Today was the Bronx/Westchester Christmas Bird Count. Although I participate in the West Bronx CBC every year, the confluence of family, professional, and social obligations precludes me from making the kind of commitment I’d like. Unable to meet up with other counters or attend the count compilation festivities, I’m an outsider whose observations of common birds are not even tallied due to the likelihood of overlap with better organized observations. Instead, I’m charged with picking up uncommon birds that the more active participants might miss.
My specialty has been bringing home American Kestrel, a species that has a tendency to roost within sight of my apartment window in winter months. However, I always check out two specific spots that have proven fortuitous in years past. The first of these is Riverdale Park, which, though something of a dud this time of year, once yielded the Core Team’s first (and so far, only) Eastern Screech Owl (the day after I started this very blog – true story!) The second is the Spuyten Duyvil Metro North station, where we spotted a pair of Canvasback during our 2003 Christmas Bird Count. I find this latter sighting distinctive since, despite my active, far ranging birding lifestyle, I haven’t seen canvasback since.
Anyway, with my itinerary already set and a mere hour available for Christmas bird counting, my first stop was my apartment window. Kestrels have been fairly scarce this last year due to interminable construction in the area. I haven’t seen any for months but still held out hope that a Christmas kestrel would make the scene. Unfortunately, checking all the known local roosts turned up nothing.
I then swept for screech owls at Riverdale Park to no avail. I don’t know why I continue to search for owls here when it’s been more than three years since I’ve seen one. This certainly wasn’t the most opportune time to seek out such a stealthy species. A light rain fell in the early morning as the unseasonal warmth triggered a dense fog bank that rolled off the Hudson River. Riverdale Park was enshrouded in thick, white mist, rather impressive in a purely atmospheric sense but rotten for spotting birds. Common species like Blue Jay, Northern Mockingbird, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, Northern Cardinal, Red-bellied Woodpecker, and White-throated Sparrow are hard to miss no matter the weather, but nothing more interesting made the scene.
Disappointed, dejected, and close to done, I dropped in at the Spuyten Duyvil station for a shot at redemption. This train station is positioned directly across from Inwood Hill Park and the waters between are attractive to both raptors and waterfowl. Of the former, I only observed Red-tailed Hawk, but regarding the latter, I was in luck. As soon as I arrived at the station, I spotted a duo of ducks quite unlike the usual Mallards. Wouldn’t you know it, before me was a pair of Canvasback, females or juveniles, virtually in the same spot we spied this species three years ago. Coincidence or Christmas Bird Count miracle? You be the judge.
Anyway, those two beautiful birds represent the sum total of my contribution to the Bronx/Westchester CBC. I hope one day to offer more, but when it comes to citizen science, even small observations may make a big difference.
CANV in the CBC