Monday, October 31, 2011


 [Raccoon tracks in frost, Cape May Point State Park, fittingly (for a critter that wears a mask) on Halloween.]

Dave La Puma and I spent a couple pre-dawn to dawn hours this Halloween morning figuring out where not to stand looking for owls at Cape May Point State Park. Well, not entirely correct, since we did hear a couple Great-horned Owls, and had that night-birding experience - listening to flight calls of sparrows, the whir of duck wings, the funny quacks of Gadwall, the tin-horn quacks of teal. A Sora did obligingly fly across the boardwalk in front of us as we walked out, eye-level, even if an owl did not. The Norbury's Landing Barn Owl pre-pre-dawn was pretty cool, too.

After poking around the trails at Cape May Point State Park for a while, detecting a few Purple Finches in a very thin year for them, and a few Rusty Blackbirds, and a few thousand robins and other stuff, I wandered up onto the hawkwatch platform. Vince Elia was there, scanning what proved to be a pretty thin hawk flight on winds light east to zero. Being the official counter for the day, he had to do it - and there was no need for sympathy. It was such a lovely morning, still and complete with fancy sunrise, that I remarked it was a good day to be on the platform alone (and he was, for the first part of the morning), a good morning to figure out the meaning of life.

"Oh, I already have."

"Well, would you please tell me?"

We got into a conversation about as deep as the lighthouse is high, which led me to recall a quote from Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Annie, as a young girl, would leave pennies on the sidewalk and watch  from a distance as passerbys picked up the pennies, or didn't. For some, finding a penny made their day. Others would not even stoop to pick one up, and Annie wrote,

There are lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises. The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand. But- and this is the point- who gets excited by a mere penny? If you follow one arrow, if you crouch motionless on a bank to watch a tremulous ripple thrill on the water and are rewarded by the sight of a muskrat kit paddling from its den, will you count that sight a chip of copper only, and go your rueful way? It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won't stoop to pick up a penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. It is that simple. What you see is what you get.

 I said the sunrise was a penny - if you picked it up. Vince replied, "That sunrise is worth a buck fifty."

Indeed. Plenty of pennies found this weekend, I mean buck-fifties. . . here are a few.

[I am told (by Chris Hajduk) that I was "rather loud" when I called out this Golden Eagle over the South Cape May Meadows on Sunday's CMBO autumn weekend field trip. Lasting views for all, and lasting smiles. You could hear the pennies clinking. This is an especially well marked and spectacular juvenile, which got height and sailed first towards the Beanery, where Louise Zemaitis's group got it, and eventually made it to the hawk watch and then took a high bee-line across Delaware Bay.]

 [Wilson's Snipe are plentiful right now, especially if you dial in on their scratchy call. This was one of a number that flew past us in the meadows. Snipe have pointy wings (woodcock wings are rounded) and fly with bill angled down (dowitchers fly with bills out front.)]

 [The coveted American Bittern-Cape May Ligthouse shot, meadows on Sunday.]

[Ruby-crowned Kinglet foraging in clematis, near the hawk watch this morning.]

Wishing you pennies every day. . . Might have a few more from the weekend to share in the next couple days, I'm down in West Virginia once again (near Antietem) where there's a bit of snow, and have not downloaded all the pics.

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