the tally: 2/25 – 3/3

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37 birds, all buteos.

34 hawks on 3/2, with a couple along the taconic and the rest on 84 between the taconic and middletown. the majority of them were on the ground in the median, probably squeezing the life out of tiny fur morsels who scurried out to get their first taste of sunshine in weeks. one of these buteos may have been a red-shoulder, but at 70mph, who knows.

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the tally: 2/18 – 2/24

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46 birds, all buteos, with a pair sitting maybe a foot apart on the same branch above the 84 interchange on the taconic. one red tail was being harassed by a crow across the street from the dunkin donuts in pleasant valley on 2/23. he didn’t last long – he fled before i had enough time to go back to the car to get my binocs.

30 birds on 2/24 alone, on the way to and from albany for the gem & mineral show at the museum. almost surprised there weren’t more.

the tally: 2/11 – 2/17

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14 for the week. mostly buteos, as usual.

a possible red-shouldered hawk sitting at the end of sherow road in pleasant valley. his striped tail gave him away. might have been another red-shoulder later in the week, too, but so damn hard to tell from far away whizzing by in a car.

three more bald eagles this week, making lazy circles towards the west over the hannaford in highland. they were coming up from the river around an hour before sundown, possibly getting the hell away from all the crows that were due to show up in poughkeepsie at any moment. c. feels like he’s hit the bald eagle jackpot.

the tally: 2/4 – 2/10

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58 birds.

the majority were buteos, up and down the taconic, plus a pair of red tails scoping food from the same branch on 44 in pleasant valley.

a total of five eagles for the week (at least three of them bald). the first time c. has seen one, let alone five. a nice close-up flyby of a bald eagle on the train back from the city, and one walking (less than gracefully) on the ice near the croton dam.

more black vultures hanging around the beech shopping center on route 6 in peekskill, too. two stared c. and i down as we made our way into king buffet. so much more attractive than turkey vultures.

the tally: 1/28 – 2/3

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forty-two (!) birds of prey this week, 29 on 2/3 alone. it was chilly, breezy, and directly after a storm front; i think all this lead to such a high count for the day.

throughout the week:

red tail enjoying a meal near the 82 exit on the taconic.

possible broad-wing floating over route 9 in poughkeepsie near ibm.

juvenile bald eagle circling above the cortlandt train station, in tandem with a vulture, before taking off to the northwest.

merlin hanging out at the top of a tree at croton point park. got a very up close look through a scope belonging to a kind fellow birder. first ever merlin sighting.

also two possible ravens chatting in a tree near the hudson up in castleton on route 9j, and at least one black vulture roosting at the beech shopping center on route 6 in peekskill.

chance of a snowy

a snowy owl has been hanging around the toys r us parking lot in kingston. he’s been there for a few weeks now, off and on. i don’t know how long he’ll be there—for the season, or just until he’s bored of all the weirdos in kingston? i don’t know.

c. and i went up only once, two saturdays ago, to see if we might be the next mid-hudson birders to proudly stand up as one of the lucky ones. the trip—half planned around the owl, half planned around the soda robot at moe’s—was to begin and end with a long, slow crawl through the parking lots of walmart, sam’s club, toys r us, lowes and the hudson valley mall. we never saw the owl, but we did see about a dozen plastic bags snagged on branches, floating in the tall trees, looking like what you might expect a snowy owl specter to look like.

i was looking forward to the moment c. or i might spot him, and the one would gasp and point and shout, “thereitis!” and the other would say “where?!” and i was anticipating how satisfying that would be, and how exciting it would be for c., and me too, but mostly i wanted to watch him enjoy it like i was serving him a giant, bacon-wrapped meatball.

i was disappointed that the owl didn’t show, but i had a feeling i wouldn’t be that lucky that night. and i know i can’t force it when it comes to things like this. the owl wants to show himself to me or he doesn’t, and when he’s ready, i’ll be there. but i know i can’t push it, and really i know it isn’t luck, or at least i hope it isn’t. i hope it’s something bigger than that, but i think i might be pushing it again.

we at least got to visit the soda robot, and i watched c. enjoy his nachos instead.

november lull

c. and i had our two year anniversary last week. we both forgot.

but on the weekend we decided to take a spontaneous mom-free trip to stay in a mom-free hotel and enjoy things that other mom-free adults can enjoy IN THEIR OWN HOMES. imagine it. i can’t.

a near two-hour drive through flat swamped fields prickled with dead and limbless trees and stretched open expanses rushing up to the sides of mountains, all ringed with tall trees perfect for perching, and we mostly saw nothing. no vultures, even, to make me take my eyes off the road and ask c. “vulture? is that a vulture? i can’t tell. i think it’s a vulture. what do you think?”

