Lunch Hour

Today's lunch was a pleasant change from my usual sandwich regimen. (I'm buying store brand bread and cheese, but deli-sliced meats; I've got to be indulgent in some respects, right?) For once I brought some leftovers to microwave, since I'd eaten out last night. Wednesday is the night of my Spring Field Ornithology course at the Lab, so I didn't bother to go home for dinner last night, instead swinging into Collegetown, the little neighborhood across the gorge from the Cornell campus. Within two blocks, there are multiple Asian restaurants, and having eaten Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese since my arrival, I figured it was time for Indian. Thus, today's lunch was the rest of last night's vegetable biryani and a piece of onion naan, plus a bagel.

But that only took me ten minutes to eat. What to do with the rest of a lunch break on a sunny afternoon in the middle of Sapsucker Woods?

Obviously the answer is this: grab your apple (a Pink Lady--yum!), your drink, and your binoculars, and hit the trail. And on that trail I observed:

*A trio of Downy Woodpeckers having some sort of dispute about territory; at least two were males, and they were flickering black-and-white blurs in my peripheral vision most of the way down the boardwalk into the forest.

*Several Hairy Woodpeckers, the first of whom I wasn't sure about, but because I was following him with my binoculars as he flew into the flooded woodland, I was able to spot a very different bird on the same tree where he lit. This bird was small, active, and finchlike, but I immediately seized on the black chin and red mark on its crown, because I've seen them only a handful of times in my life. It was a Common Redpoll, now lingering rather heavily into spring, as it's ordinarily a winter visitor to Ithaca.

*Also in the course of following the Downy commotion from the boardwalk, I spotted a dark bird on the forest floor between vernal pools. When it began scratching at the wet leaves, I was pretty sure what I had, and a look at the pale yellow eye confirmed it: a Rusty Blackbird, which I've learned to expect acting like a towhee in wet woodlands.

*The last oddity of the boardwalk: the sight of a Brown Creeper rocketing up to a nearby tree. That in itself wasn't so weird, but the second creeper that landed on another nearby tree was. I have never in my life seen two of these birds at the same time; for all I know there might be only one in all the world, haunting me from time to time over the last four decades. This is the first sign I've ever had that there are at least two.

*Out into the forest proper, next, and the calls began: Tufted Titmouse, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadee. And then a drumming on a tree branch, an irregular hammering that sounds like nothing less than Morse code: the telltale sound of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. At least three were pounding on limbs, establishing their territories, and I saw two of them at it in two different sections of the woods.

*As I was hunting down the sapsuckers, the screech of a raptor was easily audible above the treeline, and before too long, there came the screecher: a small Red-tailed Hawk, carrying some unidentified prey off to the houseing development west of the woods. And then a few minutes later, a second screech, and a larger redtail chased the original bird back into the trees. It didn't seem to mind much, and immediately launched into an ever-growing spiral, letting the sun glint through the rufous feathers of its tail and down onto me.

*And finally, on the return trip, two tail-wagging Eastern Phoebes accompanied me along the boardwalk, both apparently somewhat surprised that just flying to a tree further down the walk was not putting them any farther away from me.

*I settled back into my chair, looking out on a pond full of Canada Geese, Mallards, and Common Mergansers, with the creamy bellies of Tree Swallows flashing on and off as they turn their metallic green backs to me, then twist over in mid-air.

And that was my lunch hour.

Best of all, around here, that's how you're SUPPOSED to spend your lunch hour.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on April 14, 2011 12:54 PM.

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