Believe it or not, New York City and its surrounding area is underrated. The Big Apple may deservedly be considered one of the most original, incredible, and important cities on Earth, perhaps even the cultural capital of the world. Yet, among all of the accolades, encomiums, and epithets heaped upon my hometown, the phrase “natural wonderland” is rarely heard. Take it from me, this urban wasteland boasts abundant natural delights if you know where to look. I do, which is why I absolutely HATE to visit without being able to hit my favorite haunts.

Don’t get the wrong idea here; I love my family, the mother, siblings, in-laws, aunts, uncles, nieces, and cousins I’ve moved away from. Visiting them, or to be more specific, enabling them to visit with Mason and Ivy, is always my first priority. But I hate having to miss both friends and fauna, particularly aviafauna, when time is tight. That’s why I left my bins behind and carried only a point-and-click camera on my weekend blitz to New York and New Jersey.

Luckily, for those who have eyes to see, notable birds are everywhere en route from one end of the Empire State to the other. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Highway birding favors bigger birds. Raptors like Red-tailed Hawks and Turkey Vultures predominate but the occasional Bald Eagle or Black Vulture really add excitement to a long stretch of highway. Pileated Woodpeckers and Belted Kingfishers are both conspicuous enough to identify as well as appreciate at 80 miles an hour. Of course, smaller species like Barn Swallow, Red-winged Blackbird, and American Goldfinch can’t be missed along New York highways in summer.
  • My aunt and her family live in northern Westchester. She’s usually overrun with House Wrens but this year, the most notable denizens of her yard were mewling Gray Catbirds.
  • For the first time, I got to take the ferry from North Bergen, NJ to midtown Manhattan. Herring Gulls and Common Terns loitered at the NJ terminal; I won’t describe the wildlife hanging around the NYC side.
  • Even cooler, the route to the ferry brings one through Edgewater and more specifically past the Edgewater Community Garden. Unbeknownst to me, this is the home of one of the better-known NJ colonies of Monk Parakeets. Corey filled me in on that tidbit after the fact but I could tell as much from the raucous psittacine ruckus coming from the tiny greenspace.
  • Even while discussing said parakeets with Corey over the phone while waiting for pizza, I spotted a tiny Downy Woodpecker pecking at a tiny tree in a ugly urban parking lot. Pave what you will but life will out, even in New Jersey!

Herring Gull looking for dinner among the tourists and commuters

Written by Mike
Mike is a leading authority in the field of standardized test preparation, but he's also a traveler who fully expects to see every bird in the world. Besides founding 10,000 Birds in 2003, Mike has also created a number of other entertaining but now extirpated nature blog resources, particularly the Nature Blog Network and I and the Bird.