In the Choir

Proud high cheekbones, slim jaw, hair flowing free,

Two rows back, robed in red, she takes her place.

Her smile holds back fatigue to let us see

The startling beauty of a mother’s face.


A year ago, she flowed across the stage.

The young men stared, they had no choice.

A flower, a whisper, passion and rage

A silver chalice with a golden voice.


At night, she lullabies her baby boy,

Her best work given to her sleeping son.

Her soul pours out with songs of piece and joy,

A tour de force – an audience of one.


Players don’t choose their stage or their scene’s length.

We just get to pick how we spend our strength.   


Baby Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, waiting for a free meal, White Clay Creek, Delaware



5/2 – Root Glen, Hamilton College, Clinton, NY

Rachel and I took a two hour walk around the campus this afternoon.  When I was a student here, we could have done the walk in one hour.  The campus is beautiful and has expanded to include many resources that are impressive; especially considering the student body is under 2000 students.  I can see that many of the new features relate to academic pursuits, like a theatre in the round at the new campus center and expanded laboratory space at the greatly expanded science building.  But a lot of the building looks like enhancements to the country-club atmosphere of college.  Not to pick on just one team, but I remember the soccer fields as a flat area where the lawn got mowed in the summer and then they painted the grass with white lines.  Now it is two all-weather surface fields with bleachers, score boards, and fences.  I’ll bet that the pro soccer teams don’t have better practice facilities than the division three Hamilton students.  That’s nice, but it seems to me like over-kill.

      I can see that I’m about to go off on another tangent about colleges.  Let’s leave that for later.  I think that I’m just delaying writing down why I’m here in the first place.  So I’m going to get past that now, and then talk about it a little.  This morning we buried my Mom in a near-by cemetery.  She was ninety-one.

      You know, it’s pretty easy to write about a little bird that flashes into your life for a couple minutes and then flies off, never to be seen again.  It’s easy to fill up many pages on what it looked like, what it did, how you identified it, which other birds are similar, why it is here, where it goes to nest, and on and on.  But for someone close, it is really hard to know what to say.  No one in the world, not your own kids, not your spouse, not your friends, or not even your dad, cares about you in the way your mom does.  She has a certain pride of ownership in you that she never relinquishes and never lets you forget.  Lots of times we play the rebellious teenager and remind her that we are not kids anymore.  On the other hand, we can’t wait to tell her about the new things that are happening in our lives and are very pleased when she compliments us.  Be honest.  When your friends look at your pictures of your kids and your vacation and your beach house, they are a little curious, but they are mostly being polite.  One or two shots of your kids at Disney World is sufficient.  They would really rather not have to see the whole album, but not your mom.  She really wants to see every picture and hear the story behind it -- who got sick and when, who wouldn’t go on the ride, who was the bravest kid on the water slide, who got a rash, who fed the sparrows at Sea World, who fell asleep on the way home… One of our joys is that my mom got to see our kids grow up.  One of our sorrows is that Chris’ mom died before our kids were born, so she never got to meet them.

      My mom had a lot of traits and skills that I could catalogue.  I could talk about her accomplishments and the family that she created.  But there is this little story that keeps popping into my head.  I’d rather tell that.

      When Mike was in elementary school, he had real snakes for pets.  When he was pre-school, he had a pretty extensive collection of plastic snakes.  We almost always spent Christmas Eve and Day in our own house, and then traveled to New York to spend between Christmas and New Years with my parents.  One year Mike got a particularly loud and annoying plastic machine gun, a dinosaur that walked and breathed smoke, and several new plastic snakes.  He annoyed everyone with the machine gun.  Eventually his older cousins hid it away and I found it in a closet when we packed up to go home.  He was particularly pleased that one of his girl cousins his own age was actually frightened by his dinosaur.  He had a great time surprising his Babcie (that’s the Polish name for grandmother) with his snakes.  Whenever she found one where Michael had put it to surprise her, she would make a huge fuss.  Michael would have to come and get the snakes and “Take the horrible thing away”.  Michael loved the game.  My mother played along with him all week.  Our last day of the trip, I was up early and saw my mom in the kitchen holding a big wooden spoon with one of Mike’s snakes hanging from the end.  Since Mike was still asleep, I had no idea what she was up too.

      “Can you believe it?” she asked me.  “That rascal hid this in my bed.”

      You could tell she was really amused by the joke that her grandson had played on her.

      “Why are you holding it with a spoon?”

