Still in a thankful mood, my friends and I took an overnight trip on Thanksgiving weekend to explore someplace new. We piled into the car and headed two hours south, to the Eastern Shore of Maryland. 28,000 acres of mixed hardwood and pine forests, tidal marsh and freshwater wetlands awaited us at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Continue reading
Most people celebrate our national day for giving thanks with a feast that centers on the Turkey. Naturally, the turkeys have other ideas, and seek refuge on this holiday. Just as naturally, my friends and I seek Refuge to see turkeys and other birds, by spending our Thanksgiving weekend at National Wildlife Refuges. Continue reading
Wherever my friends and I go, we try to get to the top of the highest mountain around. So on our Adirondack adventure, we were keen to get to the very top of the High Peaks. That would be Mt. Marcy, 5,344’ high. “How do we get there?” we wondered. Hike 7.4 miles through wilderness to the summit, then hike 7.4 miles back. Ok, maybe not.
Still, we were determined to get to the top of one of “The 46”, as the 46 High Peaks above 4,000’ are called. Folks who have successfully climbed all 46 are called “Adirondack 46ers.” We only had one day to get to the summit of a High Peak, and our experience on the relatively puny Pitchoff Mountain taught us not to take these mountains lightly. What to do?
Enter Whiteface Mountain, 4,867’ tall, the fifth highest in the state of New York. There’s a road that does 4,600’ of the work for you, with an elevator that takes tourists the rest of the way. How hard could it be?
Make your heart like a lake, with a calm, still surface, and great depths of kindness. – Lao Tzu
Mountains are hard, stony, unforgiving. Nothing comes easily on a mountain. Gentle paths are soon strewn with rocks, small boulders must be climbed, and always the trail goes up, up, up. Until it goes down, and usually that’s worse. No question, mountains are hard work.
This summer, my friends and I answered the call of New York’s Adirondack Mountains. Forty-six peaks over 4000’. Lots of hiking and climbing and days filled with vigorous activity beckoned.
This year’s destination came with a bonus – a lake.
Lakes are soft, fluid, soothing. Doing nothing comes very easily on a lake. You want to linger, trail your fingers through the cool water, listen to the cry of the loons, soak up the sunset. The living is easy on a lake.
This was a BIG lake. Our rental house perched on the shores of Upper Saranac Lake. With 37 miles of shoreline, that’s a lot of lake. The heck with peak-bagging! We were looking forward to relaxing by the water. It would be restful. Restorative. Carefree.
Adirondack Park is a long drive from Philadelphia, north through three mountain ranges. Our own Poconos, the Catskills, and finally the Adirondacks. The High Peaks rose around us, cascading long ribbons of waterfalls into narrow lakes, thoroughly distracting the driver.
Concentration returned on the three miles of twisting dirt road that led to our home away from home deep in the woods. Ahhh!
I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in tune once more. – John Burroughs
A Common Merganser swam into view. With her were five fluffy ducklings. Two got a ride on mama’s back, dozing sleepily, carefree. The others paddled along in her wake. I watched as the lovely little family passed in front of me and disappeared into the distance. I wondered where they were going? Maybe Mom knew a good diner for breakfast?
The Merganser story took a turn two mornings later, after a nighttime thunderstorm with winds and heavy rains. Now Mama Merganser returned – with just one duckling in tow.
I told myself that the time had come for the other ducklings to be out on their own, or perhaps this was a different family altogether. But in my heart, I know that’s not so. Not all the young ones of any species survive their youth.
If there’s water, there must be kayaking… I’d dreamed for months about long solo paddles in the early morning or evening, sneaking up on loons, perhaps even catching a moose as it drank at the edge of the water. One look at the dock crushed that dream. I’ve yet to master the art of dockside kayak launches. Even with three of us, it’s a challenge. Alone? No, that wasn’t going to happen.
However, my friends agreed to try the two kayaks out with me one still morning.
Bird feeders in the back yard drew lots of feathered friends. Some were birds we don’t get to see often. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Black-capped Chickadees (we get Carolina Chickadees) and lots of Purple Finches. Ruby-throated hummingbirds visited.
The time was rare when there was no squirrel under the feeders. Not much bigger than a chipmunk, red squirrels are much smaller than our common gray squirrels. These jaunty little fellows have a white ring around their eyes and a black stripe along the side of their bellies. We never grew tired of watching their antics.
Did someone mention chipmunks? Yes, they visited from time to time, too. Tiny but fierce battles broke out between the two tribes when a chipmunk and a squirrel both wanted the prime real estate. Surprisingly, these war games usually ended with the squirrel fleeing the chipmunk.
We looked for the Milky Way one evening. We didn’t see it. Perhaps it was not yet dark enough. Still, there were an amazing number of stars. I can only imagine the sky in the middle of the night, when we were lost in our dreams, in our lakeside reverie.
Oh! For the lazy lakeside living! We could have happily passed the days by the water’s edge, relaxed and carefree.
