Archive for September, 2012

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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This morning when I first pulled into the parking lot at The Marshlands I sensed something was wrong. The driveway and parking areas were blocked. Small groups of people were standing everywhere, just milling around. As I drew nearer to the crowd I recognized one face, then another, then more, finally most. All these smiling, friendly people were there for today’s BirdWalk. Over 2 dozen people. They were waiting for me (late as usual)

“Why such a big turnout today?” I wondered. Was it the reputation of The Marshlands that attracted so many? Or was it because today was the start of a 3-day holiday weekend and people had more free time to relax and enjoy nature? I didn’t know. But I hoped I could show these people some good birds.

It didn’t turn out that way. The top of the field behind the John Jay Homestead normally buzzes with small birds. Today, none.The field was alive with butterflies but the swallows that normally zig and zag after insects were missing. When we reached the overlook, the tide was out and the salt marsh was empty except for a distant Great Blue Heron. Fortunately when we walked down the hill to the marsh itself bird life picked up.

In total, we tallied 24 species with the best sightings being Western and Semipalmated Sandpipers. Despite the lack of birds the walk was enjoyed by all.
In fact after most of the group left for home, a few people stayed and birded in a different area of The Marshlands, nearer the golf course. They found all kinds of birds including 5 or 6 kinds of migrating warblers as well as waterthrush.

Why, I wonder, did they see so much and we didn’t? I will never know. Life will just continue to a state of confusion.

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