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For the birds:
An hour before sunset, a double-crested cormorant speeds purposefully up the East River, heading home. “Home” could well be the rookery on man-made U Thant Island — just south of Roosevelt Island — where scores of the birds nest. Taking the same path, a New York Water Taxi also makes its way up the East River from Pier 17 in the South Street Seaport, heading toward North and South Brother Islands, on a weekly Sunday pilgrimage to see the waterfowl of the estuary.
Most people, if they think of wildlife in connection with New York City, would probably list pigeons, sparrows, starlings and rats. But the city’s wildlife population is astonishingly exotic and diverse, as New York Water Taxi’s Sunset EcoTours demonstrate.
With a guide from the New York Audubon Society on board, passengers learn not only about the large numbers of birds that live on the islands of the East River but also about its turbulent past, marked with shipwrecks and pestilence.
Gabriel Willow has been leading these trips for eight years. He can talk as knowledgably about why cormorants spread their wings after leaving the water as about the human landmarks along the East River like the ruined smallpox hospital on Roosevelt Island and the old farmhouse that belonged to the Blackwells, who settled on the island in the 17th century.
At Mill Island, he points out herons tending their young and on North Brother Island, he tells the story of Mary Mallon, the cook who was confined there for nearly 30 years because she was found to be a carrier of typhoid, though she never became ill herself.
As the boat turns south, the sun begins to set. The stocky bodies of two birds that Willow identifies as black-crowned night herons are silhouetted against a brilliant orange sky over the Bronx.
(Sundays at 7 p.m., through Aug. 14. Adults, $35; children, ages 3 to 12, $25. http://www.nywatertaxi.com/HarborTours/ for reservations)
A circumnavigation of Manhattan with architects from the American Institute of Architects talking about the island’s buildings plus food, drink and shelter if the weather turns cold or wet is one fine way to spend an afternoon.
That’s the agenda on Classic Harbor Lines’ architecture tours aboard the classy, little yacht, “Manhattan.” The tours of just under three hours leave from and return to Chelsea Piers, originally designed, as passengers learn, in the Beaux-Arts style by Warren & Wetmore, who also designed Grand Central Terminal.
Just north of the piers, the opalescent façade of the New Chelsea Residences designed by Jean Nouvel with Beyer Blinder Belle elicits some admiring remarks. Westbeth (the work of Richard Meier), the massive, brick Archive building at Christopher and Greenwich Streets (Willoughby Edbrooke, William Martin Aiken and James Knox were the original architects in 1899), and Richard Meier’s glass towers on Perry Street are all noteworthy, the architects say, and the boat hasn’t even made it out of Greenwich Village!
As the boat heads north, the architects may tell the story about how sculptor George Grey Barnard provided the nucleus for what became The Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park, and they will certainly turn their attention to the numerous bridges crossing the city’s waterways, including High Bridge, finished in 1848 and the oldest extant bridge in the city.
By popular demand, the boat pauses in front of the Statue of Liberty; this being an architecture tour, the A.I.A. guides explain that the engineering and armature for the statue were the work of Gustave Eiffel, who subsequently built the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
As the “Manhattan” steams up the Hudson River, passing Battery Park City, passengers can see the World Financial Center (Cesar Pelli Adamson Associates) and get a good look at 1 World Trade Center rising behind it.
(Tuesdays and Sundays, through Dec. 11, 2011. $75. http://www.zerve.com/SailNYC/ArchTour)
Night on Liberty Island:
Even with advance reservations, the lines for the ferries that take visitors to Liberty and Ellis Islands are long and the islands can be crowded. But on Thursday nights, a few hundred people get to see Liberty Island and its famous lady in a different way. Statue Cruises’ Night Tours with Lady Liberty leave Battery Park shortly after 6 p.m. and return just before 9 p.m., giving passengers time to take guided tours with National Park Service rangers and have dinner on the patio overlooking the harbor.
As night begins to fall, the lights come on in the Statue’s crown and her torch glows. Sailboats ply the harbor, where the lady stands guard. By the time the homeward-bound boat pulls away from the island, some people seem to feel an intimate connection with the great lady of the harbor, and even adults have been seen waving good-bye.
(Through Aug. 25. Adults, $44.95; seniors, $35; children, ages 4 to 12, $22.50; Junior Rangers, $12; under age 4, free. Prices include transportation, tours and dinner. http://www.statuecruises.com/pd_nighttours.html)
BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER