Sunday, August 30, 2009

Birding Before the Storm - Friday, 28 August

I just had to get out on Friday, the day before Tropical Storm Danny was to roll through the area and dump some water on upstate NY. For those of you who don't know, tropical storms and hurricanes and cause fairly large dumpings of migratory birds to the trees/ground. Think of it like airplanes. So I expected to see a few, well, unexpected birds. And oh, I did!

I actually birded in three spots on Friday, but I for once will not list them all out. I do, however, want to mention that I saw an adorably cute baby chipmunk with it's mum on the Warren County Bikepath. It was trying to hide under it's mum and would peek it's head up to sniff hers.

Also mentionable is the herb garden at Hovey Pond Park in Queensbury. I never paid much attention to the garden there, as I'm not usually a fan of gardens unless they are full of wildflowers. These are worth looking at, especially the blue garden, which contains sea holly, a plant with amazingly brilliant blue stems! The herb garden is also totally worth checking out. I personally like to rub all of the leaves of the plants with my fingers and have a sniff, and I was much rewarded. There's spearmint, lemon balm (mmmm), lavender, thyme, anise (smells like licorice if you're wondering), and sage!

The Betar Byway is where I got my surprises:
- Canada Goose (that 1 juvenile is still around, and looking healthier)
- White-breasted Nuthatch (1)
- Black-capped Chickadee (16)
- Gray Catbird (8)
- American Goldfinch (1 male, 13 unknown)
- American Redstart (this is one of the surprises!!! 1 breeding male, 1 juv male, and 1 female!)
- Ring-billed Gull (1 - kind of a surprise, I usually don't see them here. It was fishing the Hudson)
- Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (1 - another surprise! I saw this one clearly so there was no mistaking it)
- Baltimore Oriole (1 - yet another surprise, and it was a breeding male, so brilliantly orange and black)
- Blue Jay (1)
- American Crow (1)
- Eastern Wood-Pewee (1)
- Mourning Dove (1)
- Northern Cardinal (1 male, 1 unknown)
- Cedar Waxwing (16 total, 1 was a juvenile for sure, 1 had the orange-tipped honeysuckle tail...the sheer number of these birds was a little surprising)
- Belted Kingfisher (1)
- Downy Woodpecker (1)

The inlet here had:
- Black-capped Chickadee (2)
- Eastern Phoebe (1)
- Gray Catbird (2)
- Mallard (10)
- White-breasted Nuthatch (1)
and a fuzzy black caterpillar.

I was so excited to see the gnatcatcher, oriole, and redstarts. I expected them to be gone by now, so they were welcome sightings. I thank the tropical storm for likely bringing them in for a stopover. I hope they fared well at the Betar Byway rest stop.

Pilot Knob Ridge Trail

Today was my first time up this trail. In fact, I didn't even know I was going up it until 10 minutes after waking up today, and was thus not prepared for the steepness and rockiness I would encounter (and am now suffering from a mild rolled ankle, oops). But it was fantastic. It is habitat similar to that of the side of Moreau Lake State Park facing the river, with uphill forest habitat and uphill habitat with shorter trees (most bearing nuts of some sort), so having a lower canopy. There's also a great lookout with a gazebo containing a flat, meadow-y area with plenty of goldenrod. You can sit at the gazebo or the nearby bench and look out over a large portion of southern Lake George. I spotted one of the little cruise ships (I believe it was The Mohican) the Lake George Steamboat company has for rides.

Also at the Pilot Knob Ridge if you keep going on a second trail past the gazebo is a pretty waterfall with very cool water (yes, I stuck my hand in). Totally worth the long trek out. Also, if you're birding, keep an eye to the sky on this trail - I had a hawk flyover. It was too brief to ID, but I was still excited.

Very quiet on these trails this time of year - I'm not sure if migration is simply in full-swing or is dying down now, but either way it has definitely affected birding.

- Downy Woodpecker (1)
- Blue Jay (2)
- Mourning Dove (1)
- American Goldfinch (1)
- Black-capped Chickadee (about 40! I did not count birds on the way back, either)
- American Crow (1)
- Eastern Wood-Pewee (3)
- White-breasted Nuthatch (1)
- Cedar Waxwing (4 - only near the gazebo)
- Pileated Woodpecker (1 - heard off in distance)
- Red-eyed Vireo (2)
- Common Raven (2)

Also spotted a red eft and a cool little snail with a pale yellow shell. There was also plenty of mushrooms/fungi I could not ID, MANY white corals near the beginning of the blue trail, and you can spot a lot of trees with lightning damage up there. My favorite was a tree snapped in half with rust-colored wood.

Pilot Knob Ridge has an interesting story behind how it came to be a preserve. You can read a little bit about it here:

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Intense Sleepiness Not Helpful for Birder Attention

I have received little sleep in the past few days, but what sleep I do receive, the birds visit me even there. A belted kingfisher has made himself visible to me on both nights, darker in my dreams than in real life...head almost black. Cardinals are coming now. Fall is upon us, even in my sleep. You should have seen how brightly the stars shown in the universe when I looked up from a street while talking to ethereal friends. I had on a sweater, so I know it was cold.

I noticed a bright breeding male American goldfinch sitting on the edge of the road today, not at all afraid of my car. They are bold little guys. The house sparrows that visit around my workplace around 12:30 PM are a bit more shy. I sat out today, enjoying the cooler weather. I could still use a good storm, as it has dawned upon me that we really received very few severe ones all summer, but I prefer this weather, cinnamon candles and Macintosh apples are not far away.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Five Months of Birding

Yesterday while birding along the Betar Byway (that will be up soon enough!) I finally did the math...I have only really been hardcore outdoor birding for about 5 months. Yup, you read that correctly, months. Not years. Not decades.

This surprised me, because I can chat with apparently the 'best' of the region without too many hiccups and was able to give a decent presentation to third graders only about a month or two in. But what surprised me even more is remembering all the fellow birders or even nonbirders who have admitted to feeling terribly intimidated by my knowledge of birds, ability to identify them without breaking much of a sweat, and talk about them at length in detail to the point where the other person becomes exhausted. I nearly partially ran a bird walk only about two months into my outdoor birding as well, and this was encouraged by someone who likely has been birding for two or three decades! People ask me questions all the time about identification and migration (I love questions). It is easy to forget that one has not even been hardcore birding for a year yet. It blows my mind.

Every now and then someone hints at wishing I would tell them the magic I have worked at learning birds so quickly. Quite a few of these people have been birding for a few years now and wish they could be at the level they perceive me to be at (and that I likely am). Well, I am going to tell you what I have done to get to where I'm at so far. There is no magic. There is only hard work and insane passion (you have to be a little insane to be obsessed with our feathered friends). I also had Kronos by my side, being miserably unemployed for most of that time (and now unhappily underemployed). Here we go! I'll write them as tips for you, it's easier to read that way:

- Go find some dead specimens. This was how I began, in a lab in college, with dead birds laid out in front of me. I know it's harder these days to find some, what with the downfall of shotgun ornithology. There are a few waterfowl species at the Nature Center in Moreau Lake. It's totally worth seeing their loon up close, and I think the wood ducks are still there. You may not see all these details from far away when you are birding, but you get a better understanding of how birds are put together. I've been told the Pember Museum in Granville, NY has some! Check all nature centers, museums, and colleges.

- See if you have a nearby bird bander (check with Audubon), and find out if the bander appreciates someone stopping by for a chat or to help out. Again, you get to see birds up close, and the bander will definitely be able to help you ID birds and show you what to look for aka field marks. Ask questions! Banders are highly knowledgable (they have to be just to even get a permit).

