Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Halloween pupdate

No, there's no costume for Luka this year; he's cute enough without one. Scary is how quickly he's growing and getting near strong enough to pull me off my feet if he so chooses. At almost 5 months, he's a big boy; all bony elbows and long velvet ears. Most of his growth this past month seems to have been in the torso; he's gotten longer rather than taller and looks like some sort of hound dog rather than a Lab most times.

His favorite spot to perch is still in the windowsill behind the couch. I took his photo there this afternoon while we waited for some trick-or-treaters to arrive. None ever did and it's just as well because there's no candy in the house. I'm not sure what's going on with the kids in the neighborhood, but we haven't had trick-or-treaters for a few years.

Keeping this pup exercised enough to behave himself is still a challenge. I'd have him at the dog park every day if he didn't get filthy dirty at every visit. There's an acre of grass, but the dogs romp and play in the dirt at the entrance. Most days it's near midnight by the time I get around to a good long walk with him and we wander through the quiet neighborhood and slip into the park to watch the moon and listen for screech owls or the neighborhood great-horned pair.

He's a great shoe thief and gets an inordinate amount of joy from removing the laces on a pair of sneakers. He's been scolded for that so many times, but it only seems to add to his joy at doing it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

An angry blue darter

Susan pretty much stole my thunder, but I'll go ahead anyway and torture you with more about the Cape May Banding Project. Part of the fun in watching hawks is learning to identify them in the field. Most often we get only a fleeting glance that offers little more than a general impression of the bird's size and shape, with little or no detail visible as it disappears into the distance.

The banding demonstrations at Cape May Point State Park offer those of us who are drawn to birds of prey the chance to see some of those details up close. Birds of prey have become a popular study among birders and there are plenty of books to help with identifying them, but can't compare to the thrill of seeing one up close. The point of the banding demonstrations is to engage the public and generate support for the project; the purpose of the banding itself is a bit more far-reaching and long-term.

Last fall when I wrote a bit about the
monarch tagging project, a commenter here questioned the ethics of tagging butterflies. I think the same criticism might be made for banding hawks if we fail to consider the importance of the science behind it. The capture of migrant hawks is routine at many hotspots throughout the world; Cape May isn't unique in that respect, and the numbers banded through the years are quite large. The data gained can help to answer important questions about population dynamics and provide insight to understand why some species are in decline.

The name Blue Darter is an old nickname for the Cooper's Hawk and refers to the bluish-gray on an adult hawk's back. This cranky one is a juvenille showing the typical brownish-streaked breast and belly.

I felt about how this bird looks going back to work today until I found out that I had won $50 in the baseball pool for the World Series!

Monday, October 29, 2007


Most important is the sea and a beach empty of people. Shorebirds wheel in the far distance trailing their shadows along the shoreline. The haze at the horizon suggests gannets or scoters tumbling into themselves above the breakers. Somewhere behind is the dune forest with its hollies and bayberries. The autumn sun vaguely warms the chilly salt air; you wish for another layer but the car is too far off to go back. A walk along the shore is a sustaining ritual for many. The elemental beauty of the sea's edge captivates the newcomer just as readily as it attaches itself to the memory of those of us who call it home.

Someday soon I'll be in the mood to share pics and tell stories, but for the moment I'm caught in that melancholy state of post-vacation-let-down.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Two hours and a world away

It isn't easy explaining the *Cape May Experience* to someone who hasn't been here. If you've gone to other birding festivals, you might have an inkling, but I doubt it's comparable. The first time I came for an Autumn Weekend and then had to leave and go home, I was almost in tears for most of the long drive up the Parkway. Granted, I don't get out much and was new to birding, but really, there's something special about Cape May.

I hope that Susan, Susan and Delia got an idea of that special something and can maybe convey it better than I with their posts about the weekend. It's not just about the spectacle of bird migration that's so obvious here. Part of it is that there are so many familiar faces and a sense of connection, even among strangers, and the easy way we find common ground to share a laugh, a story and the simple comfort of a warm car at dusk beside the hawkwatch.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Snapshot from the Cape

"In the sweet by-and-by, we shall meet on that beautiful shore."

Friday, October 26, 2007

Thinking of Lynne at Hasty Brook

Please send some love Lynne's way. Her mom passed away today.

Greetings from Cape May!

We've all arrived safely - a bit wet and bedraggled - but we're here. The wireless connection at the hotel is painfully slow, but I wanted to share this less-than-stellar shot of the first bird that found me this afternoon. Now can someone tell me what variety of bittern this is, before I unpack the field guides?

More later...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Autumn in our hands

Thanks to everyone who took the time to send pics! We've made a lovely mosaic of fall color, don't you think?

