Monday, August 24, 2009

Down on the Farm

My friend and co-worker, Mark, has a family farm in Berlin, Somerset county which has been in his family for generations. Each year he invites friends and family out for a weekend of fun and food. This was my 3rd year at the farm and I am now officially listed in the activity section of the invitation twice. First as leader of the bird walk and second as the astronomer. I don't know which is funnier. I brought extra binoculars and a telescope, so I guess that made me the expert.

The farm has spectacular views of surrounding countryside. The property slopes gently down to the Buffalo creek and has some woods along a run between pasture and corn rows. Here is a photo of the windmills across the valley in the morning mist. (The silos in the foreground are not Mark's)

We generally start our walk at the barn and meander through the woods looking at mostly flora and the occasional woodland bird. Pewees are really great birds for the non-birding group since they are easily recognized by their song (a loud "Peeeee Weee" - hence the name) and they sit on lower branches in the woods. Once we get to the Buffalo, we can count on ducks and a heron which are also easy for non-birders to see through binoculars and identify. We also had a great look at a Belted Kingfisher. He sat on the same perch twice so we all got a look.

I have noticed an interesting pattern with non-birders (women mostly). They are afraid of using binoculars and claim that they can't see anything and/or don't want to break them. But once they use mine (or Connie's or Di's), they are converted. This pattern held true again with Emilia and Sue. I had 3 binoculars - my old Bausch and Lomb Elite 7x42, Connie's Leica BN 8x32, and my new Leica Ultravid 8x32. Emilia reluctantly used the Leica BNs and it only took a few tries for her to get the hang of finding the bird through the lens and focusing for the "WOW" factor to set it. She proceeded to look at everything through the binoculars including caterpillars and flowers. I sense a new nature lover has been born. Sue used the Bausch and Lombs like an old pro and now wants to go birding with me in Cape May this fall. I am sure that her husband will be buying her a used pair on e-Bay (he is the e-Bay king) soon.

We usually see a Red-tailed Hawk and some Turkey Vultures soaring over the fields. This year we were also treated to a close encounter with a Sharp-shinned Hawk which flew low over our heads and landed in a shrub 50 yards away.

Our birding adventure did not end with the walk. We were also treated to calling Screech Owls during the movie. We paused Blazing Saddles which was being projected on a make shift outdoor movie screen (PVC pipes and an old sheet) to hear the pair whinney to each other for about 10 minutes. Pretty cool.

The astronomy was hampered a bit by partial cloud cover but we did get a good view of Jupiter and 2 moons.

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