Friday, March 6, 2009

a new birder in the family

Now that the secret's out, I can let you wonderful folks in on the reason behind my recent blogging hiatus: I'm growing a baby up in here (and had not yet told my employers)! I'm 16 weeks along and feeling great. In fact, I felt so great after hearing my baby's beautiful heartbeat at my appointment this morning that I treated myself to a two hour bird walk in Prospect Park. The sky was overcast, but thinly so, with occasional tiny patches of blue. The air was warm enough, but very damp. As I walked down the Long Meadow to check out the Upper Pool, I surveyed the desolate scape of the ballfields; much of that snow would melt by the time I returned that way two hours later. At the pools I counted among my fine feathered friends mallards, American black ducks, ring-necked ducks, and a bufflehead. The pool remains mostly frozen over with a thin layer of ice, and only about a fifth of the water is open for waterfowl. The bufflehead was forced into close proximity with other ducks; they usually shy away from the more gregarious and affable mallards. The resident great blue heron of that area must have been on his lunch break during my visit.

But what that area lacked in herons it more than made up for in woodpeckers. I heard the telltale pik of downies and they weren't hard to spot. I found two females in the grove of trees on the mound opposite the pool. A little listening and a few minutes later, I found two males in a territory squabble. The red patch on the back of one of the male's heads caught my attention - it seemed incomplete. It was really two patches of red separated by a bar of black in between. I wondered if it was a young male growing its first red feathers and the process was not yet finished, or if perhaps that particular woodpecker would always look like that. These males were noticeably larger than the females, and their beaks seemed longer as well, not as "wispy", but I still lean toward downy for these guys, rather than hairy. Their beaks were not nearly as long as their heads, they weren't as surprisingly big as hairy woodpeckers I've encountered before, and the noises they made while bickering over branch rights didn't match anything in my mental sound catalog, so I couldn't compare.

I felt it was a safe time of day to head to the Vale of Cashmere, and I'm so glad I did! I lingered on the path above for many minutes, listening and locating. Here I saw old friends like cardinals, white-throated sparrows, and tufted titmice galore. I heard many chickadees, but never found one. Stinking up the place with his loud whirring call was an elusive red-bellied woodpecker. I think the landscape of the area made for deceptive acoustics, and it took me a while to find the real bird. But it's been several months since I've spotted a red-belly, so I was glad to do the work of finding it. And completely by accident, while tracking down the red-bellied woodpecker, I paused at just the right spot and caught a yellow-bellied sapsucker in my bins. I made my way down below to the actual Vale after a while, but the only activity there was an NYU student film in the rehearsal process. I affirmed visually that the source of that new obnoxious and incessant sound was indeed a blue jay and made my merry way up the path near Nellie's Lawn. I've heard a pair of red-tails are making a nest in the area, and I was able to locate one hawk but no nest. Also added another woodpecker to my list after saying to myself, "That is a sound I know. What is it?" I followed the sound not into the branches but down to the grass, to find a solitary northern flicker. A four-woodpecker day!

Over the Zoo I saw what was probably a Cooper's hawk. I long for the day when I'll see a raptor I can identify besides the red-tailed hawk. I feel like I've studied the pictures and the patterns and the colors, but I think I need to move on to flight silhouettes to really make any progress on that front.

I heard a new song today, and it went like this, whistled clearly(and able to be easily reproduced my my nimble whistler's lips): sol do do do. Long sol, short dos. The whole thing took about a second and a half and was repeated at intervals of about 10-15 seconds. I thought I tracked it to a titmouse, but who can be sure? I want to hear that one again.

Today I also saw the first flowers of the year and heard my very first "old Sam Peabody" of 2009. It fills me with eager anticipation for the blossoming of new life, as the approach of spring always has, but this year I am part of Spring, as the world and I grow new life together.