Neighborhoods

Meet The Bird Man Of Prospect Park

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On a Friday afternoon in Brooklyn, Peter Dorosh was leading a stakeout in Prospect Park. For weeks, a sneaky intruder had eluded Dorosh and at least six others who were now shuffling along the stone Terrace Bridge in the freezing cold. Their target: a linebacker-shaped raptor called a northern goshawk.

“This bird doesn’t follow a regular clock,” Dorosh said. “He’s acting like a devilish teenager.”

Dorosh, who turns 56 this month, was cheerful. Although he had seen a goshawk flyover here in 2008, he hadn’t seen one perched in the park in twenty-five years, and he had been recounting his chase on his widely read blog of Prospect Park bird sightings. Dorosh is the clearinghouse for such news; he covers the park’s avian visitors with a fervency akin to White House pool reporters following the president, except with more levity and less polish.

Though it was getting toward quitting time, technically Dorosh was still at the office: He has been employed by the park’s natural resources crew for fifteen years.

It was an obvious marriage. For forty years, Dorosh has been one of the faces of the century-old Brooklyn Bird Club — as well as, at times, its president, newsletter editor, and trip planner — and always a vocal advocate for preserving bird-friendly habitats from Prospect Park to Floyd Bennett Field. Dorosh is a fifth-generation Brooklyn native whose Scotch-Irish ancestors fought in the Civil War.

“He’s the John Muir of modern Brooklyn,” said Paul Keim, a longtime friend and past president of the Brooklyn Bird Club, referring to the co-founder of the Sierra Club. “He’s got such a passion for nature and wildlife. In deciding what to plant on the job, he thinks like a bird.”

Indeed, Dorosh’s choices are often subtle and canny, such as planting pine trees wherever he can (owls like to roost in them) or fashioning a birdbath out of boulders in one of the park’s creeks.

In the coming weeks, Prospect Park will present colorful surprises — only most of Brooklyn won’t notice. Olmsted and Vaux’s 526-acre, 150-year-old urban oasis is one of the premier birdwatching destinations in the Northeast, with some two hundred species landing there every year during their migrations.

For the excited birders looking for them, Dorosh is indispensable — and they double as his sources.

“When I first started birding, I relied on his blog,” said Bobbi Manian, who now leads walks for the Brooklyn Bird Club. “I remember one time pulling over on the side of the road, refreshing his blog, and racing back to the park to see a female hooded warbler he had just reported.”

Dorosh said his blog has received 1.3 million hits since he started it in 2006.

“People kept asking me, ‘What’s in the park?’ and I spent so much time answering,” Dorosh said. “I write it as a public service, but I also try to tell a story each day.”

Dorosh’s lifelong devotion to birdwatching is all the more remarkable because he is deaf. This means he cannot rely on birdsong to find birds in dense cover or high in the tree canopy, or identify them based on their unique calls; instead, he had to teach himself to wait and train his eyes to find the slightest movement. His family was unaware of his condition until he was eight. When his mother took him to a hearing-aid dispensary on Flatbush Avenue, he was furnished with one in each ear and walked outside. “The first thing I heard was a fire engine,” Dorosh recalled. “My head almost exploded! I went back inside and yelled, ‘Take one out!’ I haven’t stopped talking since then.”

Dorosh, the third of four children, grew up on Waverly Avenue in the shadow of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. It was an unlikely place to find inspiration as a birder, but when he was fourteen, he looked into his backyard and saw a brilliant male scarlet tanager.

“I was mesmerized by the color of the bird,” he said. “It was magical.”

He asked his mother for binoculars and they began riding the bus to Prospect Park. Two years later, he read about the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge and rode the subway there by himself. “It was a life-changing experience,” Dorosh said, in part because he found a notice for the Brooklyn Bird Club hanging in the visitor center.

The birds were more flush then, but his beloved Prospect Park was in disrepair. Its watercourse was degraded, and crime made it unsafe. Dorosh was more likely to lead a field trip outside Brooklyn than in it. Years later he would help fix that.

After graduating from Baruch College, he worked in the accounting department of Republic National Bank for sixteen years. Following a merger, he quit and started volunteering in the park. Before long he was hired.

“My office was five feet wide before. Now it’s five hundred acres,” he said. “I’m not including the lake, because I can’t walk on water.”

Dorosh knows the park intimately and gets around it in a flash. He lives two blocks away with his older sister, a retired schoolteacher, his older brother, also a city employee, and their mother — close enough to sprint out of the shower and into the park after hearing the northern goshawk had returned.

He missed it, but three days after the stakeout, he finally caught a break. Before his lunch, he heard from an experienced birder that the goshawk had reappeared at the Terrace Bridge. Dorosh gunned his Toro cart “like a drag racer through the Ravine,” he later wrote, barreling over potholed trails without caring if the bumper fell off.

At the bridge, his source directed Dorosh’s gaze to the top of a pine. The juvenile goshawk was perched in the open, revealing his signature marks: a white eyebrow and teardrop-shaped brown streaks from throat to talons. Ten minutes later, he took flight and banked hard and fast toward the lake, leaving his audience stunned. Dorosh beamed.

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