By Keith Michael
So far this winter we’ve had a record-breaking heat wave, a record-breaking one-day blizzard, and a record-breaking deep freeze outside our front doors. What’s next? A spring equinox hurricane? An Easter hailstorm?
Maybe that’s what Millie’s always barking about: trying to explain that her corgi forebears survived the mini ice age in Europe as well as the New York winter of 1780 when the entire harbor was frozen and one could walk from Manhattan to Hoboken or Brooklyn. Maybe Millie has foreknowledge that there’s an Indonesian volcanic eruption due and that its ash cloud will create a year without a summer like in 1816 when ice and snow crept into June and July. Though I suspect, rather than bragging about her ancestry, giving history lessons or making global prophecies, Millie’s just barking because she likes to bark.
Last month, the wonderment of the winter was that it was unseasonably warm. Now, the bafflement is that yesterday we were in the grip of an arctic vortex while today’s forecast features beach weather. Quite frankly, Millie and I haven’t lingered on the street very much. Yes, I’ve tallied the usual neighborhood birds, but it’s been more like studying ID flashcards while riding the subway: Blue Jay, Mockingbird, Starling, Mourning Dove, Gull, Pigeon, Sparrow. Correct, flip the card to the back of the pack. How about moving on to the trickier Warblers which will be migrating through again—one hopes—in several months?
I have perked up watching a handful of Brant Geese shuffling themselves downriver to finally alight on the Christopher Street pier, and have cheered while two drakes and a hen Mallard tried to make up her mind whether to swim upriver or downriver (if you catch my circular drift). Millie was romantically nonplussed.
This morning, I was awakened pre-dawn by the honeyed chirruping of a Robin making light of that time-worn cliché, “There aren’t enough hours in the day,” by stealing a few circlings-of-the-clock-hands from the dark. Perhaps that same Robin’s serenade was the last hurrah of the evening last night, too. I was even able to applaud his red-breasted cheerfulness above the clatter of my chattering teeth while Millie stood transfixed staring up at a plastic bag fluttering against an icicle-clad streetlight.
This is the time of year to go a-owling, and even though I’m convinced that the pine trees of Hudson River Park will one day be the roost-of-choice for a wintering petite Saw-whet Owl, I still haven’t seen one there. Other places around the city have been my destinations: Pelham Bay Park in The Bronx surprised me with a heart-racingly mysterious alien-eyed Barred Owl, Central Park’s Rambles yielded its lingering Great-horned Owl, and, “oh joy, oh rapture unforeseen” in Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, I was led to the resident pair of Great-horned Owls by the patriarch’s basso sotto voce, “Who, Who, Who are You?” which alerted not only me to their daytime roost, but also a murder of crows worried about the safety of their neighborhood.
This morning is one morning closer to spring. The fire-engine red Cardinal belting out his heart-warming love songs right outside my door seems confident that, despite the wonky weather, it’s business as usual. It’s spring, and his spring thing is to sing.
For more information about birding outings, photographs or books visit www.keithmichaelnyc.com.