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Archive for September, 2012

Below is a list of local birding and nature activities in lower Westchester during the month of October

October 3, Wednesday – Movie: Birders – the Central Park Effect7:15 Jacob Burns Film Center, Pleasantville. A joyful documentary on the joys of birding in NYC’s Central Park

October 6, Saturday – Monthly Bird Walk – 1st Saturday of each month
Meet at 8:00 am at the Wild Bird Center (or 8:15 am at HartsBrook Park in Hartsdale) for our monthly BirdWalk on the 1st Saturday of every month.

October 7, Sunday – Bird Walk to Fire Island
Meet at Scarsdale Village Hall at 7:15 am. Looking for migrating hawks and land birds. BR-SS Audubon.

October 13, Saturday – Migrating Sparrow
10:00 am. Lenoir Preserve, Yonkers. Looking for migrating sparrow and hawks. HRAS Audubon.

October 18, Thursday – Lecture: Tales on the Bluebird Trail
7:00pm Scarsdale Public Library. Sponsored by BR-SS and Central Westchester Audubon Societies

October 18, Thursday – Lecture/Workshop: Raptor ID for Rookies
Learn how to identify birds of prey. Suitable for age 10 and up. 7:30 pm at Ossining Public Library. Sponsored by Saw Mill River Audubon.

October 20, Saturday – Youth Birding Club – Field Trip to Crestwood Lake/ Bronx River Parkway
9:00 am Meet in Crestwood Train Station parking lot. Sponsored by BR-SS and Central Westchester Audubon Societies

October 20, Saturday – Meet Kenn Kaufman / Release of new Field Guide to Nature of New EnglandWine and Cheese reception, book signing, presentation 6:00-8:30pm Audubon Center in Greenwich

October 21, Sunday – Birding Larchmont ReservoirMeet at the upper parking area at 8:00 am, looking for fall migrants. Across from entrance is sign that says Westchester Water Works Plant. BR-SS Audubon

October 24, Wednesday – Birding Croton Point ParkMeet at the park entrance booth at 7:30 am focusing on fall migrants including Northern Harrier, Am. Kestrel, and many sparrow species. Bedford Audubon

October 24, Wednesday – Program: Birds, Butterflies and More of the Lower Rio Grande Valley7:00 pm Lenoir Preserve, Yonkers Hudson River Audubon Society

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Cute or Comic


Most babies are considered cute. I think it helps save them from danger. No one wants to harm them. They are too cute.
I am not sure the term “cute” can be applied to young Pileated Woodpeckers in this photo (taken by Chris Sekaer)

I’ve never seen young Pileated Woodpeckers. These have the not quite grown up look but I am not sure I would call them cute. Actually, I think they have a somewhat comic flair. Maybe, there is truth to the rumor that a Pileated Woodpecker was a prototype for the cartoon Woody Woodpecker

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There are millions of little details involved in planning and building a new bridge over the Hudson River to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge. One unexpected and under-reported detail is what will happen to the Peregrine (falcons) that have nested on the existing bridge for over 20 years. (Note: bridges are a favorite nesting location for Peregrines with a least one pair nesting on every bridge over the Hudson from NYC to north of Albany)

State officials indicate the new bridge will include a nesting box. In addition, during construction a buffer will be placed around the nesting box on the existing bridge to protect their habitat until the new box is ready.

Let’s hope these plans work out better than many plans.

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Dirty Bird Habits

Last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, contained a small story on the strange habit of young nestling Eurasian Roller Birds – they vomit on themselves when they sense danger. Ick! The smell of the vomit deters the predator. So it helps protect the young bird. It also helps protect their parents. The parents can’t stand the smell of vomit either, so they stay away from the area for a short period of time. This prevents them from flying into the area with a potential predator.

