Shorebird reflections

In a world of distant horizons, the lone shorebird is little more than a windblown fragment, too easily lost under sun and sky.

It must be that they find comfort in the relative anonymity a flock provides: the sense of direction, a defense against predators, the company of other wanderers; a solidarity of purpose.

I find that I enjoy a mixed-species flock of shorebirds in a way that isn’t possible when confronted with a lone bird… the solitary shorebird practically implores that it be identified by name, but the magic of them, for me, lies in the wheeling mystery of the flock.

The delight in shorebirds comes not from any individual bird (unless its an Avocet or a silly-spinning Phalarope) but in a mudflat alive with thousands of birds and the subtle mosaic of tones it presents; black streaks of folded wing feathers, drab sandy grays and stony browns… all of them more striking in pattern than in color… cloud shadow, grass and earth, the glint of late-day sun on salty water.

When suddenly they snap together like a magnet in the air or scatter to the blue of four directions, I’m mesmerized.

Their movements… bent airbrushed wings skimming overhead, wheeling and turning on some imperceptible cue, any one member’s slight adjustments in direction only serving to highlight the unity of the whole. They appear like a dark cloud detached from the sky showing the gray of their backs, then vanish into the glitter and glare as they wheel to display the white of their underbellies, then reappear at some distance away, as if by magic.

Let others ponder over their ID; I’m happy to know it of course, but it does little to affect their magic in me.

Skywatch Friday: Jamaica Bay Birders

The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is one of the most important urban wildlife refuges in the US and is renowned as a prime birding spot where thousands of water, land and shorebirds stop during migration, with more than 325 species having been recorded in the past 25 years.

Our group of ten or so, minus those couple who were afraid of a little rain (Hi Patrick! Hi John!), grew and mingled and shrank throughout the day. This pic was taken early, before we were very muddied and before the storm clouds had passed us by.


Visit here for more skywatch posts.

Your empty office

Dear Kathy,

I snuck away during your retirement tea this afternoon for one last look at your office. Already it was mostly empty of any trace of you, but for the umbrella on the desk.

I wonder if you did that; looked back on your way out the door. Or did you just walk, with a smile and your balloons and that silly plaque the county gave you, to do whatever it is you’ll do now that you’re not doing this anymore?

How does it feel to look back on thirty-five years, I wonder?

It goes that the best things said come last. I hope those words reached you today and that you leave knowing the respect and love we all have for you. That your example and your influence, by means of the mentoring you’ve provided for many of us professionally or personally, extended well beyond the confines of your sunny corner office.

In the span of years I’ve known you and worked for you, my perception of that office and of you has reshaped itself a number of times. I’m glad now to be far from those first nervous days when I was a trainee in your unit, seated in rows just outside your door like a schoolkid, under your watchful eye. To have come from that, to where I was invited in these last couple years with the door closed behind me, like a trusted friend, is possibly the greatest compliment you could ever pay me.

Thank you for that and for your confidence in me. Thank you for being there with Deb and Linda and Cathy M. to hold me up when my dad was dying and I didn’t know how to manage it all. Thank you for quietly letting others help me when I needed help and couldn’t get out of my own way. Thank you for encouraging my move to a promotion in social work without making me feel too guilty for leaving my *home* in Unit 425. Thank you for welcoming me into your office as a friend, even though you were my boss. Thank you for cheering me on, in this, now.

Your office is empty. I’m lingering at the door with a rush of words, too late.

Mid-week bunny fix

Peeper on the job!

Peeper the bunny isn’t the friendliest of rabbits and she would just as soon box and growl as allow herself to be petted; unless you have a handful of strawberries, that is!

But like most any bunny, she’s a busybody! The alarm guy’s work mat spread across the floor and covered with assorted tools and a multitude of plastic packages and little doodads proved just too much for her curiosity and she had to investigate and climb all over everything. She even chinned a couple of his power tools!

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I had to put her back in her cage when she started trying to run off with his stuff, though. Ever watch a bunny try to run with a cardboard box in her mouth? It’s the funniest thing, really.

Telltale

Their cries echoing a melancholy end to the carefree days of summer, shorebirds concentrate at a few scattered places along their migration routes to fatten themselves up and bewilder those birders foolish enough to attempt separating one species of nondescript shorebird from another species of nondescript shorebird.

Yellowlegs, thank goodness, have those telltale yellow legs.

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In addition to the wealth of shorebirds, Jamaica Bay offers up-close looks at birds that are so often viewed at a great distance across the haze and shimmer of a mudflat. The difference at Jamaica Bay is that you’re standing in the midst of the birds, on the mudflat yourself… fighting for purchase among the muck as it threatens to swallow you whole or maybe just steal a shoe should you misstep…

I saw that happen to a couple people the other day… and have pics to share!

