Thursday, October 30, 2008

leah labrecque and the blustery day

To be fair, it was the day after the blustery day, but I jump at the chance to reference my favorite Winnie-the-Pooh story. I was eager to get out and look for birds on Wednesday, as I knew there'd be plenty riding the end of that nor'easter. I was in the park from 11:50 a.m. until 1:00 p.m., and experienced myriad weather patterns, in addition to the constant wind and cold - from clouds to light drizzle to sun breaking through to patches of blue and back to clouds and drizzle and finally hail.

I spent a chunk of my time in the shelter by the western lake shore, peering past the mallards in their gorgeous green and chestnut attire, past the northern shovelers with faces planted firmly in the water, past even my good and smiling friends the ruddy ducks, attempting to get a good view of what was certainly a pied-billed grebe. In my experience, they tend to stick to the reedy areas where they can hide or else they swim just a tad too far out for me to see just how pied their bills really are. Also present at the Lake: American coots, Canada geese, a handsome pair of American black ducks, a pair of mute swans, and a single young cormorant, not to mention the resident throng of gulls.

Nearly every other bird I saw was a yellow-rumped warbler. Those guys were out in full force, both hover-gleaning at plants and hunting in the grass. I stopped in at the fishing beach for a moment to look for shier species of waterfowl, but all I saw was a lone Canada goose paddling lazily. Nearby on the Peninsula, I caught sight of a ruby-crowned kinglet who was actually sporting said ruby crown. I've seen hundreds of kinglets in the past 3 weeks but only two with that punky red stripe, and not since spring has one crest been raised. Also present on the Peninsula: a glossy eastern phoebe, many northern cardinals, and a few dark-eyed juncos.

Just south of the Terrace Bridge, you may have seen me execute a jerky and nonsensical dance. This is because I was too happy to see a new bird. I really must control my happy-kicking legs. The bird in question was just one of a pair that swam out from the cover of the reeds and into plain sight, prime viewing territory. I'm always thrilled for a new bird, but perhaps most of all for a new duck, and these stunning American wigeons really filled the bill. The female's luxurious cinnamon feathers complement the male's green mask and shining white forehead, as if they are dressed for a masquerade ball.

Knowing the day's highlight was probably past, I followed the Lullwater along the western trail, headed to work. I encountered several blue jays, one of which scolded me soundly for trespassing near his perch, a single palm warbler poking about on the soft, damp ground, and the inevitable pair of mourning doves I flushed from the path. When I came out to the Nethermead, a lovely large red-tailed hawk flew across my vision, left to right, about 20 feet from the ground, to a high perch near the Binnen Water. Sadly, I didn't have time to follow it. I rounded out my short trip with white-throated sparrows singing their "old-Sam-Peabody" ditty somewhere far off, a northern flicker on the wing, a hermit thrush posing with ruddy tail prominently featured, and an aptly-named-for-Halloween murder of crows on a distant ballfield. I finally put up my umbrella when it began to hail and after a wonderfully successful hour, turned myself and my thoughts toward work.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

spooktacular nature

I walked to work several times last week, peeking in on the Lake's inhabitants and resting travelers, crossing the Nethermead, and checking in at the Lower Pool. Shoveler numbers seemed to be increasing, which gave me plenty of opportunities to espy that gorgeous green speculum. Kinglets abounded as well, surrounding me with sweet little songs. I found myself trying to sneak up on a hermit thrush near the Picnic House when something shiny distracted me. Well, not shiny, exactly. I had spotted a bright white squirrel. It's been two years since I saw my first one near the Harmony Playground. I doubt it's the same squirrel - it's very visible lunch for a raptor. Perhaps it will be a ghost for Halloween?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

better late than never

Last Saturday was one of those rare days when everything I did felt awesome. I rolled out of bed to help with the Lookout Hill cleanup for a few hours. I raked leaves, threw sticks over a fence, swept landings with a pushbroom, and enjoyed the brisk morning air. Later, when my hands were raw from manual labor, I stopped at a yard sale, took a shower, ate some leftovers, and made my way over to Green-Wood Cemetery. Map in hand, I decided to make the Dell and Crescent Waters my destination. I love exploring new places and finding new ways to old places; the Crescent and Dell Waters fell that day into the former category.

