We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Our Recent Essays Behind the Front Page
Saturday, April 12. 2014
There are plenty of them on the market these days, and most people have their favorites. I still have my first Peterson. It's hard-bound. The pages are falling out, but I won't throw it away.
The newer guides are, in many ways, more useful than the original Peterson guides which did often did not include immature, molting, hybridized, or non-breeding plumages. Those things can often confuse the experts - but the experts rely on more than appearance. Experts rely on the gestalt of the bird - habitat, sound, flight pattern, posture, behavior, etc.
I am an amateur, not an expert. Mrs. BD remembers that, when I was first dating her and showing her birds, I told her that bird species behavior is like individual human behavior: they tend to do the same sort of thing all the time so if you see a behavior or habitat once, it's safe to assume that they do that all the time.
Here's the good article about the field guides: Knowing a Hawk From a Handsaw.
Image is from Peterson: male Blackburnian and Hooded Warbler in spring breeding plumage.
Vermont Woodchuck sent me this pic of a male Wood Duck, taken in March a few years ago in Armonk, NY. He says the duck waddled right up to him.
This is an annual reposting:
Just a few weeks left to get your new Wood Duck houses up, and, if you want to place your boxes in water, it's easier to do if you can walk on the ice and punch a hole to hammer a post into the shallows. That is, if you have any sturdy ice.
The males arrive to their breeding grounds in March, and hunt for nesting boxes and holes and crevices in trees before the gals arrive in April.
If you have a stream or fresh water pond or marsh nearby, they will welcome your effort. Remember, there is no limit to the number of boxes you can place in or near a marsh - these birds are not territorial. I try to add one each year.
I place them on dead trees in the beaver marsh, and nail a 3' aluminum flashing on the tree to deter coons and Blacksnakes. Some I put on a post in about 3-6' of water with a strong cement base. I always add a few inches of wood shavings on the bottom.
Our piece on Wood Duck here. I won't shoot a Wood Duck unless by mistake. They are highly edible, but too small. My joy is just to see them around.
The best wood duck houses: http://www.bestnest.com/bestnest/duck_houses.asp (fixed). I had planned to build a few more this winter, but I never got to it.
Here's the Ducks Unlimited site on building and situating Wood Duck houses.
Wednesday, April 9. 2014
Several species of North American ducks normally nest in tree cavities: Wood Duck, Hooded Merganser, Common Merganser, Common Goldeneye and Bufflehead. This can be surprising to those who think of them as marsh-dwellers. During nesting season, and the 21 days of brooding, they are tree-dwellers.
Best Nest makes different houses for each of them, but I do not think these birds are all that particular about nest holes.
Their chicks often end up taking quite a long and dangerous exodus to relative safety in the water.
Other ducks may nest on above-ground sites but not in cavities, such as this Mallard. As we have mentioned in the past, Screech Owls often take over these nest boxes.
Photo is Hooded Merganser in late winter/ Spring breeding plumage. They are a fairly common winter duck in southern New England on salt water bays and inlets, but, like most of the tree-nesters except for the Woodie, breed further north.
Tuesday, April 8. 2014
House Finches were an import from Mexico and California in the 1940s, originally sold for bird cages, so they are in fact an invasive species and have now spread all over the US and southern Canada. They were marketed as "Hollywood Finches."
I haven't seen a conifer-loving Purple Finch in quite a while. They are, generally, uncommon and if you are not a birder, you have probably never seen one.
Top photo is a male Purple Finch. Below is a male House Finch. (females of both look like slim, brown sparrows with finch beaks)
Wednesday, March 12. 2014
Tuesday, March 11. 2014
Top predators are essential to maintaining some sort of wobbly balances in ecosystems, but is their role overrated?
As Moose populations gradually rebound in New England, and as White-Tailed Deer become pests in some areas because of lack of hunters and of predators, I am all in favor of bringing Wolves back to our neighborhood. Wolves kill coyotes, so there's that benefit too.
