Monday, October 30, 2006

And at first I thought it was only about Thrushes..

It was one of those days. Cold, windy, busy, and suddenly late in the day when I realize that there isn't a thing in the house for dinner. I grab my things and hightail it down the elevator and down the block, past the late sitters on the park benches resting on concrete next to some pots of foliage that in this neighborhood, represent a "green space", and trot into the grocery store.

At this point exactly what I'm getting isn't as much of an issue as just getting something that will cook fast. The cashier's line is long. I can't stop looking at my watch. Finally it's bagged and I'm out the door. While passing the concrete green space out of habit I check for birds though it's the farthest thing from my mind. There are the evening tweets of the House Sparrows, still foraging for crumbs. Wait a minute! Just what is that? It's a Hermit Thrush standing between the metal prongs of the street tree pit looking for some dinner.

She's a quiver, whether from cold or the excitement of the hunt I can't tell. She pauses, scratches vigorously with both feet, a cigarette butt flies through the air. Snap, she's gotten something in the debris. Just what is she eating?

Forget dinner I have to find out what's going on here. I chunk down the grocery bags, dig out my cell, and call my long suffering daughter in hopes she'll bring down my camera. Gosh, she isn't dressed. It will take too long. I grab up the groceries, back up the elevator, dump the bags, grab the camera, and I'm back to the tree pit.

Wahoo, she's still there. And still the same sequence, she stands aquiver, then scratches vigorously with both feet in the debris, and NAB! She's got a mouthful of something. I try creeping closer. She doesn't mind a bit. The sitters on the benches have begun to take notice of the crazy woman crawling across the sidewalk with the camera. I smile. They nod. We all look at the bird.

Then a dog comes too close, the owner oblivious, and the Thrush flushes towards the roof. It is quite dark; she hunted until the last moment. Up on the roof there are some trees in pots. Not the most hospitable environment for dinner and a bed for a bird. I hope she finds a place out of the wind to roost and rest before passing onward.

Now I can look at the spot in which she was hunting.

Is this a food source? Well it is to a very hungry, strong willed, and adaptive Hermit Thrush attempting to get on with migration, who's been benighted in New York City at 43rd and Ninth. She's making do, but somehow I wish we'd done better by her.

The next day, what do I see at the Hell's Kitchen Bird Park but, you quessed it, a Hermit Thrush. I can't help but think that she has it ever so much easier, safer, and without a doubt, a better food supply, than her cousin in the tree pit of the night before. And perhaps, just perhaps the Bird Park, this tiny little pocket full of forest, feels a little more like home.

The Hermit Thrush eyes the Boston Berries, a second later she jumps up and plucks one.

Trust me she's a beauty. Yes, the photo is on the blurry side, but you understand, everything must be photographed through the holes in the chain link fence . For no longer is the Hell's Kitchen Bird Park a haven for people 0r for birds. Suddenly a combination lock appeared on the gate. Volunteers arrived to care for the Bird Park and could not get in and neither could members of the community. The combination was a secret and suddenly the park was just...closed.

A sheet of typing paper appeared eventually, scotchtaped to the fence announcing the Bird Park would be closed until spring.


Voices asked,"Why?" Questions were asked and never answered. Emails flew off into cyberspace never to be heard from again.

The voices became quite worried. "But what about all the new transplants that will die without being watered? What about mulching the roses for winter? What about cleaning and refilling the baths for the birds who have come to depend on them for their only source of water? And even--what about sitting in peace having a coffee of a morning and watching the leaves turn their autumn colors? What about? What about? What about?

Rumors abound, but nothing official is said. Weeks pass, then a month, things begin to change.

Suddenly a food establishment up the street begins to drag their garbage from in front of their business to the sidewalk in front of the Bird Park. And why not?

No people inside the park as it's been locked up, full of old papers, cans, bottles, and half dead plants. It must be abandoned. So some of the homeless folk, having been denied public street facilities for the purpose, common in more civilized cities, urinate on it.

Trash begins to collect inside. Newspapers, plastic bags, old Bic lighters, broken bottles, and beer cans are tossed over the fence. The grape arbor falls over in a wind. As does the welcome sign...the plants need tending. The path fills with fallen branches and leaves. If there has been no rain in a day or two, the birds arrive for a drink and find nothing. They stand in the dirty bowls and look down. They pause. sometimes for quite a long while, and cock their heads. Thirsty, they fly off to search for water, and one hopes it isn't found in a gutter contaminated with motor oil or anti-freeze.
Should it be this way?