- Get yourself a quality field guide. You might desire to start out with one that has photos. That's fine. However, illustrations are better as many are purposely created to point out specific field marks - photographs don't do this, and field marks in birding = highly important. Also, make sure your guide has range maps. Check out Peterson's, Sibley, and Nat Geo. Heck, get all 3 out at the library if they have them! Comparing before you buy can be helpful, all guides are a bit different, and different people like different guides.

- Study that guide when you are not birding! That is what I did intensely for months before these 5 months. Look at the illustrations. Note which field marks the guide points out. These are what you will look for when you see the real live bird.

- Those range maps? Take your guide and make a list of all the birds the range maps show to be in your area. Leave out those that are not. Pay no attention to those that are not at this time. If you are not going to see the bird, why waste your time as a newbie?! I found it beneficial to also split the list up into two - those only here for breeding (spring and summer), and those year-round and only in winter. This helps as a beginner, then you will know what to expect by the season you begin birding in. Also, if you visit a trail and it has a list of birds seen there, take it and study those specific ones even more intensely.

- Get to know the common birds! Start with your backyard feeders, if you have any. I can't stress this enough. I have been finding beginners that feel the pressure to know all the deep forest birds, to be able to ID everything on long day trips in the mountains, and that they shouldn't be "wasting time" on those goldfinches and blue jays in the yard, because it's supposedly not what the experts do. How did the experts become experts, though?! They watched all birds. You can learn to ID the rares later on! Plus, how are you going to be able to recognize that something is a rare, an out-of-ordinary, if you don't 'know' the common species? That rare will not stand out in the crowd to you if you don't. Know the neighboring blue jays. Name them if you have to. Study them just as you would a painted bunting.

- Find books that emphasize the differences between very common species. They will talk about the subtle differences between very similar species, and if you get to where you understand and can do this, you will appear lightyears ahead of everyone else. Birders struggle terribly with gulls, sparrows, and some raptors because they're so similar, or because they have extended life stages with subtle plumage variations. Check out Identify Yourself by Bill Thompson III.

- LEARN BIRD SONG! I cannot emphasize this enough. After spending time around all levels of birders, I cannot understand why so many pay very little attention to the actual songs/calls rather than just the fact that 'something' is making noise and trying desperately to see it because they don't 'know' the song. A song can even be diagnostic! You could be staring at a "little brown job" for 30 minutes, frantically searching your guide, and still confused, but as soon as little brown job opens it's big mouth you can be certain of who he is. Also, there's a grouping of flycatchers that usually can only be IDed by song. Get yourself some CDs or check out the Macaulay Library here:

- Learn mnemonics. In the birding world, these are often phrases that it sounds like the bird is saying. Some are universal in the birding world, and easy to learn and hear - you may be familiar with chick-a-dee-dee-dee. Even more fun, you can make up your own and share with others! None of them are set in stone. Some people hear the Carolina wren as "tea-kettle tea-kettle tea-kettle" but my buddy Sue and I hear "cheeseburger cheeseburger cheeseburger!" Also, this stuff can be more fun if you understand the way birders describe the "quality" of the song. Learn what a "trill" is or what a "buzzy" call sounds like, or "hoarse" and you can differentiate those calls that sound very similar but have a vaguely different quality.

- Do not concern oneself too much with the life list. When I began, I was driven NUTS by birders who would not stop harping on the life list, with nazi attitudes about it. Your life as a birder is not over if you simply don't care that much about one. If you are that competitive and it motivates you, do it! Also, some programs create one for you as you input your 'data' from your birding adventures. Less work for you and you get to show off.

- Don't stall and worry about not having the best binoculars. I still bird with a $15 pair from Wal-Mart and people still are impressed with how good of a birder I am. There are benefits to having bins that cost a couple thousand, definitely, but you can start off with those crappy ones in the section of the redneck store in redneck department, believe me. Plus I think as a beginner you are more apt to mishandle them because they feel new to you. Would you rather break a $15 or a $3,000 pair right off? The exception here is if you want to start out watching raptors. Then you might want to chuck some money out for a great pair or a spotting scope, because let me tell you, those birds will not be up close and likely soaring at a high speed.

- Find some good bird blogs with photos (yes, here's where photos are good) that tell you what they are. Make them part of your daily internet reading.

- Go on a guided bird walk! GO GO GO. An experienced birder will be leading, and will point out birds that you would probably miss if you were on your own. He or she will also ID singing birds, and likely give you time to find it yourself. Ask questions! Don't fear that you will seem stupid or that everyone else knows everything. There may be shy beginners or someone else with the same question. Plus, every answer given is useful to everyone in some way. Some questions, no one has ever thought to even ask! Also, if there is a bird you really hope to see, let the guide know - the guide I had was more than happy to try to help me see certain birds! Birders love to share and love to convert people over to the birding cult. :P

- When you are watching birds, watch their behavior. This is supremely important! Also, watch what they eat. Both of these things can be clues to identification. Some flycatchers flick their tails and fly in an elliptical pattern to catch flies. I have been able to ID silhouetted birds just by behavior alone! Also, it's just fun to watch. It's cute seeing cedar waxwings pass berries to each other and blue jay behavior can be hilariously good fun.

- That pesky bird diagram somewhere in your guide with all the seemingly foreign words pointing at various body parts? Learn it. Seriously. Many of those scarily labelled parts contain vital field marks. As a starting point, the ones I use the most are: crown, supercilium, lores, eye stripe, upper & lower mandible, throat, moustachial stripe, malar stripe, breast, flanks, undertail coverts, and rump. Also, know what "wing bars" look like, and keep an eye out for tail markings and markings around the eyes - vireos often have spectacles, other species have eye rings of various colors. Also, learning the shapes of some body parts can help - tail shape is a common one. And if you are learning raptors, learn all the names for the underside of the wings!

- Learn about habitats. You don't need to be a genius, but it helps you to determine what birds you might see where. There's obvious ones, like you're not likely to find a duck on top of Buck Mountain, and unless you have a pond you probably won't get a great blue heron in your yard. Some species are 'endemic' to certain habitats, meaning you will only find them in those. Many grassland birds are a good example, you will not find them anywhere else but a grassland habitat. This is more of a general guide otherwise, however - during migration, most species can be found almost anywhere and sometimes wind up in very unexpected places. Not many people expected to see merlins in a town park in Oneonta this spring, yet there they were!

- Depending on how you want to learn to ID birds, you might want to choose a certain season to go all out. I chose spring. It's easier to ID birds at this time because breeding males are obvious, brightly colored, and loudly singing to find a mate. The drawback, however, is that you can be met with an utter cacophony of sound where it is hard to individually separate songs and the sheer variety of species can be overwhelming. Late summer and autumn is better if you want to learn those you will likely see all year, and since most breeding birds have left by then, you have less species to learn and won't be so overwhelmed. The drawbacks here are that the birds are singing less and thus a bit more difficult to find (keep an eye out for movement), and now you have all those birds hatched this year to figure out. Young birds can be very confusing to ID because they do not yet have the colorings and markings of the adults and likely will not even remotely match those you learned in your guide, unless you have something like the Sibley Guide to Birds of North America (and not the smaller Eastern or Western guide).

