Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Birding in South New Jersey: Arrival

I drove to Cape May this morning. In the rain. Near zero visibility in the splash of some semis as they went by or as I past them on the hills. It was like driving 60-65 mph through a car wash. At least the mud is now officially off the truck!

Six hours and 300 miles after leaving the Aerie, I checked into the Hyland Motor Inn in Cape May Court House at exactly 2:00 PM. I only had to scold SIRI twice for giving me questionable directions. (Why was I supposed to go NORTH on I-81 towards Wilkes Barre to get to the Penn Pike when continuing east on I-80 gets me to the same highway without the two-legs-(or more)-of-the-triangle approach? Did I have to sneak up on the Turnpike?)

As I drove south on the GSP from the Atlantic City Expressway, I was struck by the thought that it's been more than twelve (12) years since I was this far south in New Jersey. It's been ten (10) years since I retired from Parsippany. It's been eight (8) years since we started construction on the Aerie. Seven-and-a-half since we moved out of Morristown!

They seem to be reconstructing every north-south road in Atlantic and Cape May counties. The GSP is getting extra lanes and the old Rout 9 bridge over Egg Harbor is ripped up. Those two projects make me glad I'm here now before the summer mop starts to show up. Only bad thing about being ahead of the crowd is that many of the restaurants aren't open yet. Some have signs saying weekends only others say May 1st and others aren't saying much of anything.

The room is small, but it's relatively cheap, oh so quiet and right off the Garden State Parkway. I'm still about 20 miles north of Cape May lighthouse, 30 or so miles south of Oceanville and Forsythe NWR and directly inland from Stone Harbor.

After checking in, I drove down to the visitors' center in Cape May where I spoke with Vince who gave me a county map, a town map and a very nice booklet called "New Jersey Birding & Wildlife Trails: Delaware Bayshore." After telling him it had been a loooooong time since I had visited the Cape, Vince also took time to point out where things were south of the Canal.

So, chock full of information, I headed on down toward the western tip of the Cape. I made one stop at Sunset Beach to say hello to The Concrete Ship and another to the Lighthouse and Hawk Watch area in the parking lot. I did a little birding at each stop before rain/drizzle forced me to concede the field. I drove up toward Higbee Beach on the southwest end of the Canal just to get my bearings. It was raining too hard to stop there, however.

The rain that I experienced all day--very heavy at times--is supposed to head out to sea tonight and the next couple of days will be slightly cooler but clear. With luck, I'll be up at Forsythe NWR bright and early tomorrow.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Birding Photos from April 3rd

So last Thursday was my second consecutive day of birding in Tioga County, PA. As I had on the previous day, I visited three sites that are usually very productive and, while they weren't chock full of the small birds (warblers and such) that will be present in a couple of weeks, I got in some walking, had a good time and came away with some decent photos just the same.

My first stop was at The Muck on Route 287 just west of Wellsboro. The Boardwalk and blind overlook some marshy areas and a bit of open water. It was a bit blustery and cold, but most of the ice was out of the ponds nearest the blind. Unfortunately, the few birds that were present were on the far end of the water and/or tucked into the marsh grasses.

Pair of Hooded Mergansers at The Muck. 

Mallard at The Muck.

After half an hour of blowing on my fingers, I headed down the road a short distance and walked the Pine Creek Rails-to-Trails Bike Path's northern terminus. I found much less wind here and a horde of Red-winged Blackbirds right at the parking lot. Mallards, Canada Geese, Wood Ducks and Killdeer flushed from puddles and Marsh Creek to fly overhead. I also spotted one Belted Kingfisher from an unphotographable distance. Further down there were dozens of Song Sparrows feeding on the verge of the trail. The sparrows blended in with the golden brown of the grass and, even when moving off into the shrubs, were in constant motion. Still there were a few birds that posed long enough for me to get their photos.

Cardinal sitting and singing in the sun.

After going about 3/4 of a mile down the trail, I turned to walk back to the truck and immediately spotted two groups of Downy Woodpeckers working either side of the trail. Each group consisted of one male and two females. I draw no conclusions from this, however.

