Inside The New York Botanical Garden

Debbie Becker

Remembering Dr. Oliver Sacks

Posted in People on September 3 2015, by Debbie Becker

Debbie Becker has been The New York Botanical Garden’s resident bird expert for over 25 years, and continues to lead her popular Bird Walks on Saturday mornings throughout much of the year. She maintains Birding Around NYC, where readers can find photo galleries of recent NYBG bird walks and up-to-date lists of species seen during each outing.

thain family forest native forest NYBG Dr. Oliver Sacks loved The New York Botanical Garden. I know this because I walked the Garden’s paths with him.

In the early to mid 1980s, Dr. Sacks would enter the garden early in the morning, before the public would arrive, to take in the sights. I would also arrive at NYBG early—to bird watch before my first class at Fordham University—and we would be the only two people walking about.

It was inevitable that one day we would bump into each other. I had no idea who he was, at first, but he was very gracious when he asked me what I was doing, peering up into the trees with my binoculars. His curiosity piqued when I explained that I was bird watching and the Garden was a perfect oasis for finding birds. He launched into a speech on the behavior of birds and their pollination habits along with the symbiotic relationship they shared with specific trees and shrubs. I was an environmental science major and was truly fascinated with all the knowledge he had to share.

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Birder’s Paradise: The Fall Migration

Posted in Wildlife on August 18 2015, by Debbie Becker

Debbie Becker has been The New York Botanical Garden’s resident bird expert for over 25 years, and continues to lead her popular Bird Walks on Saturday mornings throughout much of the year. She maintains Birding Around NYC, where readers can find photo galleries of recent NYBG bird walks and up-to-date lists of species seen during each outing.

An Osprey makes off with lunch
An Osprey makes off with lunch

As the end of summer draws near, deep sighs can be heard from school children and cries of delight from parents. The pleasures of the warmer months are shared by many in different ways. For those of us who are naturalists and birders, we endure the summer months dreaming about the end of August, because it signals the most exciting seasonal change: the great fall bird migration.

Our plants and trees—it is their time to shine—have spent the summer producing berries and seeds to nourish the migrating birds. The fruit of the crabapple, dogwood, and viburnum become ripe with juicy berries for Scarlet Tanagers, Baltimore Orioles, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, while the sweet gum tree offers nestled seeds—in sticky balls—to American Goldfinch, Pine Siskins, Red-winged Blackbirds and Purple Finch. Cedar Waxwings will also partake in harvesting berries for sustenance. Eastern Kingbirds use the ripe berries as lures to catch insects attracted to the sweet nectar. Birders and photographers fancy themselves capturing these scenes over and over again and flock to NYBG to enjoy the fall bird migration.

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Morning Eye Candy: Rare Giant

Posted in Photography on September 9 2014, by Matt Newman

An uncommon visitor to the Rock Garden this summer caught the eye (and camera) of our resident bird and wildlife aficionado, Debbie Becker.

Giant Swallowtail

Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) in the Rock Garden – Photo by Debbie Becker

Fall Birding Along the Flyway

Posted in Wildlife on September 8 2014, by Debbie Becker

Debbie Becker has been The New York Botanical Garden’s resident bird expert for over 25 years, and continues to lead her popular Bird Walks on Saturday mornings throughout much of the year.

Least flycatcher
Least flycatcher

The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) is the best place to bird during the fall migration. With its diverse habitats it offers birders unique and spectacular views of migrating birds.

The great fall migration begins with the movement of shore birds in late July. The shores of the Bronx River and Twin Lakes often become a good stopover point for spotted and solitary sandpipers. They bob along the shoreline grabbing small insects and crustaceans. In the wetlands, Wilson’s Snipes stop to search for food and temporary shelter.

Warblers, ruby-throated hummingbirds, tanagers, and grosbeaks begin to arrive in late August and remain through early October.

The warblers are headed south with their immature offspring and many are no longer in breeding colors. Some are brown or olive green with one or two wing bars. This gives credence to the phrase “confusing fall warblers.” It is often a challenge to identify some warblers which adds a bit of mystery to birding.

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Morning Eye Candy: Eye in the Sky

Posted in Around the Garden, Photography on June 29 2013, by Matt Newman

Her expression suggests she’s not too fond of the wildlife paparazzo, wouldn’t you say?

Today, Debbie Becker leads one last Saturday Bird Walk before putting these popular group binocular outings on hiatus until September 7. Join her at 11 a.m. near the Reflecting Pool of the Leon Levy Visitor Center!

Red-tailed Hawk

Photo by Ivo M. Vermeulen

This Weekend: Bronx Treasure

Posted in Programs and Events on June 28 2013, by Matt Newman

The NYBG WeekendWeekends start on Friday! Everyone knows that. And as soon as you get out of work later today, we’ll have something for you to dive into before heading out for the evening. Thanks to Thirteen NY and Treasures of New York, their in-depth examination of all things Big Apple, the New York Botanical Garden has been getting the star treatment all week. In fact, our special feature on Treasures hit the airwaves for a premiere this past Tuesday. But for anyone who missed out, or anyone who’s just looking for the inside scoop on how and why we do things at the Garden, there’s another chance coming up!

We’ll be taking part in an OVEE screening of the special at 5:30 p.m. today on this site, where we’ll have Todd Forrest, VP of Horticulture and Living Collections, and the Treasures of New York producer on hand to answer your questions in a friendly chat. It’s certainly not an everyday opportunity, and you don’t even need a TV remote, so don’t miss out.