Turkey Vultures are also known to vomit. Some reports claim that they “projectile vomit” at approaching predators but scientist doubt that.
But they do indeed vomit when stressed. This behavior may well have evolved as a means for vultures, gorging on a carcass, to quickly lose some weight when predators approach and the vulture has eaten too much to fly. (You can imagine how vultures will want to eat as much as possible, given the unpredictable nature of their food source, while still maintaining flight capabilities.) When turkey vultures vomit they simply cough up a lump of meat that may be fresh (if the vulture just fed) or semi-digested and foul-smelling. Some believe this regurgitation may “gross out” would-be predators, but this may be an explanation based on human sensibilities. More often than not, the regurgitated food may in fact be eaten by the predator, which takes the free meal rather than continuing to pursue the vulture.

Turkey Vulture Urinates on its Legs

A turkey vulture often directs its urine right onto its legs. This process, known as urohydrosis, serves two very important purposes. On warm days, wetting the legs cools the vulture as the urine evaporates. (The vulture cannot sweat like us). In addition, this urine contains strong acids from the vulture’s digestive system, which may kill any bacteria that remain on the bird’s legs from stepping in its meal.

Just as people can learn to change their undesirable habits, Turkey Vultures (TVs) with a couple of simple changes could develop better social skills. First, if they changed the color of their feathers from black to white (black absorbs heat) they would not get so warm. And maybe they could use sun screen on their bald heads to prevent sunburn.

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An old, old song reminds us “what a difference a day makes”.

Last Saturday I led a group of about 20 birders to the Chestnut Ridge HawkWatch. Mid-September is reported to be the peak of Broad-winged Hawk migration. But not much was moving on Saturday. The official count for the day was 185 raptors, including 112 Broad-wings. (Also 52 Monarch butterflies)

The next day, Sunday, the total count was much higher: 1,361 raptors, including 1,211 Broad-wings. The Monarch total was down to 40

One day made a big difference. Timing is everything, in birding and in life.

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How to Measure Success

This is hawk migration time and in the past ten day I visited hawk watches three times spending a total of about 5-6 hours scanning the sky for raptors. I can count the total number of birds seen using only the fingers of both hands. You might think how much time I wasted.
But actually, I found the time rejuvenating. The weather was lovely each time and I was totally engrossed. Didn’t feel disappointed at all. Just the opposite. I was fired up to do it again.

Some birders believe the only way to measure the success of a birding trip is to tally-up the species seen. The more, the better. A low number of species means a bad trip. Not me. I feel if you knew exactly what you were going to see each time you ventured out, it would be as much fun. The bad days are what make the good days so good.

And, I feel, one good look at a new bird, or a familiar bird doing something unusual, is better than long list of birds ticked off and then forgotten.

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Vacations are behind us. Summer is over. Groups are reorganizing and planning activities for the fall. So there are many events to participate in. Every other Sunday, I will accumulate and update all nature-related activities sponsored by various local groups.
Here are some of the activities taking place between Sept 16th and October 20th

Local Nature Activities
September 20, Thursday – Butterfly Program
7:30 pm Jeffrey Glassberg, author of Butterflies through Binoculars, president of NA Butterfly Assoc., editor of Am. Butterfly magazine, presents program on butterflies around the country.
Chappaqua Public Library sponsored by Saw Mill River Audubon Society

September 22 & 23, Saturday/Sunday – 14th Annual Hawk Watch Weekend & Green Bazaar
11:00 – 5:00pm. Live ‘birds of prey’ program 1 & 3:00 pm, wild bird release 4:00 pm, games, food, ID lessons and more. $10 Audubon Center in Greenwich.

September 29, Saturday – Annual Hawk Day
9:00 – Noon Hawk Watch
1:00 pm Live Hawk Show featuring Jim Eyring of Pace University
free Lenoir Preserve, Yonker Hudson River Audubon Society

September 30, Sunday – Fall Migrants – Raptors and More
7:30 am at Marshlands Conservancy, Rye

October 6, Saturday – Bird Walk
Meet at 8:00 am at the Wild Bird Center (or call for location) for our monthly BirdWalk on the 1st Saturday of every month.

October 7, Sunday – Bird Walk to Fire Island
Meet at Scarsdale Village Hall at 7:15 am. Looking for migrating hawks and land birds. BR-SS Audubon.

October 13, Saturday – Migrating Sparrow
10:00 am. Lenoir Preserve, Yonkers. Looking for migrating sparrow and hawks. HRAS Audubon.

