Archive for January, 2012

For Benjamin Van Doren it all began in 3rd grade at Church Street School in White Plains.  His teacher, Mrs Joan Conca, incorporated the study of birds into her curriculum. Ben was hooked.

 No one really expected that his interest would continue, but it did.  His knowledge and birding skills continued to grow and he blossomed and achieved status as a birder:  (1) when a rare Mexican species was seen for the first time in the US, Ben was the first person to identify it, (2) He was featured in a bird ID quiz in “Birding” magazine, the official journal of the Am. Birding Association, (3) His team in the 2011 World Series of Birding finished first in the youth category and 4th among all teams.

 Oh yeah, and last year he was finally old enough to get a drivers license.

Ben is a quiet, well-mannered young man.  Last spring, Benjamin was birding with our group in New York’s Central Park.  Every now and then he took out his cell phone and sent a text message.  I wondered why he had to text during a bird walk.  I learn later he was texting a birding friend who was with another group birding in the park at the same time.  Each was trying to “one up” the other 

And recently, Benjamin was named one of 40 national finalists in the prestigious 2012 Intel Science Talent Search (former the Westinghouse prize) for his science project which, naturally, is about birds.

 In his spare time, he captain of the school track team, president of the NYS Young Birds Grorup. plays piano in a jazz band, and is a member of the school’s academic challenge team which compete in New Orleans on Memorial Day.

Congratulations to Benjamin.   He is the type of young birder who represents the future of birding.

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Results of Owl Prowl

When the alarm sounded I really did not feel like getting up.  But I had planned to join the Hudson River Audubon field trip at Pelham Bay Park looking for owls.  So I rolled out of bed and into a sunny, mild morning.

 Because of exceptionally warm weather this winter, reports of owls have been almost non-existent.  So I really did not expect to see an owl.  Still I needed to get out into the fresh air in a natural environment.  I hadn’t been outdoors since New Years Day and we did find a Great Horned Owl that day.  So maybe …..

 Yes, we did spot one Long-eared Owl high up in a pine tree.  There were 25-30 birders in our group and most of them had looked in the  tree but had missed owl.  A woman standing next to me said “is that one up there?”  I looked where she pointed and saw something.  Initially I thought it just a bunch of leaves but through binoculars it did turn into an owl.  We were able to focus scopes on the owl and everyone had a good look.

 Other than the owl we didn’t see many other birds.  Of course, seeing an owl is enough reward to make the walk successful for most of us.

 The other highlights of the walk were 3 seals on the rocks just off shore.   I didn’t expect to see an owl much less a seal so the morning walk was worth getting up for.

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Chatting about Chats

I’ve never seen a Yellow-breasted Chat.  This week the NYC Rare Bird Alert reported one hanging around the Public Library / Bryant Park area in midtown.  Since I was going down to the Javitts Center for the NY Gift Fair anyway, I figured why not chase a rare bird and add a lifer in Manhattan.

A Chat is considered a warbler, but is much larger with a different shape than most warblers.  Except for its color, the Chat seems more like a catbird or a mockingbird than a warbler.

I didn’t want to bring my binoculars.  Most people would look at me like a tourist.  Besides, I figured I did not need them – there couldn’t be a lot of trees and bushes to hide in around 5th Avenue and 42nd Street.   

Well, it turns out there is plenty of vegetation, or at least enough, so that I never did see the Chat.   It was lunch time so  the Chat may have been relaxing at a nearby café or, maybe, researching books of maps at the library. 

Maybe this spring I will get to see my first Chat.

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The Hudson River EagleFest is one week from today.  Last year the EagleFest was cancelled due to a major snow and ice storm the day before made the going too treacherous for the general public.  The eagles were fine.

This year the long range weather forecast projects mild weather for the week with temperatures near 50 degrees on EagleFest day.  That would be good weather for people, but not so good for seeing a lot of eagles.

Many people have the impression that the Bald Eagle is a fierce hunter, pouncing on large mammals as it dives unseen from great heights.  In actual fact the Bald Eagle’s favorite food is fish, particularly dead fish, which float on the surface of water making it easy for the eagle to gently swoop down and just pluck it off the surface. 