(the abandoned feeling made me think maybe this was more a landscape for owls. when we got into great barrington, indeed i found owl mugs and toys and sculptures, and a small porcelain barn owl came home with me to the regret of the store owner, who lamented that she was eying him for her own collection as i paid.)

but there were crows, a bird that i (reluctantly, for some reason) identify with, and a bird that i have forgotten about. and now there are crows, but no hawks, the november lull they call it. crows have become important again. instead of seeing one and being disappointed by its non-hawkness, it’s nice to see it, to see anything at all that isn’t a songbird. the crows in pittsfield were not abounding. there was no overabundance, but looking up as one flew past the hotel window, i was still happy to see it.

on the drive home through a different set of swamps and fields, we started seeing things again. a hawk over a stand of trees, his white belly giving him away. and another hawk, on the way down to c.’s, perched above the parkway. that set the tally for the week at two.

the first osprey

i often, out of laziness, find myself wishing i were a bird. they don’t have to worry about picking careers or successfully moving out of their mother’s house for good. i’m sure their worries are more life and death, but at 28, moving out feels like life and death pretty much.

i had just, for the first time, purchased a car, by myself, like an adult. it was on the way back from taking it to be photographed at the insurance office that, sitting at one end of a lake, i saw a bald eagle. having had a week of feeling like i was on top of the life game, i immediately turned around to get a better look. instead of what i usually do which is, “oh, no. by the time i turn around it’ll be gone. and where will i turn around? and no, i’ll just keep going.” and then even as i say the words i immediately regret them but still never turn around. so i turned the hell around cuz i was an ADULT, goddammit!

and even as the cop passed me as i maneuvered at the bottom of a road leading up to the development that looks out over the lake, i thought, “as long as i say, with determination, ‘a BALD EAGLE, OFFICER,’ his patriotic duty is to let me off with a warning.” he didn’t care. cops don’t care if you turn around.

even as quickly as i had glimpsed the white head and dark body, i thought “something is wrong with this eagle.” and when i got back to the other end of the lake, parked, and crossed the road to stand at the guardrail that lines the shore, i knew it wasn’t a bald eagle that was perched on the dead tree reaching out over the water. through my binoculars i could see his head was not completely white. he had sad tear-stain streaks of brown running down from his eyes. i had never seen an osprey before, and really i don’t know how i even knew they existed, but in my head a persistent voice was whispering, “osprey, osprey, osprey. totally, definitely, osprey.”

i knew he knew i was there and that i was there to look at him. and much like i would be if i were that bird, he was probably pissed that his tree-sitting revery was spoiled by someone who didn’t understand privacy. i only got to watch the bird for a minute before he took off. he glided on giant wings, totally disproportionately long wings, towards the trees on the far shore where i lost him. i scanned the trees, back and forth, but i couldn’t find him. he was probably on his way home to his mommy-less nest.

i got back in my new-to-me car and went home, too. the feeling of being an adult quickly vanished soon thereafter.

a light red

we woke up to wet on sunday. c. rolled over. “i hear rain.” we were supposed to be heading down to bedford to endure a “mildly strenuous 10-15 minute hike” to watch migrating hawks boil and stoop by the hundreds. i was excited, c. seemed apprehensive. it kept raining.

we drove down to c.’s. daunted by the thought of wet shoes, we both decided to forgo the hawkwatch. plan b was to carve the pumpkins we had manhandled out of a field the previous day. in between poking and slicing and separating seeds from pulp, we watched the regulars get lunch at c.’s grandparent’s feeder. mostly chickadees, titmice and nuthatches, with the occasional downy woodpecker, and a poorly looking purple finch feeding solo for several minutes.

eventually i heard the maniacal laughter of a pileated woodpecker and turned to the stand of trees that spread from the deck down to the brook that separated c.’s grandparent’s yard from the neighbour’s. six months after c. and i first started dating, and three months after he gave me mono, he called me from the car as he was leaving my house. a huge woodpecker, he said, was perched on a stump near the end of my road and he thought i might want to see it. it was a pileated. it was the first time either of us had ever seen anything like it.

after watching one pileated and then a second jerkily trip and cling and knock and look and knock and look and laugh from tree to tree across the backyard, something told c. to look up. a couple times we had heard high-pitched, hawk-like shrills from beyond the trees and desperately tried to scan through the leaves for something to pair the call with, but the screams were too far off and there were too many branches in the way. now a large hawk was circling over the backyard.