Thursday, March 6. 2014
A reader sent a pic of a GB Heron hunting, up to his knees in icy water. Note his fancy breeding plumage.
These relatively-common large birds can be seen almost everywhere in the US except mountainous and desert areas. They are semi-migratory. Read about them here.
Tuesday, February 25. 2014
Roughly as I predicted, our blackbirds arrived sometime last night - over a week late. They all made a racket at 5 am on my way to the gym. That's proof of global cooling.
Also at my feeder today along with the usual (Cardinals, Song Sparrows, Titmice, W-T Sparrows, Blue Jays, and House Finches, and an occasional Carolina Wren) a handsome Fox Sparrow. Haven't seen one in quite a while. A pleasure to see the guy on his way to the far north.
Tuesday, February 18. 2014
Feb. 15th is the normal and usually-reliable date for the blackbirds (flocks of Red-wings, Grackles, Cowbirds) to begin to arrive in my neck of the woods, but not this year. I think there's more snow cover than they want to deal with, even in the swamps. I'll give them an extra week this year and blame it on global cooling.
Not a bird, but I found a cute White-Footed Mouse in my birdseed bag late this afternoon. I like those little buggers, happy to feed them too. Picked him up by the tail, gave him a little pat on the head, and put him back.
What happens when a coconut falls in the jungle, and no-one hears it?
It grows new coconut trees.
The geographical origins of the Coconut Palm are debated, but this useful and ornamental tree has spread around the tropics by man and probably via ocean currents too. This pic of Coconut Palms sprouting from fallen coconuts was in the jungles of St. Lucia last week.
Wednesday, February 12. 2014
We took a two- or three-hour hike each day of our trip. That doesn't sound like much, but it's mountains so it's uphill all the way. Sore legs.
We took one jungle birding hike with Mano, who knows all of the plants, trees, and birds. His granny was a herbalist, so he picks all sorts of leaves and makes you eat them for health. Why not?
He gives his walking stick a bath in the sea each evening to keep it happy. "Happy, happy, tank God for dis day" is the Caribbean mantra, isn't it?
Had we more time, I would have done some serious birding, but we saw many of the common critters. Some, of course, are our northern summer breeders in their wintertime vacation home.
We also saw a bat cave filled with thousands of fruit bats. At dusk, the fruit bats zipped through our little porch and filled a night-blooming tree outside the dining room, sucking nectar and pollinating the blossoms. Remarkable creatures for sure, and a wondrous sight.
My list below the fold, for those interested.
Continue reading "Casual Birding on St. Lucia"
Tuesday, February 4. 2014
The American Robin is semi-migratory (populations edge southwards), and can be found almost anywhere in the US in wintertime. Here, our winter Robins are probably Canucks, while our local summer breeders are probably in South Carolina.
In the northern US, they live on old berries and fruits in the winter, usually foraging in flocks. Sometimes they get drunk on fermented rotten fruit. They do not eat bird seed.
This pic was from a reader a while back, taken, as I recall, in Lenox, MA:
Friday, January 31. 2014
I'd rather play touch in the park with my old buddies than watch football on TV while eating junk food, but I guess it's a social ritual like secular Christmas.
Well, there are the top seeds in this game. Offense vs. defense, in a cool weather match-up of laundry vs. laundry with often amusing advertisements. Given Ground Hog day, I'll go with defense.
The game will be played in MetLife Stadium (aka Giants Stadium) in East Rutherford, NJ (aka New York). The stadium is part of the Meadowlands Sports Complex, which was built on landfill on the vast New Jersey meadowlands (aka swamps and marshes), in view of Manhattan.
Everyone who has driven the NJ Turnpike has passed through those Meadowlands.
