01 March 2011

Four Forays In Central Park

IIII ) llllllllllllllllll Pale Male And Beauty (23Feb11)

0606 Central Park - I felt my body being violently shaken at about forty- five minutes ago. Perhaps it was a ghost, or Mahoney (who happened to be messaging me just about then to encourage my rising), or maybe it was just that part of me waiting to see the park at dawn. Either way, my timing is perfect. One of the pale hawks is waiting for me at the tree-line

0650 I don't know if it's Pale Male or Pale Beauty. I'll have to compare my photos with some of the ones Marie Winn has online later. But at first I think it might be a long-eared owl. I can't believe my luck that it's one of the hawks I've hoped for years to see. I watch him / her for a good half hour, taking playful passes at squirrels right in front of me. It never has any intention of eating the squirrel, I know, because at one point a squirrel approaches the hawk on it's perch and the bird opens it's mouth, as if to just let it in, and then backs off

0709 At present, I've lost the hawk as it swooped south between the trees. I'm heading in that direction, but there's now a whole chorus of birds to pay attention to. Several dozen of the voices are coming from the brush right beside me, all juncos with the exception of one small, black bird about their same size. A jay passes by as I watch these small birds, and there is someone else, high in the canopy above, making a honking sound

0732 There is a pond straight down from where I entered the park at 77th Street, and when I reach it, I begin following the shore counter sunwise. It's iced-over, but there's a small bit of open water not far along, and here I find about fifty mi'ksikatsi and a pair of aapsspini. There are some evergreen trees on a hill close by, so I move to those next, hoping to come across one of the owls. No luck with that, but the sign here says I'm in Strawberry Fields. And indeed, there is The Dakota, right across the street

0739 Now I am fairly freezing, and starting to feel guilty that Joe and Sheen are back at the room sleeping away this beautiful morning. I have several more dawns here to take advantage of. I'm going to head back and wake them up, if they're not already out of bed

1837 What a treat. I marched through the Rample, across the park to 5th Avenue and immediately spotted Pale Male on his nest. And not only him, but a photographer on an adjacet roof taking pictures of him, and an older man down at ground level near me, sitting on a bench, wearing a black beret with a beetle pin on the side, and obviously watching the bird as well. The latter gentleman (whose name is Kenneth) had the look of a park regular, so I introduced myself, we got to talking, and before I knew it we were in The Boathouse with a whole crew of elder naturalists, eating Margaret's homemade muffins. They meet every evening to visit at The Boathouse, talking about the animals of the park, and of anything else. Kenneth thinks the hawk I saw this morning was not Pale Beauty, but one of the ex-wives. He and Margaret told me all about things they'd watch with Pale Male raising and teaching the young hawks - how he sits and memorizes every rodent nest in the area; how the baby hawks have to learn to let go of sticks, because the first time they grab one their muscles seize like they're making a kill, and they don't know how to un-seize them; or how the babies have to learn to eat small birds from head down, rather than the other way around, where the feathers get in the way. They told me about likely places to look for the long-eared owls on Cherry Hill, and about how the squirrels eat one kind of acorn before winter, then another kind during winter after they've cured in underground caches. I even got to post an update in their big book of sightings, which has been part of The Boathouse for who knows how long. Very cool experience. I'll definitely stop in to visit with the group again before we leave. But for tonight, Sheen and I are off to watch Phantom

IIII ) llllllllllllllllllll Cardinals And Red-Bellied Woodpecker (26Feb11)

0705 Central Park - woke a bit later than anticipated, but still early enough to catch the morning chorus of sparrows and starlings as I drop down into the park at 77th Street, across from the American Museum

0718 I move past the cluster of trees where I saw the hawk our first morning here, and am crossing the bridge on my way to the Ramble when, off in the brush, I catch a glimmer of red. There's another cardinal couple here, hanging out with several white-crowned sparrows, sorting through the leaf-litter in search of seeds. There used to be cardinals in Blackfoot Territory, or at least that's my theory... I've seen them in the Beaver Bundles. But they are a tobacco-loving bird, and I suspect they vacated when the planting ceremonies stopped

0730 Two steps further and I find a pair of house sparrows who've taken up in a little cavity formed at the trimmed branch of a tree. The male moves in and out of the cavity, while the female stays mostly inside, occasionally peeking out. I figure they must just be staking a claim in preparation for the upcoming nesting season

0750 Eventually I pass through a stone archway into the Ramble proper, an area of brushy woodlands over hills of bedrock that must really be something to see in summer, fairly quiet in this season. There are streams coming off the rocks here, feeding the lake below. Some of this water follows the concrete pathways, making for slick, icy conditions. I follow a trail through the Rambles along the east edge of the lake to Bow Bridge. I think it's the place where Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks did that scene in You've Got Mail. Atop the bridge, there's a really nice view over the lake toward Pale Male's 5th Avenue nest

0808 This route takes me toward the falconer statue at Cherry Hill where, in the nearby fir trees I am told, there've been recent sightings of long-eared owls. I want to see these owls before we leave New York if I can, having only ever encountered just one in the coulees of Sikoohkotoki. As I climb the hill toward the two trees, there is a raucous sound I recognize immediately as the strong voice of corvids. I'm hoping they're yelling at the owls. I cross a fence that I'm not supposed to and move in. There are no owls in these particular trees this morning, but the voices I heard belong to five or six blue jays, who are in themselves a welcome sight for me. They are searching the earth and grass around these trees for insects (I presume), and they are joined in their efforts by a couple robins

