Archive for November, 2011

A Magic Day

On certain days a type of magic happens to combine many minor, but pleasant, experiences into a more magic whole.  Take Monday, for example.  I was birding at my favorite location.  A nice way to start.  The weather was downright balmy for late November.  That was a real plus.  I was joined by a delightful birding companion.  That combination of ingredients made for a good day.  We also spotted some winter visitors including a Common Loon just off shore.  Good, but not a rare experience. 

But as we walked away from the shore, we both heard a loud, clear bird call – one I have never before heard in the wild, but immediately recognized.  The loon had given a brief call.  Fantastic!

What a day.  The mix of mild weather, a good birding spot, lovely company is more than enough to create a very good day.  But add in my first loon call.  Wow!  Real magic.

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Some birds, such as phoebes, hermit thrush, palm warblers, are known to frequently pump their tails while sitting on a branch.  There are a number of theories trying to explain this behavior but no one knows for sure.

A recent study on Eastern Phoebes dispelled some theories.  They don’t pump their tails to maintain balance.  Or to signal aggression toward other phoebes.  Or to aid in finding food by flushing or disturbing insects.

One finding from the study revealed that phoebes do pump their tails more often and at a faster rate when potential predators are around.  It is thought that rapid tail movements notify the predators that the phoebe is aware that danger is nearby.  If the predator knows the element of surprise has been removed, it may be less likely to pursue the phoebe.


Even though we do not know the reason behind tail pumping, it can still be a clue in identifying certain species.

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I love the clever way David Bird describes the birds that frequent his restaurant in the following excerpt from one of his articles. 

 Open a Restaurant:  A Maitre d’ for the Birds

by  David M. Bird,    Biology Professor, McGill University

“The tables are set and I await my feathered guest.  I call it Dave’s Bird Bistro.  I smile smugly at the clever play I have made on my name as I stand near the back window gazing at my bird feeders hanging from the pole in the early dawn.  No reservations accepted, and first come, first served.

As someone who has been in the “bird buffet” business for years, I figure that I’ve got all the bases covered for my clients:  several basic feeders and plenty of water nearby for drinking and washing up.  A little something for everybody.

Ah, here comes my first guest, right on cue.  Cardinal Richelieu accompanied by his lover alight on the hanging platform feeder.  Since they forgo the arduous fall migration, cardinals are year-round customers.  They are also among my fussiest guests and arguably the most wanted N.A. feeder bird.  Being a tad shy, they prefer a table away from my windows and usually show up just after dawn and right before dusk.

As strikingly beautiful as they, are cardinals are not my favorite feeder bird.  That honor falls to the rather handsome Dark-eyed Juncos.  Looking like bank executives in their grey and white garb, they seldom land on my feeder, surprisingly preferring the indignity of rummaging through the table scraps spilled on the ground below the feeders.

Throughout the day, cocky little Black-capped Chickadees flit back and forth like high-energy teenagers, turning my bistro into nothing more than a fast-food operation.  Quickly grabbing sunflower seeds from my feeder, they dash off to some nearby cover, either to crack them open for a tasty treat or to stuff them into crevices for another day….

At any time of day, I can expect my suet feeder to bring in other beloved clientele – the Down and Hairy Woodpeckers.  For the most part, these elegant black-and-white celebrities do not mind being stared at, even at close range.  Also attracted by the suet are nuthatches, my wife’s cherished friends.  We are amused to watch these roundish, little birds with their snooty, upturned beaks sift through our sunflower seed, as if they were shoppers feeling tomatoes at a vegetable stand, to find just the right one by its heft.

No classy bird restaurant would be complete without a tube feeder filled with nyjer (or thistle) seed.  Yes, it’s the most expensive item on the menu, but Goldfinches and House Finches adore it and bring along the whole neighborhood to dine on these seeds.

Sometimes I offer daily specials at my restaurant. As an experienced maitre d’, I can safely tell you that there is no better way to bring in the local Blue Jays than by laying out a couple of handfuls of unshelled peanuts.  These cleverest of birds seem consistently to discover this treat within five minutes of its being offered.  Like chickadees, they do not stay long.  But one thing is sure – they will keep returning until every last one of the peanuts is gone.

