By Keith Michael
Hurrying to work, crossing Bleecker Street at Perry Street, I stop on the far curb to look up as this consonant-laden alarm hails from somewhere above. Ah, there’s the boom box: A Kestral (an American Kestral, to be proper), probably a youngster, quizzically looking down from atop a building and continuing to hurl his signature alliterative challenge at me. What did I do? Just because I walked by? I’m glad that Millie’s not trundling beside me, or she might argue back with her own five-alarm corgi shouting—and then where would we be?
Migration is winding down but the local avian reshuffling is still in full swing. The best places for fall grub shift from block to block and borough to borough—on a smaller scale than the mass seasonal migration from the Arctic to the tropics. Every neighborhood bird begs me to ask the questions: Were you here all summer? Have you just moved in? or Are you only apartment shopping or destination dining? One of my “things” is that I get around. My unlimited MetroCard is my friend. I go all over New York City to distant corners and nearby surprising nooks. Get thee to the ends of the subway lines!
Several weeks ago, one of my many excursions took me to the Bronx River Greenway through Concrete Plant Park and Soundview Park. (Google Maps it.) There’s a surprising, rolling grassland, and lording over the restored Switchgrass and Seaside Goldenrod, was another feisty Kestral. Could this have been the father, or grandfather, of the lad now screaming at me in the West Village? Unlikely, though fun to contemplate.
Might the flock of crows I saw harassing a Red-tailed Hawk along the mouth of the Bronx River be kissing cousins, or even the same flock of crows I watched in September haranguing another Red-tailed Hawk at Woodlawn Cemetery further north along the Bronx River? And then, do those Bronx crows share bloodlines with our own West Village hawk-baiting crows—the ones on which I’m always trying to use alchemy to turn into Ravens?
This game can go on forever. Do the bands of Blue Jays from Inwood Hill Park in Upper Manhattan move into the West Village for the winter to feast on the frost-softened fruit of our Callery Pear street trees or to binge on the Willow Oak acorns cracked open by passing traffic along Hudson Street? Maybe the ruby-red Cardinals I’ve heard metallically plinking in the brush at Fort Tilden, along the ocean in Queens, are some of “our” Cardinals that yearned for salt air. Could it be that the White-throated Sparrows that spent last winter in Hudson River Park decided on a change of scenery this year, and are now singing their melancholy Oh sweet Canada, Canada, Canada in Central Park? Their white-throated singing is the same, only their concert venue has changed.
Tangentially, Millie suggested that I throw this ever-recurring conversation starter into the mix: “Is that the Queen’s corgi?” I always want to riposte, “Why yes, mate, she is! Curtsy to Dame Millie. She just flew first class from Buckingham Palace this morning, and she’s spending the weekend in our fair village.”
Maybe our neighborhood House Sparrows get together on the weekends to blast house music with the House Sparrows of Flushing Meadows Park in Queens, practicing their cavalier “moves” in the full moon shadow of the World’s Fair Unisphere. Perhaps the Casanova Mockingbirds of West Street are trading “covers” with the mockers of Governor’s Island—sharing tunes, learning new improvisations on their standard repertoire to woo the ladies in the coming season (and to wake us on spring star-struck nights with their serenades). Are the Herring Gulls I see soaring high above the Richard Meier towers in the morning, while I’m walking Millie, some of the same gulls I saw this August bathing in the East Pond at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge? Are the Double-crested Cormorants flapping east above West 11th Street in the afternoon the same ones that nested on U Thant Island in the East River this summer?
I’ve seen a Palm Warbler bob-bob-bob-ing its tail in a Cottonwood tree at Freshkills Park in Staten Island, and a Black-and-white Warbler performing its gravity-defying feat of crawling down a tree trunk in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.
Might these have been the same birds I saw days earlier bob-bob-bob-ing and rappelling down tree trunks along Charles Street? Who’s to say?
This weekend, remind me to ask, if I see a Robin drinking from the fountains at Untermyer Gardens in Yonkers, whether he intends to bathe in the Christopher Street Fountain later this year—before it’s turned off for the winter.
For more information about New York City WILD! nature outings, birding, photographs, or books, visit keithmichaelnyc.com.