- Buy yourself some permethrin-based insect murdering spray (like Repel Permanone). You may be wondering what the heck this has to do with birding. Well, you will be outdoors, and often out in grassy areas where ticks LOVE to chill out in. You may even come across a tick nesting spot full of hundreds of them! DEET does not repel them one bit. They will still climb up your boots and dig into your flesh. Mmmm... Trust me, you won't regret the cost or the pain-in-the-neck spraying of your clothes every 2 weeks. This is coming from someone who has been bitten by 6 ticks and contracted Lyme Disease twice. I don't care if you think you're superman or superwoman or have the best immune system known to man, if you come down with Lyme Disease, you will not be birding. For one, your neck will probably get so stiff that you can't look up. Also, carry some needle-pointed tweezers and alcohol wipes. The quicker you can pull the tick off you, the better and easier.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

On Bird Populations

Boy am I frustrated! I just spent a couple of hours making yet another list of local birds and trying to figure out which ones I'm likely to see at which time of year and whether their numbers are large or small here. I mostly have fun with these lists, until you start playing with the population numbers.

Here is what I've done so far. I've used about 5 field guides and made an entire Excel spreadsheet for every bird that field guide range maps have for right where I'm located. This is a good general guide of what may be here. The problem with those maps is that the entire colored area does not all contain that particular species.

So months ago I decided I wanted a more localized view of bird populations. Voila, the NY Breeding Bird Atlas! This is a fantastic tool. You can narrow down to counties in NY to see if it's been confirmed that a bird has breeded in that county, or two levels of maybe. There's an older BBA for NY that you can compare with as well. You can see population trends over time for BREEDING birds in NY and the likelihood that you are going to see that species in your particular county. You can also the species abundance throughout the state in general. I took all this info and kept notes on which birds seem to have big populations, medium-sized ones, and low numbers in my counties (I bird in 3). I also made notes on if the population was increasing, stabilized, or decreasing over time. I have found that it is useful maybe 70% of the time that I look at it. That's right, it's not 100% (though one can say that about all data). I see here and there where it states that it is used to determine population trends, period. That's it. No "population trends of BREEDING birds."

You might be asking yourself, "Well, what's wrong with that?" Well, it leaves out our winter birds, the species who come down from Canada during periods of deep snow to find food. They don't breed here! So they either wind up completely missed from the BBA, or the BBA inaccurately shows on the map that it seems to be a rare species. This does not help the birder that is simply trying to determine the likelihood of seeing said winter bird friends. And field guide range maps are even worse at figuring that out.

Also, I noticed that the Ring-billed Gull, while on the BBA, seems to have an incredibly low population, to the point of probably being considered a rare. Well, I've taken part in PA BBA point counts. Point counts tend to be held in nice natural areas away from mankind. Where are these gulls? Shores, parking lots, picking around garbage bins...these are not really point count spots. They certainly do breed in my counties. I sometimes see them in numbers up to 20, looking for fries. I doubt they have low population numbers, and Peterson notes them as "common."

And then there are just those birds that are locally common, irruptive, or need a very specific habitat, or have populations that have declined so rapidly so quickly that data collection can't even keep up. Many, many of our winter birds are irruptive. Last year we had a nasty winter, and pine siskins came down in droves. We could see nearly no pine siskins this coming winter, especially if it's mild.

Maybe I would have better luck using ebird data. Ebird, a site by birders, for birders. It relies only on whether a species was seen during a certain time period, rather than if it was having sexytime or not. The immediate problem I can see there is if an area is lacking in birders.

But for now, nothing seems to be able to explain why I am not seeing the apparently common northern flicker ANYWHERE.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Sun in Virgo Sauntering

Ah, Virgo. If you weren't sure if fall was upon us yet, you can be sure now. Virgo is the sign of harvest and is associated with the Corn Maiden (time to start making corn dollies soon!). No, the weather today was not autumn weather, I was still sweating. But I am now seeing leaves falling on the ground, Virginia creeper turning red, and all of my favorite birding spots (that I visited today) were eerily quiet today. I wonder if the birding world has a name for the inevitable sadness that washes over the temperate-climate birders when many of the migrants have left the area, leaving a marked silence upon the landscape.

My first stop was Ash Drive/Warren County Bikeway by Glen Lake. This was the busy breeding ground for Red-winged Blackbirds in spring and housed a few warbler species, and a Great Blue Heron was a frequent visitor. Today I saw and/or heard these:

- Blue Jay (3)
- American Crow (1)
- Gray Catbird (11 - though it seemed like there were plenty more hiding in the bushes!)
- Northern Cardinal (1)
- American Goldfinch (17 unknown, 2 adult males! Holy moly. These two people who kept crossing my path kept making sure they talked about these goldfinches while passing me and noting in earshot that there wasn't any thistle. Sometimes, people weird me out.)
- Swallow sp. (2 - couldn't tell if they were Tree or Barn)
- Black-capped Chickadee (2)
- Ring-billed Gull (2 flew over - 1 was an obvious juvenile - I have never seen gulls here!)
- American Robin (4)
- Eastern Wood-Pewee (1)
- Red-eyed Vireo (1 lonely one making an alarm call)
- notable Pileated Woodpecker holes, fairly fresh ones

Next stop was lovely Delegan Pond off Scout Road in Wilton/Ganvesvoort at the Wilton Wildlife Preserve. This spot also tends to have herons. They were notably absent today. I was also pleased that there wasn't a single person around there for once! I walked along the little shore there, and between 15-20 frogs hidden in the grass popped off into the water near my feet. One was a green frog and it's likely the rest were too. There were also plenty of blue & black dragonflies, possibly some sort of skimmer (maybe Libellula luctuosa). The pond was so quiet:

- Northern Cardinal (got to watch an adult male for awhile, a cardinal nearby called to him)
- American Goldfinch (1)
- Belted Kingfisher (2 - got to see one close-up! Kingfishers have this annoying habit of constantly turning their backs to you, so you cannot sex them)
- Gray Catbird (1 - I don't usually hear any here)

Off across the road I wandered, back to Camp Saratoga. I walked a ways along the blue trail, where I would normally hear Song Sparrows and Eastern Towhees and likely spot a Brown Creeper. All absent today.

- Black-capped Chickadee (6)
- American Goldfinch (6)
- White-breasted Nuthatch (1)
- Woodpecker sp. (unseen and only heard it tapping wood)
- American Robin (1 - it was eating cherries!)

I reached the 'big field' not far from the campsite (I like to call it Towhee Meadow - the reason being obvious). Usually there's Towhees, Field Sparrows and Song Sparrows. Today it was so disappointingly silent, except for a few:

- Black-capped Chickadee (1)
- American Crow (2)
I was bummed out here. At least I got to see a yellow sulfur and a monarch enjoying the few blooming butterfly weeds here! I love those pretty little orange flowers.

Really bummed and missing the birds, I decided to drag myself to the Old Gick Farm. At least the landscape would cheer me up. Old Gick is mostly open, save for a few trees scattered throughout. I love this sort of habitat, as it tends to be full of goldenrod (and it was). I wasn't expecting what I would come across! A large, widely spread mixed flock! I almost couldn't keep up with all of the birds flitting all over the place and making alarm calls nonstop.

- Downy Woodpecker (1)
- Northern Cardinal (1)
- Blue Jay (1)
- Eastern Wood-Pewee (2 - both following me around and calling, how I love them)
- American Goldfinch (4 unknown, 1 adult male)
- Chipping Sparrow (2)
- White-breasted Nuthatch (2 - calling to each other and following each other)
- Black-capped Chickadee (10!)
- American Crow (1)
- Eastern Bluebird (5 immatures!!! They flitted around, sat in low perches and stared at me, made sad little quiet warbles at me and to each other, and were generally super-cute. Some has no rusty coloring on the breast, others had a small patch. I did not expect to see them at all!)

To conclude, what I notice is that these lists are now becoming full of what I call "winter birds," those you see plenty of when there's about 3 feet of snow on the ground, it's so quiet outside that it sounds like the entire world died, and the cold pains your fingers and ears. The cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches, blue jays.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Queensbury Lunchtime Observations

So during my new job lunch breaks, I go outside to eat at the picnic table. I won't lie, I kind of miss working 2nd shift already because of the morning hours it leaves me free. But one must do what one has to due to external circumstances!