Hand and leaf ID's are as follows (clockwise from top left): Redbud, I think (from the Net), Piracantha berries from Donna who doesn't have much color yet, Maple from Nina, Pin Oak from Mary, Locust from John, Maple from Ruth, Maple leaves (from the Net), Striped Maple from Al (also called the Moosewood Maple or the Goosefoot Maple which I can totally see - thanks Mojoman - I learned a new ID with that name!), Staghorn Sumac from Ruthie J., Larch needles from me, Sourwood from Jayne, and Dogwood from Larry.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

If I weren't going to Cape May...

The Breeder's Cup is coming to town, and if not for the Cape May Weekend, I'd be there! This is the first time the event has been held in NJ, and it's practically in my backyard, but I'm gonna miss it.


I've never been to a horse race in my life and would probably hate it. But I'd still love the chance to go and see the horses and be a part of the excitement.

Photo from the Asbury Park Press

Monday, October 22, 2007

You might want to pack that bikini

It's warm here at the Jersey Shore! I snapped this pic around 10 am this morning at Ocean Grove (that's Asbury Park in the distance) - this lady had the perfect spot on the beach for her workout. The locals all know that September is THE month for perfect beach weather without the crowds, but late October?
The sky is that perfect shade of blue and it's just warm enough for a nice nap in the sun. One nice thing about my new job is that I have *field days* when I have to make home visits. I don't much enjoy poking around in client's homes, but I do really like the chance to be out of the office a few days a week. In between appointments this morning I took a walk on the boardwalk and enjoyed the warm breezes with Monarchs floating along the dunes. What a beautiful day it was.
The rugosa roses are still blooming and I was tempted to pick a bag of rose hips for jelly. Ocean Grove has a long history as a religious camp town and Sunday services are still held in a little pavilion on the beach with a view of the dunes and the sea.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

I'm such a book dork

The people at Barnes and Noble must love me. I think they dig out the oldest and least-likely-to-sell books and pile them up in a pretty seasonal display in some far off corner of the store just hoping for someone like me to wander by. I zoom past the popular fiction-of-the-moment and go right for the dorky nature books.

This little book is my latest find and it's been getting a fair amount of use for the last week or so. It has nice pics of leaves, berries, and nuts to help me know what I'm seeing out in the woods. I'm not very good with trees and thought the fall color or seeds of certain trees might give away their identity more easily now than in the summer when everything is just so much green.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Fall color

"A tree in Autumn is a lovely sight. One tree alone can concentrate the beauty of a whole woodland, leaf by leaf and branch by branch, as one flower can give the essence of a whole garden. The beauty of the turning woods is not alone in the scarlet of a maple grove or the sun-gold glow of a hillside stand of beeches. It is in the subtle change that creeps along the leaves themselves, from point to point and vein to vein. A woodland in full color is awesome as a forest fire, in magnitude at least; but a single tree is like a dancing tongue of flame to warm the heart.

Watch even a single branch outside a certain window, and you are watching the color of change. One morning there is a spot of yellow on a certain leaf, yellow which has not yet quite achieved the glow of gold. Another day and that glow may be there. It spreads. The spot becomes a splash of gold, edged perhaps with a thin line of scarlet. It creeps down the leaf between the veins, and then across the veins; and the scarlet edging widens into a band and then a border. Meanwhile other leaves have begun to turn, some to gold, some to dull bronze, some to blood-red beauty. All on the same branch, yet no two alike either in pattern or coloration. And finally it is a branch as full of color as the whole woodland.

Thus comes Autumn, leaf by leaf and tree by tree; thus the woods become a hooked rug flung across the hills with all its folds and all its colors as they came to hand. But pause beside one tree and look, and you can see Autumn on all the hills. Pick up one leaf of those already cast adrift and you hold Autumn in your hand.
--Hal Borland, Sundial of the Seasons. Image grabbed from the Web and tweaked.

Do me a favor, will ya? Find a tree that you admire dressed in fall color. Take a pic of your hand holding a fallen leaf and send it to me. I'll post them here to make it feel like Autumn despite the 75 degree temps. This'll keep me occupied for the next few days while I anticipate the weekend in Cape May. But do it quick - deadline is Wednesday at 6 pm. Use the close-up setting on your cameras. It'll be pretty. My email is lc-hardy at comcast dot net.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Wild geese

"There are voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the world."
--Ralph Waldo Emerson

Is it Autumn for you yet? Have you heard the geese calling as they fly overhead in the night?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Luka, the graduate

We passed! We passed! We made it through puppy school! Without ever having to sit in the corner with the dunce cap!

Tonight was our last night of puppy class and we had our big test, every pup got a bully stick for passing with flying colors, got a silly graduation hat, and then had their pic taken. What fun!

