Archive for May, 2014

As a general rule in the natural world larger creatures prey on smaller ones. In birds, hummingbirds are as small as it gets. But they are incredibly quick and maneuverable. Typically a large hawk or eagle won’t bother with them, too hard to catch. And even if somehow they were able to catch one, it is too small to make a satisfying meal or even a hearty snack.

However, hummingbirds do have predators you would not suspect. Predators that do not concern other birds. These unusual predators include insects, spiders and fish. (I am not kidding.)

A Praying Mantis will grab an unsuspecting hummingbird if it strays to near.

If a hummingbird gets entangled in spider’s web, the spider will secure the hummingbird so it can’t work loose, let it die, and then eat it bit by bit.

Hummingbirds do catch and eat tiny, flying insects, often just above the quiet surface of a pond. At times a large fish will leap out of the water and grab the startled hummingbird.

And of course, in some cultures, humans are said to relish the taste of properly prepared hummingbird tongue. That, I think, is a myth.

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 Bond, James Bond. Agent 007. Master spy in service to Her Majesty. Thanks to Ian Fleming’s novels and subsequent movies this fictional James Bond is famous worldwide. Even his preference in alcoholic beverages is well known. All that notoriety, I think, would have made him somewhat ineffective as a secret agent. But that James Bond was fictional where anything is possible. The real life James Bond, however, remains relatively obscure.

He was a 20 Century ornithologist with his own modest claims to fame (at least in the birdy crowd.) He was curator of ornithology at the prestigious Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. He was “the expert” in birds of the Caribbean area and wrote the authoritative book “Birds of the West Indies” Later he was author of the Peterson Field Guide Series for the West Indies.

Although most people are unaware of his connection with the fictional James Bond the linkage is well documented.

In addition to working at a low level for the spy service during World War II, Ian Fleming was an avid birder. (he was British after all). While attending a spy conference in Jamaica he fell in love with the island, and after the war eventually bought an estate there that he called “Goldeneye”. (I know that is a bird name. Was it a Bond title?) In the early 1950s he was in Jamaica finishing the final draft of his first novel. But he wasn’t completely happy the name he had given his main character.   The story goes that when his eyes fell on the name James Bond on the cover of the “Birds of the West Indies” he shouted “eureka!” and ran to tell the king.   No, I think that is another story.   Well, he thought the name, James Bond, was a good, solid name and adapted for his hero.

Bond and Fleming did correspond about usurping his name. Fleming never apologized or offered any compensation but in the classic British sense of fair play, Fleming agreed that Bond could use his name whenever he wanted to. And he hoped that Bond would discover a new bird species and call it the Ian Fleming. It never happened.

What can you learn from this little tale? Not much. But if early one morning you are near a nuclear power plant and run into an Englishman with binoculars you may wonder if he is a spy or a bird watcher. And never tell him your name.

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On May 10th, the Redheads won the 2014 World Series of Birding. The Redheads are the team of elite birders from Cornell Lab of Ornithology that includes Benjamin Van Doren as a member.

World Series of BirdingThe World Series of Birding attracts about 1,000 of the best birders from around the world. The World Series is like a big day – the objective is to determine which team can count the greatest number of bird species within the state of New Jersey within a single 24 hour period. In the process, the teams raise funds for good causes by having friends and families pledge a monetary amount for each species seen, raising over $500,000 annually.

This is the 31st year of this annual event which draws top birders to the competition. Around 100 teams officially enter the competiton.  In addition many unofficial teams participate.  And it is a competition. The elite teams actually scout the state for the week ahead of the event. They meticulously plot where every key bird can be found and enter it into their GPS.

The results astound me. The winning team totals around 220 – 240 species during the event which is normally held on the 2nd Saturday of May. That equates to 10 new species per hour, or one new species every 6 minutes for 24 straight hours. During the event the winning team often drives 4-500 miles.

