Happy (Winter???) Solstice!
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
It's that time of year... Bird feeders are up, bringing in more birds closer to buildings. Hawks are coming in to the feeders as well. (You are, after all, feeding the birds; hawks are birds too and appreciate the buffet table just as much as the songbirds.) Sunlight is shining from lower and different angles...
This inevitably leads to meetings between said birds and buildings, meetings that usually end up badly for the bird. Even when birds fly away from a window-strike, survival is not guaranteed due to the likelihood of brain injury causing eventual if not immediate death. (Consider all the recent hullabaloo about football players and traumatic brain injury, then imagine the effect of a wee little bird barreling into plate glass...)
But a window-strike death does give one an incredible opportunity to study the miracle that is a bird up close.
Please keep in mind that every native bird species is protected under the Migratory Bird Act; it is technically illegal to even possess so much as a feather of any native avian species. (Pigeons, starlings, house sparrows and domestic fowl, being non-native imports, are not covered under this law. Most parrots and their cousins require state if not federal permits to keep.)
If your domicile is subject to more-than-occasional window-strikes, first consider why. Have you removed window screens? Are your feeders close enough to the house so that birds don't build up too much speed when frightened off the feeder by a predator? Have you taken adequate measures to prevent reflection or physical impact on larger, non-screened expanses of glass? There are any number of preventative measures that may be taken to reduce injury and death caused by windows.
If you do find dead birds below your windows, considering asking your local nature center if they have a salvage permit and if they collect specimens from the public. Our local centers maintain such permits, and send specimens to the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. By noting time, date, place and cause of death of the deceased, you can actually contribute to scientific studies and a bird's death need not be in vain.
Red-winged Blackbird, adult female.
Sunday, November 20, 2011
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Two of my nephews have come to live with me! They needed a home where, for their own good, the four-leggers had priority over toddler two-legged children.
Fancy new digs until everyone settles in…* Yes, I crate my cats, be they kitten or adult, stray or totally house-raised. (Normally there is no twine involved--I forgot two support brackets and had to substitute.) Any new cat that comes in gets a set-up similar to this, but the Twins rated a double-wide thanks to MomMom's compulsive thrift store shopping habits!
Crates are themselves located in the Cat Room (I'm a crazy cat lady: of course the cats have their own room); this system is wonderful when we need to isolate anyone from the insanity that exists in the rest of the house. (It's also great for the hermit in me, because it means I have no room for house guests. >insert wicked triumphant laugh here< )
There are plenty of places to climb and hide, and a nice window to look out over doings in the back yard.
Abbott and Costello are, at first glance, identical twins. The shelter from whence they originally hailed claimed they were observed to have come from the same birth sac. Both are matted (my first cat gets a milder form of this too, a condition warranting further investigation because I know other cats and owners with the same issue) and obviously terribly overweight, so healthier coats and weight loss are first priorities for the new arrivals. (If I succeed too well, I have a feeling I might get my tiger lily niece Tessie in for her own stint at Fat Cat Camp…)
They actually are subtly different in looks and personality. Abbott is just a shade darker, has less distinct facial markings and is the more laid back of the two.
Costello is lighter, has a nice clean brow "M", and was the first to venture out and about.** Luckily for me, given that after nine years I still confuse two of my own far more dissimilar "look alike" cats, the boys wear collars without complaint. (Naturally, my first question upon arriving home with the boys was "Abby has the red collar, right?")
Costello isn't quite yet ready to pose for photos; there's too much new stuff to get into--specifically, unknown cats at the door. (Screen door with hardware cloth stapled on the frame for added strength instead of screening, for those of you taking notes.***)
Sandylion is my own buff boyo, living in the cat room because he is too polite to fight back when he gets picked on by others in the Horde. He's quite curious as to who these new folk might be… I'm hoping he makes friends with the Twins; from what I'm told about the Twins and my experience with buff toms, they all three are close enough in personality to get along well. And it worries me that even at six years old Abbott and Costello are a bit too inseparable; it will be good for everyone if they can make friends with someone else.
*If you noticed, yes, that's Mickey as The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Bambi, and Thumper on the wall. Tinkerbell is there, too. Former house owner had a two-legger. And yes, some of those plants if not all are listed as "poisonous"; I haven't killed a cat by houseplant yet, even those that do nibble the greenery.
**No surprise that we have more cat furniture than people furniture in this house; in my opinion cat-specific furniture, the larger and taller the better, is the keystone to having happy cats and thereby happy people living together in the same house.
***I have discovered there is screening that is actually claw-proof; we use that at the outside doors where less wrong-side-of-the-door climbing takes place. (I have well-adjusted inside-only cats--usually I'm the one on the wrong side.)
