Birdwatching is no walk in the park, it seems

I am joining friends on a bird walk in New York City's Central Park. I wish birds did not rise so early.

Prior to meeting my friends, I sit on a park bench to have breakfast. I share a cinnamon doughnut with two sparrows. Soon after, I come to learn that sparrows came to America as stowaways on ships from Europe.

We meet at 81st Street and Central Park West. Our leader points to the sky. Flying high above the Beresford, one of the most elegant apartment houses in the city, is a great egret, followed by a herring gull.

With joggers and dog walkers, we enter Central Park at Hunter's Gate. The sky is dark and threatening, with a chilly north wind; not conducive, I am told, to good birdwatching. A south wind helps bring migratory birds from southern climes to Central Park, where they find a refuge.

I am an expert on observing life on city streets. Not so, when it comes to observing birds. "See the red-winged blackbird in the tree!" says our leader. I do not, as I fumble with my binoculars. A tree branch moves, but no bird. It has flown off. A Baltimore oriole ducks behind a tree trunk, eluding me. I spot something yellow in the bushes. It is not a bird, but a passing bicyclist wearing a yellow jersey. Among birdwatchers, I am not enhancing my reputation.

By the lake in the Ramble, I do see a great egret standing on a rock, with a black-crowned night heron nearby. A mallard and 10 ducklings swim by. On Turtle Pond, south of the Great Lawn, beneath Belvedere Castle, I see Canada geese: a mother, father, and six goslings.

We encounter other birdwatcher groups. One reports spotting a yellow-bellied flycatcher. I search for it. Gone. But I do see a nesting robin, a male cardinal on a fence, and a red-breasted robin in the meadow.

My colleagues spot an array of birds: a magnolia warbler, common grackle, cedar waxwing, American redstart, red-bellied woodpecker, northern water thrush, northern flicker, and common yellowthroat.

I hear them but do not see them.

Over the years, New Yorkers have come to the city from 180 nations. By comparison, the number of species of birds passing through Central Park in a single year is about 200.

After two hours, I head for the subway and my office. I am not a success at birdwatching. But I have learned something of their life - as I should, for we are neighbors, living as I do only three blocks from Central Park.

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