Birding Hikes: Floyd Bennett Field, Marine Park

Some weeks ago I went to Floyd Bennett Field and Marine Park with the Brooklyn Birding Club. Apart from the mad journey of getting there, hiking in the area was relaxing. It was my first time birding in a big group. Usually I bird alone or with 2 or 3 people at most. I don’t know many birders, so it’s all the more reason why being there was a necessary learning experience.

The initial trip was hectic thanks to an email confusion that made me late. Once I arrived to Floyd Bennett and stepped off the bus, I was in the middle of nowhere. Some part of me asked: is this still NYC? It was no man’s land at the edge of Brooklyn. I felt far away from urban life. Only the road with the fast cars on the side reminded me. Up ahead was the aviator building followed by a parking lot. I asked a park ranger which way was North 40 and he directed me to walk past the circus tents. I advise anyone going to Floyd Bennett, to get there by car.

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The scorching hot field of Floyd Bennett. Photo: Cynthia Via

I walked to the entrance of North 40 where I was greeted by Red-winged Black birds and a large group of Canadian Geese. I was in the right area. The sun was hitting the cement, getting hotter, but up ahead near the foliage it was cool. I walked to a small trail up ahead, as I waited for the group behind some tall trees for a short while. My phone was without service, so I decided to take a peek out, and there I saw a large group of people in the field with binoculars, large cameras and binocular tripods. I used by binoculars to inspect them and they did the same in my direction. It was the Brooklyn Birding Club. I greeted the organizer and smiled as I walked toward her. Someone from a far said, ” I don’t think I would have made it this far.” I was starting to feel like a soldier coming from Queens. The driver introduced me to the other guy in our car“this is our lost passenger.” Would I go by that nickname the whole way through the hike?

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Small trail in Floyd Bennett. Photo: Cynthia Via

We headed to the surrounding areas. First a community garden where I saw a goldfinch, plenty of house sparrows, a Northern-flicker and a Kestrel later during lunch, which no one took a picture of since it wouldn’t let you get near. There were rows of gardens separated by gray and white fences. The people working on them smiled at us as they kept fixing their small land. At some point, I got too excited thinking I saw a strange bird, and one of the experienced birders looked at it, and said “A robin.” It felt like someone had dropped a cement block on me. I only saw the bird’s backside, and the mix of bird noises confused me.

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Song Sparrow at Floyd Bennett. Photo: Marc Brawer

I realize for experience birders some birds don’t excite them anymore, since they see them repeatedly, so they search for the rarest. I see this with myself too, but I also don’t want to completely ignore the common birds that may need conservation. Ideally you should first get comfortable with the birds around your neighborhood and in your backyard, studying them (shape, size, color, behavior and sound), and then progress to rare birds outside your comfort zone. I’m at that level where I can easily recognize birds near my house and those at local parks. Also using binoculars doesn’t come naturally, so adjust, take your time, and don’t get too overly excited when you can’t spot a bird.

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Community garden in Floyd Bennett. Photo: Cynthia Via

We took a drive to the nearby beach. The sun was in all its glory, raining down, without the shade of trees. We stopped at the walkway before the shore. The air was still breezy here. It was hard to concentrate just on one side of the beach. Some birders were looking far into the distance with their tripod lenses while us binocular-users concentrated on the ducks close by. Duck species are the hardest to determine for me, since I rarely see them. But luckily some of the other birders knew, and they were nice enough to share. In the distance we saw: wood ducks,  American coot, buffleheads, among others.

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Turkey Vulture seen in Floyd Bennett. Photo: Marc Brawer

I looked to the blue sky and these black birds were circling. They were vultures searching for a high post to perch from. When they flew closer to us we could distinguish their pink-red naked heads. I believe someone caught a good shot with their long lens camera. Looking around the area, I saw what appeared to be an abandoned airplane facility. It was wide, beige and filled with flying dust. Some of the windows were cracked and broken, rusty from old age. A vulture descended down on the roof of the building and faced us, only as a detective would.

We later headed to a marshy area. We came upon an almost barren beach marsh. Without inspecting much of the area, it appeared empty and dead. But there was life in the waters beyond: mallard ducks, American black ducks… The leader of the trip let me use her tripod binoculars, and I was able to see a kill deer. To the side there was an old building with graffiti with random drawing and letters. Nothing too discernible except for a quote about the seconds being wasted in sadness. The breeze later blended with the meaning of those words.

