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
Thursday, August 14. 2014
AVI reminded us that the Cape Cod National Seashore turned 50 this week. That Sponge-headed Science Man loves the Cape as much as we do. The Farm is wonderful, but being inland has always made me feel a little claustrophobic. I like access to sea and sky.
Pic above of a stretch of South Beach, with our group of intrepid birders. We hopped down from Wellfleet to Chatham last week to catch a Mass. Audubon birding trip out to Monomoy Island (about which we posted recently). Monomoy is designated a National Wilderness. The size and shape of Monomoy is constantly in flux, as is its intermittent connection with Chatham's South Beach (which is an extension of Nauset Beach - the Cape's southern barrier island group which now reaches down towards Nantucket.
We ended up boating down to lower South Beach instead of Monomoy proper, due to tidal water depth. Our guide du jour, Ellison, an expert birder, led us on an arduous 4 mile barefoot (watch for sharp shells) hike through mud flats, soft sand, and sharp-edged marsh cordgrass - and non-stop biting marsh bugs - to check out the early migrants and the breeding shorebirds. Ya gotta be tough to be a birder.
Bird list and more pics below the fold -
Continue reading "Monomoy bird list, plus Chatham MA, reposted"
Sunday, August 10. 2014
The Eastern and Central US has the Rough Green Snake (New Jersey and south) and the Smooth Green Snake, in the Northeast. These skinny bug-eaters are often referred to as "Grass Snakes," although both like to climb in vegetation.
They are so well-camouflaged that they are rarely seen, and they tend to freeze when disturbed. I think I once saw a Rough in a bush in southern CT, but I can't swear it was a Rough because it moved too quickly for me to grab it to check it's ID.
I love seeing snakes in New England. We don't have enough of them except for the regular Garter Snakes that always startle you when they are curled up in a Zucchini plant and the gigantic Black Snakes on stone walls and in the sand on Cape Cod. Did I ever mention the time my Mom killed a Milk Snake with a hoe (mistaking it for a Copperhead) while we batch of kids were playing in the grass? A mythical moment.
Rough Green Snake hunting in a Blackberry patch:
Saturday, August 9. 2014
If you grew up in Yankeeland, along the coast, clam and fish chowders have been one of your staples. They are seafood cooked with milk or cream, and whatever else. Real simple comfort food, served with hunks of good bread or those cute little Oyster Crackers.
Everybody knows Clam Chowder, for which there are 54,612 different recipes (not including the revolting "Manhattan Clam Chowder" which is poisoned with tomato. A good Yankee Fish Chowder is very similar to clam chowder. One of the best ones I ever had was on Grand Manan Island, where the chunks were huge - quartered potatoes, big chunks of onion, and 4" square hunks of fresh Cod.
The key for chowder is the stock: fish heads and bones, a few lobster shells are good, low-simmered for a couple of hours with some chopped onion and celery, pepper, etc. You do need to use the salt pork. The actual fish (like clams in clam chowder), you only add at the last minute and cook briefly - just until it flakes. Haddock or Cod are the only fish you can use. Scrod is just small Cod. Some use Monkfish, but I disagree: Monkfish is not a tasty fish, and it has a poor, chewy texture. Bacala - salt cod - works fine for any cod dish if it is handled properly. I prefer fresh.
Bermuda Fish Chowder bears no relationship to the Yankee version. It is from England, has no milk, but is wonderful in its own way. I have never tried to cook it, but have enjoyed in on countless occasions on lovely Bermuda. FYI, Bermuda Fish Chower's history here, and recipe here.
Image: Atlantic Cod. Overfishing has been a major problem - the wonderful Atlantic Cod is in trouble, and has been for many years.
Saturday, July 19. 2014
First Cicada Week:
Heard my first cicadas of the summer yesterday - just a few, and just for about an hour or two, but these are probably early risers - first emergers from the soil, practicing playing their instruments. Maybe this will be a good year for them.
