Monday, March 31, 2008

Birding in Delia's backyard

Susan seems to think I have all these fabulous photos to share with you from our visit with Delia. Well... I don't. I carried that darn camera with me everywhere and was distracted with laughing most of the time and didn't get very many nice pics. But, there is this one from Delia's backyard - isn't it fabulous? As much as I love being near to the shore, I can easily imagine myself happy to have a view like this out my kitchen window. I've no idea what type of trees those are up on top of that mountain, but if they ever turn green or in the fall are colored with reds and yellows, and oranges - wow! Delia called that a 'hill' rather than a mountain, by the way, but to me used to the coast it all seemed pretty spectacular. Please click on the pic to enlarge!

It was really neat to see the places that Delia blogs about. It felt to me like she
lives in the middle of nowhere, but that must come from my being too accustomed to traffic and noise and people. Made me wonder what in the world they do with themselves! But then I remembered when I first started reading Delia's blog and she talked about building her own scope from scratch for birding, and then making an adapter for her camera for the scope she finally bought, and her posts about moon and starwatching, and all the time she spends birding in the marsh that's in her backyard. Anyway... it seems like a nice life there in the 'hills' - even if there's only one Dunkin Donuts within a hundred miles and you have to pump your own gas!

(Don't ask - I'm sure Susan will embarass me with that story - even if she doesn't have photos!)

So, we spent a couple hours ambling through the marsh, talking and laughing like old friends - which felt really nice - and doing the things that birders and naturalists like to do. Only we weren't really serious about it, or didn't bother trying to pretend to be serious. We just had fun in that easy way that near strangers can when they share a common i
nterest. We scared up lots of ducks with our laughter, and thought of Lynne when we saw a TV, puzzled over some bloody feathers along the trail, spotted a stinker for Mary as it flew over the marsh, Susan and Delia chimped their way through a pile of canine scat - while I kept my fingers clean behind the camera! Good, clean fun... but for the picking through poop - come on girls! Yuck.

In the end, I came away feeling like a 10 year-old, jumping through mudpuddles with the silliness of it all. Who in their right mind drives all that way to show support for a friend, misses the main reason for going to begin with, and then is perfectly happy with a few hours of backyard birding and wet muddy feet before a long ride back home? (Click here for the story and opposite view of this pic.)

What I mean to say is that I'm so often amazed with the friendships that've developed as a result of this silly blogging we all do, yet furthering those friendships beyond just reading one another's blogs feels like a very natural extension of the connections we've made here. I think to others who don't 'get it', it must all seem pretty peculiar, yet we bloggers all carry around little bits of each other and one another's lives, don't we? Going out of our way a bit and meeting in 'real life' makes it feel almost like a homecoming of sorts. Or a 20 year class reunion... you remember these people, but you're surprised with how your memory of them has changed since you last saw them (or read their most recent post.)


Sunday, March 30, 2008

The birding life

PA-style! Yes, that is an outhouse in Delia's backyard, and no, we didn't spend the day in those chairs looking at it.


The marsh behind it had more wood ducks than I've seen in my life, plus pintails and newly arrived tree swallows. There were even peepers peeping this morning. A great day... more pics tomorrow.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Over the mountains and through the woods...

to Happy Valley PA... Susan and I are here in State College to attend Delia and Kat's commitment ceremony and do a bit of marsh birding in the morning.

The drive out was a mad dash to arrive in time for the ceremony without having to leave home at dawn. Driving along the interstate at 80 miles an hour, most of the view was a blur of mountains and trees, with occasional valley views of pretty dairy farms with silos and big red barns. I'd imagine it to be gorgeous in the fall.

Parking problems caused both Susan and I to miss the ceremony, despite having arrived within plenty of time. Once the ceremony started, no one was allowed in, even though I begged and pleaded that I'd driven for 5 hours. Bummer!

Anyway, we did get to the party afterwards where I snapped this pic of the cake cutting. Then an early dinner in a local pub with a few of Delia and Kat's friends. We talked birds and made fun of each other's accents. (Mostly they made fun of mine - there's no such thing as a Jersey accent; it's all the rest of you people that talk funny!)

