May 25, 1994. I was late for work hurrying down 33rd street. The train was late and it had rained in the night. As I power-walked head down in the wind, up ahead I noticed a circle of people clustered around something on the sidewalk. I could not help myself. I stopped to see what had caught the attention of jaded New York commuters. There on the side walk was a female northern parula. Alive, eyes open yet completely still.
“Oh my God, it’s a parula.” The crowd parted. I knelt down. Satisfied that someone was taking care of the situation, they melted away. I stared at the tiny bird. Gingerly I gathered her up, carrying her cupped in my hand to my office on Park. When I walked in my co-worker asked what I had. I told him it was a migrating warbler that appeared to have hit the Empire State Building. How she did not get crushed, stepped on in the morning rush, I had no idea. He immediately took out his coffee and handled me the bag. I nestled her in it on a bed of napkins. Lightly folding down the top, I picked up the phone and started to call birding friends and the local bird societies. One of them gave me the name of a midtown rehabilitator, Vivian Sokol. When I called and explained the situation, she said to come right over. She was amazing.
On December 28, 1994, she mailed me this photo ……with a note on the back. “She suffered a concussion from the collision and a broken wrist on her left wing. Rehabilitating took the summer. She was released at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge on Sep 3, 1994 in time for fall migration. She underwent a complete moult from July to August. Here she has completed it to perfection by the end of August when migration restlessness peaked.”
The memory of holding that tiny life moves me still. Thank you Vivian Sokol for the work that you did and hopefully are still doing.
Filed under Photos, Travel
I have been bitten or stung by just about every insect in the woods and fields. As a kid I ran barefoot through the grass stepping on my share of bees, both honey and bumble. (It is like stepping on a live coal). We romped in the warm summer evenings until the mosquitoes drove us indoors scratching. I have been bitten by deer flies and horse flies and those awful greenheads. Once in Anahuac NWR in Texas in May, I had to bird in the car with the windows up because the local flies were impossible. Until I moved to the mountain the worst bug nightmare for me was ticks. There is something about the attached ongoing sucking that is just nasty. But dog ticks are large enough you can feel them crawl and the deer ticks for some reason cause a burning reaction on me, so I can locate and pull them off before they have time to acclimate to my temperature. There have been many times that one of my freckles has had legs. I thought I was on top of the bug thing. Ha!
Shortly after moving north, I discovered, for the first time, a tiny black biting midge of some kind. The season peaks in May then stops. It was only about 4 or 5 years ago that I found out that the cursed humpbacked flying biting nightmare was Black Fly. The first time I was bitten was on my elbow. My arm swelled up tight almost to my shoulder. After a week, the entry wound began to weep and the swelling went down. The next time it was my ankle between the long pants and the sock. The time the swelling almost reached my knee and I could only wear sandals. I douse myself with bug spray ever afterwards—when I remember. See, that is the trick. I carry bug spray with me everywhere but I don’t always think I need it until it’s too late. Black fly season always catches me unaware.
What does all this have to do with birding? Birds eat bugs. So often if I am watching birds I am battling the bugs. Trust me, it is hard to hold the bins steady with one hand and swat with the other. So if you see me out birding, stand downwind. I will be covered with bug spray from boot to hat. If you need some, don’t hesitate to ask, I carry bug wipes in my birding bag.
I was standing at the lookout scanning the water with perhaps half a dozen other birders. We were calling out species and remarking to each other on their beauty and behavior. When faintly, seemingly off in the distance, there was the call of a loon. Everyone’s heads jerked up. We all looked around. My friend prodded me hissing, “Turn off your phone!”
Crap. Right. My phone. I sheepishly fumbled my phone out of my pocket and turned it to vibrate. I apologized for getting their hopes up. And while there was general laughter; I did see some scowls.
I like having bird calls as my ringtones; it does turn a few heads. I have had them for about a year. I think they were like $2.75 a piece. I searched for months and months to find them and there was no selection to speak of. Perhaps it’s better now. I have the loon for any text messages and a red-tailed hawk for calls, although I do swap out barred owl and whippoorwill. If you want to do it too, bear mind that you need either internet or texting capabilities on your phone. And always test your phone and service for compatibility.
Next time you hear a loon, owl, red-tail, wolf or elk look around someone may be pulling out there phone.
I parked the car and stepped out to the hiss and singing of the high-tension wires overhead in the powercut. I felt the hairs on the back of my neck rise. Until I moved north, I had never considered birding a powercut. Heck, I don’t think I even knew there were birds near the wires. It is a little scary. But the birding is glorious. Many birds like the second growth of the large swath kept cleared by the power company.
Ignore the raised hair on your arms. Pay no attention to the wires. Stop. Listen. There. Do you hear it? The chickbur of a scarlet tanager. C’mon, let’s go. On the way up the hill there was the sweetness of yellow warblers, the bee buzz of the blue-winged warblers and the throaty monotony of the yellow-billed cuckoo. The chestnut-sided warblers all around were so pleased to meetcha. My head swiveled searching the cacophony of sound for movement. I saw indigo bunting, chestnut-sided warblers, prairie warblers, and the increasingly rare golden-winged warbler. Many of these birds are a crap-shoot to find during migration but are a sure thing in a powercut. Wait. There is a flash of scarlet dashing from one side of the cut to the other. Ahhhhh.
Go down a back road road, to a dirt road to another dirt road, somewhere you will find a powercut. My favorite powercut is off Paradise Road but the one on Van Orden is also good.
Some of the best birding is in unlikely places.
I lay considering the pitter-patter of rain on the windows. Should I go to Beech Road or not? Rain is not much of a barrier with the right gear, but I had to go to work right from the field. On the other hand it is the last scheduled bird walk with Weis for the season and although migration is slowing down, there are still new arrivals daily. I threw back the covers and headed for the shower.
When I arrived Suzanne was the only person there. As we waited we watched the swallows zip by, a large flock of cedar waxwings settle onto a cedar (go figure), and a green heron erupt from the shoreline to find a comfortable snag. Just as a carload of birders pulled up, a warbling vireo started a complex musical interlude. Finding a smallish non-descript gray bird can be difficult in the flat light on a gray day. But his song kept us focused. Suzanne finally spotted him tucked into a fully-leaved out maple. I found him once he flew and started to carol again. Everyone had good looks.
We tracked many of the birds by ear. But some of them were silent, elusive, intent on feeding, setting up territory and getting on with their lives. They were not “wasting daylight” as my mother would say. Among the later category I would put the mystery warblers; the silent ones that were high in the canopy, furtive maybe magnolias or canadas or drab olive tennesees.
Here is the list that I saw or heard–not counting the mysteries. Not bad for an hour.
A few mystery warblers
Wood Duck with 7 ducklings