Some teams are not quite so competitive. Rather than cover the entire state of New Jersey, some teams restrict their birding to only Cape May County, some to only a part of Cape May itself , while others do all their birding by bicycle. There is even one team that rents a school bus and leisurely birds Cape May stopping for nice lunch.

It is a fun (and for some, a serious) event that raises a lot of money for charity.

Congratulations to Benjamin and the entire Redhead team for winning this year.

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Saturday’s New York Times had a long article on birding that compared the different approaches and techniques used by older and younger birders.  They used Pete Dunne to represent the more seasoned birders.  Pete, a well known birder, is the author of a dozen bird books, created the World Series of Birding, and until recently was the head of the Cape May Bird Observatory.

For the younger, up-and-coming, tech-wise birder they selected Westchester’s own Benjamin Van Doren, a junior at Cornell.

The article compares their different approaches to birding.  Read the complete article at the following link




Someone predicted that Benjamin might be the next birding “star” and he  is off to a good start


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Central Park Birding

I usually don’t believe in omens, fortune telling or other ways to predict the future. But driving down the West Side Highway on the way to Central Park I had hints that this would be a good day. First, the rising sun was striking the towers of the George Washington Bridge at an angle that made them glow and sparkle like tinsel on a Christmas tree. Spectacular.   A little farther south a mammoth cruise ship floated in the middle of the Hudson River. I’ve seen them docked at the passenger piers before but they looked totally different on the water. Looked like a 12-story hotel perched precariously on top of a barge, very top-heavy. Don’t understand why they don’t tip over in rough seas.  

I wonder if these two new sights were foretelling more interesting sights ahead.

Maybe they did – the birding in Central Park was exceptional. It was one of those days that birders talk about for years. Every tree was dotted with colorful spring migrants. Our birding group tallied 62 species that morning, including 16 different warblers. We had a large group, about 35 people, so there were a lot of eyes looking for birds. But we didn’t a lot of eyes, birds were everywhere. Even before the walk officially started, while the group was assembling, four brilliant red Scarlet Tanagers stopped traffic on Central Park West.

When we actually started into the park itself, the going was very slow. It probably took us 20 minutes to travel the first 300 feet, not because of crowds, obstacles or rugged terrain. Because there were so many nice birds. The first trees yielded Chestnut-sided, Magnolia and Black-throated Blue warblers. A good start to a memorable day.

Colorful birds were everywhere. Here is a bit of anthropomorphism: Cardinals, with their brilliant color are used to being stared out. Not today. Birders focused on warblers instead. And it appeared that the cardinals were jealous. At least twice a male cardinal perched in the open on a low limb just off the path. He seemed to be saying “Hey, don’t forget me. Remember I’m colorful too.”

It was that kind of day. But you never get tired of too much of a good thing.

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Well, no, you can’t really use birds to pay bills.  That was just advertising hype to get you to read this far.  However, the Postal Service has recently released new stamps featuring terrific images of bright, colorful songs birds.  Scarlet Tanager, Meadowlark, Rose-breasted Grosbeck, Goldfinch.  10 species in total.  These “forever” stamps are lovely. 

Next time you need to buy stamps, buy these bird stamps.  At least you see a nice bird as you apply a stamp to your credit card payment


Songbird Stamps









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Today I got the first report of the year about hummingbirds in Westchester.  Seen in New Rochelle. 

I always tell people that hummingbird begin showing up around the first of May.  This one was pretty much on schedule.  I find it semi-amazing that this tiny 1/8 of ounce bundle of feathers can leave its winter territory in Central America, fly 2,000 miles and arrive in Westchester on schedule.  My experience suggests that many people are late for meeting, even though they only have to walk down the hall to the conference room.

Almost every hummingbird seen around here is a Ruby-throated Hummingbird.  Ocassionally a rare species may show up, but that is very unusual.  Most other species do not venture east of the Missipppi River, and when they do, it is ususal in southern state, such as Florida


ruby throated hummingbird

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