Tomorrow morning should be fun; Delia's planned to show us around a few of her favorite local spots for birding. Plus, Barrack Obama will be speaking at the college as part of his "Road to Change" bus tour of Pennsylvania. I'd love to have the time for that, but there's that drive home...

Friday, March 28, 2008


I watch the Star Magnolia in the front garden for a sign that it's ready to burst and become magical. It's pretty enough in the winter; the bare gray branches make some interesting shadows across the sunporch when the light is right.

For most of the year it's just a big green bush; overshadowed and outprettied by the American Holly beside it. In early spring, with everything else shouting yellow, is when I fall in love with it. There's something breathtaking about rounding the corner to home and seeing first this haze of white flowers. The show doesn't last for long and the flowers often are marred by rain or freezing temps, but it's beautiful however short-lived.

Spring is slowly ambling its way through the garden here; forsythia and daffs are blooming, the quince is in bud and just Wednesday I found the purplish tips of Virginia Bluebells and Bleeding Hearts forcing their way out of the dark in Cricket's Garden.

Peepers are peeping and Phoebes are back, as is one of the local pair of Osprey, spotted just today on its cell tower nest by the train station. It's curious to me the way spring signs seem so long in coming, yet when they do come, the progression is so predictable and welcome and right. The world is opening up again.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Vanity of vanities

It sounded simple. So deceptively simple that I should've known it would turn nightmarish. We'd finally decided to spend the money to have central air put in the house. A couple thousand dollars, a couple holes in the ceilings for vents, duct work in the attic, the husband off from work for a couple days to supervise the AC guys. Simple.

That last bit was the dangerous part. While the husband was home to supervise, I was off chasing birds, and no one was here to supervise the husband. A husband with lots of time on his hands. Idle hands. Hands that have been itching for years to get their muscle into remodeling the bathroom. The one bathroom. The only bathroom in this little house.

Aside from my almost total inability to make decisions concerning anything as important as paint color and tile dimensions and faucet finishes, there was the stumbling block of this being the only bathroom in our house. That one in the picture up there, all torn apart. How do you manage a bathroom remodel while continuing to live there? We hadn't figured that out and I thereby had the perfect excuse to continue to postpone any horrid decorating decisions.

Right. So everything seemed fine here when I got in from work at the end of day one of the AC installation. There was lots of banging and dust and strange men roaming about the place, but fine nevertheless.

Then I went away to chase birds.

There were periodic updates from the husband. The first inkling of a problem was the report of a crack in the dining room ceiling and vague mention of a leak *somewhere in the bathroom* discovered via a puddle on the workbench in the basement below. My panic was assuaged by assurances that it was a quick fix - a seal on the toilet - nothing complicated.

The quick fix turned into a need to replace parts of the subfloor damaged by said leak.

The next phone call had me picking out vanities from memory. See... there was another leak, in the wall, behind the sink... so we'll have to tear the wall down to fix the leak. And while the wall's down, we might as well replace the vanity, right?

Months ago we had walked through that aisle in Home Depot. And could I remember which one I liked?

At this point I wasn't sure what I was more panicked about: the bathroom being torn apart or my husband making decorating decisions on his own.


I got in yesterday to find a new bathtub in my driveway and sheetrock in my living room. As I write, the husband is tearing down walls and cursing and mumbling about replacing a windowsill. Luka is having a ball, snarfing up bits of fallen wall and the odd nail. And I'm wondering where I'll shower for work in the morning.

But hey... the AC went in without a hitch.


Monday, March 24, 2008

Prettier dead stuff

The American Museum of Natural History was also featuring a temporary tropical butterfly conservatory that I really was interested in seeing. I was hoping for a small dose of warmth and flowers and butterflies.

Outside the vivarium were a few collections of mounted specimens; also dead, but much prettier than those I told you about the other day. Something about seeing those bunnies pinned up that way really creeped me out. The butterflies didn't bother me though. I have no idea what any of the ones in this first pic are; the orange-ish one on the right looks like some variety of anglewing, but who knows? I don't remember these being labeled, even.

These look much more familiar - and of course, they're labeled! The vivarium was kinda neat - smallish, but with lots of free-flying butterflies and moths. The space is kept at 80 degrees or so and at least 100% humidity, so with my sweater and wool coat I was fairly uncomfortable after 2 minutes or so. I would have liked to see a nicer variety of flowers, there were only pentas that I remember, plus lots of greenery. The butterflies have feeding stations similar to hummingbird feeders, plus there's fresh fruit available to those species which prefer their food au natural.


The light was harsh for photographs and it seemed like the prettiest butterflies never stayed still for a photo, but this guy finally settled in. I think he's called a Cairn's Birdwing and is from Australia - the topside of his wings is the most striking shade of neon green - I found a pic here to give you an idea, since it was impossible for me to get a pic while he was fluttering about.

I have no clue what this one is? Lovely eyespots, though. There were quite a few similar to this, with larger or more eyespots; wish I could remember what they're called.

I've heard that the buterfly garden and conservatory at the Bronx Zoo is really great - anyone been there? This was a nice antidote to the cold of the first few days of spring, but left me wanting more.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Hoppy Easter

Freckles, this year's appointed Easter Bunny, hopes your basket was filled to the brim with joy and love.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Dead stuff on display

I had occasion to visit the American Museum of Natural History in NYC today. I almost never go to the city, certainly not without kicking and screaming about it, but I've always wanted to see the museum so happily took the opportunity today.

The place was packed solid with visitors, it being a holiday weekend, so with limited time and limited patience for crowds I focused my wanderings in the birdy parts of the museum. I don't have any other natural history museum experience to compare it with, but my overall impression was sort of lackluster. There are several halls dedicated to birds, be it local to NYC, North American Birds (which holds 99% of all known species), or Birds of the World. The exhibits were very dark and the bird specimens in poor condition and really very creepy-looking! I don't think this hall of dead birds will be winning us any converts to birdwatching anytime soon. Yuck.

Equally icky was the hall of dead rodents and rabbits; it was vaguely interesting to be able to make size comparisons among the different species of hares and rabbits, but still... yuck!

What did impress me were the habitat dioramas; these also included mounted specimens, but they were presented in somewhat more life-like scenes. Each was backed by beautiful and colorful paintings and included model plants and flowers to mimic the natural habitat of each species. I'll share just a few pics of my favorites... and do click on these!

Desert birds of SE Arizona


I thought this one was particularly pretty... marsh birds

Birds of the shore... feels like home on a summer day.

Friday, March 21, 2008


The saddest thing I ever did see
Was a woodpecker peckin' at a plastic tree.
He looks at me, and "Friend," says he,
"Things ain't as sweet as they used to be."
--Shel Silverstein

Have you noticed the woodpeckers lately? All at once they seem to have decided to stop being so shy and are swooping from tree to tree in their woodpeckery way, testing out the hollow limbs to find the most resonant. The downies love peanuts and always seem to be at the feeder or waiting nearby in the little dogwood tree for the chance to sneak in and steal away a nut. Sweet little birds!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Tulip rambles

Spring was born today... I hope you found a minute to get out and enjoy it! I tried to, but it was as blustery and cloudy as mid-February and the extent of my fresh air for the day was standing around outside the carwash during my lunch hour.


More grocery store tulips... red this time.

Luka was back to the vet after his neuter for a suture check - what a train wreck that dog is! Peed all over the handsome vet's shoes... fussed and embarassed me.. at least everyone knows to expect it from a Lab. I've decided he needs a hobby (other than pestering me!) so I'm thinking of sending him to doggy day care at least one day a week for some more exercise. That'll be easier, of course, once the weather improves, but still I think some time away from home may improve our relationship some.


