(iPhone pic, photoshopped, thanks to una cierta mirada for the texture)
I once wrote, in an article about Wildlife on the Rockefeller campus,
“Every spring, a group of mallard ducks starts a long journey from their wintering grounds to the place of their birth. They travel not to a marsh, or a national park, but to a tiny patch of parkland within the densest urban area in the United States—Rockefeller University (RU) and our Faculty Club fountain.”
What I meant to convey through this passage, was both the irony and amazement I felt at the fact that ducks, who could travel anywhere, who had probably crossed miles and miles of land as they migrated to their summer grounds, would end up in a fountain in NYC. And not just any fountain, but the one by which I eat my lunch.
I feel the same way, only stronger, about the Buffleheads that have been wintering in the East River. In the summer, these ducks breed in the north of Canada, including the Arctic, and migrate south to winter in inland lakes and rivers throughout the US. When I was a child, my Dad and I would head out onto the often snow-covered golf course, binoculars in hand, to look for migrating ducks on Lake Ontario. He would excitedly point out the Buffleheads, and describe their long journey from their breeding grounds. We even had a carved Bufflehead decoy in our den- for decorative purposes only, of course.
This is why the flock of Buffleheads wintering on the East River, that I usually encounter somewhere between 94th and 100th st., seems so special to me. I was raised seeing these birds as “wildlife”, something to be observed, and treasured, and appreciated- and here they are, in an urban river in the city. They may be bobbing between the Triborough and Queensborough bridges now, but in the summer they inhabit boreal forests and Arctic tundras. In some small way, when I step out of work for a brief 45mins to run, I feel like they connect me to those wilder places.
Today I intended to photograph the Buffleheads. I saw the first grouping around 94th street, they were floating and sleeping, their heads tucked under their wings. I kept on running. I was running well and wanted to photograph them on my turnaround. By the time I returned, that group had floated away, but there were two, close to the path, just waiting for me.. it seemed. I stopped, took out my iPhone, focused… and took a photograph of rippling water- all that was left after they dove away. No photographs of Buffleheads today, They are after all, as I was more than happy to wax on about, wild animals. My photograph is of seagulls instead, who are afraid of nothing. I will try to get a photograph of the Buffleheads soon, maybe then I’ll write a post about seagulls.
The run itself, apart from the bird stalking, was a little rough. I have a cold (yes I suppose that’s what I get for racing in 15 degree weather) and at 2 miles my body decided that I needed reminding of this fact. I was like I hit a wall, a cold wall: I was suddenly exhausted, and drained, and my face hurt. Still, 4 miles, 9.35 min average pace (with a significant positive split) and wildlife.