By Keith Michael
I sent this article in on Sunday, March 22nd, so who knows how the world has changed by now when you are reading it.
This has been the end of Week One for us, essentially, staying at home. We have fourteen rolls of toilet paper, seven and a half rolls of paper towels, four pumps of hand sanitizer, two drums of alcohol wipes, three bags of kibble (Millie seemed pleased that we thought of her—one of the bags even has a glossy photo of a corgi on it, even though it’s for adult dogs one to six years old, not exactly Millie’s demographic), and about two weeks of food for us. No masks. David’s been heroically shopping and cooking, while as well as working remotely. I’ve been purging—emptying a dozen or more shelf feet from books, some that I hadn’t opened in 30 years, and recycling eleven boxes of memorabilia essentials such as college term papers, performance programs from the 80s, and music mixs on reel-to-reel tape.
Having passed the first day of spring, at least it’s been warm enough to open the windows. I’ve been perfecting a new skill: birding while purging. Cardinals continue to duet sing. (I wrote about them last month.) I hear one from the top of the Callery pear tree outside my street window, and the other is still replying from further down the block like last month. It’s a cheerful rapport amidst the general atmosphere of suppressed gloom currently everywhere. Several times there has been a Blue Jay ruckus. Once it was mixed in with Crows cawing so I imagine it was an urban negotiation about who got to stay on the block. Another time it was just the Jays screaming, so they may have been chasing a Red-tailed Hawk out of the neighborhood. Or maybe they were just screaming because they seem to like to.
I’ve also heard Mourning Doves sighing their mournful notes from a high windowsill in the mornings, and the lively, buoyant scribbly song of the pink House Finches in the afternoons. Robins have been serenading in the early evenings with their frustratingly indescribable musical improvisations, and I wish that I could say that I’ve been kept awake by the nocturnal crooning of Mockingbirds, but I can’t. Either that’s because my windows have been closed then or because the muse of spring hasn’t yet inspired their concertizing.
It’s true that I have “taken the air” every day, though Millie has not left the block (she hates wearing the mask—just kidding) and walked over to Hudson River Park. Remarkably, it has seemed like everyone from the West Village has also been walking in HRP. People seem nearly incapable of NOT flocking together. Spring birds seen along the river have included a large family of Canada Geese foraging on the lawns, two pairs of Black Ducks and three pairs of Mallards along the river wall, a small contingent of Brant Geese were squabbling on the rocks near the old Sanitation Pier, and the gulls (Ring-billed, Herring, and Great Black-backed) continue to police the waterfront as usual.
House Sparrows flaunt their spring procreation rituals (just look at the buoyantly grandstanding males at every intersection on the cantilevered traffic lights) while the local Starlings and Pigeons seem unfazed by the virus lockdown. A winter holdover White-throated Sparrow was still tsking from the undergrowth and a nice surprise was a cluster of Brown-headed Cowbirds styling among the Kentucky Coffee pods still clinging to the trees.
The species best practicing social distancing that I have seen are a pair of black-and-white Buffleheads that were diving fully a nautical block apart from each other, a single Red-throated Loon surveying the river, and one Double-crested Cormorant on a panoramic pile field silhouetted against the Jersey City skyline. The bird that got my heart racing (and my feet racing to chase it) was a solitary Raven croaking, a Corvid not a Covid, careening south over Pier 40 while being harassed by a group of Crows.
Searching my photos for a moment of avian levity, a jaunty Monk Parakeet cheered me. A successful immigrant from Argentina, I’ve seen them in Brooklyn and Queens, and they are now residents of Manhattan as well, but this one was dangling from branches at Fort Schuyler in The Bronx. May we all take its upside down view of the world as normal in these topsy turvy times.
Millie wishes you all good health and humor. Wash your paws.
Visit keithmichaelnyc.com for books, photographs, and the latest schedule of New York City WILD! urban-adventures-in-nature outings throughout the five boroughs. Visit his Instagram @newyorkcitywild for photos from around NYC.
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