Last weekend I started to amass a little collection - for a photo shoot - of the things that I yank from Luka's mouth in a typical day. There were wads of toilet paper (more often it's the whole roll), assorted bunny toys and strands of hay (he thinks he's a goat, I swear! - but it helps with the vacuuming), a couple charcoal briquettes. I stopped, though, when my husband told me he had eaten (EATEN!) two nails dropped when he was fixing the aluminum siding on the house. What dog eats nails without requiring a trip to the vet? Unbelievable.

He's ninety pounds now, so you can imagine the challenge in making him do anything he doesn't mean to do. I'd given up on the training harness and the prong collar and decided to go instead with the old standyby promise headcollar for tonight's trip to the vet. Luka will walk okay on a lead for our regular walks, but a trip to the vet is something else, you know. I'd forgotten how hard it is for a dog to get used to one of those, nevermind a dog as mouthy as Luka! He was doing the alligator death-roll for most of the time at the vet - when he wasn't peeing on someone's shoes - remind me how long it'll be before he's civilized, please?


I have a couple days off from work and am looking forward to some time to decompress - some time at the beach maybe; to greet the osprey and plovers, some time in the woods to look for bloodroot and woodcock and phoebes and mourning cloaks, some time on the couch to nap and daydream...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The warriors return

They left in the autumn of the year, a great army of legend. Flags flashed rusty red and steel grey, barred and banded. Old veterans did heed the call once again, their ranks, as with all armies, swollen with so many young. By battalions they paraded across the countryside and coastline, leaving summer behind to seek their fortunes elsewhere.

Their passage was witnessed by countless numbers at Cape May or Hawk Mountain. The thrill of the parade tempered only by thoughts of how many might never return. Then they were gone. Yes... some stayed behind; a rear guard to watch the homefront. Others, Northern Warriors, on their own epic passage, filled the void left by the other's passing. Even with these, the world seemed barren, without magic or myth.

Through the long winter how often our thoughts have drifted to how the warriors are fairing. Have they found solace in lands more plentiful? Were their enemies too strong? How many will return well or battle-scarred or not at all?

Now the first breaths of spring stir the air. Though the land still sleeps, the promise is heard in whispers... changes so subtle as to go unnoticed. The distant regiments hear those whispers. It is time once again to reclaim their birthright, their territory, their home.

Those who would witness their return climb to the mountaintops (or find a local spot close to home!) and wonder at the adventures they have known. Look to the skies and cheer the battalions on their return. Look to the skies... the hawks are returning!

Sandy Hook Migration Watch started March 15th! Red-shoulders are moving - I've even seen a few! There'll be Broad-wings! Come! Bring cookies for the counter!

(Or me.)


Monday, March 17, 2008

First green

St. Patrick's Day is an enchanted time - a day to begin transforming winter's dreams into summer's magic.

Only some Borland to share tonight: "It's all a matter of proportion, and of the season. Two months from now there will be bees and blossoms and balmy air, and so much green that one new shoot will go unnoticed. But right now the sight of a crocus poking up and a few courageous daffodil tips showing is reason for exclamation and delight. Spring!

It isn't Spring, of course. Not yet. But those first few tips of green, that venture out of Winter darkness into the light again, mean that things are beginning to happen down at the root. We won't necessarily open all the windows tomorrow, and we certainly won't take down the storm sash or put away the overcoat and the galoshes. Ice isn't yet something that comes only out of the refrigerator, and we still know what a snowflake looks like. But to know again the gold or purple chalice of a crocus and to see the green fingers of a daffodil certainly warms the heart.

Right now, those few shoots of new, fresh green are more important than a whole forest of green will be in May. Those shoots are a promise of May's green forest and the performance of March's seasonal miracle. March, when the hilltops are still as brown as December, when you wonder if you will recognize an oriole's song again, when you think even a dandelion might be beautiful, needs such miracles.