Or should it be like this?

Find the Hermit Thrush in the Woodland Garden.
This one is pretty easy. Do you see her yet?

There she is.

Help her keep this place to hunt, and eat, and rest in safety during the next migration and all the migrations to come.

Make a phone call. Write a letter or an email to the Hell's Kitchen Neighborhood Association (HKNA) and get out that address book, send your friends the blog address so they might write one too.

Ask HKNA why the gate must be locked until Spring? And ask them why it's locked at all? Tell HKNA that people cherish having a corner of deciduous woodland in the middle of Hell's Kitchen. It lifts the spirits, it soothes the soul. Tell them that members of the community should be allowed inside to care for it. Tell them you see no reason why the canopy tree that protects all the other plants should be severely pruned so all is manicured and nature disciplined. That a park filled with ever mounting trash, dying plants, and a look of abandonment is bad for the neighborhood. And perhaps, just perhaps that having a place for our native birds to find their native foods and a fresh drink of water in this sea of concrete, is a life enriching experience not only for the birds but even more so for the beauty and hope it brings into our lives.

Hell's Kitchen Neighborhood Association
454 West 35th St.
New York, NY 10001
Tel. 212-501-2704

Remember what Thoreau said? "In wildness is the preservation of the world."

And remember what we learned during the crisis of Palemale's nest removal? Every single person who steps up to take action, makes a difference. So step up--and just do it. You'll feel better for it and so will the birds.

Donegal Browne


Anonymous said...

Don't you people have a bolt cutter?

Anonymous said...

Who runs the neighborhood association? Sounds like they need to be booted out at an election. Tell me they are elected...

Anonymous said...

Perfectly awful; I will refer your complaints to friends who will at least be interested in helping. Awful.

Anonymous said...

I too am "known" in my way, and will write to the Mayor.

Eleanor said...

Well done, Donna -- beautifully put together. I'm convinced that Hermit Thrush came to help you out.

I've written the letter, as you know.


Donegal Browne said...

Thanks Eleanor, you're a trouper. Which for some reason, probably because you're a theatre person, makes me think of the movie Yankee Doodle Dandy, when Cagney's character, George M. Cohan (his statue is in times square)says, "My Father thanks you, my mother thanks you, and I thank you.

Only in my case, it's "The birds thank you, the community thanks you, and I thank you. :-)

Donegal Browne said...

Well, folks, I just said in the blog in the newest post that if one for the question, Does Nature need a redesign, that they should come to the comments section of this blog and they'd understand why it was being asked.

Though now that I've returned to this comments section I see that my long response to
"Who runs the neighborhood association....", my thanks, and explaining all about the newest rumor...a
"redesign" of the Bird Park has completely disappeared.

It's always something, and as it's almost 4 in the morning, the redo explaining it all once again will occur later. Geez.

Anonymous said...

I have written several letters, and called friends to do the same and call in turn.

Suetonesings said...

where's the letter I sent yesterday?

Donegal Browne said...


When I checked last night, it wasn't here. I'm assuming that it never truly made it "up". Sometimes that happens in THE LAND OF BLOGGER. One thinks a post has "taken" but it hasn't. Give it another try.

BJO said...

Thanks for your insightful commnets and your road to action for us all. You will understand my terrible experience yesterday. Four years ago I designed a landscape around a house and guest cottage on 60 acres of creekside oak woodland and chaparral mountainside. My client asked me at our first meeting what I thought of the leaf litter and the down wood--as I formulated what I wanted to say--he commented--"It is good for the animals, isn't it?" Oh yes! I stood in a seasonal creek bed; a beautiful riparin area, with old Coast Live Oaks, native understory and watched California towhees, roufus sided towhee, wrentit, looked up at a Red Tail Hawk nest in an oak--in short paradise! We limited our civilized impact to about 3 acres, but much of it endemic to the area. My client commented that he would leave the rest to the animals. (there is also bob cat and mountain lion on the property) Yesterday, I went there to "edit" the planted landscape. The caretaker, who lives on the property full time was so proud of his work! He has cleared every stick--every bit of down wood from the property, somehow managed to kill off the posion oak, raked up the leaves, limbed up the ancient oak trees--"cleaned that messy place up"--but good! Not a towhee or wrentit to be found! You can immagine how truly sick I felt! Paradise destroyed by one self appointed nit picker!

Donegal Browne said...

Yes, I do know the feeling. It's devastating.

How did we ever get so many people, so removed from what's really happening on the planet?