Monday morning, after driving Daisy to the Amtrak station to catch the train back to the city I decided to take a walk around my neighborhood looking for birds.  Surprisingly, this is something I had never done before.  I’ve walked around my neighborhood and I’ve looked for birds but somehow had never combined the two.  But with my Anti-Global Warming Big Year list stuck at 41 since I returned from California I was itching to get some new birds checked off so I have some chance of reaching my goal of 250 before the year is over and done.  What better way to start the New York portion of my tallying than by walking out of my front door?

I live in the south of the city of Albany.  Not far enough south that I live in the South End but far enough south that the neighborhood I live in, Cherry Hill, borders the South End.  It is not a very nice neighborhood.  Bordered on one side by an interstate and an industrial yard and otherwise by neglected neighborhoods the bird life has never been spectacular.  There are quite a few trees around though, as a thick screen between the interstate and my apartment complex and on a thickly wooded hillside that is sandwiched between athletic fields.

I knew the first spot I wanted to check out.  The bird feeders in a side yard just up the street from my complex are always filled and I was pleased to tally both Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers coming to the suet there.  The Tufted Titmice and Black-capped Chickadees in the bushes across the street were also new for my list.  Not new for my list were the ubiquitous House Sparrows and European Starlings, both of which nest in some of the more dilapidated buildings in my neighborhood.  The cheerful song of a male Northern Cardinal led my eyes to its crimson plumage in the yard of the addiction treatment center up the block, yet another new addition to my list!

When I reached the softball fields at the top of the hill I turned off the street and headed along the top of the hill, looking into the sun and down the hill into the trees and brush, ignoring the (already listed) Ring-billed Gulls and American Crows foraging in the frozen fields.  American Goldfinches “potato-chipping” overhead let me check them off and then, finally, my first countable Rock Pigeons of the year flew past in tight formation.  The local Blue Jay hoard caught sight of me and let me know by screaming their displeasure.  I was happy to hear it, and see them, as they were another bird that I certainly didn’t see in southern California!

view looking east from the top of the hill

view looking east towards East Greenbush from the top of the hill

Hoping to find some sparrows in some of the thicker brush I tarried awhile but to no avail: nothing else was moving at all.  Back on city streets only House Sparrows called from thick hedges and the two houses I found with bird feeders had occupants too lazy or disinterested to keep the feeders full.  Feral cats and Gray Squirrels were the only other things moving in the cold morning air as I walked downhill and I was getting kind of disheartened.  Then, in a thickly overgrown vacant lot the pleasant twitterings of a whole flock of Dark-eyed Juncos broke through my doldrums.  I was never so happy to see such monochromatic birds, so different from their western counterparts that I had grown used to.

overgrown vacant lot

vacant lot that held juncos

As I completed my loop, walking back uphill to my apartment complex, the familiar nasally honking of a White-breasted Nuthatch drew my attention and I patiently scanned the trees until I found it searching through the bark for something to eat.  My tenth new checkable bird for the morning, not bad for forty-five minutes in the cold!

frozen phragmites in the sun

frozen phragmites in the sun

Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy and Desmond Shearwater. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.