We'll be going back in another month or so to start the intermediate class and until then I think we'll have some practicing to do. We really enjoyed the experience and I can't say enough good things about the program at PetSmart. I'm not so nuts about other things they do, but this was worthwhile and fun.

I'm sure
Luka will miss the doggy friends he made (especially Whiskey), but hopefully some of his classmates will be in the next level. The opportunity for them all to socialize and play in a safe environment was the most important aspect of the class, I think.

This last is a pic of all of us - just five dogs, but lots of people! Really, it was great to see the kids working just as hard as their pups.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day

Today is Blog Action Day when bloggers are writing about one important issue - the environment. All our blogs have different agendas and readerships, but the idea is to write a post which pertains to some environmental issue. To learn more or read other Blog Action Day posts, just click on the image to the left. Some friends from the blogroll who are also participating include Pure Florida, Hawk Owl's Nest, and Dharma Bums.

Seeing as I'm not much in the mood for preaching at you about something you hopefully already feel is important, I thought I would instead reminisce a bit about one of the ways that, as a kid, I was introduced to the great outdoors. I grew up in the 70's and most years we took family vacations that revolved around the water - either the ocean or a lake up north, often in Maine or upstate New York. There were no fan
cy hotels that I remember, just a cabin in the woods or, most often, our pop-up camper. Just looking at these pics brings back happy memories. I loved that camper! The drive to wherever we were going seemed to last forever, as did the anticipation for the trip. The morning of leaving, my dad always seemed to leave all the details of getting the camper ready to the very last minute - hitching that thing up to his beautiful shiny Cadillac was quite a feat and never seemed to go right. He was always very grumpy starting out on vacation.

I don't rememb
er very many specific details about any of these trips - only the feel of the sun, the sand that was always in my kid-sized bed in the camper, the year we drove to Florida in the rain with the leaky window in the Cadillac and those huge bugs! My mom loved to sunbathe and spent days by the water slathered in oil, while dad with his freckled-skin had to be careful. I tagged along with my big brothers, building sandcastles or tooling around in this big orange boat. Fun times!

When I was older I went camping with the girl scouts or later with friends. I haven't been camping in years, but have all the gear in the attic, purchased years ago in hopes of getting the DH to give it a try. I love camping and think it's a great way to spend time together as a family and enjoy the outdoors. There's something about sleeping outdoors with all the sounds and smells of nature that is a great learning tool, I think, in that it replaces fear for the outdoors with comfort and curiosity. A good thing for kids today who spend so much time indoors or glued to some electronic gadget. Leave all the stuff behind and sit around a campfire and
tell stories instead!

The NWF sponsors the Great American Backyard Campout each year in June. Pitch a tent or set up that old pop-up in your driveway and get a kid playing outside for a change.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

One more from the decoy show

Apparently, even dogs are sometimes fooled by the decoys. And yes, I'm proud to say that this is not Luka!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Night sounds

Fall is slowly disrobing summer of her great green canopy and hushing the symphony of bird and insect life. Night sounds have diminished; there is only the slowing drone of crickets and the occasional soliloquy of a moonlit mockingbird. Instead of singing to an intended mate, as he did at night for most of the summer, his outburts now seem to be of complaint. I find myself wondering what it is that wakes him up like this, so indignant and bad-tempered. Is it the chill wind or is he startled awake by some unseen predator?

Very early in the morning, before dawn out with the pup, I sometimes hear the soft contact calls of the neighborhood cardinals and chip notes that come from the sky - no love songs these; they speak of cold and coming hunger. Within an hour the first chickadee is at the sunflower feeder and the mockingbird in his appointed place in the holly tree. Only the odd angle of the sunlight gives away that it's no longer summer, no longer the season of growth and abundance and love songs.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Just dropped in

This carving was our splurge at the decoy show this year. The Blackburnian is my favorite spring warbler lately and I like the way the bird is perched on this old tool, looking like it just dropped in there. I can't remember if I saw a Blackburnian this spring - it's kind of nice to have one there on the mantel.

It might be hard to appreciate from this darkish photo, but the whole carving is of wood, even the tool parts that are made to look like metal. I think it's called a *block and pulley* and is some sort of antique nautical tool. Neat, huh?

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Help me understand this

I'm not a cyclist, so I must be missing something, but can someone help me to understand why the *serious* cyclists won't use the multi-million dollar bike path at Sandy Hook? It's plenty long and wide and has wonderful views of the bay and the holly forest and the ocean dunes. They even routed it through some of our favorite birding spots at the Hook - yet those darn people won't use it and instead insist on putting themselves out in the middle of traffic like they own the road! Do they have some sort of a death wish? Is playing in busy shore traffic part of the allure of cycling?

