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Queens Botanical Garden celebrates summer solstice with bird watching

Neeru Bhambri (r.), of the Queens Botanical Garden, helps William Hebert, 3, spread peanut butter onto a homemade bird feeder after the youngster decided to sample some of the construction materials himself.
TimesLedger Newspapers

There’s nothing like the thrill of the hunt and for one avian enthusiast in Queens the satisfaction that comes when you don’t have to kill anything.

The borough is one of the best places in the country to go bird watching, a pastime which bears several resemblances to more violent sports practiced outside New York City.

“Birding used to be hunting,” said Shari Romar, of Queens Botanical Garden, who led a bird watching group through the Flushing foliage Sunday to celebrate the summer solstice.

Romar was referring to the days of John James Audubon, a 19th-century ornithologist whose meticulous cataloging of fowl through colored drawings vaulted him to legendary status in the birding world.

Audubon could craft his informative sketches in such detail because his subjects were usually dead. He was equally adroit with both pencil and rifle.

Birding is now the source of innocent thrills — several young children went along for Sunday’s excursion — but the excitement of catching a winged creature in the wild has carried over into the contemporary.

Romar still remembers her greatest spotting, mounted on the living room wall of her mind.

In the woodlands section of the botanical garden, Romar stumbled upon the elusive American woodcock, a well-camouflaged, squat brown bird.

“It was my first and only sighting,” she said.

On Sunday, Romar was decked out in her birding gear: hiking shoes, a long lens camera and a knapsack stuffed with the essentials — a set of good binoculars and a reference guide.

“Was that a pheasant call?” she asked, interrupting an interview with TimesLedger Newspapers to suddenly cock her head skyward.

More seasoned birders have spent a lifetime learning the unique songs of thousands of different species.

Romar does not know them all, but she has a technological leg up on avian enthusiasts from previous generations.

She whipped out her phone and pulled up iBird Explorer Pro, an application that functions much like a reference book, but with audio clips to not only identify different bird calls but also help distinguish between songs that sound deceivingly similar.

Romar and her husband, Mitch Zykofsky, have traveled the entire country to track down rare and elusive species, but are always glad to return to Queens.

Along with the 50 varieties of birds that reside in the garden at different times of the year, Jamaica Bay and Forest Park are also some of their favorite spots.

The bird watching was just one of several events at the garden’s yearly event to herald the solstice, which took place June 13 and is the official beginning of summer and the longest day of the year.

The Quintet of the Americas, led by Barbara Oldham, played a series of songs written by contemporary composers — and they were almost all inspired by birds.

Some of those birds were Queens natives as well. Douglaston composer James Cohn wrote his piece “The Goldfinch Variations” after contemplating some avian guests in his backyard.

“A lot of compositions have been inspired by birds,” Oldham said, hoping in turn inspire those at the solstice celebration with some fresh new compositions. “We pick pieces that somehow relate to the audience.”

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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