Sunday November 27, 2022

Birding is socially distanced NY’s hottest hobby

December 03, 2020

On a recent sunny morning in New York a few dozen people gathered in Central Park’s wooded Ramble area with a common goal: zero in on an elusive owl.

Autumn leaves crunch under their shoes as "Birding Bob" -- a guide who has been organizing birdwatching tours in the park for more than three decades, with interest jumping since the coronavirus pandemic hit the city in March -- leads them along winding paths.

Suddenly the avian enthusiasts raise their binoculars and cameras with powerful telephoto lenses to view Barry, a barred owl peering through the pines, who arrived about a month ago to the delight of New Yorkers.

Each year some 220 bird species frequent Central Park, which remarkably is considered one of the best spots in the world for birding despite the city’s 8.6 million residents, with especially good viewing during migration periods.

In pandemic times bird-watching has grown in popularity, with theaters and clubs indefinitely closed due to coronavirus, which has killed more than 24,200 people in the city since spring.

"There’s fewer things to do in New York City -- and the things that you could do inside are either limited or canceled," Birding Bob -- the tour guide born Robert DeCandido -- told AFP.

"So people are doing things outside. That’s good. And these walks are only $10 so that’s a really good deal... try to find something for $10 or less in New York City, you know it’s impossible!"

The recent arrival in Central Park of the barred owl that meanders from one side to another -- or perhaps there are two of the species, one of the city’s current mysteries -- along with a great horned owl have triggered curiosity and filled DeCandido’s tours with New Yorkers who have trouble spotting the birds themselves.

The Ramble is the park’s best birding locale; it was also there that Amy Cooper, a white woman walking her dog off-leash, wrongfully called the police on a Black man who was bird-watching and requested she restrain her dog.