“February is merely as long as is needed to pass the time until March.”
– Dr. J. R. Stockton
Millie, in her corgi-ness, pulls me out of my front door directly to the deepest pile of snow still loitering down the block. She’ll forage. I’ll reminisce.
I like winter. (Don’t throw gravelly ice chunks at me.) However then, I have heat and hot water and electricity, boots, long-johns, sweaters, a coat, scarf, hat and gloves; and I don’t have a car or driveway that needs to be shoveled out again and again. Millie has her tufted fur coat. Birds just have, well: feathers. I repeat this over and over like a looped YouTube video (have you seen the five-second clip of the corgi puppies running into the kitchen?). I really really don’t understand how birds survive single digit temperatures while we’re shivering even inside all of our layers and arewalking with little shuffling steps so as not to up-end on the ice. Okay, part of what I love about winter is the coming back inside from the blinding blue skies or crystalline nights to hot chocolate and hot toddies (try the ones at Left Bankwith the orange and cloves) and to a friend’s lighted fireplace.
True, this winterit’s mostly been only the hardiest resident birds enlivening the streets: the sparrows, starlings, Cardinals, Blue Jays, andcommuter crows and hawks. Recently, there has been a Mockingbird that occasionally soars over Washington Street. I don’t know if it’s been around or just arrived early thinking that spring was finally springing. The gulls seem to be endlessly circling high above. I wonder what they’re seeing from up there. Are they looking for Hansel and Gretel leaving behind breadcrumbs to find their way back home? I’ve really been looking but have spotted nary a Chickadee or Tufted Titmouse or Nuthatch or even a gray Junco along my usual routes. The winter-guests-only White-throated Sparrows have been lying low as well (those are the sparrows, conveniently named, that have the white throats). One day there was a Sapsucker. In the sun’s glare I couldn’t tell if it was wearing mittens.
On the river, there havealwaysbeen, even on the bleakest days, a few stalwart Mallards (with the green heads) and Gadwalls (with the black butts) and Black Ducks (black all over inclusive of their butts) -the males in their dandyish mating finery. Rather than hanging out in their regular spots on the grassy piers, which, nevertheless, haven’t been so grassy, I’ve seen our Brant geese flock more often than not coursing up and down the river in their characteristic beak-to-tail formation (probably arguing among themselves where to put down). There have been some black-and-white Buffleheads bobbling among the pilings,though some days they’ve had to negotiate with the icepacks jamming up their fishing holes. A trio of Red-breasted Mergansers have been patrolling the open water. I get frostbite just thinking about ducks and geese with their fleshy feet dangling in the sub-freezing salt water.
For diversion, I’ve taken daytrips out to Floyd Bennett Field and Breezy Point to indulge in the unprecedented winter influx from the far north of Snowy Owls (I’ve seen at least nine) – one of which reportedly was spotted in Chelsea sitting on the river-railing but I wasn’t so lucky to have been there.
The Witch-hazel has already been blooming for weeks on the Highline, their stringy vermillion or ochre petals unfurling into each other through the frost. Yes, I got a bittersweet twinge knowing that the end of snow-festooned branches and icy river panoramaswas beginning. I do believe that some treebuds are starting to swell. The dripping icicles are prisming the morning sun.
Millie barks. She’s worked over this snow bank and is ready to move on.
For a schedule of monthly NYC Wild! nature walks visit http://www.keithmichaelnyc.com . .