October 18, Thursday – Lecture: Tales on the Bluebird Trail
7:00 Scarsdale Public Library. Sponsored by BR-SS and Central Westchester Audubon Societies

October 18, Thursday – Lecture/Workshop: Raptor ID for Rookies
Learn how to identify birds of prey. Suitable for age 10 and up. 7:30 pm at Ossining Public Library. Sponsored by Saw Mill River Audubon.

October 20, Saturday – Meet Kenn Kaufman / Release of new Field Guide to Nature of New England
Wine and Cheese reception, book signing, presentation 6:00-8:30pm Audubon Center in Greenwich

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A new birding movie

Now that the summer super-hero films have come and gone a new birding movie is quietly making the rounds. Called “Birders: The Central Park Effect” the movie was recently shown on HBO.

It is described as a joyful look at the extraordinary array of wild birds in Manhattan’s celebrated patch of green—and the equally colorful New Yorkers who gather to spot them. Featuring renowned guide Starr Saphir, who has documented her sightings for 70 years, along with author Jonathan Franzen and a host of other passionate birders, this documentary reveals a dazzling world rarely noticed by the 38 million people who visit the park each year.

The Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville is showing the film on Wednesday Oct 3rd. Following the movie a reception and Q&A session will feature the film’s cinematographers, a author who appears at length in the film and a trip leader/naturalist from Teatown Reservation and Saw Mill River Audubon

For details: http://www.burnsfilmcenter.org

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Vanilla or Strawberry?

My store stocks 14 different varieties (flavors) of suet. That qualifies me as the Baskin-Robbins of suet. And like selecting ice cream, it is sometimes difficult to choose which flavor of suet to buy. Too many choices can be overwhelming. Customers want advice and often ask “which suet is best?”

That is when I tell them the store of Dr Geiis’ mother: Dr. Al Geiis, a former director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, conducted the seminal studies on bird seed preference back in the 1990s. He spent several years putting out measured amounts of different bird seed to determine which were preferred by birds. His work is still the classic in the industry. At one time his mother was bed ridden. So outside her bedroom window Geiis hung 5 suet feeders with 5 different flavors of suet. Her job was to record which birds came to which flavor of suet.

I like that story. Instead of just laying in bed feeling sorry for herself, Mrs Geiis had something to do. And watch birds is therapeutic. Moreover she was helping her son. He got free research. The results of her study? In her backyard, which was in Maryland, orange-flavored suet attracted the greatest variety of birds. And the birds that came to the peanut suet were the most frequent visitors. Some customers in Westchester report that orange suet is also very attractive here. But others say that orange is no more popular than any other flavor.

In actual fact, birds do not have taste buds. And they don’t have a good sense of smell. So I can’t figure out why they would prefer one flavor to another.

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Things aren’t going so well in America’s Second City this summer. Chicago’s murder rate is through the roof. More than 20 percent of its residents are food insecure, and the town is mired in the same lousy economy as the rest of us. But that’s OK. Because for a subset of Chicago foodies—”with au courant appetites for sustainable, healthy, and locally sourced meats”—squirrel eating is making a comeback. Just call your dinner the “Chicken of the Trees.”

An article is the Chicago Reader, a major alternative newspaper, describes everything you wanted to know about eating squirrel. In addition to recipes, the article by Mike Sula includes the history of squirrel as food, legal issues, the best cuts of meat, and the typical diet of an urban squirrel.
Sula prepare a squirrel dinner for his friends.

And the question everyone wants to know the answer to is, How does it taste? Apparently it isn’t all that bad. Here’s what Sula’s dinner guests say:

“It was so good that I got kinda depressed,” my neighbor e-mailed later. “There are so many people who don’t get enough protein and here is this menacing squirrel, there for the taking.” …

“If I hadn’t known in advance,” said another, “I doubt I would have been able to tell. But I tasted the cheek and even that, while incredibly delicious, tasted like something between pork and lamb. I never would have guessed it was squirrel in a blind tasting.”

Most guests communicated a general surprise that city squirrels didn’t taste like the wild muskiness of bigger wild game. Proverbially, it tastes like chicken.

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