Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Welcome to New Jersey

What the f*ck you looking at?

(Those north Jersey birds are tough!)

We weren't intimidated.

(Not by the birds. Although someone was scared by a few gazillion* small flying insects. Alas, no pictures.)

Taken at the Richard W. DeKorte Park, (where I took the yellow warbler images in the previous post), nestled between Manhattan and Newark Airport in the New Jersey Meadowlands.

Inspired by this.

* I stand corrected. Thanks Laura for clearing that up (I was never any good with numbers).

Monday, May 24, 2010

Bad Bird Photo of the Month

If not the year.

See it? Yep, that yellow blob smack dab in the middle.

Can you guess what it is?

(It is intuitively obvious to the most casual observer.)

Here's a slightly better image.

Got it now?


Saturday, May 22, 2010

In The Clouds

In my astronomy club, the Willingboro Astronomical Society, I'm known as the "cloud guy".

This is not a good thing. Clouds and astronomy don't mix.

But I've come to appreciate and enjoy this bane of the astronomers existence. I've even become a member of the Cloud Appreciation Society.

So is it any surprise that when I fly I take pictures of clouds?

And I've been flying a lot of late. Alas all for business. For four weeks in May and June I'll be visiting Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, and New York. Back to back to back to back. With all but New York involving Air travel.

We, there are four of us traveling, fly out on Wednesday, have meetings on Thursday, and fly back on Friday. And while as a rule I enjoy traveling, this is a tough schedule even for me. And for three years I commuted between New Jersey and Los Angeles.

And accumulated 890,000 frequent flyer miles.

I've but 26,000 left. As I said, I like traveling. (I'm not a big fan of airports though. To say nothing of $10 beers at airport bars!)

Fun travel coming up this year is a July trip to Tahiti and a September trip to Arizona. And maybe a trip to Ireland.  I've already been to Cabo San Lucas this year (maybe I'll get around to posting some pictures one of these days). My February trip to Florida was by car.

Plane rides, especially long ones, can be rather boring. So it is always nice to have a picturesque cloudscape out one's window. I like to imagine that they are actual landscapes and dream about hiking them.

Photographing said cloudscapes can be tricky. I think I did ok here, a bit to much grey in some and the sky is a bit darker then I might prefer. But overall I'm happy with the color and the detail in the clouds. All to often the clouds come out as dark, indistinct, and noisy. Maybe I'll get a bit more practice on next week's trip to Chicago.

I'll let you know if I get any good ones.

Monday, May 17, 2010


"I'm probably the only sane person in the room, and not by much." -- Tom Gilmore, President, NJ Audubon Society, at the World Series of Birding day after brunch.

It is ~3 am, and I'm standing in the middle of the Great Swamp NWR with my friends Kristin and Greg (a bit later Nellie and Tom will join us). Listening.

For birds.

We hear a chorus of green frogs. And a few scattered fowlers toads. And a bull frog or two.

Finally, we hear birds, Canada Geese! Woo Hoo!

Yeah, a little bit insane.


Flash back to Friday morning. I wake at 5:30 am. In Marina Del Ray (just north of the Los Angeles airport). Twenty-five hundred miles from home. My flight touches down in Philadelphia at 6:35 pm (on time!). I walk in my front door around 7:45. I unpack and repack. I'm in bed by 8:30.

Honing my skills: House Sparrow in the LA Airport

Klaxons going off! 

My iPhone alarm. Three and a half hours of sleep. Kristin reports she got a bit over two. Greg, watching movies all night, unable to sleep, but one. 

Good thing I'm the driver …


"That's a nice flashlight you got there."
"Um, thanks."
"What cha doin' out here?"
"What are you doing out here?"
"Ghost hunting. You?"
"Looking for birds."
-- Chris Aquila, Tale relayed as part of his victory speech

For the last twenty-seven years, each May an increasing number of crazy people have been competing in the curiously named World Series of Birding. The rules are simple. For a twenty-four hour period, midnight to midnight, find as many different bird species as possible in New Jersey. That's it. 

