Watch Bald Eagles hitching rides on ice floes from Manhattan

The harsh New York winter has seen ice floes on the Hudson River as far south as New York City (NYC). Bald eagles take advantage of the floes moving up- and downstream according to the tides*. Hitching a ride saves them expending energy flying looking for food.

Eagle watch – looking south from the north-west tip of Manhattan to the George Washington Bridge

This provides great opportunities for eagle spotting and a couple of weeks ago I travelled upstate from NYC with friends to see these spectacular birds.  Our northernmost stop was just north of the Indian Point nuclear facility. Bizarrely this ageing facility is located only 30 miles north of the Bronx when NYC is the most populated city and most densely populated major city in the US!

The architecturally beautiful Indian Point nuclear energy facility
The architecturally exquisite Indian Point nuclear facility

Eagles depend on open water for finding fish. If the river is extensively frozen and open channels are a long way from shore it may be difficult to catch good views. We were lucky in that the weather had warmed a bit (it didn’t feel like it as we stood in a biting wind!) and there were areas of open water relatively close to shore.  We saw 30 plus eagles (mature and juvenile) on and flying above the ice, with some great closeup views.

Driving south we stopped at a few favoured locations but the frigid temperatures saw us spend less and less time out of the car. We still saw over 50 birds in total. Without any  hi-tech photographic equipment we didn’t get any closeup images. However, Rob Strauss managed to catch this image of a juvenile above the ice. Rob also provided the image of Indian Point above.

Juvenile eagle flying north - freight train in background
Juvenile eagle flying north – freight train in background

The weather turned colder again last week and ice floes were on the Hudson within the NYC boundaries. Consequently, last Sunday I took advantage of a free eagle-watching walking tour run by the Urban Park Rangers. From the meeting point at Payson Park House in Inwood Hill Park (northern tip of Manhattan), an easy walk from the Dyckman Street (A line) subway, it was a stroll of about 400 yards (0.4 km) to the eastern bank of the Hudson.  In total we would have walked about 2 miles (3 km).

There was a lot of ice on the river and it was neat hearing it creak and groan as floes ground together and collided forming ridges. The walk started in overcast and bitter weather but ended with a sunlit late-afternoon and great downstream views of the George Washington Bridge. We saw three adult eagles moving up and downstream. It was  discombobulating watching a bird on an ice floe chugging its way upstream with the tide when you expect the ice to float downstream on a river.

The Metro North Hudson Line
Railway bridge across the Harlem River – the NW tip of Manhattan lies in front of the bridge; beyond it is the Bronx.

Our best view was saved for last when a bird sitting at the ice-edge took off from the ice-edge (image below courtesy of my point and shoot camera) and treated us to a great display of flying.

Eagle at edge of ice - 26 January 2014
Bald Eagle at ice-edge – from Inwood Hill Park

For much, much better shots of Bald Eagles check out http://www.nycgovparks.org/common_images/events/full/52bc7b40eade8.jpg for an eagle in flight and http://www.calvorn.com for eagles on floes.

I’d highly recommend the next eagle watching tour on 22 February: http://www.nycgovparks.org/events/2014/02/22/birding-eagles.

I got to meet a good group of people  and our ranger (apologies I remember faces for years but names are a bit more hit and miss) was friendly, helpful and passionate about his subject on a frigid day.

Bear in mind sightings are not guaranteed; because eagles may be some distance from shore take the best binoculars you can get hold of; the ranger had a couple of spare pairs on our walk.

*The lower half of the Hudson River, which flows 315 miles south from upstate New York, to the Battery at the southern tip of Manhattan, is a tidal estuary. Consequently, in the lower reaches two  high and two low tides are experienced over twenty-four hours; with a rising tide a flood current flows northward; with a falling one an ebb current flows seaward.

Last week I travelled from Queens to Ireland for $US 5.00!

Standing Stone, Irish Hunger Memorial, Battery Park City, NYC
Standing Stone, Irish Hunger Memorial, Battery Park City, NYC

That’s the price of a return subway fare.

OK so I didn’t actually leave New York City but by visiting the Irish Hunger (also known as The Great Irish Famine or, particularly outside Ireland, the Irish Potato Famine) Memorial in the Battery Park City neighbourhood at the southwestern tip of Manhattan you are literally stepping onto a piece of Ireland.

 

Looking east along Vesey Street toward One World Trade Center
Looking east along Vesey Street toward One World Trade Center

Dwarfed by the surrounding buildings the landscaped plot uses stones brought in from each of Ireland’s counties, along with soil, and native vegetation from Ireland’s western coast. You’ll also see the ruins of an authentic Hunger-era cottage from County Mayo.

 

 

 

Reconstructed 19th century cottage
Reconstructed 19th century cottage

The ruined cottage on the plot reminded me of the abandoned buildings I  came across with my brother Mike when we hiked the moors and fells of Northern England, Scotland and Eire many moons ago.  These dwellings and other ruins always seemed to exude a certain poignancy that made us wonder why they had been abandoned.

The Memorial plot cantilevered above a Citi Bike docking. station.
The Memorial plot cantilevered above a Citi Bike docking. station.

The plot on which the cottage, winding path, and standing stones, are found is cantilevered above the sidewalk. This means that you might walk past it without realising what lies above your head.

