Did you ever chance to hear the midnight flight of birds passing through the air and darkness overhead, in countless armies, changing their early or late summer habitat? It is something not to be forgotten... You could hear "the rush of mighty wings," but oftener a velvety rustle, long drawn out... occasionally from high in the air came the notes of the plover.
--Walt Whitman, Specimen Days
The warming March sun and a faintly whistled "peep lo" lured me to Sandy Hook this weekend to greet the newly arrived Piping Plovers. Courting Woodcock the evening before, an Osprey making a bee-line up the coast and the season's first Phoebe completed the day.
So there's been this huge flock of Scaup resting at the base of the Oceanic Bridge between Rumson and Middletown the last couple weeks... quite the spectacle for local folks who never pay attention to such a thing.
Busy with tennis and lunch dates, you know.
I was glad to find people there, glad to find "normal" people curious about this big conglomeration of ducks that seemed to appear from nowhere.
The great mass of them were Scaup sp. with a couple Red Heads mixed in, Brant and Ruddies at the fringes of the flock.
While I "know" that these are mostly Greater Scaup, I wondered what wisdom Crossley might have to offer...
Lesser on the left... Greater on the right
Greater is known to form large flocks in winter in coastal estuaries.
Frequently mixes with very similar Lesser Scaup.
Sometimes obvious, but at other times separating from Lesser a real head-scratcher.
Iridescent green head often appears black, but rarely purple.
I finally saw that purple iridescence on a couple Lessers on Lake Como this weekend and it's so very obvious when the light is right...
(one hardly needs to pay attention to the bulgy cheeks of the Greaters that Crossley mentions!)
I'm enjoying sorting through the local waterfowl with the new Crossley Guide... have you bought a copy yet? What do you think?
To some, the mention of West Virginia conjures images of moonshine, hillbillies and mountains leveled by coal companies. The string of small, almost threadbare towns one finds tucked into the hills in the southern part of the state only reinforces the reputation of the place as somewhat benighted.
Yet I keep wanting to go back.
There are no life birds for me there. As a birder, you can understand the equation necessary between limited travel funds and the possibility of life birds added to one's list.
Birds are not really why I go.
There's some other appeal in the homespun spirit of the New River Birding and Nature Festival that draws me back late each Spring. It's run in such a way that it does end up feeling like summer camp for birders, as Bill Thompson says about it. It's funny to me now to remember a similar feeling before I ever even went to this festival for the first time.
The field trip groups are kept wonderfully small; intimate, even, compared with most popular birding festivals. The trip leaders, besides being experts, are personable and enthusiastic and actually learn your name. Profits from the festival benefit local schools.
These are important things in my book.
This is the perfect festival for The Flock, too. They spread each of us out among the daily field trips - probably so that no one group will be subjected to the bunch of us together - and give us the chance to spend evenings together at dinner and the presentation. Then they secret us away for the night in a farmhouse in the middle of some marsh where no one can hear our silly antics.
I've made lifelong friends there. I've seen gorgeous birds and beautiful sights shrouded in mist. There are hillsides drenched in wildflowers. There's biscuits and strawberry jam at every breakfast. A porch swing and Susan.
Is there any wonder why I go back?
There's still a couple openings for this year's festival... join us! If not this year, do put it on your list for someday soon.