Connecting with Nature: Familiar Faces in the Snow

The holidays have come and gone and I am still in New York City. It has been a long time since I spent a winter up north, and the first since I became interested in birds.

Great blue heron in Fish Bay pond, St. John.

My birding adventures started when my friend Kathy came to visit us in Fish Bay in 2011 and wanted to explore the black mangrove pond below our house. I knew there were some noisy birds down there but had been too busy to go down and check them out. I was excited to see several types of herons and egrets.

In the summer I was happy to find herons in New York too and became a seasonal volunteer with the New York City Audubon Society monitoring the foraging activity of herons and egrets in Jamaica Bay, near Kennedy airport.

In this difficult season, it has been even more heart-warming to see some familiar birds – like the great blue heron – still here this winter.

I never expected to be out birding in the snow, but I have found it motivates me to get out of the house to see which ones are here, even when the temperatures are below freezing.

Another all-year bird here is the American kestrel. In St. John I see them sitting in the tops of trees, or on the wires waiting to catch unwary lizards that venture out to sun themselves on the road. In New York the kestrels also sit in treetops, now leafless, but are more likely to be preying on the house sparrows and mice they see on the ground in the city.


Resident Red-tailed hawks also can be found both in St. John and New York City. In the city they go after rats and mice, and can snatch pigeons on the wing. In St. John they eat rodents and birds as well – maybe lizards too.

Many other birds can be seen in both New York and St. John at different times of the year, but very few can be seen in the winter in both places.

Laurel Brannick from the Virgin Islands National Park has led weekly bird walks at St. John’s Francis Bay for many years, but is now temporarily assigned to New York’s Gateway National Recreation Area. She and I recently went birding on a snowy morning in the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. It was too cold to stay out for long, and the birds looked pretty uncomfortable too, even with their down jackets. But it was good to be out together again.

Laurel is currently working on a slideshow for the National Park Service documenting the migration pathways and other connections between New York City and the Virgin Islands birds. It is a nice way for us to keep connected as well, looking through photos from St. John and also learning new information about northern birds.

Photos by Gail Karlsson. Gail is an environmental lawyer, and author of The Wild Life in an Island House, plus the guidebook Learning About Trees and Plants – A Project of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of St. John.  For more articles and local information, go to or  Contact: Instagram:@gailkarlsson