By Keith Michael
Congratulations to us. We’ve made it day by day to September of this most unusual year. And the next months are certainly poised not to be boring.
Contrariwise, one day is much like another for Millie. Sleep, walk, get a treat. Repeat. In her corgi life, I wonder if Millie has noticed any changes since lockdown in March.
Between the unrelenting heat of the late summer and the usual seasonal listlessness of our avian residents, most of my aural cues have been silenced. Birds are here but out of sight. Or maybe they too are wearing masks and social distancing.
On my morning walkabout to Hudson River Park, without Millie of course, the recent prime vocalists of second brood youngsters—young Robins, young Sparrows, young Starlings—and their parents, are absent. How did these tireless parents do it? They raised one family in the spring, then started again. Family Number Two is now on their own. The amount of energy it took to keep those demanding youngsters fed is unfathomable to me. Endless trips to the seed, bug, or worm store, and the kids always wanting more.
One of my favorite sounds of this time of year is the toneless, repetitive thwack of the late Mockingbird chicks hidden away up in a tree, on a balcony, or in a window box.
As I cross West Street, a trio of Fish Crows is flying north with their characteristic nasal Nuh huh banter. They may be a posse bound to once again harass the adolescent Red-tailed Hawk that has entertained us this summer or a Peregrine Falcon patrolling the cornice of Westbeth. The only reliable way I can tell a Fish Crow from a Common Crow is this “crow with a cold” call. The Common Crow’s familiar, robust Caw Caw Caw has been, for some unknown reason, less common this year. Though I have heard a Common Raven’s unmistakable “nevermore” croaking from time to time, and have occasionally glimpsed one around Pier 40 and Little Island. I haven’t been able to figure out if or where they might have raised a family this summer.
The rattling of the summer cicadas greets me into the park while on the lawn a single silent Mourning Dove is parting the blades of grass to look for hidden tidbits.
One bird I’ve been disappointed not to see (or hear) so far this summer is the charming American Goldfinch. The male is the very definition of yellow with black wings, tail, and forehead, spangled by white wing and tail accents—sartorial splendor. Adding to this sunniness, they have a cheerful bounding flight, and a boisterous four-syllable po-ta-to chip song that bounds along with them through the air. There’s still time this fall for a few to touch down for a snack. I hope that I’m there when they are.
I do stop by the Apple Garden hoping for some butterflies. Once again, it has not been a good year for them. I’ve occasionally seen both Tiger and Black Swallowtails, and a few Red Admirals, but Monarchs have been few and far between on the “ready, willing, and able” purple sprays of the butterfly bushes. I hope that there will still be a smattering passing through this fall on their migration to Mexico. Every time I see a Monarch, I am dumbfounded as to how it is possible for this nearly weightless bit of orange and black to traverse the vast distance between here and their over-wintering grounds thousands of miles away.
Looking out over the river, the usual cormorants and gulls are loafing on the pilings. No one is saying anything. A Common Tern surprises me by flying up right in front of me and perching on the railing. We look at each other, and then the tern is off on its perpetual fishing expedition. I guess that I was a surprise too!
Above the racket of the cicadas, a thin conversational tsee tsee tsee drifts from the bosque of Honey Locust trees. Barely audible, but unmistakable (to me), I look up just in time to see a scribble of Cedar Waxwings take flight and head south over my head. A highlight of my spring Corona Birds was the flocks of dozens of them (eventually numbering in the hundreds), crested and sleek, tracing and retracing this same waterfront.
Heading south? Is the relentless turn of the seasons really upon us?
I think of Millie asleep at home. For her, one day like every other. Personally, I prefer the relentless change.
Visit keithmichaelnyc.com for links to ALL of my WestView articles, books, photographs, and the latest schedule of New York City WILD! urban adventures in nature outings throughout the five boroughs (currently on hold). Follow me on Instagram @newyorkcitywild for daily photos from around NYC.