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Alley Pond Park doesn’t disappoint as a place to go birding

As I get off the exit on the Grand Central Parkway to Alley Pond Park, a male cardinal flies fast across the road. With the spring migration just starting, I hope it’s a harbinger of things to come this cool, cloudy morning.

Below a trail in the park is a kettle pool where two gray catbirds move on fallen tree limbs. One goes to the water and ripples emanate from its activity. The other vigorously preens itself, spreading out a wing like a vegetable steamer.

Suddenly, there’s movement in surrounding dried leaves. It’s a bird slightly smaller than a robin with a bright, rust head, bold black striations on its white breast and a prominent eye ring. This is a wood thrush whose sturdy pink legs carry it toward the water. The thrush, nicknamed the “swamp angel,” returns to the leaves blending in so well that without movement I cannot tell it’s there. Seemingly buried in them, the thrush turns over leaf after leaf searching for insects.

Under the overpass to the GCP, I admire the wine and green colors of pigeons, now called rock doves, as cars deafeningly roar above. A nearby large, familiar cattail-filled pond seems oddly empty. With no warning, a male, red-winged black bird, a habitué of this pond, rises and flies to a cattail. The rich red epaulets on its shoulder give the bird a showy look.

On the pond’s far side is some new aqua vegetation. There’s movement and a bright, red head appears with a thick, red bill and a brownish back. It’s a male cardinal. Could it be the one that I saw coming off the parkway near here?

Suddenly, there’s a flurry of dull brown and gray feathers as a mourning dove flies from the ground where it’s been camouflaged. Following it, I see brown pine needles, blackened pinecones and some blackened wood. A huge limb lies on the ground where it has sheared off from a tree. There’s been a fire here. How did it happen?

Nearby is an empty, cup-shaped nest in a tree, possibly a robin’s. I admire some flowers that have a dark, blood-like spot on them. They’re dogwood and are clearly signs of spring. Nearby is a female house sparrow that is plumped up against the increasing morning chill. Her breast has the soft texture of a fur coat. Her thin, tiny bill protrudes above it. Soon her mate shows up. His characteristic black breast spot has the tiniest specks of white. A handsome couple.

Soon I’m in a section of the park that’s unfamiliar. On a branch prominently displayed is a woman’s glove, thoughtfully placed there. The glove curiously looks as if there’s an actual hand in it. I walk in the direction in which the fingers appear to be tilted.

Why not? It might be a sign of good birding ahead.

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