Another ship passing in the night this weekend is the Saturday Bird Walk, which—contrary to popular belief—is not an indefinite affair. Sometimes even the birds need a break! Whether or not you have a pair of binoculars of your own (we’ve got some loaner pairs at the Visitor Center), meet Debbie Becker for one last stroll around our 250 acres before the summer hiatus; she’ll be back for more hawk-spotting this September 7.

The hydrangeas are bright, the lotuses are blooming, Wild Medicine is better than ever, and summer’s kaleidoscope is focused squarely on the NYBG. Head below for more.

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The Annual Christmas Bird Count

Posted in Programs and Events, Wildlife on November 28 2012, by Debbie Becker

Debbie Becker has been The New York Botanical Garden’s resident bird expert for over 25 years, and continues to lead her popular Bird Walks on Saturday mornings throughout much of the year.

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Each year, The Audubon Society holds a Christmas Bird Count (CBC) in which bird watchers throughout the country volunteer to count birds in a specified area, setting out at dawn and closing their notebooks at dusk. This year in the Bronx, birders will bring their binoculars to The New York Botanical Garden, Van Cortlandt Park, Pelham Bay Park, City Island, Bronx Park East and other local parks and coastal areas. Based on the counts they come up with for each bird species seen, tallies will be pooled to represent each of the five boroughs.

The purpose of the final count determines the climate of the bird population, as species representation can fluctuate due to disease, weather, habitat destruction, and food supply. At the NYBG in particular, there have been some remarkable numbers observed in the last 10 years. For example, the population of American Crows at the Garden was once counted at over 500. Today, we are lucky to see just one or two. This is owed to the arrival of the West Nile Virus, which has decimated crow populations in our area.

Tufted Titmouse

Likewise, declines among the Tufted Titmouse, Chickadees, and the House Finch have struck hard. Populations of these small visitors were explosive in the 1990s, but conjunctivitis–an inflammatory eye disease–has caused them to dwindle since the late 2000s. In this case, however, the cause is more easily tackled; dirty bird feeders quickly pass the disease from bird to bird, so cleaning your feeders with soapy water each week can prevent the epidemic from spreading. Already, numbers of these bird species are slowly rebounding.

Then there are the new species which have been observed, those we hope will stick around long enough to be counted. Red- and White-winged Crossbills, rarities to the NYC area, have been observed around the NYBG and throughout many other locations in the city. Weather and food-related problems further north have driven these pine cone feeders south and into our vicinity.

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This October: Greenhorn Birders Welcome

Posted in Adult Education on September 24 2012, by Matt Newman

The New York Botanical Garden is, first and foremost, a world-renowned collection of flora. But you’d be hard-pressed to spend more than a few minutes walking under the boughs without recognizing the sing-song notes of our most gregarious residents. The birds of the Garden represent some of the most varied fauna in New York City, and not only are we a haven for passersby making the trip to cozier climates, but we’re further home to a menagerie of year-round species in all shapes and sizes.

It so happens that we get the best of both worlds in the fall. Migrating species gather up for the flight south while the locals buckle down for the coming winter, and Debbie Becker, binoculars in hand, is always there to see it; join her for our in-depth NYBG birdwatching course beginning in October and you’re sure to walk away with a new skill.

While the herons and egrets are soon to take flight for the season, and the hummingbirds already have their eyes on the clock, few realize how abundant the wildlife is here in the autumn. Thankfully, Becker has the roll call down pat. She’s been leading Saturday Bird Walks at the NYBG for over 25 years, making her one of the area’s foremost experts on NYC’s winged things. And while newcomers are always welcome to glean what they can from her weekend walks, motivated beginners won’t want to pass up Becker’s primer on birdwatching fundamentals.

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The Pileated Woodpecker: Red-Crested Rarity

Posted in Around the Garden, Wildlife on May 31 2012, by Debbie Becker

Debbie Becker has been leading weekly Bird Walks at the NYBG for over 25 years. You can often find her on Saturday mornings, guiding new and veteran “birders” alike through the Garden’s 250 acres with binoculars in tow.

While leading my weekly Bird Walk at The New York Botanical Garden I observed a large woodpecker flying by me. I was able to see its wings with their black feathers and white markings. My first and only thought was that I had just seen a Pileated Woodpecker.

After leading birdwatching tours at NYBG for 27 years, the one bird that has always remained elusive is the Pileated Woopecker. Although they are common just miles north of the Garden, not many of these birds have ever been spotted south of Westchester County. But after careful research, I discovered that males wander during the month of April, presumably seeking new territory. It was on May 5 that I had what I hoped was a Pileated–the first for NYBG in decades.

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The Original Twitter

Posted in Around the Garden, Wildlife on April 11 2012, by Matt Newman

From here to Pelham Bay Park, and straight on down to Central Park, the kinship of bird watchers is peaking. April and May are something of a pilgrimage holiday for the truly dedicated ornithological set, though few in New York hoof it far from home; they set out with their binoculars, their pens, and their dog-eared notebooks, taking time off from work to travel a scant few miles to the nearest stand of trees.

These dyed-in-the-wool avian aficionados don’t come to the NYBG in spring specifically for the Red-tailed Hawks, or for the Great Horned Owls. Their prize is far smaller. And as prizes go, these birds seem more of an indulgence than the rare and elusive species recorded with fingers scribbling furiously between the lines of a “life list.” Many New York birders–seasoned or green–instead come to see the little puffs of color and song known as warblers.

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