The Wasteland

Maybe it was growing up in overpopulated England, but I've always been drawn to neglected wastelands. Forgotten corners where nature has fought back.

A block from my apartment on the Hudson River is just such a spot. Barely two acres in size, it consists of old pier pilings, industrial waste and the detritus of river reclamation; the kind of place that probably looks exactly the same now as it did before being battered by hurricance Sandy.
And judging by the maturity of some of the trees and shrubs, the area hasn't been touched since clippers docked on the piers and unloaded tea from India.

I've birded casually from the roadside without vaulting the locked perimeter fence; good enough for phoebes and song sparrows in the spring, and even an Iceland gull this winter, but until now I'd never actually gotten inside.

Today, I found the gate unchained. And having just been talking with Ben Cacace about Manhattan's under-birded "microparks" I thought why not sneak in and have a proper look.

Being overlooked by hundreds of apartment windows, there's really no point trying to conceal yourself. So i just sauntered in, binoculars conspicuously dangling should the anti-terror police turn up and demand an excuse.

Inside it's a wonderland.

Swamp sparrows foraged in the pilings, two phoebes hunted from the boulders and metal-waste on the beach, a tennessee warbler vied for insects with a palm warbler and the ubiquitous yellowthroats.

A kingfisher protested my human intrusion. I suspect this bird isn't even a migrant, and has simply fished undetected right here, within full view of the Manhattan skyscrapers.

The next day I sneaked in again while waiting for the NYC ferry commute. A lincoln's sparrow greeted me. I reckon any day you see a Lincoln's is a good day, so seeing one a block from my apartment was pretty cool. A minute later the ringbills rose in unison from their loafing pier and I saw our resident peregrine cut across the sun. Then, just as i was leaving, I stumbled upon a late female scarlet tanager sitting quietly in a rowan tree.

I wonder how long it will be before someone realises the gate is unchained....

POSTSCRIPT: A few hours later I had another lincoln's in the small gardens behind my office in Midtown. Must have been a big flight last night.

POSTSCRIPT 2: Went back today, 12th Oct, and its locked again. Just when the front will be pulling in new arrivals. It was good while it lasted (3 days...)

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I work in NYC and own a wildlife and wilderness agency specializing in the southern cone of South America. I still do some guiding down there, especially looking for Fuegian and Patagonian avifauna. I'm particularly interested in the wintering ecology of neotropical migrants, and in avian biogeography in general. You can follow me at - @domhall And find me at - AventuraArgentina.com