Downhome Magazine

My Introduction to Birding

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Bird Watching in NYC's Central Park

You might have a serendipitous moment in New York City during the early morning hours of that vibrant city if you're lucky. I'll tell you of one such delightful encounter. It was on a bright Sunday morning in late April. I had decided to take a walk through Central Park, while waiting for my train back to Montreal when almost by accident, I found myself falling in with a small but enthusiastic group of local birdwatchers. It was my first such experience and it turned out to be a most enjoyable one.

It had all began innocently enough when I idly stopped, just momentarily, to observe a solitary fellow casually attempting to attract the attention of any surrounding birdlife. To go along with his clever repertory of birdsong, his efforts were also buttressed by offerings of birdseed, which he patiently held out in an open palm. It's hard to say in the end what was the stronger inducement, the birdseed or the magic of his whistling. But whatever it was the inducements worked. Before long, a number of colourful feathered visitors were settling down in and around his cupped palm. I'd never been an observer of such birding activities before, let alone participated in any, so I was surprised, impressed even, to discover how effective this fellow was in the pursuit of his hobby.

It soon became apparent that he was the leader of a small group of birders that over the next quarter hour came by to join him, swelling our numbers to perhaps a dozen. He was very skilled and to our delight, before very long, had seduced to his open palm an impressive number of unusual looking birds, from their hiding places in nearby trees and bushes. They even included places where no one would ever have suspected they were observing him. But out they came, many different species, all gathering together here on his outstretched hand, to snack on his tempting offerings.

And so it was, in this way that the morning passed by for me quite quickly. We spent several hours with him as he went about the true birder's craft of entertaining and educating us to the beauty of city wildlife. It was during my sojourn that morning that I got to see (and even learned to identify) barn swallows (long tailed), (fools tail?), (strummers?), tree swallows, rust coloured with metallic blue, chimney swifts, olive sided fly catchers, collared flycatchers, whippoorwill, nighthawk (NOT a hawk), night jars, blue bird and tree swallows- these birds don't even like to live close together and need separate bird boxes. What a learning experience it was! If I had lived in the city I certainly would have become an ardent acolyte of our superb guide to the birds of Central Park, even though most of them were perhaps merely visitors, passing through during their spring migration further north.

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