Category Archives: Local schmocal

Anywhere I do not have to travel to get to.

Housing Starts are Up

I had never actually seen a Chickadee excavating a nest hole before.  I looked up when I noticed bits of stuff raining down from on high.  All I had was the tail view until he pulled out his head, and with a toss, spit out more sawdust.  Then back in the hole he went.  Let me tell you, he was working it hard.

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Termite Hatchout

We were all looking at a House Wren working a stump when I glanced down to see a rotten log crawling with termites.  Nice. I was hopeful that a good sized mixed flock of (preferably) warblers would come to scoop them up.

The termites milled about then one by one took off, lifting into the air, glittering in the sunlight like fairy dust.  For most, their maiden voyage was cut short when the birds came to gobble them up.  It started with the House Wren, then the White-throated Sparrows, and Robins got in the act.  A Northern Parula showed up and so did a Veery and several Hermit Thrushes.

Many logs and stumps were crawling with termites in the heat of the day.  It is the time of year, if you seen one, keep watch, the birds will come.

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Still in Winter’s Icy Grasp

February is the cruelest month.

Although the evening shadows lengthen slowly over field and wood,

the biting winter winds still hold sway,

tossing the long brittle grasses,

while small sparrows ride the stems,

resigned to the cold,

looking forward to spring.

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Ghostly Encounter

After dropping off my taxes with the man, I decided to drive on down to Oberly Road in Alpha, NJ.  Oberly Road is a birding hotspot for wintering raptors, Snow Buntings, Horned Larks and the much sought-after Lapland Longspur.  Of course, I was hoping for Snow Bunting and the elusive Longspur.  While I got neither, there was a flock of dozens of Horned Larks swirling around and many sparrows.  It was a male Northern Harrier, however, that stole the show.

He appeared out of nowhere, made a few preliminary passes then dove onto a small dark something but then dropped it.  He coursed back and forth over the field intent on finding a meal.  After some minutes he wheeled off to cross the road to search in another field.  I was finally able to breathe again. I do love the gray ghost. I don’t see them often enough.

Oh yeah, and the Horned Larks were nice too.

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A Little Night Magic

I was racing the sun and stuck behind a slowpoke.  Each minute, each second, I crawled behind the dark sedan; I lost another ray of sunlight.  I cast an anxious eye to the horizon as I crested yet another hill heading toward the Liberty Loop trail at the Wallkill.  Although it is not far from my house, tonight the trip seemed to last forever.   Yes, I had decided spontaneously.  Yes, I had waited rather too long.  But still. “Why, oh Why, are they always in front of me,” I wailed.

I finally pulled into the parking lot fully expecting to be by myself, as is often the case, to find 5 other cars bellied up to the bar, as it were.

I stumbled from the car, hastily pulling on heavy gloves and a hat with earflaps.  Stomping up the snowy path with booted feet, I hoped that the 2 pair of socks I was wearing would be enough this time.  After exchanging pleasantries, and accepting an offer to peer through a scope at a Bald Eagle, I settled down to wait. We all scanned the marsh, side-to-side, front-to-back, side-to-side, front-to-back, then turned and did the same across the street.  I held my breath at each ghostly pass of the harriers working the marsh in the gathering gloam.  The sun slipped beyond the hill turning the shadows to midnight blue.  The transition came quickly.  One minute, they were Harriers and the next they had magically turned into Short-eared Owls.  As if, as if, the Harriers had thrown off their daytime disguises to reveal their nighttime nature.

It is a crepuscular magic that I never tire of.

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Blue Skies, Nuthin’ but Blue Skies

Fyke

We all stared at the flat blue expanse of the firmament. Not a cloud, not a wisp, heck, very few contrails even.  We battled eye floaties, crinks in our necks, and sunburn hoping today was the big one; when the flow of thousands of Broad-winged Hawks would come down from their summer forest homes in the north. We got excited by a plane or a vulture, to use as a point of reference.  We strained to ID distant tiny specks, hurried to count swirling kettles before the birds started to peel away, setting their wings for a drive south. These are the hard days when a  lot of eyes trained to the sky helps.

Luckily for me, lots of people showed up at the Mount Peter Hawk Watch today.  In addition to the other sharp-eyed counters, we had almost 12 members of the Fyke Nature Association come for a field trip.  Chief among them was Stiles Thomas, who established the Hawk Watch in 1958.

Stiles

According to the history section of the Mt. Peter page on HawkCount! “The Montclair Bird Club of NJ sponsored the ‘Across the State Hawk Watch of 1958′.  The two day watch on September 28 and October 18 produced 349 raptors of 10 species for Mount Peter and enough excitement to propel volunteers into a full-time count.”   There has been someone standing on this mountain doing just this thing for over 50 years. Imagine.

Let me give you a glimpse of the spectacle overhead.  Although many birds were high, some did come right over the platform, giving us fabulous views.  Brilliant sunshine streamed through feathers to the appreciative croons of the watchers.

juvenile Broad-winged Hawk

This is what we had gathered to see.  Although there were only 346 pass overhead today, there were 1312 yesterday and more are gathering to the north for another push south tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that until they are all safely basking in the warmth of a South American Spring.

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Northern Wheatear in DeKorte Park

no wheatear

Northern Wheatears rarely visit the metro area. They breed in the high Arctic, Alaska and Greenland.  (This bird is of the Greenland race, see how buffy it is.)  I missed a Wheatear last fall at Garret Mountain and by the time I was able to get to the Connecticut bird; it had moved on.  So when I read that there was a juvenile bird at DeKorte Park at the Meadowlands, I cleared my calendar and asked my boss for a personal day. (Although she is not a birder, she is understands the life bird thing.)

It was raining when I got up this morning and there was no report that the bird was around.  But by lunch time the reports started to dribble through  just as the sun started to peek through the clouds; so I dashed off to chase the bird.  When I arrived at DeKorte Park there were, surprisingly,  not a lot of birders. And those that were there had long faces.  The bird had been there had not been seen for an hour.  While I walked the Transco Trail peering at rocks and trailside sumac, I chatted with folks (You know how I am.)  I met BA, one of my fellow hawk counters.   She is the one who I spied waving madly from the far end of trail.  As I hustled toward her, I found my friends Diane and Suzanne were also hot on the chase.   The bird was flitting (and doing a Phoebe-like tail pumping thing) along the rocky edge down a small bank.  I watched it for almost an hour.  It is beautiful – so subtlety colored.  North American life bird 620, I think.  I’ll have to go look.

If you go, it is on the right-hand side between the 2 orange hoses.  It is about the size of a robin and prefers the rocks.

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