Tuesday, January 19, 2010

People Watch

Jan 14, 2010
Spier Falls section of the Hudson River

Moreau, NY

SURVEY: People Watch, Week 4
LOCATION: Upriver of the Big Bend
SUBMITTED BY: Halley Luke O’Cephalus

First, I spent a short time in the area south of the Big Bend in the River, where there is a good spot for viewing Homo sapiens in their natural habitat, near their group nesting site known as "South Glens Falls." Some crows nearby caused enough of a ruckus to interfere with my viewing, however.

So I flew a little farther upriver, to a viewing area that is known to attract Humans, despite its relative isolation. So far, during our winter People Watch season, we’ve seen them here 4 out of 4 times.

I circled the area, looking sharply downward. It was easy to spot the Humans – they stood out darkly against the snowy ground.
Soon I heard their familiar blatting noises, and spotted a small group of them. After some time, they gestured and pointed at me.
I distinctly heard several “ooh” and “ahhh” calls. This is but one of their many vocalizations.

Quietly I found a perch in a white pine, across the river from the group of humans, only about a thousand feet away. Thus I could watch them closely and take an Eyelash Count.

Despite the fact that human eyes are the same size (weight) as ours, they are 4x weaker than ours. In order to catch a glimpse of me, the creatures used a device that multiplied their feeble vision.

The group observed today consisted of 5 individuals:
3 adults (one a female past breeding age)
and 2 juveniles.
This was ascertained by the color of the head-plumage.
Only live-capture and close examination would tell us if the 2 juveniles were sexually mature or not.

(Unlike us, who are ready to raise our own families at the age of 4 or 5 years, Humans take up to 4x longer to mature. Some never do, according to recent studies.)

Also unlike us, they are rarely known to mate for life, instead practicing a sort of serial polygamy. Courtship displays can happen at any time of year, but especially in the summer during their annual moult. This makes for amusing observations at other places along the river, such as Haviland’s Cove.

One of the Humans seemed to have some sort of radio transmitter attached to its head region, near its right ear. Perhaps another agency is tracking this individual.

Another human (one of the juveniles) was wearing some sort of rabbit-skin on his head (see arrow). This may mean he is some kind of shaman-in-training.

We have observed groups of these creatures gathering for what appear to be worship services at their Temples of the Golden Arches. (Field studies on this exciting topic are currently being carried out by our friends at Seagull University.)

In order to test the intelligence of this particular group, I once again flew upriver. They followed along, not keeping up very well despite the odd beetle-like contraptions they used, which enable them to move along faster than their usual plodding gait. A few times I had to circle for a while, just to let them catch up.

At the fourth stop, I was getting a little hungry. It was almost time to feed. At that last stop, conditions were not good for fishing or foraging, since the river was completely iced-over at that point. No roadkills or carcasses to be seen here. At the same time, the Human group had split up and wandered back to whatever dens they had nearby.

All in all it was a good survey session. I believe I can make out individual Humans now, having seen some of these particular Humans at every People Watch so far this winter.(At first it was difficult to tell them apart.) They appear to be some sort of extended family unit, which only continued observations could confirm.

Perhaps during the next survey I will test their ducking-response, by doing a few easy power-dives in their direction.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Magic Forest

January 9, 2010
Wilton Wildlife Preserve, Wilton, NY

After an all-day “flurry” yesterday that ended up depositing several inches of fresh, fluffy snow, this morning dawned crystal-clear and cold. The snowflakes were big enough to see sparkling in the morning sun.

Today was the much-anticipated workshop on tracking, hosted by Wilton Wildlife Preserve.

There were about 15 of us, including trail-friends Jackie and Laurie (fellow Moreauvians), and Ellen, who came all the way from Newcomb.

Our instructor was Vince Walsh, of Kawing Crow Nature Awareness Center

Well, “instructor” is not exactly the right word... He shares his knowledge (which is considerable) but at the same time, encourages questioning – curiosity – first-hand experience – and demonstrates the power of putting our minds together to solve a mystery.

Indoors, he gave us an overview of things to look for, and factors to consider in making an identification. We discussed gait, speed and habits of various animals.

Outdoors, he had us consider the snow itself; fresh tracks, old tracks. Determining when a creature had passed this way, or why.

It was a different sort of walk for me, compared to our bird-watching of late – today we spent most of the time looking DOWN:

And GETTING down, for the obligatory Take-a-Whiff-of-This-Fox-Urine moment.
(it smelled like Heineken.)

Besides the fun of being out on a sunny cold day with good friends, and learning something new, it was enlightening to watch Vince stop and investigate,

teasing out a story from a faint trail –
It was like watching Sherlock Holmes at work

Like magic !

Of course it’s not magic, but knowledge, gained from lots of experience.
The magic is, the world’s a clean slate every day, when tracking.
There’s always something new.

We got a small taste of experience today, and I look forward to the next time we go walking with Vince. I’d follow him anywhere.
Even if it’s uphill!