the underside of this hawk was almost completely white. expecting to see a broad-wing, as c. and i have seen (and heard) him hanging around the neighborhood several times before, i looked for bars on the tail. there were none. it was white. i looked to the tips of the wings, all white. there was no banding on the belly, no visible markings of any kind. i couldn’t help it, i kept shouting “you are BEAUTIFUL,” and the hawk kept circling and still it was just white. i twisted my neck as far as i could to follow its drift towards the west over the house. c. ran to grab the bird i.d. book off the dry sink in the dining room, and we flipped through page after page saying no, no, no. c. was the first to postulate it was an extremely light buteo, and it must have been a juvenile as there was nothing red about its tail.

we continued to carve our pumpkins and eventually went out to get dinner where we saw two more hawks circling together over the power lines. when we got back we roasted the seeds until it finally got dark enough to light up the pumpkins. c.’s grandmother was so thrilled by our carving skills she began verbally daydreaming about us being discovered by a local newspaper reporter and getting propelled into the rich and glamorous world of fancy pumpkin carvers.

the hawk tally for the week was seven.

the eagle tails the osprey

something compelled me to put on real pants and head out to hyde park. i figured since it was nearly 4 that vanderbilt mansion would be almost tourist-free. by 4:30 the tours had stopped. the garden was empty and it was beautiful out. when i got down to the river at 5 most of the parking spots were empty.

a big brown bird zoomed through my field of vision. i found my binoculars and got out of my car and started scanning branches. it looked like he had flown north over the trees back up towards the metro north tracks, so i went and stood at the bank of the little inlet of the hudson river that winds its way around whatever the point of land down there is called. there was an old couple sitting on a bench a little ways behind me. i thought maybe they were there to bird watch because i assume all old people bird watch.

fish were jumping out of the water, really big fish, and really high. there was one in the deeper water out a ways from the shore that kept jumping and skidding across the surface of the water with its tail and i figured if i watched that fish i’d probably see whatever big brown thing had flown by before. but then i heard a splash much closer to the shore, maybe 20 feet to the right of me. an osprey had landed in water that didn’t even come up to its wings. it stood in the water looking stunned and then laboriously took off to land in the branch of a dead tree directly above my head.

i was internally dying. i alternately lifted and lowered the binoculars from my face, he was so close i didn’t need them. i stole a quick glance at the old couple and they seemed nonplussed. dyyying, i’m dyyyying. the woman was watching me watching the bird and i was thinking, “look at that bird! you’re old! you love birds!” the dying decreased after five minutes as the osprey just sat there and dried off and bobbed its head like a yoyo and i thought for a second he was going to bend over and shoot some poop towards the old people, but he didn’t and they had left anyway.

that big fish kept jumping and propelling himself across the surface of the water on the far shore, and then a train went by and blew its horn the whole way past which i thought was unnecessary, but it had zero effect on the osprey and i was a little thrilled to be able to witness whether trains scare ospreys. then some little fish near my feet started making noise. i looked up at the osprey to see if he would go for them, or if he was at least interested in them. he took off.

the osprey saw it before i did. a golden eagle was coming fast. i’m not sure if the osprey was a migrant unknowingly infringing upon this eagle’s territory or if he was just a jerk who knew where he was and that he shouldn’t be there and decided he was going to do it anyway. the eagle chased him hard through the air and over the water. the osprey tried to maneuver his way around in every direction like a rabbit, and they both dipped and doubled back within feet of each other, and within feet of me. i might have whispered “holy shit!” the eagle eventually got the osprey over open water and i lost sight of them both. i spun around to see if anyone else had just seen what the fuck i had just seen, but the old people had already gone and there were no other old people there so i figured no one would care.

that was it. i was all the way dead. i got back in the car and went home.

tails in the trees

there’s a tree my eyes always travel to. i imagine if i were a hawk, i’d want to be in that tree. it’s lean but strong and the parched, white color of a tree that’s been dead and leafless for a long time. it sits at the bottom of a hill on the taconic at the pawling/poughkeepsie exit. anyway, i look at it every time i crest the hill going south on my way to visit c. and there’s usually never anything in it. but i look anyway because i like to think about how i wouldn’t have to have a job if i were a bird and could sit in dead trees and think about whatever birds think about, which probably doesn’t involve how much they’re dreading monday. i would assume.

on my way back from driving c. home yesterday morning, the tree—that awesome, responsibility-less tree—was supporting a big-bellied red-tail. i always see their white bellies first, and then i always find myself being surprised by how chubby and large the buteos look, and then i say a tiny thanks and try to remember the tally for the week. he made two for the morning as another bright white belly caught my eye in the median a few exits back.

anyway, the point is, everyone except me had yesterday off.