Thursday, July 7, 2011

New River Festival - Belated Post #1

Julie Zickefoose on the hunt for golden-winged warbler at Muddlety....

Geoff Heeter, on the hunt for a Cerulean warbler...

Facebook has killed my blog. It's true. I am woefully late in getting this post (the first of two about the May 2011 New River Nature and Birding Festival) done. It is so much easier to put a pithy post or two and a quick photo on Facebook then to juggle the slow-loading and cumbersome Blogger site to put together a blog post. Besides, writing a blog post is more demanding intellectually (yeah, yeah - no comments from the peanut gallery on the quality of my writing, please) than a quick sentence on FB. But the wonderful New River Festival and the gathering of those wonderful women (and new man, Doug Sanchez!) who constitute The Flock deserve some attention. This trip fed my soul. Just like it did in 2009.

New River Gorge bridge (as seen from the boat in Birding By Boat field trip)

This year I did the Birding by Butt, Birding by Boat and Muddelty field trips. My goal - a Cerulean warbler. The Cerulean has been my nemesis bird for five years. I missed seeing it in 2009 at New River when everyone was racking them up by the dozens. I deliberately chose Muddlety since that mountain is known for breeding Ceruleans and may be lost to mountain-top strip mining any day now. Muddelty, Geoff Heeter and Julie Zickefoose (I was in total birder geek-dom) did not disappoint. Upon hearing that it was my target bird, Geoff and Julie put their trained ears and amazing talents to work and soon picked up a singing Cerulean. They worked hard to get me on the bird and I had satisfyingly long looks at a single male working a treetop just off the road. Yes, I cried. Hard. Sometimes good birds can move you to tears. And my friends, Susan Kaiholz-Williams, Laura Hardy, Kathy Hutton and Doug Sanchez were there to share the moment. It could not have been more perfect. Sometimes the birding gods hand you a lifer. And sometimes, they make the moment absolutely unforgettable.

Jim McCormac pointing out birds before we board the boats.

Birding the parking lot at Burnwood after breakfast. We never lose an opportunity to look for birds - even while waiting for our bus.
Another unforgettable moment occurred while wandering the grounds of Opossum Creek Retreat after breakfast at Birding By Butt. Walking with Doug Sanchez (welcome to The Flock, Doug. You fit in perfectly!) and Susan Kaiholz-Williams, we came across a yellow lady slipper. Susan remarked that it looked like a yellow scrotum. I said it had Hasidic Jew side curls. That's all it took. We all broke into uncontrollable giggles for long, long minutes. I will never be able to look at this beautiful wildflower the same way again.
Yellow ladyslipper (aka Yellow Scrotum Hasidic Jew Flower)

Other life birds at New River included black-billed cuckoo (wonderful looks at Opossum Creek) and golden-winged warbler. Thanks to Julie Zickefoose for getting me both of these birds. Once again, New River didn't disappoint in the sheer volume of birds, the beauty of the mountains and river and the amazing company. As Jeff Gordon once said, "this place is like summer camp for birders". Yes, it is. It really is.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Arizona and Life Bird #300

This May (a few short weeks away!) brings two wonderful birding trips to my bird-deficient work-intensive life. The first is a half-week at the always-popular New River Birding and Nature Festival in Fayetteville, West Virginia. Accurately described by Jeff Gordon, ABA President, as "summer-camp for birders", New River is warbler heaven in one of the most beautiful places on earth - green, rolling mountains, white-water rivers, gorgeous sunsets over the gorge, breathtaking flora and a gathering of the noisiest, most gregarious and boisterous group of birders ever to assemble in one place - The Flock. Spending any amount of time with these wonderful women (and a few men) re-energizes my soul and I miss them terribly. The Cerulean warbler is my target bird for this trip - I missed it on the 2009 New River trip and it has been my nemesis bird for five years. I know Geoff, Keith, aka Paco, and the other trip leaders will make sure to find it for me. If I can put in my request now, I would like them to deliver a Cerulean to my hotel room as I drink my morning coffee. Now that is the kind of service one can expect at New River and Opposum Creek!
Vermillion Flycatcher

After one and a half days at home following New River (just enough time for laundry and a quick cuddle with the cats and the boyfriend - in that order), I fly to Arizona for my first west coast birding experience. At Thanksgiving last year, my bird mentor, Uncle Jim, casually mentioned that an Arizona trip with him and his lovely wife, Laura, was a possiblity in the spring of 2011. I agreed, assuming that like all good intentions, it would never occur. But I should never underestimate the lure of a life bird - Uncle Jim needs the Mexican chickadee and the juniper titmouse for his list. His good friend and fellow birder, Nell, knows Clifford Cathers, owner of Economy Birding Services, Inc and voila - a few emails, phone calls and plane reservations later, Jim, Laura, Nell and I are joining Cliff for a four day tour of southeastern Arizona.

Most of the birds on this trip will be lifers for me since I have no western species on my life list. Regardless of the number of lifers I collect at New River, the Arizona trip should put me over 300. I hope the 300th bird is a special one - my 200th bird was a Florida Scrub Jay at the Space Coast Festival in Titusville, FL. What will make the 300th bird so special is not the number, but the fact that I will be with Uncle Jimmy when I get it. It can't get more perfect than that.

Stellar Jay

The itinerary that Cliff prepared for us includes the Chiricahuas, Santa Rita Mountains, the low desert near Continental, Madera Kubo, Tubac, Rio Rico Ponds, Pena Blanca Lake, Madera Canyon in the evening for some owling (yes!!), Miller Canyon, Ash Canyon, Huachuca Mountains, Willcox Cochise Lake and Rustler Park. Wow! I will be one tired little birder - but with an amazing list.

Species we are targeting include gilded flicker, gila woodpecker, ladder-backed woodpecker, Gambel's quail, pyrrhuloxia, ash-throated flycatcher, vermillion flycatcher, brown-crested flycatcher, Lucy's warbler, Bell's vireo, verdin, curve-billed thrasher, cactus wren, black-throated sparrow, hooded oriole, Northern bearded tyrannulet, Albert's towhee, greater roadrunner, rufous-winged sparrow, red-faced warbler, Grace's warbler, olive warbler, Hutton's viroe, plumbeous vireo, Western wood pee-wee, white-throated swift, broad-tailed hummingbird, hepatic tanager, Western tanager, greater pee-wee, pygmy nuthatch, hermit warbler, Townsend's warbler, red-shafted flicker, dusty-capped flycatcher, elegant trogon, Mexican jay, acorn woodpecker, flame-colored tanager, Scott's oriole, magnificent hummingbird, broad-billed hummingbird, bewick's wren, bridled titmouse, juniper titmouse, Mexican chickadee, sulphur-bellied flycatcher, Arizona woodpecker, black-throated gray warbler, black-headed grosbeak, Cassin's kingbird, black-capped gnatcatcher, tropical kingbird, Western kingbird, gray hawk, common ground-dove, berylline and white-eared hummingbirds, least grebe, bronzed cowbird, black-chinned hummingbird, elf owl, western screech owl, whiskered screech owl, lesser nighthawk, common poorwill, Lucifer hummingbird, Montezuma quail, zone-tailed hawk, Botteri's sparrow, Anna's hummingbird, Western bluebird and short-tailed hawk. Whew! ALL of these would be life birds for me. Intense? Yes. Exhausting? Yes. Exciting? YES!

Juniper Titmouse (a target species for this trip)

I have purchased three new field guides for Western US and Arizona and am studying like mad. I don't think I will be nearly ready enough, but with four experienced birders to assist, I am looking forward to hitting 300. West Virginia with The Flock and Arizona with Uncle Jim. How lucky can one birder get?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

70 Degrees in February

A tree full of turkey vultures

With a gorgeous and unusual February day, what is more perfect than birding? I have been ashamedly lax in birding. The harsh winter and a job that keeps me on the road and working for hours when I get home are my excuses. But no more. A well-deserved vacation day and record-setting warmth and sunshine were on the calendar. I was prepared to bird in the cold, but lucky me.