It means that in a few days we will be hearing the remarkably loud raspy buzzing from the tree-tops on every hot sunny day - the characteristic sound of high summer in New England, until replaced by the more refined Katydid's evening song as late summer comes.
We have both 13-year and 17-year cicadas - that's how long the two species live as larvae underground, sucking on tree roots, before they emerge to mate, breed, and die.
Their life is a metaphor.
Cicadas are edible, but I don't know anyone who eats them regularly except birds who have great sport chasing them when they fly from tree to tree. We often find their empty exoskelatons attached to tree trunks - as they grow, they crawl out of their old coat.
Thursday, July 3. 2014
Sunday, June 1. 2014
I heard one, and finally saw him high in an Ash Tree, while working with an outdoor work team on Saturday morning.
Probably breeding around here, but possibly passing through. His call is said to resemble that of "a Robin who had singing lessons." Great description.
This not-uncommon Eastern songbird, which likes deciduous woodlands, is like a large finch. They are even known to visit bird-feeders sometimes. The male is dramatic, while the female looks like a large sparrow with a large beak.
You can read more about them, and listen to their song, here.
Thursday, May 1. 2014
My snap above is the main lodge. As I mentioned previously, it's a barrier island accessible only by small boat.
What sorts of people would spend serious bucks to inhabit rustic cabins built in 1910 on the edge of a swamp with far fewer amenities than home, the air full of skeeters, Diamondback Rattlers and gators roaming around, no elegant plantings other than God's, simple home cookin, no umbrella drinks, and where the evening entertainment is an academic talk on bird migration?
Well, as Mrs. BD pointed out, it can be expensive to get that old-timey vigorous WASPy in-the-woods time these days in remote places. A condo on a beach with WiFi and TV, hotel menus, and Pina Coladas and lounge chairs around the pool would be less than half the price tag, but boring as heck. She believes that my Yankee-types, as a matter of taste, like either grand luxe or rustic roughing-it, and nothing in-between. Probably right. In addition, we do not like to sit on vacations. Go Go Hi Ho.
As she also pointed out, the price at Little Saint Simons is all-inclusive - all meals (no menu choices, of course - family-style), all of the naturalist adventures, all the boats and kayaks and bikes, all the booze and cocktail hours and oyster roasts and shrimp boils at the beach. And the entirely private 7-mile island, just for you. Chef is a grad of the CIA (Culinary Institute of America for those of you in Yorba Linda) but he does home cookin like his grandma.
So who was there (all with spouses)? A self-selecting elite bunch of folks. A recently-retired career Army Ranger from Colorado who discovered an interest in natural history. A retired Memphis cotton broker. A NYC doctor. A high school teacher couple from Salt Lake City. An 8th-grade Science teacher from Michigan. A famous nature artist from Massachusetts. An Ornithology prof from Georgia Southern (not a railroad - a university). A professor of something from Boston. A fund manager from Chicago. A jolly, congenial, and intelligent crew, and a tattoo-free zone for sure. Lots of laughs at mealtimes.
Despite the skeeters, they have a high repeat rate. I would recommend March-April-May or October for a place like this. Too hot and too many bugs in the summertime - for me, anyway.
Our temps last week were daytime highs around 76 and nights high 50s-low 60s. Constant sea breeze. Perfect.
I remarked to Mrs. BD that it must be a rare "resort" vacation spot indeed where, when one of the resident naturalists asks for a show of hands for the next morning's 7 AM birding in the marsh, almost everybody present raises their hands.
"Meet at the trucks at 7 on the dot."
More boring travelogue pics and nature details below the fold -
Continue reading "A free ad for Little Saint Simons Island, Part 1"
Sunday, April 27. 2014
After the Eastern Box Turtle, the Wood Turtle, clemmys insculpta, is my favorite. Nowadays, it is a treat to see one, since they are threatened or endangered over most of their range, which is the Northeast, south to Virginia and west to Iowa and Michigan.
Illegal collection of these handsome turtles has been a big problem, and dogs can easily kill them by crunching their shell.
