As the dog and I step off the sidewalk into a narrow path dug between snow mounds at the corner of Broadway and 108th Street, the sound of distant honking stops me in my tracks. Not the usual traffic sounds of Broadway, but the calls of wild geese. I shade my eyes and look up in time to see a large flock of Canada geese – an uneven, dark V, followed closely by a long single line – disappearing to the southwest over the solid old apartment buildings of Riverside Drive. “Oh,” I say out loud, struck by beauty.
At the top of the stone staircase that leads into Riverside Park, the dog pauses to show off his red shoes.
We descend the staircase, and enter the white winter world of a snowy city park. Everything is strangely quiet.
Only a couple of dogs are playing in the 105th Street dog run.
Down by the river, a solitary runner runs.
But where are the rest of the animals?
We retrace our steps to the path above, where a squirrel scoots across the top of the snow and leaps onto a tree trunk.
The little creature leaves behind a scribble-scrabble of footprints in the snow, the record of many such forays out of the safety of the trees. Three crows call from the top of the plane trees, then fly, one at a time, out of the park toward Riverside Drive. Two house sparrows chirp.
And that’s it. No hawks, no juncos, no woodpeckers, no robins, no flocks of sparrows, no chickadees, no titmice. Where is everyone?
And then we hear a high-pitched call: “Tsip, tsip, tsip.”
Winter’s bare branches make it easy to find the caller: a female cardinal, perched in a tangle of branches beneath the retaining wall. Although I usually see cardinals in pairs, today the brilliantly colored male is nowhere to be seen. The lovely bird kept just outside the range of my iPhone, so here is a photo from last winter of two females picking up spilled seed beneath a bird feeder on eastern Long Island.
The Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) stays with us year-round, and even in the depths of winter, the male keeps his brilliant plumage. (Thank you, Rob Pavlin, for the beautiful photo below.)
Cardinals are particularly stunning against a snowy background, but they’re gorgeous birds in any season.
Just look at that red.
You don’t often see animals in winter sporting such flashy colors.
Still, it’s not unheard of, is it?
This post is for Nick and Zuri.