Jay. Jay. Jay.
6:30 am. I’m not even out of bed and the birds are calling me from outside my window. The neighborhood Blue Jays are doing their chanticleer thing – prodding the sunrise.
As I roll back into my pillow after checking the clock, Millie, on the floor, flops to her side from her four-legs-to-the-moon sleeping contortion. Before she’s really awake, her corgi-tummy is plotting how to get a rub on the outside and maybe a treat for the inside. I often think that there should be a New Yorker map of Millie’s brain compartmentalized for food, food, food, food, and food.
The walls are just starting to glow from the October morning light. Stalling to get up, I drift to thinking about the “good” birds from the summer. August was definitely the month! Starting with a stirring day-long whale watch off of Nantucket, four new birds flew onto my North America List (Greater, Sooty, Manx, and Cory’s shearwaters – gull-like birds named for how they shear the waves in flight) toppers to the already thrilling 30-some Humpbacked and more than 50 Minke whales cavorting about the boat! Bringing me back home, Millie stands, does a Downward Dog (excellent yoga form) then her unique morning arabesque stretch – left back leg reaching behind her hip, head arched, nice curving upward line (perfect balletic form). I guess she’s learned from the masters.
Then came Sunday morning, August 18, waiting at the Christopher Street fountain with the group trickling in for the weekly Hudson River Park WILD! walk that I lead with compatriot urban naturalist Walter H. Laufer. Binocular-ed and be-hatted Walter came running up along the promenade with an image on his camera, “Look at this! Come right now, and it may still be there!” A Phalarope! In the pile field north of Pier 40! The name Phalarope conjures up a mythical creature that lives in the world of the unicorn and the griffin, the jabberwocky, and the bandersnatch. It’s really a tiny sandpiper sort of bird that feeds, not by running along the beach, nor by poking about in mudflats, but by sitting on the water, spinning like a top, and snagging tidbits that become snared into its whirling vortex. Iconoclasts, phalaropes are also noteworthy because the females don the flashy breeding attire and the males sit on the eggs, rather than the other way around in most bird species. This guy was supposed to migrate down the west coast but must have “gotten in with the wrong crowd.”
Millie thinks I’m getting too professorial and steps up into the bed for that belly scratch. Millie’s a graduate from the School of the Three Bears, “No, that’s not enough. No, that’s too much. Ahhh, that’s just right (until it’s not).”
Back to the river, our group were able to see the phalarope as it made its way back and forth, out and in, between Piers 40 and 45. It turned out to be a molting male Red-necked Phalarope: my West Village Bird #87. (Walter’s #97. He still has ten birds on me.)
Oh, I snuggled with Millie too much, and she’s off, scritching to “Get up already.” Well, maybe there’s a caution-tape-yellow Prothonotary Warbler (that’d be a great new bird) out there waiting in the park for me.
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Visit www.keithmichaelnyc.com for a listing of upcoming nature walks.