However, one morning last week I was startled out of my usual reverie by a mysterious avian interloper. I had crossed Columbus and was turning left on the sidewalk when I noticed an unfamiliar-looking bird eyeing me from the top of the low iron fence surrounding TR Park. I stopped. It continued to look at me. I waved. It looked away. Then it looked back. I frowned. It blinked. At that point I had to keep walking, because another feature of my morning subway walk is that I give myself exactly six minutes to get to the B train platform, which means that 30% of the time I actually miss my train, and on that morning I had a 9:30 am phone meeting with India (yes, that would be the nation).
But the bird's unknown identity nagged at me for the rest of the day. Why didn't I recognize it? I'm by no means a bird expert, much less an amateur ornithologist, but I do really like birds and will often stop when at the beach or in the park to watch them. Plus, my tenure as a volunteer docent at the 2004 Presidio exhibit of Andrew Jackson Grayson's Birds of the Pacific Slope paintings resulted in a verbal exchange between me and my sister that made it into the family pantheon of all-time best quotes (it includes a nod to both Christopher Guest and the American Kestrel). I've also unsuccessfully lobbied my mother to build a barn owl box under the eaves of her house in San Francisco, and have ridden my bike several times up towards Hawk Hill in the Marin Headlands, where one can watch the raptors migrating on the Pacific flyway circling and circling (they're afraid to cross open water, which I find fascinating, and which they have to do in order to get over the Golden Gate and continue their journey thousands of miles south). And finally, where would I be without my family's very first pet, our blue-fronted Amazon parrot, Picolé, who my parents brought back from Brazil in the 1970s?
Picolé: The best parrot that ever lived
When I was in Cambridge last month, I spent an afternoon in the Harvard Museum of Natural History; at one point I entered a special exhibit on colour and animals, and staring at me from a glass case was Picol
The bird in the Theodore Roosevelt Park was nowhere near this exotic, however--my best scientifically impossible guess was that it was a cross between a robin and a chickadee. So I began my search from those two points of reference, and in the process I identified several of the other birds I see around my neighborhood. For example, UWS denizens often encounter the ubiquitous European Starling, who at this time of year spends his/her time hopping around the tulip planters surrounding sidewalk trees, or pecking at things on the park lawns. The starling is often found in the same vicinity as the Red-breasted Nuthatch and the Brown Creeper, both of which I hoped might be my mystery bird but are neither big enough nor, for lack of a better word, bushy enough around the breast (poor diction is yet one reason why I would be an unscientific ornithologist).
European Starling, Red-Breasted Nuthatch, and Brown Creeper
Nor was the mystery bird a Mourning Dove, a bird with which I'm quite familiar because two like to come visit me on my living room windowsill as I get ready for work in the mornings. Given my hetero-centric mindset, I used to think that they were a cute little boy-girl dove couple coming to coo over each other in my adoring presence, but as NCT helpfully pointed out, they have the same coloring and thus are both girls. So now I think of them as the cute little girl-girl dove couple coming to coo over each other in my adoring presence.
Leaning towards the lavender?
Several more days of investigation plus one late afternoon visit to Central Park with NCT ended with me, I think, correctly identifying my mysterious friend. However, this ID did not occur before I, while sunk knee-deep in my bird-guessing hubris, excitedly misidentified a docile loon as a raptor. NCT and I were standing by the pond in the Ramble when a large-winged bird flew overhead and then landed with a beautiful skimming motion on the water's surface. I'd like to think that I was distracted by the wingspan size and thus didn't notice the obviously non hawk-like silhouette and landing, but having a witness did not help my case. In any event, I maintain that the bird was not a loon but instead some sort of merganser, but NCT maintains that I'm just saying that because I only like the word "merganser" due to its frequent appearance in crossword puzzles I can't finish. Touché. Regardless, it definitely was not a raptor of any persuasion.
This is not a hawk
Anyway, while I wouldn't bet money on it, I believe that what I saw was a squat, very brownish-breasted American Robin that looked like the following beauty:
That said, please let me know if you have any better-informed theories/guesses as to what my mystery bird is!