February – Avoiding cabin fever

Happy Valentines Day, 2012

In Kirkland Glen, we thought, it’s not a date.

As friends, we tried to make some sense of life.

But then, on Valentines 1978

We changed into future husband and wife.

 

We laughed and loved.  It was a ten year date.

We raised two dogs and played at our careers.

When we bought a house in a brand new state,

In five quick years, our three good kids appeared.

 

The oldest is gone, sometimes he drops in.

He’s set up his life in another town.

And the girls are finding their own Kirkland Glens,

Choosing their own careers, while ours run down.

 

Sitting together in Exton, PA

Old friends, enjoying the rest of the day.

 

 

Osprey, Brandywine River, PA

 

 

February 8, at the Gadbow’s house

In one of the Introductions, I mentioned that I have a job.  I write computer software, which is driven by deadlines.  The code freeze date was today.  That means that for the software release I was helping to write, all the programmers needed to turn in all of their completed programs today.  After today, we can still change the software, but that’s considered fixing a defect, which we want to avoid.  So we go nuts to hit the deadline.  I find that I am fine while I’m doing a project, but as soon as it is over, I crash with a massive fatigue headache. This isn’t associated with age.  It has always happened to me.  It takes a couple days to recover, sometimes a week.  So today, I checked in 34 files and finished my work about an hour ahead of the deadline.  My head felt like it could pop, but after a couple of scotch and waters, I’m starting to feel pretty good.

      So now you know why I haven’t done any birding recently.  I plan to make up for that starting tomorrow.  But tonight, I feel like talking philosophically.  I blame the scotch.

      There is a little jewel in the heart of Chester County called Exton Park.  It has a stream and a pond and some marsh and a little wood, with paths circling the pond, and all of it surrounded by a corn field.  It is great habitat for birds and the site where a group of birders meets on Thursday mornings.  It also has beaver.

      The beavers at Exton Park didn’t need to dam up the stream because humans did that for them.  They still needed to build a lodge and cut enough trees to get the tender branches for food.  There is a nice write up about beaver behavior in the April chapter of Scott Weidensaul’s “Seasonal Guide to the Natural Year”.  He calls beaver dams “works of instinctive art”.  (F10).  Somewhere else (I can’t find the reference yet) he (or someone else) points out that researchers have documented that beavers will engage in dam building activities at the sound of rushing water.  Several of the writers that I’ve already mentioned point out that bird instinctive behavior centers around migration, nesting, and molting.  If you are of the opinion that humans have evolved beyond primitive instinct and have become totally rational beings, you would be wrong.

      Let’s start with pecking order.  That got its name from chickens pecking at each other to assert a rigid status hierarchy from top to bottom.  In the millions of years of human natural history, it is easy to see how having a set status order would allow aggressive hunting mammals to cooperate in groups.  Most current human social groups do not require strict pecking order and actually work better when most members of a team share relatively equal status.  But our instinct still drives us to engage in the pecking order behavior.  Since this type of behavior would make you unpopular at work and at home, where is the acceptable outlet?  Sports works for this.  Another outlet is in conspicuous status consumption. Hang on.  I’m going to define it!  If you think about advertisements, you will notice that most of our products are sold as status symbols.  Cars, clothes, jewelry, houses, educations, soda, and many other products are not advertised on their merits, but are shown in ways that indicate that the users of the products are smarter, more beautiful, more popular, and just better in general.  An expensive car will not get you to work quicker than a cheaper car, but it will precipitate a great deal of envy from those not fortunate enough to have bought one.  At least that is the sales pitch.  The result of the pecking order instinct in our society is copious and unnecessary spending on products that we are buying mostly to appear successful to others.  That’s kind of weird and an example of how our cultural evolution is out of step with our natural evolution.

      Here’s another example of weird human behavior, especially evident in Chester County.  This relates to our instinctive nesting behavior.  We’ve built nice four bedroom, two and a half bath nests on one acre plots which for a little while house two adults and 0, 1, 2, or 3 kids, but then are excessively large for the two adults left in them.  It’s not really bad, but it’s also not natural and carves up the bird habitat.