Those marshes are recent. A mere 3000 years ago those marshy lands were woodlands, and the Atlantic coast was 40 miles to the east. With the retreat of the last glacial incursion and the slow, steady sea-level rise of the post-glaciation, it became a estuary based on the route of the Hackensack River and a (no doubt lovely) White Cedar brackish swamp. The cedars were all cut down by settlers, for lumber.
Despite heavy industrial pollution (ended now), diking, ditching, impoundments, etc., these meadowlands are now mostly protected from development and are a wildlife resource despite the proliferation of Phragmites australis. You could not build Giant Stadium there, today.
There are nature tours, or you can rent canoes and kayaks to explore the 30+ square miles of these marshes.
Geographic history of the NJ meadowlands
"More than 8,000 acres of wetlands across the Hudson River from New York City has been earmarked for a wildlife preserve. The New Jersey Meadowlands was long known as a dumping ground: one of the country's largest landfills — and an occasional burial spot for mobsters."
Tuesday, January 7. 2014
The Rough-Legged Hawk breeds in the far north, like the Snowy Owl, but during winter can be found throughout the US, especially in open spaces.
He is a very large hawk with black thumbprints on his wrists - unmistakable in flight. And like most hawks and owls, he is hunting mostly small furry things and vulnerable birds. Like the Snowy Owl, I've seen them in Montauk in the winter.
More about the Rough-Legged here.
Also, happily perusing a recent birding book - National Geographic's The Complete Birds of North America. It is complete, with a good section on gulls, which I use as a judge of a bird book. It's a companion to NG's Field Guide, and has plenty of information, including habitat, population trends, migratory details, and where populations are expanding and contracting. Good on trends in "accidental" sightings, too. For example, the book notes the increased sightings of Swallow-Tailed Kite in New England - and makes note of its historic populations in the northern USA.
Sunday, January 5. 2014
Flights of Fancy in Avian Evolution - From mousebirds to terror birds, the class Aves has encompassed a remarkable diversity of species over the past 150 million years.
Pic below is a Snowy Owl. They come down here in winter and are diurnal, but I haven't seen one lately. They like big open spaces - beaches, marshes, dumps, meadows - that remind them of the tundra. Terror bird, for rats.
Monday, November 18. 2013
Saturday, November 16. 2013
Here's his Red Fox, the most widely-distributed and adaptable carnivore in the world:
Churchill is technically sub-arctic, but it's in a band where the Red Fox and the Arctic Fox ranges have historically overlapped: Red Fox mostly to Arctic Circle, Arctic Fox mostly above. Here's his Arctic Fox pic:
Below the fold, I have posted their range maps.
Continue reading "Foxes on Hudson Bay"
Thursday, October 24. 2013
I heard one hooting outside my open bedroom window the other morning at 4 am. Woke me up. After 20 minutes, another one joined in the conversation. A mate?
Remarkable large birds, top predators, and adaptable to almost every habitat from urban parks to deserts. They are found everywhere in the US, Canada, Central America, and in parts of South America.
They will eat anything that moves: house cats, snakes, skunks, rats, porcupines, mice, fish, muskrats, possums, crows, gulls, ducks, even smaller owls - but their favorite food seems to be rabbits.
I rarely see them, but I hear them regularly. They are non-migratory and early nesters, laying eggs in January snowstorms.
This is fun: The Owls of NYC
Saturday, September 21. 2013
The chorus of crickets chirping on these late summer evenings is one of the finest things in life, and last night they were loud. That evening bug-song has followed me through most of my life, and fills me with joy.
Field Crickets are found across the US. In New England, we have the Black Field Cricket (photo) who is at his prime in early October until the first hard frost. They are nocturnal insects and eat almost anything.
Taxonomically, crickets (along with grasshoppers, locusts, katydids) are in Order Orthoptera of Class Insecta.
The males rub their forewings together producing the chirp or trill, of which the frequency is temperature-related. The function of the trill is, of course, to attract females desirous of fertilization.
