Have you ever had a secret? A secret that made you smile inside as you held it close to your beating heart, like a small and precious bird? A secret whose feathery warmth gave you strength to brave the terrors and boredom of everyday life? A secret that, like a good book, altered your perspective by possessing your waking and sleeping thoughts so they blended seamlessly together into a single, magical world? This is what birds are to me; they are my refuge in this storm, they are my magical world. I am a writer and birds are the story, I am the instrument, birds are the tune, I, the scientist, birds, my beloved mystery. The diaphanous filaments of their lives bind me to them, creating a silken web that I willingly tangle myself in, a secret world that I escape into gratefully.
So it was that I finally escaped into my secret world in Central Park yesterday and today (Thursday and Friday, 13 & 14 January) and found that I was expected. The Ramble birdfeeders hosted the usual array of hungry avian visitors but I was surprised on Thursday to discover one fox sparrow feeding companionably in the company of white-throated sparrows and sooty dark-eyed juncos, his rusty plumage harmonizing with the newly fallen leaves. Then on Friday, I was delighted by two common grackles parading around on the wet earth under the feeders, the pale sunlight lightly stroking their iridescent plumage as they busily flipped soggy leaves in search of seeds.
The Reservoir accommodated notable guests, too; a pair of hooded mergansers. I almost missed seeing them on Friday because I was ready return to my office to thaw my frozen fingers around a steaming mug of tea when these gaudy ducks appeared suddenly, wings flapping frantically before they hydroplaned across the water's surface and then settled down near me. Their unexpected arrival did not disturb a bathing male bufflehead who scarcely paused his rhythmic preening of thick snowy feathers while he flapped a delicate pink foot in the cold breeze. The sleek mergansers peered about alertly, their slender necks craned, their rounded crest feathers raised, but after a few moments' inspection, they were satisfied and relaxed visibly.
Overlooking the model sailboat pond, Pale Male and Lola were calm as well. They perched casually on nearby buildings or lolled about on the winds above their restored nest as is usual for them in the afternoon. As if knowing they were safe, fat rock doves congregated in the tree branches above my head.
But on Friday, Lola spent the afternoon following Pale Male from building to building and settling next to him on patio railings, window ledges and television satellite discs, neatly folding her wings across her back. Pale Male spent the afternoon ignoring Lola, studiously surveying his kingdom before sidling away from her or opening his wings so the winds could deliver him to another perch. And so it went for almost an hour. One could almost imagine Pale Male and Lola as an old married couple, the husband sitting in his easy chair and drinking beer while his wife unsuccessfully sought affection by snuggling on his lap during commercial breaks. Apparently, even long-term avian relationships have their problems.
But it was cold and my numb fingers were painfully protesting their plight, so I finally, reluctantly, left my secret world so I could thaw out. It awaits, I shall return.
Central Park Bird List, 13-14 January 2005 (31 species total seen):
Weather: either foggy and cool or unseasonably warm, windy and rainy; poor light all days
Binoculars: Swarovski 10x50
Mute swan (introduced), Cygnus olor, 1 adult on The Lake
Canada goose, Branta canadensis
Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos
Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
Hooded merganser, Lophodytes cucullatus, 1 pair on the Reservoir
Ruddy duck, Oxyura jamaicensis
Sharp-shinned Hawk, Accipiter striatus, 1 chasing birds near the model sailboat pond
Red-tailed hawk, Buteo jamaicensis, 3 adults, including Pale Male and Lola at their restored nestsite
Ring-billed gull, Larus delawarensis
Herring gull, Larus argentatus
Great black-backed gull, Larus marinus
Rock dove (introduced), Columba livia
Mourning dove, Zenaida macroura, The Ramble birdfeeders, also Shakespeare Garden
Red-bellied woodpecker, Melanerpes carolinus, 1 adult male at The Ramble birdfeeders (Thursday) and 1 at the model sailboat pond
Downy woodpecker, Picoides pubescens, 3+ (females only) at The Ramble birdfeeders
Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata
American crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos, 1 seen in The Ramble, calling to one or more -- heard but not seen (Thursday),
Tufted titmouse, Baeolophus bicolor
Black-capped chickadee, Poecile atricapillus
White-breasted nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis
American robin, Turdus migratorius
European starling (introduced), Sturnus vulgaris
Fox sparrow, Passerella iliaca iliaca, (rufous with grey stripes) 1 feeding on the ground at The Ramble birdfeeders (Thursday)
Song sparrow, Melospiza melodia, 1 at the Reservoir
White-throated sparrow, Zonotrichia albicollis, both tan and white morphs
Dark-eyed junco, Junco hyemalis
Northern cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis
Common Grackle, Quiscalus quiscula versicolor, 2 at The Ramble birdfeeders
House finch (introduced), Carpodacus mexicanus
American goldfinch, Carduelis tristis
English (house) sparrow (introduced), Passer domesticus
© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist