Archive for June, 2014

The Summer Solstice is upon us — the official start of summer. And we associate summer with the appearance of warm weather suitable for outdoor activities. Hurray for summer! Especially after the terrible winter we just had.

The Summer Solstice is also the day of the year with the longest period of daylight and the least amount of darkness. From now there are fewer hours of daylight. Each day has less and less daylight and more darkness. That is nothing to cheer about.

I, for one, vote for the warmer days of summer

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Birding with Ben

Leica, the high-end camera and binocular company, is sponsoring an essay contest.  They are looking for essays of less than 300 words about an experience mentoring young birders.   Here is my contribution:

 Birding with Ben

           He is now studying ornithology at Cornell. But I first heard about Ben from his 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Conca, who weaves birds into her curriculum. Ben was her star pupil and his interest continued to grow.    For several years I tracked his progress mostly via rumor. Until one morning, Ben, then a high school freshman, joined my Saturday birdwalk. This was my mentoring opportunity, a chance to share knowledge.

            It didn’t work.

            Gentle drizzle made for slow birding. Ben, the only teenager, was quiet, respectful and focused totally on the few common birds we did find. I reinforced his enthusiasm.  As we neared the end of our walk without a long bird list, Ben quietly approached asking if I would allow him to play a call on his phone. He had audio of Chickadees mobbing a Screech Owl. Was it OK?  I agreed as long as he didn’t overdo it and stress the birds.

            Ben smiled and hit the play button. The call echoed through silent woods without any initial effect. But after 2 or 3 repeated plays, birds appeared everywhere eager to join the mob chasing away the intruding owl. In the next five minutes we saw more birds than we had seen all morning.

            After the walk I offered to drive Ben home, but he insisted on calling his mother. Waiting with him meant time to talk birds. However, I was curious and this was before smart phones became widespread. So Ben, a tech-savvy teenager, showed me the basics explaining how it can help birders.

            Mentoring morning was a double success. I encouraged Ben’s enthusiasm and, maybe, passed on a few tips.   He helped me learn about smart phones and how to attract birds when none are being seen.

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When I was eight I longed to be a bird. Birds were cool. If I bird wanted to go from here to there, it just flies straight there. No need to worry about streets or sidewalks or traffic. I envied their flying ability. I felt the life of birds was carefree and spontaneous.

But at age ten I changed my mind. I was playing at Tommy’s house when a huge dark storm appeared approaching rapidly. Home was a fifteen-minute bike ride away – 5 long blocks on Brown Street, turn right, then left. As I wondered if I could beat the storm, birds were darting into bushes and other sheltered spots. How easy for them. They could fly home in less than 5 minutes.

I pedaled furiously but only got half-way home before the heavens opened dumping huge cold raindrops. I got soaked, my wet shirt clinging to my back. Next it started to hail.   Then one pea-sized hailstone slammed into my cheek. That was the moment I decided not to be a bird. It is too dangerous.

The hailstone stung slightly as it bounced off my cheek. If I had been a tiny bird instead of a mighty ten-year old, it would have knocked me out of the sky. The pain, I thought, might be equivalent to dropping a bowling bowl on my toe. Ouch! Dangerous.

When I finally reached home somewhat chilled and thoroughly soaked, mom brought me a fresh change of clothes still warm from the dryer. If a bird gets wet, it stays wet. If it gets cold, it stays cold. It doesn’t have a welcoming, warm home.

A pleasing aroma of soup warming on the stove cheered me more. Nice. But if I was a bird, no one would make a meal for me. I’d have to search for a worm or bug or find some seed. I could wait for the storm to end or, if I was starving, I might venture out in the rain and hail.

That night as I slipped under the covers I remembered that a bird would be huddled in the fork of a tree branch for the night trying to stay warm and dry. I preferred my safe, comfortable bed.


TO BE CONTINUED . . . . .   Some day I will add to this post. Until them remember a bird’s life is not as ideal and carefree as it seems. There are many dangerous elements a bird’s life. I will talk more about them (some day)

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Today, when I saw my first Chimney Swift of the year, I had to marvel at Roger Troy Peterson’s apt description. A Chimney Swift, he said, looks like a cigar with wing. That’s it exactly. No apparent tail, just a long, tapering cigar shape with curved stiff wings. Almost bat like.Chimney Swift - Flying Cigar

At night Chimney Swifts roost inside tall brick chimneys. However, there aren’t many brick chimneys today. Chimney Swifts and chimneyAnd most have grating over the opening. So, like any species whose habitat is being depleted, Chimney Swift populations are in decline.

However, based on some dubious thinking, I do have some hope. I always wonder where Chimney Swifts roosted before there were any chimneys. Maybe they will return to their original habitat.

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Red Knots are medium sized sandpipers that summer north of the arctic circle and winter at the tip of South America. That’s a migration journey of over 8,000 miles each way.

One individual Red Knot, nicknamed “Moonbird”, has been making the trip for at least 21 years. Easily identified by its orange-colored leg band with the number “B-95” on it, Moonbird was seen again on May 25th at Reeds Beach, NJ

The nickname is based on the fact that in over two decades of migrating this particular bird has flown a distance equivalent to flying to the moon and halfway back. That is a lot of frequent flyer miles


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