The Marine Park Alliance (MPA) teamed up with NYC Audubon, Outdoor Afro (OA) and NYC Parks on Sunday, March 12th for an outdoor birding event at the Marine Park Salt Marsh to explore not just birds, but also some local history, the outdoors in a group setting and a shared experience.
“The mission of the organization is to get more people who look like me outside,” said NYC OA guide Giselle Pemberton of OA’s mission to foster black connections, leadership and outdoor education, recreation and conservation.
MPA, OA, NYC Audubon and International Lions Club members; faculty and students from Medgar Evers College; and others from the area formed a diverse group with those who came from places like Bensonhurst, Park Slope, Queens and Staten Island.
“Today’s event is really important because just the face of conservation needs to be more inclusive,” MPA board member and former Marine Park director Margot Perron said of inviting the AO group to join in the event. “We want people of color to feel comfortable in natural areas throughout the country and definitely here in Brooklyn.”
As gravel from the trail crunched beneath their feet, Pemberton pointed out dozens of shorebirds and birds, mostly by their songs at first and then by sight. Perron pointed out that Marine Park is the largest park in Brooklyn with over 250 species of birds and two active osprey platforms. Both recommended the use of the eBird and Merlin ID apps to identify and keep track of birds.
Rangers provided binoculars, which were used to spot mockingbirds, mourning doves, mallards, seagulls, northern shovelers, buffleheads, blue jays, red-tailed hawks, red-winged blackbirds, several varieties of sparrows and other birds.
Perron gave a brief history about the area and the tidal marsh waters that powered the mill that was there until it burned down in 1935. In the past, those waters ran all the way to Kings Highway. The area was all marshland and landfill that was transformed into a Forever Wild Preserve.
She also spoke of the role of racism in the area’s racetrack history and the movement to change the name of the National Audubon Society because it was named after John James Audubon, a known slave owner.
Novices and experienced bird-watchers alike expressed how much they enjoyed the event as they formed a circle to provide feedback of what they got out of it.
“I live about a 15-minute bike ride from here and the salt marsh is really my happy place,” Marjorie said. “I come here as often as I can, but I’ve never had a walkthrough with a group and I learned so much from Giselle, and I learned so much from Margot about the local history — this was just a wonderful experience.”
A few spoke about the apps. “This was a totally amazing experience and the app was the most perfect thing for me,” said one student. Another said, “We got into it after I downloaded Merlin and then it kind of grew on me — kind of like real Pokémon GO.”
Some mentioned the pandemic and the need to walk away from their refrigerator or get outside. “What I got out of it was some outdoor therapy,” Soleil said. “It was really nice.”
Everyone nodded in agreement when Chandra said, “This is my first time bird-watching and I love the nature, but more importantly, the camaraderie — it’s really beautiful.”