Thursday, October 30, 2008

New Jersey Firsts

The first person I saw in the Newark airport was a guy in a polyester jogging suit, gold chains, slicked back black hair and no neck. Laura said he was a "Guido."
The first person who spoke to me after leaving the airport (another Guido) tossed me the F-bomb.
The first bird I saw after leaving the plane was a Common Yellowthroat (I think) and it was on a chain-link fence right next to two people making out. A little culture shock in New Jersey!
I saw my first Common Loon that was NOT in breeding plumage. The other birders were VERY excited to see a loon. Loons are quite common here in summer when their plumage is divine.
More than one person snickered when I took this picture of my first barnacles.
I almost stepped on my first black rat snake. I was too excited to be seeing my first Black Vultures! Not just one, not just two, but a kettle of them swirling over my head. They made me giggle with glee.
Earlier in the weekend I also saw my first box turtle. I mentioned it during a field trip but accidentally said that I'd gotten a life mammal. The field trip leader gave me the hairy eyeball.
I had THE BEST pecan pancakes at Uncle Bill's Pancake House. I also ordered my first scrapple. It was described as pork mush, formed, sliced and fried. I'll try nearly anything once, but no thanks to seconds on the scrapple. If you look closely you can see Katdoc hiding behind a post taking a picture from the other side if the sign.
Speaking of Katdoc, she gave me my first buckeye. I think it was supposed to be a good luck token for the OSU football game but sadly, it didn't work. Susan tried to crack her buckeye in her cleavage but that didn't work either...

The first bird I saw at the condo in Cape May was a Yellow-rumped Warbler. They were everywhere, popping up out of the grasses and bushes. In fact they became kind of a distraction. Butter-butts are just so cute though.
I got my first look at a grass called Phragmites in New Jersey. I made the mistake of saying on how pretty I though it was. It's an invasive species and everyone there hates it.
(I still thought it was pretty)
I took my first walk along the ocean before anyone else arrived. It gave me a chance to gather my thoughts, relax from the stresses of traveling alone and think about the weekend ahead of me. I was so excited to meet the bloggers coming together at Cape May. What would they be like in person? Would I fit in? What would they think of me?
Of course I thought of my Mom. It would be one year on Sunday since she passed away. With my sister's illness and death so closely following Mom's I knew that I hadn't dealt with my grief very well. I wondered how- if I could handle being away from home on that day. She was so excited for me to go last year. She'd want me to be here this year.
So I headed back to the condo and waited to meet the Flock for the first time.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Where Do I Begin?

When I got home yesterday I spent the evening with Art and the kids, hearing their stories from the weekend, finding out what I missed and telling them the highlights of my weekend. This morning with the house empty I've had a few hours to unpack, put my traveling gear away and download my pictures. I'm spreading my memories out in front of me, sorting and grouping them. I think Laura all ready touched on it but I need to say also that I was amazed at how quickly I felt comfortable with the friendships I formed with these Flockers. I do believe that we reveal enough about ourselves through blogging that one can get a feel for the types of people we are. I'm pretty sure there were no axe-murderers among the group I fell in with last weekend. Pretty sure...
I was actually a little nervous to meet Kathi from Katdoc, though I'm not exactly sure why. Kathi sparkles. She smiles all the time and is quick to laugh. And Kathi is smart. I mean really smart. Kathi is also a lunatic when it comes to packing. I thought I was bad. But she had what I needed several times during the trip including a flashlight for the owl prowl so I could see my feet in the dark. (I was convinced I would trip and fall in a hole and be left behind.) Thankfully Kathi also had some extra immodium as my supply ran out the last night after a bad reaction to some shellfish... (TMI?)
Susan. Susan has the biggest heart ever. Susan makes me laugh just thinking of her. She could make the Pope laugh. Susan was my personal raptor tutor and I learned lots from her and NOT just about raptors! At one moment outrageous and the next tender, she wears her emotions on her sleeve and shares her heart readily.
Here we are on the Osprey going on our salt marsh tour. The fellow in the picture is Jay from birdJam. We got to spend quite a bit of time with Jay. He's a very smart guy, funny and very kind. A great birder too. I think we made him shake his head a few times. Jay tells a good story (when he could get a word in edgewise). Are your ears still ringing Jay?