Going to my usual haunts- Nockamixon State Park and Peace Valley Park- afforded looks at all the usual suspects. But at Nockamixon, hundreds of snow geese were unexpectedly flying over and making a terrible racket. I found one dark morph goose in with the rest, perhaps a blue morph snow goose. Nice. Life bird wiggle all alone while standing at the shore of a partially frozen lake surrounded by woods. Hope no one saw me and thought I was having an epileptic fit. But one must appease the bird gods after all.

Melting snow making torrents of miniature white-water rapids down the sides of the road added a beautiful background noise to the soundtrack of scolding titmice, frenetic chickadees, throaty red-bellied woodpeckers and single note chirps of brilliant red and orange Northern cardinals. The cardinals have never looked more striking.

The tall iron branches in the forest,

the dense fertility on the ground.

The world is wet.

The morning time

Mother earth is cool.

The air is like a river

which shakes the silence.

It smells of rosemary

of space and roots.

Overhead a crazy song.

How out of its throat

smaller than a finger

can there fall

the waters of its song?

Invisible power

torrent of music in the leaves.

Clean and freshwashed is this day

resounding like a green dulcimer.

Oh invisible little critters

birds of the devil with their ringing

with their useless feathers.

I only want to caress them

to see them resplendent.

I want to see them living.

I want to converse with them

sitting on my shoulders.

You can't touch them.

You can hear them like a heavenly

rustle or movement.

They converse with precision.

They repeat their observations.

They brag of how much they do.

They comment on everything that exists.

And by a sure science they know

where there are harvests of grain.

-Pablo Neruda

Friday, December 31, 2010

A New Year's Toast

stolen shamelessly, and modified slightly, from an advertisement for Grey Goose vodka (fitting for a birding blog, natch?)

To nearest
To dearest
To my crew
To the cahoots
To the ones who have been there
To the ones who will be there
To dropping everything
To saying anything
To no judgments
To no doubts
To loyalty
To trust
To favors
To lifelongs
To been too long
To nothing's changed
To everything is different
To having history
To having your back
To moving on
To never too far
To growing up
To settling down
To my second family
To friends

Happy new year to all my birding friends. You truly are my second family and are never far from my thoughts and my heart.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cape May Part Two - It's All About the Birds

Flocks of tree swallows swirl over the sand

This year Cape May had the largest autumn migration fall-out in over 10 years. Driving to early morning field trips, I had to drive 10 miles an hour to avoid running over the dozens of birds on every paved surface - even the middle of the street. I had to stop the car at one intersection to pick up an exhausted sparrow who didn't move when my car approached and put him on the side of the road where he would be safer. The sky and trees were dripping with birds. Thousands of robins, yellow-rumps and sparrows, tree swallows (along with a lifer cave swallow), finches and kinglets flew through the night and landed in Cape May to rest and feed before continuing migration. Dozens of raptors wheeled through the sky at any given moment.

The weekend provided two life birds for me (cave swallow and lesser black backed gull) and almost 100 species total. But it was the sheer numbers that were breathtaking. I have only been birding for six years, but this was a spectacle unlike anything I had seen and had only read about. I felt blessed to be able to witness it.

My picture taking ability is limited to large birds perched close, so all the bird pictures I have are of mute swans. The most exciting birds I saw were the raptors - dozens of sharp-shinned hawks, Cooper's hawks perched on telephone wires and calling to each other, then flying down to the ground only yards away where I could get good looks at their patrician profiles. An osprey, immature and mature bald eagles, both turkey and black vultures, dozens of harriers (where I learned to identify the juveniles by their gorgeous buffy rufous bellies), red-shouldered and red-tailed hawks, peregrine falcons (!!!), broad wing hawks and dozens of kestrels were highlights of the weekend. There is no place like Cape May for raptor watching.

