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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.