19 Jul 2009 2:15 pm   //   Filed under: Planet earth

The scarlet tanager

Hudson River view from Breakneck Ridge

Yesterday was a beautiful day. I put on my hiking boots and rode the Metro North to Cold Spring, a town on the east shore of the Hudson. There I hiked over Breakneck Ridge, ending up in Beacon, where I caught the train back to Manhattan. The payoff of this hike is breathtaking views of the river.

Halfway between the two towns, in the deepest part of the woods, I saw something that stirred me deeply. With the green leaves of the forest canopy diffusing the sunlight, a brilliant red songbird landed on the limb of a nearby sapling. I’d never seen a bird like it before. I’d never seen anything that color before. The bird whistled and its song was quiet and slightly raspy, as if it were whispering a discrete secret. I watched it for a few seconds as it hopped from branch to branch. Then it darted off into the trees. I continued my hike.

Back home, I checked my bird book and learned I had seen a scarlet tanager. Normally yellow, the males turn bright red during mating season, March to August. Stunning bird. I didn’t even try to take a picture.