Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Mystery of the Grackles' roost trees

For the last week I've continued to monitor the huge numbers of grackles roosting for the night in the trees surrounding the Pulitzer Fountain -- the fountain in front of the Plaza Hotel.

As the days get shorter, the grackles arrive earlier. On Monday they were already flying in at 5:30 pm . By 5:45 they were streaming in in groups of twenty or fifty. A cloud of about 300 starlings flew in around 5:50. By 6:15pm I'd say there were easily 1000 birds in the 10 Linden trees that form a half-circle around the fountain.trees.

Early this morning Donna Browne, erstwhile chronicler of the Trump-Parc hawk family, checked out the Grackle roost to see when they fly out. She reports that the birds began to leave at 6:37 a.m.

The mystery I refer to in the headline above is hidden in a poem about the Pulitzer Fountain that was sent to me by Mary Birchard, a Central Park birder. But it will not make sense unless I mention another detail about the Pulitzer Fountain that had not seemed particularly relevant earlier: the fountain is topped by a bronze statue of a nude woman. She is leaning over in a posture reminiscent of the popular painting entitled September Morn. Here's E.B. White's poem:

(Intimations at Fifty-eight Street)

The fountain is dry at the Plaza,
The sycamore trees go bare;
The ivy is sere and it has a
Resigned and immutable air.

The lady is cold at the fountain,
The sitter is cold on the ledge,
The Plaza is gaunt as a mountain,
The air is a knife with as edge.

But what is this sniff and this twitter,
And what is the pluck at my vest ?
What gleam in the eye of the sitter,
What lamb of a cloud in the west ?

The earth is but held in solution,
And March will release before long
The lady in brazen ablution,
The trees and the fountain in song !

Here is the mystery: E.B. White describes the trees as Sycamores. Yet the ten trees now surrounding the fountain are Lindens. Could the famous writer, a resident of a farm in rural Maine and the author of a book filled with natural science details [Charlotte's Web] have mistaken a Linden for a sycamore? Impossible.

What happened to the sycamores E.B.White mentions in his poem? I'm determined to find out, and I'll let you know what I discover.