Spring is Sprung! Where to Watch the Wild Creatures

Spring is Sprung! Where to Watch the Wild Creatures

March 30, 2012 at 4:00 am

Seal spotting! Seals follow a migratory path that leads them through the NYC harbor. Board a boat for the best chances to see them. flickr/aur2899

From tulips popping open in sidewalk gardens to seals poking their noses above the surf in the harbor, spring is truly here. The city-dweller can also emerge from winter to find pockets and edges of  New York City that teem with wildlife. Here’s where and how to get in sync with the season.


Visit what tour guide Steve calls the “Ellis Island of the Brooklyn parrot world” on his free Wild Brooklyn Parrot Safari. The next tour is April 7  at 11 a.m., starting at Brooklyn College. Tips are for the birds, not the guide, and can be doled out in the form of small, assorted seeds.

Tour guide Steve knows the parrots of Brooklyn better than a pirate. flickr/David Reeves

The large number of brightly feathered rare birds that gather at the Cove in Brooklyn Bridge Park make the place feel like one of Gatsby’s parties — what with all the flappers. From late April until May, bird enthusiasts can count on seeing around 60 species of creatures as they make their way north toward their mating grounds.

Are you a bird watching novice? The Audubon Center in Prospect Park hosts an introductory bird watching course every Saturday from 12  to 1:30 p.m.  On the path of the Atlantic Flyway, Prospect Park is designated an “Important Birding Area” by the National Audubon Society.


A small crab suns itself at Orchard Beach. flickr/Kristine Paulus

Three times the size of Central Park, Pelham Bay Park is not only the city’s largest public green space, it is also the preferred love nest for hikers, picnickers and in May and June, the Horseshoe Crab. Each spring, millions of crabs enter the world on Pelham Bay’s Orchard Beach.

A nuthatch in Van Cortlandt Park. flikr/rbs10025

Spy on your feathered friends during a walking tour of Van Cortlandt Park, the city’s fourth largest park. The Bird Walk is free and meets every Saturday. Prepare to get some early worms, because the tour starts at  8 a.m.



Enjoy a Sunday in the park. flickr/Frank Sinks


After 17 years of leading tours through Central Park, Birding Bob really knows his stuff. Meet him on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. ($10) by the Boathouse or Fridays at 9 a.m. ($5) at the Conservatory Garden, armed with your camera for a three-hour tour.

Raptors in New York might sound like the plot of the next Steven Spielberg film, but rest assured, they’re real. Red-tailed hawks, owls and even eagles migrate not only to Central Park, but to various parks throughout the city. Take a tour with  Audubon New York and learn how to spot them on your own.


A heron contemplates its destiny at the pond. flickr/A. Drauglis Furnituremaker

Hiking in the hills, cruising the bay or walking the shores are all excellent ways to enjoy Jamaica Bay Park, and are made less hazardous by the willing efforts of tour guides. From now through May, the Parks Department has a schedule filled with  free guided tours and talks to keep you informed all season.

The seals make their springtime debut in early March.  To get within gawking distance of these smooth beasts, book a voyage on the American Princess tour that leaves every Saturday and Sunday at noon from Rockaway, Queens. Fares are $27 for adults and $15 for kids.


Retired New York Aquarium curator Paul Sieswerda, who now leads seal-counting expeditions, explains the link between the presence of seals in the harbor and improvements in the water’s cleanliness. Youtube/WCSMedia

The Alley Pond Educational Center is a place for creatures and kids alike. flickr/gailf548

The nearly 700-acres Alley Pond Environmental Center in Flushing is made up of woodlands, meadows and marshes where birds and turtles roam free. If you’re more interested in mildlife, that is, contained creatures, check out the kids’ programs here, like Timid Turtles and Animal Care.  There are programs for children throughout the week.

Starting in mid-June, you can board a boat destined for whale watching. The Rockaway Ferry whisks its passengers toward parts of the water known for great whale sightings, but makes no guarantees you’ll feel the spray from a blowhole. Look for dolphins while you’re out, too.

Staten Island


Time for unobstructed contemplation at Clay Pit Pond park. flickr/leslee_atFlickr

Do you prefer your view of the white-tailed deer to be unobstructed by litter? Take a stab at environmental volunteering at I Love My Park Day in the Clay Pit Ponds State Park Reserve on May 7. Or, if you feel that your children are more than enough wildlife, watch them try out their inner calm the park’s free Tai Chi Program for Kids on March 25th.

New Jersey

When it’s warm out, bats flock from their winter fortress at Wildcat Ridge. The bats’ home is an old mine in Morris County, and the opening can be seen from a safe distance on the nearby viewing platform. Other ridge fauna include porcupines, otters, bears and even bobcats.  The ridge’s Hawkwatch is staffed by volunteers during the spring and fall hawk migrations, when 16 different species of hawks soar in the area. On a clear day, you can glimpse the city skyline, but you should also keep a lookout for timber rattlers!