Sandhill Crane, photo by Dwayne Longenbaugh
Don’t let that holiday turkey be the only bird your family encounters this Thanksgiving. Go for a hike. A post-feast nature walk can be as much a family tradition as cranberry sauce and stuffing. While burning off calories, you can enjoy the fresh air and see some wildlife. There are plenty of places to go. Visit one of Audubon’s 48 centers laced with trails. Or choose a National Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge System encompasses 150 million acres, and there is at least one refuge in every state. Many of them are Important Bird Areas. The following 16 National Wildlife Refuge walks are family-friendly and relatively short. Each one offers a chance to see many birds and other wildlife in late November.!--/end tags-->
Imagine a wood overrun with birds. A red-tailed hawk gazes down from a pine, and a nuthatch is nosing along a nearby trunk. So many colorful warblers sing from the branches that it is as if “the trees were hung with ornaments,” as birder and author Jonathan Franzen describes. Surprisingly, this woodland is Central Park, the subject of an hour-long documentary about the amazing circumstances that transform the park into birder’s paradise. Premiering tonight on HBO at 9pm EDT “The Central Park Effect” examines both the birding phenomenon at the heart New York City, and the birders that eagerly await the bi-annual migration.
I was saving the pigeon for last—such a common bird, yet so intriguing. And indeed, the Rock Pigeon was my finale on April 1st, Day 92 of the Bird-A-Day Challenge, a game played every year by birders from around the country who are trying to see and count one “new” bird each day. There are dozens of participants still going and it’s possible that at least one of them, if not more, will make it the whole year long.
With temperatures reaching as high as 70 degrees in the New York City area this week and the days getting longer, many birds have been warming up their vocal chords. This morning they were in full chorus. Thankfully those crooners are helping me hang on just a little while longer in the Bird-A-Day Challenge.!--/end tags-->
A snowy owl. I finally got to see a snowy owl. It took an hour and a half long car ride and a frigid, gusty walk across the top of a dam, but there she was sitting a short distance down the rocky slope. As many of you already know, this was a record year for snowy owl sightings (read more about that here), but it was my first chance to see one this winter. What a treat—and only two days after seeing my first rufous hummingbird.
Unfortunately, this streak won’t likely continue.!--/end tags-->
Nature is full of surprises. Consider the winter we’re having. Yesterday the mercury climbed above 50 degrees here in the New York City area—certainly warmer than last year’s frigid February. But how quickly things can change. Today, we awoke to a thin blanket of snow covering the entire landscape.
Another recent surprise came in a much smaller package, a three-inch parcel weighing less than a nickel—a rufous hummingbird. At this time of year most birds of its kind are enjoying a warm winter south of the border in Mexico. Yet here was this tiny rufous darting about the bushes outside the entrance to the American Museum of Natural History’s planetarium, where it has spent most of the winter.!--/end tags-->
A new month brings a fresh start for those who decided to join in on the Bird-a-Day Challenge. The official challenge, taking place on birdaday.net began on New Year's Day. Since then I have been trying to play along, just for fun, counting how many days in a row I can find a “new” bird. (New = recorded for the first time in this game.) So far, I’ve lasted five weeks. Making it this far has already been tough, and it’s only going to get harder.
Plenty of people are playing along, some from as far away as the UK. And a number of new people recently started counting from Feb 1.!--/end tags-->
“That was the thing about Levantin: He loved the birds, but he really loved the places they brought him. When you spend your career in the confines of a gray suit, the pipits at dawn above timberline are even more wondrous,” wrote Mark Obmascik, author of The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession.
I am not obsessed—not even a little. But I get what Obmascik was saying. For some birders those little feathered creatures fluttering in the bushes are a tick in their notebooks. For others, they are a reason to take in the spectacles that most of us miss.!--/end tags-->
Birds must hibernate, said the naturalist and ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle when he observed masses of birds disappearing each winter. Centuries later we have advanced enough to know that birds do not overwinter beneath swamps and earthen valleys, waiting for the spring thaw. They migrate, of course.
Still, sometimes it can seem as if all the birds must be tucked away in a warm winter hideout, far from view. That has been the case lately. Spare movement among the trees in nearby woodlands and sparse scatterings of ducks on local ponds, lakes, and rivers are making me wonder how on earth I could have lasted 80 days in last year’s Bird-A-Day Challenge.!--/end tags-->
Despite my tradition of renouncing New Year’s resolutions, I’ve made several this year. Yes, the normal lose five pounds, get organized, consume less caffeine, exercise more often… but also to beat last year's record: 80 days. That’s how long I lasted in 2011’s Bird-A-Day challenge, a contest to see a new bird species for every day of the year.!--/end tags-->