Laura, our New Jersey native is a complicated person to describe. She's quieter that I expected and somewhat guarded but hilarious when she'd toss out lines that would make tears squirt out of my eyes. I felt Laura was always looking out for me, making sure I was OK. Don't ask Laura to keep to a schedule. She loves the salt marsh and loves the salt marsh smell. We were all standing out on the deck overlooking the marsh at the condo and just a few minutes after I met her I asked "Um, I don't mean offense, but what's that smell?"
"That's the marsh! It's decay! Don't you LOVE it?"
The rest of us stood with our noses wrinkled.
I will say that I grew to like the marsh smell.

Delia is probably the most genuine person I've met. Painfully funny, she made me laugh until I cried. She shares herself readily and is a skilled listener. When she smiles her eyes disappear into little slits. Mine do too. I will always smile when I think of Delia. In the photo above Birdchick had just planted a big smooch on Delia's cheek.

Jay and Delia bringing up the rear.

Another new good friend from the weekend is Beth. On my first guided tour Friday morning I found myself chatting with Beth when she said she actually knew who I was. She recognized me from my blog. Well, you could have tipped me over with a feather. She said she's been reading Hasty Brook for quite a while. I was flattered and amazed. I invited Beth to join the blogger group for dinner and laughs and we had a blast. I found out that Beth had made plans to go to West Virginia next April for the New River Birding and Nature Festival! Welcome to the Flock Beth! I look forward to seeing you there. (And Beth- I'm with Sharon. Only comment if you want to!)

I think my next post will be about firsts.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Busy, Busy, Busy

I've been a little bit missing in blogland lately. I've had alot on my mind and have felt like I was spinning my wheels. I need to take a deep breath tonight and relax.
Isn't this a relaxing view? I sure was hoping to sew a few Sandhill Cranes in this field.

This aster is from a month ago. There weren't many left last Tuesday when Art and I were there.

Anybody know what these berries are?

The turkey poults have grown up. Aren't they beautiful?

Almost as pretty as a Turkey Vulture.

I'm nearly done packing for Cape May. I'll finally get to meet Kathi, Laura, Susan and Delia. I can't wait to meet them and do a little birding too. I hear there's good birding out there. I'd better count my quarters for the tolls. We don't have tolls here in Minnesota ya know.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Fall Came to Hasty Brook

Two weeks ago the maples turned to flames.

These are the maples up by our campsite. The maples down by the creek were still green.

Art and I were at Hasty Brook yesterday and all of the maples were bare.

We set the alarm for 4 AM yesterday and were on the road headed to Virginia, Minnesota for our 9 AM meeting with the county variance board.
They granted the variance!!
We can build at Hasty Brook. I made it from the board room to the elevator before the tears started. I was giddy with relief. We splurged on Subway sandwiches and drove down to Hasty for lunch. Thankfully we both brought heavier jackets because it was only 44 degrees outside when we got there. Art did some work to winterize the camper while I took off hiking through the woods. It's like a different world when the leaves drop and the grasses and ferns die back. The contours of the land appear. Hills and gullies, moss covered deep in the shadows of the thick woods. Places I can't see in other seasons. The creek was running fast, deep and wide after the last heavy rainfalls. The water running over the old beaver dam was loud enough to hear from a distance. A Hermit Thrush, soon to head south was still busy scratching and turning over leaves. Some of the many Chickadees that were politely mobbing the feeders followed me on my walk, flitting through the branches just over my head. A flash of red, black and white ahead- the maniacal laugh of the Pileated Woodpecker made me laugh too. A little further along I flushed two Ruffed Grouse.
My favorite time of the year at my favorite place in the world.
We'll spend the winter months working on our cabin plans, remembering how fortunate we are to have that place. We'll care for it.
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Sunday, October 12, 2008

South Dakota Sparrow Weekend, part deux

I have just a few more pictures I want to share from my sparrow workshop weekend in South Dakota. The weekend was structured so that we would spend time out in the field looking at sparrows for a few hours, then go back for classroom time, hearing about habitat, field marks, songs and migration. This was repeated through-out the whole weekend and I found it to be a very effective way for me to learn. Fortunately the group dynamics were very positive and supportive as we were all coming from different levels of experience. The beautiful LeConte's Sparrow was my first lifer sparrow. The second was a Vesper Sparrow (sorry, no pictures). Another lifer for the weekend were these Western Meadowlarks. There were Western Meadowlarks on nearly every hay bale we saw.
The views of the prairie were stunning. I found myself on more than one occasion needing to hurry along to keep up with the group.
Trying to memorize the colors, the feel of the wind on my face and the sounds of the whispering grasses...
This ranch has the largest remaining tract of native tallgrass prairie left in North America. The views were spectacular and made me feel quite small.

