Archive for July, 2013

This is not a bird related post. I stumbled on a unusual fact that peaked my curiosity and wrote the following:

Sherlock Holmes in White Plains
Hank Weber

Sherlock HolmesIt has been over a century since master detective Sherlock Holmes retired as an to lead a quiet life as a beekeeper in Sussex Downs. Yet today Holmes is still the most famous detective in the world thanks to 56 short stories written by Arthur Conan Doyle detailing his most fascinating cases not ot mention  countless plays, radio dramas, parodies, television series, and many movies.
Considering his global recognition it might surprise some to realize that Holmes never existed. This legendary character was created by the imagination of Arthur Conan Doyle. Of course, Conan Doyle drew liberally on real crimes and actual locations to make his stories vivid and memorable.
For example, Sherlock’s archenemy, Professor James Moriarty, who he often called “the Napoleon of Crime” or “the most dangerous man in London”, is based on Adam Worth, a true criminal mastermind whose notorious career began in White Plains. As a youth in New York City, he was a typical small time pickpocket and thief, eventually forming his own gang of pickpockets. When he was caught stealing the cashbox of an Adams Express Wagon, he was sentenced to three year in Sing Sing, but escaped.

He had ambition and intelligence and soon progressed to larger and more complex crimes including bank and store robbery. In 1869, after stealing $100,000 worth of goods from the Hudson River Railway Express the safe cracker in his gang, “Piano” Charley Bullard, was captured and imprisoned in the new White Plains Jail.  Worth conceived a plan to free Bullard by digging a tunnel under the jail from a nearby building. It worked, and the gang fled to Boston.  Adam Worth was so pleased with the tunneling technique that he used it again in November to break into Boylston National Bank. Working at night the gang tunneled into the bank vault from an adjacent store, opened the safe and escaped with an estimated $200,000.

Note: Sherlock Holmes fans will recall that in “The Red-Headed League” Professor Moriarty’s gang used the same tunneling technique to break into a London bank from an adjacent store.

The size and audacity of the Boston robbery roused the entire banking community and stirred the Boston police. In addition, the bank hired the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency to track him down. Adam Worth sensed the intense pressure and fled to England where he continued his criminal ways both on the continent and in Britain.
So Westchester’s criminal became London’s problem. He soon formed a new criminal network and organized major robberies and burglaries. The actual crimes were carried out by several intermediaries who never new his real name. He was involved in gambling, diamond theft, forged checks, fake letters of credit. One of his most sensational capers was stealing a famous painting by Thomas Gainsborough directly off the wall of theAgnew & Sons, a London art gallery. He loved the painting so much he didn’t sell it immediately on the black market but carried it with him for several years as he moved around Europe. Eventually he did return it to the insurance company for $25,000. But the authorities could never prove his role in the theft.
He was so notorious, that Scotland Yard detective Robert Anderson dubbed him “The Napoleon of the criminal world”.
Sherlock Holmes often used that exact phrase to describe his nemesis, Professor Moriarty.

Sherlock Holmes may be fictional. But there is no doubt that the crimes and criminals depicted in his cases are based on real people and places. And the worst of them may have started in White Plains.
Sherlock Holmes Fan Club
Justin Bieber and other pop idols have thousands of fan clubs. Despite enormous current popularity, fame fades quickly with time. And it is unlikely that these clubs will still exist in ten years. However, fan clubs for Sherlock Holmes are still going strong after a century.
There are more than a dozen fan clubs in the NYC metro area, most are part of a larger organization known as the Baker Street Irregulars. The Westchester chapter is called the 3 Garridebs (after one of Sherlock’s famous cases). It serves over 150 local Sherlock fans with bimonthly meetings and annual events. The next meeting, their 40th Anniversary luncheon, will be on Sunday, July 31st. For details call Sue & Ben Vizaskie (914) 948-1376 or http://www.3Garridebs.homestead.com

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Below is a summary of all of my monthly bird walks so far in 2013. As the chart shows, we have seen a total of 95 different species so far. It gets harder to add new species as the year goes on. But I project that we should reach a total of over 125-130 species by the end of the year.

