There is a tide in the affairs of birds – and thus, in the affairs of birders. For many birds, and many birders, the major tide is migration. In particular, on the eastern coast of the U.S., the months of April and May are the time to see gorgeous breeding-plumaged passerines in large numbers. After a winter of freezing your buns off chasing gulls or irruptive finches or mad sea ducks, this is understandably a very popular time of year.
Migration is a bit like white-water rafting. Not in the sense that you might die or that it will make you cool, but in the sense that it builds up slowly – one day an Egret is back, and then maybe you put up a Woodcock or two, and you start to notice that the Ruddy Ducks are fewer but Ruddier – and then suddenly you tumble over an invisible precipice of sorts and things start coming at you fast.
For me, after not having a chance to get out all week, Easter was the day I tumbled.
I got out to do my usual round of Prospect Park, which sadly has become not-so-usual under the pressure of work. I was almost immediately given notice of what kind of day it would be, too, when I spotted a Northern Rough-winged Swallow skimming over the dog beach. There were no odd ducks there (perhaps because an aggressive pair of Canada Geese has once again taken up residence) but the day’s first warbler cache was hanging out in the wooded end. Predictably, these were mostly Pines and Palms, but since I was wishing with all my heart for a nice Palm Warbler just last week, I wasn’t complaining. A couple of Ruby-crowned Kinglets were tagging along as well.
In the Ravine, a single Louisiana Waterthrush was picking its way along the rocks. It gave me some nice long looks, which were much appreciated – in particular I’d forgotten how bright their legs can be. A Great Blue Heron soared over – maybe not strictly speaking a migrant, since at least one overwintered in the park, but always a bird worth seeing, especially in flight.
Further up the trail, it became apparent that warblers weren’t the only birds on the move. Hermit Thrushes and Northern Flickers were around in abundance, and a pair of Eastern Phoebes popped up too. The Upper Pool produced a Great Egret, Golden-crowned Kinglet, and Yellow-rumped Warbler – and perhaps most exciting, my state first Blue-grey Gnatcatcher. (I’m good at finding them in Florida but for some reason not so much up here.) Good times, good times.
Proceeding down the Lullwater turned up a lot of more of the same, as well as Brown Creeper, Red-bellied and Downy Woodpecker, and a flock of Grackles (no Rusty Blackbird.) The lake itself was a bit disappointing, with very little by way of exciting duck action and only a single Pied-billed Grebe, but above and near the lake? A different story. A Belted Kingfisher swooped by in plain view, no less than 9 Black-crowned Night Herons came tumbling out of the trees squabbling loudly, and near the ice rink I found another flock of Grackles, this one with three Rusty Blackbirds in.
From here on out, it’s going to be an interesting ride until June.