By Keith Michael
We’re gathered here on New Year’s Day at the selfie-magnet intersection of West 4th and West 12th Streets to announce the anxiously awaited 10th Annual Birds of the Year Awards: the “Millies!” “We” includes me and the Honorable Miss Millie (the award’s namesake) as “The Envelope Please” Corgi, at my side—uh, at my ankles. This year’s location commemorates where my West Village bird listing began ten years ago with a jolly pink House Finch chortling from a corner tree. Contenders for these prestigious honors are preferably birds seen within the rigorous boundaries of how far Millie will walk in the West Village, but can include birds spotted within New York’s five boroughs while Millie is napping. Let’s get started!
The People’s Choice Award unanimously goes to the charmer of a Painted Bunting that graced the LeFrak Center in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park for weeks this fall, garnering unprecedented media attention and enlisting countless new birding fans. A firecracker red, blue, and green fellow like this, native to the far south, hasn’t wandered north to Prospect Park since 1927. Thanks for the show!
Best New West Village Bird. This one was easy: a stately pair of Mute Swans stroking their great wings high above the Hudson River. I watched them fade into the harbor mist of a January dawn’s early light. The selection for this award was easy because this was (sadly) my only new West Village Bird for the year: WVB #104. Millie wants you to know that she cast her weighted vote for this duo (mainly because she was there).
Best Revival. The Couch’s Kingbird, last year’s mega-rarity Bird of the Year, a first for New York State, appeared all of the way from the southwest. After debuting on Christmas Eve, this celebrity was still encoring into January, regularly flaunting his brilliant yellow physique and flycatcher aerodynamics from a balcony rail at Jane and Washington to the delight of avian aficionados from all over the country.
The Regional Day Trip Award goes to the Bald Eagles of Croton Point Park, Westchester County. January and February bring dozens of eagles to winter along the frozen Hudson River, spreading out across the Tappan Zee. In one afternoon I was able to see more than 30 of these regal raptors soaring, styling, brunching, or “catchin’ an ice floe.” By the way, it’s a less-than-an-hour Metro-North trip to Croton-Harmon for the show.
The Ho Hum “One More New Bird” Award goes to a Chuck-will’s-widow (my North American Bird #331) slumbering on a high branch in Bryant Park in April. Barely discernible from its equally cryptic cousin nightjar, the Whip-poor-will, this was one of those birds (though with a short-story-worthy onomatopoetic name) that one birder was lucky enough to spot during daylight (it’s a nocturnal bird) and post the sighting to the “birding underground.” You go to the spot where the bird has been seen, look for the crowd of birders looking up with binoculars and long-lens cameras and ‘scopes, look where they’re looking, and, “There’s the bird!” You see it and now you’ve seen your first Chuck-will’s-widow. Would I recognize one if it came up and rang my doorbell? Probably not.
The Birding Spectacle Award (disqualifying the circus of rubber-neckers elbowing their way to a glimpse of the Prospect Park Painted Bunting) goes to the massive spring convention of 15,000-plus Greater Scaup in Brooklyn’s Dead Horse Bay before their communal flight to stake out nesting territories in northern Canada. This annual display by a black and white duck, replicated thousands of times, bobbling among the waves in ever-changing patterns, is mesmerizing.
The Newcomer of the Year Award is a contentious tie between the Bald Eagle pair that nested on Staten Island (the first eagles to nest within the city in over 100 years) and the Raven pair who raised a trio of “ravenettes” in Chelsea this summer (the first Ravens on record to nest in Manhattan—“so there!” to “nevermore.”) Ravens also receive my Most-Sought-After-Sighting-in-the-Neighborhood special citation.
Two wayfarers on Washington Street unwittingly tied for Heartbreaker of the Year: the escaped green and yellow parakeet which I later learned was heroically captured but died the next day from unknown causes, and a Black-billed Cuckoo with its lovely white-spotted tail jackknifed on the sidewalk—the casualty from a window strike. Our sympathies go out to their loved ones.
To counterbalance the previous tear-jerker, the Bluebird of Happiness “Millie” alights on, well, a five-some of Bluebirds which spread February cheer across a Staten Island stubble field.
And finally, the coveted Bird of the Year Award goes to, “Millie, the envelope please. (Millie, the envelope PLEASE!)” Uh, Millie’s distracted by a squirrel climbing my House Finch tree. Painting the scene for the Bird of the Year: It’s a perfect Saturday afternoon in May. I’m lollygagging through the Jefferson Market garden, startled at every turn by the extravagant Matisse cut-out swathes of tulips. A Lilliputian Black-and-white Warbler lands at my feet, no really, AT my feet, looks around, then hops BETWEEN my feet, and pecks at a shoelace. Yes, my camera was around my neck, but I didn’t dare to breathe. This diminutive fellow wins the “Millie” statuette for his mantelpiece!
I usually say that to see birds, “Just look up!” But, sometimes, looking down works too. Happy New Year!
For more information about birding outings, photographs or his NEW book Let’s Go Out! visit www.keithmichaelnyc.com.