I managed to take one reasonable photo through my bins. I suspect that by this point in time they may have already fledged.

by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"

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