This article marks three years of writing for WestView. Thank you, George.
2013 was a good year for birding in the West Village, and, indeed, was a memorable birding year in general. Millie looks up at me from the sidewalk (which as a corgi she has no choice because she’s so short) as though she agrees – though she’s probably just hoping for a treat from my pocket.
Tallying up all of my intertwining year end lists, my “New Birds for 2013” chronology began right out of the gate on January 1st with a Red-throated Loon (West Village Bird #83) gliding between the Hudson River Park piers. This one and then several others stayed for the winter. Loons seem to trail behind them the mysteries of both their haunting summer twilight yodels on northern lakes, and then, here, the incomprehensibility of their diving to the bottom of the frigid Hudson for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Swimming by on February 13th was a small flotilla of seven Ruddy Ducks (WVB #84) with their jaunty pop-up tails and cheerful unrealistically blue bills. Not in the Village, but up in Central Park, on February 18th I finally saw my first Saw-whet Owl (US Bird #304). These diminutive owls, so cute that they make Millie jealous, are still formidable hunters and are first on my list to look for in the winter months roosting in the Bank Street pines over in the park (so that I can add one to my West Village List).
Snow on the ground makes our walk excruciatingly slow up Perry Street. More than usual, Millie examines every paw print and leaf for some olfactory revelation. Whether the snow boosts the smells or makes them more elusive, I don’t know, but it means that we proceed with the speed of a butoh dancer in January.
The spring brought me an Eastern Kingbird (WVB #85) with its distinct white-banded tail flicking above a wall of ivy and then a Red-winged Blackbird (WVB #86) on April 20th and 21st respectively. I don’t know how a red-wing had escaped me before, because it’s a fairly common stunner, but after checking my lists and checking them twice (Millie checked them thrice) there was no previous West Village entry, so #86 it is.
While the neighborhood birds were busy raising families during the summer, I was busy publishing two photography books (Millie was bored.)
The highlight of July was a pair of Great Blue Herons (WVB #87) flying east over Perry Street. A short vacation in August to Nantucket gave me four species of Shearwaters (North American Birds #323-326) while on a whale-watching excursion. Back at home, by land, one morning a female Chestnut-sided Warbler (WVB #88) was cavorting through a Kentucky Coffee tree, while moments later, by sea, a Red-necked Phalarope (WVB #89) – the true star of the year, a predominantly western and usually sea-faring bird – found the pile field north of Pier 40 to his liking for a morning. (Ooh, ooh, ooh, the anticipation: What will West Village Bird #90 be? A Bald Eagle? I hope. I hope. I hope.)
On a September late afternoon, lazing on a branch in The Rambles of Central Park, looking more like a burl of bark than anything else, was a Whip-poor-will (North American Bird #327), and in November I managed to squeeze two new birds out of a work trip to Wuppertal, Germany: a European Kingfisher, a shockingly aquamarine bullet of a bird, and a Dipper, a curious robin-sized dollop of brown and white that walks under water along river bottoms trolling for aquatic tidbits. (I haven’t tallied up these additions to my World List but it’s pushing into the mid-500s.) Millie still hasn’t quite forgiven me for deserting her for those two weeks.
New to my New York City List was a Snowy Owl (NYC Bird #295) seen at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, the week before the story broke in December that these avian celebrities visiting from the Arctic Circle were being shot at JKF in the name of air traffic safety. (Come on guys, that’s all you could think of as a solution?) Seemingly drowsy and statuesque in the middle of a field, but then its head would swivel nearly all of the way around and it was obvious even with its hooded eyes that it was on the alert.
Millie drags me across Greenwich Street to stop outside of Left Bank. I feel like a Dickens street urchin looking into a store of sweetmeats, but within are my New York City sepia bird photos that (with Maggie Berkvist’s indefatigable cheer-leading) Laurence Edelman, and Micheline Gauline have had the gracious wherewithal to hang on their restaurant walls. Could I be more grateful for 2013? I’ll have to ponder how.
Visit www.keithmichaelnyc.com for links to Keith Michael’s books and the schedule for his monthly NYC Wild! nature walks.