You can see them from sixty miles away: twin beams of light reaching from lower Manhattan into the highest visible reaches of the sky. The beams burn through the night on September 11th, a memory, a tribute in light made from 88 7000W xenon bulbs.
Also in the New York skies in mid-September: hundreds of thousands of migrating birds. From afar, the beams look to the birds like…we don’t know…perhaps moonlight, or a gleam of sun out of place, or a streak of magnetic weirdness across the birds’ inner eye. The birds are drawn to the beams, then snared by the light. Look up from the ground and you see hundreds of circling birds. Through binoculars, the higher parts of the beams are so full of birds that the clouds of illuminated bodies look like the Milky Way in motion. Thousands of warblers, orioles, woodpeckers, and thrushes, each turned to a silvery mote.
I joined NYC Audubon to monitor and count birds at the tribute. We watched from the Battery Rooftop Garden, a terrace filled with fruit trees and vegetable beds 34 stories above the street, right next to the beams.
When the bird count got too high, the operators of the 9/11 memorial extinguished the beams for a few minutes, allowing the birds to escape from their photonic prison. Winged creatures in motion, animating the memorial beams, then released.
Thanks for providing visuals! If it were possible to ask one question interspecifically, this one would be good candidate: “What is it about bright beams of light at night, O woodthrush?” It would be up there with asking a monarch butterfly “How do find these few mountains each winter, last visited by your great-great-great grandparents?”
“How do *you* find…?” ~ sorry about that!
Indeed. Good question: the intergenerational migration of these butterflies is extraordinary. How, oh how?
Like! See William Stafford poem “At the Un-National Monument Along the Canadian Border.”
Reblogged this on Wildly Strollin' with Ben Pounds.
Dear David, I believe that because bird populations are already suffering serious declines due to many factors, only lights necessary to avoid aircraft crashes should be turned or left on at night during the bird migration period. In the case of the Tribute, I would think those whom it honours would not want to be ‘responsible’ for the needless deaths of so many birds.