      “No way am I going to touch this horrible thing.”

      “You don’t like snakes?”

      “I hate them.  If I see one outside, I make your father catch it and take it away.”

      “It’s just plastic.”

      “I don’t care.  I’m not touching it.”

      So I took it and put it away.  I was surprised at her fairly common reaction, but even more surprised that she let her grandson make a game of it.  All week long Mike had been planning new ways to scare Babcie with his snake.  He was tickled pink every time he succeeded.  Instead of being mad at him and taking the snake away, she made sure that he got it back, so he could trick her again.

      It may have been the same day that I noticed that my three kids had left their hand prints all over the picture windows at the front of the house.  They were at three distinct heights.  Mike’s were pretty high up; Kathryn’s were littler and in the middle; Rachel’s barely got over the window sill.   I got some Windex and was about to wash them off, when my dad stopped me.  He said to leave them.  That my mom enjoyed looking at them and probably wouldn’t wash them off until spring.  She kept a spotless house, but grandkid hand prints on her windows were something to be treasured, not washed away.

      Rachel and I finished our walk around Hamilton’s campus by visiting Root Glen.  It is a woodland garden and arboretum that is one of the most splendid paths in central New York.  There is a little part of it called Kirkland Glen with a grassy lawn surrounded by flowerbeds.  It’s a great place for a small outdoor string quartet concert.  Today it was being used for wedding pictures.  We sat on a bench along a stream in Root Glen and talked a little about my parents.  The bench was a favorite spot for my parents.  They would drive up to Hamilton, walk through the glen, look at the many unusual trees and plants that are labeled, enjoy the big beds of shade loving ferns and flowers then sit on the bench to eat their lunch.  It’s a beautiful and peaceful spot.  My parents worked hard, they enjoyed life, and they were very thankful for being able to be part of the beauty of our world.  The world is better because they were in it.


Sunday, May 12 - White Clay Creek, Newark, Delaware - Mother’s Day

      My teammates gave me a nice rose bush to plant in honor of my mom and a gift certificate that I used to buy seven holly bushes, one for each of her kids.  It will be nice to see the plants grow over the years and remember my parents and the family that I grew up with, as well as the extremely nice people that I work with.  With travel, yard work, and just plan exhaustion, my plan to spend May watching Warblers at Tyler Arboretum and shore birds in New Jersey didn’t happen.  We didn’t get out to bird watch until the second Sunday in May, which turned out to be Mother’s Day.  Kathryn and I took Chris out to one of our favorite restaurants in the region.  I’ll leave the address and phone at the end of this section.  It’s in Newark, Delaware and it is famous for being a spot frequented by Edgar Allen Poe, the writer of “the Raven” and “The Tell-Tale Heart”.  Chris and Kathryn (who is twenty-one) helped themselves to the “Bloody-Mary” bar.  We all had great meals.  Mine was Eggs Benedict with Filet Mignon.  Properly fortified, we headed out to White Clay Creek to hunt for the Cerulean Warbler.

      White Clay Creek State Park shows up on lots of lists of the best places to see birds.  It is the only known nesting spot for the Cerulean Warbler in Delaware.  In general, it is an excellent spot to see warblers, vireos, and other woodland birds, especially in May and June.  Many are migrating through Delaware, but some are staying to raise a family.  We accessed the park off of Route 896, north of Newark.  We hiked down a trail through the woods toward the creek.  We stopped to admire a Tree Swallow who was showing off on top of his nest box, then stepped into a sound theatre for little birds with big voices.  Walking in the woods, we heard so many birds that their songs all blended together.  But as usual in the woods, they didn’t show themselves, except for brief and frustrating glimpses.  No biggie.  It was a beautiful day for a walk.  Even though I couldn’t identify any birds, it was wonderful to be among them.

      We came out of the woods on an actual road and had to make a decision on whether to follow the woodland trail to the creek.  Unless you skipped all the other chapters and started reading this book with the May chapter (which makes sense if you are primarily interested in warblers), you know us well enough to predict that we would take the easier path.  So while we were walking down the road, a guy in a pickup stopped next to us and asked us if we are birders.  Of course we were.  All three of us had binoculars dangling from our necks.  Right away, I remembered the nice lady who told me about the Painted Bunting.  And the nice couple who told me about the Saw-whet Owl at Tinicum.  And the photographer who told Chris and me where to see the short-eared owls at Middle Creek.  The guy in the pickup said, “I hear that there is an Olive-sided Flycatcher near Wedgewood Bridge.  I’m going there now to check it out.”

