I really can’t stay – Baby it’s cold outside

I’ve gotta go ‘way – Baby it’s cold outside (I found this alternate version of this line, which scans better with the Song!

This evening has been – Been hoping that you’d drop in

So very nice – I’ll hold your hands, they’re just like ice…

Frank Loesser

A bird zips past me. Right there in the icy fork of a tree, a toot-tooting Red-breasted Nuthatch displays his daredevilry, foraging headfirst down the trunk. Across the river, a final sliver of sunlight from under the mounting clouds makes this fellow’s namesake red breast glow like a stoplight.

Nutcracker season is over as well as those troublesome year-end holidays. I actually have the afternoon free to take my corgi Millie on our customary walk to watch the sun set. We mosey down West 11th Street towards the river, scanning the grayed jumble of balcony crannies for wintering hawks. Millie plunks herself down on the sidewalk for a contortionist head scratch, releasing clouds of fur into the frosty breeze to meet us again down the block.

A coterie of starlings is silhouetted against a Christmas tree still in a window and a Chickadee-dee-dee bustles among the shivering dried leaves on a tree-tree-tree. Wrapped in hat, scarf, and gloves, I’m shivering myself. Yet this black-capped puff of feathers and bones seems positively smoldering. No matter how much I read about birds’ higher body temperature, the astonishing insulating properties of feathers, and the pragmatic arrangement of arteries and veins in their feet that warms their blood – I just don’t get it. Their toothpick legs! Why don’t they just freeze and break off?

Temperature notwithstanding, tonight is one of those perfect New York walks when ambling down the block (and monitoring Millie’s scrounging for a pizza crust) times perfectly with the West Street light changing. There is neither racing to beat the crosswalk countdown nor idling at the corner.

Millie bounds across the street anyway as though she’s already high-jumping through ear-deep snow – twisting, barking, and biting at her leash – eyes fired and happy.

On the other side, I habitually look back to the Westbeth flagpole to see if our new seemingly resident Red-tail Hawk is poised for an evening snack. Not tonight. One morning, I saw her soaring toward Hoboken, so maybe she’s taken up housekeeping, or speed-dating, over there. I don’t actually know whether “she” might be a “he,” but according to falconry convention, an unknown raptor is a She. Far from a damsel in distress however, the neighborhood Rock Doves are suitably terrified that She is plenty capable of looking out for Herself.

The Sweetgum tree at the entrance to the Park is still ornamented with burrs. Reliably for the past several weeks there has been a Chickadee or a Tufted Titmouse or a White-throated Sparrow dining in this tree. I hope that the seeds last through the winter.

What must birds make of the recent weather? Last winter we barely had winter and the year before dumped more snow than we had seen in years. This fall, confounded by Hurricane Sandy and an early nor’easter, how do they know what to think? One day it’s a sauna, while the next is muffler and mitten weather. I’ve already noticed Robins partaking of the Callery Pears. This is usually a February delicacy, but, hey, it seems now that “Anything Goes.”

Winter hopefuls that I’d like to add to my West Village List: How about some Crossbills in the pines? (Red or White-winged would do nicely.) Why not a diminutive Saw-whet Owl? (If you were designing “cute,” this would be it. Millie looks up at me censoring even the thought that anything could be cuter than she is.) Or one of the more glamorous Barred or Long-eared Owls that annually show up in Central Park? Might an Evening Grosbeak just pass through? This is a bird already on my “I-know-I’ve-seen-it-but-not-since-I’ve-been-seriously-birding-so-I-really-don’t-want-to-include-it-on-my-Seen-It-List” List. Several have been reported this winter in Brooklyn and Queens, though I’ve not ventured out for them. Maybe just one could drop in for a wild night of pine nut bingeing in the West Village.

It’s nippy by the water. A Black Duck pair kayaks upriver for the night while a Gadwall pair hunkers down on his and hers pilings – trying not to be flustered by the Ring-billed Gulls squabbling over their roosts. No sign of the Mallard ménage a trois, two males and a female, who have recently been faithful companions. A reality series in the making!

Millie appraises the emery black river through the railing. The loose tufts on her bum ruffle in the north wind. The Erie Lackawanna Tower has been consumed by the approaching squall. It’s starting to snow.

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