By Michael Alpiner.

There is just so much that can be seen from the safety of one’s home. A bird’s eye view of the world through the limited lens of one’s domestic window has its place, but spreading one’s wings and venturing out to find and identify our feathered neighbors can become a new form of tourism.

Despite the shared tragedy of the coronavirus pandemic, intolerance and human’s tragic flaws are still as viral as the virus itself. The lessons learned through a deep flight into birdwatching can only have positive effects on a world limping back into a state of normalcy.

Some advantages of turning to birdwatching in today’s climate are:

  • It can be done without traveling far
  • It is fairly inexpensive, as hobbies go
  • It is a low impact and low stress activity
  • It can be integrated into any travel itinerary

And…it can be done in the nude! Olaf Danielson, extreme birder and author of several books, mostly nature-related, holds records for bird-spotting, but it is his nude birding exploits that bring him the most notoriety. Author of Bobbies, Peckers and Tits: One Man’s Naked Perspective (Cable Publishing, 2014), Danielson exposes the lesser known world of birding, its competitiveness and harsh beauties.

This extreme adventure is not surprising in a contemporary world of reality TV and social distancing. A far cry from Named and Afraid, birding can, however, be extreme depending on the places one travels to see a rare and exotic species. Unfortunately, with air travel restrictions, it is perhaps better to stay close to the henhouse but far enough from others to be safe and responsible. 

Using New York City as an example, below will be a primer for current and future birdwatching tourists.

Equipment: Certainly the first piece of equipment is a quality pair of binoculars. Though one can spend upwards of $2000 on a top of the line pair, Bushnell and Nikon have reasonable ones for under $150 that are quite satisfactory.

Nothing breaks the concentration more than a buzzing insect looking for a quick meal invading one’s ear space. A battery-operated Off Clip-On can make the birding experience much more pleasant. With refills and batteries, this item can cost about $15.

A hat and sunscreen protects the skin and head from burns and sun exposure. It is easy to forget about the danger of the sun when one is focused on the capricious nature of a yellow warbler flitting from branch to branch.

Locations: Surprisingly, New York City offers birdwatchers many opportunities for excellent finds. Jamaica Bay Wildlife Center is home to hundreds of bird species (332 species sighted over the past 25 years). About 16 years ago, a white pelican was spotted in the refuge.

Waterfowl, raptors, songbirds, and more, the refuge offers a nature center with programs and naturalists available for information and help with identifications. The refuge covers 9000 acres and even the planes from JFK Airport don’t scare off these tenacious residents.

Kissena Park in Flushing is surprisingly rich in bird species. Though not as vast as Jamaica Bay, Kissena Park features a large pond for the more social birds and a wooded path for the more elusive species. The most interesting finds there are brown creepers who might be seen hopping along the trunk of a tree, and pheasants, moving through the underbrush, sounding like turkeys with their gurgly, clucking call.

Brooklyn Botanical Gardens might be more renowned for its flora than its fauna, but there are many bird species who haunt the 52-acre garden. American bittern, hummingbirds and a wealth of other species can be spotted among the 14000 taxa of plants.

Along with these spots, Central Park is key to NYC birding, as is Wave Hill up in the Bronx. The challenge of seeing something beautiful and fleeting, to identify a creature who symbolizes our own best characteristics, like strength, resilience, patience and grace, is what will keep us balanced at a time which has thrown the world into an imbalance. 

Birding allows the participant to keep social distance, follow all CDC protocols and watch as the natural world blesses us with its untainted beauty.