      I responded with a true statement, “I’d like to see an Olive-sided Flycatcher.”

      So he told us where to go and to look for him when we got there.  So now we were on a mission.

      The road we were walking on was Wedgewood Road.  It dead ends on Creek Road right at a footbridge that goes over the creek.  That’s the start of a really good birding walk and the footbridge area is one the birding hotspots in the park.  We didn’t know that until later.  What we saw as we got to Creek Road and walked right was our birding tipster down the road.  He had a big camera and lens, but he was obviously not seeing the flycatcher.  He was studying the treetops and not focusing on any one spot.  In a tree near us, I saw a bird with a white breast and a black head and back.  The other birder came up to us and we did introductions.  His name was Morris. 

      “Is that the bird?” I asked him, pointing to the bird above us.

      “No that’s an Eastern Kingbird.”

      I didn’t want to admit that the Kingbird was just as much a coup for me as the Olive-sided Flycatcher was for him.  So I just looked at the Kingbird quietly as Morris talked.

      “The Kingbird has a white breast, but the Olive-sided Flycatcher is dark all over, except for a white patch on his back.  That’s the field mark.  And that bird is nestled in the trees pretty good.  Usually you see the flycatcher perched up high, lots of times on the peak of a tall dead tree.”

      “Like that bird over there?” I asked again, this time pointing to a bird that had just landed on the peak of a tall dead tree behind Morris.

      Morris turned and immediately got real serious.  “Maybe.  Maybe.  It’s a flycatcher. We need to see the white patch on his back.  Do you see it?”

      I had my good binoculars trained on the bird.  Yes, I could see a white patch on his back just above his tail.  Morris snapped off some pictures.  After a bunch of shots, he stopped and showed me one.

      “I got him”, he announced.

      He had a shot of the back of the bird and it clearly showed the critical field mark.  The picture was a little blurry, but Morris assured me that when he edited it, it would clean up nicely.  So I congratulated him and put out my fist for him to pound.  Morris has been birding and writing about birds for almost as long as I have been alive.  He didn’t catch on to the fist pound right away, so I left it hanging there.  After a little bit, he politely obliged me with a punch on my fist.

      Now, having seen the Olive-sided Flycatcher, I was all charged up.  I was trotting up and down the path between Morris and Chris, who was taking pictures of the Kingbird.  I got Chris to take pictures of the flycatcher.  I knew that we wouldn’t be able to see any detail because the bird was too far away for our telephoto lens.  Still, the picture would be a good souvenir.

      I was making a fair amount of noise.  Kathryn shushed me a couple times.  It was a good thing that the birds were so high up or I would have spooked them.  Neither bird seemed to care that a group of humans was scurrying around on the road below.  The flycatcher flew off, but came back, flew off, and came back again.  While we were waiting for him to come back, we saw a fair number of Chimney Swifts.  When you are deciding whether a flying bird is a swift or a swallow, it helps to have with you a partner with 58 years of birding experience.  On this particular day, I had that partner.  Swifts and swallows are very close in size with similar wing span and they both fly around catching insects really fast.  The swallows have a sharp bend in their wing when they fly, whereas the swift’s wings are more smoothly curved.  The swallows have a distinctive tail.  Often you can see that it’s forked.  The swifts have a tail, but you wouldn’t know it watching them fly. The back looks cut off and the body looks like a tube.  The Chimney swift is dark both above and below.

      Then I saw a black and yellow bird fly past us.  Chris and Kathryn saw it too.  We pointed it out to Morris.

      “That’s a Baltimore Oriole.  They call it a Northern Oriole now.”

      “It was more yellow.”

      “Possible it could be an Orchard Oriole.”

      While we were talking about it Chris took its picture.  The oriole was eating tent caterpillars.  It wasn’t a picture that we could put in a magazine, but it showed the bird was orange and black and that it was clearly the Baltimore Oriole.

      At this point, we decided to move on.  We agreed that the site had been really productive.  Morris recommended for info on local hotspots and to see some good pictures of local birds.  I thanked him for sharing his knowledge.  He thanked me for spotting the birds, which was very generous of this fine birder.

      We spent a little while resting on the bridge before the hike back to the car.  Chris got more shots of Kingbirds, this time from close up.  They came out nice.  The stream was beautiful on this peaceful Sunday morning.