Male Downy Woodpecker.

Female Downy Woodpecker.

I was watched carefully by an Eastern Chipmunk sunning him/herself on a concrete block along the side of the trail.

Eastern Chipmunk

Getting back into the Tundra I headed west to Darling Run and another favorite section of the Pine Creek Rails-to-Trails path. I was greeted by an Eastern Phoebe in the parking lot and, as I walked down to the trail, a mature Bald Eagle. There wasn't a lot of activity on Pine Creek, just a few Common Mergansers, Canada Geese and one Great Blue Heron who stayed just out of range ahead of me, but there were Song Sparrows perched on every other shrub and each was singing its little heart out. The highlights of this stop--besides the Bald Eagle who indicated that the nest on the other side of Pine Creek is in use--were a Pileated Woodpecker who was excavating an old hole on the far side of the creek, and a Brown Creeper.

Song Sparrow showing its stripped, rusty cap

Song Sparrow's dotted chest

Bald Eagle along the trail at Darling Run

Brown Creeper.

The Eagle let me walk (almost) underneath him--twice--and seemed totally unconcerned about my presence. The Creeper was singing a little, repetitive,high-pitched, one-note song that I couldn't ID (sounded a bit like a Dark-eyed Junco's trill only an octave higher) and that caused me to pause and actually look for him. Even then, it was only when I spotted a chunk of "bark" moving up the tree 10 feet in front of me that I saw the little bird.

Not a bad day out and about, but the three or four miles I walked--added to the next Saturday's 1.5-2 miles at Hills Creek SP--may have been a bit too much for my knees. *sigh*

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Birding Last Wednesday, April 2nd

The first week in April I started making the rounds to various birding sites in Tioga County, PA. I managed to visit three sites a day for two days just to see what might be here. I probably was too late for some species that had flown through (Snow Geese, for instance) but there was still hope of catching some of the water fowl on lakes that were just starting to loose their ice cover.

My first stop on Wednesday, April 2nd, was at the Hammond-Tioga Lakes overlook in Tioga, PA. Hammond Lake was still heavily iced up but there was some open water on both sides of the connecting weir. As I stood at the overlook, I saw numerous immature and mature Bald Eagles flying overhead but getting a good photo of them was nearly impossible. There were a few Common Mergansers, Horned Grebes, Canada Geese and Ring-necked Ducks on the water far below, but, again, the 300mm lens just wasn't enough.

One bird that I was pleased to see, was an Osprey. It was perched on the nesting pole along the drive up to the overlook. I managed to get a couple of decent pictures from the road. While I was at the overlook, two of these birds flew overhead, so it's likely they will be breeding on that pole this spring.

Osprey on nesting pole.


From the overlook, I drove to the west end of Hammond Lake and the Ive's Run day use area where Crooked Creek flows into the lake. The ice was pushed back a bit and the creek was completely clear of ice. Dozens of Red-Winged Blackbirds, Canada Geese and Mallards were taking advantage of the open, but quite high water. All the Mallards flushed and left for more distant waters before I could get a photo. The Geese and Red-wings stuck around to scold the hell out of me.


Canada Geese on Crooked Creek

Red-winged Blackbird lets me know it is not pleased with my presence.

The grassy areas around the parking lot played host to Grackles and Robins searching for worms and the shrubs served as perches to Song Sparrows which seemed to be every 10 feet or so apart. The large rock near the boat ramp provided a warm place fr a pair of Killdeer to do their courting.

Killdeer at the Ive's Run day use area.

Hopefully they will find a more level site on which to lay their eggs.

My final stop of the day was at Hills Creek State Park. The Audubon Society bird walks were to begin on Saturday the fifth and I wanted to do a little scouting. The entire northeast side of the lake (viewed from the beach area) was still ice covered but there was a sizable open area in front of the beach and around to the southwest. And there were quite a few different species of water fowl taking advantage of that open water.

There were Mallards and Ring-necked Ducks...

Male Mallard and both male and female Ring-necked Ducks.