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Yellow-rumped Warbler in Prospect Park. Photo: Marc Brawer

At the last spot in Marina Park, everyone was searching for the Pin-tailed Ducks. In the meantime we saw  the hooded merganser, oystercatchers, forster terns, parakeets (someone released them in the 1970s), among others. After walking through the trail,  I saw an osprey sitting on a nest above a long pole. And just as half the group was leaving the trail, I slowed down a bit, turned around thinking maybe the Pin-tailed duck would be there. A couple of minutes later my blind faith paid off. The few who stayed behind were able to see this cute duck.

I heard some rumors about the Prothonotary Warbler roaming Prospect Park. I had not seen any warblers in Floyd Bennett Field or in the marina. About half of the group went to Prospect Park, and I followed them. After a quick pizza slice, I trotted down to the park, running from one corner to another based on rumors from other birders.  I caught the bird craziness, and now I was looking for a Prothonotary Warbler. A guy on a bike was trying to get a photo with his long lens camera, going from one site to another, meanwhile the rest of us were still trailing on foot, feeling slow as ever.

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Prothonotary Warbler spotted in Prospect Park. Photo: Marc Brawer

I had no clue what I was searching for until I saw a  glimmer of yellow between some branches near a pond. The little Prothonotary was a quick fellow, but we were able to see it clearly when it perched from a branch sticking out of the dense foliage. Then it was gone. We hurried across to the other side of the pond where it was rumored to be. Just for our luck, the feisty bird was gone again; it went back to the other side. From this new angle we could clearly see it without other branches in the way. About 5-6 birders were looking at this tiny yellow bird across the pond, and right in front was a guy loungingnot fazed one bit by the bird. One of the birders later said, “2015 still life: bird and park lounger.” Birding is all about patience and going back for seconds.  Just when I thought the warbler left us for good, it flew directly to the tree in front of us, and we all had a front row view and a good laugh. In all the Brooklyn Bird Club counted 60 species during this trip.

 

 

 

Sunday Afternoon in the West Village

“Like the creatures of the forest and the sea, I love to lose myself for a while.”
 —Friedrich Nietzsche

Some Sundays past we received unlikely spring weather in New York City. It was suddenly 50 degrees, and people were driving fast, birds were chipper, and the sky was welcoming. Sunday is my day to relax, do minor errands, write, meditate or run. I think of this day as sacred, although I don’t always follow that thought. I often find myself writing airy, peaceful poems about Sunday.

I wanted to wander around, now that the weather is warming up. I’ve been cooped up, and I don’t mean just in my house, but also mentally, hardly exploring my surroundings, relying on my cellphone. Though I carry a book on the train, I find myself getting distracted by text messages, online articles, or looking at Google maps for no reason. I think back to my younger days when had no phone or carried a simple one for phone calls. I was free to roam, to think, and find solutions.

I headed to the West Village for the French Cinema Festival at the IFC. I took a book, and my laptop to write after the movie was done.  By the time I got to the train, my cellphone died; it had slipped my mind to charge it, and maybe for good reason. At first I was bummed, then I felt silly for thinking I should miss my phone. At least now I could fully observe people on the train or read uninterrupted.

Once I got to the theater, I saw a line outside. Surely this meant it was sold out. And it was so. The lady in the booth said the next showing would be at 6:30 pm. It was only 3 pm. I felt no inspiration to watch the next movie. I came for the movie titled, La French, a detective story and a prelude to the American film, The French Connection. If that was unavailable, I’d find my own mystery. I kept walking.

I walked to the side streets looking for a quiet place to drink coffee and write. People were spilling out of restaurants, laughing with friends or holding hands with their romantic other. Sometimes a family of tourists walked in duck formation. I was alone with my thoughts. It suddenly dawned on me: it was brunch hour. The last of the brunchers were leaving with full stomachs and cured hangovers. I wanted to avoid crowded streets and fall into empty street pockets. I had not ventured around here in years, especially not in the daytime. People were wearing leather jackets, sunglasses, running in shorts, and smiling. Their happiness was contagious. We were all cooped up like chickens, and at the first light of spring we flocked to the streets.