Thursday, November 10, 2011
The weather over the past few months has been unusual, unsettled, unpredictable--but undeniably interesting.
The cloud formations have been particularly impressive. These are from the Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge, Cape May Point (above) and Reeds Beach, Middle Township (below) in early October.
Monday, November 7, 2011
Autumn isn't Autumn without the reds.
Jury is still out on the cherry-like fruits; two plant people are leaning towards some kind of crab apples, as November is rather late for cherries. Holly, of course, of some variety or other (yes we have a native but there are far, far more cultivars and hybrids). And the last is a rather mushed fruit head of winged sumac, supposedly a vital (and native) winter food source, but it has never appeared to me to be very appetizing, and I've never seen wildlife actually eating it.
Saturday, November 5, 2011
I've been wandering around outside the past few days in order to capture the colors of November before we descend into the grays of winter... The trees, having suffered through another extremely dry growing season with little rain at the end of it and some too-early frosts, haven't put on much of a show--some are still trying to decide whether to reveal their true autumn colors or just give up their leaves entirely--but there still are vibrant hues to be found, mostly in this year's fruit.
Hmm, I believe I'll name this hue "cedar blue".
Hmm, I believe I'll name this hue "cedar blue".
Pastels play well with the light, too. (An invasive clematis, a Spartina, and groundsel.)
Remarkably, in spite of the recent and increasingly consistent low-thirties overnight temps, there are still a few blossoms and bugs to be found. Here, coral honeysuckle (a handful of full bouquets in November! yet one more reason to plant this native), spotted cucumber beetle (a crop pest, alas, but a most remarkable color that is not done justice by this photo) and ailanthus webworm moth (appropriately autumn-colored).
Thursday, November 3, 2011
Hawk watches that conduct daily counts during fall migration are, dare I say, relatively common these days. Sea watches, on the other hand, are few and far between. But once again, due to the unique location of Cape May County, New Jersey, we have one. A really big one.
From September 22 to December 22, New Jersey Audubon's Cape May Bird Observatory conducts an annual count of birds that conduct their year-end migration over the ocean instead of along mountain ridges or overland along coastlines.
Because the north end of Seven Mile Beach juts out into the ocean well beyond the barrier islands to the north, Townsends Inlet provides an ideal spot for counting the seabirds that stream by unintentionally closer to land than they had originally planned as they head south to warmer waters.
It's a thankless job. "Cooler by a Mile" (Avalon's motto) is a wonderful concept in the depths of a hazy, hot and humid August but during a nasty autumn gale, full exposure to the entire northeast quarter of the compass is not such a good thing. Even on a beautiful, sunny, early November day optics and automotive paint are at risk of a soaking in salt water.
Keeping two eyes on a horizon filled with rolling seas for eight hours a day (more or less) surely has to be the best way to suffer mal de mer while standing on dry (or at least firm) ground.
But then there are the birds. Lots of birds. (Yes, scoters are sometimes counted by the tens and hundreds.) Birds of surprising variety and scope. Birds that must be counted and categorized to make the effort scientifically worthwhile. Surf scoters, black scoters, and double-crested cormorants--diving ducks that feed in ocean waters--compromise the bulk of the migrants, numbering in the hundreds of thousands. The total count of all birds has surpassed a million in one season.
But it isn't all about a mere three sea ducks; other "waterbirds" are also tallied. White-winged scoters, the odd great cormorant thrown in to make sure one is paying attention, northern gannet, brown pelican, northern pintail, long-tailed duck, green-winged teal, mallard, American black duck, wood duck, common loon, red-throated loon, brant, snow goose, tundra swan, widgeon, common eider, laughing gull, horned grebe… And those are merely the species that have been given dedicated clickers. Counters have seen many an odd thing, much weirder than a wood duck over open water, come in off the ocean over the past eighteen or so years of the count. Like warblers. Owls. Cuckoos. (Cuckoos?!)
But on a good day, SeaWatch is well worth a visit by the curious. The prospect is lovely in good weather (high tides and rough seas aside). The birds can be numerous enough that an hour or two of watching can give you a good start on learning to tell one species from another. The company, as with any gathering of people who like to watch birds, is always enjoyable. (Even to the herring gulls that have come to expect handouts over the years.)
Event: Avalon Seawatch.
Dates: September 22 through December 22.
Location: 7th Street and the seawall, Avalon, New Jersey. Free parking available.
Duration: Sun up to sun down.
Accoutrements: Layers and layers of clothing. Tight-fitting hat. Gloves. As high-powered optics as you can put your hands on (a spotting scope gives you the best magnification for well-offshore flights), although when the birds are relatively close 8x binoculars will work.
Hot food and hot beverages welcome.