Male and female Ring-necked Ducks. The ring on the bill is easier to spot 
than the "ring" (actually more a dirty collar) on the neck.

...many Horned Grebes with the males sporting their yellow-gold sideburns...

Horned Grebes.

...Canada Geese and Red-necked Grebes.
Canada Goose and three Red-necked Grebes.

I had some trouble IDing the grebes because, well, their necks just didn't seem red enough. But, unbeknownst to me at the time, a couple of birding friends were out that same day on the other side of the lake nearer to these birds and they said they were Red-necked Grebes. Upon reviewing the photographic evidence--their's and mine--I could see that we were looking at the same birds and that they were, indeed, Red-necked Grebes.

eBird will tell you that the Red-necked Grebe is an unusual sighting for this particular place and/or time but talking things over with my friends they say they appear in this area almost every year as they migrate northward. I suppose they follow the Chesapeake Bay to its northern end and then cut north heading for either Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence or points north.

With that Hills Creek SP stop I ended my morning and headed home to do some chores. I did, however plan to do more birding the next day. The photos from Thursday's outings will be posted tomorrow.

Amazing!

Congratulations are in order to the UConn Huskies basketball program. Both the men's and women's team wake up this morning as the 2014 NCAA Champions.

This feat, both men's and women's Champions from the same university, has occurred only once before. THat would be in 2004 when it was done by....the Huskies of UConn.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Saw the Doctor (actually the orthopedic Physicians Assistant) Today

My right knee was x-rayed and examined by the PA (who is also a sports trainer). The verdict was that I had a strained quad. Probably when I slid on a snow covered rock while dropping a couple of trees in the yard back in early March. The  good news was two fold: 1) no damage to the knee joint, and 2) the strain seemed to be in the muscle not tendon/ligaments. With more blood flow in the muscle, there's quicker healing.

I was told to stay off my feet, avoid stairs and take some prescription anti-inflammatory. Double doses a day for the next two weeks and then single dose per day for another two weeks. If I must walk and or stand for lengthy periods, then I should ice the knee immediately afterwards to reduce inflammation. If, after a month, there is no improvement, I go back to the orthopedist. If things get better, then I see them in July for my knees' one year anniversary.

Early Brrrr...I mean Birding

Back on March 20th, when winter was still showing only a few signs of departing, I got a bit of cabin fever and decided to drive up to the south end of Seneca Lake and Watkins Glen do see what birds were on the water. It was a mostly sunny day with the temperature in the upper 30s and I knew from having driven through that area the week before that the lake was pretty much ice free with only a bit showing up to clog the few bays and inlets so things were promising. What I didn't count on was a fairly strong--and cold--wind out of the north-northwest that brought the wind chill down to near ten degrees.

While there were lots of Ringnecked Ducks and Canada Geese along with a few grebes, Mallards and assorted others bottled up on the south end of the lake, it was the huge number of Ring-billed Gulls on the ice and the breakwaters that impressed.

They were also the only birds I got close enough to to get a halfway decent photo.

Ring-billed Gull testing the waters of Seneca Lake on March 20th.

Too Cold!!

The Ring-bill is the most common gul of the Twin Tiers, BTW.

On the way south from Watkins Glen to the Aerie I decided to check out the Hammond-Tioga Lake area. While Hammond Lake was pretty much completely ice covered, and Tioga had just a small open area near the weir/connector to Hammond Lake, the spillway was wide open and running high and turbulent. There were a couple of immature Bald Eagles taking advantage of the wounded fish that would occasionally float up but they were w-a-a-a-y over there when I arrived and stayed out where a 300mm lens wasn't going to help.

There was one Great Blue Heron, however that seemed to pose along the spillway. For a short time anyway.

Great Blue Heron along the spillway in Tioga.

Great Blue takes off as I made too much noise(?)

Great Blue aborts his flight...

...only to discover the water's deeper than he thought!

GBH takes off to more isolated fishing grounds. (i.e. somewhere I am not.)

Amazing wingspan on the GBH as he continues to trail his landing gear.

