Hurricane Sandy Update From the Field: Brooklyn’s Prospect Park Loses Beloved Trees but Boasts a Rare Bird Sighting
Felled tree in Prospect Park, October 30, 2012. Photograph by Alisa Opar.
At 8:00 a.m. sharp Saturday morning, Prospect Park, Brooklyn’s 585-acre crown jewel, finally opens after being closed since Sandy’s rampage five days before. I am proud to be one of the first to reenter, on my bike, to survey the jarring scene of trees scattered like jackstraw.
One park staffer tells me the cleanup crews have worked 12- and 13-hour shifts all week. “Oh, my god,” he says. “No one on staff has ever seen anything like it.” By the estimates of the Prospect Park Alliance, more than 300 trees fell or were so badly damaged that they “would be taken down for safety. There were over 100 hanging limbs, and almost 1,000 large branches and limbs are down and damaged.” A caravan of enormous trucks is transporting the victims to the chippers. Volunteers fan out across the meadow raking leaves, lessening the load for park workers assigned to heavier duty. I can only imagine what the park looked like the day after Sandy hit. Kudos to all the hard workers.
The drama keeps unfolding. There’s a root wad so high, probably 30 feet, that it reminds me of those from ancient trees I’ve seen in Northwestern old growth forests. One huge down trees bears a sharp resemblance to Godzilla, stretching its menacing head and claws across the road, as if Sandy is still mocking man. Another eerie site is a neat stack of gigantic logs, which the crews have assembled, that look like firewood for Gulliver in Lilliput.
The forest’s canopy has so many holes punched through it you can’t count them. Loggers used to call this “letting a little daylight into the swamp.” But this time Sandy, not chainsaws, made quick work of the giant trees.
The Prospect Park Audubon Center regrets canceling its Halloween party but is happy that things seem to be back to normal. Attendance is way down this afternoon, mostly because of subways not operating and cars running low on gas. The mallards and mute swans floating by the pond just outside the center don’t seem to mind. Nor does the wedding party of 80 to 120 tonight. (My daughter has had many birthday parties here, so I can appreciate their persistence.)
Sandy likely blew in this grasshopper sparrow, which foraged in Prospect Park on Saturday.
As I continue to wend my way through the park, I encounter a group of 12 elated birders who got big word this morning through text messages and Twitter (to my surprise and delight they have been standing here 30 minutes and seem in no hurry to leave.) There is a major and very rare sighting: a grasshopper sparrow blown off course by Sandy. It’s foraging in the small depression of a sidewalk above a hill, and the birders keep a safe distance of about 20 feet while peering through their binoculars. Sibley’s guide describes the buffy brown sparrow as “solitary and secretive.” It inhabits low grasslands, which are completely absent in Prospect Park. Two birders add the sparrow to their life list. “I’ve never seen one this close before,” exclaims one.
Emily Goldstein, a Brooklyn native, is ecstatic. “I’ve been birding here for 30 years and have never seen one in the park,” she says. She has a general life list, a Prospect Park list, even a kitchen window list (32 species). “On my Prospect Park list, this is in my top 10.” Another birder chimes in: “In the old days this would mean a round of drinks for everyone!”
In Prospect Park, at least, there is the paradox of some joy, a wedding and a grasshopper sparrow, in the midst of Sandy’s misery.
MORE HURRICANE SANDY COVERAGE: