Saturday, May 2, 2009

House of the bittern

I think Olmsted and Vaux would like this view.

An American bittern was on Duck Island Friday. I’ve seen this elusive bird before, at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, but this was a better viewing. It was also nice to be able to compare it (mentally) to the smaller green heron, which was sneaking around the Lullwater, while a nearby black-crowned night heron was perched on a log along with several turtles, including one big specimen with a nice orange plastron, before the whole log was spooked by a blundering oaf. This reminds me that I saw a huge snapping turtle in Central Park’s Loch earlier this week. It was crossing the path (why?). A fellow birder said he seen the snappers mating earlier in the week, and the female was larger than this one. This one’s shell was easily 18 inches across, add another foot for the tail. I mean, it was a dinosaur, the biggest I’ve ever seen. The head was much larger than my fist. We were worried some unleashed dog would discover it. They’re slow, but they don’t call them snapper’s for nothing. Anyway, it just wanted to be left alone and harumped down the bank to the water.

Back to Prospect. Some northern rough-winged swallows were over the Upper Pool. At Rick’s Place I saw something that still has me puzzled. It was smaller than a white-throated sparrow, which was eating the same elm samaras. Seemed to be rather like a female purple finch with eyebrow and chin lightness, but the streaking did not cover the whole breast. Seeing a bird from below is always hard, and the overcast light was no help. The indigo bunting, red-breasted grosbeak, red-headed woodpecker, and several warblers remain elusive.

But back to the bittern. It's middle-eastern cousin appears in Isaiah, who prophesizes that Babylon will be made waste, “a possession for the bittern, and pools of water” (14.23) Later, at 34.11 -- heat-addled prophets tend to get repetitive, see also Zep 2.14 -- it’s “the cormorant and the bittern shall possess it; the owl also and the raven shall dwell in it: and he shall stretch out upon it the line of confusion, and the stones of emptiness” That’s the King James Version, while the satanic verses of the New American Standard translation kill the poetry and do something weird with the species, making “pelican and hedgehog” instead of “the cormorant and the bittern.”


amarilla said...

I saw what I took to be a cormorant in the lake near there - is that possible? I had never seen one in the park before.

Matthew said...

Yes, we get double creasted cormorants all the time. All-black looking, often perched on snags with their wings outstretched.

Brenda from Flatbush said...

Hedgehog? How did he get in there? P.S. I am in awe of your birding chops.

Matthew said...

You should see the real bird dogs in action. Every Tuesday, Thursay, Saturday, & Sunday this month the BBC is sponsoring bird walks in the park.