I didn't get out for long today, because I had to work, but I got out of work around 5:45 and had some time to spare before my dinner date with Chrissy. So I walked a block up to the park, with no real destination in mind. I walked along Prospect Park West toward Litchfield Villa. The waning light was hitting the treetops at the outer edge of the park so perfectly that I had to stick around and see what I could see. Leaning against the stone wall, I aimed my unfocused gaze up at the tallest, brightest tree to gather in any movements. I was in luck! I trained my binoculars on the moving dots and zeroed in on a bird with a black face mask and a bright yellow throat on an olive body - my first common yellowthroat. I saw another one near the dog beach an hour and a half later.
Gray catbirds are everywhere, almost as numerous as robins, it seems. And yet, even knowing I am surrounded by them, I've only heard their signature meowing cry once this season. That cry hearkens me back to my earliest birding days last year when I would hear that call and think it sounded like a baby lost in the woods.
I went down the hill toward the Third Street Playground, and paused to watch five house sparrows enjoy a dust bath in the dirt path. Past the busy Picnic House I went, slower now, listening and looking. Most rustles I heard were squirrels, but a few eastern towhees did their funny leaf-litter dance as well. I saw a man with a huge lens on his camera. He was shooting a white squirrel. I wonder if it was the same white squirrel I saw last year next to a black squirrel. That was a cool contrast. Anyway, we ran into each other a few times in the park, and it turns out his name is Bill, and I don't think he was a birder. He seemed to be looking for nature-y things to photograph. I pointed out to him a robin sitting in its nest cup in a low crook at eye level - a good photo I hope. Later behind the pools we searched for black-and-white warblers together - not that hard a task. Those guys are everywhere lately.
Eventually our adventuring led us in separate directions, and I started looking in earnest for warblers on the path behind the Upper and Lower Pools. On Friday, I had taken one of the kids for a bird walk, just to look with our eyes, and had been ridiculously lucky in seeing new and mysterious birds. I vowed to come back there as soon as I could. And today it was no less interesting. I saw several ovenbirds skulking on the ground and trying to hide behind leaves. I saw a hermit thrush and a palm warbler. And way up the in trees I spotted something black and orange that didn't exactly resemble the Baltimore oriole I saw last weekend. That turned out to be an American redstart.
Satisfied with my short birding adventure, sad about the failing light, and very hungry, I made my way out of the Ravine, back behind the pools and I almost made it out to the Long Meadow when I started chatting with a nice woman birder named Monica. She told me about the recent Kentucky warbler sightings and a little of her own history as a birder. I'm certainly glad to meet so many people while engaged in what can be a fairly solitary undertaking.
My life birds today were common yellowthroat and American redstart. I also saw several birds I couldn't identify on sight or with my notes afterward. I expect that at some point this "take good notes" mantra will set in or take effect, but for now I think I just need a lot of practice.