by Marcie Cuff
Ahh, spring! Time to ditch the dreaded snow shovel! Time to get reacquainted with the joy of being outside! Finally it is spring. This month, let’s make a point to become reacquainted with the outside world. There are pockets of wilderness all around us to easily explore. So, thankfully getting out there won’t require hours of travel time or any special equipment. The Aqueduct Trail, the Irvington Woods, Rockefeller State Park—all are just footsteps away from us, and all have benefits that reach far beyond the trailheads. Let’s let more sunshine into our lives this spring. In turn, we’ll improve ourselves, both physically and mentally. Nature allows a clearer focused mindset and a break from everyday stressors. Really really wonderful things happen when we head outside.
If you have an hour of free time on your hands within the next few weeks, the hiking spots mentioned above are just perfect, but if you have a full day on your hands, nothing beats the magnificence of Croton Point Park. I highly recommend it this month. April brings warm winds to this preserve, heralding in thousands of migratory birds—some just passing through, and some taking up residence in Croton Point’s meadows and dense thickets. This month brings a biannual overlap of overwintering species and nesting species—the perfect time to spot an abundance of birds in one place. While the Dark-Eyed Junco and Fox Sparrow gather up their things and prepare to head south to breed, the Bobolink, Indigo Bunting, Rose-Breasted Grosbeak, Scarlet Tanager, Yellow Warbler, American Redstart, Common Yellowthroat, Wood Thrush, Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, House Wren, Cliff Swallow, Warbling Vireo, and Great Crested Flycatcher arrive in a flurry of feathers and spring songs. Many will nest here, and all will remain until early fall.
This month, set a day or two aside to head to Croton Point. Once there, find a comfy place to quietly sit. Watch the surrounding ground and shrubs. Chances are some feathered friends will stop by. Look for special features—their song, plumage, shape, size and behavior. Often what you think is an unimportant detail will turn out to be the key element to properly identify a species—like the wag of an Eastern Phoebe’s tail, or the “meow” of a Catbird’s song. Then, once you return home, grab a local bird guide—your library should have a good one—and take a peek through it. Try to identify a few birds using your own clues. Don’t worry if you can’t determine the names of any. That’s not important. What is important is that you recognize the features of some of the birds you’ve seen the next time you spot them. Just like somebody you meet once at a party—pick out quirky habits and features that stand out and attempt to spot them again the next time.
Note: If you’re lucky, you may spot a Great Horned Owl family at Croton Point. For several years, they have returned each spring. Last year, we saw their three newly hatched owlets. Due to their size, they are often easily spotted in the willow trees near the park entrance. Look for them this month!
Finally it is spring. Time to let more sunshine into your life. Tweet tweet!
Marcie Cuff lives in Irvington, works at the NY Botanical Garden, and is the author of “This Book Was a Tree”(Perigee Books). For more ideas like this, look for her book at any bookstore, or visit her her blog Mossy at http://mossymossy.com.