Thursday, May 18, 2006


18 MAY 2006

It was a gorgeous day. So I grabbed the scope earlier than usual and took off for the southern end of Central Park. I had high hopes of spotting Charlotte, Pale Male Jr., and the Peregrine pair. After all, might they not be out enjoying the weather themselves?

Well the day was still gorgeous, but the high hopes of spotting the raptors anytime soon were thoroughly dashed. I decided instead of continually trotting around looking while the birds ducked behind chimneys and giggled, I'd choose a place where I could get the long view of at least part of both their territories at the same time. Therefore spying them as they went in and out, and in the best of all worlds, tracking them.

The park is wall to wall humans. Don't all these people have to make a living?

Finding a reasonably good spot, I unpack the gear, set up the scope, and with notebook and pen in hand, scan the skies, scrutinize the buildings and you guessed it...wait.

Now, this might seem silly to some birders, as the Park is surely full of all sorts of fascinating migrants just waiting to be identified, counted, and listed. And those activities are surely important and I've been known to do them myself. But what piques my curiosity the most, what brings me the most pleasure, the sparking of questions whose answers I'm urged to pursue these days, is to watch the behavior of animals. And while doing that in Central Park, where the populations of species tend to be small, and raptor species numbers the smallest, I can't help but begin to know the individual birds, their particular behaviors and for want of a better word, their personalities.

While Lola has been known to refuse prey brought to her by Pale Male, that isn't prepared to her specifications, Charlotte finds no problem, and even perhaps a preference in plucking her own pigeons, thank you. Right there on the nest, the feathers will fly.

Now as I was involved in these musings, I began to notice a pair of House Sparrows, Passer domesticus, making dozens of short trips back and forth to a tree cavity. Tiny bits of something in their beaks when they went in and nothing when they came out. Definitely bringing in "prey" for their nestlings. Just much smaller prey than the Red-tails.

The cock stops in his doorway and gives me a look.

And there is a partial answer to the question. Why all the different beiges, browns, and blacks and why in those positions? Do you see?

Then my eye is caught by the Great Egret, Ardea alba, hunting in The Pond. He sees something, traverses the little island in a grand stalk...No, too long for tonight...a photo sequence tomorrow, perhaps?

He then stands as if he's a model for a pre-Raphaelite painting.

What about the raptors you say? Yes indeed, what about them? I scan the sky. It has begun to be distinctly gray and cloudy. Visibility is way down. The wind has picked up. I turn and run the scope over the GM building. Guess who? There she is, Mrs P., sitting on GM 3 west, preening.

I wonder how long she's been there?

Drat! I grab for my notebook, uncover my watch, try to tighten the scope, and focus it, all at the same time. Plop. A fat raindrop hits my paper, running the ink. PLOP, PLOP! The heavens then open in a deluge of little warning. Or at least any warning to which I was paying the least bit of attention.

Then comes the mad grab for plastic, the stuffing of belongings into a suddenly too small bag, and finally when already drenched, the walk to the subway. Leaving Mrs. P. To go about her preening, and whatever other business she might wish to pursue in privacy. No Homo sapiens in the park now. It has been returned to all the creatures who make their livings there.

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