The mountains are calling and I must go. – John Muir
Hello, my darlings! C’est moi, Madame Catbird, gossip maven extraordinaire! I’ve got all the latest celebrity dish from John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge for you, right here on KRTR 99.9 FM, Critter Radio.
It’s the season for love, and all that results from love, and don’t I have the juiciest tidbits for you today!
Everyone, simply everyone, is talking about the handsome young Prothonotary Warbler laying it all out for romance in the impoundment. He’s doing everything right, dearies! He’s found the most-coveted property in town, and decorated with the best moss.
It’s not all about home decor and show tunes, though, and he isn’t afraid to show his masculine side! He’s carried on a relentless aerial battle with the local tree swallow families in the vain hope of having the tony neighborhood of Horseshoe Cove to himself.
The paparazzi have been camped on the doorstep of our golden boy for weeks. Who will be first to get that money shot of the lucky Mrs. Prothonotary? Only time will tell… but time is running out if Mr. P. hopes to hear the patter of tiny feet in his waterfront mansion this summer!
Guess who else was caught on film this week, my lovelies? Yes, those reclusive songsters, the Marsh Wrens. We are frequently graced with their operatic voices, but not their feathered fabulousness. They much prefer the quiet life at home in their posh upscale development, The Reeds.
Not so now. The Wrens are busy, busy, busy, plucking bugs from the spatterdock and carrying them off to The Reeds. Why, could it be? Do they have a bun in the oven – or chicks in the nest? Madame Catbird thinks so!
They’ve taken the art of dodging the flashbulbs to new lengths.
“You can’t see me,” says our plumed contortionist.
Rumor has it the Least Bitterns are also raising a family in the oh-so-exclusive conclave of The Reeds.
Madame hears that a few very lucky fans have caught glimpses of the bouncing baby Bitterns!
There’s a new star in town, my darlings, and he’s got the Missus and the little ones in tow. It’s been many a year since the Common Gallinules saw fit to raise a family in our neck of the woods. Why, back then they were known as the Common Moorhens, mere hoi polloi.
Yet, here they are now, with a distinguished new name, mingling with the beautiful people. Perhaps there’s a little scandal lurking in the Gallinules’ family tree, no?
Clearly Mr. Gallinule now has exacting standards, and this elite community has met them. He’s made sure to show off his lovely mate and their four fabulous offspring frequently, parading them past the persistent paparazzi at every opportunity.
Madame Catbird has many, many more delicious morsels to dish about. You say you must have more celebrity goodies? Now, now! Patience, darlings! Moderation in all things, don’t you know?
Do tune in next time to find out just who has all the bees abuzz, won’t you? Madame Catbird awaits! Until we meet again, on KRTR 99.9 FM, Critter Radio.
In search of avian wonders out of the ordinary, we turn now to the sparkling shores of the Delaware Bay. A large expanse of sandy beaches and saltwater marshes along the New Jersey side of the bay attracts many feathered marvels.
I went to the Bayshore one sunny May day to see migrating shorebirds. I’m easily distracted. A side trip to Cape May Point State Park occupied most of my morning.
Alongside the road, a gravel, shell and grass area serves as a parking lot for visitors. It also serves as a nesting area for the local Killdeer population. We didn’t see this little mother when we pulled in; three feet to the right would have been disastrous.
The Killdeer was incubating eggs right there in the parking area. She was none too happy about our near-miss and our presence, so I took my photos quickly and left her in peace.
And comical. Heads down to feed, the gulls resembled a tail-feathered basket-weave fence. One poor guy in the middle had a complaint.
The stars of the show were the Red Knots. This little shorebird travels immense distances every year from wintering grounds at the tip of South America, to breed in the far north. Along the way, having lost much of its body weight to the rigors of flight, it joins other long-distance migrants at the Delaware Bay, to feast upon the fat-laden eggs of the horseshoe crab.
Horseshoe crabs come ashore to lay their eggs at the same time the shorebirds arrive. Unlike this unfortunate crab, most remain right side up and survive to breed another year. Their numbers are dwindling though, due to sustained over-harvesting. Bad news for the shore birds, especially the Red Knots.
There is concern for a number of shorebird species, but the Red Knot population is in the worst shape. In an attempt to protect and conserve these birds, scientists have been tracking their numbers and movements. Spotters were posted at Reeds Beach, recording band colors and numbers. Only time will tell if conservation efforts succeed or fail.
This Red Knot has been captured, weighed and released, and wears some distinctive jewelry to commemorate the experience. Green is the color used for birds in the United States. I saw orange bands as well. Those birds were banded in Argentina!
From Argentina to New Jersey, and on to the far north, shorebirds undertake extraordinarily long journeys, twice, every year. The horseshoe crabs along Delaware Bayshore provide the fuel they need to keep going. Its sandy shores are the perfect places to savor the wonder of these extraordinary birds.