Tuesday, January 27, 2009

warm-day excursion

Last Friday, the temperature nearly hit 50 degrees, so I decided to walk to work through the park and see what I could see. I trudged through slush and slid through shallow mud. Way out, ringing the unfrozen center of the lake, were some Canada geese, fewer mallards, and hundreds of gulls with a few black-backs mixed in. That group was a little too far out for easy identification. As I approached the base of Lookout Hill on Wellhouse Drive, I saw a red-tailed hawk swoop out from over the trees. Then another, and another, and another! Four at the same time! I watched them for a few minutes as they swirled and wheeled, sometimes close enough for three birds in my bins, sometimes grappling a bit with one another. One of the hawks was missing at least one primary flight feather, more likely two, judging from the size of the space.

I didn't have time to check out the feeders, but had a good time crossing the Nethermead. It was empty but for three guys and their dogs. I saw two red-tails fly over my head from Lookout Hill toward the Binnen Water. A minute or so later, when everything was still and quiet, and the men and their dogs had moved off, something in flight caught my eye and its unfamiliarity gave me a little thrill. I had such a short sighting that I will probably never know what it really was, only that it had a white head as viewed from below, dark cheek patches, and awesome uniform light brown speckling on its creamy belly and under-wings. It wasn't much bigger than a pigeon, and its tail was long and narrow, and more squared than fan-shaped. It could have been a merlin, or a kestrel, and seeing another bird just like it the next day in Rhode Island didn't help me get a better idea. I think I need some flashcards or something for these smaller raptors, or maybe just a more concerted study would do the trick.

As I went up the steep path connecting the Nethermead to the Long Meadow, I heard a steady and rapid tapping close beside my head. I paused to look around for a woodpecker, only to be mocked and thwarted by the real source of the sound: a very stiff leaf slapping rhythmically against its branch in the wind. The tap at Fallkill Falls must be turned off for the season, for the water to the left of the bridge was as frozen and still as the pools to the right. The reeded bank of the frozen and snowed-over Upper Pool boasted a lovely great blue heron, still as an ice sculpture.

I was almost to work, and thus almost out of my bird-mind and into the everyday-mind, when I heard a crow cawing and cawing. I looked around to find it, only to see the crow being pursued by a red-tailed hawk. This was, of course, a temporary arrangement, for no sooner had the pair disappeared behind the treeline did they reappear, and this time with the hawk being dogged by the crow and the three buddies it had recently rounded up. How quickly tides turn! It was neat to have one last experience before turning into work-zombie Leah. I'm glad to be the kind of person whose real life is about fun and adventures and who doesn't need her job to tell her who she is.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

first life bird of 2009

My sister is in for the weekend and after breakfast at the Fifth Avenue Diner, Chrissy and I dragged (and drove) her through the snow-shrouded Green-Wood Cemetery. Our feet were not prepared for the snowy walkways, so we did not stay long. But we paused at the Sylvan Water so I could spy on the birds huddled in the unfrozen center of the pond. Here I saw a snow goose, a few Canada geese, some mallards, several pairs of American wigeons, and a pied-billed grebe. Hidden among the wigeons however, was one beautiful rufous-headed specimen I'd never seen before; I guessed it to be, from the company it kept, a Eurasian wigeon. I verified it with my field guide and now I've got a new life bird for 2009!

Later on top of the highest hill (great views of the Parachute Jump and shoreline at Coney Island this time of year) I was greeted by a chorus of funny nuthatch voices. A good selection of winter birds up there: blue jay, cardinal, dark-eyed junco, white-breasted nuthatch, and a brilliant red-bellied woodpecker.

Overall, a great haul for twenty minutes!