Monday, April 28, 2008

For Lynne

For our bloggy Flock pal Lynne, who's suffered some very hard losses lately. Many people don't know much about poet John Donne, whose verse is often quoted. He was always a man of faith, having been educated by Jesuits as a child. He wrote secular poetry for the first part of his career, but he later entered the ministry and spent the rest of life writing religious works.

This is one of his best, and I dedicate it--especially the last two lines--to you, Lynne.

"Death Be Not Proud" by John Donne (1572-1631)

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

The new birding place pays off!

I told you about the rail tunnel/trail area last week, and how I thought it might yield some good birding, right? So I woke up early and went there yesterday morning with a novice birder named Gretchen, and we had a great time exploring the place -- such a great time that I took exactly ZERO photos. So this post will be pure narrative; sorry!

I admit we got there a little late (8am); we should've been there by 6:30 but we had some trouble getting going, what with my allergies/cold thing that is hanging on. Still--the first bird we saw was a lifer for us both: a Hooded Warbler, flitting among the bushes at ground level, so from the elevated path it was a great view--no warbler neck! I was so busy pointing it out to Gretchen, explaining the field marks and handing the binocs back and forth that I just didn't even think to get the camera. This would be the trend for the entire trip.

There were birds everywhere, and the pines around the rail tunnel were filled with Ruby-Crowned Kinglets and Northern Parulas! One RC Kinglet was flashing his little red crown so openly that it was obvious he was out for some serious mating. What a stud.

Here's a list from this area:
Hooded Warbler (Lifer/FOY)
Northern Parula (FOY)
Wood Thrush (FOY)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker (FOY)
Northern Flicker (FOY)
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Ovenbird (FOY)
Brown Thrasher
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Am Crow
Northern Cardinal
Canada Goose
Turkey Vulture
Am Robin
Black-capped Chickadee
Mourning Dove

After Gretchen and I left the tunnel trail, we took this road that was deceptively named the Sieglerville-Milheim Pike. Some "pike" -- after about a 100 yards, the pavement ended and it was all winding cinder road for 16 miles! Off-roading in a 2001 Honda Civic is not exactly big fun, but we made it through and had breakfast at the locally (and supposedly world-) famous Honey Creek Inn, which serves some amazingly good French toast. Yum!

En route along the "pike," we caught a Broad-winged Hawk finishing off a small bird (possibly Tufted Titmouse, judging from the feathers) right next to the road. We had time to observe field marks both on the ground and in flight, as he was not eager to leave his kill. I wished Susan could've been there to appreciate the wild hawk action.

Later, we drove to a small woodlot on Indian Road to see whether the Red-headed Woodpecker was still there. Sure enough, he made an appearance within ten minutes of our stopping there, making it three straight years I've seen him there. It was like seeing an old friend.

The day turned a little chilly, but we spent it all outside either birding or just hanging out on the Adirondack chairs and watching the marsh. No doubt about it: spring is really here!

Oooh--this morning, one of the State College Bird Club bigwigs emailed me to ask if I would lead a field trip to this spot on Mother's Day weekend--wow! I don't know what all that entails, other than pointing out the spots where I saw birds last time and just generally being helpful. I hope it's not much more than that, as you know I'm a little shy.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Border wall project still going strong

Despite the idiocy of building a border wall to try to keep out illegal immigrants, the federal government is still going full speed ahead to get the wall built. DCBirdingBlog has a great piece on the environmental impact such a wall will have on the area, and you can always visit the No Border Wall blog for more updates and information on the unconstitutional tactics the Bush Administration is using to ram the project through.

I hope there will be some attention paid to this issue during the RGV birding festival in November.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Exciting birding in new places

Yesterday I took the scenic route home with the intent of checking out a new birding place that my work pal Hillel told me about: an old rail tunnel near a little burg called Coburn, through which Penns Creek flows. There's a trail where the train tracks used to be, and Hillel thinks it might be a good place to see woodcocks. As I've never seen a woodcock, I wanted to swing through there and maybe catch some early evening peenting and displaying.

