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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Willet

Shorebird identification can be challenging for new bird watchers. But one of the shorebirds, the long-legged pigeon-sized willet, Tringa semipalmata, helps out by obligingly shouting its name "Pill Will Willet! Pill Will Willet!" and then spreading its wings to reveal white markings that differentiate it from all others. I cannot tell you how many times I've asked "Is that a willet?" to have the question answered by the bird itself with a call and a wing flash. Click to enlarge.
The willet is my pick for a father's day bird because, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, although both willet parents share the task of incubating eggs, only male willets spend their nights on the nest. Happy Father's Day to everybody!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Black Skimmers

Black skimmer couples, Rynchops niger, are nesting now on New Jersey beaches. Sandy beaches with light vegetation like the one pictured are among their favorite places to nest. The nest is just a scrape in the sand. Humans also like beaches like this and human disturbance combined with natural predation, habitat degradation, and flooding has led to these unique birds being endangered in New Jersey. I took the picture from farther away than it looks with a telephoto lens and tried not to seem aggressive. They ignored me so I think I was successful. Click to enlarge.
Adult black skimmers have a wingspan up to about 50 inches. The huge sleek bird feeds by flying  low over water with its beak open, the lower mandible cutting through the surface of the water and closing when it encounters a fish. (Click here to see it on YouTube.) But the thing I like most about them is the way they rest on the beach. Click on the photo above to enlarge; the four birds in the center are lying prone on the sand like a row of downed bowling pins. There is nothing average about a black skimmer.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Peacock Fly!

I was walking in Long Bridge Park in Burlington County, New Jersey, the other day. There are lots of wooden walkways over marshy spots on the trails. Whenever I walk on nature trail boardwalks like that I scan the handrails because they are good places to find insects basking in the sun and caterpillars that have fallen from trees. I was not disappointed. Stopping to investigate a tiny fly I saw the critter pictured above -- a peacock fly with its wings raised over its back, from which it gets its common name. Click to enlarge.
The peacock fly is more formally Callopistromyia annulipes of the picture-winged fly family Ulidiidae. They are found across North America. Both genders commonly strut with their wings up like this and several other individuals were near this one. Being only about the size of fruit flies they are easy to overlook and I had never seen one before.
This all reminds me of the last spectacular thing I found on the handrail of a nature trail: the rarely seen holy grail of caterpillars, a spun glass caterpillar, Isochaetes beutenmueller. It was on a wooden railing near the River Styx in Mammoth Cave Park in Mammoth Cave, Kentucky. Sometimes it pays to keep your eyes down. 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Happy Memorial Day!

Beverly National Cemetery in Beverly, New Jersey. Click to enlarge.
Sleep the sleep that knows not waking, 
Dream of battled fields no more.  
 
from Soldier Rest! Thy Warfare o'er
by Sir Walter Scott

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Lunch With the Crow

I've always had trouble photographing crows. They see me coming and despite my attempts to approach casually, they always pick up and leave before I get within snapping distance. So I was ignoring a crow one blue morning a few weeks ago as I walked to the edge of Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park. I passed the lovely wildflower meadow on Pier 6 pictured here. The crow was calling from a high perch as I reached my favorite bench. Click to enlarge.
I was not even going to try to take that crow's picture. I unwrapped the lox cream cheese bagel I'd brought for lunch.
Then I settled in to watch the boat traffic on the East River; here's a nice red tug heading north past lower Manhattan.
The next thing I knew, that crow had landed really close and was looking at me. After a minute it came closer. I thought briefly of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds before realizing it was looking at the bagel on the bench beside me.
It turns out crows really like lox cream cheese bagels.
And they like to keep clean. Between bites, it flew to a fence railing and wiped the cream cheese off its beak.
Last seen flying toward Governor's Island. Something tells me he's going to become a regular lunch companion at Pier 6.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Coming Soon

I'm going to be in places without Internet service for a week or two, so I'm posting a preview of coming attractions. This crow is the subject of an upcoming blog -- maybe this Sunday but possibly the next. 
The story will also feature this delicious lox cream cheese bagel. 
And be set against the lovely background of Brooklyn Bridge Park on Pier 6.
Click to enlarge and stay tuned.