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RTC Second Act

Sharing her love for birds

New York Teacher
A group of people birdwatching
Jonathan Fickies

Retiree Miriam Rakowski (left) points out notable birds to retired school psychologist Cristina Mugica (right) and others during a recent expedition in Central Park.

Retiree Miriam Rakowski knows just how to brighten up the monotone greys and blacks of the winter months in New York City. Follow her to Central Park with a pair of binoculars and cheer up with sightings of bright red cardinals, majestic blue jays, red-tailed hawks, snowy owls and scores of other species.

During 20 years of bird-watching around the world, Rakowski has recorded sightings of 2,000 species, and her "exciting adventures" have included spotting rare tropical birds in the Amazon jungle.

"I bird-watch all year long," Rakowski explained, "and it has so greatly enriched my life that I am inspired to share it with others."

Rakowski became a Teaching Fellow to move from the world of finance into the classroom, where she taught math and was a math coach until her retirement in 2011. Now, she teaches others to have a love for birds and shares her hobby by leading bird walks for the Appalachian Mountain Club as well as weekly walks for Bloomingdales Aging in Place, a community group on the Upper West Side. She also leads popular spring, fall and new winter bird-watching classes for Si Beagle retirees.

The bird-watching expeditions she leads are all in Central Park. That Eastern flyway is considered one of the 10 best places in the country to experience great bird migrations in the spring and fall. But for her own excursions, Rakowski also enjoys a variety of Long Island locations, including Jones Beach and Montauk. "Wherever interesting birds may turn up and my birding buddies can drive to," she says.

Wearing comfortable shoes and armed with binoculars and water, the bird-watchers assemble on the outskirts of Central Park to begin their adventures. The leisurely walks, usually covering 1 to 2 miles, are on flat terrain and include the forested areas, the park's seven bodies of water and the meadows and gardens where the 300 species of visiting birds hang out.

Rakowski is quick to point out the added benefits provided by the bird walks — fresh air, healthy exercise and the chance to "de-stress."

"Not only do we have the pleasure of viewing the many tropical birds that visit our park," she said, but "we do so while strolling through beautiful and varied habitats surrounded by the sounds, smells and sights of nature that change through the seasons."