No such luck on the woodcocks, but while on the scenic route over Brush Mountain, I saw a lifebird: a ruffed grouse, the PA state bird! He was right up on the edge of the little road, looking around. If I'd had my camera out and ready, I would've gotten a great shot, as I was maybe ten feet away from him. But he moved into the brushy cover too quickly for me; I waited to see if I could spot him again, but it was impossible. He mixed in too well. Still--a lifer!

So I drove on to the old rail tunnel, parked, and started looking around. Here are some shots of the old tunnel, hewn directly into the rocks many moons ago:

The moss had grown onto the rock around the entrance to the tunnel:
Here, you can see that while they prettied up the entrance with cut stone, the actual tunnel walls themselves were left natural:

I love seeing moss growing like this; it's so soft and green and alive, with water flowing out of the rocks:

Sigh. So beautiful. While I was looking at the tunnel, I heard a bird sound--a single "chock" that resonated through the woods. I thought it might be a some sort of grouse or a turkey, but I've listened to a lot of those sounds (owls, gamebirds, etc.) and just can't find it. It was a warbly but sharp "chock" sound. Does anyone have any other guesses?

I also saw a first-of-year Eastern wood-pewee; here are my best shots of him:

I thought it might be a phoebe, but the beak and the size were wrong; I'm pretty sure it's a wood-pewee, but if you disagree, please let me know!

I also saw a northern harrier, several brown thrashers, and the usual flurry of American robins, grackles, red-winged blackbirds, European starlings, and American crows.

I can't wait to go there super-early one morning, to see what migrants might pass through. I'm hoping for some good birding there as the migration gets into gear.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Great Kittehrary Classics

of Kittish litter-ature:

Wednesday, April 09, 2008


Want to read my review of RTP's and James Fisher's Wild America, and other great book reviews by cool people like me? Go here.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Around the backyard and inside

Some pics I took on Saturday, to show you the status of spring in Central PA.
First, a bad picture of the little daffodils!
The plants are only about five inches tall, but we already have some little blooms. That's a hopeful sign!

The state of the garden--de-weeded for the most part, and getting ready for some mulch and some seeds:
Looks pretty barren now, but just wait! Soon I'll be able to plant lettuce, spinach, cilantro, and squash! And Kat will probably plant some new flowers and stuff in that front area that isn't fenced in. I'll have to wait on the tomatoes, green beans, and green peppers--need much more warmth than we're having now.

Winter's still holding on, providing plenty of cotton-batting skies for me to admire:

But the lilac tree is budding!

That totally pumps me up. This lilac bush (about ten feet tall) perfumes the entire backyard when it's in bloom.

Remember my little mushroom? It still looks the same:

Really nothing at all like a morel. I wonder what it is.

Finally, a picture of Miss Kitty Claws, taking a nap. She always looks so sweet when she's not biting and hissing:

Sorry, but Niblet's been a little shy of late, hanging out in his Magic Bunny Dreams house, so I haven't been able to post any Friday Night Nibbles.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Happy bird-day!

I'd like to wish my adopted actor Hugo Weaving a very happy birthday.

Here he is, being a bad-ass in V for Vendetta.

Happy bird-day, Hugo!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Local birding in the news

This editorial appeared in our local paper the Centre Daily Times on Monday, March 31. It's just beautifully written, and the sentiment is oh so close to my heart. Also--I know Dave Brandes' brother; he's my birding friend from work, Hillel, whom I've mentioned on the blog before, the one who showed me brown creepers for the first time on the walking trail at our workplace. Hillel is such a great guy, and he sent me this piece. I'll have to go there for a Hawk Watch soon and get some photos.

Our View
Eagles in flight offer a reward

A mere seven miles from the oblivious rush of downtown State College, a few hearty souls, hot chocolate in hand and binoculars pressed against anxious eyes, patiently but excitedly scan the sky.

