Yesterday was shorts and sandals weather; today it’s back to sweater and hat. The crocuses, daffodils and tulips in front of my building are arguing about air rights—a familiar street-scene in the West Village, I guess. In a “normal” spring, each of them has their own spin on the dance floor: the crocuses introduce the opening allemande, giving over to the sprightly gigue of the daffodils, yielding to the robust gavotte of the tulips. Not this year. It’s more like a rowdy free-for-all brawl, bumping and shoving and, in some cases, a knock-down fight to get to the sun.
It’s the weekend, so Millie and I are headed to the river for an afternoon stroll. Our weekday walks before work are, more often than not, only a circumnavigation of our block rather than the jaunt to the Hudson that once was our morning ritual. Millie’s just too slow.
Her corgi-nose simply must sniff at every tree or corner or crack in the sidewalk, or she must appraise every person lingering or any punctuating sound drifting from the next block. Perhaps she’s gathering information for writing the next-great-Welsh-novel—maybe it will be a faster read.
Across the street, a White-throated Sparrow is singing his plaintive Oh sweet Canada Canada Canada from the leafing-out Norway Maple. He’s fairly lost now within the hyper-green new foliage, and his song sounds fairly lost as well. The trees have nearly caught up after the late spring, but this guy must still be confused whether it’s time to leave for his summer in the Adirondacks or to hunker down here. I know that I wrote about the mournful song of the White-throated Sparrows last month, but they’re still here, in what, for them, is the tropics.
The European Starlings and House Sparrows have been nest-building for weeks—the starlings sneaking in and out of the cornices, and the sparrows brazenly defending every pipe-end of the T-bar supports for the traffic lights. Part of their success as immigrants is that they aren’t fazed by anything—cold, hot, wet, dry, Europe, America—they can adapt. I wouldn’t be surprised to already see a clutch of fledglings fluttering along the sidewalk.
The Callery pears were only about a week behind schedule with their snow-storm of petals outlining the cobblestones in the streets, and the cherry trees are catching up. I’ve been watching my “warbler trees” on Perry and West 11th streets that have welcomed a bounty of migrants in the past several years. A Black-and-white Warbler with its chalkboard stripes and a rainbow-bibbed Northern Parula have already passed through.
We have the light to cross West Street, but Millie plops down in the crosswalk for a head scratch—the countdown flashes 10, 9, 8, 7—“Millie, let’s go!” We sprint.
Meeting us at the finish line on the other side is a Canada Goose gander strutting on the lawn. I think his hen-wife (okay, I’m being presumptuous here: perhaps they’re only domestic partners) may finally be sitting on a nest. Three years ago this pair already had goslings by April 1st.
There’s a Phoebe, usually one of the first arrivals in spring, rhythmically pumping its tail on the budding Juneberry bush. It’s the first one I’ve seen in the park this season, so maybe I’ve just missed their arrival or this one’s still enjoying the cooler air. Sallying out from the branch to catch a bug, it heads north.
Millie pulls me to the railing to do her sightseeing along the river. There’s been a seal splashing around the bay up in Inwood, a Chuck-will’s-widow roosting in Bryant Park, and a pair of Bald Eagles are nesting on Staten Island (the first eagles that have taken up homemaking in the City in over 100 years!) So I’m on the lookout for newsworthy visitors as well.
Ah, not rarities, but there’s an end-of-winter pair of Buffleheads still bobbing about the piers, and right below us a Red-breasted Merganser, all punk-green in his au courante haircut, is trying to evade a gull intent on pirating the Merganser’s next fish. Maybe catching sight of Millie’s nose poking through the railing as well, the Merganser takes a dive—who knows where he’ll pop up next.
The Buffleheads and Mergansers will soon be heading north, and the warblers will be riding winds up from the south. Goodbye, hello.
For more information about nature walks, books and photographs, visit http://www.keithmichaelnyc.com .