Some people feel the Bald Eagle is lazy.  Just sitting all day in a tall tree by a stream or pond waiting for a dead fish to float past.  In the winter eagles are content to stay put where they are as long as the local waters do not freeze.   However, if the weather turns cold and the water freezes, eagles fly south to where there is open, unfrozen water.  Croton Point is an ideal location.  The Hudson River is fairly wide at that point and usually doesn’t freeze over.  In the addition, the Croton River empties into the Hudson.  And when the Croton Dam releases water, the river stays open and, more importantly fish are often stunned and killed during the release of water.  Good feeding for eagles.

Last winter was a cold one and many eagles moved to our area from spots farther north.  Over 100 Bald Eagles were seen between Croton Point Park and the Bear Mountain Bridge.  Unfortunately this winter has been warm and not as many eagles have moved south. 

So the weather for the EagleFest will be ideal for the various programs, raptor shows, talks and presentations.  That should attract a large number of people.  However, the number of live eagles flying free will be lower than usual.

Still, the EagleFest on February 4th is not to be missed.


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Chilled Chickadee

Because of the mild weather so far this winter I haven’t found it necessary to wear my really warm fleece jacket.  This jacket is a mandatory survival tool when wind chill factors drop to the single digits.  That made me think:  how do chickadees survive brutally cold weather?


A chickadee’s internal body temperature is higher than that of a human, about 104⁰F.   And only a few millimeters of feathers separate its body from the frigid outdoor air.  Although feathers insulate very well and a chickadee has about 1000 feathers some body heat does escape.  The chickadee must continue to burn fuel (food) to continue to generate body heat.  On cold nights, a chickadee may allow its internal temperature to drop 10-15 degrees to conserve energy.  At first light, they start shivering to warm up quickly.  That requires a burst of energy.  Then one of the first chores of the day is to find food to produce energy and heat

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A poem?

I found the following on a blog.  Written by Jane Shlensky, it was accompanied by a discussion about whether it was (1) a poem, (2) a prose poem or (3) poetic prose.   Whatever your choice I enjoyed reading it.

 “To the Stunned Titmouse in My Hand”

By Jane Shlensky

I hear the pop and swoosh of your wings against the sunroom door, what you mistook for a through passage becoming a slap to your senses, a snap along your ruffled neck and, for a moment, a flash of pain and darkness, your beak hanging open, your eyes unfocused, with a listening quality.  What do you hear, small flitting friend?  When you bumped into the glass, did you see stars and a circle of small birds tweeting around your head, like some Wile E. Coyote cartoon?  Or do seed-bearing tiny people dance around yours, singing cheeree, cheeroo, sweet seeds for you?  In my hand, I mark your quickened breath and fluttering heart along my lifeline, your feet stroke-curled and useless, you eyes unseeing.  I smooth your feathers and ladle drops of water into your opened mouth, then seat you on the banister away from predators like my cat until you can regain yourself and take to air, your head suddenly alert, you tail feathers perky, your wings spread sure and sharp, your tiny head now filled with a story for the nestlings of being handled by a giant featherless seed-bringer with water emerging from her fingers

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Binoculars can be a real pain in the neck.  Literally.  After an hour of birding with heavy binoculars dangling from your neck, your neck gets sore.  You feel a dull pain.  Shoulders ache.  It feels like an anchor hanging from your neck.  Sudden jolts and jarring pain shoot through your neck whenever you stoop under a limb or jump from a rock to rock. 

 The problem isn’t that your binoculars are too heavy.  Usually the pain occurs because the neck strap is often inadequate.   Typically the strap is a thin, stiff strip less than one-half inch wide.  Sometimes it is no more than a thick cord.  Sometimes it is rigid hard plastic.

 This simple neck strap may seem unimportant but is the key factor in much neck pain.  The full weight of your binoculars is transmitted through this thin strap directly into your neck.  In technical terms the pressure per square inch of strap is high.  And it is continuous.   It may seem even higher when you bend under a branch or scramble over a rocky stream.  Binoculars bounce and sway cutting deeper into your neck.  No wonder it hurts.