      Parking at all the Delaware State parks is $6 per vehicle for out-of-state cars and $3 for in-state.  Your Federal Duck Stamp gets you into all the National Wildlife Refuges, but isn’t good at the state parks.


Kingbird, White Clay Creek, Delaware, May, 2013



5/15 - 8:45 – Birdfeeder - all at once… and making me late for work.

      Brown-headed cow bird - 4

      White Breasted Nuthatch - 1

      Goldfinch - 2

      Red-Bellied Woodpecker - 1

      Purple-Finch - 2

      House Finch - 2

      Song Sparrow - several

      Cardinal - 2                  


5/19-Sunday- Brandywine Creek State Park, Delaware

This is an outstanding spot for springtime woodland birds.  It is north of Wilmington, almost in Pennsylvania.  The hot spot is along Brandywine Creek at Ramseys Road.  We got to it by parking at the Thompson’s Bridge entrance to the park and hiking north on the Greenway for a mile.  Another way to get there is to drive down Ramseys Road and park along the road or in the lot directly across from Ramseys Farm.  I’ll give better directions later.

      The Greenway is an extremely well-maintained trail that parallels the Brandywine Creek.  Between Thompson’s Bridge and Ramseys Road, it makes a loop pretty far away from the creek.  Where it comes back to the creek is where the hot spot starts.  As Chris and I approached that part of the trail, we saw a birder intently studying a tree top.  We waited, not wanting to scare his bird.  He made a little hand motion, but we weren’t sure if he meant to stay or to come.  Instead we quietly went down to the creek to wait.  Later we found out that he was studying a Wilson’s Warbler, an unusual and exciting find.  We did okay ourselves, down by the water.  There were a lot of Tree Swallows and Barn Swallows skimming the water, catching bugs.  The reddish breasts of the Barn Swallows contrasted nicely with the blue green backs of the Tree Swallows and the sparkling water of the Brandywine.  An Osprey flew in and perched on a branch directly across the water from us and posed for pictures.  Then he screeched a few times to remind us what Ospreys sound like and flew off.

      Also across the creek, there was a little blue bird resting on a log.  He was a different blue than the Tree Swallows and smaller.  When he turned his head, we could see a lot of black on his front.  I got a lot pictures, but they were too distorted to help.  Talking to a guy who knows about warblers did help.  It was a Black-throated Blue Warbler.  The guy who knows Warblers was named Don.

      “Did you hear the Osprey?” he asked us.

      Don was a former postal worker who has spent a lot of time at this very spot and also spent a lot of time studying warbler songs.  He can hear the bird, identify it by its song, know pretty well where it is hiding, then hunt it down in the tree or bush.  He was hoping to see the Wilson’s Warbler, a bland yellow and yellow/green bird with a tiny black cap on the top of his head.  We studied the tree top together.  The Wilson’s was gone, but several Blackpoll Warblers were singing around us.  Don pointed out their “siss-siss-siss-siss” sound -- calling it a song is being too generous.  Since we knew we were looking for little black and white birds, we found them pretty quickly in the tree branches overflowing the trail.  They had black caps, white cheeks, and black lines on their white breasts.  Then we heard a pretty and sweet song from a bush on the other side of the trail.  Don thought it could be a Yellow Warbler.  We hunted for the bird and we both saw it poking around in the bush.  I got my binoculars focused on him and answered Don’s questions.  Yes, it had lines on its chest.  But no, they weren’t red.  Yes I can see the color in this light.  But the bird is not yellow, it’s mostly brown.  It has a white-eye liner.  Don guessed that we had a Chestnut-sided warbler.  Later looking at its picture in the guide, I saw how my description led him to that wrong guess.  It wasn’t hard to find the right id.  It was a Louisiana Waterthrush, a small brown warbler with a sweet song.

      After that, I had Don look through my binoculars so that he could tell that I really could see the colors.  He was blown away by how good the color was in the dim light of the forest.  I gave him Anita’s name and number, in case he decided to update his own binoculars.  With his aptitude and knowledge of the warbler songs, seeing the colors super well could make him a birding force to be reckoned with. 

      Don heard a new bird high above us.  “That’s Redstart,” he pronounced.  It sounded something like “chewy chewy”.  We could see him clearly high up in the tree and he was definitely the one singing, but despite my bragging rights on my binoculars, I could not see any red on him.  So it was either an immature male Painted Redstart or the backlighting was hiding his color.