       Related to building the nest is the task of filling the nest.  Human bodies become capable of producing children in their early teens, but there has been a trend in the last hundred years to progressively delay the start of child rearing until much later.  As an example, my grandmother had her first kid at 16, my mother had her first kid at 26 and I had my first kid at 36.  In the 1970’s there was a fruit fly experiment in which the experimenter kept the sexes apart until later and later in the fertility cycle.  The result is that after eight or ten generations, he developed a fruit fly with a life span many times greater than the life span of a normal fruit fly.  He hypothesized that this was because flies that remained fertile longer also had genes for longer life.  So by keeping the flies apart for a while, those with shorter life spans were already infertile by the time they were allowed to breed.  Only the long-lived flies were still fertile.  Repeated over and over got him dramatic results.  (F11).  By progressively delaying the start of parenting, humans in Western society may be unwittingly following this same progression.  Perhaps in eight or ten generations, there will be groups of humans living hundreds of years.  But that would imply that child rearing might start at age 100 and retirement at age 200.  Again, that is not necessarily bad, but it is unnatural.

      As far as I can tell the birds, beavers, and other animals at Exton Park have normal life spans, normal sized nests, and are getting along well in groups.  A fundamental question that naturalists seem to puzzle about is “how do animals know what to do?”  Some of it is simply education.  A young bird sees an older bird eat a particular kind of bug, so he copies the behavior.  Some of their behavior is clearly not learned.  How does a young beaver learn to build his lodge?  It was already built before he was born, so he didn’t watch his dad and mom build one.  And just living in it for a couple seasons doesn’t teach him how to build it.  You’ve lived in a house for at least a couple of years and I doubt you know how to build a house.  For migration, for some species, the young birds leave later and separately from the older birds.  But it isn’t the blind leading the blind.  They get to their wintering grounds just fine without instruction.  Although being born with innate knowledge seems to be common, humans have a hard time accepting this phenomenon.  But it is part of human experience as well.  The first two human behaviors that I described, status consumption and building huge houses, are crazy unless put into the context of the ingrained natural behaviors of pecking order and nesting.  There are other things that we seem to know without being taught.  There is a swim club in West Chester that has been successful “teaching” very young kids to swim by initially just throwing them into the deep end.  It works because we must instinctively know how to swim in a rudimentary fashion.  (I’m not recommending this technique, I’m just commenting on it.  Actually I’ve heard that some kids in this program learn to swim, but also learn to hate swimming.)  Here’s a different example of instinctual behavior in humans.  I remember as a kid seeing a black spider with a red spot and jumping back from it quickly, an instantaneous flight or fight response devoid of any cognitive decision making.  The point isn’t whether the spider really was a Black Widow, but that I reacted like it was, even though Black Widows were not part of my experience.  Only as an adult did I “learn” that bright colors in nature sometimes mean poison.  Example three, lots of people have an ingrained fear of snakes.  Where does that come from?  Very few of us have ever witnessed or heard of a snake bite even second or third hand.  The vast majority of snakes are shy, gentle, and harmless to humans.  But since a few snakes can kill humans, there is survival value in avoiding them in general.  Even though no one “taught” them to fear snakes, many humans retain a millennia’s old aversion to snakes.

      So how does innate memory work?  Actually nobody knows how learned memory works either.  We get so comfortable doing amazing things that we take them for granted.  Have you ever knocked over a glass of water and set it back up so quickly that not all the water spilled out.  I bet that you have and you didn’t think one thing about it.  But that’s an amazingly quick reaction.  I’ll bet you can retrieve all kinds of info from your brain relating to things that happened years ago or things you were taught long ago.  How does that work?  The best we know is that certain areas of the brain participate in conscious thought while other areas handle autonomic processes (like breathing and heart rate).  Neuroscience gets a little more complex, but that is the basic point.  So thoughts get stored in neurons and are retrievable.  Instinct must work by the neural patterns that constitute thoughts being properly organized in a newborn to contain info.  This is similar to heart or lung tissue being organized properly to work as organs.  These neural patterns don’t even require a brain. Insects engage in complex social behaviors without having brains.  Termites outdo humans as the greatest builders on the planet without having brains.  Some butterflies migrate without the use of brains.  But they do have concentrations of nerve cells called ganglia, which although tiny, are big enough to hold complex behavioral patterns.  A bigger mystery than how the very common innate memory works is how the relatively less common learned memory works.  It seems that we are unusual animals in that we are born with a large part of our brains devoid of any pre-established information.   It takes more than two decades to fill the brain with enough established patterns to enable a human to completely function and make completely rational decisions.   Although that seems like it is a disadvantage, it is our greatest strength.   Whereas other animals can only gradually, through natural selection, fundamentally change their behavior, humans can dramatically change in one generation by using the extended growth period to fill up their brains with completely different patterns than are present in their parents.     