A flush of mourning doves heralded my entrance through the Fort Hamilton Parkway gates. Soon I tracked down the singer of a repetitive and varied song - a northern mockingbird atop a mausoleum. It struck me as odd the juxtaposition of two such classic symbols: a bird for life and cold stone for death. But even stone erodes over time, reminding us that perhaps death is not as eternal as we secretly and deeply fear.

On my walk, I saw lots of blue jays zooming from evergreen to evergreen. Eventually they sent up an alarm, and I was lucky enough to see the cause: a red-tailed hawk's approach. Later, on a slope, I saw a pair of small, yellowish warblers with rusty caps in the grass, bobbing their tails. Palms, I do believe. Tons of kinglets around as well. I accidentally came very close to a golden-crowned, but it didn't seem bothered by my closeness. I stayed very still and watched it for a few minutes, and all of a sudden, the little guy flew right at my face! I laughed out of sheer surprise, and at the last second it swerved abruptly upward. What fleeting moments make up our greatest joys!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

quick walks in Prospect Park

After a self-guided walking tour yesterday of the Lower East Side with a friend (can you say Pickle Guys and Doughnut Plant?) I had a tiny window of time to scope out some birds in Prospect Park before picking the kids up from school. The sky was as clear and blue as I've ever seen it, and the brightness of the afternoon sun made it necessary to get "on the other side of the bird" with the sun at my back to get a good view. For the half-hour I was there, I had a pretty good time. (Gross understatement. I am at my happiest when looking at awesome birds.)

Almost immediately in my trek across the area that overlooks the ballfields, I spotted a yellow-rumped warbler hanging around a big tree that seemed to be hosting many tiny birds. To my absolute delight, they turned out to be golden-crowned kinglets, my very first ones. They are absolutely as beautiful as I dreamed they would be. Later, near the parking lot of Litchfield Villa, I encountered a group of white-throated sparrows kicking up leaf litter. White-crowned and tan-crowned individuals were present. It was cool to see both types at the same time, for comparison. I climbed the stairs up to the villa and turned around to be even with the canopy of a tall tree. Many kinglets and a few warblers zipped around this tree, including a black-and-white warbler and something with a yellow face and olive appearance overall. It was gone too quickly for me to notice much.

Later the kids had soccer practice, so I had an hour to walk around. I stuck to the area around the pools and had a bunch of great sightings. At the wildflower meadow, many elusive flashes of bird came and disappeared into the thickets instantly, but I got a good look at a northern parula. I love that yellow lower mandible. On the Path Between the Pools I found a northern flicker, a blue jay, and a possible tufted titmouse (one can only hope - I love those guys). On the path leading back to the Long Meadow I successfully found a black-throated blue warbler which a fellow birder named Gil clued me in about. On the Long Meadow side in the brush beyond the fence and toward the pools, I hunted down little leaf-crunching noises and rustlings until I found their source - a brilliant common yellowthroat.

This autumn of my birding life is fun in a different way than last autumn. I have a much bigger mental catalog of birds I can identify by sight and sound, so I'm not oohing and aahing blindly every time a house sparrow deigns to look at me. I guess I can afford to be a little more selective and adventurous. That's not to say any of the magic has gone out of it - rather the opposite. The game is just beginning, now that I know how to play!

Friday, October 10, 2008

no, really, i'm still here

I've had a lot on my mind of late, and haven't been out birding in earnest for a while, as you can guess from the dearth of recent entries. I have, however, seen some great birds quite by accident, including plenty of downy woodpeckers, a brown creeper on an 8th Avenue tree trunk, and a group of ruby-crowned kinglets in the massive evergreen where I work. This weekend Chrissy and I venture to Erie, PA, for a screening of his film, 41. We'll take our time getting there, catching up on some much-needed letterboxing and birdwatching.

Even though I've been preoccupied, I did get a chance to celebrate Hawk Weekend by attending the bird show at the Prospect Park Audubon Center.

I hope to see some awesome stuff this weekend. If you know any places we should stop for birds between NYC and Erie, PA, let me know!