I do not work in a very environmentally friendly area. It's a spot with tons of apartment complexes built right on top of old fields. The bits that are left are full of goldenrod and whatever purple loosestrife-like flowers that are out there - very pretty! So the picnic table faces a tiny parking lot (where I park) and all these complexes. So I'm of course seeing plenty of American goldfinches (I'm certainly not complaining, I love listening to them chatter to each other, it sounds like they're gossiping) and house sparrows. Some people dislike house sparrows because they are introduced and will destroy nesting efforts of more desirable birds, but they're still cute and fun to watch because they're so highly social. I get a kick out of watching them fight over food, and juveniles and females chasing the males away, and yesterday they were hiding near a jeep when someone came out of the building nearby, spooking them. Usually birds flying into manmade objects is really sad, but the 10 or so birds that bumped into the windows and side of the jeep in an attempt to fly away from the human cracked me up, as they were totally fine.

Today I got quite the surprise though. Out I go, at the table, unleashing my sandwich, not expecting to see anything exciting. I start hearing a familiar call - a pileated woodpecker! In the trees right about one of the complexes! I kept an eye on the location and saw the woodpecker fly around the spot, looking like a small hawk. I was elated. A coworker came out around that point and said, "What the heck is that noise, it's so weird!" I told her and she was amazed to find out it was a woodpecker, a very large one at that. My coworkers don't quite seem to understand my fascination with birds, but they are accepting. Another one got a kick out of my story about the blue-headed vireo pooping on my head recently.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Trip to Albany

Well I had a full day today! I made a trip down to Albany, beginning at 5 AM (I drove 1 hr 15 mins down with very little traffic), finished down there around 5 PM, and made it back up at 6:30 PM (traffic was not so nice back up, I got stuck in a traffic jam between exits 4 and 8). If you're wondering what I was up to, I took part in a not-so-mock jury trial to discuss a real case that apparently has yet to be resolved. It was absolutely interesting, I had fun, thought the judge was awesome. And that is all I can say about it (confidentiality agreement document and all). And yes, I got paid. Also, the hotel it was at makes the best sandwiches I have ever wolfed down in my life.

So, birding at 73 mph is a little difficult, especially when it's between 5 and 6:30 AM, as the sun isn't really 'up' yet. There looked like some possible migrants over the Northway, little flocks of songbirds. I also recognized a duck, and a few crows. What was interesting was that all these birds were flying from east to west, away from the morning sun. I do not know why. Also, nature photographers who like to get misty scenes must get up before dawn, because the whole drive down was unbelievably beautiful. There was a low mist the entire way, and for those who haven't driven down the Northway, the highway actually does have some 'nature' on the sides of it. Lots of trees up north, and then more wetland/marshy habitat with less forest to the south before getting to the city. The city just...awful. Something about most of Albany eats me up inside, except for the pine bush, which I love. The only birds I saw in the city today were more crows.

And that was my day!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Ow, My Toe

Dear fellow naturalist peeps, I am going through a stressful time (ah to be young? Many people have told me life gets easier and better as the years roll on. I believe them) and have not exactly had the time to go full on birding this weekend. I am preparing for upcoming civil service exams, taking on a new (but part-time, ho hum) job, dealing with financial stuff, and even attending a focus group tomorrow down in Albany for 12 hours! So I have been quite distracted. Plus the heat made me not want to go outside this weekend. In fact, I've been so distracted that today I stood right in some stinging nettles while chatting with my mom. Oops.

All the usuals were at the feeders at various times at the WFA house today. Goldfinches, blue jays, the mourning dove, grackles, chipping sparrows, and even a male downy woodpecker who made his loud squeaks while pulling off chunks of suet! I have noticed more and more that the calls I hear the goldfinches giving this time of year seem to mimic those of the yellow warbler. But that is all. Just another day in bird world at the WFA house today. Too hot for true fun, even for the birds, apparently! Also, I noticed the house wrens have been gone for about two weeks now. I am sad that I did not get to see the little ones leave, and I absolutely miss the beautiful melodic song and dry rattle of the adults. Autumn is certainly around the corner. I am both excited (autumn is my favorite) and dreading it (I have not yet birded during the seasons where harvest and death are upon us and the list of available birds definitely gets tiny).

Also, a PSA! August is peak season in NY for tiny ticks. Larvae have hatched and are now running around looking for their first feeding before winter comes. Keep up whatever you're doing, naturalist friends, to prevent tick bites (or amp up your protection now), because they are much less visible to the naked eye now. I woke up this morning with a painful toe, and when I looked at it there was a tiny brown dot the size of a pinhead that wouldn't easily rub off. With a magnifying glass, I could see the legs and the flat-shaped hard body. It easily let go with a tug of the tweezers and then set forth on running all the way up the length of the tweezers before I drowned it in isopropyl alcohol to show others. So watch out for those little buggers. Larvae apparently aren't likely to carry Lyme since they just hatched and haven't fed on anything else, but you have to look out for nymphs that are also very small. Plus, you might be one of the lucky ones who is allergic to the bites and then has a painful toe ALL DAY LONG. No fun.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Go Away, Grackles!

I stayed at WFA house today because it was blazing hot. Due to 2009 summer being so cool and rainy, I can't recall if this is 'normal' summer weather or a heat wave for upstate NY, but it's unbearable.

I did wander outside a bit, the main task being to scrub the bird bath. It was horrendous, as it was full of droppings. To me this is a good thing, a sign that it's being well used. I didn't mind it, and now the birds have a clean bath to enjoy (it's in the shade too). Some chickadees came by to watch what I was up to - they regularly do this when I'm cleaning the bird bath. It makes me think they are eagerly awaiting the clean water. I noticed it's also good for thirsty bees!

Common grackles have started to invade the feeders, and I take it upon myself to scare them away many times each day. Apparently, four juvenile chipping sparrows have caught on to my behavior. I was standing near the feeders today, looking over some juniper. Suddenly these four flocked around me and began loudly calling their cricket-like trilling alarm calls. Knowing that they love the feeders, I had a glance over there and noticed a large, obviously well-fed adult grackle hogging a favorite perch for them and making quite a mess. I slowly walked right at the grackle, scaring it off, and the chipping sparrows immediately went to the feeders. It was cute that I got to play guardian for them.

A downy woodpecker flew around the trees in the shade. I never caught sight of it, understandably so. I didn't want to be in the sun, either.

Two of the juvenile blue jays also regularly visit the feeders. One of them is quite fond of the suet and will rip large chunks off of it, gulping them down. This one is also quite curious. Today it perched, with head tilted, watching one of the dogs as it walked around the yard. It then watched as a mourning dove was stalking through the grass picking up loose seed. I also had a first-year male American goldfinch sit on top of a bush and watch me walk around the yard for a bit.

I have a total of six wildflower books out from the Crandall Library, and I can't say I'm totally impressed with a single one of them. It's incredibly difficult to find one single book with all the possible flowers I can see in my local region. Many of them do not include a single Lobelia and some of them do not have groundnut. This is incredibly frustrating because those plants are common around here. And the books that do have some Lobelia in them are severely lacking in variety. I had to go back to the WFA house bookshelf to pull out the 1982 'Reader's Digest North American Wildlife' book (seriously, this book rules so hard that I could weep happy tears) to find out that my yard has a bunch of Lobelia inflata (Indian tobacco). A group with about 375 species deserves the common ones to be included in every wildflower book, especially when you are likely to run across at least one of them in your daily adventures. I also used the Reader's Digest to ID the pretty paintbrush-like crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum) that has popped up in my yard. I can say that I also appreciate the field maps in the Reader's Digest which are sorely lacking in many wildflower field guides, though it does weird me out to find out fivespot (Nemophila maculata) supposedly only grows in the Pacific Northwest, as it popped up in my backyard one year here!

