Birding: What We Saw

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I was in Central Park on a snowy Saturday morning with my friend Charles Chessler. He had rallied several of his friends to go birding and photographing birds through a Facebook invitation.

I love walking or riding my bike in Central Park.

Charlie has great charisma. People and birds just love to stop, chat, and pose for him.

I’d gone out birding with Charles a few times before. On this trip we were searching for some rare long-eared owl in the pine trees near the Angel of the Waters. But instead, on that branch, we spotted a fat and still-hungry hawk. We spotted a lot more than that too.

Here’s what we saw:

1/25/14

A couple of finches near the birdfeeder in Central Park

A couple of finches near the birdfeeder in Central Park. (Photo by Charles Chessler)

Baltimore Oriole (male and female)
Finch
Northern cardinal
Dark eyed junco
Downy woodpecker (male and female)
Brown creepers
Goldfinches
Carolina wren
Blue jay
Hawk
Yellow bellied sap sucker
Sparrow

9/7/13

Swan
Grackle
Robin
Northern cardinal (male and female)
House sparrow
Maybe yellow warbler
Mourning dove

4/26/13

amanda and bird

Charlie captures a bird perched on Amanda’s hand. (Photo by Charles Chessler)

Yellow rump warbler
White-breasted nuthatch
Swamp sparrow
Northern parula
Ruby-crown kinglet
Louisiana water thrush
Black and white warbler
Palm warbler
Cardinal
Blue jay
Starling
Red wing blackbird
Black birded green

We go birding in Central Park behind the cafe, across the Bow Bridge, by the Ramble.

For the record, I could not identify any of these birds (except maybe the cardinals and blue jays) without help from Charlie and fellow birders and photographers Dan Lane Williams and Amanda Bielskas. On previous birding jaunts, we met Birding Bob and friend Andy Gershon.

Although I don’t really know about birds, I know about the beauty of birds. As Emily Dickinson wrote:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops – at all -

Going out for a walk with birders reminds me to slow down, take in the beauty, stop time with a photo, even if it’s cold and snowy — especially then! There’s beauty and hope all around. You just have to look for it.

If you like the beautiful photography of Charles Chessler, (and who doesn’t?) I have a request. Chessler is entered in a photo contest. If he wins, he gets a trip to a safari in Namibia. He is less than one thousand votes away. He needs 212 Votes to pop into 4th place!

Charlie and I are friends from the NYU Stella Adler acting school in the ’80s. He’s a fitness trainer with a specialty for keeping senior citizens active.

If Charlie won the trip, think about the great pics he’d share with us! Vote at BandH Photo Contest. He might even just even invite all of us along — at least on his Facebook stream! ;)

Charlie and I bumped into fellow birder Andy in the fall.

Charlie and I bumped into fellow birder Andy in the fall.

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5 Things on a Deserted Island

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My five favorite things are:

  1. coffee
  2. my journal
  3. my bike
  4. my iphone
  5. books (on kindle or paperbound)

But if I had to live on an deserted island, I know I’d have to take one more thing — sunscreen. Because my dermatologist would yell at me more than she already does if I showed up at my twice-yearly appointment with even more sunspots.

In terms of non-things on my island, (in addition to my immediate family, of course), I’d also want to take my book club and my writing class because we never seem to run out of things to say about what we write or read.

I’d also like to take Manhattan to my desert island because it is a treasure trove of beauty, especially on a foggy day like today.

Man, today was bea-ut-i-ful — so perfect for a bike ride through Central Park. Scroll down for a few more pics.

On a writerly note, I was going to post a memoir piece about my Norwegian grandmother that I wrote in the my Monday night writing group, but suddenly it felt too personal. Any way, come to a writing workshop if you want more personal writing. Check out the workshops at: http://www.bootcamp4writers.com/

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Central Park leaves

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This whimsical art installation of Eight Giant Red Snails from the Galleria Ca ‘d’Oro and Villa Firenze Foundation as part of the REgeneration Art Project.

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Any place more beautiful than Central Park on a foggy day? I don’t think so.

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He da man, Shakespeare in the Park

Biking Adventure

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my view while teaching. And the shadow of my students

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This is an awesome place to explore.

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Along the West Side bikeway

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Around the uptown Fairway

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The George Washington Bridge and the little red lighthouse creep up on you

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The detour under the highway

Yesterday I took a long bike ride, from where I was teaching — around Central Park and 77th to 180th and Broadway for my girlfriends’ craft club.

