It’s been quiet. Too quiet? “Nothing right here,” I mumble. Nothing that’s, besides a number of Black-crowned Evening-Herons dozing within the birch woods flanking the pond. The herons haven’t moved since I arrived. Not identified to be loquacious, they utter a laconic qwok when disturbed and within the gathering nightfall, once they vacate their day roost to fly with measured wing beats to their night foraging grounds. In spring and summer time, they’re the signature avian species at Large John’s Pond. Their laid-back, languid nature is my standing invitation to tune into the rhythms of the pond and shed the impatience I’ve introduced with me.
I’m joined by a younger couple arriving on the blind, every sporting a pair of shiny black binoculars. They speak in whispers, as if anticipating one thing to occur. After an acceptable interval, I resolve to level out the night-herons. “Oh … sure, now we see them,” one says. ‘That’s what they’re referred to as? We didn’t know. We’re ‘newbies,’ simply moving into birding.”
We’re completely unprepared for what occurs subsequent: A raucous rattle shatters the silence. A kingfisher seems, apparently out of nowhere — her name strident, her raised crest bristling. And now, all of a sudden, inexplicably, the fowl bolts towards us, streaking straight for the blind. Then, straight away, simply earlier than affect, she breaks her flight, hovers in mid-air, pivots, and is gone, her unusual chatter trailing behind her. A collective gasp; three surprised observers. Wow!
What sort of place is that this?
Leaving the town behind
I stumbled onto Large John’s Pond about 30 years in the past. I used to be freelancing, doing graphic design, and maintaining a tally of Micah, our 5-year-old. When work was gradual, we’d scamper off to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, a half-hour drive from our dwelling in Queens, New York. An excessive amount of of a mouthful for Micah, who referred to as it “the Life Protect.” Understandably, Micah wished to play, to not stroll, so he feigned bouts of ambulophobia, pretending he had misplaced using his legs, collapsing to the bottom. We settled on a compromise — the blind at Large John’s Pond. Miraculously healed, he fortunately settled right down to dispatch a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, chat along with his imaginary buddy “Marshee,” and combat the forces of evil with assist from his assortment of tiny motion figures, casting fanciful shadows on the sunlit boardwalk.
A blip on the refuge map, the pond is definitely missed; it’s a mere quarter-acre ditch gathering rainwater inside earshot of Cross Bay Boulevard, the roadway slicing via Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, a famend birding hotspot in Queens with a fowl record of greater than 330 species. (The refuge is BirdWatching’s Hotspot Close to You No. 233.) The story goes that an amicable bulldozer operator with time on his fingers, approached by refuge brass, agreed to excavate a small freshwater pond a number of hundred yards east of the boulevard. “Large John” accomplished his job in simply two days. Grateful rangers named the pond in his honor.
Initially supposed to host native amphibians and reptiles, the pond attracts a powerful range of birds, situated as it’s inside a world-class city wildlife refuge on the confluence of the Atlantic and Hudsonian flyways. In my tenure on the pond, I’ve recorded properly over 100 totally different avian species.
A Barn Owl nest field on the north finish of the pond as a rule produces a wholesome brace of owl fledglings. Notably compelling is the pond’s intimate scale and relative seclusion; it’s sheltered by an impenetrable maze of phragmites, poison ivy, sumac, maple, and birch woods. The fortuitous placement of a plywood blind accessible by a brief wood boardwalk is the icing on the cake. Constructed by a troop of Eagle Scouts, the blind has endured fireplace, flood, and the ravages of superstorm Sandy that devastated a lot of the refuge and the adjoining communities of Broad Channel, Breezy Level, and the Rockaways.
That is my “go-to-place” for pictures. Right here I depart behind the clamor, hustle, and hubbub of the town. Disposing of the commotion of my very own ideas, I placed on the cloak of invisibility that the blind affords, able to savor the serendipity of unscripted expertise.
A heads-up and a few widespread knowledge: Persistence is a should, native data indispensable. Attend instruction of winds and climate, the rhythms of the altering seasons, the habits of herons, hawks, waterfowl, and warblers; the songs of spring peepers, grey tree frogs; the summer time refrain of cicadas. Ponder the methods of predator and prey; take note of language of sunshine, to autumn reflections; ponder the haunting calls of migrating shorebirds, the patterns wind weaves on the floor of the water, the silences of winter. Refuse to impose your agenda. Return repeatedly.
Dazzling white egrets
On a wind-still April morning, the birch in our yard illumined in a halo of gently falling snow, I hurry to the refuge, envisioning newly arrived breeding-plumaged egrets in a panorama of snow flurries. I discover the pristine vista I think about — the pond transfigured — however not one egret, nor it appears, every other residing creature. However what a morning. Drawn into the palpable silence and nice peace of the pond, I keep for a very long time, quietly watching the magic of falling snow.