Are all birds welcome at Dave’s Bird Bistro?  Well, I have to admit that the Mourning Doves have the worst table manners by far.  Not only do they actively elbow others customers, as well as each other, away from the feeder but they also leave quite a mess.

I certainly do not tolerate the “nasty boys”.  Kicky seed wastefully onto the ground and aggressively taking over the whole restaurant, Grackle are just plain obnoxious around feeders.  Replacing sunflower seed with safflower seed is just about the best way to send grackle elsewhere while keeping the desired customers coming back for more…..”

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Entertainment’s biggest turkeys of 2011

Nov. 22, 2011, 1:40 PM EST

By Dorothy Pomerantz

Sometimes, even the most promising projects can go wrong. Take the movie “The Big Year” for example. Based on a book of the same name, the movie tells the story of three men trying to outdo each other spotting rare birds over one year. The Fox film attracted three big stars who could play up the comic potential of the story: Jack Black, Steve Martin and Owen Wilson. Director David Frankel, who helmed hits like “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Marley & Me” signed on to direct. It looked like a hit in the making.

But something went horribly wrong along the way. When the film hit theaters last month it was released without much fanfare. Ads for the film made it look more like a sentimental film a la “The Bucket List” than a comedy. Critics panned the film awarding it a mere 39 out of 100 on Rotten Tomatoes (which aggregates reviews). The $40 million film earned only $7 million.

I suggest you read the book.  It was a great book.

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Earlier this month I commented on seeing the first Junco of the season.  Juncos spend their summer in Canada and migrate south to Westchester in winter because they think our winters are balmy.  They are sometimes called “snow birds” because once you see them you know that winter snows will soon be here.

Well, today I saw another winter visitor from Canada:  a White-throated Sparrow.  In winter, small flocks of White-throats are common in our area.  The flocks often include a few juncos and maybe Chickadees.  They are ground feeders so you see them mostly directly on the ground or in shrubs only a few feet high. 

White-throated Sparrows are easy to identify.  The general impression is a non-descript sparrow but a closer look will reveal prominent black and white stripes on the top of the head and a dapper-looking, clean, white bib on the chin.  On some birds you may see a yellow spot between the bill and the eye, but the yellow is not always visible.

So both Juncos and White-throats have arrived from the frozen north.  That means winter can not be far away.

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Below is the response I received from the County Executive about closing Nature Centers.  It reads like a polictical “form letter” that was prepared in advance and will be sent to everyone who comments.  It would be interesting see if you all get the same response.

It explains how he agonized over this tough decision.   And blames it mostly on the employees.  


Thank you for writing to County Executive Robert P. Astorino in support of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation.

 Mr. Astorino has read your message and he has asked me to respond to you on his behalf.

 The county executive understands and appreciates your concern for the nature centers and other programs, services and facilities which are part of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation.  While developing the proposed 2012 county budget, Mr. Astorino and his administration have given parks, recreation and conservation offerings the same consideration  accorded to every agency which is a part of or supported by county government.  Please know that the parks and trails will remain open at the six nature centers. These parks are not “closing”.

As you know all too well, this is a very challenging economy.  There is a critical need to balance a $114 million county budget deficit with a responsibility to provide essential services and property tax relief, protect Westchester’s neediest residents, promote structural financial reform and reduce government spending at all levels.  In order to keep expenses down, lower the tax levy and pay for rising costs, the Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation reduced its operating budget for 2012.  One of the major roadblocks to maintaining existing funding levels for parks, recreation and conservation and other department programs, services and facilities is the failure of county union workers to agree to pay part of their healthcare premiums.  Since assuming office two years ago, Mr. Astorino has consistently attempted to get county workers to agree to the same healthcare contributions that state workers make. Westchester County employees are among a very few groups left in the nation who do not contribute anything to their healthcare costs.  The lack of these contributions or other relief, coupled with  dwindling resources from New York State necessitated many hard decisions regarding what programs, services and personnel could be cut and what additional revenue could be generated without pricing the Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation out of the marketplace.  These harsh realities will continue to challenge the Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation to re-invent how it serves the public and functions while staying true to its mission to provide safe, clean and affordable facilities. 