I took the bikeway. Around the uptown Fairway, I had to detour under the West Side Highway.

Like when I run, when I ride, I am not fast. That gives me time to talk to myself. And time to think. Too often, I scold myself. So last night, I was trying just to be. Just to notice.

Notice the generosity of the Hudson River. Notice the crazy summer flowers that refuse to believe summer is almost over.

Coming back home, in the complete dark, I did not have so much fun. Many places along the path are pitch black and I don’t have a light. I need more light.

On the 5 Boro Bike tour

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I learned when you suffer, you suffer alone. Right towards the end of the 40-mile bike tour, you hit the Verrazzano Bridge, (the second longest suspension bridge in the world). The incline goes on for-ev-er! You just keep climbing and you think, “Surely, this is some kind of illusion. How can something just keep going up?” You cannot answer that voice in your head, because you just have to keep pedaling and keep suffering.

There were many people walking their bikes up the eternal incline. But not me, because we borrowed our awesome friends’ road bikes and my bike had a will of its own and the wheels just kept turning.

But during those grueling moments of riding uphill, that’s when I thought, “I’m suffering alone.” Surrounded by 30,000 other riders, still, I felt alone. Suffering makes you feel all alone. As if you will never reach the top. Fortunately, my son waited for me some ways ahead. I was not alone.

The coast down was pretty sweet. And we did it very fast together, whizzing by the signs the volunteers held that said, “Slow down!”

We enjoyed the finish and the festival and the ferry ride from Staten Island.

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That’s me and Hayden when we were returning to Manhattan from the ferry. This was taken only a few minutes before Hayden fell asleep like the rider behind us.

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We were still pretty chipper at the Queensboro Bridge.

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At the Brooklyn Rest stop. So nice!

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I discovered it’s hard to take a pic while bike riding.

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Thanks, Dara and David, for letting us borrow these sweet rides!

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Waiting to board the ferry

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We liked getting all the free samples at the rest stops. I especially enjoyed the sample grilled cheese. And Hayden liked the Red Bull.

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There’s no place prettier to bike than Central Park.

I did the 5 Boro Bike Tour in 2011 too. I didn’t do it last year because I didn’t sign up in time, even though I was going to join the Team Fox and raise money for Parkinson’s Research.

Next time I do the bike tour, I have to remind myself not to suffer. I have to remember that eventually the path will lead downhill.

I would like to write more about the bike tour, but, honestly, I’m ex-haust-ed. I have to go to sleep.

other cool posts: DIY cycling

bike new york

Give Me a Break

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I seriously was about to cry when I read The New York Times Sunday travel section today. The cover article, “Give Us a Break,” by Jennifer Conklin talked about three levels of spring break travel: budget, moderate, and in your dreams.

The budget travel option for a week-long vacay in Orlando (without airfare) for a family of four? $4,115. This is referred to as “thrifty.”

Really? Really? Is that thrifty? I consider it thrifty to spend less $400. For our spring break, I am hoping to spend less than $1,000. Maybe I’m jealous. Maybe I’m out of touch with the cost of vacations.

I still think vacations cost about what they did when I was in college. My bible was the paperback “Let’s Go Guide to Europe.” I think my budget was $20 a day.

Are we not, as a country, still clawing our way out of a recession? Are we not all looking for simple joys and saving any extra thousands of dollars for our kids’ college? Who reads The New York Times that $4,000 is considered thrifty?

I don’t care. I will rise above.

I do want to go somewhere grand for spring break and I will. I am psyched that we have spring break plans to visit cousins in Boston or Nantucket and perhaps some old friends. Vacationing with family and friends is way better and more luxurious than some stupid generic vacation a travel agent could arrange.

Maybe the Times did not publish this article to infuriate me about the cost of spring break travel and my inability to travel first class. But did they really have to rub my face in that $1.06 million Caribbean private yacht cruise as an example of the in your dream options?

So to calm my anger, I will write a few “thrifty” spring break fun ideas (and all for about $2.50 a day)

  • sit on a bench in Central Park with a friend (free)
  • visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Museum of Natural History (donation is a suggestion)
  • ride on the M5 bus to SoHo ($2.50) or Chelsea and gallery hop (free wine!)
  • walk the High Line (free)
  • have coffee at a cafe and write in your journal ($2.50)
  • bike ride in Riverside Park (free)
  • Saturday morning at Wave Hill (free for the fam)
  • read The New York Times, get mad, blog about it ($2.50)
  • help friends with a creative project, working on a movie, like I did today (free)
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a still from the comedy adventure series I worked on.

