The Stroud Preserve, 15 October 2013

  SPICEBUSH    Lindera
benzoin  (L.) Blume  15 October 2013, Stroud Preserve, West Chester,
Chester County, Pennsylvania. 






  
  
   
  
  

  
  
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 SPICEBUSH Lindera benzoin (L.) Blume 15 October 2013, Stroud Preserve, West Chester, Chester County, Pennsylvania.

Today the Stroud Preserve had the look of fall and the feel of summer, as it was quite warm and nearly windless. Bird life was listless, which could have been a factor of my late start. There seemed to be far more butterflies flying about than birds.

The bird of the day was a gianormous dobsonfly that flew past nearly taking off my head near the old farm pond. Judging from the size of it’s mandibles, which seemed to be half of the total length of the insect, I would guess that it was a male. I remember seeing many of these growing up South Carolina, but this is one of the few that I have seen in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Now that I have a fairly good grip on the birds and plants of the Stroud Preserve I think the project that I would like to undertake next year is to start an inventory of butterflies. I have a fairly large insect collection that I primarily use for educational purposes. I have only one tray of butterflies and I would like to keep it that way for two reasons, the first is that butterflies take up lots of room in Cornell trays and that gets expensive as time goes on. The second reason is that I don’t really enjoy pinning butterflies. If I forgo collecting butterflies specimens I’ll need to get a good camera so that I can document what is there. Good camera is something I’ll have to save for. So until that happens, I’ll stick to plants and birds.

SPICEBUSH    Lindera
benzoin  (L.) Blume  11 April 2013, Stroud Preserve, West Chester,
Chester County, Pennsylvania. 






  
  
   
  
  

  
  
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SPICEBUSH Lindera benzoin (L.) Blume 11 April 2013, Stroud Preserve, West Chester, Chester County, Pennsylvania.

Speaking of plants, the photo above is the fruit from a spicebush (Lindera benzoin). These little red berries, actually a drupe, have been a long time in coming as the flowers of the spicebush (right) are amongst the first flowers to be seen in the spring, flowering far in advance of the leaves.  Spicebush along with several species of viburnum are amongst the most dominant of the native shrubs of the forest understory here in Southeastern PA. Here I emphasize “native” as the non-native honeysuckles, privet, and autumn-olive far out number the native shrubs. It is one of only two members of the Laurel family that occur in Pennsylvania, the other being sassafras (Sassafras albidum). Sassafras is quite common in most parts of Chester County, but locally on the Stroud Preserve, it seems to be few and far between. 

 

Start time: 9:52

End time: 12:09

Temp: 57-64º

Wind: 0-4 from the northeast

Skies: clear

Species Total: 39

 

  • Black Vulture – 25, I observed one kettle of 21 individuals
  • Turkey Vulture – 10
  • Canada Goose – approximately 20
  • Wood Duck – 4
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk – 2
  • Red-tailed Hawk – 2
  • American Kestrel – 1
  • Rock Dove – 4
  • Mourning Dove – approximately 10
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker – 5
  • Downy Woodpecker – 2
  • Hairy Woodpecker – 1
  • Northern Flicker – 5
  • American Crow – approximately 30
  • Tree Swallow – approximately 20
  • Carolina Chickadee – approximately 10
  • Tufted Titmouse – approximately 10
  • White-breasted Nuthatch – 2 heard only
  • Carolina Wren – 2, heard only
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet – 1
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet – 2
  • Eastern Bluebird – 5
  • American Robin – 3
  • Gray Catbird – 1
  • Northern Mockingbird – 1
  • European Starling – approximately 40
  • Cedar Waxwing – approximately 15
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler – approximately 20
  • Palm Warbler – 1
  • Eastern Towhee – 6
  • Song Sparrow – approximately 30
  • Swamp Sparrow – approximately 10
  • White-throated Sparrow – approximately 15
  • Northern Cardinal – 4
  • Red-winged Blackbird – approximately 10
  • Brown-headed Cowbird – 1
  • House Finch – 11
  • American Goldfinch – approximately 10

Exton Park, 14 October 2013

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On Sunday I saw  a report on PABIRDS of a Nelson's Sparrow at Exton Park, in Exton of all places. Having never been there and seeing that it was only about 4.5 miles I thought I'd go check it out. Nelson's Sparrow is a species that I haven't seen since in a long time and it has been on my list of birds that I'd like to find at the Stroud Preserve. 

I didn't have much time to explore the 700 acre park, but I did find the spot where the sparrow was seen the day before. There were many Swamp, Song and White-throated Sparrows, a handful of Lincoln's Sparrows and a single Field Sparrow. I could not find a Nelson's Sparrow anywhere. 

Otherwise, I enjoyed my walk around the pond. Other highlights were a Merlin and an adult Bald Eagle and my first fall Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. I heard but did not see a Greater Yellowlegs. The full list of birds is below.  

