Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Peace in the City

Birdwatching at Inwood Hill 6-21-09 by Chris

A cool breeze is wafting through the open window early Sunday morning. I arise quickly, scarf a banana, and get dressed. The gray skies of yesterday have continued and a cool blast brushes our face as Chris and I exit the apartment building and head for the metro. I have my backpack and other gear. We have a long way to go and I need to be prepared. With binoculars, camera and rain poncho we hop on the subway and ride the rails to Inwood Hill in northern Manhattan. We exit the train on a raised platform on quiet but dirty streets. Overhead the pigeons fly and I start counting right away. In the one mile hike to Inwood Hill I count over 80 of these winged rats. But they are not the only birds on the streets of New York. The robins and starlings are everywhere fighting for their place in the world.

Believe it or not, we are still on Broadway, but oh how the scenery has changed. Garbage seems to be spilling out of everywhere with every trash can overflowing into the streets. As we draw near our destination the towering trees cascade over the sidewalk, a green relief from all that cement and brick. Wet roads and dripping shrubs are testaments to the recent rains. We dodge puddles until we find the entrance we seek. Gray stone steps lead us through a green tunnel of foliage to Isham park. Here the robins dot this grassy knoll like sprinkles on cake. A few barn swallows swoop low over the ground while starlings waddle and squawk. Chris waits patiently while I count the birds as the sky darkens and a fine mist fills the air. The drizzle drives me to put away my camera and pop up the umbrella. I amhoping this will be a brief sprinkle and I will not need my rain poncho. We head on down stone steps to the baseball fields at Inwood Hill Park. Here we stop at the only restrooms in the park. It is a necessary stop before we adventure any further. Before us the wide fields spread. We follow the path to the salt marsh where the Hudson and Harlem Rivers meet. Here we find Canada geese and mallards. A lone red-winged blackbird clings to a waving reed. The rain intensifies and I give in. Out comes the poncho to protect both camera and bins. It helps to keep my skin dry also.

We leave the flatlands and head up the hill. Tulip trees tower over our heads. I hear the familiar call of a red-eyed vireo and crane my neck to find it. These little insects eaters are so curious and soon it makes its way from twig to twig getting ever closer to us. Chris gets to see the sweet little bird before we head further up the path. At this part of the trail we are walking across the face of the hill. Trees dominate the landscape and grow above and below us. To our right the hill is a drop off to the fields and salt marsh below. As Chris is looking through the brush he spots a large white bird flying over the marsh below. Excitedly he asks me what it is, so I squat down with bins in hand. It lands in the reeds beyond a bend but then another person walks by and the egret flushes to a more open location. The large yellow beak reveals it to be a Great Egret and not a snowy. It is the first time Chris has seen one and I take pleasure in his delight. I explain to him that if it was a Snowy Egret, it would be a bit smaller with a black bill, black legs and yellow feet. A good way to remember the field marks of a snowy egret are to think of it as always having on its yellow galoshes because it is so snowy.

The trials of Inwood Hill wind through a deciduous forest. Tulip trees, oaks and maples are mixed with mulberry and cherry trees. In places the paths are wet with crushed berries as well as the recent rain. We capture views of the rivers as we walk the paved trail. A flash of brilliants orange flies by and we fine a Baltimore oriole in the tree canopy. I feel as if I am walking through an emerald forest with a world of birds around me.

While I am watching and counting birds, Chris is more impressed with the architecture of the bridges and the details of texture and pattern. It isn't long before I hand my camera over to him and we are both lost in our own little worlds. He finds a lovely bird nest in the crotch of a tree, remnents of life and witness to hope. Did the bird family from this nest survive? I only have questions for answers. There is only architecture in the trees.

We follow the path beneath a bridge that crosses beneath the the southbound lanes of the Henry Hudson Parkway. It emerges in the median divider where flowers, trees and ivy grow. We find the iron lampposts of another era rusting in the woods. Moss and mushrooms are everywhere in this transitional world. As we enter the tunnel beneath the northbound lanes of the highway a surprise waits for us. Someone has started a mosaic of tiles and bottles and broken things on the tunnel walls. I am fond of saying that "birds are everywhere," but here in New York city, so is art. Like the bird nest in the forest, these silent pieces of human life stand witness to the human spirit and the desire to create and express. Did the person who created this want it to be seen? Is it a work in progress or is it done? Is the artist still around, or has the the artist moved on to new territories like the birds.

Forest Floor by Chris 6-21-09

Inwood Hill is a birder's paradise. If you are looking for peace in the City, you will find it here. Though there are paved paths in some locations, much of the park is left wild with rambling dirt paths that cross and criss-cross the hill. At 200 feet in elevation, it is perhaps the highest point on the whole island of Manhattan. We had such a good morning on Inwood Hill with birds and birdsong everywhere and a little art to boot!

To learn more about Inwood Hill Park click on the link.

Bird seen at Inwood Hill Park on 6-21-09:
  1. Canada Goose
  2. mallard
  3. great egret
  4. Rock pigeon
  5. Mourning dove
  6. red-bellied woodpecker
  7. Red-eyed vireo
  8. blue jay
  9. barn swallow
  10. tufted titmouse
  11. white-breasted nuthatch
  12. wood thrush
  13. catbird
  14. starling
  15. eastern towhee
  16. northern cardinal
  17. common grackle
  18. Baltimore oriole
  19. red-winged blackbird
  20. House finch
  21. House sparrow


Mike said...

I see you've been right by my old stomping grounds. Too bad your timing was off. You would not believe how amazing Inwood Hill is for warblers and other songbirds during migration!

Love your photo of the high line below. I haven't seen it yet but it looks amazing.

Gaelyn said...

What a great place to walk so near to a city. As usualy, your words, plus Chris' images, bring me along with you.

Dawn Fine said...

Looks like a great place! will have to save this for future birding pleasure!

Anonymous said...

I recognize that poncho! :)

Larry said...

Like an Emerald Forest-I can see that by looking at the Photos.-Nice descriptions and questions that you pose in your post Kathie.

Kathie Brown said...

Mike, I knew I would be missing peak migration but I was just happy to be there and see whatever I could see. I didn't get any new species for my life list but all were new species for my New York list, so I was ecstatic!

Gaelyn the High Line was a delight, even in the rain!

Dawn if you can get that RV to NY you won't regret it!

Wren, that poncho is becoming well travelled!

Larry, I know you seek out the wild places just like me, so if you ever have to go to NY, this place is well worth visiting.

Celeste said...

Kathie, when you post about all the birds that come to your feeders in Arizona I am always green with envy because they are all species that I have either never seen or ones that I have to travel great distances to see. Now you are in Manhattan you are talking about species that I see on a regular basis :) Isn't it amazing how these species have adapted to such intense urban environments? Thanks for the heads up on a cool birding spot for when I am next in NY.