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By Keith Michael

The stratospheric twittering of Chimney Swifts scribbles through the air, several octaves above the clicks, whirrs, and drones of summer air conditioners working full throttle.

EYEING DINNER: A stand-in Black-crowned Night Heron at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Queens. Photo by Keith Michael.
EYEING DINNER: A stand-in Black-crowned Night Heron at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Queens. Photo by Keith Michael.

Sticking out like porcupine quills, tufts of Millie’s fur occasionally waft off, tumble-weeding behind her down the sidewalk—she is in full summer corgi-shedding mode. And she HATES being brushed, so the alternative is to make unflattering levity at the expense of her unkempt August coif.

This is our evening walk, and given the heat and humidity, Millie surprises me by balking when I try to head around the block toward home rather than suggesting that we continue for the LONG walk to the river. River it is.

A Cardinal’s sign-off cheer-y cheer-y cheer-y is matched across the street by a Blue Jay’s single good-night JAY (that’s the shortest benediction I think I’ve ever heard from a Blue Jay). As we head down Perry Street, the tops of the trees are still getting a brush of light and the cobblestones are glowing pink.

Waiting to cross West Street, I momentarily flinch, recalling that only yesterday a Mockingbird screamed at me from the “No Parking” sign near the crosswalk, while his mate harangued me from the granite wall, “You’re TOO, TOO close to my nest!” Yesterday, I quickly heeded their admonishments to move on, and tonight, the light can’t change quickly enough for Millie. When she gets the “Okay,” it’s a dash, her white mantle blinking in and out of phase with the white stripes of the crosswalk.

In the park, a Barn Swallow makes his last swoop over the lawn for the night—dispatching a dozen more mosquitoes that now won’t scream in my ears. Millie pulls left to the railing just as the sun totters momentarily in the cradle of the Hoboken W across the Hudson, then baby and all tumble in slow-motion toward Castle Point Lookout as a flotilla of kayaks pulls down-river challenging the tide as it comes in for the night. Millie spies a pair of Mallards hugging the wall snatching an evening snack, and I spy a family group of Canada Geese riding the incoming tide upriver—maybe to a sunset soiree up in Chelsea.

Heading south (I don’t know what has inspired Millie to make this marathon excursion tonight), Ring-billed Gulls are coming in for their low-tide roosts on the pilings. I wonder what evolutionary advantage it has given them to always prefer to usurp an occupied piling rather than to settle serenely onto a comfy empty one, calmly tucking one foot under for a balanced snooze until the tide rises again to displace them.

Seeing the Hornblower John James Audubon in dock foreshadows the birdy vision still to come. I look back to the city: A few fireflies wink on and off above the promenade, and only one person is home in all of the Meier towers—a dim silhouette floating across the glare of a TV screen.

Millie again pulls to the railing. Maybe she’s a birder after all. There, balancing on the rope mooring the John James Audubon, is a Black-crowned Night Heron. Only once before have I seen this Dr. Seuss bird grace Hudson River Park. Coming upon their squat frame and that one extravagant white plume trailing from the back of their head always makes me giddy. The rope slackens and the Night Heron loses his poise. Off into the night he flies. Off across the river to New Jersey.

Satisfied, Millie looks up at me and turns toward home.


For more information about summer nature walks, photographs, or books, visit www.keithmichaelnyc.com.

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