Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Saying Goodby

By the time you read this I will have worked my last day for a media company in Bergen County. It was a freelance writing and editing job, and I had hoped my boss would get me hired on staff. He had thought that too, but instead the job has been eliminated. Or so I’m told. This place is consistent in its inconsistency.

Harold aloft,  April 30, 9:40 am

What I will miss most, besides the obvious paycheck and a lot of fine people, will be the birds.

On the morning of my last day at work, I went to Flat Rock Brook in Englewood, N.J., and had the best birding in years. I will miss this place, one of the last remaining areas of Palisades forest, high above the overdeveloped streets and ostentatious homes. There had been a thunderstorm overnight and the migrating birds were forced to interrupt their flight north to rest and feed at Flat Rock until conditions improved.

I walked my usual route and heard towhee and scared up a black-throated blue warbler with a grub in its beak. I continued up the hill to a meadow and was surrounded by birdsong, so much I had to listen hard to distinguish the myrtles, the black-throated green warbler and the parula. In the trees, with my binoculars, I found magnolia warbler, scarlet tanager, warbling vireo,common yellow-throat, black and white warbler. Thanks to this fallout I was seeing two weeks of birds in an hour. Magic. I was late to work but I didn't care.

I will miss the robins that decided the rhododendron in the enclosed courtyard of my now-former office was a fine place to put a nest. I found it by accident when I took a break and watched as a male robin chased a female and mated with her, then she - holding nest material in her beak all the while - went behind that particular plant. I went inside and, sure enough, from behind the glass I could see her snug in her nest. 

Maud on the nest, April. 30, 9:40am

The other morning I looked out and the female was picking up scraps dropped by sloppy diners. In the nest were four blue eggs, robin’s egg blue eggs. Unless you see these jewels you don’t appreciate why the color was given that name. I am sorry I won’t be able to watch the eggs hatch and see the parents take care of them.

I will also miss the fall migration when almost every day one or more raptors used the warm, thermal winds off the Palisades to stay aloft and used the Hudson River as a highway pointing south. Accipiters, falcons, vultures, buteos. When I left my previous job in midtown Manhattan one guy I know told me I’d enjoy birding the Palisades, and he was right.

I will even miss the noisy, silly killdeers that call as they fly over the parking lot of my office. Last year the pair raised two chicks but this year they have been faced with several calamities - one chick fell down into a sewer, too far for me to reach it even if I could lift up the heavy metal grate. (I only know this happened because the adults and a second chick were noisily fluttering around the grate and I came over and looked down. I felt helpless.)

Killdeer on the parking lot.
A few days later the adults were flying over the lot, alarmed, and I did not see the other chick. Did it fall down the sewer, too? Or was it hit by a car? Or was it snatched up by a predator?

Which leads me to Harold and Maud. I’ll miss them the most. It was a thrill finding the redtail hawk nest and I was enjoying watching one flying around hunting while the other sat on the eggs, which must've hatched by now.

As time has gone on the trees have leafed out and it has gotten harder to find the nest, even for me. This is as it should be. This hawk nest should not be disturbed. But I did want to see the young, see Harold and Maud taking turns going out to catch some food and feed them.

Well, being an optimist at heart, I know the nice thing about birding is you can always find something good anywhere, and I will have more time - when I'm not job hunting - to explore areas closer to home or to drive to new areas and see what’s in the trees.

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