Entrance tunnel to the memorial.
Entrance tunnel to the memorial.

When you visit you’ll enter from street-level via a limestone tunnel. The tunnel walls are covered in writings related to the Hunger. Take your time, read and reflect on them to get some appreciation of the context of the Hunger that claimed over a million people between 1845 and 1852. Approximately two million immigrated to the US between 1845 and 1860. Many settled in New York City, which  today has the largest number of Irish-Americans of any city in the US.

The ships that carried Irish immigrants escaping the Hunger were referred to as ‘coffin ships’. Conditions on board were crowded and disease-ridden. Owners provided little food, water or living space. It was said that sharks could be seen following the ships because so many bodies were thrown overboard. Mortality rates of 30% were common.

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The sculpture “Arrival” celebrating the contribution of the Irish diaspora to societies around the world
The Irish National Famine Monument at Murrisk, County Mayo. This image is the property of Pamela Norrington. Link: https://ssl.panoramio.com/photo/4888725

Sculptures of the ships commemorate immigrants departing Ireland and arriving in the US. In the Sculpture Garden of the United Nations  on First Avenue in Midtown Manhattan there is a 26-by-24-foot (8m-by-7m) bronze sculpture by Dublin-born sculptor John Behan entitled ‘Arrival’, which I’ve visited on more than one occasion.

The sculpture  celebrates the Irish who traveled the world in search of a new life, the nations and countries that offered them a chance for a better life, and the contribution the Irish diaspora has made to societies throughout the world. Irish immigrants are depicted disembarking from a coffin ship along two gangplanks.

‘Arrival’ is a variation on Behan’s ‘Coffin Ship’, the National Famine Memorial at Murrisk, County Mayo, on the West Coast of Ireland. Mary Robinson, then the Irish President, unveiled the ‘Coffin Ship’ in 1997 for the 150th anniversary of the Irish Famine. The sculpture in Ireland, rather than celebrating the safe arrival of immigrants, conjures up the horror of the coffin ships through the symbolic representation of the ship’s rigging by skeletons and bones.

Visiting the Hunger Memorial in Battery Park City reminds you of the opportunities New York City  offered the desperate Irish immigrants. It continues to be a place for new beginnings for millions of immigrants from all over the world. In return they contribute to the city’s amazing cultural diversity, economic activity (nearly one-third in 2011), and workforce (44 per cent in 2011).

Footnote: I am currently checking out what opportunities there are for visitors to the UN complex to visit the Sculpture Garden. I’ll post any details once I get them.

 

 

 

Central Park – pets remembered at Christmas, owls and tobogganing

You may think that Central Park wouldn’t have much to offer in the depths of a cold winter. My experience is otherwise.

I first discovered Central Park on a frigid Sunday morning in January 2011 when I ventured out to join a birdwatching tour. I had arrived in Astoria in Queens a month before and figured that birdwatching might provide a good way of meeting people. At the same time I would be resurrecting an interest I developed as a kid in the UK but which had been pretty much dormant for 20 or so years.

The Secret Christmas Pets Memorial Tree

I was blown away by the variety of bird species I saw in freezing temperatures   – over 280 species have been recorded in the Park – and the beauty of the Park blanketed by snow and ice.

The Park has since become my regular sanctuary in the heart of Manhattan . It is a masterpiece of design with miles of paths, amazing trees, geology,  summer theatre and concerts – the list goes on.

Though I have spent a lot of time exploring the Park over the years, I continue to make new discoveries. A couple of weeks back I was walking in the Ramble, a woodland with a maze of winding pathways, great bird life and the odd raccoon, when I came across a Christmas tree decorated with mementos, ornaments and photos of departed pets.

Having grown up with two much-loved dogs I really connected with the sentiments expressed in the messages – reminiscing was a slightly sad but overall uplifting experience. What a great tradition! For more on the ‘secret’ Holiday Pets Memorial Tree see http://www.examiner.com/article/hidden-christmas-tree-central-park-memorializes-cherished-pets and http://rudedogs.wordpress.com/2007/12/17/december-16-2007-the-holiday-pets-memorial-tree/

Last Saturday (4th January) I took myself off to the Park for a walk and some birdwatching, though  temperatures  well below freezing were forecast.

Tobogganing - resized
Tobogganing in Central Park, 4th January 2014. Note the dads standing in front of the tree trunks to prevent their kids smashing into them.

It was a beautiful blue sky day. Despite the cold, the snow was sparkling and folk were enjoying the sunshine, cross-country skiing, dog walking and tobogganing.

Carving Bethesda Terrace - Owl - resized
Stone carving of an owl, Bethesda Terrace area

It turned out to be a great day for birding. The walk began with an early and excellent view of a Long-eared Owl roosting in a pine tree. To cap the walk off I came across a whimsical carving of an owl among other beautiful carvings in the Bethesda Terrace area.

All in all it was a great day and a reminder that the Park is a great place in which to spend time year round. If you like things a little quieter there are far fewer people around in winter than in the peak tourist season.

Restrooms and eateries remain open and you can always grab a snack from the many food carts set up along the popular walking paths. Just  make sure you rug up accordingly.

Food cart near the Mall in Central Park
Food cart near the Mall in Central Park