 

Gone Fishing

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boys fishing

The boys were fishing and my creative writing students were supposed to be writing. It was a surprisingly gorgeous December Day, balmy.

We were discussing plot. This is tough to teach, especially for me. I like to meander in my writing. For guidance I consulted my trusty NaNoWriMo young writers’ curriculum guide. There, the teacher offered a suggestion to start the discussion of plot with a viewing of the final few minutes of an episode of SpongeBob Square Pants. Apparently, SpongeBob does plot well.

But instead of watching the cartoon, we went for our neighborhood walk to our secret spot in Central Park, a most beautiful little cul de sac where rock meets pond meets beauty.

This is where we met our young fisherman.

They waited.

They waited.

They hooked a big fish.

My eight Middle School writers stood in a circle around the two little fishers. They reeled a fish in. It was a mighty big carp.

I would not have known the kind of fish, but one of the boy’s babysitters told me.

“How old are the boys?”

“Eleven,” she said.

We watched the boys pose for camera phone photo shots with the fish. The fish seemed to be tiring.

One of my writers yelled, “Throw it back!”

“We will,” the boy said.

And he wrestled with the hook in the gaping mouth.

20121205-222243.jpg“I’ve never seen anyone fish before,” another of my writers said.

“Hurry! Throw it back!” the girl said.

“We will!” The boy was getting angry. The hook was not coming out of the downcast mouth.

Up to this point, students, you are witnessing, in literary parlance, “Rising Action.”

Now, we have reached the moment of “Climax.”

My creative writing kids yelled, “Throw it back!” I offered to help remove the hook. Thank God, the boys ignored me. But the boys could not ignore the yelling. And one boy, attempting to remove the hook from the carp’s mouth, looked up and spit out a load of curse words at my students, including a line about how my kids were making his life “a living hell.”

Then he went back to work, finally freeing the fish from the hook.

He set it free. The fish wagged itself back into the murky Central Park lake or pond.

The boy asked the nanny for a napkin to clean his dirty hands. She had none. I handed him a tissue from my pocket.

“Thank you,” he said, “And I’m sorry I called your kids so many names. I apologize.”

“It’s okay,” I said. (And I later told my kids that he’d apologized.)

Now, students, this part of my story is, “Falling Action.”

20121205-222414.jpgThe boy set to baiting another hook.

“He’s very polite,” I told the nanny.

“Yes, he has some anger issues, adopted from Russia and all, but he’s a good kid.”

“Yes,” I said. And I was thinking, he’s a good teacher too. He has taught me and the kids about rising action, climax, and falling action.

And he did it far better than even SpongeBob could.

Downtown Comes Up

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Living on the Upper West Side, we avoided the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, but we had to suffer the downtown refugees. Of the influx of hipsters on the Upper East Side, my teacher Charles S., said, “They’re taking our groceries, our seats in restaurants, our women!”

“How do you know they’re from downtown?” I asked.

“Oh, you know!” he said.

When Chris came home with groceries from Fairway, he said the guy behind him in the check-out line was mumbling, “I can’t wait to get back to SoHo.”

Our sidewalks on Broadway are full, not just of hipsters, but runners as Riverside and Central Parks were closed and the marathon, cancelled.

But we uptown people can take all comers. The Upper East and West Sides are big tents: bigger than this year’s political parties in that we can seat all migrants at our tables in our kitchens or in our restaurants.

I coped with the influx of downtowners the way I coped with my helplessness after 9/11. I went downtown to see a show.

Subways back in service at 42nd street.

Yesterday Chris and I traveled via subway to Tribeca to see Heresy by A.R. Guerney at the Flea Theatre. So good.

This political play takes place in a military office stocked with a bar and characters who believe various degrees of American exceptionalism.

An offstage character, Chris (as in Christ), delivers a manifesto, extolling the:

  1. Shops were back in business in Chinatown.

    the evils of consumerism

  2. the lie of the American Dream
  3. the reality that frustration with #1 and 2 leads to violence.

Karen Ziemba was hilarious and Annette O’Toole was heartbreaking.

It was great theater and a needed  escape from the crowded streets of the Upper West Side.