Monday, April 11, 2011

Birds in cities big and small


I hate to be too busy. Though it goes against our cultural grain, rushing around with a zillion things on my to-do list doesn't make me feel important or worthwhile, it just stresses me out. I'd much rather have time to bird, read, and enjoy my day.

Alas, it's all too easy to get caught up in the whirlwind, so over the last few days, I've only been able to carve out a little time here and there to bird and read. As far as birding goes, yesterday I had a quick jaunt to Tipton Park, the suburban park just down the street from me (the weather sunny but windy), and as far as reading goes, I'm working on a biography of Sylvia Plath on my Kindle (not relevant to birding), and a book from the library, Club George: The Diary of a Central Park Bird-Watcher by Bob Levy.

I'm about half way through Club George. So far, I like it. After being laid off from his job, Levy describes how he acquired a new hobby--birding in New York City's Central Park, a well-known birding hot-spot--as well as a new friend of sorts, a male red-winged blackbird called George.

This is not George, but rather an anonymous Tipton Park red-winged blackbird:


I had a terrible time taking photos of the blackbirds last Sunday; I'd hear them giving their territorial "conk-a-ree!" calls, but as soon as I turned towards them with my camera, it was just nervous "chek" calls and then a disappearing act into the grasses. Thus, it was with both surprise and dismay that I read how George, the RW black bird of Central Park, had become so acclimated to humans that he would come take food right from their hands...including sticking his head into a bag of goldfish crackers, in the last chapter I read. In fact, what surprised me most was how, not only George but many of the wildlife that Levy describes in the park, seem completely blase about all the humans around them. Many birds will come quite close to be fed...a snapping turtle digs a hole for its eggs while a small crowd debates what to do (should they carry the turtle back to the pond? [Ummmm...NO, folks, it's a snapping turtle!] Is it sick? Should they call 911? Luckily, the author soon sets them straight)...a black skimmer drifts over the water each evening, even as an opera is performed in the park....

Talk about urban birding! Though a trip to New York City would probably be last on my list of places to visit, I am heartened to know about all the species that find a refuge in Central Park. As Bob Levy points out, if birds can make it in New York, they can make it anywhere (hopefully). I am also enjoying the perspective of a novice birder, excited to see every new species passing through, with energy to spare to forming "relationships" with his usual suspects, such as George, a pair of downy woodpeckers (Morton and Mary Downy), a family of Canada geese, etc. The prose is very down to earth, the observations frequently funny (I especially love the chapter about the scene of "graphic violence"), and the enthusiasm of the neophyte birder shines through.

I would especially recommend Club George if Urban Birding (or nature) is an interest of yours. And in the spirit of Bob Levy's repeated trips to Central Park, I return to my much smaller in scale visit to Tipton Park, here in Bloomington, IL.

The coots are still in residence...they've been here for what? The past three or four weeks? Hard to believe they're just migrants, but most of them are.


I also had a good photo opportunity of a crow, my personal inspiration:


In Club George, Bob Levy has yet to mention crows. Surely there are crows in Central Park? I know he mentions Canada geese:


There are certainly plenty here in Bloomington, IL, including this one on its nest:


I was hoping to see some sandpipers...or maybe a sora! They have been seen here before, but do you see any sandpipers?


Yeah, me neither.... I did see some frogs, though.


And some evidence of things to come.


In the meantime, my best sighting was probably the pair of blue-winged teal I surprised close to the bank.


Well, it's early days yet.... In the meantime, I can get some vicarious birding in with Club George. Although I must say I don't approve of how tame the "Club George" contingent allows that blackbird to be, especially as, at mid-point through the book, George has had two narrow escapes from humans, three if you count the junk-food feeding episode.

I understand it must be a huge rush to interact so closely with a wild animal; but when wild animals intersect so closely with humans, it is rarely in the animals' favor. Just last week, close to my workplace pond, I saw a dead fox on the road.... That really is so sad. But would it be even sadder still not to have that chance to cross paths with nature? I don't know the answer. I wouldn't want to live without those moments of connection but maybe that is selfish?

Has anyone else had any good urban bird sightings recently? And how close should we allow nature to come to us? Have you read Club George?

1 comment:

  1. I love the new push to make our cities and suburbs more bird friendly (and people friendly, too!), although driving through many places would lead me to believe these green people only exist on certain blogs, and in certain magazines! I'm changing my mind on people/animal interactions. It is so fun to feed animals, and who doesn't want to touch them? But, after encountering a duck family that tried to get into our car, I've decided the signs in campgrounds are true: a fed animal is a dead animal. Mom

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