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I’ve avoided ever going to Jamaica Bay, mostly because it involves driving through Staten Island**, but it was a great day and I couldn’t resist the chance to meet some other bird bloggers who were there as well. I almost think I’ve learned to ID a couple sandpipers, too. Plus there was an Avocet which makes any trip worthwhile, even one through Staten Island.

More another day.

**The Staten Island thing is a family joke, but most anyone from NJ can imagine what I mean.

Landmarks

How about some Borland? It’s been a while…

A man must pause now and then, when the storms of human passion have filled the sky with the dust of emotions, pause and wonder if the old landmarks are still there. So, when the heat of the day is past and evening comes, a man steps outdoors to look, to feel, to sense the world around him.

These late August evenings, a moon well into its first quarter hangs high in the west, where it has been at this phase ever since there was a moon. North, as the dusk deepens, stands the polestar, and beneath it and to the west a few degrees hangs the Big Dipper, just where it has always been on a late August evening. To the east is the Great Square of Pegasus, old and fixed in the firmament when the Greeks first knew it. And overhead flies Cygnus, the swan.

A man listens, and the scratchy stridulation of a katydid rasps at the dusk. There is an answer, then another, and soon there is a chorus. As always, in late Summer, as it was before man was here to listen. And the crickets chirp and trill in the meadow grass, as they have chirped and trilled for several eons. From the edge of the woodland comes the call of the whippoorwill, over and over, repetitious as the years but reminding man that birds were here and flying before man came and walked on two feet.

A breeze moves down the valley, and the leaves whisper in the treetops. Trees that count the centuries, a breeze that curled around this earth when the hills were mountains. The leaves whisper, and a man listens, and he knows that there still are landmarks.


–Hal Borland, Sundial of the Seasons

Pic is of one of my landmark trees… a hackberry I’m told.

Midsummer minutiae

I love tiny, tiny flowers and the littlest details revealed with a close-up. I haven’t discovered the skill yet, with a very fussy macro lens, to reliably get all of the flower in sharp focus, but instead let the camera choose its point of interest. Sometimes we agree on what’s interesting, but often not. I liked the rich brown scaly head below the petals of this Yellow-eyed grass, but the camera had other ideas.

The barely pink urn-shaped flowers of Bearberry are a treat in mid August. This plant was obviously confused; flowering when it should be bearing fruit. The ant on the underside of the most forward leaf distracted both me and the lens.

I’m not sure which of the Bladderworts this is, but the effect of the water and the angle of the sun is pretty psychedelic! I can’t ever produce this effect on purpose, but I’m tickled when the lens makes it happen by surprise.

Sweet pepperbush and its tiny fragrant flowers… as abundant as blueberries in the Pine Barrens, but not as tasty.

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I was up to my ankles in mucky water when I took this one, but a close-up of Horned bladderwort requires that, almost. I love the flower’s yellow spur. There’s some 11 species of bladderworts in the Pine Barrens, yet I’ve only ever seen 2 or 3 of them.

Thanks to Steve for use of his macro… I needed a close-up flower fix!

Exploring the Red Road

If yesterday’s pic wasn’t a clue… I went on a pretty intense botany trip to the Pine Barrens on Sunday. MevetS was nice enough to invite me along, but probably didn’t properly prepare me. Sure, he said to bring lunch and bug spray and the directions led me to an unmarked sugar-sand road in the middle of the Pine Barrens, but…

Seeing this really scared me. Adding to the fashion faux-pas of tucking their pants into their socks, these folks were using packing tape around their ankles to further geek themselves out/protect against chiggers.

Chiggers? Huh?

Yesterday was brutally hot and the pines in the pygmy forest did little to provide any shade from the sun, but we wandered and wandered, with the promise of a ‘wetland’ somewhere along the way.

After a couple hours walking in the blazing sun, I was fantasizing about a cool blue pool of water and cabana boys, but…

These people were all about plants… and most of them weren’t even flowering plants!

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I’ve learned that plant people, as they progress and learn more, get really into sedges and rushes and grasses. This is kind of too much for me just now, kind of like shorebirds and gulls are too much for me as a birder.

I need colors and blooms and flashy stuff that catches my eye!

Digging up a sedge to be able to identify it based of the shape and fibrous nature of its roots?

Feels too much like aging gulls based on primary molt or whatever.

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TMI, especially when it’s 95 degrees and you’ve been walking for hours looking for the pool – which turned out to be nothing more than a mucky stream we had to bushwack our way through.

I’ll share a couple pics tomorrow of the few flowers we did manage to stumble across. I sound like I’m making fun, but mostly I’m almost awed by the knowledge and enthusiasm I witnessed with this group and wonder how long it’ll take me to be ready to tackle (and get excited about!) sedges (or gulls).

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