Saturday, November 19, 2011


Sometimes you can't see the birds for the birds

Whether birding or fishing, often it’s better to be lucky than good. To take advantage of luck, however, one must be prepared and in the right spot at the right time. So it was for us today.
Susan and I, along with birding buddies Karin and Pat, joined about 50 other intrepid souls for a day of pelagic birding on Lake Erie, sponsored by the Black Swamp Bird Observatory. By definition, pelagic means, “found in the open sea,” or “deposited on an ocean bed.” Here in northeast Ohio, Lake Erie is as close as we can conjure up for an ocean. And with gull season heating up, getting out into the open water heightens your chances of seeing lots of species. It also affords the opportunity for a rare spotting of a jaeger species, either Pomarine or Parasitic.
Both jaeger species have been seen in our area this season so we had our hopes up and our fingers crossed. Well, actually we had the hoods up on our jackets and our fingers held a death grip on the gunwales of the good ship “Holiday.”
Thousands of Ring-bill and Bonaparte Gulls escorted us nearly the entire day, hoping for some free popcorn--chum. Streams of Red-breasted Mergansers in flight, estimated in the thousands, stretched for miles in all directions. Sharp-eyed ornithologist Dr. Andy Jones located a Red-necked Grebe among hundreds of Horned Grebes.

What's hiding in the trough of that wave?

Finally, someone in the stern of the boat shouted that he’d seen a jaeger resting on the water. With astute handling, our trusty, fearless captain swung the ship about and we approached a first-year jaeger who seemed as curious about us as we were of it. Cooperatively, it lifted off the water so we could see its diagnostic markings. I hope our waving and shouting meant something to it.

Pomarine Jaeger

Friday, November 18, 2011

Golden Opportunity

Silver dollars--honest

It’s not everyday you get to witness a new piece of currency being entered into the American system. In fact, it’s quite rare. So, Thursday, when the opportunity availed itself, Susan and I flipped a coin and it landed obverse—that’s heads in coin talk.
The occasion was the introduction of the President James A. Garfield silver dollar, issued at Lawnfield—his family home, Mentor, Ohio. The U.S. Mint has been quietly issuing dollar coins honoring the presidents, four per year, in their order of election, since 2007. And before you government-conspiracy types get your underplunders in a twist, the reason you haven’t heard of this is because the program suffers from lack of publicity.
Thursday was the fourth visit to Ohio for the folks from the U.S. Mint, with more dedication ceremonies to come, since Ohio has had six or nine presidents, depending on whether you want to count the state of birth or where they lived when elected.
"The Presidential $1 Coin series connects Americans to inspiring life stories like President Garfield's," said United States Mint Acting Associate Director for Manufacturing Marc Landry. "He was the last President born in a log cabin, fatherless by the age of two, drove canal boat teams to earn money for college, became a classics professor and college president, rose to major general in the Civil War, and enjoyed a long, distinguished career in the U.S. Congress."

In addition to Landry, speakers at the event included Rudolph Garfield, a great-grandson of President Garfield, and Dr. Allan Peskin, professor emeritus of history at the Cleveland State University, and officials from the National Park Service.

From left, Dr. Allan Peskin, Mark Landry and Rudolf Garfield

Peskin, who served as the event's keynote speaker, is the author of "Garfield," the definitive biography of James Garfield. He noted that because of Garfield’s shortened term as president, cynics might say, “Garfield should not be honored with a silver dollar. Maybe a dime would be better. Well, Garfield is not to be shortchanged.”
Among Garfield’s many accomplishments was the fact that more than 80 percent of the voters turned out for the election in 1880, hard to imagine in this day.
About 150 people, including many descendants of President Garfield watched the “pouring” of the coins, a huge bucketful, at the end of the ceremony. Kids 18 and younger all got a free silver dollar. The new coin is not actually silver. It’s gold in color and made of copper, zinc, manganese and nickel. And the late president would appreciate that it will have a life span of 30 years, is totally recyclable, unlike paper money he vehemently opposed and which only lasts three years.
If you’re interested in the Presidential Coin program, check it out at

Visitors had an opportunity to tour Lawnfield, Garfield's family home

Lucreia Garfield's talent showed in painted tiles framing the fireplaces at Lawnfield

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

There's a bird out there--honest

The wind was blowing hard, an estimated 30 knots out of the northwest; temperature 34 degrees and waves of lake-effect snow blinded Susan and me, along with a couple other dozen birders this afternoon. A perfect day for birding along Lake Erie. Today was special.
On Tuesday, intrepid birder Craig Holt reported a Black-tailed Gull, sighted in Ashtabula Harbor. Alarms went off all over the nation. This is an Asian species seen on rare occasions along the west coast of America, and on even more rare occasions in the northeast. Never, until Tuesday, in Ohio.
For us, Ashtabula is only a bit more than an hour’s drive. We talked to one chap who’d just driven straight through from Hendersonville, North Carolina, 600 miles away. He was only one of many birders making the pilgrimage to northeast Ohio to see this rare bird.
I’ve had my share of easy lifers, the kind you just accidently find, or chase down and there it sits, smiling, waiting to be photographed. Today’s bird was more of a challenge.
When we got to one of the more-reliable places where the bird had been seen, yesterday, we saw a flock of birding friends huddled next to a building, trying to stay out of the wind. Friend Dwight Chasar said he’d been on the spot almost seven hours and no bird was to be found. Not a good report.
Within 20 minutes our fortunes changed. A birder from another group came running over to us, arms waving, shouting mostly intelligible words. It went something like this:
“It’s up! The bird’s up.! Right side of that pond!”
In unison scopes and binoculars swung to the right. People started shouting, “Where? Where?”
“To the right of that pole.
“Which pole?”
“I thought he said left!”
“The one to the left of the yellow pole?
“No, left of the one on the right!”
“There he is! Right behind the Herring Gull to the left of the light pole on the right side of that coal car.”
Well, there were an estimated 300 Herring Gulls in the flock in front of us, more than a quarter mile away, through a maze of wires and cables and coal cars. And did I mention it was snowing like crazy?
Suddenly the snow stopped and the sun popped out. Everyone caught their breath. The semi-cooperative Black-tailed Gull moved just enough for us to see the color differentiation of its mantle compared with hundreds of other gulls. And as a final salute, in a bird manner, he mooned us, or turned and wagged his black tail.
It don’t get much better than that.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

End-of-the-Season Fantasies

So I asked the farmer’s daughter about her cup size …
Oh, maybe I should back up a bit. Here in upstate New York it’s the end of the trout fishing season, but that doesn’t stop guy from dreaming. When I got up this morning, with dreams of the nearby Battenkill River dancing in my head, it was just barely 30 degrees. I was not prepared for Arctic conditions, which meant the whole fishing expedition would probably be a fishing expedition.
Driving east out of Saratoga Springs, just before the town of Schuylerville, thoughts of the two brown trout I had managed after a million casts last fall had me planning for battle. I came up over a rise and there, on the south side of the road she sat; the Farmer’s Daughters’, so I had to stop.
This little shop has about the best ice cream east or west of the Hudson River. The Maple Walnut flavor is to die for. I asked for a medium. That’s when she handed me this huge, overflowing cup and I said something like, “That’s really huge for a medium.”
What did you think I was talking about?