Around here, we still have the Katydids singing at night along with the rapidly-growing Field Crickets. Open the windows. Or open the doors: two Field Crickets are occupying the Maggie's HQ right now, and I need to leave them some crumbs from my Subway sandwich to keep them happy.
Sunday, September 1. 2013
Feral pig, Wild Boar, Wild Hog, Russian Boar, farm pig. They are all pigs, all very slight variants of the one species Sus scrofa. (The tusks are removed from farm pigs at birth.) In the US, they are all called "pigs."
No sus scrofa is native to North America.
We have posted in the past about the pig/boar hybrids which have been expanding their range across the US, wreaking havoc in the process to woodlands and to agriculture. They are so prolific, and so destructive, that most areas of the US now have open season on the pigs. Hog wild: Feral pig population explodes in U.S
Distinguishing European (aka Russian) Boar from farm pig/boar hybrids is almost impossible, but it is thought that, in many or most areas, most animals are hybrid. Since they're all the same species, it doesn't really matter. Pigs.
Texas and California have seen enormous population growth of Sus, but they have spread around the country - even around Albany NY where the biggest pigs have traditionally been the NYS politicians.
Since every area in the US in which they have appeared is eager to be rid of them, year-round hunting opportunities are abundant. Hunting over bait stations is entirely legal. Some use AR-15s, some use bow, some use revolver, and some macho dudes use baying dogs and kill the pigs with a hunting knife.
There are simply not enough pig hunters to control these creatures, so I propose releasing Wolves into areas where the wild pigs are a problem. The Wolves would have a field day.
Some people do not enjoy the taste of wild pig, which is a bit gamier than the corn-fed farm pig. I have had the wild boar, the same Sus scrofa, which lives in the Appenines of Umbria, and it is a special treat when cooked the ways the Umbrians do it. "Cinghiale." I've had it there cooked several ways, and the sausage too. Even snuck some cinghiale salumi home in my bags.
Here's Pigging out in Umbria
Here's a number of Italian recipes for wild boar/pig/whatever, to perhaps inspire our American pig hunters.
Here's a pic of my pal (on the right) with a Texas pig he
Saturday, August 24. 2013
Fast-moving Wildfire Enters Yosemite, Threatens San Francisco Water, Power
If you live in a flood zone, you should expect floods. If you build in a forest prone to fire, you should expect fire.
Flooding is nature telling you that you should not build a house there. Fire, likewise. Fire is part of a forest's natural cycle. Fire suppression only makes the next one hotter and more violent.
Floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, forest fires. Mother Nature is a harsh school-mistress. As the sea-captain said, "I love going to sea, but I do not love the sea. The sea is my enemy because it is always trying to find a way to kill me."
The same goes for the deep woods.
If you recall, the last big fire in Yosemite was a boon to wildlife and to the forest's health. It's like a natural ecosystem, ya' know?
Saturday, August 17. 2013
An annual re-post:
We mentioned in our piece on cicadas that the Katydids would begin their singing in mid-late summer. They are beginning to go strong now here in New England.
Open that window, shut off the TV, and let those wonderful, soothing, romantic, sentimental, poignant, sleepy-time night sounds roll in to feed your soul. And engrave it in your heart - we only have so many Augusts in our lives. For the katydid, it's their one and only - no wonder they sing their hearts out, until a hard frost kills them all.
You hardly ever see a Katydid - they are well-camouflaged in the green leaves but they are all over. Early evening and nighttime are when they make their music - more like Kay-did than a three-syllable tune. It sounds as if they are singing to each other. With the crickets providing the chirping background theme, it's a fine choir out there right now, at night. The bugs own the night.
Here's more info about Katydids.
Friday, August 16. 2013
Sunday, August 4. 2013
Tuesday, July 30. 2013
12-20 hummers at the feeders - Rufus and Calliope. The Rufus migrate from winter breeding grounds in southern Mexico to summer HQ in southern Alaska. That's a female Rufus with the little red throat patch.