Archive for December, 2011

Christmas day is now just a memory.  Presents have been opened.  Meals are finished.  You don’t hear Christmas music.  Visits with friends and relatives are over.

Soon it will be time to take down your Christmas tree.  If you have a real tree (as opposed to artificial) don’t just throw it out with the trash.  Get more use from it.  Put it in your backyard.

Your backyard birds would really love it.  The dense branches and pine needles provide shelter from the wind and cold (and snow if we ever get some).  A tree also provides additional protection from predators such as cats and hawks.  Chickadees, cardinal, juncos, and sparrow would love it.

Give them a belated holiday present by putting your tree in your yard.  You and your birds will get many additional weeks of enjoyment from it.

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First and Last

First of the Year

I recently glanced at my 2011 Bird List and notice my first bird of the year was a Red-tailed Hawk.  I remember the sighting well.   It was New Years Day.  I was in the passenger seat on I-95 in Connecticut heading to Greenwich Point Park.  There it was sitting on a lamp post.  A hawk is pretty good bird to start the year.  Often the first bird is something mundane like a house sparrow or pigeon.


Last of the Year

It is almost 12 months later and I still remember that first bird of the year.  That made me wonder what happened just one day earlier, on Dec 31, the last day of 2010?  What was the last bird I saw in 2010?

I have no idea!

Why is the first bird noteworthy but the last bird quickly forgotten?  This year I will try to notice the last bird of 2011.  It will probably be something common and unexciting, maybe a House Sparrow or Starling. 

But I’ll never know unless I make a conscious effort.

Then, the next day, Jan 1, 2012, I can start my list again.

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The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is developing a new computer-based program to help identify unknown birds.  The new program, called Merlin, combines new computer algorithms, input from real live birders (that’s you) and data on bird distribution from e-Bird.   Input is needed from real live birders to train Merlin to see a bird the way humans do.  Why not help?  It is actually fun.

Following this link:


Play the game and answer a few questions.

When completed Merlin will be available for free on Cornell’s web site.  To identify an unknown you will answer a few questions and Merlin will suggest possible birds. 

And you can brag to your friends that you helped develop this latest digital wonder.

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Here comes an owl

Have you ever wondered what it must feel like to be a cute little bunny rabbit that is suddenly attacked by an owl diving out of the sky?  Watch this to get a sense of the experience :



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Birding S.O.B.s

During my decades of bird watching I have always found fellow bird people to be nice people.  Eager to share sighting information, or recommend locations or to help a novice find and identify a species.  Bird watchers, in general, are the kind of people you like to be around.  Maybe not everyone is gregarious and outgoing.  But none are obnoxious, rude or haughty.

 That is why I was initially shocked on a recent trip to meet a group who were proud to be know as real S.O.B.s.  The idea was a so contrary to my preconception.  Fortunately, the term was not a pejorative describing their personalities.  They actually seemed quite nice.  Rather, the term referred to their status, “Spouse of a Birder”.

 You know, the person married to someone really into birds but who can’t tell a chickadee from a chicken.  And she doesn’t care.  The patient spouse who doesn’t complain when you rise before dawn, dress in your grubbiest clothes, grab your binoculars and bolt out the door to join other equally obsessed bird people searching for the reported Painting Bunting at the waterfront park.  The type of spouse who, on family vacations, is content to let you chase birds while she sleeps in.  Who doesn’t complaint about a 3-day holiday weekend spent chasing rarities.  Or a day spent on the Christmas Bird Count. 

This group of S.O.B.s seemed to be enjoying themselves.  While their husbands or wives were chasing birds they would sleep late, spend hours shopping in local stores, enjoy a pleasant lunch, relax with a book poolside, play cards and reunite with their spouses later in the day.  The bird people retold stories of today’s birds.  The S.O.B.s talked about the town.

 Both spouses enjoyed their weekends.  One with the birds, the other without.

 I mentioned to my spouse that I enjoyed the play on the usual S.O.B. and she found it clever as well.  She already referred to me as the “dirty old man” so she became known as an “S.O.B.”  Every one in our local birding community got a kick out of it as well.  It became a common phrase for a while.

 I recall explaining to a new couple we met at a social event that my wife was an S.O.B.  Everyone got a good laugh.  But they remembered us.  Sort of. 

 Six months later we met that couple again.  They remembered us and our association with birds.  But they didn’t get the terminology quite right.  The other wife laughed referring to my wife, not as an S.O.B. but as the “bird bitch”. 

After that episode my wife retired from any organized birding group.

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You won!  The Board of Legislators voted to restore funding to the nature centers and, amazingly, did so without raising taxes!  Thank you everyone for all your efforts in writing and contacting the Westchester County Board of Legislators and Mr. Astorino, and for showing up to speak at the open hearings in New Rochelle, Somers, and White Plains.  You were definitely heard. 

