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Friday, October 15, 2010

Governor's Island

Last Saturday was Octoberfest on Governor's Island. It was also the last weekend that the general public would be able to visit the island until next year. German food and beer is always enticing, but exploring the island and looking for Fall migrants was also a good reason to hop the free ferry from lower Manhattan.

The 172-acre island is about 1/2 mile from the southern end of Manhattan, but much closer to Brooklyn. Legend claims that some Brooklyn farmers would drive their cattle across Buttermilk Channel at low-tide to allow them to graze on the island. Judging by the size of the cruise ships that now dock on the Brooklyn side of the channel, it has been dredged considerably over the decades. The island can be seen looking south from the Brooklyn Bridge promenade.

Straight up the hill from the ferry terminal is Fort Jay, it's cannons still standing vigil over lower New York Harbor. Drained of water, the fort's moat is now grassy habitat, as is the entire hillside and adjacent parade ground. As we walked through the meadow I noticed wary chipping and White-throated Sparrows foraging in the shadow of trees that dot the edges of the grass. They never strayed far from the protection of the tree's still dense foliage. Northern Flickers leap-frogged each other as they moved from tree to tree. Perched on the wind vane atop Liggett Hall was an American Kestrel. The small, colorful falcon faced the expansive stretch of grass, no doubt watching for a careless sparrow or large grasshopper. Flitting low across the meadow were several Common Buckeyes. Monarchs were migrating in good numbers high above the field.

On the west side of the island, and in sight of the Statue of Liberty is a 3-acre urban farm. At the northern end of the rows of produce I also noticed a pair of apiaries. I spent about 15 minutes walking the edges of the vegetable and flower columns, scanning for birds. It wasn't until I got to the northern end of the plots that I flushed up lots of birds. The flock was mostly White-throated Sparrows, but I also spotted Winter Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Palm Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Swamp Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow and Savannah Sparrow. Like the sparrows on the meadow, I suppose these birds were staying close to the safety of a row of shrubs and small trees. On the Buttermilk Channel side of the island we came across a nice mixed flock of songbirds in an ash tree. As had been the case for the last week or so, a majority of the birds foraging in the leaves were kinglets, but we also observed Eastern Phoebe, Red-eyed Vireo, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Blackpoll Warbler, Palm Warbler, Northern Parula and Yellow-rumped Warbler.

I never did get to drink any beer at the Octoberfest as the lines were way too long (no beer is worth waiting 45 minutes). The food from Hallo Berlin and the Red Hook Lobster Pound, however, was outstanding. Visiting the island is a treat and I always discover something new with each trip, sadly, like the warbler migration, I have to wait until next Spring. Finally, I'm not sure what's going on in this apartment, but suspect that someone named "Jack" resides there and just purchased some very special seeds.

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Exploring urban nature, birds, birdwatching, birding, hummingbirds, butterflies, dragonflies, bees, hawks, raptors, wildflowers, trees, mushrooms, environment, binoculars, spotting scope