Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Eyes in the Skies A Brief Guide to Finding Migrating Birds Online

With the onset of September’s cooler, discernibly shorter days and the sharper angle of the sun comes one of nature’s most exciting times of year.  Creatures that spent the preceding months eating and enjoying summer begin to feel the seasonal changes.  They become restless.  Many begin to regroup.  Unable to resist the pull of the season they start looking for their binoculars.

So for humans, fall migration begins. Birders search for their beloved and frayed Peterson’s and Sibley’s.  They pull out old, dedicated maps.  Others find and share apps.  They update statuses, they blog and tweet.  

Fall offers birdwatchers (and the friends they invariably drag along) the most exciting months to precede a dreary northern winter.  Over 200 species of birds migrate through New Jersey.  For hawk watchers in the northeast fall is akin to Nirvana.  Fourteen species of diurnal raptors migrate through New Jersey September through November: Ospreys, Bald eagles, Northern harriers, Sharp-shinned hawks, Cooper’s hawks, Northern goshawks, Red-shouldered hawks, Broad-winged hawks, Red-tailed hawks, Rough-legged hawks, Golden eagles, American kestrels, Merlins and Peregrine falcons.  

Some of these visitors are common to the point of breeding locally: Red-tails and Cooper’s are almost “back yard” birds.  Some are just a bit less common but have rock star status: Peregrines, Merlins and Bald eagles.  And some raptors, even for the most experienced, well-worn-field-guide expert, are sensational: Gos!  Golden!  Roughie!  (Note the endearment, single case and exclamation! That’s how rare and spectacular they are!)

But how do you find them?

Of course, there are hawk watches throughout the northeast.  Look to the mountain ridges along the Appalachians and Alleghenies where hawks soar ancient migratory routes on winds lifted by warm air.  Look to coastal peninsulas and river valleys where they funnel across water from land to land.

Or look to the internet.  Google “hawkwatch nj” and you will find exactly where those hawk watches are.  The Hawk Migration Association of America is a great source.  There you can find over 40 hawk watches in the NY/NJ/PA areas, with links and maps.  

There are way more resources for the passionate (or compulsive) birder.  Now, with web sites and online social networks (Facebook, blogs and most appropriately named for birders, Twitter), bird watchers cannot just know what Peregrine or Gos! was spotted, but can do so in real time.  

I cannot emphasize enough how important real-time sightings are for birders.  For the social network gumbies out there who only rely on web sites and speed dialed friends, I will explain.

Because bird watchers historically have loved to share, the potential for finding birds by Twitter is monumental.  Lillian and Don Stokes tweeted on Tuesday: 
         Swainson's Hawk, a western species, seen over Pack Monadnock Raptor Migration Observatory, NH, yesterday, a record for that site.  

CMBO (Cape May Bird Observatory) tweeted in the last 2 hours 
        Clay-colored sparrow in burn pile behind beach at state park, 
        23 Brown pelicans off Sunset Beach, 
and just this moment 
        Cape May Point streets and state park full of warblers!  

Just  this moment John @dendroica
         saw a Green heron behind Morgan Mudflats.  

and @urbanhawks a second ago spotted 
          an adult Peregrine falcon on 100 Bleeker Street in Greenwich Village in New York. 

 EBird.org is a global online wild bird statistical, checklist and interactive observation program started by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.  Some of the data provided on eBird can be very intimidating for the statistically challenged to whom bar charts and line graphs are frightening.  More accessible for the common person, members can explore or report sightings in specific areas.  For example, I searched Northern goshawk in NJ.  EBird has no current sightings in NJ, but after scanning the map I found that on September 9, 2012, Raymond Birdfellow (name changed for obvious reasons) spotted a Northern goshawk “immature bird, heavily streaked breast and prominent white eyebrow” in Litchfield, CT.  

The Crested caracara, a southern raptor that on Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology's own web site “reaches only in Arizona, Texas, and Florida” was reported for the first time ever in NJ.  More specifically, on Ebird I found that between September 11 and September 13 of this year 12 sightings were reported of a Crested caracara in Mercer County, most recently at 9:30am this past Thursday.  

EBird also has a Rare Bird Alert and you can sign up to get daily - or hourly - updates. 

Never underestimate Facebook for learning what and who is where and when.  My Facebook friend Jim Birdbuddy (name changed for obvious reasons) posted his Caracara pictures on Facebook Wednesday. 

These online tools are to a bird watcher what a Porsche 911 is to a middle aged man.

