Sunday, September 18, 2016

On Sighting My First Black-Crowned Night-Heron

I’ve canoed all over the Adirondacks without ever seeing a black-crowned night-heron. Last weekend, I finally got to see one. On the Bronx River.

We saw other birds as well, including great blue herons, mallards, gulls, and (I think) cormorants. This being the Bronx, we also saw a lot of trash: plastic bags, soda bottles, an electric fan, a sunken tire.

But the river is much cleaner and more loved than in the past, thanks to a nonprofit organization called the Bronx River Alliance.

Founded in 2001, the alliance is working to restore and protect a river that flows through one of the most urban areas in the country. In coordination with the New York City Parks Department and other partners, the alliance is establishing a greenway along the waterway, with bicycle and pedestrian paths.

Starting at the Kensico Reservoir in Westchester County, the Bronx River flows 23 miles to the East River near Long Island Sound. Linda Cox, the alliance’s executive director since its founding, says only about five miles of the river is easily traveled in a canoe — from 219th Street south to the mouth.

Last Sunday morning, Cox led a small group on a canoe trip. We put in near Starlight Park, paddled upriver to the West Farms rapids, then turned around and paddled downriver past our starting point to Concrete Plant Park (that’s right, it’s a park on the site of a former concrete plant, the vacant buildings still intact).

This was not the Adirondacks. We didn’t see any high peaks, but we did a lot of high buildings. We passed under several busy highways, including the Cross Bronx Expressway, and a railroad trestle. One of our party took a photo of a cormorant (?) perched atop an abandoned piling with the subway rushing past in the background. Yet much of the time we enjoyed the shade of trees.

I had a couple of reactions to this trip. It made me appreciate even more the natural beauty, quiet, and solitude we find on wild rivers in the Adirondacks.

At the same time, I realized that wildness on this overcivilized planet is relative. Just because the East Branch of the St. Regis is not as wild as the Yukon doesn’t mean it’s not worthy. It still offers us a refuge in nature. Likewise, the Bronx River provides local residents an escape from the urban landscape. Indeed, a river in the Bronx, whatever its shortcomings, probably brings more happiness to more people than does the East Branch of the St. Regis. (Although we encountered no other paddlers on the Bronx, we did see people fishing and hanging out along the river.)

Our little adventure left me feeling better about our species. We, or at least some of us, have an impulse to conserve nature. Whether our efforts are directed toward the Adirondacks, the Amazon rainforest, or the Bronx River, the impulse is the same, and it ought to be encouraged. If not for our own sake, then for the sake of the black-crowned night-heron.

Photos by Holly Leicht. Top: the author and his girlfriend on the Bronx River. Bottom: a kayaker heads downriver toward Concrete Plant Park.

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Phil Brown is the former Editor of Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack. Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing. He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.

4 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    Phil, I have seen cormorants on several occasions this summer on the Saranac chain of lakes. That seems new to me?

    Several years ago I saw a Green Crowned Night Heron on the Saranac River where Cold Brook meets the river (between the lower locks and Lower Saranac). Is that the saw as a black crowned one?

  2. Jesse B says:

    Great article, Phil, on the value of urban green space. Cleaning up the Bronx River (like most urban re-greenings) was (still is) a massive physical and financial undertaking. It should make everyone appreciate the benefits of comparatively pristine areas such as the Adirondacks even more.

    As an additional point, a huge acknowledgment should also be given to Congressman Jose Serrano, who has been integral in supporting the clean-up (e.g. getting funds) of the Bronx River. He’s really pushed the concept that renewing urban waterways is essential to the health and well-being of communities. I remember seeing the Bronx River as a kid in the 80’s and it was nothing more than an ignored industrial canal. The turnaround over the past 25 years has been remarkable.

  3. terry says:

    I know that Brown Trout have been released in the Bronx River through the Trout In the Classroom project supported by Trout Unlimited.
    The River also runs through the Bronx Zoo and the NY Botanical Gardens

  4. Howard Waldman says:

    Great article. By the way, I saw a Black-crowned Night Heron on the Bronx River last spring, just south of the 180th St. dam. Before my eyes (and the eyes of 20 students and two members of the Bronx River alliance), the heron struck a European Starling that had wandered too close (probably a juvenile) and killed it. I have studied nature for a long time and had never seen a heron of any kind eat another bird. The image is etched in my mind. Nature is everywhere and always happening.

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