A bird in the bush is worth seven on foot



A group of seven nature lovers milled about the Van Cortlandt Park Nature Center early Saturday, the first day of fall, preparing to embark on a birding trip.

Audubon Society volunteer bird walk guide Andrew Baksh, wearing a khaki colored safari hat and utility vest, set up his scope at the edge of the Parade Ground.

“Excessive chatter, leave it in the back,” he said firmly as the group set out. “I bird by ear. I need to listen.”

What was billed as a one-and-a-half-hour bird walk, turned into a three hour stroll around Van Cortlandt Park — across the Parade Ground, up the trails to the lake, and back to the Van Cortlandt manor. 

No bird was too common or too insignificant to note; the tiny chimney swifts elicited nearly as  excited of shouts from Mr. Baksh as the great blue heron.

Mr. Baksh made bird calls to draw out the game from thickets and trees, and he did identify birds by sound, even before catching sight of them.

But birders on the walk were beginners. Hilary Russ, 41, has only been birding seriously for a couple of years.

“I don’t like to anthropomorphize, it’s not exactly like watching people, but its similar,” she says of her hobby. 

She started noticing birds when vacationing in Florida, and enjoyed what she calls “the soap opera” of their existences. “Different birds have different personalities, “ she said. 

Ms. Russ said she heard a mockingbird singing quietly, practicing its repertoire. “As if he were singing to himself,” she said. “And it was just fantastic!”

At the southern end of the lake, as it began getting too hot for jackets, Harvey Rosenberg, 74, was the first to spy a small bird among the mud flats of the shore. “It’s a green heron,” he said confidently. 

Mr. Baksh confirmed and set up his scope for better viewing. The bird has long legs and huge talons, and its disproportionately squat body is beautifully patterned with brown and green.

Mr. Rosenberg is a lifelong New Yorker who likes birding for its solitude. 

“I was a Jewish kid who grew up in an Irish Catholic neighborhood … so I wound up spending a lot of time on my own.” 

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