Coot Foot

I’ve never gotten the hang of March. My weekends last month were spent mainlining tea, pulling near all-nighters for work, tending to a sick and worried girlfriend…and just hoping, hoping that spring would come. I watched with envy as reports came in about the red-necked grebe in Central Park, but my binoculars stayed in the closet. Even though I did have windows of free time, it was hard to go tromping in search of early migrants when my favorite birding companion was confined to the couch.

But now, finally, it seems that spring has arrived for good—and with it, a dose of better health for Elizabeth. Saturday was bubble tea and a ramble through the Ramble, followed by dinner at the World’s Worst Indian Restaurant™. And on Sunday, I decided to take a day for myself. I haven’t had one of those in a long, long time. Elizabeth had to go in to work, so I threw common sense to the winds of April (what taxes?) and headed to Central Park, binoculars in hand.

My first stop was the reservoir, with the vain hopes that I might catch sight of that grebe. The last sighting was on April 2, so it was no surprise that I came out empty-handed in that regard. Still, that didn’t prevent me from trying to turn a sleeping ruddy duck into a lifer red-necked grebe. Wishful thinking much? I saw the black cap, white cheeks, and red neck and must have stayed there for a good 10 minutes waiting for it to lift its head…studiously ignoring the telltale tail sticking up at a jaunty angle. Oops.

Northern Shoveler pair
Northern shovelers (Anas clypeata)

The reservoir had a good number of northern shovelers doing their shovel-y thing, and I was happy to see around 15 double-crested cormorants in breeding plumage. When I first started birding, I was mystified by their name. What crests? They just looked like skeletal black dinosaur birds to me. It took me a while before I finally saw that field mark for myself, but when it did—of course! It’s always satisfying when a name finally clicks for you, isn’t it?

Double-crested Cormorant
Double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)

Also seen were a pair of American black ducks, mallards, four feeding buffleheads, a lone hooded merganser backlit against the afternoon sun, and COOTS. Two highly entertaining American coots. I don’t think I will ever tire of watching those fellows. For a long time, I admit that coots creeped me out. Specifically their feet. So fleshy. So…lobular. So deathly pale and, quite frankly, rather undead. Now I love them and find them quite charming—yes, even those those weird fleshy lobed feet that trail behind them as they swim. These fellows were swimming along the shoreline, feeding on weeds and diving every so often. Reader, my heart melted a bit. I’m sorry, Elizabeth, but my heart may have been stolen by an old coot in Central Park!

American Coot
American Coot (Fulica americana)

Once I finished my circuit around the reservoir, I headed south towards the Ramble. The woods were crawling with people, some with binoculars, but most without. I ended up splitting my time between the feeders, where I spotted my first chipping sparrow of the year (they are such dapper fellows) and Tupelo Meadow, where I saw some more signs of migration. Several eastern phoebes were singing in the brush—although I couldn’t get a visual—and I got a nice look at my FOY hermit thrush. It’ll only be time before I hear their song ringing through the woods once again…


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