Tuesday, September 2, 2008

light in August

My vacation is over, but, simply by virtue of having enjoyed much of it outdoors, certainly well spent. Some of these recent days I wish I could fix and fasten to my heart, to carry with me the elation and the delicious languor and the simultaneous bounty and dearth that have characterized August for me this year.

Monday, August 25
Something felt markedly different in Prospect Park today. I couldn't pinpoint it as the weather or the light, maybe something different in the air. It was humid and in the upper 80s, but it felt so much not summer: the trees are beginning to exhale, to relax a little from showing off their green all year. It sounded different today, too. The still air gave the trees respite from their graceful waving; few birds sang. The new brood of starlings clicked and chittered, adding percussion to an otherwise expectant quietude. Branches voluntarily dropped their seedpods, berries, and nuts onto the leaf litter below, Mother Nature tapping out endless mysteries on the telegraph of the earth.

My stroll began on the west shore of the Lake, where I found my feet surrounded and tumbled over by ground-clouds made of thousands of little downy feathers. It seems the mallards are in their eclipse plumage, which, while not as showy as the breeding plumage, I find to be quite as beautiful: a deep brown tinged with rust. That would explain all the feather-clouds, at least. On the Lake I found the usual Canada geese and mallards and their cohorts, with one addition by the lakeside: a spotted sandpiper. I watched it tiptoe around the much larger geese and occasionally hang back behind a small bush. I noticed it had a feather wrapped around one ankle; perhaps it was on house arrest?

I walked up Wellhouse Drive to sit by the Wellhouse, where I had a great view of a puddle and treetops full of activity. At least three times while I sat here, and it was only about fifteen minutes, I heard a child say, "What is that lady doing?" Am I a lady now? Weird! The puddle attracted such fine species as gray catbird, American robin, and a young Baltimore oriole. In this area's trees I also saw a downy woodpecker, a black and white warbler, and some American goldfinches. As I got up to continue my journey, I scanned the treetops one last time, only to find an orange spot that hadn't been there before. A beautiful adult male Baltimore gave me just a moment of his time before flying off.

As I crossed the Terrace Bridge to take the secret path down to the Lullwater, I felt the watchful gaze of an eastern kingbird standing sentinel on the tallest branch of the barest tree. When I later crossed the Lullwater Bridge, I knew I was in for a treat if only I could find the source of the nasal peek I was hearing. In a not-too-big pine tree at the end of the bridge, I found a great big male hairy woodpecker. I see downies all the time, so it's a treat to see one of these fellows once in a while.

I made my way to the path behind the pools by crossing the Nethermead and climbing that short, steep path. Sometimes I walk backwards up the hill to make my leg muscles confused. I've been surprised lately at the complete lack of red-tailed hawk sounds in Prospect Park. No flyovers, either. Perhaps I'm just out at the wrong time of day, or perhaps they're busy making preparations for autumn. When I reached the path behind the pools - that sounds like a chapter in The Magician's Nephew called "The Wood Between the Worlds" - I stopped at my usual viewing spot. It's an area where the plants don't block the view across the pool, but where I can use the shade of a tall tree to block the sun and rest my arms on the fence while I hunt for birds. I watched cedar waxwings take off from thin branches on the island, whirl and twist in the air, and land again with bug in beak. It's funny to think that while I have a favorite perch from which to scout them, they have a favorite perch from which to scout bugs. Paddling in the shadows of the island were a pair of young wood ducks. I wonder how long they'll stay.

Thursday, August 28
I had books on hold at the Central Library, so I took a nice, long walk with the birds on my way to pick them up. The second I left my apartment building, I heard the mechanical rattle of monk parakeets, and I looked up in time to see a pair zoom by in the direction of Green-Wood Cemetery. I have seen monk parakeets at Brooklyn College, at the feeders on Ocean Parkway and Ditmas Avenue, at a cemetery in Connecticut, and at Green-Wood, but nowhere else. It just struck me as funny that to see an exotic bird all I had to do was go outside.

At the west shore of the Lake, there's a little area made into a sheltered cove by the reeds on the left and the West Island to the right. Sometimes I stop here briefly, and sometimes longer if the benches are unoccupied. Though a few families and their children sat chatting, I stayed to watch two green herons in a tree on the West Island and two double-crested cormorants, one swimming and one sunning.

I ventured to the Path Behind the Pools (it will remain capitalized now that the C.S. Lewis bug has bitten me) to check up on my friends the waxwings. They were active in the afternoon sun, accomplishing daring feats of acrobatics just to get a little lunch. The wood ducks made a brief, if shadowy, appearance. A casual birding couple visited my viewing spot, and I helped them identify the waxwings, a black and white warbler, a downy woodpecker and a young or female American redstart. On my way home from the library, I had a lot of heavy books, so I just observed nature with the naked eye. The second I got back to my block, four or five monk parakeets sped by, crank-ing loudly. Strange that they bookended my day.

Friday, August 29
I went for a walk unarmed in terms of equipment. I really just wanted to get some exercise. But up on Lookout Hill, the birds are just begging to be seen. I climbed the steps and walked the path, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw something flit quickly to a closer branch. I'm glad I bothered to take one step backward, slowly, to see what it was: a male American redstart, which I haven't seen since spring! The sense of triumph carried me the rest of the way up the hill. I walked around the top wildflower garden, and made my way around the lower one, noticing how very quiet the air was. Usually I'd hear robins and cardinals and maybe chickadees here, but no sounds today. Boy, was I surprised then, when I accidentally flushed about 30 American goldfinches up into the trees! Then, then there was noise.

After having been in Maine and Rhode Island for the past three weekends, the idea of being home in Brooklyn for at least the next three weekends sounds good. I'm hoping to get out to Jamaica Bay this weekend, or maybe next weekend when my mom visits. In any case, I'm nearly ready for it to be autumn, because now I'm a full year into this birding thing, and don't we always miss the part of the year that is furthest behind us? I'm interested to remember what fall birding is like and to experience it in a much less blind and stumbling way than last year. I'm so glad to have been born and brought up in a part of the world where I can see and feel the change of seasons. I could never live somewhere that didn't make me grateful for the current moment and the moments promised to me by the advent of spring, summer, fall, and winter. It is the advent of things new that gives us adventure.

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