Please help me understand.

Saturday, October 06, 2007


"This curious world which we inhabit is more wonderful than it is convenient; more beautiful than it is useful; it is more to be admired and enjoyed than used." - Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Things to do at Cape May

Count the skimmers!





Black Skimmers stage on the beaches of Cape May in the fall and the flock grows to number in the hundreds as the season progresses. They are most often found resting on the beach during the day near the Convention Center - be sure to look for them, but keep a respectful distance for this endangered species, please!

Have you heard about the first-ever Bird Blogger Conference at this year's Bird Show in Cape May?


In case you live under a rock (or are just not obsessed with birds like the rest of us) you can read the details
here and here. Sounds fun, doesn't it? Think about joining us while there's still time, okay? Cape May is not as far away as you might think and even if it is, it's well worth the trip. I'm lucky to live within a two-hour drive of one the five best birding spots in the country, but there's more to Cape May than birds and I'd love to see you enjoy the beauty of South Jersey before it's all paved over and filled up with shopping malls.

The time around Columbus Day always finds me
under the weather and in need of a bit of Cape May's medicine. There's something about the salt air and a day off from the routine that works wonders for my mood... so I made a quick trip today to be able to share some of the magic with you. Are you ready to join us yet?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Four month pupdate

The vet tonight compared Luka to Shaquille O'Neal who is 7'1" and wears a size 23 shoe. Uh oh.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Play date?

I've overheard parents setting up *play dates* for their kids for the last few years and have to hide the smirk on my face, but when a stranger tried to arrange a playdate for their pup with Luka I didn't know what to think! I feel like it's bad enough that we need to schedule playtime into our kids already overscheduled lives, but are we to do the same for our pets? Whatever happened to turning the kids (or dogs) loose in the neighborhood to amuse themselves?


Truthfully, I don't believe it's wise to do either. Mostly I think we go too far to pamper and shelter our kids as much as we do. Granted, I don't have kids, so what do I know, but we all survived our childhoods, didn't we? Do we need to do the same to our pets? Can you believe that I had a stranger chastise me for having Luka at a street fair a few weeks ago because it was warm and "his feet must be burning up on that hot pavement!" Well gosh - get the animal cruelty people after me!

These same people would likely turn a blind eye to the homeless person they see each morning at the train station or the elderly relative struggling to maintain their independence. Do you realize that Americans spend 40 billion a year on our pets - to pamper them and send them to doggy day care and to feed them premium holistic food? Yet we have no sympathy for the underemployed, the children who live in poverty, or the elderly. Is it just me, or are our priorities fouled up?

I'm as guilty as the next person when it comes to spoiling my pets, but at least I think I recognize it for what it is. The NY Times article points out the hypocrisy in the choices we make - spending money to buy Halloween costumes for our pampered pets while countless other abandoned or unlovable pets are euthanised in shelters each year. Shouldn't we extend our concern to members of our own species just as willingly? Or perhaps more so?

Maybe it's only the (newly minted) social worker in me coming out. What do you think?

Monday, October 01, 2007

Great Bay Marshes

I often think I'm spoiled to live where I do, with so much beauty within an hour or two of driving. The ocean is just minutes away and I suppose that makes me take it somewhat for granted. At this season of the year, I don't think there's much more beautiful than the salt marsh. The seaside goldenrod is blooming, as are the big white bouquets of the groundsel trees. The really large marshes are a bit of a trip for me - Delaware Bay or south to the barrier islands stretching from Barnegat Bay to Cape May.

A return visit to the decoy show on Sunday left with me an hour or two before heading home to explore the salt marsh at Great Bay near Tuckerton. I wasn't looking for birds, just enjoying the scenery along the 5 mile road into the pristine marsh, passing salt ponds and little inlets and channels along the way. I found a sandy beach before the first bridge where Luka could run through the shallows while I studied the skies and the passing Monarchs stopping to feed on goldenrod. There was a noisy flock of Boat-tailed grackles near to a ridiculously-narrow wooden plank bridge and a few Great Egrets stalking the marsh grasses. I was surprised not to see more of them - one of the little creeks close to home has had at least 3 dozen egrets feeding in the early morning when the tide is right. I keep reminding myself to stop and photograph them before they've gone.

For those of you coming to the Fall Weekend - Tuckerton and nearby Brig is within driving distance from Cape May and may be worth a stop if you're coming from the north. I don't usually stop here on my way south to Cape May, prefering instead to head west to the Delaware Bayshore and visit the marshes there.

I wonder if this will be anyone's first chance to dip their toes into the Atlantic Ocean - Susan? Lynne?