I never see one of these guys in flight that I don't think of the Bugs Bunny cartoon with the buzzards slowly flapping their wings.



(From "Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid" which I can not find in its entirety.) 

"I'm bringing home a baby bumble bee...."

That's All Folks!

More photos tomorrow.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Pretty Much


From: Despair, Inc.

I'm baaaaack! (Sorta)



It’s been more than a month since I posted here. No excuses just not much drive to post upon the multitude of idiocies that have been going on in the world.

******

The Tundra got its new brain. It took just a bit over an hour for the mechanic to install the (very expensive) computer. Everything seems to be going well.

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Dallas Seavey won the Iditarod by 2 minutes over Aliy Zerkle. The 2013 winner, Mitch Seavey, (Dallas’ dad) finished third more than three hours later.

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A plane disappeared somewhere in the Indian Ocean and the 24/7 cable news channels do nothing but speculate as to its fate. Day. After. Day. After. Day. (I’m glad I don’t bother to watch TV news unless it’s an occasional peek at what passes for local news here in the middle of nowhere.) 

Searching “Flight 370” (with the quotes) on the CNN website produces 754 results. A similar search on the MSNBC site yields 134 hits. And FOX News gives 149.

Speculation, and that’s all it really is and continues to be, as to what happened runs the gamut from mechanical failure to black holes. 

Meanwhile those same stations virtually ignore political corruption and gun smuggling occurring from coast to coast.

(He’s a Democrat, but you’d have a hard time finding that tidbit in this article.)

@Fewcan reconcile Leland Yee with the charges against him 

(He, too, is a Democrat and a California State Senator—who strongly pushed for strict gun control. You’d be hard pressed to find that in this article.)

 ******

My sister hosted a family reunion party at her house in New Jersey. Descendants of my Mother and her sisters gathered from Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Cousins, their kids and grandkids along with various spouses got together. Those on the west coast and the south didn’t make it but we had a great time just the same. 

****** 

Baseball season has started and I'll be following my Mets--at least until July fourth, longer if they start doing well. Unfortunately, my TV contract does not have MLB access and recently dropped the YES network. (I don't mind the latter unless the Mets are playing the Yanks.) I can watch the Pirates, Phillies and even the Cubs on a fairly regular schedule. 

I lost the nail on my frostbitten finger. A new one seems to be growing. It’s slightly deformed but we’ll have to see if it becomes more “normal” with time.

******

The bears are back. We have had two visits: one from a mamma and her yearling cub and one by a two year old. As a result, the bird feeders have to come in at night.

******

My knees were doing very well until about a month ago. Then I suddenly developed a sharp pain in the right knee just above the joint. It only happens when climbing or descending stairs but it’s enough to make me go to the orthopedist tomorrow.

 I started doing yard work in the form of felling a couple of trees along the edge of the yard, limbing them, cutting the larger into fire place lengths, and using the new chipper/shredder to clean up the smaller branches.And I slipped on some of the snow that was on the ground while I was cutting down the trees. Didn't think I hurt myself at the time, but ever since the pain has been getting worse.


I might have pushed too hard in the warm weather we’ve had in fits and spurts. I started doing lots of birding doing several walks on consecutive days.


 ******

As far as birding goes, I did have a good time going to various spots in Tioga County, PA and even got up to the southern end of Seneca Lake (Watkins Glen) in New York. I took lots of photos and will be posting some of those in the days ahead. The birds that migrated south have begun returning and/or passing through on their way north so there’s plenty to see. I missed a few that have already gone by, like the Snow Geese (although I may have seen a flock or two wing overhead), but there are more showing up every day.

 The Goldfinches are getting more and more yellow, a sure sign of Spring(?) even if the peepers aren't sounding off and the Woodcock haven't returned to the mountain. (Some have been seen down in the valley, however.)

 ******

Finally, March Madness has culminated in UConn vs. Kentucky for the National Championship as I type. On the women’s side it’s two undefeated teams (Connecticut (37-0) vs Notre Dame (35-0) squaring off in the title game Tuesday night.