Saturday, February 7, 2009
Rapt. Raptor. Rapturous.
Four of us took the train up the Hudson to Croton-Harmon station, walked over the bridge and into the county park. There was plenty of ice around the peninsula. It creaked and groaned, and rocks sent skittering over it made the most amazing noise, reverberating through the frozen crust. The park has a prominent hill, a capped-off former garbage dump, which provided a fine hunting ground for the first of the day’s raptors, a female northern harrier. (I’ve never seen the “gray ghost” male.) While we were looking at this beauty, N asked, “what are those?” In the distance were two big dark birds. Bald eagles: an adult, with the white head and tail, and a juvenile, lacking the white head and tail but whitish under the wings. Before long, we had could see five of them on the distant ice. T and OHS even saw two of them fighting over food, one whacking the other on the head with its talons to get it to drop the goodies. Not for nothing was Ben Franklin disgusted that the scavenging and thieving baldies was chosen as the national symbol. The day provided several distant, but still excellent views of these birds, which have can have wingspans of 8 feet. I’ve only seen juveniles before, so spotting the old heads – it takes five years to get the white head and tail – was notable. One was even seen in the mighty river riding an ice floe south. There were also at least two red-tailed hawks to be seen; one was picking off twigs, so we might have found the pine tree they were building a nest in. As fine as the bald eagles were, I have to say that the day’s coup was two peregrine falcons in side-by-side trees. The sun had come out by then, lighting them perfectly, a male and female (noticeably bigger, as is usual for raptors). The white breast (a virtual lighthouse in the tree), the fine horizontal barring on the chest, the mustachial marks, the yellow legs and talons. I have never had such a spectacular view of this stunning bird.
Back at Grand Central Terminal, we initiated N into the mysteries of the whispering gallery and ate at the Oyster Bar under Senior Guastavino’ tiles.