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Birding the Ramble in Central Park

Dear Bird Folks,

I’m going to be in New York City on business later this month and I may have some time to do a little bird watching. I’ve heard that Central Park offers decent birding. Do you know if this is true and if it would be worth my while to take my binoculars with me?

– Chad, Harrisburg, PA


Of course, Chad,

You should always take your binoculars anytime you travel, but especially to NYC. Over the years I have saved thousands of dollars on theater tickets. I purchase the cheapest seats and then use my binoculars to make it seem like I’m in the front row. I can see everything perfectly, even the spit flying out of the actors’ mouths, but without getting a shower. One time I even took my spotting scope to a show and it worked great. The only trouble was, the guy in front of me complained every time my scoped accidently smacked in him in the back of the head. What a crybaby. He was just mad he didn’t think of it first.

The timing of your question could not have been better. I’ve just returned from New York City and I actually did some birding. It was my first visit there in years. I’ve refused to go until Broadway stopped performing that despicable musical, Cats. (An entire show about cats? Can you imagine anything more disgusting?)

Like you, I had heard that Central Park offered good birding, but I didn’t really believe it or care. I mean, who really wants to deal with crackheads and hobos just to see a few sparrows and starlings, or pigeons with graffiti spray-painted on them? I could not have been more wrong. The day I was there the park was stunningly beautiful. The spring flowers were coming up, the trees were blossoming and the fountains were all going. Plus, the park is free and open to everyone. (You don’t even have to show your birth certificate to get in.) And I didn’t see a single crackhead or hobo. However, I did see something more disturbing. Everywhere I looked I saw dogs wearing something that made me do a double and triple take. No, I’m not talking about doggy sweaters, which are troubling enough. What I saw were dogs wearing shoes. Yes, shoes. I know it’s hard to believe, but I swear on the grave of John James Audubon that I’m not making this up. Dogs in NYC wear shoes! Don’t ask me how they are able to tie the laces, but they did it.

A customer told me that the best place to find birds in Central Park is in an area called the “Ramble,” so that’s where I headed. (Remember, it’s called the “Ramble.” One idiot kept asking about the “Bramble” and the locals grew tired of correcting him. Okay, the idiot was me, but let’s move on.) The Ramble is a thirty-eight acre section of the park that is totally wooded, quiet and secluded. There are plenty of well-marked trails, benches that are creatively made of twisted logs and even a stream. I felt like I was going to meet a family of Hobbits. There were no Hobbits, but I did find plenty of birds. In this tiny area, only few hundred yards away from the cabs, crowds and gridlock, I saw an assortment of woodpeckers, including a sapsucker, plus thrushes, swallows, egrets, kinglets and warblers. Birds were everywhere.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to spend much time in the park. It was my wife’s birthday and I had just given her a $5 gift card to the Tiffany’s on Fifth Avenue and she was itching to use it, or at least part of it. Still, in only an hour of birding in the Ramble I saw over thirty different species of birds. If I’ve done the math right, that works out to be a new bird every two minutes. That’s not bad, especially in mid-April, especially in the middle of a huge city, and especially for me. One young birder named Alex told me that in May he’s seen over twenty different species of warblers there on a single day. The Ramble, and the area around it, boasts a life list of 230 birds and is often listed as one of top birding spots in the entire country. Who knew?

Looking at a local map it’s easy to see why birds would stop off at Central Park. For miles around there’s nothing but brick and cement and New Jersey, so landing in the park is the birds’ best option. How they manage to weave their way through the skyscrapers, massive bridges and blinding lights is mind bogging, but they somehow do it. (They are probably guided by the smell of fresh bagels.) The Ramble is located in the middle of the park, somewhere around 74th St. If you go, be sure to walk over to the small pond where the kids operate miniature remote-controlled sailboats. On the west side of the pond, you’ll find a group of dedicated folks watching the nest of the park’s legendary Red-tailed Hawk, Pale Male. For a small donation they’ll let you watch Pale Male through one of their powerful scopes. (If you do it, put in a buck for me, will ya? I owe them a donation. I had blown all of my money on a $5 gift card to Tiffany’s.)

I highly recommend going birding in Central Park, Chad. The park is beautiful and totally safe. The only thing you have to worry about is coming face to face with a dog wearing shoes. Try to avoid seeing that. An image like that could haunt you for years.