      When something happens to throw animals into patterns outside the scope of their instinctual behavior, they either change over generations or become extinct.  The fruit fly experiment shows how a repeated disruption in an organism’s normal life cycle can fundamentally alter the species.  That is why there is more than one kind of duck.  Humans have the ability to evolve the old fashioned way, and in a way that is unique to them.

 

Feb 9 - Tyler Arboretum  

      For a Valentine’s present, Chris bought us a Household Membership to the Tyler Arboretum, a 650 acre garden and woodland that borders on the 600 acre Ridley State Park to provide the largest contiguous bird habitat in Delaware County.   The county is otherwise generally a suburban sprawl - a very pretty and quaint suburban sprawl - but lacking any other large open space.  The size of the woodland in the midst of so much human development by itself makes the Arboretum and Park worthy of the Audubon Society’s Important Bird Area label.  The beauty of the woodland is astounding.  If the woodland is not Old Growth, it has been left alone long enough to have reestablished itself.  It is full of 100 foot plus hardwoods and evergreens.  The twenty miles of trails inside the Arboretum provide access to this wonderland.

      Today Chris and I walked one of the trails that took us all the way to the edge of the property where it borders with Ridley State Park.  For most of where we walked, we were the only hikers that day and the freshly fallen snow on the path stretched out clean and unmarked.  The white cottony clumps in the trees made the whole forest seem too pretty to be real.  It was mostly silent whenever I stopped chatting and we didn’t see many birds.  A group of five hawks flew overhead and I think they were Red Shouldered Hawks because the wings were relatively short and broad and there were translucent bars on the wings, but not the tips.  But I’m just guessing.  I’m not guessing about the Red Fox that Chris spotted for us.  We were halfway down a ridge and he was sunning himself in a big clearing at the bottom.  He was the biggest fox that I’ve seen and the picture of health and grace.  From the same vantage point we saw another raptor.  Where the first group was dark, this single bird was light, more grey than white.  He was medium-sized with pointed wings.  He flew off fast and high and when he plunged out of the sky in a sharp dive, I knew he was a Peregrine Falcon.  “I have never seen a bird fly faster!!” I said.  That is actually a serious understatement.  I could have said, “No one in the world has seen a bird fly faster!”  It was faster than lightening.  You can turn your head and still see lighting before it goes away.  It was more like a shooting star.  If you have your eyes pointed in the right direction, you can see it.  Otherwise it is gone before you can turn your head.  Until Oct 14, 2012, the Peregrine Falcon was the world’s fastest creature.  In competition sky diving, Felix Braungartner achieved a world record of 843 miles per hour, blowing away the falcon’s top speed of a little over 200 miles per hour.  (F12).    Felix got dropped out of a plane in the upper atmosphere where wind resistance is less, but that’s a detail.  Second place is still pretty good.  Please don’t go all Vince Lombardi over me.  Winning is not everything.  Let’s just agree that for a bird, the Peregrine Falcon is fast.  Thank you.

On the way out of the Arboretum we went through some open fields and were entertained by some Carolina Chickadees and some Song Sparrows.  You will hear a lot more about Tyler Arboretum from me.  I’m hoping maybe to tackle Sparrows and Warblers there.  I’ll be back on Wednesday morning to go out with a group.

