Monthly Archives: April 2012

Magic!

In spite of the rain, the wind, the fog, the mid-April cold, yesterday morning was magical (largely owing to Carl Zeiss, and not my own birding talent, mind you). I hadn’t recognized what a difference good binoculars could make! Of course, I still have the same difficulty actually finding the bird, and still don’t really know what it is once I’ve found it (though my guesses are becoming less ridiculous, I think), but once I’ve got it in my field of vision it is brighter and sharper and clearer than ever before!

The highlights yesterday morning were few and far between. We saw next to nothing, but what we did see felt larger than life. Even the tree trunks commanded my attention like never before. I watched a Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) pound its way into a hole in a tree trunk, assiduously, relentlessly barely stopping to catch his breath. I marveled at his work ethic and fierce determination. I don’t remember ever seeing that particularly burning shade of red extend all the way over his head and neck — almost like a deliberate, freshly dyed mohawk hairdo — or his black and white striped plumage in such startling precision. I’d like to find a winter coat just like the barred plumage on his back. (If you know of such coats or where I could procure one, please let me know!)

Photo by Ken Schneider from here

There was also a stunning Yellow-rumped warbler, a Mockingbird, some swallows flying over the water, a Red breasted Merganser and his common-law female partner, and a Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata), which I accidentally mistook for a most common of mallards, and subsequently blushed and shuddered at my own ignorance.

All of this took place on the dampest, dankest, windiest of April Saturdays, and yet there was still magic. Not necessarily the magic of list-checking and identifying, but very much the magic of looking closely, observing, discovering and, in the end, seeing anew.

Back from the Big Apple

I’ve just returned from a four-day cultural rejuvenation trip. We were here:

View of Manhattan from Brooklyn. It was so windy the birds were all hiding.

And… I have exciting news, dear Birdful readers! As I’m sure you’ve been following the dramatic developments of my quest for a new pair of binoculars, you’ll be happy to know that they’ve been acquired! In the end, I couldn’t resist the Zeiss Conquest HD binoculars. They’re slick, sharp, bright, light, and I hate to admit it, but I’m having a terribly difficult time restraining myself from pointing them at the condos directly across the street from us. (OK, full disclosure: I now know that the family living across the street has a futon with embroidered green elephants on it. But that’s all I know. I PROMISE!) The binoculars are incredible.

But in all honesty, here’s the picture that sold the deal:

image from wikipedia

Ever since looking him up on Wikipedia, I’ve started dreaming of Carl Zeiss, and not just because he was the optics genius of his time. Somehow, I saw a glimmer of kindness and genteel manner in his eyes, and thus began my fixation. And in my dreams, he appeared wearing that exact outfit (and yes, he was cropped just like in this image). In the end it was fate. Anyhow, dreaming and Zeissian fantasies aside, I can’t wait to try out my binoculars this weekend! I’ll keep you posted.

Apart from Ziessian conquests, we visited the Met (great show about Gertrude & Leo Stein’s art collection); the Frick (goodies from the permanent collection, including an ORGAN I’d never seen before in Mr. Frick’s abode, and a Renoir exhibit); the Guggenheim (a John Chamberlain exhibit, wherein I understood absolutely nothing, but enjoyed the shapes and colors of objects that resembled car parts nonetheless); discovered the Tenement Museum (as you can tell from my fixation with Carl Zeiss and the speed with which he’s managed to enter my dreamscape and quotidian vocabulary, you won’t be surprised to learn that I have a soft spot for “day in the life” museums, and this one was wonderful); and the Brooklyn Museum (stunning building, curious curatorial choices of blending the ultra-modern with the somewhat mundane). We drank coffee at a Swedish cafe, rediscovered the High Line in all its springtime glory, roamed through Central Park, walked the city until our feet hurt and I can’t wait to go back.

Spring on the High Line. Birds in absentia. Spring in full swing. Zeiss in my backpack. A great day.

Recent Predators

Happy April Festivities, dear Birders! I’m taking a break from apple peeling for my Apple Matzoh Kugel, because I realized I hadn’t yet recounted my latest encounter with birdful predators! Before I started birding somewhat-regularly, I always thought of birds as cute, gentle creatures, harbingers of love and all things sweet. But let me tell you — the real Bird World is nothing like that!

Last week we headed out to Kipling Spit in search of waterfowl (obviously) and Snowy owls (less obviously), saw lots of the former and none of the latter (as is expected this time of year), and on our way back to the car, I spotted a grey bird sitting on a branch staring at me. The bird was intrepid, its bill slightly hooked, and I swore it looked right through me. I asked my fearless leader to ID the bird and he immediately said Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottus)

But since I’ve been staring at this particular Mockingbird by Roger Tory Peterson for the entire month of March (for those of you who are new readers, I opted for a Peterson calendar instead of a Sibley this year; who knows what sort of adventures next year will bring), I knew the bird in question was no mockingbird. I couldn’t prove it, mind you, but I justknew. The bird had less of a tail on it and it was smaller.

You know what, dearest Avian enthusiasts? I was right! This was no mockingbird — it was actually a NORTHERN SHRIKE (Lanius excubitor)!

I think the Northern Shrike is the only predatory songbird! Legend has it that he likes to impale his victims on thorns, and from the nervous tremor on the robins nearby, I take it his victims are numerous. I like the sinister black line the extends past his eyes — like he’s wearing those sleek Ray Ban shades — but I wouldn’t want to get on his bad side.

We left Kipling spit thrilled with our sighting and headed for some other park in the pouring rain to look for owl nests. Once we got there and it started raining even harder, my interest in owls was rapidly waning, while my interest in coffee was growing exponentially. So it goes. Instead of owls, we came across a Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) sitting atop a branch, eagerly awaiting the slightest bird movement that would warrant a fatal pounce (and, for the Hawk, delicious lunch). We didn’t see him swoop down and devour anything (nor did we see any baby owls around, ahem…), but he looked fierce.

(Our fearless leader claimed to see that blood-thirsty red eye. Thankfully, I was spared the sight.) And after the hawk, it was time for coffee and we headed over to Birds and Beans, where I had my usual strange but compelling breakfast cookie, and the day felt wonderful in spite of the hideous weather, grey sky and abundance of birdful violence that was no doubt taking place just around the corner. But so it goes in the Avian Kingdom.