October 25: Lecture at Cape May Autumn Weekend.
October 25: Book signing at Cape May Autumn Weekend.
November 20-29: Private Birds and Art tour: Venice to Florence.
January 31: Birding New Jersey with the Brooklyn Bird Club.
February 18: Lecture and book signing for the Queens County Bird Club.
February 20: Lecture and book signing for the Wyncote Audubon Society.
March 21-26: Birding Nebraska with WINGS.
April 18-25: Birding Catalonia with WINGS.
Gellert and I are used to running into interesting birds on his walks: in just the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen a fine peregrine falcon, a common raven, and a smattering of the commoner southbound warblers. This morning, though, we came across something totally unexpected.
We screeched to a halt when a tiny, short-tailed gray thing flushed from the roadside into a low tree, and were startled to see a little zebra finch looking back at us.
Yes, we arrived a day late for the whiskered tern and we left a day early for the zone-tailed hawk: but my latest tour had a great time at Cape May last week all the same. A few photos:
The view from the hotel balcony at dawn.
Sunrise over the beach.
Some autumn color in Atlantic County.
An eastern ribbon snake in the Meadows (or some Thamnophis or another).
One of many, many, many brown thrashers at Higbee Beach.
If you get a chance to bird with this genial gang, do it!
The beach scene across from our hotel.
Black skimmers and a nice variety of gulls and terns, there for the picking just steps from our door.
A great cormorant joins its smaller cousins on the concrete ship.
We’ll be back.
This pretty little black-throated blue warbler was a welcome but not unexpected guest at the bird bath this morning.
But — as they say on the internet — watch what she does next.
I think the house sparrow was as surprised as I was when the warbler flew up to the newly filled tray feeder.
She obviously liked what she found in there.
I should explain that she wasn’t sharing the house sparrow’s millet: I’d put the remnants of a chunk of suet in there earlier this morning. Still, this isn’t your everyday feeder bird, is it?
Last September, pondering the abundance of the lovely little sora in autumn marshes, we wondered what it meant that so many had once been “paddled” in Virginia’s Curl’s Neck Marsh. I even managed to make contact with a couple of outfitters who specialize in rail hunting. But the response was everywhere the same: It just meant that the rails had been taken from a boat.
Everywhere the same, and everywhere unsatisfactory. Here’s the real answer, from the Richmond Dispatch at the turn of the last century:
It is a saying often heard in the country, if not in the city, that “slapped” birds are much better than “shot” ones. This is to say that market hunters, of course, do not shoot their game, but kill them with a long paddle — eighteen feet long — with which they shove their boats through the marshes…. A slight blow from the heavy paddle “settles his hash forever,” as the country boy says…. The bird is not bruised, and is much to be preferred to the shot bird….
Not a very pretty picture, but at least now we know. And we know, too, what the witty rail hunter called himself a century ago: a “soracer.”
He stands [in the boat] and slaps the poor little things until his arms are tired. Such a night as this he is apt to kill fifteen or twenty dozen.
Our reporter goes on to tell us that a dozen soras fetch 50 cents at the market, and that “the good soracer” earns 50 to 75 dollars in September and October. Do the math: That’s 24 birds to the dollar, or 1200 to 1800 rails a season for the skilled paddler.
I can only repeat what I said last year at this time: That’s a lot of soras.