After my dramatic encounter with the Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow, I figured that the rest of my weekend would be… anticlimactic. Not boring, because if birding is boring ur doin it rong, but possibly not possessing the same level of excitement as seeing and hearing dozens of Brant flying low over your head or holding a life bird in your hands.
But the day was beautiful, the birds still migrating, and the bikes were fixed courtesy of the Inimitable Todd and the fine folks at Dixon’s bike shop, so get out and ride we must. We took the A-train to its farthest stop in the Rockaways, got a delicious bagel at a quaint deli, and biked out to the ends of the earth… that is, to Breezy Point.
My first “life list” item was not a bird. It was something much, much less pleasant. Yes, I have finally seen McCain/Palin lawn signs in the wild… and in the great city of New York. Oh the humanity.
Out at Breezy Point proper, things were better. The dune-breeding specialties that I know and love Breezy Point for – the Terns and Skimmers, the Oystercatchers, and most especially the adorable, endangered Piping Plovers – were of course long gone, but migrants were abundant. As I walked down the narrow, sandy route used by truck-driving fishermen and picnickers, a Sparrow popped out of the shrubbery and started picking around on the embankment. It stayed happily in full view while I locked onto it and took in the gray collar, striped crown, and mustaches that told me I had my life Clay-Colored Sparrow. And I didn’t even have to give it a concussion to get a good look! Go me.
Further down the trail, Yellow-rumped Warblers continued to dominate the news cycle, but I also picked up a single Field Sparrow and my first-of-season Juncos. A couple of Northern Flickers were also in circulation, along with a few Mockingbirds and a single, lonely Catbird. And as I reached the end of the trail, I looked back and spotted a single female Northern Harrier, my first of the year, coursing over the low vegetation in the approved Harrier manner.
Back where the bikes were parked, I picked up a Monk Parakeet and got to watch a couple of guys trying to dig their SUV out of the sand before we headed for Fort Tilden. The beach was fairly human-covered, given the season, but a few birds were in evidence besides the inevitable smug Great Black-backed Gulls; several dozen Sanderling wibbling about in the waves and, in a moment of high drama, two Merlin who came dog-fighting down the sky, screaming at each other.
All in all, a glorious day. There was only one small ray of doubt, one nagging grain of discontent; in choosing to go out to the Rockaways, I’d forsaken the chance to chase the Connecticut Warbler that had been showing off for over a week in Central Park. I tried for the bird before work on Thursday morning, and not seeing it, presumed that it had moved on, only to have it pop back up on the mailing lists and taunt me as I went about other business. So traveling away from rather than towards the heart of the city had been a calculated risk; one that had paid off, but not without some opportunity cost. For surely, a bird that needed to be on the banks of the Amazon before the weather turned nippy couldn’t be expected to just keep hanging around…
Nevertheless, I popped my binoculars into my work bag on Monday, just in case.
And so, when someone helpfully reported the Connecticut as still there, I was able to run up to the park on my lunch hour.
Connecticut Warblers are funny birds; ground-feeders, they are typically shy and skulking, but every so often one turns up in Central Park and starts doing the avian equivalent of dancing on the bar at Coyote Ugly, just making a gigantic spectacle of itself and practically begging for attention. Well, insofar as a 15-cm long bird that’s sort of greenish-brownish-yellow can make a gigantic spectacle. Mostly this one was just pecking around in the grass, actually, and occasionally strolling out onto the path and making all the photographers very, very happy.
I returned to work feeling quite satisfied with myself. Three days. Three birding trips. Three life birds, and a great deal of other lovely stuff besides. Not too shabby.