Saturday, November 22, 2008

time to play catch-up

Sorry for the lag in updates. I've been busy doing awesome stuff. Read on to find out what!

Three weeks ago, Chrissy and I trekked up to Inwood Hill Park, which had this veil of mystery around it, because we just couldn't imagine a big, cool park up there. This park is home to Manhattan's only remaining salt marsh. When we arrived, the tide was out, so the gulls and egrets and ducks were left to slog through the mud to reach the few remaining shallow puddles. This park is also the site where Peter Minuit purchased Manhattan from the Lenape, and a boulder bears a plaque commemorating a tree that was planted in that spot to commemorate the exchange but which has since passed on to tree heaven. We climbed the hill and hiked around, ever wary of the slick carpet of wet leaves. This snail-like rock and tree combo greeted us amid a landscape of yellow. A few years ago the park staff made an effort to reintroduce bald eagles and the remains of the now-defunct project, a wooden shelter with an open top and caged front, sit high on the slope of Inwood Hill. No eagles here, but it was an excellent spot to watch a flock of cedar waxwings in the treetops below. I also caught sight of an eastern phoebe flouting the usual rules all over the empty eagle shelter. Several red-tails made appearances, and I nearly fell over on the slippery leaves trying to keep them in my binoculars. Later, we came to some natural caves, to which Chrissy was brave enough to hike over the steep and slippery ground but I was not. I hate falling down, or thinking that I have a good chance of falling down. But I'm glad I spent that time peering into the trees, because I spotted my first white-breasted nuthatch of the season. The nuthatch holds a special place in my bird-heart because it was the first bird I didn't recognize when starting this crazy birdlife and so also the first bird I had to attempt to identify. Also, they're just plain cute.

One Saturday we ventured out to the Queens County Farm Museum, the city's only working historical farm, for a self-guided tour. The sky was darkly overcast, and the wind was warm but damp and strong, and I wished I'd brought my jacket after all. As soon as we walked through the gate, I spotted some smallish bird of prey diving after a smaller bird. I saw this bird several times throughout our tour, but the light was terrible for identification, so it remains a mystery. I had a great time looking at the different types of ducks and the many colorful chickens. The farm also has resident turkeys and peacocks. It was also cool to see a bunch of stylishly polka-dotted guinea fowl running around. I've only seen those guys once before, at the Norman J. Levy Park and Preserve, a great place to walk around and explore. I went there very shortly after my love of birds blossomed but before I really undertook any bird-learning, so I'd love to visit again. At the Queens Farm, a huge flock of grackles squawked in the trees. At a rough estimate, I'd say there were about five hundred. It was pretty cool. The bird of prey made several swoops toward the flock, upsetting a black cloud from the trees each time, but I don't know if it got what it came for.

One day I took the kids to my perfect leaf pile in Prospect Park for an hour of ridiculous fun. When we were finally getting tuckered out and our lungs were clogged with leaf dust, I noticed that this fellow had been standing sentinel directly overhead. I'm glad I kept a close eye on the little ones, lest they be mistaken for prey!

I took a walk in Prospect Park one Sunday afternoon to check up on autumn's progress and seek out some feathered friends.
Highlights included a few cedar waxwings, a rattling kingfisher, and this partially submerged heron.

Later that week I had a bonanza in Prospect Park. Not only are my favorite birds, the buffleheads, back (o, frabjous day!), but I saw a ton of American goldfinches, a pert little golden-crowned kinglet, and a pair of red-winged blackbirds flying in the sunlight.

Saturday we were on our way to see Quantum of Solace when we stumbled across CANstruction at the Winter Garden. It's a feat of small-scale architecture for a good cause. I reccommend checking it out!

And finally, we're almost up to date. This past Sunday we walked around the Reservoir at Central Park. Well, most of the way around - the glare off the water on the last leg of the loop gives me a wicked headache. Buffleheads made plenty of appearances - all male, though, like some adorable feathery Chippendales show. I haven't seen a female yet this season. Also present on the Reservoir were a pair of hooded mergansers, plenty of lush and velvety mallards, some great black-backed gulls, and plenty of northern shovelers. On the way out of the park, I had views of white-throated sparrows, blue jays, a mockingbird, and a red-bellied woodpecker.

I'm in the market for good birding gloves, now that the chill is really upon us. Windproof/waterproof? Any suggestions?

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