      We walked the rest of the way out to Ramseys Road and talked with Don about this birding hot spot, the weather, and learning bird songs.  While we talked, a Baltimore Oriole flew by.  That was nice.  We walked down the bank to the edge of the creek and saw several Cedar Waxwings.  Apparently we were near the nest of a Gray Catbird, because one of those kept making a commotion around us and didn’t leave.  Don identified a Yellow Warbler by sound again, but the only warbler that ventured out in the open was one of the hard to identify dull yellow-green guys.  We did see and hear a Warbling Vireo.  He’s not much of a looker, but he sings nice.  I bet the lady vireos like him just fine.

      We had to hike back to the car, so we said our good-byes to Don.  I hope I see him again at the spot.  He seemed so much a part of this spot that he could have been a wood elf.  But of course, those don’t really exist.  If they do exist, they probably don’t work for the postal service.  From now on, when I go to this park, I’m sure that I’ll remember him.

      On the walk back, we found a path that stayed closer to the water.  We saw Robins, Mallards, Canadian Geese, and lots of swallows.  Wading in a shallow part of the stream, we saw a single sandpiper -- a little smaller than a Robin, brown on top, white on the bottom, some speckling on his breast.  Chris got his picture, and identified him as a Spotted Sandpiper.   I like taking a picture and doing the id later.  It takes the pressure off.


      To Thompson’s Bridge -- take 202 North from Delaware or south from Pennsylvania.  Go west on route 92, which is Beaver Valley Road.  Stay on 92 as it bears left and then becomes Thompson’s Bridge Road.  The park entrance is in 1.5 mile at the bottom of the hill on your right.  If you go too far, you will get wet.

      To Ramsey’s Road, stay on Beaver Valley Road a little past where 92 bends left.  Ramseys Road will be your next right.  You go a couple miles until you get to Ramseys Farm on your left.  Across from that is a little parking lot.


5/25 – Saturday - Brandywine Creek - No helpers, no luck

So you don’t believe in “psychic powers”?  I don’t either.  But listen to this anyway.

      Once, before Chris’ parents were coming to our house for a visit, I saw her staring at a clock on our wall.  She was ticked off that it wasn’t running.  I noticed the next day it was fixed and figured that she changed the battery.  Chris’ mom and dad stayed for a week, and the clock ran fine.  The day after they left, it was broken again.  When I asked, Chris about it, I found out that she hadn’t changed the battery.

      Four times our property has been struck by lightning, twice in Delaware and twice in Pennsylvania.  These were all major strikes, doing major damage.  One knocked a large tree branch into our chimney, which scattered bricks all over the roof, which destroyed the roof and let water leak into the upstairs.  Another dropped an entire tree onto our garage.  The tree cut through the garage like butter.  The worst incident took out six 100 foot trees in our front yard, including a majestic Red Oak.  The electricity traveled down wires, into the house, and wiped out all our appliances, fried the computers, and damaged the wiring, outlets, and lamps.  That strike did $18,000 in damage. I wasn’t home for any of these hits.  Chris was there for three out of four.

      So one clock and four lightning strikes are probably a coincidence you are thinking.  But there’s more.  We visited my Uncle Jerry and Aunt Helen near Lake Wallenpaupack in northeast PA when our kids were all small.  A big storm came up and knocked out the power.  Uncle Jerry got right up to start his generator.  I went with him to help.  We were in a shed behind his back porch and Uncle Jerry connected his generator to a big plug attached to a thick electrical cable.  Just as he started the generator, a huge blast rang out and we were lifted a foot up from the ground.

      “Oh, my God!”  I thought.  “Uncle Jerry blew us up! I’m dead.”

      But then I realized I wasn’t dead.  A blast of lightning had hit a large Black Cherry tree about thirty feet from the back porch.  A plank at least 25 feet long and at one end a foot thick was split off from the trunk and thrown out of the woods across the driveway.  Chris and the kids had been standing on the back porch with their eyes directed toward the tree, so they saw the strike.  Whatever power was shooting at Chris just missed her that time.

      Still not convinced?    In the summer of 1985 there was a huge power outage that took down the whole east coast electrical grid.  Just before that happened, Chris was sitting in her office staring out the window waiting for two government officials to arrive to audit the home health agency she was directing.  She hated being audited, and she didn’t like the auditors very much either.  She was really mad.  When the power went down, the audit was postponed to the next day.  When the power stayed down (yes, really), the audit was cancelled.  Then the power came back up.

