For the first half hour or so, it looked as if everything with feathers had deserted the Lower East Side. I peered at the skeletal branches of the trees, silhouetted against the flat white sky, in search of something, anything, worth recording. A few torn plastic bags flapped spitefully in the wind.
The bird count was organized by the Lower East Side Ecology Center, with the assistance of the Audubon Society. The goal was to see what birds, if any, were living in the neighborhood.
For a while, it looked as if our count was going to be limited to a flock of pigeons picking through a compost heap. Luckily, the volunteer from the Audubon society had keener eyes (or better binoculars). He pointed out a handful of Dark-eyed Juncos, and then a couple of rather fierce-looking little Song Sparrows.
We crossed over into Corlears Hook Park, and our luck changed for the better. A large Red-tailed Hawk was perched in one of the trees, attended by a couple of American Crows, which screeched threateningly at him. A Blue Jay flew over to add its own voice to the chorus of disapproval. A few minutes later, we spotted a second hawk, smaller and darker than the first: a Cooper's Hawk.
The hawks were really the high point. Further exploration produced more pigeons, some gulls who declined to land and so were left out of the count ("No flyovers!", the Audubon volunteer reminded us), some noisy starlings (audible long before they were visible), and a rather young Northern Mockingbird. From time to time, the Red-tailed Hawk (or one very much like him) reappeared, trailed by the crows, who seemed determined not to give him a moment's peace.
Otherwise, the parks seemed mostly given over to gray squirrels: as we approached one nestbox, four or five exploded from the tiny opening, popping out like clowns out of a miniature car and racing up the tree. Others hung from fences, peering at us: "Count us!" they seemed to say. "We're much more interesting than those dumb birds."