Join us on futher walks to help us set a new record

Results of WBC Monthly Bird Walks YTD July 2013


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Male MallardNext time you are near a pond, look for a male Mallard. See any? You’ll see a lot of females and young. But males may not be obvious at first glance.

Normally they are hard to miss. With it’s bright, iridescent green head, a male Mallard usually doesn’t present an ID problem. Except at this time of year.

In mid to late summer, Mallards undergo a complete molt, losing all their old feathers and replacing them with new ones. During this molt they go into what is known as Eclipse plumage. The males lose their bright green coloring and adopt a duller, female-like plumage and also lose their flight feathers and so they cannot fly. Flightless they are vulnerable to predators and spend much of their time on island or in the water where they are safer. This is a male in eclipse plumage.
Male Mallard in Eclipse Plummage
After the eclipse plumage period, which lasts a month or more, their flight feathers and bright green head feathers return.

But at this time of year, all the ducks in the pond look like females (or maybe some sort of hybrid) See for yourself. Go to a local pond and try to find a male Mallard.

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This month the day for our Bird Walk fell on the hottest, most humid day of the current hot spell. Birding in a sauna.

Oppressive weather combined with the holiday weekend limited the number of birders who joined our walk. Even Doug Bloom did not show up, first walk he has missed in ten years. But the birders who did participate were treated to some great views. Not a large number of species, but good looks. Quality over quantity.

1. Avril Armstrong came with inches of stepping on a Killdeer nest containing both mom and 4 little eggs. The Killdeer sat motionless until Avril was within foot and then let out a loud, high-pitched screech. As we all gathered around to gawk and take pictures, the bird stood guard screaming and defending her nest.
2. Not quite so pleasant, we watched a Herring Gull eat a duckling – a young Wood Duck, we think. Don’t know if the gull actually killed the duckling or just found the body and ate it.

3. As we watched a flock of Cedar Waxwings flitting around on the island in the river, we got a good view of huge snapping turtles.

4. At least three Green Herons in three different locations posed motionless allowing everyone to get a good view.

Species Seen
Canada Goose, Wood Duck, Mallard, Killdeer, Green Heron, Yellow Warbler, Cedar Waxwing, Red-winged Blackbirds, Starling, Robin, Chickadee, Catbird, Barn Swallow, Herring Gull, Mourning Dove.

In total, we only tallied 15 species, missing many of the common birds. But we were rewarded with some sightings we will remember.

Avril, Dave, Elizabeth, Jane, Johnnie, The Pepper Family,

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For various meteorological and medical reason I have not done much birding recently.

The other day I was walking from my parked car to the local library. I followed a lovely curving path that skirted a small pond and that was surrounded by lovely planting, shrubs and wispy small trees. Very tranquil.

A Catbird popped up nearby just at the path’s edge eyeing me closely. I smiled and said “Hello Mr. Catbird” (I actually said that out loud) Mr. Catbird had a berry in his beak and I noticed that the trees over the path were studded with berries. Just then a lone Cedar Waxwing flew in to grab a quick berry. First waxwing I’ve seen this year.

Here I was, not in some isolated, set-aside, officially proclaimed natural area, but in the center of town watching local birds acting naturally. Those few minutes buoyed my spirits. Birds and nature are all around us. You just have to look.

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Age and Wisdom

The world’s oldest known living bird is a female Layson Albatross, know as Wisdom. Wisdom was banded by on a Pacific island by a U.S. Geological Survey researcher in 1956. She was breeding at the time. And since albatross do not breed until they are at least 5 years old. That means Wisdom is at least 62 years old.

That is a ripe old age especially when you consider that most backyard birds do not reach their 10th birthday.

Albatross are birds of the open ocean spending time on isolate islands in the Pacific only to breed. The rest of the year they are flying the oceans. Satellite tracking reveals that they might circle the complete globe (that takes about 2 months). They are very efficient flyers using winds and air current to do most of the work. Studies have shown that they can soar for six days without flapping their wings.

At 62, Wisdom has seen a lot of the world’s ocean. But the most significant accomplishment is breeding. This year on Midway Atoll she laid a single egg and hatched a new chick. At 62!

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