2020 – The year of The Virus and the spring of lockdown.
I returned from vacation in March to a Covid-19 tsunami, sweeping its way across the globe leaving devastation and misery in its wake. On the day I left for my holiday only 11 cases had been reported in the United States. By the time I returned, just 10 days later, a state of emergency was about to be declared and within 4 days I, along with millions of others, was in lockdown. All trips cancelled for the foreseeable future, including trips to the grocery store or office.
Anything that I write in this paragraph could be extracted straight from a horror script. We have all read that script too often recently, so let’s skip it!
It was nearly 3 weeks before I left my Hoboken, New Jersey apartment. I left because I was going crazy. The restraining band of anxiety was tightening around my skull, leaving me with a perma-headache. I had to get out! I knew that I could go out early enough in the morning to avoid people. I’m a social distancing guru, so avoiding people was child’s play for me. With mask in place and my son alongside me we headed out on a walking route around the block that became our routine two or three times a week.
Spring had well and truly sprung. My corner of Hoboken was bursting with life, but not of the human kind. I don’t know that more wildlife had come to town during lockdown. Perhaps I was just noticing that which has always been here, waiting to be rediscovered. On that first walk we found 3 occupied bird nests and spotted several different species of birds. These exciting sightings were enough to inspire me to take my camera on future walks. Here is a selection of the wildlife that encountered us on our little circuit.
The first nest was on the main street running through the city. Washington Street is lined with trees, and the second tree we came to was home to a pair of nesting Mourning doves. Two chicks succesfully fledged from this nest during the first weekend of May.
We discovered three Canada goose nests that were visible from our balcony. The Canada geese of Hoboken are year-round residents. Many people detest the noisy messy brutes, but I love to see them hanging around and can’t resist giving them a meal in the winter months. I kept a close eye on the nests for any sign of hatchings.
Next came a bird that I’ve never seen in Hoboken before. While I was photographing Canada geese a Killdeer flapped down, announced itself with its machine gun twitter, before flapping over a fence to an area of disused land. I could hear its mate calling beyond the fence, so I am certain that they will breed in the city this year.
I think we must have stumbled upon the first American Robin nest of the year. Tucked in the roof structure of a footpath pagoda, the robins were already busy packing food into hungry mouths. Worms went in on wet days, beetle grubs and spiders on dry days.
We watched the chicks growing like weeds with every visit, until finally we were able to watch two clumsy bundles of fluff fledge.
An overnight storm of driving rain and tearing winds passed through. We were worried that our fledglings might have gotten soaked and we would find soaked little dead bodies the next morning. We set out in search of the little guys. We heard them before we saw them. It was delightful to find them gorging on worms that the storm had brought to the surface of the lush green lawns.
The next nests we found were those of the Common Grackle. These glossy oil slicks of birds have arrived in numbers this year. Within moments we had found four nests in town. Usually other birds avoid these nest marauders, but this year everyone appears to be playing nicely. I even watched a Mourning dove building its nest directly below the noisy grackle neighbours, today.
The grackles can be found on the shoreline, flipping small stones and grabbing up tiny shrimps. These little shrimps make marvelous meaty morsels for baby greedy grackle gobs.
The Double-crested cormorant gets its name from… well, you can see how it gets its name. Although, I think the Bushy-eyebrowed cormorant would have been a more appropriate moniker.
This bird was unusually close to the river wall. Each time it dived my son and I would run alongside, following the trail of pea-sized bubbles until the trail dried up and the cormorant corked to the surface. Finally it popped up with its catch of the day. It would be fair to say that it had bitten off a little more than it could chew and after three resolute efforts the fish had to be returned to the river.
The humble House Sparrow is hardly worth a mention. Especially with so many species left unphotographed for this post. But my son had gotten a little distracted by an old yacht that was wrecked on the river bank and I was watching a sparrow while I waited for him to give up the captaincy. As I watched the cock sparrow closely I spotted him snapping up tiny little flies until his beak was full to bursting point. They may mop up your bagel crumbs for most of the year, but when the nest is full it is fresh meat that they hunt and gather.
The migrants are passing through. Shy and constantly on the move, the undergrowth rustles with Grey Catbirds, Eastern Towhees, White-throated Sparrows, Hermit and Swainson’s Thrushes and warblers.
A fly-over by the Blue Angles and Thunderbirds as a thank you to frontline healthcare workers was a sight to behold. We watched from the balcony, with hearts in our mouths as the jets roared overhead. They were gone in a blink of the eyes, but as well as the trails of exhaust smoke, they also left behind a trail of birds. Two Bald Eagles took to the air from Manhattan’s skyscrappers and flocks of Brant Geese were flushed up from the Hudson River.
The jewel in the crown of lockdown wildlife didn’t arrive on the wing but rather by sea. On a day of hope, when the US Navy hospital ship Comfort pulled away from Manhattan, a beautiful Grey Seal pup pulled in. The fuzzy pinniped hauled up on our favourite goose feeding beach for a 24 hour stop-over. A visit from the National Marine Life Center confirmed that she was in good health before she slipped back into the Hudson River to continue her journey.
May brought with her a weekend of warming sunshine. The Canada geese never make a timing mistake and sure enough as the sun popped out so did the goslings. The River Walk was awash with yellow fluffballs, stomping around like they own the place. Any over-curious dog in the neighbourhood received a warning hiss and fierce peck from the parents.
But how many goslings is too many? This pair of geese were not done with making goslings, and got to business right away!
A little later than the Canada goose nesting season comes the Mallard’s time. The first ducklings appeared on the Hudson River a week of two after the early Canada geese. We found this gorgeous hen giving a demonstration in effective camouflage just a few feet from the River Walk opposite our apartment.
Covid-19 has been a heartbreaking experience for so many and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. Nothing can make the anxiety we feel for our loved ones disappear. But for a few moments over the course of a week we’ve been able to find a little healing help from nature, even in the city.
2020 – the year of The Virus and the spring of lockdown. Also a year to get reacquainted with local wildlife that thrives under our noses, sometimes noticed, sometimes not. I’ve recorded 28 bird species so far. Oh, and a seal.
What are some of your best lockdown moments?
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