The Clueless Gardener

"fanaticus sine potestas"

Thursday, February 14, 2013

This year, with my partial-shade flowerbed
now a full-sun one, it's hard to picture
my to-do list for spring...if I had two bob
[shillings] I'd grab this at the newsagents!

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Look Up

Here's a photo of Central Park Birding Empress,
Starr Saphir, who has just died.  Going into the park, in
the middle of the big bad city, and seeing amazing,
beautiful birds, transformed my life in New York.  She
was a walk leader and teacher of the first order, and
anything I know, or was able to retain in my addled
brain, I learned from her. 
Below is a post I wrote about her some years ago when
this blog was younger.  Spring migration will never
be the same.

Monday, May 05, 2008

The Clueless Birder

Went for the spring ritual, which I've missed near through the current migration season, of going for a long birdwalk in Central Park. You'd think after going almost every spring for 20 years I'd have a modicum of bird identification skills, and could find my way out of the park, but the answer is no on both counts. But as long as I have someone to lead me and help me spot and identify the birdies, I'm happy as can be. And if I hang with the group through nearly the entire walk [I'm talking minimum of five to six hours, folks], we eventually emerge from the Ramble, and I usually end up near enough to Strawberry Fields that I can get to the subway without panicking. I'm doing ok with breeding-plumage males, but beyond that, I need help--they're all "little brown birds."
On the subway at 6:30 am, which is packed with sleepy people off to work, while I'm going to burn in hell because I'm goin' to the Park instead. [Generally, my guilt recedes with the sighting of the first warbler.] Being devoid of small talk, and intimidated somewhat by the expert level of all the other birders on the walk, I try not to get to the mustering point, 81st and Central Park West, too long before the walk starts, so I can just start walking and looking up. I recognized nearly every person in the group from past years, and I know most of their names! But they don't know mine. The birding leader is still the same, amazing Starr Saphir, who is an itinerant naturalist and bird leader, from what I can overhear from the chat as we stroll between sightings. Her patter is fun to listen to: "Up in this tree with the big dead snag in the center, at about one o'clock, is that Northern Parula, oops, going left, going lefter, is everybody seeing this bird?" If the bird flies off too soon, she always says, "I owe you that bird." She can hear the softest call notes from 50 yards, and can identify the fastest, drabbest streak flying past in nothing flat. She's a wonder. "You shoulda been here yesterday" applies to more than just garden-looking; I just missed an all-time Starr record walk on Saturday, 81 species seen, walk lasted 8 hours!!! I didn't go to the Berkshires, so I coulda shoulda woulda, really, I almost thought about going, but damn, I stayed in bed.
Today's walk was 62 species, not all seen by me, but I only missed a few. Highlights for me: cedar waxwings, indigo bunting, downies going in and out of their nesting hole, and the gorgeous black-throated blue warbler. Also a wonderful kingbird, and a bunch of turtles sunning themselves by the pond. Two of my fave warblers were not seen today by us, the Blackburnian and the Canada. And will I ever see a belted kingfisher?
The bird news of yesterday and today is a cerulean warbler, a beautiful blue streaky thing, is in a tree on 89th street between Columbus and Amsterdam. !! It's a rarity in the Park, and here it is out in the big bad streets! If I were a true birder, I'd get up tomorrow am and go up and try to see it. But I won't be doing it, bad me.
After the walk, I got home and had a favorite ritual moment--going through my old Peterson's and marking what I'd seen...the notations go back to 1989! Like I said, by now I oughta be better at this...I can identify a common yellowthroat, yes, but not a Nashville, no matter how much I study the warbler pix in the books. And I still dislike Sibley, though Starr said again today it's the best bird guide there is.
What does it all mean? Probably nothing. I like seeing pretty birdies is all. We're watching the decline of so many species, but in greening Central Park, for a few hours, the abundance brings nothing but joy.