      So what does this have to do with a Saturday morning trip to Brandywine Creek State Park?  Chris, Rachel, and Kathryn went outlet shopping and left me home to cut the grass and fix the fence.  As soon as the mowing was done, I took off for Ramseys Bridge.  It was surprisingly cold, high 40’s to low 50’s.  A steady wind was blowing.  There were no birds along the creek.  There were a few Robins, Cardinals, and a Kingbird in the freshly planted field behind the creek.  I tried walking on the nearby trails in a very nice multiuse preserve - hiking, biking, horse-back riding, and wild-life preservation - alongside farming.  No birds there either.  It was dramatic that a site that is obviously teaming with bird life could be so quiet when the temperature drops or the wind picks up.  Maybe Chris can’t control the weather and doesn’t have the ability to take down the electrical grid of a major country, but I went back home and worked on the fence.


5/26- Sunday morning- A Little Migration Action at White Clay Creek

Today I went out with the crew that was so successful at Bombay Hook -- Chris, Rachel, Mike, and Eddie.  Kathryn was going to come too but got sick on Saturday, so she stayed home to recuperate.

      We started at the Wedgewood Road Footbridge.  This time we drove directly there and parked at the lot at the end of Wedgewood Road.  We took a short stroll up Creek Road where we had seen the Olive-sided Flycatcher the previous week and this day saw a Hummingbird jet past us.  We walked across the bridge and took the left patch along the river.  The prime birding walk is from the footbridge to a small marshy lake on the right side of the path.  We did that and a little more.

      Not far from the bridge we took a side path down to the water and sat on some logs and listened to a profusion of sound.  We could see the birds hopping around in the brush, but the vegetation was so thick that we couldn’t get any really good looks.  It’s a pretty part of the creek and it would be easy to spend the whole morning just sitting at this one peaceful spot.  Near the bridge seems to be a good spot for Kingbirds and they were there again today.  Along the path we saw the expected Cardinals, Goldfinches, and Chickadees.  As we approached the lake/marsh, two small ducks flew off.  They weren’t Mallards or any other duck that we’ve seen this year.  I was hoping that they would come back, because this is a spot for Wood Ducks.  I haven’t seen them yet, even though I’ve been to a number of spots where they are supposed to be common.  They did not come back, so I remain Wood Duck-less.  A Great Blue Heron also flew off as we trudged in.  The bird that didn’t seem to mind us at all was a Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, who was busy feeding her baby.  The nest was a in a tree along the path and only about fifteen feet off the ground.  The nest was white, about the size of a baseball and looked very nicely plastered together on the outside.  Online, I read that the nests are made of grass, plant down, spider webs, and lichens.  It looked like the couple that made this nest had found plenty of spider webs to work into their creation.  It had a nice silky look.  Popping his head out of the nest was junior gnatcatcher.  His mom was busy flying across the water and returning with a bug to feed him.  She was too fast for us to get her picture even though we got a dozen or more chances.  However, junior cooperated nicely and we got several nice pictures of him poking his cute little head out of the nest.

      Beyond the small lake, there is an old stone structure in a field along the creek.  That’s where we found the most birds that we could identify.  We saw a Phoebe doing the vigorous tail wagging that she’s known for.  There was the usual Gray Catbird making a ruckus and a few Red-winged Blackbirds.  We spent a lot of time looking at a medium sized yellow bird with grey and white wings.  It might have been a female Orchard Oriole, but together we decided, using Mike’s birding app on his phone, that it looked closer to the first year female Baltimore Oriole.  Either way, it was a fun bird to look at and discuss with all four of us.  The only crew member who didn’t contribute to the discussion was Eddie.   Chris saw a Yellow Warbler and was able to see the fine lines along its sides.  Mike’s app was front and center again and he used it to identify a Prothonotary Warbler.  This brilliant yellow bird with blue wings is a real treat.  I didn’t see it and also didn’t see the Yellow Warbler.  But as a team, we did well.


