Monday, May 26, 2014

A "Quiet" Weekend

We had a quiet weekend here at the Aerie. Until the bears showed up.

I did some birding on Saturday with the Audubon group at Hills Creek State Park. Saw three new (for the year) species and had a good time with friends and acquaintances. The campgrounds were crowded with folks getting a good start to the summer.

Sunday morning Terry and I were going to go to the firehouse for breakfast but discovered they weren't doing it for some reason. As a result, we ended up at Mickey D's. The fire company usually serves breakfast the last Sunday of the month but they must have changed up due to the holiday weekend. Later in the afternoon, I saw and heard an Indigo Bunting in the poplar trees bordering the yard of the Aerie. That's a fourth "new" species for the weekend. Then, as we went to bed with the windows open, we heard the distinct "Who, who, who cooks for you all" of a Barred Owl. I had heard them during the winter, but I never recorded it on eBird so that made a fifth species. I'm still way behind others in the number of species seen this year in Tioga County, PA (number 7 on the top ten birders) but I'm climbing up the list.

Terry and I also spent some time going through boxes of "stuff" to put together the things we are bringing to Rick and Jess when we head west. The amount of stuff--there's a lot of "stuff"--would seem to indicate that we'll have to take the Tundra instead of the the Jeep Compass.

Monday, I cut the grass. Although it's filled with weeds--mostly plantain, dandelions, wild strawberries and hawkweed--it sure looks better when it gets cut. (If I ever used a "weed-and-feed" product, I'd have no "lawn" at all.)

We paused to remember those men and women who gave their all defending our rights and liberties and the rights and liberties of others around the world.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow Between the crosses row on row, That mark our place; and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe: To you from failing hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields.

Lt. Col. John McCrae, MD (1872-1918) Canadian Expeditionary Force

Although it was just the two of us, we did the traditional barbeque for lunch: hamburgers, potato salad, macaroni salad, corn on the cob followed by some strawberry pie.

A little after 6:30 PM we had company. Two fairly large black bears. One came up on the deck to check the bird feeders which had not yet been taken inside. That bear returned to the lawn when I made some noise and tussled a bit with the other bear. Then they bolted into the woods...briefly. They returned one at a time. One passed in front of the house checking out the spilled bird seed below the deck. The other moved to the rear of the house. The first eventually disappeared over the bank behind the RV. The second circled the house and also went over the bank before heading back into the woods in the direction from which they originally came.

Black Bear One

Black Bear Two

Black bear breeding season starts about now. I didn't pry into the sexes of the two bears, but Bear Two was slightly larger than the Bear One and was constantly sniffing the air. And had a funny, goofy look on it's face. Just saying.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Missed us... that much.

We got 0.32 inches of rain yesterday and another 0.38 so far today topped by a tiny bit of pea-sized hail. They say there's still a chance of some T-storms this evening and tomorrow.

The hardest rains--and the lightening and hail--moved just to the north and east of us through Troy and Towanda.

After a week or so of coolish conditions, the temperatures are back to about where they should be in the mid to upper 70s.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Birds of May 19th, 2014

I spent some time today birding at Leonard Harrison State Park, Darling Run on the Pine Creek Rails-to-Trails, and the west end of Cowanesque Lake. All three had something to offer.

Leonard Harrison had some great views of the Grand Canyon as well as numerous warblers. Unfortunately, many of the warblers weren't willing to expose themselves to view and I wasn't able to ID some of their songs. None of the species I did identify were new for this year.

Pine Creek Gorge (aka Grand Canyon of PA) 
from Otter Overlook Leonard Harrison SP

Black-and-White Warbler
a small, angry bird with a voice like a rusty gate

From Leonard Harrison SP I drove north to Darling Run and Pine Creek Rails-to-Trails. From the parking lot I walked south toward the CCC Camp. Again there were lots of birds but nothing new.

Two of the noisiest birds (and most abundant) were the Gray Catbird and Chestnut-sided Warbler.

