Saturday, May 30, 2009

On the running track I scope out the array of ducks, sea gulls, and cormorants sailing blithely under an overcast sky of a late afternoon. It was a good time to be out. Early morning draws the testosterone-driven, gearing up for a workday. Stabby runners are too much to deal with most mornings.

Now there is a cast-iron ornamental fence around the reservoir, closely resembling the original. The upside, of course, is opened up vistas, where once it felt like you were circling a protected Superfund site. The downside—for me—is the swell of tourists, which seems to grow larger every year. There are the unfocused tourists who can’t read universal signs prohibiting bicycles from the track to contend with but a cloudy day usually drives them indoors, leaving a relatively empty running path. For the few tourists around I feel compelled (sometimes) to direct them to the north end of the reservoir for the spectacular perspective on Manhattan’s skyline. French, English, Italian, Asian couples all have the same request, delivered in the same manner: digital camera raised to me as I approach and the moving finger to indicate camera, two people, picture please? “You are a professional, no?” No, I tell them. My camera may look professional but I am not. I prove that by fumbling stupidly with the tiny point-and-shoot handed to me.

Bird watchers can be spotted now and again hunkered on the path, stalking a particular bird. There are nearly 200 species to look out for. The website for the Central Park Conservancy states there are “…five different species of gulls and over 20 species of waterfowl, grebes, cormorants, and loons.” I am presuming they mean birdy loons and not the human kind. There are more than 20 varieties of the human loon.

The aptly named Chris Bird, who is a zoologist at the University of Cambridge and a leading researcher of the Rook has determined that these big black birds that populate the English countryside rival the chimp in intelligence. Among other cerebral feats they can fashion hooks out of wire! Intelligent in a Rook; dangerous left to a New York City pigeon who’d just as soon hot wire a car.

I have my favorites of the birds. The cormorants. When I run with The Mister we always exclaim, “There they are!” Alone and shouting the same thing, I would certainly be thought of as one of those loons. We are always entertained by the group of them on the roof of the pump house at the north end, crowding together like a club of grumpy old men, beaks flapping, making pithy observations on the humans below, I’m sure. There was a swan sighted in early spring and I kept an eye out for it to return with a mate. And it did. But my excitement was short-lived as the couple left again, this time for good. One or the other partner was probably looking for more security, less view. Then once I stood with The Mister at the top of the reservoir and followed a mere speck in the late afternoon sky until it was a red-tailed hawk , coming straight for me, soaring just above my head.

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