How Many Eagles

January 6, 2010
Betar Path, South Glens Falls

We who live this plodding life here below never know
how many eagles fly over us.
HDT Journal 1854

I know it’s a fault of my nature, to return to where I saw something, hoping to see it again in exactly the same place. But you have to start somewhere ! So I had a few moments in this day – really just a half hour’s time – to see if there was still a bald eagle hanging out along the Betar Trail.

At first, I looked in the same spot where, last week, Lindsey had spotted one sitting on a broken tree stump.
Hmm, what’s that ?

Nope. Not-an-eagle.

It’s difficult now, with all the snow-clumps in the pines – it’s as if the eagles know they are well-camoflagued in these places.
You have to check carefully with binoculars to make sure these clumps are NOT an eagle’s white head.

I walked to the Beach area, which has a good view upriver.

The usual snow-clumps in the trees – no, wait!

With my naked eyes, one of the clumps looked like it was moving.

Binoculars up – it’s TWO eagles !

They were very far off, and I had no snowshoes, and no time left. The camera managed to catch a glimpse of the pair as they sat; seemingly aware of my presence, but not taking wing.

It certainly was a treat to see two adult eagles sitting together.

On the way home through Glens Falls, I saw an eagle who let me get REALLY close !

Tracks and Traces

January 5, 2010
Mud Pond, Moreau Lake State Park

Jackie & I met up at Moreau Lake today, planning to go up the ridge & look for porcupines. Upon talking with Ben about eagles, we switched plans and headed out to Mud Pond, where a deer carcass had been put out and had sucessfully attracted a bald eagle.

Not much misses an eagle's keen eyes, as they fly along the river.
In fact this particular eagle's keen eyes let him know the second we came into view of the frozen pond -- even though we tried sneaking in through a thick coniferous section of the trail.
I caught a quick glimpse of an adult eagle and three ravens, lifting off from the carcass, ‘way out on the pond. They flew off to the far end of the pond, beyond our line of sight.
We tried waiting quietly under a hemlock, sitting on a conveniently situated log. This gave us a great view of the carcass, and we hoped that the birds would soon return to resume their feeding.
After what seemed a long while, we had to stand up and move again to get warm. Walking out into the clear, I looked southward and there, several hundred feet away, was the eagle, perched deep in the branches of a white pine.

We figured he wasn’t going to let us get any closer, so Jackie suggested a walk out to the carcass.
Despite my usual trepidations, her gentle urging had me following her out across the middle of Mud Pond on the snow-covered ice.

There were animal tracks of all sizes and strides everywhere, and Ben had mentioned that coyotes had also visited the carcass. (People walk their dogs in the park as well, so up along the trail, we hesitated to identify the tracks as one or the other.)

Jackie & I both eagerly signed up to attend a tracking workshop with Vince Walsh in Wilton this weekend. I can identify some prints, but have a lot to learn. Still, it was fun to try to read the stories in these traces of wild inhabitants.

Did a raven land here, and swagger off into the distance?

I think these are fox tracks running along this log.

Out on the pond, it looked as if coyotes had been contra-dancing after their dinner.

We saw the impressions of their bodies, as if they flopped down for a brief rest.

I think this is a wingprint of an eagle, judging by the size alone.

We wandered about on the pond ice, the only humans around.

Ravens clucked and hooted, as the eagle finally took off toward Back Bay.
No time today for me to follow him ...

Thursday, January 7, 2010


January 2, 2010
Spier Falls Boat Launch, Moreau

How glorious the perfect stillness and peace of the winter landscape !
HDT Journal, December 31, 1854

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Birding Wonderland

December 30, 2009
Glen Lake, NY

Gone away is the bluebird,

Here to stay is a new bird
He sings a love song,
As we go along,
Walking in a winter wonderland.

Despite a busy work schedule, somehow I found time for one more hike to finish off 2009. The wind had died down and the sunny day was irresistible.
Glen Lake was close to home, and it would be good to see if the fens were freezing over again.

The trail was packed-down enough to walk without snowshoes, and the snow made crunching noises as I walked southward toward the sunlight.
Ash Drive is a birding hotspot, and today was no different !

Just yards from the car, I heard the squeals of robins. Sure enough, a small herd of them was flitting about in the shrubs just off the trail. I crunched up to where they were, and saw them plucking winterberries and gobbling them down nervously.

I stood still for a long while, and the bushes seemed to come alive with robins.
Then, from above, came the weepy sounds of cedar waxwings.

They landed among the berries, too.

A jay stood sentry in a tall cottonwood. He was keeping an eye on me, and on the feeders by the lakeside cottages nearby.

The robins sat in the leafless branches, as if turning their darker backs to the sun for maximum solar absorption.

It also helped to be wearing a down coat.

Besides winterberries, it looks like there are lots of other things for them to eat. I don't know if they do, but it's interesting that they are all RED things:

All too soon it was time to go. I crunched noisily back to the car, crossing the little fishing bridge near the road – and saw a flash of blue!

There in the sumacs, sat a bluebird.

He and his companion looked out of place. Usually bluebirds and robins leave in the fall, and the bluebirds return weeks before the more-heralded robins in the spring.

Maybe these guys plan to tough it out this winter!