The address is:  515 Painters Road, Media, PA

The web-site is:  www.tylerarboretum.org

Open:  9 am to 5 pm

      The nearby great diner is the Country Deli.  It is a right turn onto 352 coming out of the Arboretum and on the left in a few hundred feet.  They are open for breakfast and lunch until 2 pm.

 

Feb 10, John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum

Yep. By visiting Tinicum, I have atoned for one of my many birding crimes.  It feels good!

      Tinicum is an incredible and unusual place.  It is a wild life refuge bordering a major city, surrounded by heavy commercial and residential development, next to a major airport.  It has one thousand acres of marsh, creek, impoundments, and forest, creating an important migrating stop for birds and a nesting spot for over 80 other bird species.  It contains 200 acres of fresh water tidal marsh, the remnant of a 5000 acre pre-colonial marsh.  This remnant is the largest fresh water tidal marsh in Pennsylvania and the heart of a great natural resource.

      I remember driving from Wilmington, Delaware to consulting projects in Princeton, NJ and also to Wall Street in NYC in the early 1980’s and having to navigate around the Route 95 reconstruction project.  I also remember that Chris and I noticed signs for Tinicum WLR around that time and thought it strange that people would try to establish a refuge next to an airport and an oil refinery, with all of the accompanying pollution.  We had no idea that the 95 project was at the heart of a fight to save a vital piece of our natural environment and an important link in the chain for migratory birds.  To the people who fought to save Tinicum, I can only say, “Thank you.”  In yesterday’s section I used “Thank you.” to mean “That’s enough! I’m done talking with you about this!”  Here it means that you did a good thing by saving Tinicum and the world is a better place because you are in it.  To those who were engaged in the process and have passed on, I salute you.  To the workers and volunteers at the NWR, you are doing a great job.

      The NWR is named after the senator who championed its creation and the Lenape words for “islands of the marsh”.  It’s an example of how ordinary people fought back against destruction of important natural habitat.   It is also an excellent example of a shared use facility that incorporates wild life, access to wildlife, and other recreational opportunities.  Hiking, jogging, canoeing, and fishing are all happening around some really serious birding.  Everyone seemed polite, friendly, and happy to be outdoors together.

      I walked around the 145 acre impoundment.  It’s a three mile walk, but with many side trips down other paths, I covered more ground than that.  The temperature was in the low forties, no wind, and sunny.  It was a very pleasant February day.  I didn’t see a lot of unusual birds.  It seems that key birding times at Tinicum are spring and fall.  There were Downy Woodpeckers, Ring Billed Gulls, Great Blue Herons, Song Sparrows, White Throated Sparrows, Cardinals, Canada Geese, Mallards, and lots of little birds that hopped into the brush before I could identify them.  The first “cool” bird was a Northern Mockingbird.  I was looking at some sparrows when a guy came up and scared them away.  He was looking for his hat.  By the time he came back down the trail, I was face to face with this curious and bold bird.  The guy had found his hat and stopped to watch the Mockingbird with me.  It hopped around the bushes near us and didn’t fly even after we started chatting about it. 

      A little farther down the trail, I came to the crown jewel of the refuge.  On the highest tree of an island in the impoundment, there is a huge Bald Eagle nest.  Poking out of the nest was the large, majestic, white, watchful head of a very wild bird.  My reaction was elation, then disappointment, then even more elation.  Let me explain.  Of course, seeing a Bald Eagle nesting anywhere, under any conditions, is cause for celebration and the nest is extremely impressive.  The momentary disappointment came because I was also standing next to a three by six foot permanent exhibit sign describing the location of the nest and the steps in rearing the baby eagles.  It is an excellent display, but its presences detracted from the “treasure hunt” aspect of birding.  Mike pointed that out to me when I invited him to Conowingo Dam to see eagles and he said, “I loved seeing them at Bombay Hook because it was a surprise.  But if I go to a place where I know that I’ll see them, it isn’t as exciting.”   I get that.  I looked at the sign and the eagle and felt a little like I was at an exhibit at a zoo.  Then I looked at the eagle again and noted that from her perch, she could easily see the sky scrapers of downtown Philadelphia.  And I looked back at the sign and saw what it did not say, but clearly meant.  It meant that the war between humans and Bald Eagles is over.  And the elation came back.  Thousands and thousands of people have stood next to the sign and watched the eagles in their nest.  The eagles didn’t leave.  Humans and birds can share the marsh together.  Humans just need to cooperate with a few easy rules that include “Don’t kill the animals” and then the animals get a place to live and the humans get a place to take a beautiful walk – and more.  I suspect that my emotional reaction is a little off-putting to ornithologists.  But as important as the science of nature is, it is emotion that saved Tinicum.  Hopefully the one million people living around the refuge will keep catching the nature bug.