Over those twenty-seven years over nine million dollars have been raised for various conservation organizations. And a lot of semi-awake people have been seen wandering about in the woods at night. Perhaps occasionally mistaken for ghosts?

Ghostly Kristin

We do pretty good at the Great Swamp, getting over forty species. We start to make our way south, stopping here and there to add to our total. to eventually arrive in Cape May. Mecca of New Jersey birding.

We, like everyone else, arrive very tired.


"Turn here!"
"That was a stop sign!"
Bump!  "Hey, what!"
-- Kristin and-or Greg

Along the way I run only one stop sign and back into only one tree (tree and car are fine). Maybe it wasn't so good that I was the driver.

And we find 135 different species of birds. 

A disappointing total, as we were hoping to be in the 160's. Damn uncooperative birds. Don't they know what day it is?

Where Are They?


At one point we had more laughs then birds -- unidentified WSB participant.

We've been up over twenty-four straight hours. Looking for birds.

Certifiably insane.

But we've had a hell of a good time. And raised a couple of thousand dollars for Citizen Science at NJAS.

Maybe not insane after all.

Nellie, Greg, Steve, Tom, Kristin
The Emilcott Chickadees

"Where Are They" and group portrait images courtesy of Kristin Mylecraine.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Will You Step Into My Parlor?

Up jumped the cunning spider, and fiercely held her fast.

He dragged her up his winding stair, into his dismal den,
Within his little parlor; but she ne’er came out again!


From The Spider and The Fly by Mary Howitt, used without permission.

If anyone can ID the spider (or the fly) please do so in the comments.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Regular readers of this blog know of my passion for the stars and have read of my journeys to and adventures at various star parties, including the Winter, Mason-Dixon, Black Forest and Cherry Springs, and Delmarva Stargaze Star Parties. It's also obvious that I enjoy birds and other wildlife.

I went to my first birding festival this past weekend. It's like a star party except you look at birds. And you do it during the day.

At the suggestion of my friend and birding buddy Laura (and on a bit of a whim), we went to the New River Birding and Nature Festival in Fayetteville, WV.

I was surprised at the similarities between star parties and bird festivals. First, at both you're always tired; up through the night for star gazing or up much too early for birding. Second, both have unique challenges, identifying faint fuzzies or LBJs through a scope; observing through clouds or leaves; battling dew or gnats. Third, much of one's time is spent looking through, (often expensive), optics. Fourth, at both there is a group of foolhardy souls who attempt, with varying degrees of success and frustration, to photograph the natural wonders of what they are seeing (I fall into this group). Fifth, there are the speakers and vendors (often one and the same), although at star parties the talks are during the day while at this festival the talks were after dinner.


Except for  a brief drive through during a cross country trip years ago, I'd never been to West Virginia, and I wasn't sure what to expect. Mountains and hillbillies came to mind. And while the mountains are those of the east, they were covered in beautiful lush green forests.

And yeah, there were places which made feel that I was back in New Jersey in the middle of the Pine Barrens.

 Curious that they want you to stay out of their garbage.


The Festival is a week long event, but we were only there for the last day and thus only one of the field trips. Just like the stars in their courses, birds are predictable in the timing that they arrive and depart each year. The festival is timed for the annual spring migration of warblers, and we saw plenty. I picked up three life birds, warblers all, Cerulean, Kentucky, and Swainson's (alas, I managed photos of only the last).

We also saw plenty of wildflowers ...

... and the occasional small creature.

I had hoped to see a bear, and there were bears with cubs in the area, as well as "tree and release" hunters, but it was not to be. I've yet to see a bear in the wild


But the measure of any event such as this really comes down to the people. The organizers, who at this event were more like hosts. The trip leaders and speakers, who on my trip did an excellent job. And of course one's fellow participants. 

Fortunately for me, Laura is a member of the group known as "The Flock". Bloggers who have met over the web and have become friends in the real world. 

They made me feel welcome in what was a new experience for me, allowing me to share in the joy they found in each other's company. And their booze.

So thank you to the hosts (Dave, Geoff, and Keith), for staging a fun event; to The Flock for your hospitality; and to Laura, for inviting me on a surprisingly wonderful weekend adventure.