By Keith Michael
I’m still wearing a mask and Millie doesn’t seem to care. Contrary to true corgi watchfulness, as attentive as Millie is to every movement and nuance of routine, the addition of a mask hasn’t made any impression on her whatsoever. Her ears and eyebrows still perk up when hearing the same words even though she can’t see my mouth moving, and if the hand dangling below the mask throws her a treat she’s in heaven.
When I sent in my May article, Corona Birds, my West Village bird list had 41 species on it, and I said that I hoped to add “several dozen more” by this month. Well, I’m up to 76, and at least ten more species have been seen by friends! All in our little ol’ West Village. Cheers to us!
Paired with the sidewalk question, “When did you start watching birds?” another frequent inquiry that comes my way is, “What is your favorite bird?” In the moment, I want to say, “The one I’m looking at!” (And if you can’t tell, I’m smiling behind my mask.) Actually, that’s mostly true. Sorry, Millie hates my having ANY conversation on the street so I have to answer fast.
Maybe I could eliminate the “common” birds from my favorites list: pigeons, sparrows, starlings, and Mallard ducks. But then again, I truly admire their resilience, frequent entertainment value, and reliability. Can I really look at the nine fresh ducklings dashing about the pool in Battery Park and say they’re NOT my favorites? Among my 35 new corona birds, how do I choose between my Abingdon Square Park sightings of a Wood Thrush perched briefly on a bench rail with its jauntily spotted breast or of a Veery’s buttery caramel color? What about knowing that Barn Swallows have, again, built their exquisite mud nests under Pier 40, and that there are already chicks in those nests demanding to grow up? Should I cross off the quandary from my list, “Is it a Swainson’s Thrush with the eye ring or a Gray-cheeked Thrush (which is browner and plainer) that I saw moments ago in Hudson River Park?” Both of them survived flying here from as far south as Argentina. Shouldn’t I cheer them on no matter what? THEY know when they see one another whether they’re a Swainson’s or a Gray-cheeked Thrush. Goodspeed.
I have so many questions. Should I enjoy the Chimney Swifts, those “cigars with wings” chattering above Bleecker Street in the early evening, more or less than locating a Northern Parula warbler (foraging in a Perry Street tree) by its unmistakable zz-zz-zzz-zzzeeee-wup call, then marveling at its gradation of blue, yellow, and orange coloring? Should I draw straws as to whether a Blue-headed, Warbling, or Red-eyed Vireo is my favorite? Maybe I should just send them all a text message, “Sorry, I’m eliminating all three of you as candidates for My Favorite Bird because y’all are just too hard to find—never staying in one place at the tops of trees. My neck hurts from looking for you. Come on down to the lower branches and I might still consider you for my Top Ten List.” Choosing between a Baltimore and an Orchard Oriole is a toss-up. Should I let the summer black-headed Laughing Gull supplant the local Ring-billed, Herring, and Great Black-backed Gull contenders just because the Laughing Gull has snazzy white eyeliner, or because I’m bored with the resident gulls, or because I’m feeling glum and the Laughing Gulls’ cackling bonhomie cheers me up?
What kind of a score card should I devise for the migrating warblers? Yellow Warbler? Yes, you’re bright yellow but SO obvious. Black-and-white Warbler? Black and white palette, clever, very New York, but you seem to be imitating a Nuthatch with your crawling DOWN a tree antics—you need more original material. Common Yellowthroat? Sorry, you could use a better stage name: I see you and I think Black-masked Warbler. Ovenbird? How many times am I asked why you are called an Ovenbird? Okay, yes, you have that cool, brick oven-shaped nest on the ground: Honorable Mention for Architecture. But why are you called a warbler anyway? You don’t ACT or LOOK like a warbler, high-stepping it under the bushes as you do. Black-throated Blue Warbler? My only reservation is that jaunty “white pocket handkerchief” adorning your wing. I fear that you are putting on airs.
I’m down to two super-flashy new spring birds as my “favorite” contenders: Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Scarlet Tanager. Both are descriptively named. I saw both munching contentedly on fresh elm tree seeds. I can’t decide. I’m going to write their names on two different treats and see which one Millie prefers. Oh, she ate both nuggets. Sorry, the next time I see either bird, THAT will be my favorite bird.
Visit keithmichaelnyc.com for books, photographs, and the latest schedule of New York City WILD! urban adventures in nature outings throughout the five boroughs (currently on hold). Visit Instagram @newyorkcitywild for photos from around NYC.