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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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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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