Maybe there aren't many such shoots yet. There shouldn't be, in the order of things. Miracles aren't a dime a dozen, after all, even this kind. But they do catch the hungry human eye and they lift the spirit. We yearn for them, and we cherish them. We haven't yet lost our sense of proportion. We won't, until May.
" --from Sundial of the Seasons

The neighbor's snowdrops are tattered now, but she has crocus! There's also what I think may be a cherry tree with a sunny southern exposure that's come into bloom in the last day or two. The star magnolia in my front garden has just started peeling back her
winter's velvet to reveal the pink-edged negligee underneath. There's still only the fingertips of daffodils though. The oriole's song is still a dream, yes, but the chickadees are singing their "fee-bee, fee-bay" songs. What's the weather report from your neighborhood? Is it still snowing? ;-)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Posted: Invisible birds afoot

The perfect cure for cabin fever yesterday morning was the chance to be out in the sunshine while doing some manual labor to help protect nesting habitat for endangered Piping Plovers and Least Terns at Sandy Hook. A small group of volunteers showed up early in the cold to install symbolic fencing around critical nesting areas in the dunes at Gunnison and North Beach.

Sandy Hook hosts one third of New Jersey's nesting population of Piping Plovers, but nest success has been quite variable in the last few years; the main challenges having been nest predation by red foxes, flooding and human disturbance.

It's human disturbance that the fencing seeks to control. We installed flagged string line and signage every 50 feet along the dunes - hundreds of feet of string tied with little orange flags. My job was to count out the 50 ft. distance between signs, while those with more nimble fingers tied the string and the flags. We were a pretty small group, but got lots done thanks to the use of an auger to dig the holes for the posts; in years past every hole was done with a post-hole digger. What a recipe for sore shoulders! I think Sandy Hook has 8 protected nesting areas for plovers and terns; we completed only 3 of the 8, but other groups and the park rangers are responsible for the others.

The fencing is an attempt to keep people out of the high dunes where the plo
vers build their nests - people with coolers on their way to the water, people with dogs, people flying kites - any of those things could cause a nest to be abandoned or crushed underfoot.

Later in the season, around Memorial Day when the chicks are hatching, volunteers will *guard* the intertidal zone which will also then be closed to the public. The plovers and their newly hatched chicks use the intertidal zone to feed and if there's too much activity by beachgoers the plovers can be stepped on or starve. I've volunteered this year to be a warden on weekends and to monitor the edge of the closed area from a beach chair - to keep people out of the intertidal zone during that critical time - and to try and educate beachgoers about why the area is closed off and why the plovers and terns are worth their losing access to the beach. You might not think it, but people get pretty pissed off about losing access to the beach. A friend of mine who's been a warden for a number of years has often been given a hard time by people and even had her tires slashed. Can you imagine being that angry at someone who's just trying to do a good thing for birds?

I didn't spot a
ny plovers yesterday, but they are back. Ospreys are due in this week. Spring at the shore and its birds are coming! I'm not sure when it'll hit me, but one day soon I'll have to sneak away from the office to greet it at Sandy Hook. Have a look here at last year's spring fever post - also there is a link to one of my favorite pics of piping plover chicks - aren't they adorable? Who wouldn't want to spend weekends getting a tan to protect them?

And please, take a minute to read Julie Zickefoose's essay
Offseasons which she mentioned in the comments on last year's post. It's a beautifully-written and touching essay and part of what made me decide to actually do something this year for these birds that I treasure so much, rather than just sitting back and complaining that not enough is being done, as I did last year. Thanks for the kick in the butt... I mean... the inspiration, Julie!

I'm including this last pic mostly for
Susan, but also to mention that the nude beach at Gunnison is one of the larger areas where plovers choose to nest. Not sure that I'd want to be assigned to be a warden there, but at the very least I'd have plenty of reasons (old wrinkled ones) to get some long overdue reading done this summer!


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Blessed are the flexible

Looking at that pose... can you get any idea of just how good it feels? Camel pose feels wonderful to me and is my favorite among the more difficult poses. I've been practising yoga for about six months now, a couple times a week. *Practise* is the operative word here: practising not falling over, practising not being self-conscious about the stuff I can't do, practising not being such a clutz!

