The September full moon is crawling down the sky, subtly changing from blue-white to beige to buttered toast to a smear of raspberry jam now around the edges. Maybe I need breakfast.
With the traffic hushed at the stoplights I can hear the sneaky wind scratching at the collar of my jacket. It is fall.
I’m out solo this morning along the Hudson River Park promenade. My corgi Millie has been limping on her back leg, so our walks together have been shorter for the past several days. I raced over here for the full moon setting behind Jersey City, for the sun rising, and, of course, for the birds. I’ll take Millie out for her abbreviated perambulation a little later, once she’s had her morning coffee.
The dawn joggers are percolating with the caffeinated wakeup chortlings of the sparrows and starlings. Block these breakfast metaphors!
In the stillness, I drift to the highlight sightings of the past month.
August’s “Once in a Blue Moon” rarity is the kind of spectacle that kickstarts me out of bed to look for birds before dawn. When the birds don’t show up, I do sometimes think, “Why birds? Why not quantum mechanics or orchids or stamp collecting?” Rather than answering that, I just think about birds.
Early in the month, on the northwest corner of Westbeth, a placid Red-tailed Hawk, possibly the celebrity youngster Pip from this summer’s Washington Square Park nest, was repeatedly pommelled by a determined Kestral – a high cornice rumble. Millie was wrestling a stick at the time. A final shrug from the Red-tail and the Kestral accepted defeat. Every high edge now taunts me with the promise that perhaps the Red-tail has taken up residence in the neighborhood. This morning, that corner is just barely silhouetted. No one’s home.
Another morning, a mystery warbler hopscotched around my ankles (yes, around my ankles): olive on top, yellow underneath, faintly striped shoulders, bright white wing bars and every wing feather outlined as though it were backlit. I should have known this bird, but I didn’t. Back to the field guides and the on-line sleuthing. It turned out to be a first winter female Blackpoll Warbler. Maybe I’ll remember it next time.
I think of a common gray squirrel calmly eating an acorn. Yeah, a squirrel isn’t a bird, but, “How extraordinary!” The Wow Factor was that this squirrel was in Hudson River Park across from Perry Street. In the twenty years I’ve lived in the neighborhood, I’ve never seen a squirrel on this side of West Street. Just consider the Evil Knievel daring of crossing six lanes of traffic to get to that patch of lawn. Maybe he crossed in the middle of the night or set his alarm (like I did today) to get up before dawn. Smart guy. This year’s acorn pantry is like a Whole Foods display – Burr Oak, English Oak, Sawtooth Oak, Red Oak. Connoisseur or not, he came to the right place. I just hope that he made it home alright.
I keep expecting Millie to pull me on to our next stop, but she’s at home, camped out by the front door, reading the morning paper, waiting for me to get back. Not having her leash in hand does make it easier jostling the binoculars and camera around my neck.
The moon creeps lower – clouds nipping at its ankles.
A solo Cormorant speeds up river a mere wing’s length above the water, while one by one the Ring-billed Gulls are giving up their overnight homesteading on the exposed piles as the rising tide sloshes over their toes.
I keep trying to turn one of the irregular pilings into the brown-streaked immature Black-crowned Night Heron that I saw one pre-dawn morning. Nope.
Oops, the moon has just been gobbled up by the haze. Maybe next month will be clearer. Camera lens cap back on. A morning of misses.
A glint catches my eye. Standing with my binoculars pointing nearly straight up, head thrown back, an invisible bird chips as the sunrise ignites the top leaves of a Honey Locust tree. A flitter. A flash. Then it flies off into the flare of the sun.
Blinded by the rising light.