An important quote from the Board of Legislators (BOL) web site:
“The community-minded investments that the BOL deems to be right for Westchester include capital project funding for bridge repairs and flood mitigation, plus maintaining the six County Nature Centers and restoring funding for the Greenburgh Nature Center, the County’s deer management program and Cornell Cooperative Extension.”

Thanks to all of you who took action.

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This is the season of the year when talking heads and other self-proclaimed experts review the past year and develop their Top Ten list, you know, top ten songs of the year, top movies, top news events. Well, I am declaring myself an expert on my monthly BirdWalks.  (Who better?)  I have reviewed them all and will now enlighten you with my choices for the best and the worst.

First, let me explain that I lead a BirdWalk on the first Saturday of each month to a local nature area.  Each month we visit a different location.  If you would have joined us on all of our walks and seen all of the birds you would have tallied 116 species of birds.  Some walks were better than others.

It doesn’t get any better than our New Years Day Bird Walk to Greenwich Point Park.   Balmy weather buoyed the spirits of the large group eager to begin the year with a pleasant stroll in a lovely natural setting.  We found around 35 species of birds but the best sighting was a pack of frolicking “Polar Bears”.  Thank Ernie Hammer for the photo of the polar bears as well as the shot of a Long-tailed Duck (you can see why it is called “long-tailed)





  A good time was had by all.  In fact, so many participants have asked if I was going to do it again next year that I will.  My 2nd Annual New Years Day BirdWalk to Greenwich Point Park will take place on Sunday, January 1, 2012.

In February 2011, although an ice storm cancelled the EagleFest, we did find Bald Eagles

A rainy, misty day made March’s walk at Pelham Bay Park rather soggy.  But we were able to add Long-eared Owls and Monk Parakeets to our year list. 


Rockerfeller State Park in April yielded E. Bluebirds and Pileated Woodpecker

May at Larchmont Reservoir and June at the Marshlands Conservancy added more species. 

4th of July weekend at Pepsico World Headquarters was a glorious sunny day enjoyed by all participants. 



August is considered the dog of days of birding and East Rumbrook Park lived up to the reputation but did offer a good look at a Ruby-throated Hummingbird

In September, I timed our visit to the Butler Hawk Watch to match the peak of Broad-winged Hawk migration. 

And we timed it perfectly.  That day almost 10,000 migrating hawks were counted.

Nothing memorable appeared at Harts Brook Park in October but Crestwood Lake in November allowed good looks at many wintering ducks while few winter ducks were seen at Larchmont Reservoir in December.

After extensive review, I vote for New Years Day at Greenwich Point Park as the best BirdWalk of 2011!

Join us again on New Years Day, January 1 2012 to get the new year off to a great start.

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Starlings are generally considered nasty, aggressive black birds.  During spring and fall migration they often assemble into good-sized flocks marauding peaceful neighborhoods looking to cause trouble.  When they invade your yard, they drive away the pretty birds, take over and devour all the seed in the bird feeder. 

A flock of Starlings seems almost sinister.  The mere glimpse of a flock can ruin your whole day.

Can you imagine a “Murmuration” of Starlings?  – that is the term for a really large collection of Starlings.

Watch the video in this link.   The real action start about half-way thru.  The still photos are amazing as well.


I think you will agree that a Murmuration is more than a large flock.

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The Christmas Bird Count has been a holiday tradition for 110 years.  It started in 1900 to replace the common “Side Hunt” in which teams of revelers would grab their guns and head to the fields and woods to see which team could amass the largest pile of dead birds.

The objective of the Christmas Bird Count was to count birds, not kill them.  27 people joined in the first count.  Last year over 60,000 people participated. 

The local area count will take place on Monday, December 26 th.  Why not join in.  You don’t have to be expert birder and there are multiple ways you can participate.  The easiest is to simply count the birds at your feed or in your yard.  Or you can join with other birders as they visit parks and nature area looking for birds.  Devote as much time as you like whether it is an hour or two, half a day, or a full day.

For more info on the count go to http://www/hras.org/bwcbc.html

Or call Michael Bochnik  (237-9331)  He compiles all the count data in our area.  Or talk to Doug Bloom at the Wild Bird Center (713-0630).  Doug is responsible for the count in southeast Westchester

Why not get out in nature on the day after Christmas?  And provide valueable data for science at the same time.

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As you know, the proposed Westchester County budget calls for closing the nature centers.  Needless to say this raised quite a controversy.  The first open meeting where the public could comment was held in New Rochelle last week.  Turn out was enormous.  The crowd was not only standing-room only, it was also so large that many potential protesters could not get into the building.

The next open meeting is in White Plains on Tuesday evening Dec 6th.  Because of the expected large turn out, the location of the meeting has been moved to the Little Theater in the Westchester County Center.

Call or write you Legislator.  And show up at this meeting if you can.  The more the legislators recognize the number of voters who oppose the closing of nature centers the better the chance it won’t happen.

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