It has become apparent that birds and wildflowers are definitely two different worlds when it comes to field guides. It would be unheard of to leave out species from a bird guide. It's nearly impossible to include every species in a wildflower guide, I guess, there seems to be way too many to include into one book. And that lack of range maps in wildflower guides...ouch. Not handy.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Spent the day in many 'homes'

First things first, since I just came from outdoors, where I was most of today! I do not recall if it was here that I mentioned edible jewelweed seeds. But this evening whilst looking over the few jewelweed plants in the yard, I noticed little seed pods. "Interesting," I thought. I touched one, as I do almost any plantthing I find, and surprise! Seeds flying in all directions, and the pod curling up in my hand! This is a new experience for me, and one that left me amused. I found another ripe pod, and popped it inside my hand, collecting a few seeds. They are very small, not much of a snack. I ate 3, slowly crushing them in my teeth. Walnut-flavor! There it was. I have missed it for years. I ate no more at the time, as I do with any plantthing I eat for the first time, in case I may be allergic. It didn't matter anyway, I had an absolute blast popping the rest of the pods I found, hoping that the birds find some of them, and the rest can grow at some point.

I could not fathom spending the entire day inside the 'box.' Home is out there, not in here in the protective walls hiding one from the elements. I've been considering more and more downsizing my belongings, having a large yard sale or ebaying possessions, as the idea of materialism and a 'house' has become rather queer in my mind. So outdoors I went! A White-breasted Nuthatch greeted me in the driveway.

My first stop was the Warren County Bikeway. I usually visit it from Ash Drive, but I really missed the Country Club Road entrance and headed there instead. I am glad I did, as I soon came across Sue of! She was out for a morning walk as well, and had already spotted some grosbeaks down the trail. We chatted a bit, and then off I went in the extreme heat and sun (I now have a slight sunburn). I had trouble keeping my eyes off of all the wildflowers, the bikeway is absolutely in bloom currently - my favorites today were the goldenrod, joe-pye weed, boneset, a few sightings of groundnut and some bittersweet nightshade and false solomon seal, and the place is loaded with jewelweed (have a taste). I also enjoyed the evergreen stand. There were cherry and apple trees as well! I also caught sight of a chipmunk, a grey squirrel, and a red squirrel. Here be birds:

- Gray Catbird (17)
- American Goldfinch (27 - I swear this is not an overcount)
- Black-capped Chickadee (13)
- Blue Jay (3)
- Northern Cardinal (5 unseen, 2 female, 1 male - such a beautiful bird, both in plumage and song)
- American Crow (1)
- Cedar Waxwing (9)
- House Wren (1 - only heard the dry rattle)
- Downy Woodpecker (1 - right in front of me finding food on a trunk)
- Rose-breasted Grosbeak (2 - apparently one female and a juv, the juv following her around begging, and her feeding it - doesn't it seem late in the year though?)
- Scarlet Tanager (1 - yellow with gun-metal grey wings - female or first-year male?)
- American Robin (2)
- White-breasted Nuthatch (1)

I was not done there! I headed up to the Meadowbrook Road meadow, another place I have not visited in quite some time. Fall migration obviously has taken place here, the bobolinks and meadowlarks are gone, as are most of the red-winged blackbirds - no breeding males here now. Again, an amazing wildflower spot! I felt a little intimidated here. There are butter-and-eggs, and plenty of other plants I have seen in almost all spots, but there are multiple species of thistle, what looked to be some sort of blue-violet vetch, two types of goldenrod, and partially hidden surprises of a white flower shaped as a morning glory - these are new to me. I felt a tinge of sadness at how quiet this location now is - fall is soon to set in.

- Mourning Dove (2 - not in the field, but on the road nearby)
- American Goldfinch (4 unseen, 5 pretty males)
- Ring-billed Gull (1 - also not in field, but flying overhead)
- American Crow (1 - off in the distance, probably at ACC)
- Song Sparrow (2! Both calling)
- Turkey Vulture (1 lazily floating overhead)
- Red-winged Blackbird (8 - either juveniles, or females - many chek calls while hiding in the cattail reeds)
- Savannah Sparrow (1 - sat on the wild parsnip that has gone to seed, only a few feet away, allowing me to study it in detail. I took copious field notes, as sparrows are easier to differentiate if you get to know them very well. Please see this post: to see a photo of exactly what I saw, as Sue has seen it too!)

I was still not done! I recalled Adirondack Community College having a 'fitness trail.' I surprisingly have never visited it before. I found out it really wasn't much of a birding spot, but it did have plenty of wildflowers, and what I believe to be a sort of mint. I crushed some leaves between my fingers and there certainly was a minty scent. This was also the first place all year where I could easily identify poison ivy. I rarely look for it as I'm not allergic. I'm not kidding. I still struggle to ID it's many forms, which is unfortunate as I find some of them to be very pretty. I have found out that I actually had directly rubbed my fingers on some of it last week, looking it over, trying to figure out what it was. That's how "not allergic" I am. I had no reaction. Fine for me, but for the benefit of my nature buddies, I shall re-learn how to identify it, as transferring delicious berries with those oils on my hands could be dangerous to them!

- American Goldfinch (8 unseen, 1 juvenile male, 1 breeding male)
- Black-capped Chickadee (2 came right up to me, where I could have reached out to touch them! There were 10 more)
- American Crow (1)
- Northern Cardinal (1 - calling from a distance, sounded like it was right on campus)
- American Robin (1)

The heat finally got to me and I was hungry, so my walks for the day were done, and I was satisfied.

However, I did bird a bit more. For dinner I had Burger King, from the Queensbury location (by Aviation Mall). I cannot recall when this lot did not have gulls, I remember feeding french fries to them when I was a teenager. I had a good laugh all through dinner, watching them fight over spots on top of the lighting fixtures and the sign that read "New Angry Chicken." It was hilarious seeing one gull to a light.
- Ring-billed Gull (15, in various ages and plumages)
- American Crow (2)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

An inquiring mind once wanted to know...

No official birding the past few days, but I have the day off tomorrow, so I might slap a ton of sunblock on myself (doxy helps me burn in about 5 minutes in the sun) and head to a few local spots that were shown to me by our lovely "suep" over at

I've been trying to get used to my part-time job (aka not enough hours and therefore not enough income, but at least I'm now working). I like it already, though the past two days have felt SO long. I like to go outside for my lunch break, and have noticed it's an okay spot for birds. It's located off Haviland Road in Queensbury, and I've spotted about 8 house sparrows, 1 American crow, 2 American goldfinches, 1 northern cardinal calling from off in the distance, and a blue jay making a bit of noise. Today during lunch I heard about 4 cedar waxwings, but couldn't find them. Something apparently found my car between the hours of 12:45 PM and 5 PM though! I had parked under this very nice, shady tree (can't yet ID it) and when I got out, my windshield was COVERED with red and blue bird doody! Most people would be totally annoyed at this, but I was somewhat delighted. It is as if my bird friends left me presents to say, "I was here!"

Sort of bird-related. Lately I've remembered something an intern counselor from my college had asked me. That's right, Bill Chase, if you're out there somewhere, I recall you asking me something about if my treks out to nature were an escape, a way to avoid dealing with life problems. At the time, I felt annoyed and defensive at this question, seeing it as a way of invalidating my times in the wild, which it obviously was not. So funny I would even see it that way, as the question was coming from someone who also had a B.S. in science and would certainly understand the powerful draw that the outdoors has on someone.