Realize, though,  that I just spent 3 hours indoors on my laptop instead of 2 minutes outside with my binoculars.  That’s one of the hazards of online bird finding.  You don’t ever want to spend time birdwatching with your face in a device (or book, for that matter) instead of in binoculars.  And another, real hazard is that in finding and sharing bird sightings, birders can love their birds to death.  It has happened that hundreds of well-meaning birdwatchers and photographers have holed up and settled in for days around an exclamation mark-worthy bird to the point that it was harassed from feeding, or worse, grabbed by a predator attracted to the commotion.

It’s a dilemma for the bird watcher.  I will leave that to your ethics and good judgement with a quote by E.B. White that all bird watchers will understand:   

“I arise every morning torn between the desire to save the world and the desire to savor the world. It makes it hard to plan the day.”

Some online resources:

A few birding blogs:

Some bird watching Twitter feeds

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Toilet Paper Conservation in a Financial Crisis

Memo to staff:

I have noticed that we are purchasing more toilet paper than usual. Due to recent financial events, I would like to request staff to be more conservative with toilet paper use, as the supplier has recently increased prices and reduced sheet number (from 800 to 700).

New ID palm monitors will be placed outside each stall to count individual usage. Please wash your hands before using the palm monitor.

Using 4 sheets after urinating and 6 sheets after defecating should be sufficient; this can be done by folding creatively. Otherwise we will be selling toilet paper sheets @ $.05 each, or require staff to bring their own rolls and keep them in the utility closet in the mens room.

Thanks for your anticipated cooperation.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Must Remember

So much happens so fast. Every morning he comes out of the crate, he has grown. Wilbur at 7.5 months is 55 pounds now, lean and long, still growing into his long, wolfy legs and splayed front feet.

He is still a cheerful, confident puppy. He still loves children more than anything except maybe food.

  1. If he sees a child in the distance, he will focus on the child, sit and wait for the child to come over. If the child ignores him, he is confused.
  2. When he is snooting in the grass and sees someone he wants to approach, he pretends to find things to smell in the direction towards the person, and then raise his head.
  3. He snores, still.
  4. Still lays akimbo on his back.
  5. Loves to slide. He used to climb and then slide down the tarps at TRT; loves to put both front feet on a plastic bottle and skate across the tennis court.
  6. He used to love somersaults and sausage rolls. Now just sausage rolls.

Monday, September 7, 2009


I love taking long walks with Wilbur. The local walk - through Meyersville, up and down the dinky roads to the circle - is almost bucolic. (Note: I have never used that word before.)

I think alot in our walks.

Today, after almost 5 full months of raising a puppy into adolescenthood, which is indeed as hideous as everyone promised (Is he deaf? Doesn't he remember "shake?" Why won't he let me cut his nails?), I was wondering why Wilbur does some of the things he does.
  1. Why does he burrow under his bed in the crate to sleep on a hot day?
  2. Why does he want to roll in dead snakes and voles?
  3. Why does he seek out tissues to rip and play with?
  4. " " " " " the fabric under the boxspring to rip and play with?
  5. " " " " " seek out and destroy the right insert to my Merrill clog, and not the left, to which he has equal access? (Under my bed looks like a mouse nest.)
  6. How can he possibly be hungry after he eats 2 cups of dry food that expands to 4 cups in his stomach after he drinks water? (And I know for sure both measurements.)
  7. And since I have mentioned eating: Why is his entire world now focused on food? He drooled at the deli counter in Whole Foods.
  8. He's 98% Lab: Why can't he swim like a dog? All that follows his shoulders is under water when he paddles. He ends up swallowing water and not feeling so good after.
I don't know if I will ever have answers to these questions.

I don't know how dog people do it. Dogs eat unspeakable things, they seem to get diarrhea with regularity, (the one follows the other), they drool and they fart. Actually, thank goodness, Wilbur does not fart, but I still cannot be sure. He is a dog.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

What Would Liz Say?

I walked Wilbur on a long lead in the little woods near the house. He loves free walks, and I love letting him be a dog. I work him a little, in the woods - wait, don't, and sits when people come by - but basically we walk and I let him explore. I think if everything is forbidden, it becomes attractive; so I let him snoot, but bring him along when I want him to catch up, or change direction and follow me.

I over-think things. Or I don't think things through enough. Both. But whenever I come to a dog-training question, I think of asking Liz Catalano, who is a keen and accomplished trainer.

But then I think, I can't ask Liz, because if I ask her every training question, I would have to put her on speed-dial. And I like her too much to harass her in such a way.

And then I think, "What would Liz say?"

And that is how I answer most of my dog training questions. I go through a good part of the day, thinking, "What would Liz say?"