      The next cool bird that I saw was a Golden Crowned Kinglet.  These are birds that are so tiny and active that they make the nearby sparrows look like a bunch of fatties.  The bright yellow stripe on his head is striking and gives him his “golden crown”.  He has bold stripes on his wings and tail, definitely dressed to impress. 

      A couple who were about my age came up while I was watching the Kinglet and joined me for a few minutes.  They asked me if I had seen the Saw-Whet Owl.  I hadn’t.  It was off the trail where it bended to the right and then to the left, near a tail marker, hidden in a bush about twenty yards off the trail.  I knew I wouldn’t find it, but hopefully headed up the trail anyway.  At the spot, another birder with his kids had set up a birding scope on the owl.  He asked if I wanted to see it thru his scope.   “Like, yes!”  It’s a tiny eight inch owl with a great big face, wide round eyes, and a small beak.  He might be the world’s cutest owl - “the Koala Bear of Birds”.  “Unless you are a mouse”, my new birding friend said.  “Then he’s a tiger.”  After finding exactly where the owl was hiding, it still took me ten minutes to focus on him with my binoculars.  He was tucked into the bush so deeply.  I am really impressed by the skills of these birders who came out deliberately to see this secretive rare bird and found it.  After I continued on I passed a group of three birders coming toward me.  I mentioned the Northern Saw-Whet Owl on the path ahead of them and they excitedly responded that they had seen it yesterday.  So, Mr. Owl, you are all the buzz at Tinicum this weekend!

      Comment:  If you go canoeing at this refuge, make sure to check the tidal schedule or you could get stranded for four hours in the mud.

 

Feb 13 - Birding Group at Tyler Arboretum

I joined a group of real birders at 8:15 this morning.  We took a leisurely two hour stroll on the grounds within the deer fence.  We catalogued about 35 species, which included all the common winter residents.  We saw the first Red Winged Blackbirds of the season, -- 8 or 10 of them -- and flocks of Red Breasted Nuthatches in the trees and feeding on the ground.  Both the presence of so many Red Breasted Nuthatches here and the ground-feeding behavior are unusual.  My highlight was definitely sighting a Carolina Wren.  The wrens were doing a lot of singing and each time Sue, the group leader, commented that the song was the Carolina Wren, it was a different song.  We spent some time looking at some odd holes in a pine tree.  The holes started about six feet above the ground and went all the way to the ground.  The holes were about two inches apart in each direction and so perfectly spaced, they looked like a machine had punched them.  Sue had seen a Yellow- Bellied Sapsucker doing the deed the day before.  We also spent some time so I could admire the tallest Sequoia in Pennsylvania.  Pretty cool!

 

Feb 20 - Tyler Arboretum - Same Place, Just Colder

When I showed up this morning, one of the guys called me “bonafide”. I asked if that was because I came back or because I came when it was cold.  He said, “Yes.”  Well I am very happy to be called “bonafide” by a birder with close to 700 birds on his life list.  

      Because of the cold, the number of birders, the numbers of birds, and the length of the walk were all cut in half.  We got some nice views of Red-Tailed Hawks flying low overhead, a good look at a Red-Bellied Woodpecker, and saw a nasty Northern Flicker fight – or maybe they were mating.  We weren’t sure.  Love can be so cruel.  At the end of the walk, we got some long looks at several Pine Siskins.  The underline is because now I’m sure of the id of bird, and also pretty sure that most or all of my previous ids of Pine Siskins were wrong.  Now that I’ve seen this neatly black and green striped finch- sized birds, I think that many of the birds I saw before were probably goldfinches in non-breeding plumage.

