This is Montclair State University’s copy of John Francis McDermott‘s edition of the 1843 journal of Edward Harris, friend, patron, and frequent field companion of John James Audubon.
Like most of that library’s general natural history titles from mid-century, this book was a gift from J. D’Arcy and Anne Ardrey Northwood, familiar names indeed in Pennsylvania and New Jersey birding circles: D’Arcy was the first curator of Mill Grove, and the couple’s “ramshackle cottage” at Cape May would eventually become New Jersey Audubon’s Northwood Center.
But this particular volume has another layer of provenance, attested by the inscription to D’Arcy Northwood from Eleanor Darrach Sippington. Good old Google helped me pin her down as one of the six children of Susannah Ustick Harris and Alfred Darrach; Susannah Harris was one of the four children of Edward Harris and his second wife (and first cousin), Mary G. Ustick.
What made my smile especially broad on reading the inscription was the fact that I had the pleasure of dinner with another of Harris’s descendants a couple of years ago in the Bahamas. She is certainly too young to have known her cousin Eleanor, but the connection shows once again just how small the world of birding can be, not just in space but over time.
All birding, they say, is local, and there’s nothing like a mid-May visit to the old midwest to prove it. The species I was happiest to see last week in Michigan included the golden-winged warbler, black-billed cuckoo, and Tennessee warbler — none of them exactly rare in New Jersey, either, but it’s a fine feeling to roll out early on a warm morning and know that those and so many other migrants could be almost counted on.
Gray-cheeked thrushes, too, are vastly more common and vastly easier to see west of here, and it was gratifying to get excellent and prolonged views of this secretive bird several times last week.
But it was doubly gratifying to look out the window here at home this morning to see the bird in the photo bouncing around the backyard. It’s hard to get much more local than that.
I felt even more virtuous than usual when I arrived at Brookdale Park this morning to find that I was the first birder of the day.
Or so I thought.
This female merlin, presumably the same bird that has been hanging around most of the winter and quite possibly the same bird that I had seen a day earlier in downtown Montclair, had already taken a commanding perch over my — or I guess I should say our — sparrow patch.
A couple of hundred yards away, this little male sharp-shinned hawk kept watch over the same half acre of weeds.
Neither of my competitors moved in the hour and a half I was there, but it was evident nonetheless that they and the other raptors wintering and passing through the park of late are eating well.
I’m happy to share.
These trees at the edge of Brookdale Park‘s sparrow patch are usually filled with European starlings. These past few mornings now, however, there’s been just one lonesome bird perched high in the bare twigs.
She must have offended the others somehow.
Maybe it doesn’t look like it. Even after a day and a half of afternoon melting, the snow still lies heavy on all but the most open of southern exposures, and the sidewalks still have their treacherous stretches for those like me who don’t pay much attention to their feet.
It was wonderful to step out of the car just before sunrise this morning and find that I could do without a hat — and that the red-bellied woodpeckers and tufted titmice were already tuning up for the morning song. A few herring and ring-billed gulls passed over on their way to feed inland, and American robins were chuckling and tsleeting from the tree tops.
Then spring arrived. A distant ascending wheeze announced the arrival of a small flock of male common grackles, followed by another, followed by another…. My total in just over an hour was only about 60 birds, hardly massive numbers judged by what is to come, but 60 more than had been hanging out in the neighborhood for the last several months.
It’s harder to know whether the noisy blue jays were arrivals or still some of the many that spent the winter with us this year. I followed one little flock through the park, hoping for a glimpse of an owl or raccoon or yeti, but all I saw was the local red-tailed hawk pair, looking pained as they kept their heads down and their profiles low.
A couple of weeks from now, a morning’s list of 20 species will be a disappointment. Today, though, it’s a happy sign of things just around the corner.
Grackles now, blackpolls soon!