Things are buzzing

It’s going to be an exceptional year for apples. All our trees are loaded down and a few apples are starting to fall to the ground. I see a lot of applesauce in my future.

The goldenrod is attracting many varieties of pollinators, from fat bumblebees to tiny glossy metallic critters that hover and dive like dragonflies. Even the yellow jackets aren’t aggressive while feeding. The whole patch is in a constant state of whir and buzz. Maybe they sense the days growing shorter, adding urgency to all they do.

I haven’t seen any Monarch caterpillars in the milkweed patch, though a few butterflies have visited it.

Despite the unseasonable heat this week, fall is coming fast. I’m starting to see the first color in the sumacs and in the swamp maples across the pond. My favorite season is almost here!

Categories: apples, flowers, insects | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Poem #17

‘Supermoon III’


Moonlight shivers along pine boughs

Even at the darkest

it’s hot, air is still

mist rising over fields

More oppressive still

the cicadas’ scream crescendos

then stops, then painfully scales up

Meteors and fireflies 

burn up in the atmosphere

We sigh for a cool kiss

from high peaks


Categories: insects, postcard poems | Tags: , | Leave a comment

The impostor

Birding was slow at Five Rivers this morning: only a few warblers. We’re still waiting on the waves of fall migrants.

So I turned my attention to the butterfly bush outside the education center. No hummingbirds, but I found this lovely hawk moth feasting.

I think this is a Hummingbird Clearwing, Hemaris thysbe. I was delighted to get several decent pictures as I followed it from blossom to blossom.

And now I should go outside, because there’s an Eastern Towhee in the grapevines and intriguing fluttering all around!

Categories: insects | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Scenes from a picnic table

I had some time to kill, so I sat down at a table in the Corning Preserve and watched the natural world go by.

Young birds everywhere!


“Are you sure you don’t have any stale bread?”


Sturnus vulgaris, uncharacteristically sleek.


Gray Catbird, featuring rufous underparts.


Papa House Sparrow, another snappy dresser.


And on the table:

Tiny color-coordinated spider of the quickly-scurrying variety.


The smallest imaginable leaf-hopper. Species unknown — I googled ‘leafhopper green curly tail’ unsuccessfully.


And an amazing caterpillar, soon to grow up to be a White-marked Tussock Moth. Its head shone like a coral bead.


Categories: Bird photos, insects, Usual suspects | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Leavin’ on a jet plane (not).

Just because a birder goes to the airport, it doesn’t follow that she’s hopping a flight to some exotic bird-filled destination. The airport itself can be the goal.

Grassland species like this Savannah Sparrow love the short mowed fields at Albany International Airport. (International, by virtue of a once-weekly flight to Montreal.)





This Grasshopper Sparrow liked the area so much he had to sing about it.








At Saratoga County Airport I watched a few Horned Larks. I think this was a juvie — it begged for attention from a male who steadfastly ignored it.




Birds and planes weren’t the only winged things worth watching. This Black Swallowtail cruised the clover.




Of course, whenever I think of birding at the airport I remember our phenomenal Snowy Owl sightings this winter. This may be my favorite photo ever.





Airports: not just for TSA harassment!

Categories: Bird photos, Field trip, insects | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

If it’s Tuesday this must be Newcomb; or, a whirlwind tour of the ADKs


At 4:00 AM my alarm went off. At 4:02, a second alarm, just in case… Only for you, birds. Only for you. I grabbed my gear and stumbled off into the still-dark morning, the only sound the unwearying Carolina Wren. We met at our rendezvous, and then up to the North Country for a long day birding.

I don’t often see Common Loons in full breeding plumage. They’re usually in plainer winter garb while passing through the local lakes. On Little Tupper Lake, we watched two preen and dive.

Sabattis Circle Road paid off immediately. A Broad-winged Hawk carrying prey exited fast, pursued by Blue Jays. At least a dozen warbler species, four thrushes, and an assortment of sparrows and vireos serenaded us. When we stopped, within minutes some Gray Jays squabbled by (more on those later!). After a family of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers moved through, we were almost complacently dismissive of another woodpecker, until we realized its solid dark back marked it as one of our target species for the day — Black-backed Woodpecker. Lifer!

In the background we’d been hearing a flycatcher sound off — che-bek, che-bek. Or was it? More of a che-LEK? We fine-tuned our ears and confirmed — Yellow bellied Flycatcher. Second life bird of the day!


We could easily have spent the rest of the morning walking along the road, listening to bird song and examining the bog plant life.

But we had plenty of place to go yet. Off to Paul Smiths Visitor Interpretive Center!

I hadn’t been here in 25 years and the place has certainly changed. I want to move in…

Another place you could easily spend a day or more wandering the trails, but we just took a quick look across Heron Marsh for possible waders. No luck, so we broke for lunch at Steve’s hot dog wagon. Don’t be a meanie, buy a weenie! How could we resist?

Next stop was Bloomingdale Bog and its famous performing Gray Jays. The way it works is, on the way in the trail, you place your offering on the altar — or, toss some nuts on the platform feeder. By the time you head back, the jays have passed the word and they’ll be waiting for you. Offer food on your palm and they’ll fly in and grab it. I had one immature Gray Jay swoop in for walnuts, and I was so excited I couldn’t even think of trying to use my camera. I was one of the lucky few — the birds might have been unnerved by our numbers (a dozen) and the quantity of treats offered. Where to go first??

Oddball sighting of the day — this Vesper Sparrow, normally seen in grassland areas like shorn fields and airports. What was it doing here?

Bird life was quieting down as the day heated up, so I switched my focus to insects.