I now know my answer to this question, and I so badly wish I could tell him that answer. It is yes and no. Nature for me is a way to escape being drowned in problems, to distance myself from the immediacy of those threats. The physical space I put between problems and myself when I head out to the woods helps me to detach from them emotionally as well. But I use my time out there to focus on those problems, to turn them over in my head, in a more objective light. I cannot seem to find any other space where this works. Some people have a special place in their houses where they can go off by themselves to think, to brainstorm, to come up with solutions, be it the bathroom, the swimming pool, or the shower. For me it is where it is green. Recent research has actually shown that people think the best when surrounded by this color. I don't recall why. I also know that being in nature really clears my head. It's almost a spiritual cleansing. A release of toxins, of stress. The exercise is part of it. The peace, the feeling of returning to a more primitive existence, bare-bones survival is the rest of it. I'm sure many other outdoorspeople completely understand this, and apparently people who are suffering badly do as well, as apparently many, many people choose the wild as the last place they want to be before taking their own lives.

To put it simply, going into the wild heals me.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Western Ridge Trail & Mud Pond - Moreau Lake

I loved the autumn weather this morning, well, besides the high humidity. But the cool air felt great on my skin.

My goal today was to get to Mud Pond. I didn't care how I got there, but to have the Environmental Educator of Moreau Lake State Park being my unofficial treeline guy and calling me on Friday to let me know he spotted a grebe at the pond, I now had a goal.

All summer I have tried, unsuccessfully, to find the parking spot for the western ridge trail halfway along Spier Falls Road at Moreau Lake State Park. Today I finally got to the park at an earlier hour, and the constant spittle and overcast skies really decreased the amount of traffic along the road, so I hit 45 mph and went no faster. I saw a potential pull-off for Mud Pond right at the end of the guardrail, and saw a sign warning that police parking happens there. So I wasn't sure I could park there. A little ways up the road, I found a pull off on the right, with a fenced off uphill area further to the right. I crossed the road and checked out the trail - no markers, so obviously not WR trail. Back in my car I go, and not much further ahead I found a pull off on the right again. Across the street, under overhang from the trees, I saw the signs for trailhead parking. Was this it, I wondered? In I walked, immediately uphill. The trailhead opens up to a large rocky powerline corridor. Rocky, and covered with wildflowers! I kept walking, to see a nice parking lot, and to my left was the yellow marker for the Western Ridge trail. I've finally made it!

The walk itself was amazingly nice. It's all woods with understory and wet soils, which meant many mushrooms and fungi, and indian pipes. Besides being able to label things as corals (white and yellow), I really don't know the different species of fungi. And the two purple mushrooms were quite interesting.

Along the walk I became a bit sad, and wasn't sure why. I realized it was because I had not seen a single soul. Most nature enthusiasts would favor this, and I usually don't care to see other people, but I've become accustomed to meeting Moreau Lake visitors, and I have loved meeting them. I felt better today when a young cyclist came upon me and remarked on the stinky skunk we both had smelled. I then saw a couple with two nice pups, and another cyclist.

And yes, I did make it to Mud Pond. Finally! I had not been there on my own since spring, the last spot I had knowingly been bitten by a tick. I was absolutely surprised to see that 98% of the pond was covered with lily pads. Finding the grebe was going to be like a Where's Waldo game. I never did see the grebe, unfortunately. But the pond was so calming to study that I didn't mind. I also found a 'secret' spot near the pond that still had blueberries! While there I had a laugh as I could hear what sounded like two people arguing over something they had seen.

So birds! This is what I saw/heard along Western Ridge, before reaching Mud Pond:
- Mourning Dove (1 - where I parked, it slowly walked out of my car's path)
- American Goldfinch (2)
- Eastern Wood-Pewee (5 to my delight)
- Black-capped Chickadee (15!)
- Blue-headed Vireo (1 - it was so upset with my presence that when I took a break on my way back, it perched above my head and pooped on my hair. Thanks, vireo. Thanks. It's lucky that I was so excited to see one for the first time!)
- Red-eyed Vireo (3)
- Cedar Waxwing (2)
- White-breasted Nuthatch (1)
- American Crow (1)

I also spotted two deer along Western Ridge, and saw the damage they had done to multiple silver maple saplings. I was also impressed with the indian pipes (both white and pink) and Lycopodium.

Upon reaching sight of Mud Pond, I saw a massive nest - not sure if it's a wasp or hornet, but it's size was impressive. Birds at Mud Pond included:
- American Goldfinch (21 heard, 1 male sighted!)
- American Crow (4 - one kept whining)
- Eastern Wood-Pewee (1)
- Blue Jay (1)
- Common Raven (1)
- Yellow Warbler (2 - another last pair?)
- Cedar Waxwing (6 - they had yellow tail tips)
- Gray Catbird (4)
- Common Yellowthroat (1 female dancing around a small tree right in front of me!)
- Great Blue Heron (2 - this was birding on hard mode, I had to find them within the pads, anyone without binoculars likely would not have seen them)
- Ducks, unknown sp. (13 - they were simply too far away for me to see any identifying marks. However, they had very dark brown plumage that resembled American Black Ducks)
- Canada Goose (3 - by all those ducks)
- Belted Kingfisher (1 - would not sit still, kept flying over the pond, calling)
- Wood Duck (7 in the separated spot of water - 1 female with 6 juveniles!)

I headed back to the area with all the wildflowers. There was birdsfoot trefoil, various ferns (I don't have a fern guide), pokeweed, goldenrod, red clover, mullein, bladder campion, common st. johnswort, yellow wood-sorrel, possibly snapdragons or lobelia (must learn the difference), sweetfern, blueberries, fleabane, yarrow, virginia creeper, buttercups, joe-pye weed, evening primrose, and I got all excited when I positively identified one plant of false solomon's seal, which currently has the pale yellow berries flecked with pink/red.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Great Egret!

I headed out today, drained and sore (thanks, illness), but still determined to find some birds, woo!! My first stop was the Ora Phelps Preserve off Parkhurst Road in Wilton (or Gansevoort, if that appeases you). I'd never been here before, and heard nothing about it, so did not know what to expect. What I can tell you to expect after my visit today is a small area full of all sorts of ferns, quite a few wildflowers, and for one-half of the preserve, a totally jerk dog who lives adjacent to the left side who does not stop barking. So if you're looking for a birding spot, do not go here. If you're looking for wildflowers and ferns, DO go there! And come back and tell me what the yellow flowers with 5 petals are. :P Also, enjoy the one white baneberry, patridgeberry, some brambles that I snacked from, the pretty red dragonflies, and the 'hidden' spot covered with horsetails (Equisetum).

Birds at Ora Phelps Preserve:
- American Goldfinch (6)
- Blue Jay (2)
- American Crow (1)
- Red-eyed Vireo (3 - one alarm calling)
- Black-capped Chickadee (12)
- Hermit Thrush (3 - heard one, saw two - what a treat, I love these birds!)
- American Robin (2)

I felt rather disappointed with my birding there, and felt bored with my regular spots up in Glens Falls, so since I was already near Saratoga I headed over, blaring punk rock and passing right on by the Wilton Wildlife Preserve and shot down Route 50. I headed right to the Bog Meadow Brook Trail, where it has an entrance off Route 29.