 

Saturday, Feb 16

I have an earache and a sore throat and have been lurking around the house all day in my pajama pants and an undershirt.  I noticed that on my right foot the white sock has a gold toe, obviously the brand of socks called Gold Toe.  On my left foot, the sock is all white, including the heel.  It has the same look and feel - but it has a white toe.  So the second sock is either a female Gold Toe, an unusual color morph of a Gold Toe, a completely different brand of sock, or I have the sock on inside out.

 

Feb 23 and 24 - Prime Hook, Delaware

We got up late on Saturday, did our errands, and headed south around eleven.  With stops at West Chester, Newark, and Milford, we got to the refuge around three o’clock.  The West Chester stop was to drop off a car for Rachel so she could get home and dog sit for us.  The Newark stop was to drop off Eddie (for whom we had been dog sitting) at Mike’s house and have lunch with Mike.  The Milford stop was to get close and personal with about ten thousand Snow Geese.  We passed them going south and Chris, who spots most the interesting birds, said “what’s that on the left behind us.”  It looked like a giant field of cotton.   When we realized it was geese, we found a place to turn around and came back to view them.  The geese were in a giant grassy field that might have been about a hundred acres.  They filled at least half of it.  Most were pure white adults, with orange chests and a little black on the tail for emphasis, but there were a fair number of mostly black birds, and also a number of grey geese.  The black birds were a morph of Snow Geese and the grey were juveniles.  They all were just hanging out together, walking around, flapping their wings, and honking.  Sort of like Woodstock without the rock music.  I tried counting a section and then estimating how many sections.  That’s how I got an estimate of ten thousand.  Chris thought I was way low and guessed that the number was more than twenty five thousand.  These were my first Snow Geese and I was definitely impressed.

      The rest of the way to Prime Hook and around the refuge we saw many large flocks, but the biggest was the first one.  Just outside Prime Hook, we stopped to take more pictures with Chris’ iPhone. 

      At the visitor center the attendant was very helpful and mentioned that at one point the refuge had about 130,000 snow geese, but now they were up around Milford.  “We know”, we told her.  She explained the layout of the refuge which is a lot more broken up than Bombay Hook.  She did a nice job with the explanation and sold us a mug, a Shorebird Field Guide, and a waterproof Backyard Bird folding pamphlet.  We had only a couple hours before dark, so we picked out a short trail called the Boardwalk and saw some of our usual forest winter birds and the first few of many Northern Shovelers.  Then we went back out of the refuge and drove slowly along route 16 towards the bay.  Both sides of the road had a marsh and water and a fair number of birds.  I investigated a little black and white bird in a canal near the road.  It dove, dove again, and came up at the far reach of my binoculars.  Those were long dives.  It turned out to be the first of many Red-throated Loons.   We parked at the end of Route 16 next to the Broadkill Store and took a stroll onto Broadkill Beach on the Delaware Bay.  It had been either lightly raining or sprinkling all day, but the rain let up for our beach walk.  We saw some Ring-billed Gulls and some gulls with much browner heads, necks, and wings - those turned out to be juvenile Herring Gulls.  There were two little sandpipers running around amidst the gulls.  None of the peeps are found here in the winter and these were a little bigger than that.  So they were either Sanderlings or Dunlins.  They were very white below and on their sides, with moderate straight black beaks, and with a modest amount of brown striping on their backs and heads.  They were Sanderlings.  So that was it for our first day. We were just setting ourselves up for an early start on Sunday, so that was a fine beginning.  And being alone on the winter beach was pleasant and peaceful.