A day later, the entrance passes, and the egrets present — a flock of them, no much less — many exquisitely plumed. Greater than two dozen birds: Nice and Snowies principally, a number of night-herons, ibis, and a trio of little blues — one grownup and two piebald juveniles. It seems the herons selected the pond as a roosting website, a primary for Large John’s.
Although the occasion proves short-lived, the event presents a novel alternative to chronicle one other chapter within the lifetime of the pond. I’m properly happy by intimate photographs made throughout that point. In one in all these, photographed underneath a brooding sky and robust northwest winds, a robust gust has swept up an egret’s plumes, embracing the solitary, dazzling white fowl in an beautiful filigreed silver scarf. On a whim, I entered simply this one picture in Audubon’s 2018 photograph contest. Chosen from over 8,000 pictures, it was included within the high 100. It’s value noting that 2018 occurred to be the centennial of the historic Migratory Chicken Treaty Act that halted the mindless, brutal slaughter of egrets and different plumed species.
A warbler spectacle
By any measure, autumn is my favourite time to go to Large John’s. A succession of chilly fronts, adopted by a number of days of brisk northwest winds, usher in migrating waves of songbirds; a palette of deep yellows, ochre, olive, russet, and wine has supplanted the showier shades of summer time. In these final weeks of October and early November, I benefit from the fall migration of Yellow-rumped Warblers that in bumper years is a spectacle to not be missed; birches alongside the shoreline of the pond actually dripping with Yellow-rumps — a shimmering, throbbing, frenzied blaze of warblers — a number of miniature feathered projectiles feeding, flitting, fluttering, darting right here and there in perpetual movement. The impact is mesmerizing, as if some irrepressible, puckish power of nature convened an outlandish badminton contest substituting residing, respiration warblers for shuttlecocks.
I additionally come in the hunt for woodland hawks. Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks pursue migrant fall songbirds within the birch woods. They’re hid among the many tangle of branches, sharp-eyed but ever so affected person. Or they glide inches above the water — darkish, silent shadows, poised for the opportune second to strike.
With quick, extensive, rounded wings and lengthy tail serving as rudder, the raptors possess very good flying abilities. Autumns previous, I noticed a juvenile Sharpie throwing warning to the wind, actually hurtling via the maze of naked birch woods that flank the western shore of Large John’s Pond, bobbing, twisting, turning with the agility of Houdini, the bravado of a skydiver. On one other event, I recall a sturdy, sub-adult Cooper’s hellbent after a Northern Flicker. The predator streaked throughout the pond inside inches of the woodpecker’s tail feathers — the glint squealing in terror. Regardless of all odds, it managed to evade the harrowing talons of the raptor.
Curiously, I’ve not often noticed Sharpies or Cooper’s Hawks with prey. I bear in mind, wistfully, the next anecdote: a Sharp-shinned Hawk clutching a Yellow-rump in its talons had simply landed on a close-by birch department. The raptor confronted away from me. Nonetheless, probabilities have been good it will shift place to permit for a greater view, till footsteps have been on the boardwalk. Earlier than I might even whisper a warning, an oblivious photographer lurched into the blind. A pleasant type, he beamed a greeting and shoved his digicam into the closest opening. Finish of photograph op. I selected to not launch right into a tirade on blind protocol. This was, in spite of everything, a public venue. Smiling ruefully, I shouldered my gear, wished him day and exited the blind. I think my buddy by no means had a clue of what he simply missed. So it goes. To make certain, pictures on the pond requires a double dose of endurance after which some.
The place they stay is particular
A refrain of “oohs” and “ahhs” greets a sphinx-faced Snowy Owl rising upward towards a slate-black sky. A garter snake slithers silently in a inexperienced algae-covered pond, its sinuous form suggesting the letter “S.” A cherry-red songbird with spiked hairdo pops up on the display screen; “A cardinal, a cardinal, that’s a cardinal.” A nesting pair of Pink-tails trying positively regal seem subsequent. “I sawd one catcht a squirrel with my dad …” The excited chatter of the kids’s voices blends with the high-pitched barking of Snow Geese and the sing-song clamor of a flock of skimmers in sundown flight on the shore’s edge.
It’s “profession day” on the A.C.E. Academy Geraldine Ferraro campus in Maspeth, Queens. I’m doing a present on native wildlife for second- and third-graders at our granddaughters’ faculty. I quickly discover out that the “students” — sure, that’s what they’re referred to as right here — already know a bit about fowl migration, and this morning various of them can inform me what the phrase “habitat” means. So, we’re on the identical web page.