I went to my first yoga class nearly ten years ago and was totally intimidated by it. I continued to go for a while, but eventually let it go once I realized either the teacher or the routine wasn't a good fit for me. I didn't expect that I would give it another try and never expected to enjoy it nearly as much as I am now.

It's really great fun and is something of a humbling experience for me. I've seen a lot of improvement in terms of my strength and flexibility, but not much yet in the area of balance. I still fall all over myself regularly, but the atmosphere in the classes is such that I can laugh without feeling embarassed anymore. My poor sense of balance is a result of poor concentration skills, I know, but that's partly what practising yoga is about, isn't it? Developing that communication between the mind and the body without all the clutter?

Backbends like camel are a little scary because you're sort of throwing yourself backwards into the unknown. There's the worry that you'll collapse or, worse, not be able to find yourself upright again. I've seen this pose described as one that is transformational in that it forces you to conquer fear and develop gratitude as a result. Mostly I'm just grateful for the tremendous stretch and peaceful feeling I have there. Wonderful!

Anybody else have any experience with yoga?

"Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape."

Camel pose image from richardspics

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

One world

My habit of staying up late keeps me in touch with the neighborhood owls. I hear the great-horneds calling often, from the cemetary across the street or the black locust tree in our back yard, a favored perch, perhaps, because it's the largest overlooking the farm fields and baseball green that borders our property. I'd imagine there to be lots of critters that fall within earshot of any owl perched in that tree. The screech owl, like this little one here, visits only occasionally and I've never been able to pinpont exactly where the whinny call originates from. Screech owls are tiny and delicate and disappear into the darkness much easier than the great-horneds whose silhouette is hard to mistake, even in the pitch black.

Of the great-horned owl Mary Oliver writes: "I know this bird. If it could, it would eat the whole world. In the night, when the owl is less than exquisitely swift and perfect, the scream of the rabbit is terrible. But the scream of the owl, which is not of pain and hopelessness and the fear of being plucked out of the world, but of the sheer rollicking glory of the death-bringer, is more terrible still. When I hear it resounding through the woods... I know I am standing at the very edge of the mystery, in which terror is naturally and abundantly part of life, part even of the most becalmed, intelligent, sunny life... The world where the owl is endlessly hungry and endlessly on the hunt is the world in which I live too. There is only one world."

I had an experience at work today that made me feel guilty for my happy and peaceful life and for delighting in simple things. Most days in the field visiting clients are that way, to some extent but, my God, some people j
ust have so much awfulness heaped upon them. I walk in and out of their lives and their homes, have them fill out a bunch of silly papers, and then go back to my life of plenty. Yet, I'm collecting their stories in some part of me, so many sad stories that I can almost begin to imagine the same terrible circumstances on the periphery of my own life, just waiting for the chance to descend like an owl in the darkness. The recognition of that possibility, acknowledging the unmistakable shape in the pitch dark or the ability to see the little hunter hidden among the pine boughs... I'm not sure what that means. I wonder if it serves any purpose in my life or if it makes me any better at the work I do with clients. Maybe I'm just thinking too much or paying too much attention to stories and screams in the dark.

Owl pics are education birds from the
Avian Wildlife Center who gave a children's program tonight at our monthly Audubon meeting.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Word cloud 3

Out of words today - so there's just this. Not much change from last year's and before you go looking, Susan, I do need to talk more about you so your name will be bigger next year.


If you want to try one for your blog,
go here.

Monday, March 10, 2008


Have you bought yourself flowers lately?

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The story behind the pic

I met this handsome Lab last weekend at Sandy Hook. He/she looked much like any other Lab out for a walk on a sunny day: friendly, goofy, a bit bored with the lack of any cookies or tennis balls to chase...

but then the Lab was suddenly transformed into the great hunter and regal protector after finally (!) spotting...

the sly fox hiding in the ramparts...


These two stared at each other for a bit, the Lab whining some and wanting to give chase. I learned an important lesson; if there are no cookies to grab the dog's eye, a small furry creature like a fox (or a squirrel) will do to get *that* look on the face of a Lab.

