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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Clean-up day at Mt. Peter Hawk Watch

1st year Bald Eagle

Mt. Peter Hawk Watch is volunteer run.  And am I honored to be among those who will stand on the platform with bins trained to the skies in eager anticipation of the river of raptor that will soon flow south to Mexico and beyond.  Every year at the beginning of the season we all get together to trim back the brush that has seemingly sprung forth from out of nowhere since last fall, chat about birds we are seeing and generally get caught up.

When I arrived at Mt. Peter the clean-up was well underway.  I picked my way down the slope with pruners over my shoulder to tackle the trees and shrubs that were getting out of hand.  We had done such a thorough job last year, I was sure this was going to be a snap.  And while it was less work, there was still plenty to do.

Volunteer hawk watchers

Judy Cinquina is the driving force behind getting the hawk watch organized.  Not only does she solicit volunteers, but pulls together a calendar, makes packets of information, wields a mighty clipper, rallies us, has an easy laugh and has been know to bribe us with ice cream.

Judy Cinquina

I also love that birders come from both NJ and NY to be part of the count.

Dripping with sweat and plastered with bits of leaves, wood chips and heavens knows what; I reached into a tangle to tug a branch out of the way to find… raspberries.  Ripe Black Raspberries.  Oodles of them.  Mmmm, natural snacks warmed by the sun.

black raspberries

The other cool thing I found while I was down and dirty with the goldenrod was a gorgeous butterfly.

Eastern tailed-blue

I hope you get the opportunity to take part in a hawk watch this year.  If you can’t find one, you can always come hang out with us.

standing on the platform

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Jamaica Bay meet-up

Jamaica Bay

With an eye to the sky and a wish in my heart, Christopher (who had driven down from MA the night before) and I left for the Jamaica Bay outing in the predawn rain.  The closer we got to Queens the brighter the sky became until we arrived to meet Corey and Carrie in the wan light of a muggy August day.  I knew that some folks had canceled due to the forecast so I was pleasantly surprised to find more and more bloggers arriving until we were a group 10 strong.    Corey from 10000 Birds, Carrie from Great Auk or Greatest Auk, Scott from Peace, Caffeine, Linux, Laura from Somewhere in New Jersey, Jay of from BirdJam, Catherine from Birdspot, Cindy from Living in Brooklyn, Longing for Maine, and Anne Marie long-time birding buddy and iheatwarblers on Twitter.  (In fact most of these folks are on Twitter.)

We started on the north end of the East pond, where there had been reports of 3 Wilson’s Phalaropes, as well as the fabled American Golden Plover (a would-be life bird – that, alas, I still have not seen.)  Corey led the charge and sure enough the Phalaropes were swimming in circles just as reported.  The hushed word of a Sora was soon passed from one birding group to another and we hustled over to ooh and ahh over it picking along the reedbed.  Lovely. But not as good of a view as the one I had in Texas.

Jay, Corey & Christopher at Jamaica Bay

As we sloshed along through the water, mud and muck…can I pause here to say a word about the scary, slimy, black, boot-sucking mud?  I should have realized when a shouted “This is the worst of it.” came floating back that I was in for trouble.  As I crossed the mud, my Neos started to sink and stick to the mud like they were glued, until I ended up tottering on one leg like a Flamingo with my barefoot cringing away from the ooze.   With a grimace I slid my barefoot into the slurry.  I stood like ‘my son Jon, with one shoe off and one shoe on,’ tugging, with both hands mind you, at my boot adhered to the mud.  Thank goodness no one has a photo of that!  No, I did not have to leave it there, but it was touch and go, seriously.  Whew, I have to tell you, in full disclosure, that when you go to Jamiaca Bay, boots are a must and maybe going right after a rain is not such a good idea.

As we progressed around the pond the shorebirds scattered before us to return to feeding in our wake.

peeps

There were peeps galore with the Semipalmated and Black-bellied Plovers, Willets, Dowitchers, a few Red Knots and Ruddy Turnstones.    The Avocet was exactly where it was suppose to be. There were lots of Tern, Gulls and a Peregrine even put on a show.

avocet

Highlights for the day were the temerity of the Least Sandpipers, the poise of the Avocet, the verve of the Peregrine Falcon, the warmth of friends and…Catherine birding in a dress.

Check out other accounts of the day from:

Corey

Christopher

Catherine is doing shorebird week.

Carrie

Laura

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Lepidopterist Grammar Question

I stood next to the car  smearing on sunscreen.  My reflection shimmered in the heat in the dark-tinted windows of the car a few feet way.  I was leaning in my car to  stuff the bottle of sunscreen in the pocket of the door when I heard the hum of a window lowering and a high-pitched voice.

“Excuse me, What’s that?” 

I turned around to see a long manicured finger pointing at my feet.  I looked down to see a non-descript brown butterfly had lighted on the stones next to my tire. 

comma

 “Is it a moth? Or maybe a leaf?” 

I squatted down to to peer at it.  “Nope, it has club antennnae.  It’s a butterfly.” 

 “What kind?”

Ugh. I knew that was coming.   “I don’t know. Maybe a Comma.” 

“A comma, like in English?”  I debated being a smart aleck and pointing out that most languages had commas.

“Yes, Commas have little white comma shape marks on their wings. ”  I hestiated, “There are Question Marks too.” 

“Like in English?”  

I sighed, “Yup.”   

 “Do they have little question marks on their wings then?” The woman tittered. 

“Uh huh.”

I hunkered down, took a picture then walked over to the car to show her the mark.   

“Will ya look at at that!  The things you learn”” 

I smiled and turned away as her phone rang and the window rose again.

On my walk, I found lots of butterflies.  Most of them were easily IDed; the Tiger and Black Swallowtails chased each other.  The Monarch ladies were flitting from milkweed to milkweed.  But there were also tiny confusing skippers and various whites and sulphurs that would not sit still long enough to give me a chance at Iding them.

Speaking of grammar, this is the only look I got at what I think is a Question Mark.  

   question mark

And this one, I think, is a Comma.   

comma

But if so, then I think the top one must be a Hop Merchant?!?!?!? 

What do you think?

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