Archive for November, 2011

It was the first really crisp morning of the season, temps in the mid-30s.  But the sun shining in a cloudless sky boded well for our monthly birdwalk.  The 13 birders on this walk at Crestwood Lake were rewarded with excellent views of some good birds.

Some early wintering ducks had arrived:  at least 20 Wood Ducks, several Hooded Mergansers, a pair of Green-winged Teal.  A few lingering migrants had not headed south yet:  Killdeer, Mockingbird, Great Blue Heron.  A female Belted Kingfisher patrolled her territory.  And dispite long looks and creative effort the possible Black crowned Night Heron remained a paper bag.  A complete list of the 26 species  seen can be found below.

Participants:  Bill, Chris, Ed, Frank & Sue, Graham, Greg, Mike & Kelli, Sandy, Sofia, plus Doug and Hank

Total Species Seen:  26

Waterfowl:  Canada Goose, Mallard, Black Duck, Hooded Merganser, Green-winged Teal

Shoreline Birds:  Killdeer, Great Blue Heron, Belted Kingfisher

Birds of Prey:  Red-tailed Hawk

Gulls:  Herring Gull, Ring-billed Gull

Others: Blue Jay, Crow, Robin, Starling, Mockingbird, Cardinal, Junco, Goldfinch, Mourning Dove, Rock dove, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Red-bellied Woodpecker

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First Sign of Winter

Today I saw the first Juncos of the season.  It is always nice to get re-acquainted with a bird I haven’t seen for many months.  However, Juncos are often considered the first sign of winter, so I fear we may be in for an early winter.

The common colloquial name for juncos is “snow birds” because they appear about the same time as snow. 

Juncos spend spring and summer much farther north, in Canada.  When cold weather arrives in Canada, Juncos begin their southward migration.  But rather than fly to the sunny beaches of Florida, they only travel down to Westchester.  They feel that winter weather in Westchester is warm and toasty enough.

Look for juncos in your backyard.  They are small, sparrow-sized birds with gray heads, back, wings and tail.  The under side is white.  The bill is pale or white in color.  But the most overlooked field mark when identifying them is their tail.  The outer feathers on both sides of the dark gray tail are white.  You only notice these white feathers when the bird flies away from you.  But once you learned to look for them, it is as obvious as waving a white flag. 

You seldom see only one junco.  They tend to gather in small flocks of 6-10 birds often with a chickadee or titmouse interspersed.  Since they are primarily ground feeders, most of the time they are directly on the ground or in shrubs and bushes only a few feet above the ground.  That means you are usually looking down at them and see mostly the gray upper parts and not the white undersides. 

If  juncos mean snow is coming, I hope we don’t see too many of them.  But if you should see one, look for the white outer tail feathers.


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We are in now in November which is considered Turkey Time.  But if things were different historically, July might be Turkey Time.

 On the afternoon of July 4, 1776, just after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Congress appointed a committee composed of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Ben Franklin to select a design for an official national seal.

Nations often use animals as symbols:  England has its lion, India its peacock.  Our three patriots had different ideas and none of them included the Bald Eagle.  They agreed on a drawing of lady Liberty holding a shield to represent the states.  Congress did not like the design. So they consult William Barton, a Philadelphia artist, who produced a new design that included a Golden Eagle.

 However, the Golden Eagle was already used by some European nations.  So Congress specified that the bird in the seal would be the Bald Eagle and, on June 20, 1782, they approved the design we recognize today.

 At the time, the new nation was still at war with England and the fierce-looking birds seemed an appropriate emblem.  But it was a controversial choice.  Franklin scowled at it.  “For my part” he declared, “I wish the eagle had not been chosen…. He is a bird of bad moral character, he does not get his living honestly.  You may have seen him perched in some dead tree where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the labor of the fishing hawk (Osprey) and, when that diligent bird has at length taken a fish and is bearing it to his nest for his young ones, the eagle pursues him and takes the fish.  With all this injustice, he is never in good case.”

 Some people question whether the eagle would have been chosen to adorn the seal if the nation had not been at war.  Franklin argued that the Wild Turkey would have been a more appropriate symbol.  “A much more respectable bird and a true native of America” he pointed out.  He conceded that the turkey was “a little vain and silly” but maintained that is was nevertheless a “bird of courage” that “would not hesitate to attack any grenadier of the British guards who should presume to invade his farm yard with a red coat on.” 

 Congress was not convinced and the eagle remains the national symbol that is etched into our minds.  Can you imagine a turkey on our national seal?  Or turkey for your 4th of July picnic?

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