Saturday, March 08, 2008


Can you spot the real thing from the imitation?







Don't ask what you'll win if you're right.


(And yes, I routinely take pictures of stranger's dogs)

Friday, March 07, 2008

Until Monday

Just something scenic from the drive to work - not that I'll miss seeing it 'til Monday, mind you.


Thursday, March 06, 2008

Simple pleasures from the garden

It's fun now to begin thinking ahead to some of the littlest pleasures the garden will bring; the hard part is finding the patience to wait. I'm not the most patient of people; I sigh and wiggle and roll my eyes through the wait in the grocery store line, lay on the horn too often when the person ahead of me at a red light daydreams past the green and generally expect instant results once I've put my mind to something.

A garden requires a lot of patience; there's soil to be tended and seeds to be coddled and months in between the intention and the reward. Winter and its end, I guess, is a time to respect the process.

At any rate, I thought today about some of the things I look forward to in the coming months. I was sitting outside the office around 11 this morning, in a spot sheltered from the wind and the weak sun was shining on my face and with my eyes closed, I could imagine it June, almost. Imagination or memory, I'm not sure which, brought me this:

~the flash of a hummingbird investigating the blooms of red salvia

~the taste of a sun-warmed tomato or a perfectly ripe strawberry

~the decision to give up on the pretty fingernails (or the ridiculous gloves) and dig recklessly in the dirt with bare hands

~the feel of walking barefoot through wet grass

~the calls of osprey overhead as they commute from the river to their cell tower nest by the train station

~the delight in burying my nose in the lavender patch heedless of the bees

~the tickles from a ladybug on my arm

~the hot shower that soothes tired muscles after a day spent digging and transplanting

~the surprise on a friend's face at the tiniest of vases filled with lily-of-the-valley or an enormous bouquet of peonies and catmint from my garden

Simple pleasures... simple things to look forward to.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

On the rocks

It dawned on me today that I hadn't shared even one crappy bird photo from my duck-hunting escapade from a few weeks ago. So here it is - click on it for a somewhat less crappy, more artsy, bigger view. Harlequin Duck: extremely cute, probably the most handsome, in my opinion, after Oldsquaw. They're reliable here on the Jersey shore, but seeing them is something like a pilgrimage, for me at least, and it's a journey fraught with danger.

I'm being overly dramatic, of course... well, almost.

In winter, Harlequins favor rocky coasts... think Maine. Not much of anything like that here in NJ, right? Well, we have ocean jetties and the most reliable for a small group of Harlequins is the jetty that sits in the shadow of
Old Barney on Long Beach Island and juts out into the inlet. Walking the jetty is treacherous. John at A DC Birding Blog has a great trip report from his visit last year in this post. Also there is a more realistic view of the jetty from the top of the lighthouse.

Barnegat Light has to be the coldest place on earth on whatever day it is you happen to be out looking for the Harlequins. And windy as hell. And there's those treacherous rocks to navigate, carrying your camera gear and the damn scope that picks that day to not work!
Susan thinks she has problems with her camera that won't focus - how about a Leica scope that since its very first winter has a focus wheel that 'freezes' on the coldest of days? Thankfully, the scope isn't really needed to see these handsome ducks, as they stick very close to the treacherous rocks to feed. Problem is you can't stay on the nice level concrete walkway beneath the lighthouse to see them; you have to walk out on the jetty proper with your eyes playing tricks with every step, insisting that you're about to fall into the spaces between every single rock where the cold water is waiting to drown you once you've cracked your head open on said rocks.


There were also sweet little Purple Sandpipers and Ruddy Turnstones and all the rest of the sea ducks one might expect. The Harlequins stole the show, though I think the group we saw was very small.. maybe just 4 birds. In years past there's been a couple dozen... I imagine they were there, just further out than I was willing to venture.


Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Woodland harbingers

The sun was shining and it felt warm like spring yesterday so I went looking for wildflowers. That was a total waste of time! The white-throated sparrows and I were digging through the leaf litter, both of us searching for some morsel to sustain us through the last weeks of winter.
I found the skunk cabbage coming to life in the wettest places alongside the brook, yet wouldn't consider eating anything that looks like this, despite someone's suggestion that it's edible. Yesterday's walk wasn't so much about finding any true signs of spring, but about taking the time to be out and looking.
I'm guessing this might be the very beginnings of spring beauties, but no matter, that green is just gorgeous! The space for some quiet time alone in the woods yesterday and the chance to slow down and put some thought back into the rhythm of my life was worth the couple hours *wasted* looking for flowers that won't be ready to bloom for a few weeks still.
Gill-over-the-ground had the earliest start of all and was spreading its heart-shaped carpet wherever a bit of sun encouraged it. A weed, yes, but it beats a seeing only a layer of ice and snow.
I had to really dig to find these and can't imagine what they are, but last spring virginia bluebells and trout lilies grew in this same spot. It's nice to have that knowledge of a place now, to see these tender shoots and imagine what they might become with enough warmth and sunlight.

The knees of my jeans were wet and muddy by the time I'd had enough rooting around in the leaves, but I've learned that's part of the fun of spring too; having your hands in the earth and getting dirty again.

I'd imagine that we all have different spring milestones we look for that are dependent upon where we live. Maybe it's the first crocus, or the first skeins of geese overhead in the night, or the appearance of buckets on a row of sugar maples.

I haven't found mine yet.

What have you been looking for? Have you found it?

Monday, March 03, 2008

Nine month pupdate

Will he ever stop getting more handsome?


I take a picture of the monster each month on the third (or thereabouts) with the idea of reminding myself how little he used to be and just how cute. But gosh.. the cuteness just never stops!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Clever as a ...

I went looking for snow buntings this afternoon and instead found this handsome red fox, leaping and pouncing at something unseen among the winter brown grasses at the base of the gun battery at North Beach on Sandy Hook.

Red foxes are easily seen there and even in my own neighborhood - I once ushered a family with youngish kits out of the way of oncoming traffic just up the road from my house, but to see one actively hunting, rather than skulking along the edges of a field or scavenging for leftovers near a garbage bin, was a rare treat. I'm always impressed with just how slight they are; at first from a distance I mistook it for an overfed tabby. (Yes... I do need to wear my glasses more often!)

As handsome as they may be, foxes are bird killers; more specifically at Sandy Hook, endangered nesting shorebird killers. Because Sandy Hook lacks any larger predators to keep them in check, red foxes have a serious impact on the survival rates for piping plovers. While (some) humans may be dissuaded by the fences erected each March to protect the plovers, the sly fox will learn to dig under even the caged exclosures meant to protect the birds and their eggs.

Due to Sandy Hook's geography, it's not exactly clear how red foxes have found their way onto the pennisula. I found an article in the NY Times from 1880 that mentioned the possibility that they walked across the ice on the Shrewsbury River at some point or across a frozen Sandy Hook Bay. I don't guess that much matters anyway, but the idea was on my mind because of a conversation earlier in the day with a couple fishermen who stopped in to the bird observatory.

Birders and fishermen, at the Hook at least, have a relationship based, for one thing, on our acknowledgement of the other's nuttiness. We're often the only ones out there in the worst weather or at the most ungodly hour or at the farthest distance from anyplace comfortable. Oftentimes, I think, we read some of the same clues to find our quarry.

I mentioned this to the one guy today, who, incidentally, was shopping for a scope to 'spot' fish (?) and he agreed that both groups do indeed have a screw loose, albeit a different screw. He'd asked me if I'd even seen a coyote at Sandy Hook or thought it possible that they might be there without anyone knowing it (or admitting to it). I said no, of course, and mentioned that there were no deer there, even, to which he corrected me with a glut of 'deer swimming across the bay' stories which sounded suspiciously like 'fish stories' to me. At any rate I was glad for the chance to chat with these two and have a peek at some of what they notice about Sandy Hook besides the good fishing there.