I started my birding week last Friday by looking up at just the right time. I’d gone to the Salt Marsh Nature Center at Marine Park, and after smiling at the kids, parents and teachers engaged in some sort of science lesson (buckets, sieves, shovels and tubing were involved), I happened to look up at the sky.
Above me was a loose, shifting V of 21 glossy ibis, necks outstretched, long, curved bills in silhouette against the sky. They passed over the marsh, heading west, and disappeared. If I’d looked up a few minutes earlier or later I would have missed my bird of the week.
Same goes for the pair of willets that flew up the creek, calling, and for the acrobatic Forster’s tern that dipped and dove and then was gone. On the other hand, my inattention to the ground below did lead me to step into a mucky patch and soak my right shoe. But that was a small price to pay for such great birds.
I spent a lot of this week looking up, as spring migration brought more high-flying, canopy-foraging species to Brooklyn (all of my birding this week was in Kings County). Some of them will be sticking around for the summer – why, hello there, green herons, welcome back! chimney swifts, how nice to see you again! – while others are just passing through. Knowing that most of the small, fluttery warblers in the park will soon be gone, not to be seen again until fall, can bring an edge of desperation to the search. For the time being, though, I’m striving to stay in the moment, enjoy the birds I’m seeing, and not let my repeated failure to spot a Nashville warbler get to me.
With the inflow of birds comes an inflow of birders. I’ve benefited tremendously from tagging along with others who are much better at birding by ear than I am – people like the City Birder, who heard a Blackburnian warbler singing high overhead in an oak (and then left in hot pursuit of a worm-eating warbler while I remained, craning my neck uncomfortably). I’ve also benefited tremendously from positive peer pressure (or shared obsession, whichever you prefer). I’m sure I would have given up on the Blackburnian if another small group hadn’t joined me, and when I finally spotted a flash of blaze orange among the dangling catkins, I don’t know which was more gratifying: seeing the bird myself, or helping the others find it.
One final note on looking up. Saturday was my only non-birding day this week. With the Brooklyn half marathon coming up in less than a month, there was no skipping my Saturday long run, and the rest of the day was devoted to cooking and cleaning for a mini-Seder that evening (I’ll detail my Passover follies in a separate blog post). But in the late afternoon, with the brisket in the oven and the two kinds of charoset made and the sauteed red peppers and eggplant all soft and savory, I stole up to the roof deck with a pair of scissors in one hand and a pair of binoculars in the other. The scissors were to snip fresh chives to go in the potato kugel; the binoculars were to scan the sky for chimney swifts so that I could have one new bird that day.
The sky looked totally empty, and I felt more than a little foolish as I trained the binoculars on . . . nothing. But though I wasn’t able to summon any swifts, I did see things. There was a lost purple balloon. There was a pair of red-tailed hawks. There was another raptor – a harrier, maybe? – so high up it was barely visible even through 8×42 binoculars.
Amazing, what you can see when you look up. I went back downstairs, chives in hand, smiling. (The kugel was delicious, by the way, and I saw chimney swifts the next morning.)
For anyone besides me who’s keeping score, the week’s list brings 27 (count ’em!) new birds:
146. Glossy ibis*
148. Forster’s tern*
149. Chimney swift
150. Spotted sandpiper
151. Green heron
152. Black-throated green warbler
154. Blue-winged warbler
155. Worm-eating warbler
156. Baltimore oriole
157. Orchard oriole
158. Blackburnian warbler*
159. Rose-breasted grosbeak
160. Lincoln’s sparrow
161. Black-throated blue warbler
162. House wren
163. Yellow-throated vireo
164. Warbling vireo
165. Yellow warbler
166. Scarlet tanager
167. Bank swallow
169. Wood thrush
170. Common yellowthroat
171. Solitary sandpiper
172. Prairie warbler
*First for me in New York
With just 28 birds to go to reach my 200 goal, and migration just beginning, I’m feeling pretty confident. I’ve already dropped hints to long-suffering, always-tolerant Eric that I may be setting a second, more ambitious goal . . . so consider this a hint to my long-suffering, ever-tolerant readers.