“Why, what’s the matter,
That you have such a February face,
So full of frost, of storm and cloudiness?”
– William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing
Something’s up. The pigeons are circling Abingdon Square, not so unusual for a Saturday morning. Yet there’s an extra oomph to their flight, a roiling of positions within the ball of their airshow, a more frequent twisting of direction, and the stragglers seem to be diving desperately to lose themselves within the stampeding fold. To add to the ruckus, there are cross-hatchings of Starlings and House Sparrows, and a smattering of Mourning Doves, fleeing the edges of the Square, whilea pair of Blue Jays somewhere beyond this lattice of streets shouts out their air raid alarms.
Ah. One of these things is not like the others: a trifle larger in every dimension, tail longer and blunter, wings broader, a shade more zig as it zags through the air, and on one low pass, revealinga streaked chest and striped tail. It all adds up: Cooper’s Hawk!
One whitish pigeon, finally, doesn’t bank quite in synchronization with his mates, and is suddenly on his own with the hawk in beak-to-tail pursuit maneuvering down into an11th Street backyard. Like in a Greek tragedy, the denouement of this tale happens offstage; the Square seems to exhale with relief. Twice more, the recently not-so-merry-go-round pigeon flock circles, eventually ruffling and jostling uncomfortably on the upper ledges of the Laura Spellman Hall. The Ides of February are upon us.
During this feather-raising aerial drama, Millie slogged along in the deepest part of the snow banks. Why she likes to drag her corgi belly through the drifts, sinking in to her girlish waist at every step, I don’t know –maybe it’s just to see what the world looks like from more than a few inches above the curb, or to avoid the salt on the sidewalk, or to commune with the avalanche of buried smells left by the passing crowd of West Village canines on their way to the Green Market.
Even though it’s only February, the House Sparrows are defending their squatters’ rights for summer housingin the traffic light T-bar support pipe ends. Additionally, I’ve seen Mallards on the river already getting frisky. Over in the playground I hear a pair of Cardinals shamelessly flirting with their high cheer cheer cheerios. Don’t they know that winter still has weeks to play out after Valentine’s Day?
A jostling fraternity of Robin gourmands descendsupon the Callery Pears at the corner, stripping the trees of their lingering desserts.
Millie shuffles along as I look over the apples and cheeses at the Market. The musical refrains of Fuji, Cortland, and Gala; ofMettowee, Equinox, Manchester, Pawlet, Rupert, and Dorset luremy wallet from my pocket. Millie approves of thesetransactions, looking up, rapt. (For the prospect of a sliver of artisanal cheese, she’s on her best behavior.)
Glancing north and high up to the penthouse fence of 299 West 12th Street, through the winter pompoms of the London Plain trees and the tassels of the Chinese Scholartrees, I spot a sleek blue-and-orangeKestral teeter-totteringon the filigreed iron railing, still too far away for the sparrows in the park to get nervous.
I’m really on the lookout for a flyover Bald Eagle. Once again, just gulls.
“Millie, let’s face toward home and have some cheese.”
For a schedule of monthly NYC Wild! nature walks visit www.keithmichaelnyc.com.