Plumb Beach is a quiet, small beach located right off the Belt Parkway in Southern Brooklyn and a haven for bird watchers whose numbers have been growing as New Yorkers look for new, pandemic – friendly hobbies. The 152-acre beach attracts fewer humans than other popular bird-watching spots in the city like Prospect Park, making it also perfect for social distancing.
David Barrett, an investor by day, has been birdwatching for over 10 years and runs the Brooklyn Bird Alert account on Twitter. During the pandemic, submissions to his bird alerts have been the highest they’ve ever been.
“New birders have taken to the scene. People seem to be spending more time in the park, finding birds and taking photographs of them,” says 56-year-old Barrett. “I think this is because more people either are not employed now or have taken advantage of the flexibility of working remotely.”
“When you go through that trail, and it opens up from the highway, you’re in this beautiful idyllic setting where you see these marshes, and you never know what birds are in there,” said Jeremy Nadel. “Plumb Beach really suits me; it brings me the most peace of mind going there.”
Nadel is a retired art teacher who got his start bird watching as a child growing up in the Bronx. “As a kid, I grew up in part of the Bronx near some landfill areas that were taking over the natural marshlands,” said Nadel. “We would play down in these marsh areas, and there were these fantastic birds there.”
For many birders, the hobby offered a quiet distraction from daily life before the pandemic. In 2020, these moments are all the more important.
“There’s challenges and ups and downs in normal life, but now you throw in the pandemic and the politics, it still is able to, for the most part, take my mind off of things,” says Nadel. After a trip bird watching, Nadel spends his time looking through pictures he’s taken and posting them to his Instagram account as a way to take a break from all the noise going on in 2020.
Barrett believes that bird watching is an attractive hobby for newcomers because it’s a safe outdoor activity that requires social distance.
“The parks and outdoor spaces where people bird have long been known to be safe from Covid spread provided that people maintain their distance, so birding has always seemed like a safe thing for me to do,” says Barrett.
Ronnie Almonte turned to birding during the pandemic. The 31-year-old high school biology teacher had gone birding occasionally with friends before, but when the pandemic hit, Almonte started planning his birding trips and identifying the birds he saw.
“This was something I was kind of already doing, [but I also] needed some type of outlet and hobby to keep me sane,” says Almonte. “I needed something like [bird watching] to keep my spirits up.”
Almonte recently started a birding club at Leaders High School in Bensonhurst to teach his students about social justice through birding while in-person trips have been put on hold.
“I’ve reached out to different organizations to get advice about how to make birding exciting virtually in the meantime,” says Almonte. “There’s a lot of cross-over with issues of social justice and access, especially with the attacks on Christian Cooper in Central Park.”
Cooper, a black science writer and birder, was the victim of a racist attack after he had asked Amy Cooper, a white woman, to put her dog on a leash. He began filming as Cooper threatened to call the police saying, “an African-American man is threatening my life.” The video went viral back in May.
“What makes [ Plumb Beach] a pleasant birding experience is that it’s a little out of the way, so there’s less human density there,” says Almonte. “It’s quieter, and there’s quite a few interesting birds there that don’t go to other shorefronts in the city.” Its salt marsh habitat is unique in Brooklyn, attracting the Clapper Rail and unusual sparrows, like Seaside Sparrow and Nelson’s Sparrows, according to David Barrett.
For birders, bird watching offers a quiet distraction from the challenges of everyday life. “I went [to Plumb Beach] the other day and didn’t see much of anything, but it was gorgeous. The sun was perfect, and I didn’t really encounter anyone”, says Nadel. “I felt safe, and it was great.”
“When you do see a rare bird, it’s like your whole life is worthy. You would say you feel a sense of grace,” he added.
“You feel like things are lined up for you at that moment.”