On the finish of this system, I discuss the necessity to defend our wild, unfettered neighbors and the locations they name dwelling. Simply then, a bit of woman, her voice stuffed with sincerity, blurts out: “Oh sure, sure, I so need to defend these stunning birds.” Startled, I look in her route, shocked by the kid’s heartfelt zeal and earnestness.
I resolve to stroll dwelling, taking time to mirror on my expertise of the morning. I’m all too conscious that these younger girls and boys are already adrift in a sea of random photographs, disconnected from private expertise and place. I wished the kids to know that the place they stay is particular. I wished to affirm their instinctive delight and curiosity in residing issues, to attach them to the stunning, fantastic number of residing creatures ready to be found in our city backyards, parks, and wildlife sanctuaries.
I imagine in working regionally. My photographs are made inside a 70-mile radius of my dwelling in Queens. I assent to the notion that residing right here, in one of the crucial densely urbanized areas of the jap seaboard, and being a nature photographer, a fowl photographer in addition, will not be an oxymoron. You actually don’t want to go to unique far-away locations to make compelling photographs. So, as I enter my seventy fifth 12 months, I proceed, fairly shamelessly, to have a good time and discover “odd” native locations season after season, 12 months after 12 months. In spite of everything, it takes time to correctly worth and get to know a spot. Even perhaps a lifetime.
Postscript: Autumn 2020
The resident Ospreys on the refuge have moved on, and on the fringe of the south marsh, Tree Swallows are staging. A solitary Nice Egret, buffeted by a brisk west wind, flashes white towards a darkish pewter sky. At Large John’s Pond, the water stage has dropped considerably, revealing a birch-leaf speckled shoreline and an untidy assortment of scattered cinder blocks that function handy perches for a number of opportunistic yellowlegs, peeps, and two Solitary Sandpipers that discover the altered habitat an open invitation to forage. Two years have handed since “profession day.”
The inexperienced plywood shack is gone, torn down, changed by a brand new blind. The refuge stays open, however the customer middle has been shut down for months. This autumn, no yellow faculty buses idle within the car parking zone, and rangers don’t lead gaggles of college kids alongside refuge trails. And I not suppose it odd that birders, photographers, guests — everybody I run into, together with mates — are carrying masks.
COVID-19 has thrust our lives and our world into unchartered territory. Although New York Metropolis is not the epicenter of the pandemic, statistics reveal the litany of human grief — 266,000 circumstances of the virus and greater than 24,000 deaths within the metropolis via October — and counting.
Our refuge pictures group, too, has been diminished. Rick Hill was solely 50, about 25 years youthful than me. Early mornings, I’d run into him within the car parking zone or on the paths, particularly throughout migration. We’d trade the most recent birding scoop; he’d share his favourite digital captures. When he stopped exhibiting up throughout the peak of the spring warbler migration, I knew one thing was mistaken. From a mutual buddy, I discovered that he had been hospitalized and intubated. Not lengthy after, his sister posted a notice on Instagram that he handed away.
Final night time on favorable northwest winds, Yellow-rumped Warblers arrived in numbers. They appear to be all over the place. On the blind, I’m this morning’s solely visitor. I watched them for hours cavorting out and in of birch woods that border the pond. All of the sudden, lightning-quick, a Sharpie strikes — and misses. The flock scatters, but inside a short span of time, the warblers return.
It’s again to enterprise as standard as if nothing occurred. Yellow-rump chutzpah? Maybe. Nevertheless it’s greater than that. Sure, the hazard is actual. Sure, we’re mortal. Sure, we face issues that seem insurmountable at a time when our nation is paralyzed by division, distrust, and partisan politics. These are dire instances, but regardless of the uncertainties we face, there’s a lot to cherish. Day by day is a present — an event for gratitude. We don’t have the posh to choose out or be dominated by our fears. We don’t have a lot time. Our grandchildren, yours and mine, deserve higher than that.
Birds of Large John’s Pond
A sampling of the species the writer has noticed on the pond: Ring-necked Duck, Inexperienced-winged Teal, Blue-winged Teal, Hooded Merganser, Black-crowned Evening-Heron, Yellow-crowned Evening-Heron, Inexperienced Heron, Nice Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, American Bittern, Least Bittern, Shiny Ibis, Wilson’s Snipe, American Woodcock, Noticed Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Northern Goshawk, Northern Harrier, Osprey, Northern Flicker, Belted Kingfisher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Purple Finch, White-eyed Vireo, Blue-headed Vireo, Black-billed Cuckoo, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Nice Crested Flycatcher, Japanese Phoebe, Carolina Wren, Home Wren, Winter Wren, and over 20 species of wood-warbler
This text was first printed within the January/February 2021 subject of BirdWatching journal.
Click on via the slideshow beneath to see extra photographs Johann Schumacher has taken whereas birding at Large John’s Pond.