      After a night of seafood, shopping, and a whirlpool at the hotel, we were primed for a 7:00 AM start, probably late for many birders, but it was still overcast and just starting to get light.  We went right back to the end of Route 16 to start on the beach.  In a little tree next to the store, a Carolina Wren gave us a pretty, good-morning song.  We walked onto the beach and immediately saw birds offshore - so I went back to the car to get the spotting scope.  They were loons.  Lots of them.  Most were Red Throated Loons, but a few were Common Loons.  There were also sea ducks that had very distinctive markings, but we never did identify them.  We took a long walk north and saw more gulls, including one really huge Great Black-backed Gull.  We also saw flocks of Greater Scaups.  I knew them from having seen the Lesser Scaups in the Delaware River near Binghamton.

      Before we came off the beach, the sun finally came out.  Almost immediately, we started to hear singing and peeping from the grass and bushes on the landward side of the beach.  Back at the car, we saw some busy little sparrow-sized birds hopping around the signs and trees.  They were Yellow-Rumped Warblers, and as advertised, they had a bright yellow patch on their butts.  These were putting on a little acrobatic performance.  They would perch on a top branch of one of the scrubby trees, then blast straight up about ten feet, then pivot, and plunge down into the weeds on the ground.  Obviously they were catching insects, and they wanted everyone to know about it.

      Both sides of Route 16 were transformed from yesterday’s “fair amount of birds” to today’s “birds everywhere”.  There were dozens of Great Blue Herons, Hooded Mergansers, and most abundantly Northern Shovelers.  We spent a lot of time trying to identify a duck with a reddish brown head with a green patch from the eye backwards.  The bodies were mostly grey, with a white bar and orangey breast.  They had a small yellow patch on their tail ends.  Finally we 100% positively identified it as a Green-Winged Teal. There were a lot of them too.

      We took a break for lunch by driving back into Milton and taking a chance on a small local place that looked a little beat from the outside called PO’ Boys Creole and Fresh Catch Restaurant.  On the inside, it was very nice.  The food was really good, even better than the up-scale seafood restaurant we went to in Rehoboth.  Go there and get an Oyster Po’ Boy.  Trust me.

      After lunch, we had time to walk some of the refuge trails, but not all of them.  We did a mile walk through a mature Loblolly Pine forest.  The main plant on the forest floor was American Holly.  At one observation deck on a deserted pond we apparently disturbed a Belted Kingfisher, who flew twice around the pond and us, chattering loudly.  At the edge of a second pond we disturbed a Bald Eagle from a branch just above our heads.   He flew out across the pond and settled on the other side.  Not too far away, we found his nest in a tall pine.

      The other trail we had time for is called the Dike Trail.  It’s a path on top of a dike that goes a half-mile out into the marsh.  We watched four Great Blue Herons hunting in a pool about twenty feet from us.  The hunting was good and they gave us the hairy eye-ball as we walked by, but didn’t fly off.  On the other side of the marsh were seven Great Egrets, big, all white, with long black legs, and slender bills, compared to the herons.  There was a Mockingbird on the path, very curious about what we were doing and an Eastern Phoebe in a small tree along the path who was obviously just bored by us.  He was  a little north of his normal winter range; or maybe he was cold.  At the end of the dike I got a nice little surprise.  A flock of Fox Sparrows were busily feeding and were sufficiently un-bothered by us to give us a good look at their reddish-brown striped breasts and caps.  Out on the water there were a lot of water birds and a few shore birds including a single Eastern Willet and six American Avocets.  Later in the year, we plan to come to this spot and set up the spotting scope and spend half the day right here.  Maybe we’ll bring our lunches and stay the entire day.  Even better, we can rent canoes and get out on the water.  I suspect that many of the brownish ducks are Gadwalls, not females of other species.  That’s a project for our next visit.  It should be awesome.

      So how would we compare Prime Hook to her sister refuge to the north?  Bombay Hook maybe has more variety of birds - or at least more concentrated where it is easy to view them.  Prime Hook is definitely wilder and with the easy access to Broadkill Beach and the opportunity to canoe adds that as other dimensions.  Chris and I had Prime Hook almost exclusively to ourselves.  A few hikers strolled along the Dike Trail with us and there was a fisherman on the bay, but that was it for other people.  Generally, trying to pick a favorite between the two refuges is like picking between a sapphire and an emerald.  Both are beautiful, choose your preference.  Or if you are fortunate, you can have both.