Gray Catbird

Chestnut-sided Warbler

While I thought I had the trail to myself, I found out otherwise.


I didn't bother to ask why the bear crossed the road.

The bear was 75-100 yards ahead of me when I spotted it feeding on what looked like skunk cabbage on the hillside. Rather than argue the right of way, I returned to the parking lot.

My last stop for the day was the west end of Cowanesque Lake near the village of Nelson. The lake was still high from the heavy rains of last week and the shore was partially flooded. I managed to get over the one bridge that wasn't underwater and enjoyed a nice walk along the north shore of the lake.

Once more there were lots of birds. I managed to add two new species to this year's list: a Yellow-billed Cuckoo and White Crowned Sparrow. Only the former remained still long enough for me to get a photo.They are very good at sitting still, too.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

I've now 100 bird species on my list for this year. A list I didn't start until mid-February and which does not include some species I know I've seen/heard. I've visited many of the "hot" birding spots in the county but there are more. And, there's also woods roads and state forest lands that aren't usually considered "THE" place to go but which could yield some species now or in the future.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Birds of the Aerie, May 18th, 2014 Edition

I mentioned this morning that I was going to sit on the deck and take some pictures. Well, I managed to last about 15 minutes as it was just 40 degrees in the shade. Still, I got visited by quite a few birds as well as one very stubborn squirrel. Got pictures of most of the critters, too.

White-breasted Nuthatch

Dapper little guy whose head seems out of proportion to it's body. It will wedge a sunflower seed in a crack on the deck posts and hammer at it to crack it open. If things are too busy on the deck, it will head off to a tree to find a crack or a crevasse to do the same. When it hunts insects, it goes down the trunk of a tree head first.

Chipping Sparrow

The smallest of the sparrows, it has one amazingly loud trill when it sings. I love its jaunty little rusty beret.

American Goldfinch

A flock of these guys (along with the Purple Finch (see below), Black-capped Chickadee and House Finch) can really put a dent in your seed budget! At least they look bright and cheerful and pretty in the spring and summer.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Sometimes you wonder who came up with the names of the birds. The Black-throated Green Warbler, for instnace has little to no hint of green on it. And the Red-bellied Woodpecker? No red on it's belly that I can see. But the Rose-breasted Grosbeak? Common! What ELSE would you call it?

Red-winged Blackbird

Our neighbors have a pond with some reeds and Gem Lake (aka "Carp Pond" at a previous time) is less than half mile down the hill. Hence we have the occasional Red-winged Blackbird show up. This guy must be under cover as he's hiding the red of his epaulets.

Purple Finch

It's definitely purple. The House Finch may look similar but their flanks have brown stripes. (Females of the two are more difficult to separate.)

Blue Jay

Blue Jays are the bullies of the feeder. At least they don't discriminate: they chase everybody away. Sometimes they even chase one of their own away from the feeder.

Gray Squirrel

I had to chase the squirrel off the deck three times before he got the message. At least his two pals left the minute I came out.

In addition, there were a few that moved too swiftly to get the camera on them: a Red-breasted Nuthatch, a Tufted Titmouse and a Black-capped Chickadee swooped in, grabbed a seed and disappeared back into the woods. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird merely buzzed by me for the feeder that was behind my head. (Luckily it didn't stick its beak in my ear!)

Also the Eastern Towhee, American Robin, Wood Thrush and Ovenbird all sang from the woods but didn't come up on the deck. (Only the Towhee would be likely to in any case.)

Later in the day I saw an Eastern Phoebe behind the house. It's nesting on the ledge above one of the guest bedroom windows. A Dark-eyed Junco and Two mourning doves finally showed up when the temperature rose. Perhaps they needed to find a babysitter. A Turkey Vulture flew over as I was cutting the grass and a pair of Common Ravens gamboled on the wind.