Now, I haven't been here since early spring, before all the wildflowers and shrubs were blooming. I, for whatever reason, even despite reading blogs showing otherwise, still seemed to expect the path to be clear and mostly brown and yellow. Oh how surprised I was! The amount of flowers was unbelievable. I was overwhelmed, being unarmed with a guide in a sea of purple, red, white, and yellow. My list for the day contains many of those that I and probably many others are very familiar with, and I was excited to see joe-pye weed, and if it wasn't for it would have taken me a lot longer to find out the interestingly colored flowers I kept seeing twisted around the honeysuckle, with such a great scent, are called 'groundnut.' I probably sniffed every single one that I saw.

Also interesting was the couple that came across me along the trail. The woman had an American accent, but it took me a moment to realize the guy was Australian. And then he told me that's where he's from, when he was asking about the snake he just saw. I asked, "What did it look like?" Black and yellow. He said he was concerned about poisonous snakes, stating that seeing a snake in Australia was usually cause for alarm. He greatly relaxed and was very pleased to find out it was your typical garter snake, totally harmless and a bit shy. I eventually saw 4 of them myself today.

Birds! Oh, this was exciting. This trail has never let me down, though I miss the Red-winged Blackbirds, which are all gone now. But here is what was there today:

- American Goldfinch (15)
- Cedar Waxwing (19 - I feel this was a low count for the actual number of them - they were loving the honeysuckle berries, sitting right in front of me while gulping them down! A few of them had the orange-tip to the tail, the pigmentation from the honeysuckles the cause)
- Black-capped Chickadee (2)
- Gray Catbird (11 - again, a low count - catbirds hide very well in the honeysuckle)
- Mourning Dove (1)
- Sparrow, sp. unknown (1 - it was quite darkly colored, quick-moving, and thus confusing)
- Song Sparrow (1)
- Yellow Warbler (2 - last pair of the season?)
- Great Blue Heron (1 - it was very upset about something, calling repeatedly, so I looked around it with my binoculars and saw a....)
- GREAT EGRET!!! (1 - it's presence really upset the GBH. It eventually flew away from it, landing a short distance away to go fishing. This gave me a great view of it's black legs and feet, helping give some identification clues. It also had no plumes, had a bright orange/yellow bill, and white feathers otherwise. No plumes gives it a juvenile classification! These birds are rare here, and it is likely migrating through from the north!)
- Green Heron (1 - it flew in while I was watching the other heron and the egret! Amazing.)
- Mallard - (1 female flyover, she was noisy)
- Eastern Kingbird (2 came in to see what the egret was, then flew off again)
- Turkey Vulture (1 flying overhead on my way back to my car)

While I'm likely heading out to Moreau Lake tomorrow, the Egret really made my weekend.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Lyme V 2.0

I had a doctor's visit today. I mentioned nothing about Lyme right off, and as soon as I listed all the symptoms, I could see his face turn to intense concern, and immediately he mentioned Lyme Disease. I was impressed, after hearing so many horror stories of oblivious docs, but then again mine has always been awesome and very intelligent (and kind and funny). He seemed even more concerned when even he couldn't find any rash and found out I had full-blown nasty Lyme complete with the bulls-eye last summer. Maybe he was thinking, "Crap, I hope that is not chronic Lyme rather than a new bite's problem," just as I've worried about. And he knew all about the CNS symptoms, and mentioned Bell's Palsy. Plus, my doctor is an avid hiker - he too is at high risk, and he was worried for himself as well. I feel a lot more at ease (well, as much as one can while feeling crappy), and have acquired multiple-weeks-worth of doxycycline, hooray!

I found a potential birding spot the other day, though it is a bit of a drive. I'm not exposing the location right yet, as I want to scope it out first. It's in an extremely quiet spot, and my car was the only one there, so I'm hoping it's not nearly as busy as, say, the Betar Byway. However, sometimes wooded areas aren't as great for birding, so we'll see. If I feel well enough, I might use this weekend to make some drives to areas further out to bird.

More goldfinches are finding increased comfort levels at the feeders. Some chickadees sat mere feet away from me today in the lilacs, calling their alarm calls and making noises that made me imagine I could squeeze them like dog toys. The house wren had been mostly quiet today, except to come out of the box and make the dry rattle at a common grackle who had been at the feeders. The grackle stood still for a moment, then seemed spooked and flew off. The blue jays have been all over the yard, making all sorts of calls, and trying to stay away from the grackle.

I started reading this book 'Life List' written by Olivia Gentile, about the late birder Phoebe Snetsinger. I'm already utterly fascinated. If you're at all a birder with a passion for birds, try to find yourself a copy. You'll immediately recognize the sudden obsession with birds, the passion, and the desire she had to see more.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Little Green Burrs

The feeders were so busy today. The birds seem to love the new location. The old location was prone to getting squirrels climbing up into the feeders (both gray and red squirrels). The feeders are now out in the open, away from shrubs. The birds I have noticed this has negatively affected are the ones who like to be able to quickly hide in brush if they have to, such as the Black-capped Chickadees, American Goldfinches, and Chipping Sparrows. They are all still around, but they aren't at the feeders as much. I did, however, get a good laugh out of watching a male goldfinch today. He was sitting on the other side of a tube feeder, totally out of view, but you could see filler seed shooting in all directions.

Mid-afternoon was the busiest. Also, unfortunately, the new location has attracted more Common Grackles (we only had one juvenile visiting occasionally; today there were four individuals). I scare them off if they are the only ones at the feeders. They're also the ONLY birds I've seen really getting aggressive with the others, and that is why I'm not happy with them. People typically believe that Blue Jays are the bad guys, but the four juveniles we have here tend to back off if another species is near, even if they do seem to get a kick out of bullying the House Wren. There's one bold one who even let the Downy Woodpecker sit 6 inches away. The Downy had just finished the last of the suet and sat on top of the metal holder, watching the Blue Jay picking through some peanuts. They didn't seem to mind each other at all, and it appeared they were merely curious of the activities of the other.

So during this time, the feeders also got a young Tufted Titmouse who sat around and pecked at everything near it (except for other birds). Sitting in the nearest trees were two other Titmice, calling "Peter peter peter!" I wondered if it was the parents keeping an eye on the youngster. There were two American Robins hopping around below. Two Mourning Doves seemed absolutely delighted at the new location, as it is in the shade in the afternoon, and for whatever reason this spot has been a Mourning Dove favorite for years. A male Northern Cardinal visited very briefly, much to my excitement. We rarely have them, as they are well hidden by all the bushy habitat nearby. Both House Wrens perched nearby, one of them constantly making a dry rattle. Ever since the babies were born, that is the only call I've heard out of them. In the little patch of woods across the driveway from the feeders were two White-breasted Nuthatches calling to each other. I love how solitary they can be even when there's a busy flock nearby.

Also spotted, I have no idea what this bird was. I was stumped, and too far away from the feeders by the time it got to them. Bigger than the Downy Woodpecker, seemingly brown plumage, except for a thick white supercilium and black crown that gave the appearance of wearing a yarmulke, and having what appeared to be a dark gray cone-shaped bill (like that of a grosbeak). VERY strange-looking. It also made a single, brief squeak here and there that sounded like a Hairy or Pileated Woodpecker. I could only think of it as a juvenile, with the brown and strange appearance. But species? No idea. I hope my eyes were playing tricks on me.

