Monday, July 22, 2013


Do you know what a "selfie" is?  I didn't either until recently.  A selfie is a photo that you take of yourself with your phone.  Typically, people do this and post the photo to FaceBook or something.  I did this several times on Friday (brace yourself) which started out pretty dull with a full day meeting in Wilmington DE with my boss and a few coworkers.  The day got a lot more interesting at 3 PM when the boss let us all go early for the weekend.  Yay! 

I seized the opportunity to chase a few rare ducks that were reported in Rehoboth during the week.  These are Black-bellied Whistling Ducks which are normally only found in the deep south like Texas, Arizona and occasionally in Florida.  The reports stated "private property" but I found out that they were really on a Country Club's golf course so I decided to try my luck sweet talking the golf pro into letting me go look for the ducks.  You may or may not know that a few of the Bird Nerds belong to a local Country Club so they gave me tips on how to dress in order to have the best shot at getting onto the course.

I showed up a the country club at 5:15 PM dressed in my polo shirt and tan khakis and met a young guy in a golf cart in the parking lot.  I explained that I was here to see the rare ducks and put on my most official demeanor - leading the young man to think that I was an official of some sort.  I didn't lie, I just let him draw his own conclusion.   I was shocked when he said that I could get on the course at 6 PM after the tournament finished.  Great!  Then he even told me to go inside when I asked him about a restroom (it was a 2 hour drive from Wilmington). After a trip to the restroom, I decided to hang out in the air conditioned Pro Shop rather than out in the 100 degree parking lot.

Here is the first selfie - me in the new golf top that I bought at HALF PRICE in the pro shop!  I needed a new top to wear to the work since it is so hot in my office.

At 6 PM on the nose, I went outside to figure out where to start walking to find the ducks.  I figured that I needed as much time as possible to cover the expanse of the course and get to the ferry before it shut down for the night. The young guy in the golf cart showed up and I asked if it was OK to go out.  He said yes. Then, I pressed my luck and asked if there was any way that I could use a golf cart - why not, all they can do is say no - but he said "Sure, take this one". Holy Crap.  Here is selfie #2 (ignore the wrinkles).

on the course
So off I went - bombing around the private golf course looking for rare ducks.  I found them pretty quickly on the 3rd pond that I zipped past.  Yup, rare ducks. Check another one off the list for the stupid contest. It took all of 15 minutes thanks to the cart.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks (BBWDs)
With that completed, I returned the golf cart, ordered a large cheese pizza from Grotto, picked it up and headed for the Cape May - Lewes Ferry to make the 7:45 trip.  I love Grotto pizza. It is only available in Delaware so I get it when I can.  Selfie #3 is me eating a slice in my car while waiting to board the ferry.

Grotto Pizza - Delaware's #1 export
The day just kept getting better at this point.  Who knew that they had Happy Hour on the ferry?  That was good enough, then they announced that the LIVE BAND was starting on the back deck - a live band!  That rocks.  Selfie #4 - me on the ferry.  I will save you from watching the videos of the band but suffice to say they were pretty good for a band that plays on a ferry.

Happy Hour on the Ferry
That's about as much of me as anyone can take. I promise more birds in future posts.  I just couldn't resist telling you this story.  Sometimes everything works out great like it did on Friday.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Donut Hole Trail - Take 2

Well, I definitely feel vindicated after this year's installment of the Donut Hole Trail (DHT).  Last year, I was absolutely miserable and really never wanted to show my face on that trail again.  Remember it with me by clicking this link - Donut Hole Trail #1.  That was a one day hike that should have taken about 6 hours but ended up being longer than planned and took 8.  What was I thinking when I agreed to go on a 2 DAY hike this year?  I must have been drunk or something. Poor Frank started planning this trip the day after we completed our hike last year.  He sent me maps and trail guides and a hundred emails about who was bringing what.  I kept replying things like "sure, that sounds great" and "uh-huh, whatever" not realizing that June  21st was fast approaching and that I was being counted as a definite participant.  Unbeknownst to Barbara, I started slowly roping her into this plan by forwarding the maps and emails.  She couldn't resist! She's a hiker from way back in the day and actually spent 2 weeks on the Appalachian Trail in her younger days.