It's Spring and the Birds are Singing
...Loudly and Often

One recent Grand Canyon Photography Club meetings featured a photographer who said something akin to, "Shoot early and shoot often if you want to improve your skills. And don't be afraid to experiment with your shots or various editing software." These are words I've heard often and in today's digital age where the cost of film and development is nil, they should be taken to heart.

With that in mind I've been reading the user's manual fro my Sony Alpha (again!) and trying to better the quality of my bird photos. I had gotten into the habit of using my Sony and its 75-300 mm zoom lens as if it were a mere point-and-shoot contraption. I would set it on "Auto" and let the little computer brain do all my thinking for me forgetting everything I had been doing two years ago.

I've relearned some things about white balance and bracketing and have already seen some improvement in the quality of my shots. Now all I need is fro the birds to get a little more cooperative. If they would only stand still a bit longer or come just a little closer....

In any case, here's a couple of subjects that did cooperate yesterday afternoon on the Pine Creek Rails-to-Trails west of Wellsboro.

First was a Yellow Warbler. There's been an explosion of these little noisy jewels. Every hedgerow and forest edge seems to house and abundant...and very curious...population. Other warblers may be just passing through, but these guys will be here all summer. They may not be singing as loudly once they set up house keeping, but right now...oh, my!

Another colorful--and loud--bird I encountered yesterday was the Baltimore Oriole. In one stretch of a few hundred yards along the trail, there were at least half a dozen males singing their heads off in a very melodious way and chasing one another around. The bank-full creek, the flooded fields, the Sycamore and aspen trees (both favored for nesting sites) may have had something to do with all the hostility (in a Sharks vs. Jets song and dance sort of way). Some of these may be moving on but I can imagine quite a few hanging nests along Marsh Creek and Pine Creek in the near future.

I'm going to grab my camera and sit on the (very cold) deck and snap some photos. Practice. Practice. Practice.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

What's Been Happening

When last I posted, back on April 22nd, [Really? April 22nd?!? Slacker!] I was telling you what I had seen while birding in southern New Jersey. Things have been busy since then.

I began (and finished) building a new raised bed garden measuring 5'x12' and 18" deep. It seemed the "dirt" was half stone.

New (semi-)raised bed in progress

Putting in the pressure treated walls required that the "soil" be leveled. I got two of the three sides nice and level but the third side had one little stone sticking up that needed to be removed, so I started to dig it out. Well, things aren't always what they seem. Like the ice berg--where 9 tenths is beneath the surface--this little stone was just 1 one-hundreth of the entire stone.

The "little" rock that needed removing.

Yeah, that bad boy, measuring just 1"x1"x1" above the surface turned out to be something like 24"x 15"x8" and weighed...well, a lot.

I got it out and everything leveled and put together, filled with sifted "soil" and mixed in some mushroom soil, garden soil and peat moss. Then I built a 2'x2' box in which to plant potatoes and planted seeds of lettuce, okra, and string beans.


In between my starting the new semi-raised bed and planting the seed, Terry and I did some traveling for her birthday. Taking separate vehicles, we first went to Long Grove, Illinois north of Chicago to pay a visit to my son's in-laws.

John & Cindy

We enjoyed a great meal at Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and then went to Shedd Aquarium.

Then Terry and I drove (separately) north to Milwaukee to visit with our nephew Brian and his wife, Vicki. For Terry's birthday we enjoyed another great meal, this one at Mo's A Place for Steaks, and a surprise got to see the Celtic Women. (Brian had scored the tickets from work.) Since the Women and Celtic Thunder are two of Terry's favorite groups--thanks to all their appearances on PBS--this was one very special birthday!And it WAS a great show!

Celtic Women

I then headed back to the Aerie to continue work on the new garden bed while Terry drove south to Laurie, Missouri on Lake of the Ozarks to visit with her sister and her husband (Brian's Mom and Dad), as well as Brian's sister Laura and her baby son, Matthew.

Terry returned just in time for the annual Tiadaghton Audubon Society picnic.

Between everything else, I've been doing a good deal of birding as well as some photography.More of that later. Promise.