 One solution to reducing pain is to get smaller, lighter-weight binoculars.  Compact-sized binoculars often weigh less than one-half larger models.  Less weight means less strain.  And yet, you don’t have to forego a good image.  Quality compact-binoculars produce brilliant, sharp images, often a better image than the one produced by lower quality full size models.  Bigger is not always better.   And I like the idea that the small size allows you to easily slip them into a purse or pocket making them ideal for taking them to the theater or a sporting event.  I took mine with when my wife dragged me to the ballet.

 If you like full size binoculars there is another, less expensive pain relief.  Get a new neck strap.  Factory-supplied straps that come with new binoculars are often too narrow.  A wider strap, at least twice as wide as your current strap, will distribute the weight over a greater surface area lessening the intensity of the strain at each spot around the neck.  Switching from a strap that is one-half inch wide to one that is two inches wide reduces the pressure per square inch by 75%.

 Check out professional photographers or paparazzi who often have several large cameras with long, heavy lenses draped around their necks.  They all use wide neck straps, often 3 or 4 inches wide.  Learn from these pros.

 In addition to a wider width, some strap manufacturers add additional padding or cushioning to the strap resulting in a thicker, softer strap that is easier on your neck.  The type of material used for the strap is also important.  Straps constructed from soft woven fibers or from thick, foam-rubber type of material not only spread the weight but also cushion impacts.  Now, when you duck under a limb and gravity tugs at your binoculars, instead of cutting into your neck, the strap stretches absorbing muck of the shock.

 An even better solution is to utilize a binocular harness or strapping system rather than the traditional neck strap.  A harness completely eliminates all weight from your neck, instead transferring it to your stronger, wider shoulders.  In principal, a harness consists of two separate loops neither of which goes across you neck.  The loops go over and under your shoulders, meeting in an X-type configuration in the middle of the back with the binoculars attached in the front.  This design is surprisingly effective.  Binoculars feel significantly lighter, with absolutely no strain on the neck.  As an added benefit, the harness holds your binoculars close to your chest which prevents all swinging and swaying of your binoculars even if you are running or stooping.  


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I haven’t posted for some time now because I have been inflicted with a malady that I call “The Disease of the Puffy Eyes.”   It is something I seem to get every 4-5 years.  It is not painful or uncomfortable.  No fever or aches.  Actually, it is quite peaceful.  I just sleep, maybe 12-16 hours per day. 

 I am up and alert for a while then sleep overcomes me.  I sleep for a few hours, wake up, roll over on my other side and sleep some more. 

 After I few days I’m back to my usual self except, of course, I haven’t accomplished anything for a few days.  So I’m behind again.

My only recollection was on the day it snowed.  I remember wondering what birds do in weather like that.  I was warm and snug in my bed.  The birds were out in the falling snow.  What would I do if I was them?   Then I decided that I would think about later and went back to sleep.

 Maybe I will think about birds in winter when I awake.

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Just received news that the first Eastern Bluebird of 2012 was seen flying over the lower pond at Larchmont Reservoir.  It was still present over this weekend.

Bluebirds are hardy birds and often arrive in Westchester in mid winter, usually February or March.  You often see them flying in light snow storms.  This year’s mild weather may encourage earlier northern migration.

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The total number of birds found on the recent Bronx-Westchester Christmas Bird Count set a fifty-nine year low with less than 30,000 birds. Average for this count is 42,000. This was caused by an unusually warm late fall which failed to concentrate birds into the area and a gusty count day with northwest winds gusting to 35 mph, making many birds staying sheltered.

A total of 115 species were found which is about average for the count. But the count had something of a split personality. Nine species set a record for the highest number ever seen for that species but twelve common species had exceptionally low numbers (lowest quantity seen in last 20 years or more).  The numbers for American Tree Sparrow set an all time low for the 88 years that this count has occurred 

Low numbers were noted for Mute Swan, Ruddy Duck, Purple Sandpiper, Northern Flicker, American Crow (53 year low), Black-capped Chickadee (44 year low), Tufted Titmouse (34 year low), Cedar Waxwing, American Tree Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow (31 year low), Dark-eyed Junco (34 year low) and Northern Cardinal (28 year old).

About 100 people, a record high, participated in this year’s Christmas Count.

To see the detailed results of this count follow this link




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