I sifted through more of the wildflower patch today. Distracted again by all the delicious-scented Sweetfern. I watched some sort of large, orange butterfly with beige spots on it's lower underwing lazily float around searching for something sweet. And then I spotted, just on the other side of a low rock wall, all by it's lonesome in cool, moist soil, a viney sort of plant with weird heart-shaped leaves with two lobes at the base. The stems seemed an odd purplish-brown from where I was. I couldn't help but to have a closer look, it was too interesting. Upon closer inspect I could see bunches of green oval berries and other bunches of bright red ones that resembled tiny cherry tomatoes. The shade of red made me think, "Uh oh, not edible." Peeking around at the rest of the plant, I found a tiny bunch of delicate purple flowers with protruding yellow stamens, the purple petals furled backwards. Solanum dulcamara! Woody nightshade. Definitely berries I did not want to eat, nor the rest of that plant. I was so excited. I can't recall the last time I had seen one, but it is a name I was familiar with. People I've known who are interested in edibles have always told me about the dreaded nightshade, haha. I wandered through the wooded patch nearby and found two other fairly good-sized plants of it, one only bearing unripened berries, the other a tiny stem with a tiny grouping of those purple stars.

I also found one pokeweed plant (I can't help but to find them ugly plants). The buttercups around here look absolutely awful. Maybe they are just dying. I also found a lot more St. Johnswort, and the woods are loaded with blooming yellow wood-sorrel. I'm so tired of pulling it up all around the rest of the yard! There's also a plant I have yet to ID that every year leaves my shoelaces and pants covered in tiny green soft burrs. My terrier's fur gets covered in them.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Wrote Too Soon!

I just saw one of the House Wrens right outside my window. It was running around the yard searching under some bushes for an insect (and found one). Yippy!

I was also pleasantly surprised when running along the sweetfern. I smelled something very fragrant and a bit spicy, stopped in my tracks, and sniffed one of them. It smelled like it'd make a tasty tea!

Twilight Zone? Eclipse? Full Moon?

Well, there's at least two of those going on in two days (yes, on August 6th is the Full Sturgeon Moon, and there is a penumbral lunar eclipse). I haven't checked the TV listings yet for the third. Things are just weird around here today. Not only do I still feel ill (of course), but I got offered a part-time job that I didn't expect to hear from until Friday, forcing me to make an immediate decision between that job and a full-time job I have been sure I wouldn't last in for more than a few weeks. A panic attack, some fear that I was making mistakes, and I set everything in stone with a few calls. Maybe that wasn't weird enough for you, however. While I was on the phone with one of these jobs, I got an incoming long-distance call. I got it, and found out it was the new intern for the internship I did last summer, calling about where I may have left raw data sheets when I exited the position in August of 2008. Whaaat? She was very nice, and I tried to be helpful. The nature of the call was so strange though. I really thought I had handed them in to the coordinator.

I'm not sure why I am telling you this! But these are the things distracting me from birding. All this chaos, every day lately. I can't totally complain. I like excitement and strangeness.

No true birding today, although I'm actually birding all the time. I saw an American Crow picking through a discarded McDonald's bag on a rural road. On my walk in downtown Glens Falls to get to the library, I spotted a few House Sparrows near Glen Street. I saw about 10 dark grey-blue and white flying overhead. I have seen this a few times this year, and wondered what birds they could be. Today I realized, they were simply your typical Rock Dove (pigeon). You can tell I don't live in a city! Not that there aren't pigeons in Fort Ann. In fact, there's two that hang around the actual town center. But not in my neck of the woods.

The area seems sadly absent of the other garbage-pickers, the Ring-billed Gulls. They like K-Mart and the Queensbury Burger King. Not today while I drove by. In fact, I noticed today has been awfully quiet bird-wise. Yes, I saw those above, but I've been home most of today and briefly heard a few of the juvenile Blue Jay gang individuals. I have not heard nor seen a single House Wren, only one Chipping Sparrow, and nothing else. Most days it's a bird party around here!

So I felt a little lonely when I took my newly acquired wildflower field guides out to the yard (Wildflowers of the Adirondacks; Wildflowers of Maine, NH, and VT), sat nearby any flower I saw, and flipped away. I'm a wildflower newb. I'm not sure if I can approach wildflowers as I did birds. I don't recall ever feeling so overwhelmed with a bird field guide or even just staring at a bird as I do with a flower. There are those few I can always ID, such as jewelweed, white baneberry, spotted knapweed, smartweed, milkweed, yarrow, purple loosestrife, and buttercups. Note that most of those are wetland plants - I took a great wetland course at college. But there were a few today that I had an easy time with and even got excited to realize certain ones were in the yard: common St. Johnswort, common fleabane, birdsfoot trefoil, common mullein, and possible dwarf snapdragons.

Flipping through the book, there were those that were like old friends but whose names I had forgotten: bladder campion, Deptford pink, and I also suspect partridge-berry, but there's only leaves right now.

Also noticed the goldenrod is now blooming on roadsides! It's a favorite of mine.

Monday, August 3, 2009

House Wren Family; Sickness

For about a month now, I've watched one House Wren, then two take over both holes of a nest box (and it looks like maybe they shoved some sticks into the tiny box below as well) and finally decide to use the top hole. I watched them fail to shove 6 inch long sticks into those tiny holes and look around wondering where the stick went after it fell onto the ground. I've watched them nearly get attacked by Blue Jays and Common Grackles and perch on the ornamental metal windmill, wings spread out, bill pointed at the sky, calling as loudly as possible. I've heard them sing every day for all of that time. They have become familiar neighbors, ones I say hi to in passing every morning.

So surprised I was when I woke up on Saturday to hear what seems like 3 or 4 babies peeping hungrily from that top hole. It felt like Christmas. Both parents were extremely busy all day both days of the weekend looking for food. I was pleased to see all of the pesky insects in their bills (they seemed not so desiring of the insects I like). It was neat watching them dart under the parked cars, under bushes, in the wood pile, any little crevice where a bug might have been hiding. Then one of them would stand guard on the feeder while the other would perch on the windmill, shaking down it's wings before entering the box from which tiny cries could be heard. I hope I am available when the wrens finally fledge. Last summer, I helped band a noisy family of House Wrens, and there is just something special about that species.

Today I attended an early going-away party for the two interns, Kate and Taryn, at the Wilton Wildlife Preserve. Their terms at the WWPP are up later this August. I will miss them both, they have both been so kind. It is weird to think the experiences I had this spring there will never happen with the same energy again. But I am glad that they both seem to be excited about where they are headed in their lives, though I could sense Taryn's nervousness of not having anything lined up yet. But she'll be okay, as she is quite resilient and perseveres.

An Indigo Bunting sat outside and sang for most of the time we were out there (from 5 to 7 PM). There were also approximately 4-6 Tree Swallows bubbling overhead. One other person seemed to tune into them for a bit, and I thought, "Ahhh, a kindred spirit."

I was also delighted to see that someone had photographed the Delegan Pond osprey! I've already forgotten the name, but whoever it was, has talent.


I am unsure of when my next outing will be. For 4-5 days now I have been suffering, and I'm not quite sure what it is, but I don't like what it seems to be. The symptoms all bring back memories of those I had with Lyme Disease last summer. Yes, it's absolutely possible that I've come down with it again, knowingly having been bitten 3 times earlier this year, and being outside in the woods and flowers so much. I just feel absolutely miserable. So much joint pain, sore muscles, both types of pain migrating throughout my body, mildly stiff neck, other parts becoming stiff after a short period of not moving, feeling like my muscles are on fire (you know how really hot flames look like coming off of something? That's how my skin feels). Dizziness. Periods of nausea. See, flu-like, arthritis-like symptoms, but definitely not the flu. I visit the doctor on Friday, but I am so anxious about being told it is stress (not that my particular doctor is that much of a jerk) or that everything will hinge on whether there is a rash (even if it's Lyme, a rash does not appear in somewhere near 50% of cases). I can't think of anything else it could be. RA comes close but some of the symptoms are not RA.

Just...ouch. I think I might go crawl under my desk into fetal position.