July 2009


I feel compelled to point out that I am not the only birder getting all literary with it lately: the most recent I and the Bird, over at Picus Blog, contains much to beguile the wordy as well as the birdy, including the use of the always-fun Literary Agent Hypothesis (my own, less-fun literary agent hypothesis: finding a literary agent is going to take awhile) and a cunning cliffhanger ending.

Also, if you want in on the next edition of I and the Bird, get on it, because the deadline has been pushed up to Sunday.

ETA: While I am flanked in the world of fiction as described above, Jochen at Bell Tower Birding is making a play to steal my tech writing job! Of course, if I become redundant I’ll have more time for birding…. if I can just figure out how to make staring at herons pay the rent.

Say you’re a Heron. And say it’s July or August somewhere in North America. The year has been good, and you’ve gotten your fledglings out of the nest and more or less self-sufficient; or the year has been bad, and they’re all dead but it’s far too late to start on another batch. Or you just fledged yourself, and you have nothing to do but not die for the next little while.

There’s no real point to starting to head south. Compared to those strange short birds that are just now trickling down from the Arctic to cluster around your feet in the mud at Jamaica Bay, you haven’t got very far to go. The bodies of water you favor haven’t even started to think about icing over yet. There are still fish, there are still insects, there are still young, callow amphibians and crustaceans wandering around. But, as we’ve said, another brood of young isn’t a possibility. It’s as though nature itself is giving you an enforced summer vacation!

Thus, the post-breeding dispersal. Every year about this time, wading birds (some other species have post-breeding dispersals too, but on their own schedule and outside the scope of this post) spread out from their rookeries and explore the rest of the country. With large wings that let them take advantage of warm rising air, they can often end up quite a long way from home, to the delight of birders. This is the season that brings Little Blue Herons almost to the Canadian border, peaks the number of Tricolored Herons at Jamaica Bay, and sometimes brings even more exotic goodies.
(Western M%^*&^&F$%*ing Reef Heron results not typical. Or even probable.)

But even gliding, this takes energy, and birds do not expend energy to delight – or frustrate – birders, as much as it may sometimes seem so. I’ve been able to find little on the whys and wherefores of post-breeding dispersal in herons and their kin, although a popular – and seemingly reasonable – theory is that it allows the birds to spread the pressure of feeding their still-growing and/or soon-to-be-migrating appetites over a wider area than just the immediate vicinity of the rookery, exploiting smaller patches of more varied habitat.

Sometimes they wind up in habitat that is just a little too varied to be practical.

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This is Corey’s fault. His lovely post on Jamaica Bay (particularly the Barn Owl pictures) not only reminded me that I needed to get outdoors again, it got the wheels turning in the Inimitable Todd’s head. So, despite the pounding sun and predicted heat, I was gently pried loose from my computer just prior e-mailing my first targeted agent and aimed in the direction of the water.

The Inimitable Todd had never been to the east side of the refuge before. As I led him down the trails to Big John’s Pond, he was impressed by the natural beauty of the scene – and also by the enormous, threatening signs warning of ticks along the trail.

“Oh, don’t worry,” I told him. “I’ve never even seen a tick.”

(You know where this is going, right?)

But even concentrating strictly on vertebrates, it was an interesting day. We saw Gray Tree Frogs hiding in a crevice of the blind:

I hope they like ticks!

We saw a family of Wood Ducks, a Black-crowned Night Heron, several young Scarlet Tanagers. I left the IT staking out the owl box and headed to the West Pond, where I saw Skimmers and Oystercatchers, Short-billed Dowitchers (badly named) and Stilt Sandpipers (rather more accurate), Glossy Ibis and Least Tern, Brown Thrasher and Gray Catbird, Little Blue Herons and Great Egrets, even a raccoon dashing across the trail (no doubt in pursuit of terrapin eggs). But as I walked, my thoughts drifted ever back to the IT and his tick-beset quest to catch a glimpse of the Owl. Was he succeeding? Was he failing? Had his position been overwhelmed and his precious bodily fluids sucked dry by marauding parasites?

Meanwhile, the IT, patient and serene, was being entertained by this handsome creature:

Not an owl, but not bad either.

I returned in time to watch a fledgling Green Heron, still bedecked with traces of fuzz, catch one of the numerous dragonflies that soared over Big John’s Pond. But the owl box still looked like this:

Owl box minus owls.

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I haven’t looked at any birds (except for a number of young House Sparrows, a few Starlings, and some more Pigeons) in almost a week, due to the fact that I’ve just….

Drumroll, please….

Finished writing my novel.

Now to convince someone to actually publish it!

(Sorry, Jochen, no Labrador Ducks in this one. There are some crows though.)

Now, I know that a book that may or may not come out in a couple of years is exciting mainly to the author, and to those, like the Inimitable Todd, who have been patiently waiting for the author to log off of her computer and rejoin the land of the living. For those of you into more instant gratification, the guys at 10000birds.com are once again running one of their fine book giveaways: this time, the tome on offer is Olivia Gentile’s Life List, a widely-praised biography of Phoebe Snetsinger, lister extraordinaire and one of my inspirations in this crazy game called life.

Yesterday as I strolled up Park Avenue in the unwonted sun, I noticed two Pigeons engaging in an unusually vigorous dominance contest.

At first it was the usual sort of thing that anyone who has watched Common or Rock Pigeons knows well. The head bobbing. The puffing of the neck feathers. The circling. The beady little orange eyes fixed on each other, sizing up the respective feral foes.

Then, to my surprise, they leaped on each other! Fluttering and clawing like game cocks, they scrabbled for several seconds before parting to resume their circling hostilities. This repeated twice, and drew the attention of several jaded New York onlookers.

“You see,” a man said to his buddy as I passed by, “the woman, she causes all the wars in the world!”

But of course, the two that were fighting were males. The female was just minding her own business, eating a discarded bagel in the gutter some feet away.

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Real post later, but I this is too, shall we say, interesting to not pass along:

Did a Brooklyn bishop’s changing stance on preserving Ridgewood Reservoir (from pro to anti) have any relationship to a sweetheart real estate deal he was involved in with the city?

(And why does the city want to pour money into a literal hole, filling in the reservoir basins to create ballfields when nearby ballfields are already underused and ill-maintained because, hey, the city’s short on funds?)

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