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Alley Pond has avian beauty

Early one morning this past April, I went with a small group of birders to Alley Pond Park, a magnet for migrating spring birds. Early morning is when birds are active because they are feeding. We get some quick looks at a yellow-rumped warbler, with bright yellow shoulder patches, and a striking black and white warbler. As we look, the trees catch my eye. They are thin, tall and so close together that the only thing the eye can see between them is vegetation. It is a photograph waiting to be taken.

I get a rose-breasted grosbeak in my birding telescope. It is a breeding male the kind of bird birders love to see. A bright, rose-colored "bib" sits on its neck between a black head and white breast. Its thick, ivory-colored little beak opens as the grosbeak pours its call into the chill morning. After it flies, someone says, "Thank you, little grosbeak."

There are several vernal pools, which swell and dry with the seasons. One, currently deep and backed by a broad area of tan, dead grass, has a pair of mallards paddling across its algae-covered surface. The male has a dark green head with black streaks. Oddly, the effect of the colors gives the duck's head a blue hue. The mallard sticks its head in the dark water, comes up wet and turns its head in my direction. In back of the pond is a tall tree in which two raccoons lie sleepily against each other. Are they adult mates or an adult and a child? It is like wilderness here, and I am smitten.

Searching for birds, we stretch our necks looking up at the trees. Their very tops appear to slightly converge, leaving only small spaces of light blue sky and clouds between them. They sway gently in the breeze. There is something spiritual about the moment. On a tree stump, there is a hermit thrush momentarily posing. It has a white breast with black striations flowing in both directions and a brown back with a rust-brown tail. Two-toned beauty.

By now, morning is almost over and so is the action. We take a wrong turn back to the parking lot but compensate with a short detour through some brush. Everyone stops: There is a male, black-throated blue warbler. Its black face, throat and slate blue back offer a rich contrast with a startling white "pocket handkerchief" along the wing. The diminutive bird's body is smooth. Someone takes out a field guide and we look at details of this bird that winters in the West Indies.

In three weeks, when the migration season is in full swing, I am coming back to Alley Pond when the woods should be alive with avian life. Maybe I will take the wrong path again and cut through here. Who knows what might be waiting?

The writer, an avid birder, is a retired college professor who taught sociology at Adelphi University for over 30 years.

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