5/26- Sunday afternoon- more migration action along Delaware Bay

After a nice lunch at the Deer Park in Wilmington, we headed south to check out Slaughter Beach.  That’s a rocky beach at the epicenter of the Horseshoe Crab spring spawning.  Every spring, when the high tides are at their peak, millions of Horseshoe Crabs crawl out of Delaware Bay to lay billions of eggs along the beaches.  This once yearly bonacropitude (don’t bother to look this word up, I just invented it) of protein provides a vital link for the spring shorebird migration.  Hundreds of thousands of birds time their flights from the south to the north to stop in Delaware and New Jersey to fatten up on the crab eggs.  One species in particular has captured the attention of birders, naturalists, and other good-thinking people.   The Red Knot, a medium-sized chubby bird with a rosy breast, winters in southern Argentina, flies to the east coast of Brazil, and then in one shot flies to the Delaware Bay.  The birds arrive starving and ready to gorge on the eggs.  They have just a few weeks to restore the fat that they have lost and pack on enough extra weight to allow them to get to the Artic.  They will get to the Artic several weeks before the bonacropitude of insects and other life provides them their next big meal.  During that time they need to have enough energy reserves left to breed and nest.  On the Delaware Bay they need to eat a lot.  In “Living on the Wind”, Scott Weidensaul wrote, “ For this remarkable system to work, there must be a profligacy of crabs, an orgy or Roman proportions, and more eggs than stars in the sky.  It is not enough that there merely be some horseshoe crabs on the beach, or even a lot -- there must be so many that the bay shore seethes with them like an invading legion, multitudes squandering their biological capital with utter, reckless, bacchanalian abandon…” Scott and many other writers chronicled the human depredation on the crabs mostly to be used as fertilizer.  In the 1850s, 4 million crabs a year were being “taken” from the bay --  “harvested” is not the correct word since the “takers” did  nothing to grow the resource -- “stolen” is also not correct, because the taking was not against any human laws.  But the horseshoe crab population crashed in the 1950s and humans stopped “taking” the crabs.  They slowly recovered, which allowed the shorebirds also to recover, and by the 1980s millions of shorebirds were flocking to the bay to gorge on the crab eggs.  The estimated Red Knot population had grown to 150,000, which although small is significantly up from prior decades.  Scott published “Living on the Wind” in 1999.  Humans had again started preying on the horseshoe crab in 1990 to use as cheap bait to catch eels to ship to Asia.  He talks about witnessing large numbers of birds in 1989 and much smaller numbers at the time of the writing of his great book.  By 2009, the crab numbers were way down and 90% of the Red Knot population went with them.

    The plight of the Red Knot is one of the biggest conservation stories of the current decade and makes it a happening that I wanted to see badly.  But bigger things in my life kept me away from the shore until this third week in May.  We parked at a public lot in the center of the tiny town of Slaughter Beach and we walked to the beach.  There were a lot of people around close to the parking lot and few birds.  Chris, Rachel, and Eddie settled right there to catch some rays, while Mike and I started walking north to get away from the largest group of people.  When the number of people decreased, the number of birds increased.  I took some photos of Semipalmated Sandpipers.  The tide was going out and we noticed that on the edge of the water, in the mudflats, there were a lot of sandpipers.  We set up the spotting scope and watched them.  There were thousands of them feeding there.  Mike guessed five thousand, I think he was way low.  Among the peeps (the nickname for tiny sandpipers) were some larger, black-breasted shore birds.  I thought that I knew them immediately.

      “Those are Black-bellied Plovers,” I told Mike.

      He looked them up on his bird app and agreed that this was the bird.  When I got home and opened my bird guide (F16) to the page for the Black-bellied Plover, I saw on the facing page the write up of the American Golden Plover.  The two species look very much the same.  The difference of size and the color under the wings were no help.  The Black-bellied Plovers are white under the tail while the Goldens are entirely black underneath.  We saw white underneath, but the Golden Plovers are more common at this location.  It is a hard call, but I’m sticking with my first id of Black-bellied.  There were at least fifty of them mixed in with the multitudes of smaller birds.  So we got to see a really cool shorebird and some of the mass migration.  It was a good day to be a birder in Delaware.

Restaurant – on the way back to drop off Mike in Newark, we stopped at a Mexican restaurant that Mike knew about.   I got fajitas with the fixings presented inside a pineapple half.  It was good.   El Tapatio, Bear, Delaware.





5/30 and 5/31 – 7 PM to 8:30 PM – Stroud Preserve – West Chester, PA

Lots of really good things are happening at this Natural Lands Trust wildlife preserve.  It is a preserve on private land that encourages public use.  It has hiking, jogging, dog walking, and horseback riding.  I haven’t seen any mountain bikers, so I don’t know if that is allowed.  The bridge is a good spot to end a canoe trip down the Brandywine River.  There is a lot of farming done on the property, but this farming is done with the focus of preserving wildlife.  For example, the hay is harvested once, after the grassland birds have fledged.  Current commercial practice is to harvest twice in the spring, killing the nesting birds.  The combination of forests, fields, streams, and wetlands makes Stroud a very productive place for birders.  It is also one of the remaining locations that is preserving a serpentine barrens, a soil rich in heavy metals that supports a unique set of plant life.  The nesting birds include meadowlarks, bobolinks, orioles, and warblers.

