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Birding at Alley Pond Park gives peek at nature’s bounty

The first Saturday in May last year looked like a rainout when I met some other birders to go to Alley Pond Park to see migrating spring birds. Just before 6 a.m., steel-gray rain clouds started to part. At the park, the rain had stopped.

Our first bird was a male Baltimore oriole with a yellow-orange breast and black head. The sides of the bird’s black tail were burnt orange, making them resemble feathers on the end of an arrow. Soon the light became a bit brighter and the action fast. A bright red male cardinal was partly hidden by some branches. A rufous-sided towhee appeared in its place, but this striking rust, black and white bird quickly flew.

Seconds later, there was an ovenbird, whose name refers to its ground nest, which resembles an oven and has a side entrance. Its brown back and sides and a slight rust on the head blended in with rust-colored wet leaves among which it walked. A large dark eye looked out almost sideward at us.

With the sun now weakly attempting to come through, robins were all around. One, its bill filled with nest material, alternately climbed and flew in short spurts up a tree, making its way past hanging buds to the spot where its cup-shaped nest would be. A waterthrush, characteristically moving its tail up and down, was walking toward a puddle.

This is a bird that likes to flit among little islands in ponds. Nearby, a grackle with a yellow eye and purple hue on its neck and head was walking close to a tree. Suddenly, two robins chased it, as these birds sometimes eat eggs and the young of smaller birds.

The sky darkened; the threat of rain loomed. In a pond of still, nondescript brown water, nature’s paintbrush had left a swath of pale green algae. In the back of the pond by two bare trees were two bumps in the water. One was the green head of a male mallard; the other a brown female barely visible in the dim light.

The pair dipped their heads in the water and then paddled between the algae and grass near shore. Soon raindrops left small circles in the pond, but it was only a passing sprinkle. As we passed, the female dabbled but the male was still. Stealth and patience were his virtues. It was survival-savvy.

One of the most colorful spring migrants, the scarlet tanager, came into view high in the tree branches. Its bright red body and black wings were in contrast to the curtain of green stillness around it. Nothing in a field guide could prepare one for how this rich red bird registers on the human brain. It was a dose of joy, a natural high.

Too soon we were leaving, but it was a good birding morning at one of Queens’ premier spots for migrating spring birds.

Michael Givant

Woodbury, N.Y.

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