We're off again- this time driving across the fields.
A fence full of Savannah Sparrows, all facing into the wind.

A closer view of a Savannah Sparrow. Yellow lores and streaking over a white breast.
Another stop brought us to the Blue Cloud Abbey. Blue Cloud Abbey is a Benedictine male monastery located on a hill overlooking the vast prairie a few miles from Milbank. We were there to spend some time checking out the Chipping Sparrows that hang out in the tall pines along the entrance road. Being early October it was a good opportunity to see and compare immature Chipping Sparrows and winter adult Chipping Sparrows. After breeding season, Chippies lose their characteristic rusty cap for a streaky cap. Immature Chippies have a very streaky breast. I didn't give the Chipping Sparrows my full attention. I was thinking of another Minnesota birder/blogger, Ivars from Ivars' Birds. Ivars has been such a tremendous help to me along my path of trying to improve my photography skills. Blue Cloud Abbey is an important place to Ivars and I wanted to take in some of what he sees. I hope to go back and visit Blue Cloud Abbey again.
This sparrow workshop was a terrific learning experience for me. I've always love the little brown birds and now I feel a new confidence in identifying them in the field. I enjoyed the company of the group. Don't we look like a happy bunch of sparrow stalkers? The class leaders are in front: Bob Janssen and Doug Buri, and I'm behind the camera.
It was a big weekend for lifers:
Northern Shoveler
Gray Partridge
Sharp-tailed Grouse
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Pectoral Sandpiper
Orange-crowned Warbler
Vesper Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
LeConte's Sparrow
Western Meadowlark
We counted a total of sixty-two species of birds over the weekend.

My materials for Cape May Autumn Weekend came over the weekend. I leave in ELEVEN days!
Kathi- did you see there's a sparrow class there?
Tomorrow I'll finally finish re-writing my sparrow notes, then it's time to get out the raptor books. I don't want to look like a total raptor knuckle-head.
It's time for some serious packing...

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Sparrows in South Dakota

Last Thursday I joined three strangers for a four hour drive to Milbank, South Dakota for a terrific three day sparrow workshop led by Doug Buri and Bob Janssen. By the time we pulled into Milbank I felt we were no longer strangers, but new friends and from there the weekend just got better and better. The workshop started Friday morning right in the field and one of our first birds of the day was also my first lifer- a Le Conte's Sparrow. I lost count of how many Le Conte's sparrows we saw that morning. According to Doug the conditions were perfect for finding Le Conte's: it was the beginning of October, the habitat was a grassy meadow with sunflowers and curly dock for perching, it was cool enough for dew on the grass and the air was calm- no wind. Le Conte's are particularly pishable, very curious and likely to stay around a bit when they hear pishing.
These are very beautiful birds. This one appeared content to pose, staying in view for several minutes.
The focus on this photo isn't very sharp but it shows the warm butterscotch color on the face, melting down into the upper breast.
Another lifer for me was the Savannah Sparrow. This is another beautiful sparrow with streaking over a whitish breast, a rather short slightly notched tail, and yellow lores. We saw quite a few Savannah Sparrows and the lores ranged from a deep yellow to a cream color. In class when Doug and Bob were talking about sparrow songs and calls one member of the class suggested the Savannah Sparrow song sounds like "I'ma Savaaaa-nnah".
I have a few more pictures to share but I spent most of my time without my camera- just trying to learn what Doug and Bob were teaching, getting good long looks at the birds there and taking in the vast beauty of the prairie.

Thursday, October 02, 2008


I'm leaving in an hour for Milbank, South Dakota for a sparrow workshop. It sounds like a pretty intense birding weekend. My room should have WIFI so I'll try and post. Wish me luck!