Is there a more majestic, a more inspiring sight than an eagle, riding unseen seasonal currents on its annual journey northward in spring or south again in autumn?

Thirteen years ago, Dave Brandes, a Penn State hydrology and engineering student, was walking with his dog along the Mid-State Trail when he spied a golden eagle circling overhead.

He returned the next day and was rewarded: He saw 15 more golden eagles and —eureka!— four bald eagles, and thus, with a fortunate discovery by an observant lover of nature, began the annual spring raptor count on Tussey Mountain.

Gradually, more bird enthusiasts got involved and, in 2001, it became a full-time, February-through-April effort to tally hawks, ospreys, falcons and, yes, eagles on, as it turns out, one of the busiest raptor migration routes east of the Mississippi River.

As of a week ago Friday, 215 goldens — a record — had been observed and counted at the hawkwatch site, just a short walk from the Jo Hays Vista, named for a legendary Centre County educator, in the Rothrock State Forest south of Pine Grove Mills.

The Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center, the State College Bird Club, The National Aviary and others now sponsor the watch, which Dan Ombalski coordinates.

It is one of those rare endeavors that combines the pure research of the scientist with the enthusiasm and passion of the volunteer hobbyist.

And it came about almost by accident. We say almost because the careful observation and appreciation of our natural surroundings is never accidental.

And those who do take the time and make the effort enrich not only their own lives, but ours — those of us who are too busy, too involved or too unaware to notice.

Just knowing that hundreds of eagles have silently passed by only a few miles away is inspirational.

Seeing them, of course, is even more so.

One, alone, is worth the effort.

The Case of the Mystery Egg. Status: Case closed.

blatantly and unabashedly stolen from Susan's blog

Note: I was trying to get my post up about this little "mystery" before Laura and Susan did, but Blogger was being a pain about uploading my photos. Still--here's my side of the story!

You remember the "mystery egg" I found on the marsh a couple posts ago?

Well, um... it wasn't an egg.

It was a little plastic ball.

How could I have been so incredibly wrong? you ask. I'll tell you why: Because I didn't touch it! I thought it was an egg, so I figured I'd better not touch it! I couldn't really tell, but it looked like an egg to me.

So of course Susan, aka Science Chimp Junior, just pushed aside the grass, grabbed up the "egg," and noted the -um- plastic seam on it:

"Hmmmm" indeed! "Sure," I said, "laugh it up!" But if it had been a rare egg, and I had scared its mother away with my scent... yeah, they wouldn't be laughing then!

Laura and Susan came into town for my commitment ceremony with Kat, and on Sunday morning they came out to the Marsh House and went birding with me! What a blast we had. Here are a few of the very few photos I took, as I was too busy laughing and scaring birds. We did find some more interesting "mysteries" to investigate on the marsh:

Here, Grissom and Willows work a particularly bloody crime scene:
I love the serious look on Susan's face here. She and Laura wondered whether it was a tree swallow--look at this brilliant irridescent blue feather:
They decided it was likely a mallard. (Oh, and note that Susan is wearing her Ruthie J-knitted gloves.)

There was evidence everywhere, including blood:

We also came upon some coyote poo! Susan pointed out the fur:

and the bits of bone and grassy matter:
It was so much fun being with someone else who has to pick up everything and touch everything and try to figure stuff out. I thought I was observant, but these two are far more watchful and knowledgeable about things than I am. It was a real pleasure to bird such familiar territory with new eyes.

Even if they did bust my mystery egg wide open, and what "yoke" there was, it was on me.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Revised and updated yard bird list

the view from Long Pond to my house, the second white blob from the left

Based on my conversations with Laura and Susan, I've updated my yard list: 66 species! (fireworks sounds)

Before, my list had 35 species: 35 different kinds of birds that had actually landed in my yard. But when I count the marsh and Neighbor Ed's yard (both places I can see from my yard) and the air above my yard and the marsh, then I get 66. 35 isn't bad, but 66 absolutely rocks.

What do you consider a "yard bird" when making out your list? Or do you even bother to keep count?