Morning flight over the hawk watch platform at Cape MaAlign Centery Point Park
(click to enlarge and view the spectacle of hundreds of birds in flight)

One of the more unusual birds I saw close up was the woodcock blown in from over the ocean and perched under a staircase across the street from the Grand Hotel. It was obviously exhausted and stressed, so we stayed a respectable distance and, thanks to Jim from Kowa Optics who showed us the location and lent us his scope to observe, I got looks at a forest bird who flys mostly at dusk at Cape May in broad daylight!
Getting great looks at kinglets, thrushes, sparrows, ducks and shorebirds like oystercatcher, dunlin, black bellied plover, sanderling, purple sandpiper, ruddy turnstone (one of my favorite shorebirds), woodpeckers, herons, egrets and terns made for an educational as well as exciting weekend. I was able to clearly see size difference in the cackling goose at the tail end of the V formation of Canada geese. I learned to differentiate the white scapular outline on mallard duck wings and see the color and size difference of lesser black backed gulls vs. great black backed gulls.
I couldn't have asked for a more exciting weekend - birds and great friends.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cape May Autumn Migration - It's All About the People

Me and Susan at the Hawk Watch Platform at the Cape May Lighthouse.

The Flock (part of it, anyway) at the Autumn Festival. From left to right, me, Susan, Laura and Delia

The 2010 Cape May, NJ Autumn Migration Festival on my birthday weekend (October 29-31) turned out to be a magical birding experience. A lot of it had to do with the birds - the largest migration fall-out since 1999 (according to the Cape May experts) and two wonderful life birds (lesser black backed gull and cave swallow).

But mostly, the weekend was about the people - my birding peeps. Birding experts and heroes (Pete Dunne, Bill Thompson III, Louise Zemaitis, Jeff Gordon, etc), founding members of the Blogger Flock (who embraced me as one of their own at this very Festival three years ago) and newly-found bird friends and all-around wonderful people.

New friends, Gareth and Rick, at the C-View Inn, relaxing with The Flock after a hard day's birding.

Jersey-licious Laura (on the right) and saucy Susan at the C-View Inn

After arriving Thursday evening from business in Harrisburg, I hit the early morning Friday field trip at The Beanery. My first friend sighting was Jeff Gordon, newly appointed president of the American Birding Association and his lovely first lady, Liz Gordon. Then other friends arrived: Laura, Susan, Delia and Delia's partner AB.

Lots of hugs, giggles and catching up, interspersed with some birding, ensued. Throughout the next three days, we traveled Cape May marveling at the birds and enjoying each other's company.

Susan, Bill Thompson and Delia doing some bird-gazing

Top left: Jeff and Liz Gordon leading a field trip at The Beanery

Top right: Delia getting ready to enjoy whipped cream with a side of blueberry pancakes at Uncle Bill's

Bottom left: Parts of the Flock representing in Cape May (from left: Laura, Susan, Delia and me). Photo courtesy of Laura Hardy

A recent study by a psychologist at Stanford University concluded that one of the best things a man can do for his health is to be married while one of the best things a woman can do for her health is nurture relationships with other women. The myriad ways we connect with our women friends, offering unconditional support in tough times, love and laughter in good times and sometimes just an easy quiet being is undoubtably good for our souls. Being able to share our feelings in a non-threatening atmosphere boosts levels of serotonin, helping combat depression and foster well-being.

I didn't need a study to tell me that these women (and men) are good for me and my soul. But it did reinforce for me that time with my friends is the greatest gift I can give myself. Combine that with a hobby that never ceases to instill in me a sense of wonder and awe in powers greater than myself, and it was definitely a magical weekend.

photo courtesy of Laura Hardy

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

One Way to Kill a House Sparrow

I found this dead sparrow hanging from the feeder in the backyard. Obviously it got it's head stuck while digging for seed. You can see the seed stuck to it's face once I removed the corpse from the feeder. What a way to go. I have found four dead sparrows in my backyard this year. Two under a hedge. One in this feeder and one with it's head stuck in the holes of ornamental brick that surrounds the base of my other feeders. House sparrows are annoying, aggressive and invasive. I am not shedding any tears over these dead sparrows, but cleaning up the corpses is kind of disgusting - especially when you have to detangle broken necks from the tiny holes in a feeder. Yuck.

Deep cleansing breath. I spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the autumn sunshine and built a fire in the backyard pit. Good book, crackling flames, sunshine, golden and crimson leaves wafting slowly out of the trees, the smell of wood smoke. Life is good.