The decision on programs at the six nature centers was a difficult one and not made lightly.  It makes sound economic sense as it has the least impact on revenues.  These programs can be closed since other local entities such as the Beczak Environmental Center, Greenburgh and Rye Nature Centers, Teatown, Muscoot Farm, Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, Lasdon Park and the Bronx River Parkway/Reservation offer similar programs and experiences.

 Your views and those of all who live and work in Westchester are very important to the county executive.  Your input is both welcome and valued.

 Again, thank you for writing. 


 Janet Lokay

Assistant to the County Executive

148 Martine Avenue

White Plains, New York 10601

(914) 995-2127


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 County Executive Robert Astorino just submitted his proposed budget which calls for closing all the county Nature Centers.    That means that The Marshlands, Read Sanctuary, Lenoir Preserve and all other center would be closed.  The entrance roads will be blocked to prevent all access.  The naturalists and staff will be laid off.

There is still  time to protest and reverse this proposal.   The county legislature will vote on the proposed budget in December and can prevent the closings.  Now is the time to take action.  Let your county legislator know that you are opposed to the closings.  And money saved will be insignificant compared to other wasteful spending.  In this time of economic stress why deprive residents and visitors of the benefits of being close to nature?

Here is what you can do:

Contact your county legislatorand let him/her know that you, your family, friends and acquaintances strongly oppose the proposed closings.  Politicians respond if enough of their constituents contact them. 

It only takes 5 minutes to send an email and your efforts will last for years. 

You can email your County Legislator using the web site:


Also send an email to the County Executive at:


It doesn’t take long to make your feeling know and it is very effective.  If you do nothing, the Nature Centers will be closed.

Do it now while you are thinking about it.

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23 birders joined our BirdWalk at Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge on Sunday, Nov. 13th.  Below is a list of species that were seen that day 

Canada Goose, Brant, Mute Swan, Gadwall, American Wigeon, American Black Duck, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Greater Scaup, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Ruddy Duck, Common Loon, Horned Grebe, Red-necked Grebe, Eared Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, American Bittern, Northern Harrier, American Coot, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, American Crow, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Song Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow

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It is mid-November. Thanksgiving is the just around the corner.  Already had 10” of snow.  This is not the season for hummingbirds, particularly this one – a Rufous Hummingbird has been visiting the butterfly and hummingbird garden at Lenoir Preserve in Yonkers, NY. 

This sighting is unusual for two reasons.  The first, of course, is the time of the year.  It is too late for hummingbirds.  The second reason, however, is more unusual.  Rufous Hummingbirds are west coast birds.  They normally bred in Oregon, Washington state, and British Columbia.  Most  migrate south to Mexico for the winter.  This one appears to have headed east, not south.

While rare, this is not the first appearance in NY.  8 years ago another Rufous was found in the same location.  It even returned the following year.   Could this bird be the offspring of that bird?  Like father, like son.

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30,000 Chickadee Visits

Dr. Al Geiss, former director of the US Fish & Wildlife Service, was obsessed with birds and bird feeding.  His scientific studies conducted the 1990s are still the classics on what birds eat which types of seed they prefer.

At one point, someone asked him how many seeds are  in a 5 pound bag of Black Oil Sunflower seed.  He didn’t know but thought it was a good question.  So he counted the seeds.  Only someone with an obsession would do that.  His conclusion:  there are 30,000 black oil sunflower seeds in a single 5 pound bag.  That would be good for 30,000 visits from a chickadee.

 I thought that number was incredibly high.  So one day when it was slow in the store I decided to count.  Talk about an obsession.  Although I only counted the number of seeds in one cup of sunflower seeds.   The customers who came in while I was counting looked at me with a skeptical look.  My conclusion:  there were about 900 seeds in a cup of black oil sunflower seed, which if you extrapolate to a 5 pound bag could be around 30,000 seeds.

 Or 30,000 chickadee visit per bag.


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