Today, this was my imaginary conversation with Liz, in the forest:

Ellen: Liz, I have a question.

Liz: Yes, my dear. You are my favorite student, and Wilbur is the best dog I ever saw.

E: (Blushing, but immensely proud) Thank you, Liz. But here is my question. I don't have a fenced-in back yard. So I can't run Wilbur, or play with him the way I would like, unless we go to a friend's, for a pup-play date.

L: How do you sufficiently exercise him every day?

E: (Blushing, ashamed) I walk him. And I intersperse short training. I do try to make it fun. But I can't always run him, or throw a ball.

L: Is there a tennis court, or playground near you? You can make sure it's empty and safely enclosed, and play in there.

E: Oh! Of course! But what do you do when it rains? And you are indoors all day, no walks, no plays?

L: Isn't Wilbur training to be a Service Dog?

E: Yes....

L: Can't you take him into stores?

E: Yes....

L: Remember the other day, when you were training Wilbur in Shop-Rite having an imaginary conversation with me, and you remarked that working Wilbur in the store, especially in a supermarket, is very intense but fun training, and he is exhausted after?

E: (Light bulb over my head) Yes! It was exercise for him! Of course! So on a rainy day, or any day, to really exercise him, we can train in a store! And I am supposed to be doing that, anyway, now he's six months old!

L: (Smiles, but not like I am an idiot, more like I am grasshopper.) You are learning.

E: I have another question.

L: Oh, good!

E: I walk Wilbur on a 20 foot long lead sometimes. I work on his attention, on waits, and heres with the long lead.

L: You make me so proud.

E: Thank you. But the lead drags under him, and trips him. Do you think I can use a flexi-lead?

L: How stupid are you? Of course not. Duh. He weighs over 50 pounds. Didn't I see him run on the lead and pull it out of your hand the other day? He'd snap a flexi-lead. Sheesh, what an idiot.

E: OK, I got it, no flexi-lead. It was just a question.

L: Well, I am getting tired of your questions, even though I am only in your mind. That's how annoying you are. That's why I don't give you my phone number.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Blog That Never Was: Raising John Wilbur Conner

It is just over four months since Wilbur came into my life. His age is now measured in months instead of weeks, and he has emerged as his own "person."

He is six months old.

His progress impresses me, and is more a testimony to CCI breeding than my skills as a trainer. He learns things very easily. Any bad habits are minor and easily fixed with consistent training. He is very cheerful.

A recap:

It seems, somewhere between 16 - 18 weeks, he learned his name. Like overnight. I did work on his name as I was taught in dog training, but for Wilbur's first three and a half months I thought he was deaf, and I worried that he would think his name was "Don't!" (the general CCI correction for anything). He learned "Drop" readily, as he had to do it all day. Sticks, rocks, cat toys, basically anything in his path, except a toy. Now, with the command "Drop," he actually projectile spits the item from his mouth.

He does an automatic wait at the bottom and top of the stairs, and has stopped chasing the cats. We are working on Petra's chickens, which he did find fascinating, but resisted in a sit/don't.

He waits on command at doorways and out of the car. I have to be more consistent, and then he will do it automatically. (See, it's me, I need the training.)

He lets me cut his nails!!! This after not letting me touch his feet!

The most impressive thing to me is what happens when I put his CCI gold puppy vest on and take him into a store. He turns into a service dog, totally focused and behaved. It amazes me. He disappears by my side, stops when I stop, waits, comes along with a "Let's go."

Things I have to work on:
  1. He jumps and licks. Working on that.
  2. Roll. He rolls all the time, but not on command. My bad.
  3. Heel and side. Should be a piece of cake. Especially if I offer him cake!
  4. Better manners in food situations at friends' houses. Tough one, that.
  5. Dress into the halti. (Does any pup actually walk into a gentle leader or halti? Come on.)
  6. Being more gentle taking treats.
  7. Fetch. He is a lab that does not retrieve. What is up with that?
  8. Most important: Recall. He comes with a "Here," but I have not really trained in an open, distracting area.
Now that camp is over, I look forward to taking him to more classes, working him and also going for those long walks I love. We can't do the Swamp now (the mosquitoes land on us like a net) so I am going to Jockey Hollow instead.

In Jockey Hollow today, on a long lead, he kept checking on me and doing a "wait" 9 out of 10 times when he was 5-10 feet ahead of me. Next to me he will pretty much stick to me, if working. He did his own roll today, and I rubbed his belly, and I thought about how good he is, how easy to train, and I thought I saw his future.