Monday, November 30, 2020

Of Owls, Chance Encounters, And How Random Events Don’t Always Send Life South

 [“Do you know if there are any owls around here?” Red morph Eastern Screech-owl.]

That was such a great opening line I may well use it sometime.

Sunday night of Thanksgiving weekend I headed out like always to chase sunset over Delaware Bay, and stopped to chat with my neighbor. An unfamiliar pickup truck rolled slowly down our street, a big new-looking crew cab Ford that I'd never seen before. I watch.

The truck drives to the end of the street, turns around, and rolls very slowly back towards us. It stops next to us. The driver seems a regular-looking guy, one with a question on his face.

"Do you know if there are any owls around here?"

Apparently I looked surprised or wary or something, because he explained, "I wanted to show my kids an owl, they're into birds, and I saw a report there are owls around here."

My heart melted a little, just around the edges, so I revealed, “Yeah, there are three or four pairs of Great-horned Owls around here, you're sure to hear them around sunset this time of year. Sometimes even before.”

"How about screech-owls? There's been some reported around here, and I'd really like to show my kids."

I notice for the first time he's got his kids in the truck, including a cute little 11ish-year-old in the passenger seat. Heart melts a little more. So I explain that that's pretty much a whistle-them-in-at-night thing, although if you look at roughly 10,000 tree holes you might find one during the day.

He looks slightly disappointed. "Yeah, there's this guy around here that sees all kinds of birds down here, unbelievable, I forget his name."

This has now become, umm, unusual. I innocently ask, “Is it Don Freiday?”

He says, "Yeah, that's the guy, I see all these reports from him online like on eBird and the New Jersey bird thing."

“That would be me,” I say.

I've never seen this man before and, understand, I'm on my bike (part of a concerted effort to drive my orthopedists up the wall), dressed like a cyclist, binoculars stowed in my pack. I fish out my card and hand it to him.

"Man, I'd like to take you to lunch sometime. We just got a place down here. There's this other guy down here, does bird banding in his backyard, I got to go one time…"

“Richard Crossley,” I say.

"Yeah, you know him?"

“Yes, we've been on World Series of Birding teams together. Really good guy. Superb birder.”

"Yeah, see, were from north Jersey, I used to go into this wild bird store, and by the way it feels like I pay more to feed birds than to feed my kids, and this guy in there kept trying to take me birding, Bill Elrick, and eventually I went…"

This is developing into a significantly crazy set of coincidences. “He took you to Garret Mountain.”

"Yeah, you know him? I can't believe there are all these birds in New Jersey. Bill goes to this place called Forsythe all the time now, seems like another great place…"

The spirit-that-moves-in-all-things is on the move once again, perhaps cutting me some slack after moving me through a divorce, job change, extended illness, a bike crash, and a Thanksgiving weekend spent pandemically alone.

I say, “Yes, Forsythe is pretty awesome, I worked there for five years. I used to say I live in the best birding place on the planet [Cape May] and work in the second-best place. Not by accident.”

Before he drives off he says, "I'm going to look you up…"

If he does, those kids are going to see some owls.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Thoughtful Thursday: Firewood 2020


Chill over land.

Shapes move, eyes glow
in shadows beyond light.

Fire dying.

Disease, brutality, supremacy.
Hatred, ignorance, apathy.
Divided world lost.

Beasts gather and rush.
Fire glows warmth and light.
Love and friendship protect.







Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Wordless Wednesday: Siskinpalooza

 [UPDATE November 11: Pine Siskins seem to have left NJ en masse in the past few days.]

Pulling the Trigger On Saturday, November 14


[ Look at all those pretty wind flags pointing up and left. . . = northwest winds (i.e. from the NW. I.e., migrant birds in fall. Look at those clearing skies and cool temperatures.]

I will be absolutely astonished if this Saturday, November 14, 2020 does not prove to be an extraordinary day for viewing migrant birds in the mid-Atlantic. So leave the leaves on the lawn where they belong and go birding.

 Twain wrote, “Predictions are hard, especially when they concern the future.” But the handwriting is all over the weather and the season:
1.    Mid-November: time for short-distance migrants (sparrows, yellow-rumps, others), big American Robin flights, big raptors (buteos, Golden Eagles, Northern Goshawks). Major spectacle factor is possible, and truth be told I'd pick that over rare birds anytime.

2.    An excellent irruption year for finches, especially Pine Siskins, Evening Grosbeaks, and Purple finches, plus Red-breasted Nuthatches and others.

3.    A pronounced movement of birds eastward out of the Rockies, and prairies; watch for things like Type 10 Red Crossbills, Townsend’s Solitaire, others. Hek, a Stellar’s Jay showed up in I think Illinois! Think about Smith's Longspur, Leconte's Sparrow, Pacific-slope or Cordilleran flycatcher. [UPDATE: Franklin's Gulls are being seen in numbers in the Great Lakes today, November 11.]

4.    That wacky Rhode Island Common Cuckoo flew the coop. They winter in Africa. It's going south.

5.    An extended period of poor migration weather. Saturday November 7 was okay, Sunday November 8 was lackluster, Monday November 9 featured a bunch of raptors flying around in Cape May wondering “what’s with this warm, south wind stuff?” South-southwest and warm through Wednesday (today), now rain forecast through Friday.

6.    South winds and warm may have brought vagrants from the south and southwest to points north of us. These will now want to move south again with the changing weather. Ash-throated Flycatcher is the most obvious candidate, but there are others, e.g. Vermilion Flycatcher, Western Kingbird, other yellow-bellied kingbirds, others. . [UPDATE: A Common Ground Dove was photographed at Cedar Bonnet Island, Manahawkin (off route 72) today, November 11.]

7.    Per the above graph, winds coming around perfectly Friday afternoon and staying there all night and all day Saturday.

Can’t miss.

Where to go? ANYWHERE! Including your favorite local patch, inland or coastal. But, in NJ anyway, I’d be thinking Sandy Hook, Island Beach, Stone Harbor (the Bird Sanctuary and Hereford Inlet Lighthouse), Cape Island, or “my” patch, which is Del Haven, Fishing Creek Marsh, Norbury’s Landing, and Green Greek Marsh. Which is where I’ll start.

Monday, November 2, 2020

How To Talk About Owls Without Talking About Them

[This Short-eared Owl flew in off the ocean at the South Cape May Meadows on November 5, 2011. This Wednesday is November 4, and conditions the night before look perfect for owl migration. Hmmmm...]

If I were me, I would look for migrant owls holed up for the day this Wednesday. Thinking Barn, Long-eared, Short-eared and Northern Saw-Whet Owls. Where? Conifer trees roughly from the Mullica River to Cape May Point, NJ. Except Short-eareds, look for them flying around somewhere in the morning, or sitting on a beach or something. If you find any owls, tell no one.

Is that vague enough?

Birders get all bent into pretzel shapes about other birders harassing owls. I guess they should. I do. People get too close, owls are disturbed, burn energy and risk being eaten while they find somewhere else to hang for the day.

But. What if some of that owl protecting energy and all's those righteous 0's and 1's were spent instead on, I don't know, habitat protection? Environmental activism? Taking kids birding? Talking about habitat loss and rodenticides and car collisions and other MUCH more significant factors to an owl's well being? Walking and cycling more, driving less?

I don't want to see any bird harmed unless someone or some native predator is going to eat it. But do birders disturbing owls affect owls at the population level? No, they do not. Again, don't tell people where owls are, don't flush owls from roosts while trying to get a better look or photo. But think about other places to spend some of that energy.