I have usually seen them in moderately-sloped small streams with deep pools, but occasionally the pup has located them in the Spring, rambling in wet fields or moist woods, not too far from a stream. He is trained to leave turtles alone: the shock collar did that. He thinks turtles are electric.
When I was a kid, I picked one up and he ate my nectarine out of my hand. Sniffed it first, then went for a big bite. Cute. Then I put him back down after he pretty much ate the whole thing.
Photo is from this Wisconsin Wood Turtle site.
Saturday, April 26. 2014
I have this bird at my feeder in Southern New England. Why they are called "red-bellied" is beyond me because it sure is not a distinctive feature. They are fairly common up here. Wacka-wacka-wacka.
More about the Red-Bellied at CLO
Tuesday, April 22. 2014
If you don't have the sort of habitat that Bluebirds like, the houses will likely be inhabited by Wrens, House Sparrows, Tree Swallows (if there is any water nearby), Chickadees - or mice.
The point of Bluebird houses is Bluebirds. They will only nest in holes, and there's lots of competition for holes because lots of critters who need holes are not able to make them.
What's Bluebird habitat? They do not live in the woods, and they don't live in suburbia unless it's 5+ acre zoning. They like woodland edges, hedge rows, meadows with fences and large (5+ acres) lawns, large gardens, old apple trees. They do not mind living with humans, and often seem to like having barns and sheds around. To make it simple, if you see them hanging around in April, it means it's the right area for them. You can't really attract them - they have to want to be there in the first place. Like their competitor Tree Swallows, they like their nest boxes in open spaces, not so much on trees but on barns seems OK.
Another factoid about Bluebirds is that, if you have one pair around, there are probably more, and they do not seem to mind sharing an area: you can put up two boxes per acre, maybe more. People build Bluebird Trails in exurban, semi-rural, and rural areas because everybody likes to see them.
At the Farm, I have my own Bluebird Trail of around 20 nest boxes, mostly nailed to fence posts, some to utility poles. Generally about half of mine are used by Bluebirds, half by other things. In a good year, Bluebirds can raise two broods. Snakes are the main predators of nestlings, so metal poles are probably best but I don't bother much about that.
I recommend the one pictured, via Best Nest. The extra piece of wood is to deter predators. Easy to make them yourself, though. Just make the hole the right size (1 1/2" diam), and place them properly. When I was young, my brother and I made them on an assembly line, using Dad's table saw and the free pine scraps from the lumber yard. If you do, don't paint or stain them. Birds prefer plain wood, rough and un-sanded preferably.
Monday, April 21. 2014
Spring Peepers. They aren't called Hyla crucifer anymore, but I stick with the old name. They are the first musicians in the spring chorus emanating from the vernal pools, swamps, and ponds at night as soon as the ice begins to melt.
People rarely see them because they are so tiny, and nocturnal. After breeding, they leave the water as do Wood Frogs, Grey Tree Frogs, Leopard Frogs, and of course the toads.
Those two pics are Spring Peepers. They are usually grey-brown, but I have seen them turn green on a leaf.
It's worth living near a marsh in the Eastern US just for the two months of free nachtmusik from our amphibian friends. By mid-May, the toads and larger frogs will join the chorus.
Here are the frogs and toads of the Eastern US. Mostly northeastern. I've never seen a Mink Frog, but we have all of the others at the Farm. The Grey Tree frogs make a racket, but they are rarely seen because their camo on trees and bushes changes to match the bark. All you can see are their eyes.
I think it's fun to identify them all by their Spring mating calls, especially because (like owls) you rarely see them. This site gives a brief description and a recording of their individual calls.
Sunday, April 13. 2014
Spent yesterday trout fishing with Gwynnie down in CT. We took a few photos to give our out-of-Yankeeland readers a little taste of CT in April:
Trout Lily, in bloom:
Continue reading "A Connecticut April Show-and-Tell, re-posted"
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.
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.