Our final destination was Intervale Lowlands, in Lake Placid. How I wish we’d had a whole day here, too! The 160 acre preserve is intensively managed and monitored to study population,weather and habitat changes and visitors are encouraged to share their observations to build up the databank.

So now I’m planning out a multi-day excursion for next year, giving all those sites (and others!) the time and attention they deserve.

Categories: bird behavior, Bird photos, Field trip, flowers, insects, Life bird!, New bird, Rara avis, scenery | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Pine Bush ramble, 5/31/14

I decided to check out some of the outlying areas of the Albany Pine Bush that I hadn’t visited before. It was a perfect day for a walk, and the lupines were in bloom.


I looked at the spot off Lincoln Ave where the Red-headed Woodpeckers were last year. No one had reported seeing them so far, but it’s always worth a try for such striking birds. No luck, but I watched these guys soak up the sun before catching a thermal. So sue me, I think Turkey Vultures are photogenic.


There’s a bird in here somewhere…


Oh! There he is! Well, that wasn’t very helpful at all!

Take my word to it -- it's a Red-eyed Vireo.

Take my word to it — it’s a Red-eyed Vireo.

Indigo Buntings weren’t any more cooperative so I put down the camera and just enjoyed their blue lightning glow in the sun as they flashed in and out of cover.

This Eastern Phoebe posed with its breakfast — a huge long legged horrifying spider. Go Phoebe!


Categories: bird behavior, Bird photos, Field trip, insects, scenery | Tags: , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Spiderweb season

Fall is officially over, regardless of what the calendar says. Frost lingers in to mid-morning, and only the oaks retain their leaves. So I look back now to my favorite month, October, the season of mist and spiderwebs.


Another early-morning walk at Five Rivers. Warblers and vireos are making their last appearances, while the sparrow shift is taking place: Chipping Sparrows on the way south, White-throated and Tree Sparrows settling in. The tiny balls of energy that are Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets seem to use more energy than they can consume in their frenetic foraging. It’s the big feed-up before frost.


And the spiders are equally avid. A light drizzle highlights webs everywhere.

Goodbye, October. I’ll miss you.

Categories: Field trip, insects, scenery | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Cherry Plain SP twice

Cherry Plain State Park is a wonderful place to visit in the summer. Up on the Rensselaer Plateau, it’s always cooler than in the valley. The water of Black River Pond is clear but deeply tannic, and even in August it’s as cold as any lake in Maine. The old dirt roads crisscrossing the park have funky names: Jiggs Highway, Pesticide Shack Road, Dynamite Shack Road.

In June I walked there with the Bird Club, looking for the last of the migrants passing through and some species who usually nest further north but consider these hills an acceptable substitute. The weather was not optimal for treetop-peering (grey skies being something of a leitmotif this year), starting in a drizzle that faded soon, though the sky remained overcast. We had excellent birders-by-ear with us, and the woods were full of sound. Two male Blackburnian Warblers challenged each other across a field, their firethroats glowing. Black-throated Blue warblers buzzed an ascending tzee-zeee-zee, while Black-throated Green’s was zee-zee-zee-zoo-zee! And the everlasting omnipresent Red-eyed Vireo monologued: “Here I am. Where are you? Right here. Vireo?” As soon as we moved out of range, another took up the chant.

By early afternoon, we gathered together to total up our count. As we added the last bird to our lists ( a calling White-throated Sparrow, gone from my yard since April), someone spotted a Broad-winged Hawk, distinguished from the commoner Red-tail by the broad white band across its tail. It had no sooner soared off when an adult Bald Eagle flew low and leisurely over us. As I walked back to the car, I heard an almost indescribable sound. Howling, yelping, croaking — three Common Ravens burst out of the trees circling, swooping, diving at each other. Whether they were driving off an intruder or just rough-housing, I’ll never know.

Great Blue Heron, Turkey Vulture, Bald Eagle, Broad-winged Hawk, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Northern Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, Least Flycatcher, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay, Common Raven, Tree Swallow, Barn Swallow, Black-capped Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Veery, Hermit Thrush,  American Robin, Gray Catbird, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, American Redstart, Ovenbird, Common Yellowthroat, Chipping Sparrow, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Purple Finch, American Goldfinch.

40 species seen, 6 new to this list.

Two months later the woods were quiet. It was all about fungi and butterflies this time.

When it comes to mushrooms, I know puffballs and the ones you find in the supermarket. But I love to see the variety of wild mushrooms as fall approaches, their fantastic colors and forms. Here are a few.

The little falls were running high after heavy rain. You can see how clear yet how amber the water is, like a flood in a brewery.

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These stunning butterflies were everywhere on the sunny road, tasting the gravel.

'Astyanax' Red-spotted Purple

White Admiral






These are both ‘forms’ of Limenitis arthemis, formerly considered to be different species. Astyanax is the more southern variety, while the Ad-mee-ral (I have to say it with Khan’s accent) is commoner up north. Along the dividing line which must be in upstate NY, they hybridize freely.

A flash of brilliant black and yellow caught my eye in a stand of Joe-pye Weed. I thought at first it was a Tiger Swallowtail, but it was larger and more solidly black, with a broad yellow crossbar and yellow fringes to the wings. Its body was pale with no striping. When I got home I pored over my field guides and the internet, concluding that it was a Giant Swallowtail, uncommon for this area. Giant indeed — I’d say its wingspan, extended, was the length of my open hand. The camera’s batteries were crapping out, so I could only get a few shots and hope for the best.

Giant Swallowtail on flower head


Wings closed, alas.







Hmmm, maybe I’ll add butterfly-watching — or is it butterflying? — to my obsessions.


Categories: Field trip, insects, New bird, OMG bird, Species count | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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