The Heated Debate in the Birding Community

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It’s Tuesday.

Weather: Rainy in the morning, then gradually clearing. High in the mid- to upper 40s.

Alternate-side parking: In effect today. Suspended tomorrow for Ash Wednesday.


Credit…Dave Sanders for The New York Times

After David Barrett started his Manhattan Bird Alert account on Twitter to spread the word about the variety of beautiful birds to be seen in the city, not everyone was thrilled.

In the view of Mr. Barrett, 57, the account helped many New Yorkers find a new safe and socially distanced pastime. But to some birders, the large, overzealous crowds encouraged by the Twitter account were harmful for birds and spoiled the serendipity of the activity for longtime bird-watchers.

[Twitter is turning birds into celebrities and birders against one another.]

Here’s what you need to know about the heated debate among the city’s bird community, which my colleague Daniel E. Slotnik covered:

Some birders say the gawkers create disturbances

Critics of the bird alert account say that Mr. Barrett’s efforts increase the influx of visitors and photographers at a rare sighting of a bird, like the current star of Central Park, a snowy owl. Others argue that publicizing the locations disrupts the serendipitous aspect of birding.

Ken Chaya, president of the Linnaean Society of New York, one of the city’s oldest birding organizations, told Mr. Slotnik, “There’s a fine line between sharing information about a sensitive bird and creating a flash mob.”

Some worry that the bird paparazzi could disturb or harm the sensitive animals. Debbie Becker, who leads her own bird walks in the New York Botanical Garden, told Mr. Slotnik that tactics to lure birds, like using recorded bird sounds, can be “extremely detrimental.” She added, “It’s like someone yelling, ‘Help me!’”

Fans say the account is a pandemic delight

Mr. Barrett argues that his bird alert account helps people catch a glimpse of animals they might otherwise never see. He also told Mr. Slotnik that one of his main purposes was to educate new bird-watchers.

“If you want to cause zero disturbance for birds,” Mr. Barrett said, “stay home.”

Both sides agreed that the Twitter account was an effective outreach tool to help New Yorkers pick up a hobby that will last beyond the pandemic.

Susan Schwartz, a writer who lives on the Upper West Side, told Mr. Slotnik that bird-watching — with the help of the bird alert account — has helped her endure the pandemic. “Otherwise my head would have exploded long ago,” Ms. Schwartz said.


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Want more news? Check out our full coverage.

The Küçük Crossword: Here is today’s puzzle.


What we’re reading

The management company of a Kew Gardens hotel cut ties with the building, leaving tenants confused and worried. [Queens Daily Eagle]

Seniors living in a public housing complex in the Bronx say they have not had heat or hot water in over three months. [PIX 11]

The Sheepshead Bay branch of the U.S. Postal Service was damaged in a fire. [Bklyner]


And finally: A discovery in the attic

The Times’s Maria Cramer writes:

In December, David Whitcomb and a friend were on the third floor of a commercial building he had just bought in Geneva, N.Y., when they noticed a water-stained drop ceiling.

Mr. Whitcomb, a lawyer who had bought the building to expand his practice, pushed an access panel out of the way and poked his head inside. He saw an attic with a vaulted ceiling and crawled in, thinking he might find a few items to sell at a flea market. What he discovered transported him back more than a century, to an era when suffragists were campaigning for women’s rights and photography portrait studios had started to crop up in American cities.

“Two or three feet away from my face were these photo frames,” Mr. Whitcomb, 43, recalled. “They’re gold and they’re shining in the darkness.”

Mr. Whitcomb, who bought the building in Geneva’s historic downtown for $100,000, found hundreds of photographs in the attic dating to the early 20th century. Among them was a large gilded-framed photograph of Susan B. Anthony in profile, her head lowered over a book, and a broken plate-glass negative of another image of her.

“That’s my favorite,” he said of the framed photograph.

All of the photos and the equipment appeared to belong to James Ellery Hale, a successful portrait photographer who in the 1880s moved to Seneca Falls, N.Y., where the first women’s rights convention was held in 1848.

The discovery has drawn interest from the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, a photographer at the Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States and several other photographers and technology fans wondering if Mr. Whitcomb had found old lenses and other equipment.

“It’s just wonderful that he found this treasure,” said Betsy Fantone, a co-president of the National Women’s Hall of Fame. “I can’t wait to see it.”

The pictures’ monetary value remains unclear. Mr. Whitcomb said that he was working with a local antiques dealer and that the photos had not been appraised yet.

It’s Tuesday — what will you discover?


Metropolitan Diary: Pale blue chiffon

Dear Diary:

I was on the 86th Street crosstown bus going westbound late in the afternoon one day years ago. A female passenger got on at Madison Avenue.

“May I have a transfer, please?” she asked the driver. Her voice was distinctive and it projected down the aisle, causing what seemed like every head to pop up.

She was a vision of femininity in pale blue chiffon, with a large çizgi, a belted dress, gloves, heels and pocketbook.

As she walked down the aisle people began to clap, then to stand and cheer, until she took a seat.

It was Butterfly McQueen.

— Pat Outland


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