In a way I was a tourist myself, discovering the West Village through new eyes. I used to visit my favorite Manhattan neighborhoods, discovering historic streets, and finding new things to do. Now I was mostly in Queens, Brooklyn or the Bronx. The West Village was always special to me. Its jazzy bars, old-school bodegas, cobblestones, cute street names such as Cornelia, Charles, and Jane Street, made everything small— a sort of hobbit town. Poets and writers once called this place home, including Henry James, Edgar Allan Poe, E.E. Cummings, John Cheever, Jack Kerouac, and Mark Twain, among others. This time around many sights were new and slightly out-of-place, with a few exceptions. Exceptions that still make this an NYC neighborhood.

I took notes of some old neighborhood spots as possible stops in the future. I continued walking,  greeting the city without a phone in hand, searching for a place and recalling memories.  Brunch ruled, and I couldn’t find a coffee shop for me; most of them were crowded and noisy. Did everyone just abandon Sunday for brunch? I walked by a possible cafe, and looked beyond the clear glass. A group of friends were pointing accusing fingers at each other. They appeared to be on the defensive. I avoided the next place called prodigy coffee. This whole side was starting to creep on my skin, so I walked quickly passed the aviator-walking-girls, shopping galore, and pricey soap shops. I ventured to Greenwich St. only to get lost.

From there, it got quieter.  The day was progressing. I assumed people had fled before the wind started.  The streets came and went, the faces trailed behind, and cars fled with no destination.  I was ready to give up searching for a coffee shop, and settle for whatever I found in the next minute. How long had I been walking? I’m not sure how many turns I took, before I realized I was on Hudson Street. Across the street I saw a tiny place with low lights, on the shabbier side, covered by a faded, red veranda. Inside were small chairs and tables, and a couple of people. I missed the name altogether and went in.

I  was a thirsty woman, asking for a cappuccino and a croissant with butter. The guy attending was nice and quietly courteous. I sat down in the back and started to write. I took notice of my surroundings, and suddenly I felt happy. The music was wispy, something french was playing, and maybe I heard Bjork. People were quietly working away on their laptops and reading books. A guy next to me ate alone. As I worked away, I noticed the guy near me leave. A new one took his place sometime later. This one was rummaging through a few books and jotting notes on a journal. The barista brought me my cappuccino and croissant.

Behind me I could hear the lady and the boy who came in after me. She was setting up for coffee and food, and the boy in a mousy voice, asked questions about the things his mind found curious. “When I get older, do I have to work?” —”Can I work anywhere?” He said. The barista brought their order.  The lady told the boy, “say thank you,” so the boy, though reluctantly, pranced over to the front, and said —”Thank you.” Sometime later the little boy asked the barista, “Do you need help?”  To which he smiled and replied —”No it’s ok.”

Later, a man took their place and typed diligently for the rest of the time. How long had I been sitting here with my cappuccino yet unfinished? I did not mind the noises. I accepted them and made them part of my afternoon. A few more people came in and sat by the front. Somehow the springy, soft music, the off-white walls, the curtains and the dimming light outside, kept everything inside secluded.

All those turns I took, led me here. I had to backtrack once or twice when I went too far uptown or west. Sometimes I saw the same streets. Was I walking in circles? The beautiful part was that I  led myself here. I took in the sights and sounds, even if some of them were not to my liking but they were still part of my walk, and made the ending that much richer. I forgot how relaxing it was to walk and walk with no clear destination, just a curious mind.

Recently my thoughts have been running wild. Walking allows me to  slow down to a dreamy pace. After a while hardly did thoughts come rushing, instead they passed, just as people left me to settle to the silence of the day. Walking is meditation: the ongoing streets, wrong turns, warm glances, right turns, surprises, and colorful sights. After the walk and sitting in a café for hours, I felt refreshed, light with the quickness of my feet, as I walked through the night to get home. I need more long walks, hours of writing in quiet places and the company of strange faces. I want new days of my own with minimal planning where I am free to discover the present.

This humdrum town

I find myself rummaging through old pieces of writing. Here’s one from last summer. The summer I spent on park lawns watching birds eat scraps off the floor, jugglers dancing, and blue sky whirling above me.

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Cynthia Via

Days are blending into each other. It’s suddenly the weekend, and yet the week stares at me, without rest, going on for months and months.

It’s summer. Monday is not the first day of the week, but the first day of eternity. Thursday turns to Friday, and my weekend blends into the working hours—never knowing the separation between the two. The hours of the day all go to the white screen. When I get home, my eyes hardly want to see another screen, so avoid I my laptop and cell phone, and hide my eyes in books, journals or under a blanket.

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Cynthia Via

I miss my free hours when I could roam around my house, and write when I saw fit, look out the window, and watch the birds fly down. If the weather was nice, I’d go out to my hammock, swinging on its own, telling me to give up my chores for the silence of the swaying trees. The real world was out there calling. I paid no attention. Now I’m there, walking to and from— home, train, office, to the city park, back to office, sometimes with the infrequent stops at local lunch spots that mostly leave me unsatisfied.

For lunch I go over to the city park, and try to renew myself for that one lonely hour. Now that the weather is warmer, there’s no reason to wait for a free table, instead, the lawn calls me over.

Cynthia Via
Cynthia Via

On many occasions, I was pleasantly surprised. Once it was Shakespeare’s birthday. Actors were running around creating scenes in different corners of the park. Just when I thought: “oh no, not someone fighting,” it was two hamlet-type characters arguing loudly about impending doom. As I ate my lunch, the couple next to be proclaimed their Romeo and Juliet love.

One some days, I saw guys going shirtless, sitting on green chairs without a care, or others meditating under the hot sun. I was pleasantly surprised when I bumped into a friend from my old job. I said, “how I miss that job.” His suit and tie brought me back to reality. He too had an hour, and ate his Indian food without salt in a hurry as our conversation ate time away.

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When it rains I stay inside our small office kitchen. Conversations relax me and take me away from the white screen, but it’s mostly silent. On some days, on some Mondays, the quietness consumes all life, and there’s not a single drop of it. Other days people will talk, and laughter will fill the room only temporarily then back to the black hole from where it was first buried. I tell myself “this isn’t so bad.” I’m learning new things, and the people are nice, and sure it could be silent, but that means there’s more to investigate. If everyone shared their thoughts and feelings, wouldn’t it cover the room entirely.

How to find the middle?

 First Glance: Meditating & Personal Attainment

At first clear infinite space, but then words, images, and phrases intercept; an ongoing parade of broken fragments. After a short time, patience is gone and you give into the frivolity of a rampant conscience. I imagine the wordless peace will come with practice.

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Cynthia Via

I wasn’t sure of the right ways to meditate, but I tried what made sense to me. First by concentrating on a thought or an image, then trying to remain with it for as long as I could.  It’s worth trying alone, in a quite room when starting out, especially if you suffer from the distraction of minuscule noises. Being in a group, at least in my experience, has a different metaphysical grace. At once you feel part of a spiritual community participating in a ritual. You lose yourself—the shame and the negative misconceptions seem to drizzle out and fade to the true reality being. It matters what kind of guide you have, but ultimately, even it they are not to your liking, it is up to you continue on.

  • If you’re up for it, meditate in public spaces, find a quiet desert, or a place you wouldn’t normally approach for that use. I tried for a while— sitting on the train, headed for a long trip. I did my best to ignore the noise, announcements and clusters of voices. It wasn’t perfect, with breaks here and there. Eventually I maintained concentration. Later opening my eyes, I was nearly at the end of my trip.

On the long journey of human life, faith is the best of companions; it is the best refreshment on the journey; and it is the greatest possession.

— BUKKYO DENDO KYOKAI: Buddha’s teachings

  • Below are two videos to get a better idea with his holiness, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, among other teachers. The video explains the essence of meditating in its basic form. There are other videos that supply a variety of practices, some with guides, music or chants, but this one mainly describes Tibetan buddhist philosophy, and how to practice the teachings along with meditation.
  • There is something to be said for the person, who can decide which thoughts stay around and which are thrown to the distance.   Happiness is initially found within the self and later given to the external, as opposed to only manipulating the outside. I have ways to go, but the middle is not going anywhere. I know it’s there. It lies between all extremes.

How to meditate?

Como meditar?