spotlight stories

spotlight on community birding

“A double-crested cormorant!”

“A what? I can’t see it.”

“There!”  Yantzia, an Environmental Science Program apprentice and high school senior only weeks from graduation, pointed out a tall, black bird with a goosey neck to the people in her rowboat.  It was June 2, and the passengers were guests of Rocking the Boat’s first-ever Community Birding event.  Bird identification skills and monitoring projects for conservation partners have long been a staple of Rocking the Boat’s Environmental Science Program that benefit migrating and resurgent species across the coastal region.  This summer, with generous funding from the U.S. Forest Service, the opportunity to learn to recognize local bird species and see them in action is being offered to the general public in Hunts Point Riverside Park, where Environmental apprentices will supply everything needed for the curious to start watching and identifying birds.  With binoculars, spotting scopes, field guides, and a little patience, they too may begin to see the birds and the life of the Bronx River the way Yantzia does.
Many students come to Rocking the Boat not knowing they will fall in love with wooden boatbuilding, environmental science, or sailing.  Others find a productive application for a passion they already have.  Yantzia, who lived in Hunts Point as a young child before moving to the North Bronx, always knew her interest in birds was not shared by everyone, and saw herself as something of their champion.  “Birds are not as loved as other animals.  It’s like people don’t even see them.  They are very invisible for creatures who live right next to us.”  She began her study of birds quite independently, instituting a feeding regimen on her fire escape that turned it into a hot spot for pigeons, crows, and even hawks that would come after watching the other birds for a time.  “As a ‘scientist’, I knew it was getting to be a problem when I could pet them.”
She found her outlet when she came to Rocking the Boat during a visit with her high school class, and joined as a student in the Environmental Science Program afterschool in her sophomore year.  “The rowing, the fishing – it spoke to me.”  But not like the birding.  Since 2007, New York City Audubon has enlisted Rocking the Boat to contribute to its research of the area’s threatened bird populations, allowing students to be solely responsible for monitoring sections of the lower Bronx River.  Participants in the Environmental Science Program first learn to identify bird species found on the Bronx River estuary and between April and October, with binoculars and data sheets in hand, they row out to six observation sites assigned to Rocking the Boat by the local Audubon chapter, to wait and watch.  They record the varieties of birds they see, particularly nine long-legged wading birds including Great and Snowy Egrets, cormorants, and five types of herons, as well as their behavior at the time.  Are they nesting, foraging, or loafing?  Yantzia has learned, “The best time to see a wading bird is low tide, which in the Bronx River means mud!  It’s horrible to row in, but a good time to watch.”
New York City Audubon compiles the students’ data with monitoring results from all over the New York/New Jersey Harbor region and analyzes it to identify critical nesting sites and population trends, all of which help paint a bigger picture of the health of the ecosystem.  These findings are vital to agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in informing policy and coordinating habitat management plans.  For Rocking the Boat participants, who engage in a range of restoration projects on the Bronx River, spotting these indicator species gives the added satisfaction of knowing the birds are returning and thriving because of their efforts.    
Now is the height of the migration season and on select Community Rowing days, Rocking the Boat is giving the guests of Hunts Point Riverside Park the opportunity to try birdwatching themselves.  Environmental apprentices will be on hand to introduce guests to the basics of birding, providing binoculars and spotting scopes to find, and field guides to help identify the majestic wading birds and common Barn Swallows they might see from the shore or while rowing on the river.  Invisible no more, all eyes will be on the birds right next to us.
Community Birding is held Saturdays, June 2, July 7, July 21 and August 4, 2-5pm.

"2018 is being called ‘Year of the Bird’ – the 100th anniversary of one of the first Federal wildlife protection laws – which was aimed at protecting the long-legged wading birds we’re studying. The data that Rocking the Boat’s students provide is so important, because to make the case for protecting species and habitat, you first have to document them."

"We are so fortunate to be working with Rocking the Boat. Their ecology education programs align with our mission, and even more so their methods, which are all about community engagement. The close, local relationships Rocking the Boat has built in the Hunts Point community over the past 20 years allow a national agency like the US Forest Service to have a real impact when we support their programs."

kids don’t just build boats, boats build kids

rocking the boat
812 edgewater road
bronx, ny 10474
phone: 718.466.5799
fax: 718.466.2892