0840 After the jays, I continue to wander around the area, moving in a winding path toward the Boathouse. I hear one of the hawks calling from somewhere in that direction. I witness a dog fight, the owners chasing after them and yelling at one another. I meet a local birder looking through glass at the pine trees on one of the hills. He too is searching with no success for the long-eareds

0910 Figured I might as well check the bird log at the Boathouse while so near, see if there've been any reports of the owls in the last couple days. No such luck, the last entry was my own. So from there I enter the Ramble again to begin moving making my way out. Not far into the forest, I hear a call that's completely unfamiliar to me. Searching the trees, I find that it belongs to a red-bellied woodpecker, first I've ever seen

IIII ) lllllllllllllllllllll Shovelers On The Lake (27Feb11)

0652 Central Park - the morning chorus is underway as I drop down off the end of 77th Street into the trees. Among the voices I hear are quick chips and rhythmic loops of cardinals, the slow (low) chirps of the house sparrows, the alarming calls of blue jays and, somehwere in the distance, a mourning dove. I'm taking a different route this morning, sunwise toward what they call the Turtle Pond. I want to see how it compares to Sspopiikimi

0720 Of course it is nothing like back home. Turtle Pond of Central Park is walled on it's southwest end by tall rock cliffs, topped by a small castle. Suddenly I remember this place from a walk I took with Mahoney, fourteen years ago. There is an island here, which is no doubt an important nesting ground for geese and ducks, with so many dogs around. And the north end of the pond opens to a wide lawn, a ballpark perhaps, where I imagine the waterfowl would feed. As I sit on a little dock typing this, somewhere out over the lawn I hear cries of a redtail

0745 I hike around the perimeter of the pond and up to the castle, Belvedere Tower. There are blue jays, house sparrows, and starlings galore, but I never see the hawk. From here I move directly into the Ramble, and I'll begin making my way to the Boathouse. There are signs that warn how environmentally sensitive the Ramble is, and yet the park conservators have cut down every tree they can find that has heart rot, full of wonderful hollows that would have made great nest cavities for a variety of birds and mammals

0827 My walk down to the Boathouse is fairly uneventful. Once there, I stop to make an entry in the bird log, listing all the species I've seen here this week. But no sooner do I leave than I spot, on a bit of open water along the north end of the lake, five northern shovelers amidst a group of mallards. I loop around Bow Bridge to get a closer look, and it's a good thing I do, because there won't be another chance... as soon as I near the ducks, a golden lab goes plunging into the lake after them, and the shovelers take wing

0910 I conclude this morning's hike with my (by now) usual fruitless search of the Cherry Hill and Strawberry Fields trees. Still no long-eared owls, though on this west edge of the lake, where the water seems to have thawed a bit this week, there are now many shovelers amidst the resident mallards

IIII ) llllllllllllllllllllll The Last Morning (28Feb11)

0747 Central Park - I can't see out of my left eye this morning, not clearly by any stretch, even with corrective lenses. One day I'll probably be blind. But between now and then I can see, at least one eyed, and I can learn to recognize the voices that last, and what they're singing

0751 This is my last morning in the park, maybe forever, but I doubt it. There is unfinished business here that I plan to check in on this morning before returning to the hotel, showering, and catching a cab to Laguardia. It's wet this morning. The skies rained for me, in the few hours I slept, the park is grey, cold, completely in shadow, beautiful really

0755 I come into the trees at 72nd Street, at Strawberry Fields, after stopping at the Dakota, at the little tunnel to the courtyard where John Lennon was killed. The Dakota security is quick to push tourists away, because people still live there. I ask the guard this morning, "How many people would you say stop here every day, because of what happened?" He shrugs and says he doesn't know. "A lot?" I ask. "A lot," he agrees

0808 Flood warnings for New York, Mahoney told me last night. I believe it. The rain is pouring down. All the same, I climb the mud and rock slopes of Cherry Hill beyond the falconer statue. As far as I can see, the owls aren't here, but I don't look hard. There is however a human being, one that has been here every morning, but who I've failed to mention. Not exactly homeless, as clearly he lives at this hill. Most mornings, he sleeps out on a patch of grass between the bedrock, which must offer nice exposure to the night sky. Today he is curled up in a sleeping bag under the tree where I've been directed to look for the owls. Given the rain, I feel his resilience deserves reporting. He's more real in some ways than most of us

0829 After the hill, I wind my way along paths to the Boathouse. My constant companions are the immigrant, now naturalized, house sparrows. It's strange to me that a winged being should choose to live in Central Park, amidst all this daily commotion. But then, they probably stay here for the same economic reasons that so many human beings do, and in that sense we have something in common. No doubt the house sparrows here today are descendants of several Central Park generations, enjoying the comfort and connection of their childhood homes. I wonder what they could tell me about this park, what it is to live here, and what has changed in their memory

0850 The Boathouse has clean public washrooms, so I stop in to use them, as well as to check the bird log. Someone who posted after me yesterday spotted a screech owl at 100th Street in the park

0900 From the Boathouse I head into the Ramble to walk counter-sunwise around the lake. With yesterday's warm weather and all of this morning's rain, the ice is rapidly melting away. Huge swaths are open from east to west across the lake, and I would be very surprised if they closed again before next winter. This is how the systemic thaw occurs. And strangely enough, most of the mallards here are standing on the remaining ice ledges, as if - like my own stroll here this morning - they want to experience it one more time before it's gone, even though they never loved it in the first place