I borrowed Di's backpack and Barbara brought a tent that they bought awhile ago.  We packed up what we thought we would need an headed up to Potter County on Thurs after work.  The hike was scheduled for 5:30 AM Friday morning.  We met Frank at his cabin for some tea and muffins, packed up the cars and headed to the trail head.  Connie drove one of the cars so that we could drop Frank's '84 Volvo station wagon at the end and she could shuttle the 3 of us and our gear to the start.  (The Volvo will come back into the picture later).  Off we went into the woods at about 9:30 AM! Notice the smiles.

Donut Hole Trail - Start

Our Packs

Frank planned the hike for June 21st - the Summer Solstice - which turned out to be absolutely perfect.  We had great weather and lots of sunshine which makes camping especially nice. As with all long hikes or excursions, the first part of the hike was filled with talk and hopes of seeing some wildlife or whatever.  The beginning of the hike was quite pleasant and not that strenuous which gave us all time to get used to the 30 pound backpacks (Frank's was much heavier for reasons that will be revealed later). Oh, and Roxy went along with us too. She quickly fell into step and understood that she should just keep up with us and stay on the trail - good dog.

Day 1 wore on. We heard a ton of birds including Black-throated Green warblers but didn't see many since we were mostly looking down at the trail. This part of the trail had a few nice sections that went along a pipeline cut out of the woods.  We made an effort to see a few birds there.  Barbara saw a Coyote but I was too far behind her at that point to see it before it skulked away.

Linda and Roxy birding the DHT

Barbara leading the pack

Frank listening for warblers

We took a few breaks and stopped for lunch which was quite nice - cheese and baguet, grapes, etc.  As we were leaving the lunch spot, I looked up into a nearby tree and spotted a metal coffee cup hanging from a rope. You know we weren't leaving without it, so Frank and I hoisted Barbara up and she was able to grab it.  It is now proudly displayed at Frank's cabin!

The Donut Hole Trail is not exactly what we called "maintained".  It's basically a deer trail that someone from the forest service walks maybe once a year with a chain saw and cuts through some (only some) of the logs that have fallen across the path. In some cases, he ( I am assuming it's a guy) doesn't even cut through the logs but rather reroutes the trail uphill and around the obstacle.  We had a heck of a time following the trail at the end of Day 1 when it zig zagged across a stream about 20 times instead of just staying on the same side but we eventually made it to the pre-determined campsite at about 7 PM.  Let's do the math here - we hiked 10 miles in 10 hours. How many miles per hour did we hike?  That's right kids - a whopping 1 mile per hour!

We were pretty tired, but not exhausted. Unfortunately, none of us remembered to take photos of our campsite or the food or the BEER, that's right BEER, Frank brought us 4 cans of Yuengling BEER.  That man is a hero! He lugged 4 cans of beer and a pint of Rye Whiskey along with all of the dehydrated pre-packaged dinner meals including Beef Stroganoff.  Did I mention the BEER?  We popped those cans into the stream to get them nice and cold.  Canned Yeungling never tasted better. Imagine how much lighter Frank's pack was on Day 2 after getting rid of the BEER and food.  My pack lightened up a bit too since I was carrying the breakfast muffins, trailmix, etc.  Frank also gained much admiration for bringing the water filter which allowed us to make drinking water as we went along rather than carrying it for 2 days. Here is a photo of me "making water".

Linda Making Water
Day 2 was supposed to be shorter and easier due to the long downhill to the finish.  HA.  You know darn right well that didn't happen.  We took our time at the camp having a leisurely breakfast, packing up the tents and headed out on the trail at 9 AM ( a whole 30 minutes earlier than Day 1).  About 30 minutes into the hike we met a person on the trail - our first and only person that we encountered on the actual trail. Then, we hit the Stinging Nettle. It was everywhere.  If you don't know what this is - you can probably guess by the name that it isn't good.  Nettle is a plant that grows in moist areas - mostly along streams. The plant is covered in little prickers that stick into your skin and sting like a jellyfish. The stinging doesn't stop either. It keeps stinging for hours. You can see by the photos that we all wore long pants but that doesn't stop the nettle from penetrating.  That is only the beginning of our troubles with this plant.  The other (and more annoying) problem with the Nettle is that it grows to about thigh high and obscures the trail which makes placing your foot down without twisting your ankle on the slippery rocks impossible. 

Stinging Nettle
Our short easy hike on Day 2 ended up being longer and more difficult than we anticipated.  At about 6 PM we were nowhere near the end point.  We met our second human being of the trip when the trail combined with a dirt road. This guy has a cabin along the trail. He asked if we were hiking the DHT and told us that the next end point was about 3 1/2 miles away.  Remember our math from earlier?  1 mile of trail = 1 hour of hiking which meant that we weren't going to see the end of the trail until after 9 PM - almost dark, through Stinging Nettle.  I admit it.  I lost my shit when I heard that!  Another 3 1/2 miles swatting my way through Stinging Nettle so I didn't fall down with a 30 pound backpack? I didn't know if I could make it.  Frank suggested a break. I refused . . .

