Archive for September, 2013

Around the turn of the 19th century, the latest trend in women’s fashion was showy hats festooned with feathers the more, the better. Large feathers from egrets, herons, and ostriches were particularly popular. Feathers were in great demand. And they were costly. At one point, an ounce of feathers was worth more than an ounce of gold. Providing feathers to the millinery trade became a big business.

Frank Chapman, the top ornithologist at the Museum of Natural History in New York, was concerned about the fate of birds. He participated in the very first Christmas bird count. In 1886 he went on another famous bird walk. He strolled down 5th Avenue observing ladies hats. Of the 700 hats he spotted, 75% contained feathers. And he noted feathers from 40 different species of birds, everything from robins to eagles. This walk confirmed the popularity of feathers and the sad fate of many birds.

Although ostrich farms were created in several states, the easiest way to accumulate a large supply of feathers was to kill a large number of birds. Killing of birds was common in many areas.

Like most fads, the craze for feathers eventually passed. Yet, in a strange way, it helped protect birds. Bird lovers around the country were horrified at the killing and took action that resulting of the enactment of laws protecting native birds, laws that are still enforce today.

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A Moral Dilemma

Magnolia Warbler - Fall PlummageToday I saw the first Magnolia Warbler I have seen this year. I had a very good look clearly seeing all the field marks and definitely identified it as a Magnolia.

My quandary is whether to add this bird to my 2013 Bird List. There is no doubt this was a Magnolia Warbler. But unfortunately, this tiny warbler was dead, laying on the ground near the base of a 5 story building – must have flown into a window.

Should I add it to my 2013 list? Does a dead bird count?

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A Fish Story

Birding sometimes is similar to fishing. You often hear the “you should have been here yesterday” meaning that there may not be many birds today but, wow, yesterday was really good. Somehow it never is the right time.

That was true at the Chestnut Ridge Hawk Watch last week. Our group visited last Saturday, Sept 14th hoping to see a lot of migrating Broadwing Hawks. We were at the hawkwatch site for about 1-2 hours and saw about 40 hawks. Hawk activity picked up later in the day the official hawk count for that day was 1,536 Broadwing Hawks. Maybe we should have been later in the day.

But we really should have been there two days later on Monday, Sept 16th. The official count on Monday was over 8,500 broadwings.

Just like in fishing we were there on the wrong day. Should have been there on Monday.

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I am officially resigning from my role as prognosticator, forecaster, seer, futurist, and predictor.

You may recall I estimated that 10 birders would join in my visit to the Chestnut Ridge Hawk Watch. However, we actually had 16 adults plus 6 children – a nice turn out on a crisp autumn morning – and more than twice the number I predicted.

Moreover, I planned this outing for mid-September which is supposed to the peak of Broadwing Hawk migration. We did see Broadwings. A nice kettle of 18 Broadwings flew directly overhead, we had to look straight up to see them. They were high in the sky but we could clearly see their shape but not make out much detail.

We also saw some lone Broadwings far in the distance. As one observer said they looked like spots of pepper in the sky.
Unfortunately, we didn’t see hundreds or thousands of hawks as I had hoped. Maybe I should have scheduled our visit for the following week. Or maybe the next day, Sunday, there were reports of 500 Broadwings seen in less than an hour.

So my predictions were way off. There were twice as people as I forecasted, but few hawks. Obviously, I am not a good seer. In the future I restrict my estimates to past events.

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Making It

NYT CrosswordOne measure of achieving some degree of fame is being mentioned in the New York Times Sunday Crossword Puzzle.

Today, as I worked my way to the bottom of the Sunday puzzle, I came to 112 Across. The clue was “Obervation of cardinals”. My initial thought process jumped to the Catholic Church, the Vatican or something along that line.

The answer turned out to be B-I-R-D-I-N-G.

Not Birdwatching or little old ladies in tennis shoes, Birding.

Today I was more pleased to be a birder than to having finished the puzzle

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Try, try again

Last week prior to my regularly scheduled BirdWalk I predicted that between 15 and 18 people would attend my walk. Actually, 21 people participated, a few more than I had estimated.

This Saturday I am leading another BirdWalk, this week to look for migrating hawks. For fun, I decided to make second attempt and try to forecast the number of people who will join the hawk watch.

I have to consider a couple of variables that might impact the turn-out this coming Saturday. First, this Saturday there is a religious holiday. That could reduce attendance. On the other hand we are not starting until 10:00 a.m., which would appeal to late sleepers. But we are traveling a little farther than normal (Mt. Kisco) which could deter some people.

Finally after hours of intense study and carefully considering all the variables, I arrived at a prediction.

I believe that 10 people (plus/minus 2) will join the hawk watch.

Tune in next week to see how close I came.

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As I drove into the Marshland’s parking lot, I counted 17 people waiting for the start of my monthly BirdWalk. “Wow, I’m good” I thought. Earlier in the week I predicted that 15 to 18 people would show up. I nailed it. Maybe I should buy a lottery ticket. Or take my life savings to Atlantic City or Vegas.

My newly discovered talent for predicting the future didn’t last long. Five additional people joined us. That made for a convivial group but shattered my career as a prognosticator.

It was a beautiful fall morning – lots of sunshine, a slight nip in the air, low humidity. A great day for a walk. We saw a fair number of birds (31 species) but nothing unusual or spectacular. The best sighting was a lone Osprey soaring just 25 feet over our heads. Nice.

All in all, if I can’t reliably predict the future, a nice walk with pleasant people would be my second choice. I’ll take it.

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I lead a Bird Walk on the first Saturday of every month and each month we walk in a different location. A few days before the walk I email a reminder of the walk and indicate where we will be birding.

Then I sit back and wonder. I wonder who or how many people will be joining my walk. I never know. Some months a lot of people join us, sometimes only a few. Attendance is hard to predict. There is some correlation with weather. On nicer days more people turn out.

For the August walk, the forecast was for overcast and drizzle. When I awoke it was raining. I seriously did not expect anyone to show up. Even Doug was doubtful; he called questioning whether the walk was still on. My philosophy is “if anyone shows up, we go”. That actually happened once – only one person show up and the two of us had a wonderful time. On that dreary August morning, eight people joined Doug and me for a nice walk.

One thing about birding is the unpredictability. You can never be certain about birds you are likely to see on a given day. You may see a lot, maybe just a handful. The same is true about birders. I never know how many will show up. Birding is not the highest priority for most people. Attendance in September can be affected by back-to-school events, religious holidays, end of summer chores and, of course, the weather.

How many people will join my walk on Saturday? My guess is 15-18 people.

Tune in on Saturday to see how close (or far off) my guess is.

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