Arbor Day is for the birds!

Removing lesser celandine © NYC Audubon

Friday April 27th was Arbor Day in New York state (did you know that?!) and to celebrate the spirit of the day, a group of NYC Audubon volunteers spent the morning of April 28th in Manhattan’s Riverside Park helping the Riverside Park Fund improve habitat in the Woodland Restoration Area at 116th Street. The dedicated and enthusiastic crew planted 150 Viburnum lentago bushes (otherwise known as nannyberry) in sunny spots throughout the woodland; the berries of this plant are an important food source for birds in the fall. The volunteers also removed a lot of noxious invasive plants, including grapevine and lesser celandine, that choke out native plants. It was a beautiful morning and there were plenty of birds darting about in the spring sunshine. Through the efforts of these volunteers, the habitat will be better for these avian visitors in the years to come.

- John Rowden

Celebrating Earth Day (every day)!

Volunteers cleaning Plumb Beach © NYC Audubon

Today is Earth Day, the one day of the year when we are all encouraged to focus on appreciating and helping the environment. To celebrate Earth Day this year, we took a big group out to Brooklyn yesterday to clean Plumb Beach with the support of the National Park Service and the American Littoral Society. Plumb Beach is part of Gateway National Recreation Area and is an important site for humans as well as wildlife – particularly migratory shorebirds and horseshoe crabs. During the months of May and June, horseshoe crabs spawn on the beach and migratory shorebirds feed on their eggs before continuing on their northward journey. A lot of garbage piles up on the beach; some of it is left there and some floats ashore from elsewhere. We really wanted to give the beach a good Earth Day spring cleaning before the wildlife shows up en masse. And clean it we did!
We had an amazing group of about 75 people out on the beach, including crews from Students for Service, the New York Fire Department Explorers and Congregation Emanu-El. They scoured the beach and the adjacent marsh for debris large and small and filled over 150 garbage bags with trash, as well as collecting timbers and other flotsam from the area. It was truly an impressive effort and we at NYC Audubon all really appreciate their efforts and desire to help the environment.
Earth Day only occurs once a year, but we hope you’ll help us try to bring a little bit of Earth Day into every day.

- John Rowden

Long Island is for horseshoe crabs

Spawning horseshoe crabs © NYC Audubon


I have a great job. Evidence? I got to spend Wednesday evening with representatives from Audubon Chapters all over Long Island talking about horseshoe crabs.
Why is Audubon interested in these ancient Chelicerates, you might ask? Our local horseshoe crab species (Limulus polyphemus) is strikingly similar to fossil horseshoe crabs from over 400 million years ago. This species spawns on beaches from Maine to Florida during springtime and their eggs are an important food source for a number of migratory shorebird species. Horseshoe crabs are harvested to act as bait for eel and conch fisheries and over harvesting led to a decline in numbers, which prompted conservation efforts that seem to have helped the species start to recover. Monitoring is important to understand population numbers and how those numbers change over time.
NYC Audubon has been monitoring horseshoe crab spawning in Jamaica Bay since 2009, using a corps of dedicated citizen scientists. With the support of grant from Audubon New York, we organized Wednesday’s event to spread the word among our Audubon comrades from the island and get more of them involved in monitoring efforts that take place at sites in many of the chapters’ backyards. With understanding comes action; we are part of the network that shares data about these amazing creatures, with the goal of better protecting their spawning sites and ensuring that they are around to delight us and feed shorebirds for millennia to come.

- John Rowden

Which Way Would You Go?

View from Governors Island © NYC Audubon

View from Governors Island © NYC Audubon

Another glorious day in the New York Harbor!


If you were a bird flying up the Atlantic coast on your annual spring migration, what would you do when you reached New York City? Would you fly to the west (up the Hudson River), to the east (up the East River), keep going north at a higher altitude over the high-rises of Manhattan, or just fly north and navigate through the avenues and maze of buildings?  What routes do migrants actually take?


These are some of the questions we are looking to answer as part of a collaborative investigation between New York City Audubon and Fordham University on how birds and bats navigate urban landscapes. Today’s post is an additional aspect of the rooftop microphone project I talked about on March 15.


Looking at the map of New York City, you can see Governors Island sitting about ½ mile from the southern tip of Manhattan, which provides a great vantage point to use to answer our questions. Not only is the island well positioned, it also has the features we need for positioning a small-scale avian radar unit: level ground, slightly elevated above the surrounding area; and no large, nearby buildings obstructing the horizon. The entire unit, including the trailer, weighs 3,800 pounds. Thanks to generous support from the Leon Levy Foundation and on-the-ground help from the National Park Service  and the Harbor School, we hope to have the unit up and running in time  to catch spring migration.


-Susan Elbin


Listening on Rooftops

View from The Rooftop

View from One Bryant Park


I couldn’t have picked a better day than yesterday to visit the rooftops of Manhattan!


One goal of New York City Audubon’s Project Safe Flight program is to figure out how migratory birds cope with big cities along their migratory route. When spring migrants head up the Atlantic Flyway and encounter New York City, what do they do? Do they fly on one side of Manhattan or the other? Do they fly higher or lower than usual? Do they fly up the avenues? We have our theories, and now we are testing them.


Research has already been done–including work by NYC Audubon Board member Andrew Farnsworth–on night flight calls of migratory land birds. The technology exists to record and analyze the calls, so we can find out who (what species) is calling. The challenge today is: Where can we install the microphones?


So I called Helena Durst, a vice president of the Durst Organization (one of the city’s most environmentally conscientious developers) and an enthusiastic supporter of NYC Audubon’s Lights Out New York. Thanks to Ms. Durst, I got to spend the morning with a member of her staff,  Lauren Leppla, touring five fabulous rooftops. From the 945-foot-tall One Bryant Park to a 286-foot-tall building at 733 Third Avenue…. What a view! Each building engineer who took us to the roof was gracious and keen on helping us with the project.


Some of questions we are looking to answer: Are birds flying closer to rivers, or are they flying over the center of Manhattan? Are night flight calls correlated with collisions? Are more birds flying over higher or lower buildings? Darker or brightly lit areas?  Green spaces or developed land? Lots of questions to answer. We’ll also be teaming up with Fordham University professor Alan Clark in using radar to visualize migration. But on this glorious day in March, I just got to see the city from a bird’s eye view.


And it was great!


–Susan Elbin