"I see a cabin" Barbara exclaimed after about 2 hours of grueling downhill hiking through slippery rocks and up around detoured trail.  "I see it too".  And then, the most wonderful words in the English language - "Is that the Volvo?"  Yes, yes, it was the Volvo. We were actually happy to see an '84 Volvo sitting across the street from the cabin.  Can you imagine the looks we got from the people at the cabin as we staggered out of the woods dripping with sweat.

Exhausted at the DHT sign

Poor Roxy!
I don't think I have to tell you this, but Frank is already planning next year's hike.  Feel free to join us . . .

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Beach Babies

Here are some pretty cute photos of beach babies - American Oystercatchers and Least Terns - all taken while I waited for the Brown Booby to show up at Seven Presidents Park in north Jersey.  The Booby only made a brief appearance way offshore which counts for the stupid contest but can't top last year's sighting (remember it with me by clicking this link).

The Oystercatchers have one chick that they were feeding while I was there. Dad (or Mom) brought some sort of little black mussel or clam or something back, dug it out and then let the chick pick it up and gulp it down.

Oystercatcher with chick
Chick with gooey clam thing
Chick with clam
Down the hatch
The other beach babies were Least Terns. They all nest in a roped off area.  This Mom was pretty close to the rope and revealed 2 chicks when she got up and walked over to squawk at us for being too close - even though we were outside of the roped area.  I snapped a few photos of the babies before she got back to them.  Then she didn't sit on them anyway. I guess they could use a little sunshine before it got too hot.

Least Tern
Least Tern - new chick underneath (look closely)
Least Tern - chicks (there are 2 of them) and Mom
Least Tern Chicks - look closely
The next post will be a compilation from our trips to Potter county.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Beach Buddies - Corrected

Some of you may have read a post on the NJBirds listserv about the Philly Bird Nerds this weekend.  Have no fear, we don't need bail money!  We spent the morning with our friend Harvey starting out at Cox Hall Creek, grabbing breakfast at Sunset Grill so that we could eat and watch the bay at the same time.  I noticed a pair of ducks that looked like Scoters bobbing around one of the jetties, so we drove up to get a better look after downing the last of our breakfast sandwiches.

Scoters in Cape May in June is weird.  Black Scoters are the most common scoter that is found around our area but mostly from October through April when they take off for northern breeding grounds. The first 2 that we saw were a male and female. It got really interesting when we got out to the beach and saw 3 more scoters - which we thought were all juveniles. These birds almost looked like they could be White-winged Scoters because they had a white strip on the wing.  Closer examination showed that the white wing strip was actually molting feathers. Thanks to Rick Wright and Harvey for setting me straight on this.

Black Scoter - in wing molt
Here is the adult male swimming around the jetty.  I had to sweet talk the beach tag lady to let me onto the beach for these photos. This is interesting, but not worth $10 (our Cape May beach tags don't work at Cape May Point)

Black Scoter - adult male
Things got really interesting when 2 of the birds started getting closer to the beach and then popped out of the water.  Scoters are sea ducks and not regularly found on land - hence they look kind of awkward.

Comin' ashore
Look, I can dance
You can see by the next photo that these birds are unable to fly. Look at those ratty wings! 

Testing my wings
These 2 stayed on the beach for a good 15 minutes waddling, preening and generally taking in the scene before finally heading back out to join the rest of the family.

Surf's Up!
I couldn't resist this shot.  That's Harvey photographing the same scoters. You can see that these birds didn't really care about being close to human activity - that's the Cape May Point life guard and some other brave beach-goers in the background too.  You can also see why these photos aren't that great. It was threatening rain the entire time we were on the beach.

Harvey's buddies
Harvey did some research on the birds and found out that they don't nest until later in the season which means that all of our birds were adults - born at least last summer.  So, why are these 5 birds hanging around Cape May in June when they should be up in northern Quebec or Labrador Canada?  Could it be that they are only first-year birds?  Probably, since they don't breed until they are at least 2 years old. I still think its weird that they are hanging around NJ.  Harvey told me that there are only a dozen reports of scoters in NJ over the past 13 years so it isn't THAT common.