On Friday, I made time to walk through Prospect Park on my way to work. It was too warm to really feel like Halloween, but it was certainly good weather for finding birds. At the Lake I checked in with the seasonal regulars: mallards, Canada geese, coots, ruddy ducks, and shovelers. In one report someone claims to have seen a bufflehead in Prospect Park this season, so I'm gearing up for a happy day when I see my first of the year.
On Wellhouse Drive, I was accosted on all sides by that incessant chip chip chip of cardinals making sure they're all still there. That sound gets right into my sinuses and reverberates in my head. Maybe that's a bad wavelength for me or something. I hope their numbers thin out over the winter (not that they die, just that they move for a while) so I can appreciate their sounds again next year. I've had enough!
I had a little extra time (what an idea, extra time - that's as silly as saying extra money) so I stopped over at the fishing beach to see if I could find some wigeons or grebes. No wigeons that day, but I got a great look at a pied-billed grebe with a fat little fish in its beak. It dove under with the fish, resurfaced a few feet away, and gulped it down its gullet in a few swift movements. At this location I was also tricked by a bird. Here is what I thought I was looking at: a branch sticking up from the water with some sparrow-sized, long-tailed bird perched on top. Then the whole thing moved, and I realized with some awe that the part I thought was the small bird was a great blue heron's whole head. It was a like a Magic Eye puzzle when your eyes adjust to see what's really there, if only you know how to look.
I worked my way through the Lullwater, where I heard the telltale tapping of a nearby woodpecker. I love when I'm successful in finding a bird by locating the source of a sound. It turned out to be a lovely female hairy woodpecker, pecking thoughtfully and deliberately at a branch a few feet away. On this trail I also encountered a downy woodpecker and white-throated sparrows. I also followed my ears to find a belted kingfisher perched on a fallen tree in the water. I enjoy their distinct rattling calls, almost like an engine failing to start.
In the Nethermead I came upon an impressive flock of dark-eyed juncos. About fifty of them blended into the dry autumn grass. I like juncos because I think they have a dumb expression, and they remind me a little of Feathers McGraw. Here I also spotted a palm warbler hopping in and out of the shade and a brown creeper that landed so fast it seemed to have been drawn to the tree next to me by magnetism.
When I returned around 5:45 p.m., the light was fading fast. I expected to see children and dogs in costume, but I'd have to get out into the neighborhoods for that. I did see several small bats doing their silent, frantic, bug-catching acrobatics in the light of streetlamps along Center Drive. Wonderfully apt for the holiday.