Winter Birding

Although my year got off to a nice start, with my second snowy owl of the season and a flock of particularly vocal long-tailed ducks off Hobart Beach on New Year’s Day, the polar vortex did me in soon after. It’s just unpleasant to go out when the highs are in the single-digits (and the windchill is in the subzero range)—so I didn’t.

Snowy Owl
Snowy owl (Bubo scandiacus)

Sure, I saw house sparrows and and European starlings every morning on my walk to the subway, then more pigeons and the usual assortment of gulls wheeling over the platform as I waited for my train, but for the most part I, like many in the Northeast, stayed hunkered down under blankets and copious amounts of tea. My blood cooled. I entered a period of stagnation. Hibernation. It was not a completely bird-free two months, though. The temperatures showed signs of warming up by President’s Day weekend, which nicely coincided with the Great Backyard Bird Count. Elizabeth and I don’t have a yard or outside space  of our own (our apartment looks out into an alleyway—we hear sparrows, starlings, and the occasional mourning dove, but that is it), so we headed out to New York’s backyard: Central Park. And it was well worth it. The Ramble was a-buzz with the usual winter residents, including droves of my favorite white-throated sparrows singing their sweet song, a skulking brown creeper, and two very handsome fox sparrows.

Baltimore Oriole
Male Baltimore oriole (Icterus galbula)
Baltimore Oriole
Female Baltimore oriole

The highlight was definitely a stunning pair of Baltimore orioles who have apparently been overwintering by the feeders at Evodia Field all winter. I was glad to see that they at least seem to have a steady supply of fresh oranges to give them sustenance. Still, the frigid mid-Atlantic is no place for an oriole, not when they ought to be wintering in Central America. By the time our hour was up (but before Miss E’s fingers turned purple), we were quite happy to take shelter in the Boathouse for some mediocre tea and cappuccinos. If only the orioles were so lucky.

The following weekend saw temperatures hit the upper 50s, so I headed out to Long Island with the hopes of taking advantage of the weather, spending some time with my parents, and hopefully seeing some birds. We headed to Caumsett State Park, one of my favorite places on the island, and it seems like the rest of the town had the same idea. The parking lot was filled to capacity, but although the park was crawling with walkers, joggers, and cyclists, not a bird was to be seen. We ran into a group of birders on the way back, and it seemed like we were not the only ones who came up short. In the end, though, I didn’t mind; I was just happy to be outside.

My mom and I swung by Centerport Harbor on the way home, and there at least we were finally able to get some good views of waterfowl, including a flock of around 100 Canvasbacks. Now that I think of it, I think that canvasbacks were one of the first ducks that my mom taught me to identify when I was a kid (after the obvious mallard and wood duck); even though this was long before I actually started birding in earnest, there was something about those handsome ducks that stuck with 7-year-old me. Must have been that aquiline profile (I do like a good nose)!