By Keith Michael
It’s Millie’s Birthday! She’s twelve.
Of course, Millie’s resting up for later festivities in the day with corgi-shaped candles in a cream cheese cake studded with kibble amid celebratory clinking of flutes poured to the brim with Corgi gin. (I’m kidding.) It’s a normal day and she’s napping. Normally.
But I AM waiting for Jerry, her faithful dog-walker, to arrive to take her out on a mid-day jaunt before really launching into writing this month’s article. The peer pressure of her doggo compatriots inspires Millie to more athletic walks in the neighborhood—a curtailment to her spreading figure.
My constructed fantasy is that Millie is offended by mentions of cuteness in any form other than about her own formidable self. Whew, Jerry has arrived and whisked Millie out of earshot as well as out of range of her indefatigable ability to interpret my keystrokes relating to extra-Millie cuteness!
We are alone.
Last month I wrote about the celebrity Snowy Owl in Central Park. In true Mary Poppins fashion, the spring winds changed and with her business in order, the Snowy Owl whisked off to fairer seasonal locales. Leaving a vacuum for NYC avian news, the fulfilling power couple is now a pair of diminutive Screech Owls in northern Manhattan’s Inwood Hill Park.
It all started more than a month ago when a single gray owl was reported regularly sunning himself/herself in a more than usually accessible knothole high in a tree in this most magical of Manhattan parks.
First of all, if you haven’t been to Inwood Hill Park, walk yourself to the uptown A Train (now), take it to the last stop, exit from the 211th Street end of the platform (walk a block north to marvel at the magnificent Inwood Ginkgo Tree, an official NYC Great Tree) then walk west to Inwood Hill Park. Welcoming you is the oldest forest in Manhattan, and the Shorakkopoch Rock marking the traditional site of the “transfer” of Manhattan from the Lenape to Peter Minuit in 1626. Pre-dating Central Park, many trees have been ascending skyward since the Revolutionary War when Continental soldiers hunkered down in this northern valley. Stately Tulip and Red Oak trees are the dominant grand trees, the understory is Spicebush (catch it in its spring yellow-veiled finery), and hugging the ground is a sprawling carpet of an eccentric spring wildflower, Dutchman’s Breeches, whose blossoms resemble its namesake hanging out on a clothesline to dry in the wind.
But I DO digress. A Screech Owl is a tiny owl, about the size of a Robin, a few inches taller than your phone, but shaped more like an over-stuffed pain au chocolat. They boast spectacular camouflage that undoubtedly has been studied by militaries. During the day these owls bask in the sun, often from discreet tree crevices matching their feathers. At night, they’re fierce silent hunters. Conversationally, Screech Owls don’t really screech though they have an impressive vocal repertoire of whinnies and trills. They come in two fetching color morphs: gray and red.
Disappointingly, I have never spotted a Screech Owl on my own. The four previous Screech Owl celebrities that I have seen in my bird-watching career have all been found by others first, then meticulously elaborated upon as to where to find them “if they’re out.” Each owl has involved multiple excursions in pursuit of a sighting. “Stand here, not here.” “Oh, it was just out before you got here!” “It’s usually there in the morning.” “It’s often there right before dusk.” And on and on.
Part of being a star bird among the NYC glitterati is maintaining the balance between staying both “elusive” AND showing up for your photoshoot! This Screech Owl, probably the femme fatale, fulfills both prerequisites: MOSTLY she is in her prominent boudoir visible to all, but only OCCASSIONALLY is she joined by her paramour cuddling in her same apartment window, and more intriguingly (as I saw them,) enjoying “the morning after” from their adjacent balconies.
What a New York real estate flourish: an exclusive, secluded high-rise apartment, cozy sunken living room, children’s playroom, stunning views—with separate entrances! One of the several days I’ve rushed up to Inwood to catch a few moments of primetime, she was placidly napping in the morning sun, occasionally opening one wary eye. Naturally, I was willing her wee suitor to snuggle into her window when a compatriot celebrant birder let me know that “he” was right around the corner on the adjacent knothole balcony. Shazam! Two for one. Twice as nice. Double the pleasure.
I hear the shuffle of tiny feet approaching outside the door and the turn of the key in the lock. Nevertheless, seeing that owl duo was a surfeit of cuteness. I hope that a few weeks from now there will be tiny fluffballs of toddler Screech Owls to be ogled over in northern Manhattan.
“Hi Millie! Aren’t you the best girl!? Who could be cuter?”
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