      On our two evening walks, we saw a Common Yellow Throat Warbler, some Acadian Flycatchers, some Kingbirds, and three kinds of swallows.  We’ve seen the Tree Swallows before, but here they were posing nicely for pictures on top of their nesting boxes.  The Barn Swallows were easy to pick out with their red breasts.  The swallows new to us were the Northern Rough-winged Swallows.  These are drab brown on top and white underneath.  The swallows were all over the grasslands and most numerous over the creek.  There were abundant Red-winged Blackbirds, Robins, and sparrows, and a few Mockingbirds and Catbirds.  The second evening we saw an Eastern Meadowlark perched in a small tree at the edge of a path through the grassland.  He didn’t sing and it was dusk, so we only saw his outline, not his colors.


Barn Swallows, Stroud Preserve, PA, May, 2013


Baby Red-winged Blackbird, Stroud Preserve, PA


6/1 – 7 AM to 9:30 AM – Stroud Preserve  

Near the bridge, a minute outside of the parking lot, we saw a Yellow Warbler.  We got a good look at this bright, yellow gem and could easily see the fine red lines running down his breast.  All three kinds of swallows that we’ve been seeing and hordes of Red-winged Blackbirds were near the bridge area.  We hiked up past the farm and got onto the trail that loops around the grasslands on top of the big hills.  On the trail maps, it’s the red trail.  Out in the middle of a big field, we came across a number of Bobolinks.  These blackbirds are unmistakable because of the big white patch on the back of their heads and necks.  They also have white on their shoulders and rumps.  Our first Bobolink perched on a stake near the trail and let me take as many pictures of him as I wanted.  Several photos came out pretty well.  There were probably a dozen or more Bobolinks in the field, but it is hard to be sure whether the birds we were seeing popping in and out of the grass were the same ones that we had already counted.

      In the same area, farther along the trail, we saw a baby Tree swallow poking his head out of his box.  As we took a bunch of photos, we kept our distance, so I don’t think that we were bothering him.  After a little while, he flew out of the box and down the trail past us.  Quite possibly, we witnessed his first flight.  It was an excellent effort.

      We saw more Red-winged Blackbirds, more Acadian Flycatchers, more Catbirds, a Mourning Dove, a hawk, more Robins, and some Turkey Vultures.  Then we saw a flood of yellow up in a tree and stopped to investigate.  After watching them for ten or fifteen minutes, we had the birds’ image firmly fixed in our brains – yellow body, black head, black and white wings.  It looked exactly like an Audubon’s Oriole.  The only problem with that is we were not in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.  After a little study and some help from pictures that kindly birders posted on the internet, we realized that it was an immature male Orchard Oriole.

      To round out our day, we saw a Baltimore Oriole (I know it has been renamed, and I don’t care) and a Bluebird.  Near the bridge, on the way out, we saw a fat, little bird with a proportionately huge beak, perched high in a bush.  The sun was directly behind him, so we really could only see his outline.  When he turned a little, it seemed like he was blue.  I took a few pictures, hoping to id him later.  Checking the bird guide and the internet, the only bird that fit his shape, size, and bill is the Blue Grosbeak, a bird that visits Stroud occasionally starting in June.

      So are you impressed with our 574 acres of loveliness in Chester County?  I think you should be.

      Here’s the location:  454 North Creek Road, West Chester, PA

      Phone:  610-344-3443

      Directions:  Out of West Chester, from route 100, take Hillsdale Road or W. Miner Street heading west.  Turn Right on North Creek Road.  Or if you take Strasburg Road (Route 162), turn left onto North Creek Road.

Nearby Good diner:  Mrs. Mike’s, 633 Downingtown Pike, West Chester, PA  Breakfast and lunch only.  The Mrs. Mike’s omelet is loaded with good stuff and you can’t go wrong with a liverwurst sandwich on rye.


Bobolink, Stroud Preserve, West Chester, PA, May, 2013



Female Red-winged Blackbird, Stroud Preserve, PA