Sunday, April 10, 2011

Birders Break Out the Binoculars

The South Shore Audubon Society take a nature walk at Point Lookout Town Park.

By Joseph Kellard

Irwin Zuckerman’s devotion to bird watching has its origins in baseball and city life. As a boy growing up in lower Manhattan, he played the outfield so that he could watch seagulls soar along the neighboring East River.

“I always liked being outdoors and I always liked watching birds,” Zuckerman said.

The Port Washington resident recalled his early fascination with birds while on a trek along the beaches of Point Lookout with fellow members of the South Shore Audubon Society on Sunday morning. Like most birders, Zuckerman straps a pair of binoculars around his neck and pockets a field guide. His is a Peterson 1980 edition, complete with illustrations of bird species and nationwide residence maps.

“I’m looking for a Harlequin duck,” he said on Sunday. “It’s a very pretty duck.”

He did spot an Oystercatcher and turned to its illustration in his guide, pointing out its long, orange beak that he said is powerful enough to crack open oyster shells.

While Zuckerman heads out weekly on bird walks, among the nearly two-dozen people at Sunday’s excursion was novice Lillian Baum of Long Beach.

Baum read about the walk in a newspaper and thought it would be good exercise. She followed the experienced birders who stopped about every 30 yards to plant their tripod telescopes in the sand and point them out to sea. Like them, Baum was eager to get outside after a long, cold winter.

“I’m also here to be out in nature,” she said.

While it was sunny and temperatures were expected to climb into the mid-50s, a stiff wind forced Baum and others to wear winter coats and hats. “Just smell that fresh air,” she said while inhaling deeply.

Baum may become one of the South Shore Audubon Society’s 1,500 members. The Freeport-based organization gathers for nature walks (not just bird walks) at many locations. If they’re not meeting at Point Lookout Town Park or Lido Beach Preserve, then they may be found at the Marine Nature Study Area in Oceanside, Mill Pond Park in Seaford-Wantagh or Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge and Central Park in New York.

John Gaglione, a board member and event organizer, said that each walk typically attracts between 20 to 35 members, and their monthly meetings up to 60 members.

Gaglione was a Boy Scout leader on a trip with his troop through the woods when he first learned about the Audubon Society's bird walks. They crossed paths with birdwatchers who were members and they handed him a newsletter.

“I always enjoyed communing with nature, and through the seasons you get to see the beautiful landscapes,” said Gaglione, a Bethpage resident. “But I also enjoy the people in the organization, who are of like mind in conservation.”

During Sunday’s walk with Gaglione, Rick Kopitsch, a Massapequa resident, spotted a Common Loon when the group first reached the beach from the parking lot.

“That’s one of the oldest birds chronologically,” said Kopitsch, a 17-year veteran of birding.

His daughter, Stacey, now a wildlife biologist, got him hooked on the hobby. On his first walk with her, he was lucky enough to spot what he called two “vibrant” birds: the Scarlet Tanager and American Redstart.

Like others, Kopitsch's love of birding grew once he got involved with South Shore Audubon Society, citing past president, Elliot Kutner, now in his 80s, as an important influence.

“His enthusiasm for birding was contagious,” he said.