As many of you know I have been unemployed since 1 October. While it is a bit discombobulating to not have a job there are many folks in a situation worse than mine and I am sure things will work out eventually. In the meantime I have been spending lots of time with Desi, who is now over ten months old and is a joy to be around. Every afternoon that has weather that allows us to get out of the house we take long walks with lots of stops to look at stuff, and one of our favorite walks is to and through Maple Grove Cemetery, a 66-acre burial ground in Kew Gardens, the neighborhood next to ours. It is ideal in that the paved roads and paths provide a smooth surface for Desi’s stroller and our stops at the the pond with the fountain and three Manky Mallards always make Desi smile and laugh.
To me, the appeal is the migratory birds taking advantage of the cemetery’s shaded precincts to refuel and recharge before continuing on their long journey south. In the few visits we have made to Maple Grove Cemetery, all at the worst time of day for birding, early afternoon, and all in the last two weeks, Desi and I have logged a surprising thirty species of bird. That number might not seem that high but considering that the height of fall migration is long past, birding with a ten-month-old in a stroller is not easy, and the location is meant to provide a home for the dead, not for the living, and, well, I am happy with the species diversity. And I am also happy with the slight queasiness that comes with watching an American Robin pull worms out of ground marked with a gravestone.
The family of birds that we have seen the most of in the cemetery is sparrows, which is only to be expected in early to mid October. Song Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, and Dark-eyed Juncos were not at all surprising to find but I was pleased with the Eastern Towhees and the juvenile White-crowned Sparrow that have crossed our path. I have paid the most attention, though, to Chipping Sparrows, as I have still have never seen a Clay-colored Sparrow in Queens and I keep hoping to find a chippy with the tell-tale brown rump of a clay-colored. Alas, all the rumps are gray (that’s a sentence I never anticipated writing).
The best bird that we have spotted in the cemetery was sighted when I was photographing some Golden-crowned Kinglets and Desi was sitting next to me in his stroller playing with a stuffed animal that I had held in reserve for when I wanted to keep him busy for a minute or two. A long-tailed bird that flashed rufous flew past and my brain registered thrasher but when it landed in a rather distant tree and I put my bins on it I was very surprised to see a Yellow-billed Cuckoo. It took off again and flew to an even more distant tree and I was behind the stroller and pushing at top speed in no time. We would have caught up to the bird and I would have gotten great pictures, I am sure, had Desi not decided to sabotage his dad’s birding by jettisoning his stuffed animal and then screaming hysterically. The sacrifices we parents make…
A species that I was not surprised to find in the cemetery is Eastern Phoebe, though the cheerful demeanor of the phoebe seems out of place in a graveyard. Then again, a happy ten-month-old baby seems out of place in a cemetery as well, and at least phoebes have the decency to dress in somber black and white, so perhaps they do belong. Watching them flycatch from stone perches is fun, and Desi actually watched one for a couple of seconds once as it sallied forth, attempting to catch a meal to bring back to its kitchen.
It won’t be long before fall migration ends and Desi and I will have to resort to the small feeding station that we discovered in the cemetery to find bird life. That, or we could look for birds made of stone…
Despite opinions like one from a birding friend who, when I sent him an email about the cuckoo, wrote, “You take your baby walking through the cemetery? How macabre!” I think we will continue to visit Maple Grove Cemetery. I need a place to walk with Desi that is paved and birdy and within easy walking distance. Maple Grove Cemetery fits the bill and, provided we don’t get attacked by ghosts, ghouls, or zombies, we will be visiting on the regular.