 

Start time: 10:00

End time: 12:22

Temp: 56-61º

Wind: 5 from the northeast

Skies: clear

Species Total: 39

  • Black Vulture – 4
  • Turkey Vulture – 20
  • Canada Goose – approximately 350, mostly overhead
  • Wood Duck – 4
  • Mallard – approximately 50
  • Bald Eagle – 1, adult
  • Cooper's Hawk – 2
  • Red-tailed Hawk – 1
  • Merlin – 1
  • Greater Yellowlegs – 1, heard only.
  • Rock Dove – 5
  • Mourning Dove – 8
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – 1
  • Downy Woodpecker – 2
  • Northern Flicker – 4
  • Blue Jay – approximately 20
  • American Crow – approximately 5
  • Fish Crow – approximately 10
  • Crow sp. – approximately 50. There were many crows but only calling in the proportions noted above.
  • Tree Swallow – approximately 50
  • Carolina Chickadee – 5
  • Tufted Titmouse – 1
  • Carolina Wren – 2
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet – 1
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet – 4
  • Eastern Bluebird – 2
  • American Robin – 5
  • Northern Mockingbird – 1
  • European Starling – approximately 25
  • Cedar Waxwing – approximately 10
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler – approximately 100. The trees around the pond and wetlands were filled with these.
  • Eastern Towhee – 3
  • Field Sparrow – 1
  • Song Sparrow – approximately 25
  • Lincoln's Sparrow – 5
  • Swamp Sparrow – approximately 20
  • White-throated Sparrow – approximately 20
  • Northern Cardinal – 5
  • Red-winged Blackbird – approximately 40
  • American Goldfinch – approximately 10

The Stroud Preserve, 8 October 2013

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It has been quite a while since the last time I posted anything about birds at the Stroud Preserve. This is primarily due to the fact that I have not been birding there in quite a while. I spent much of the summer working on plants there. During much of the breeding season, my birding efforts were searching for birds that I thought might be here but couldn’t find, primarily woodland species like Hooded, Kentucky, Worm-eating and Prothonotary Warblers. I searched what I thought might be appropriate habitat listening and using playback to conclusively determine that they did not occur on the preserve. Looking for and not finding birds generally takes a lot of effort and produces a very boring species list.

The other complicating factor that has kept me away from the preserve since the first of August is that I secured a paying job after two years of unemployment. This was and especially difficult tasks because finding something in my career path (wildlife biology and ecology) is particularly difficult in Southeastern Pennsylvania. It is a position with a federal agency which has an intensive job training program in Maryland. So, I’ve been physically away from the area, which in turn, makes it hard to get out birding here. However, after seven weeks of steady work, I got furloughed. Such is life working in the public sector. It’s not the first time that I’ve had to deal with something like this and I’m sure it will not be the last.

The upside to being furloughed is that I got to go birding to day at the Stroud Preserve. I was hopeful that the storm front that passed through here yesterday would have brought waves of migrant birds to the east fork of the Brandywine Creek. And to this end, I was disappointed. The up side is that I did tally a new species for the preserve list! There were approximately 15 Dickcissels in the vegetation covering the old pond bed. These were the first Dickcissels that I have seen since returning to the east coast in August of 2011.

Other birds that were noteworthy were a pair of Kestrels and a single Merlin. The Kestrels were dive-bombing the Merlin. Once the Merlin was driven off, the Kestrels foraged along the fields on the north side of the preserve where the Bobolinks nest. There were also approximately 25 Snow Geese in two groups, in the first 15 followed by 10 more about 20 minutes later. They were both heading south-southwest.  

What I didn’t see today were waves of migrant birds; only three warblers totaling 6 individuals. For the most part it was pretty quiet today. I did have stellar views of the Yellow-throated Vireo which is always nice. Since I have been away from the area for the last seven weeks I don’t really have a good grip on whether any of the birds that I saw today are early or late or otherwise.

 

Start time: 8:55

End time: 1:10

Temp: 54-63º

Wind: 5-7 from the north

Skies: Clear

Species Total: 46

  • Black Vulture – 15
  • Turkey Vulture – 25
  • Snow Goose – 25
  • Canada Goose – 10
  • Mallard – 8
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk – 1
  • Cooper's Hawk – 3
  • Red-tailed Hawk – 4
  • American Kestrel – 2
  • Merlin – 1
  • Mourning Dove – 20
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker – 4
  • Downy Woodpecker – 4
  • Northern Flicker – 2
  • Pileated Woodpecker – 1, heard only
  • Eastern Wood-Pewee – 2
  • Yellow-throated Vireo – 1
  • Blue Jay – 18
  • American Crow – 30
  • Fish Crow – 2
  • Tree Swallow – 10
  • Carolina Chickadee – 15
  • Tufted Titmouse – 2
  • White-breasted Nuthatch – 3
  • Carolina Wren – 4
  • House Wren – 2
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet – 2
  • Eastern Bluebird – 8
  • American Robin – 10
  • Gray Catbird – 5
  • Northern Mockingbird – 3
  • European Starling – 5
  • Cedar Waxwing – 55, in two flocks of approximately 25 and 30
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler – 1
  • Palm Warbler – 2
  • Common Yellowthroat – 3
  • Eastern Towhee – 10
  • Song Sparrow – 20
  • Lincoln's Sparrow – 5
  • Swamp Sparrow – 15
  • White-throated Sparrow – 10
  • Northern Cardinal – 4
  • Dickcissel – 15, New bird for the preserve! Approximate number as they were foraging in the vegetation of the old farm pond in a loose flock and were difficult to count. The most I observed at one time were 8. 
  • Red-winged Blackbird – 3
  • House Finch – 15
  • American Goldfinch – 25

Frederick, Maryland

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As most of you know, I started a new job in August with US Customs and Border Protection. It is an awesome job that utilizes all of my strengths and interest. Plus, it actually pays well with great benefits. Monday marked the sixth full week of work there and my third week of training at the USDA Professional Development Center in Fredrick, Maryland. And Tuesday marked the first day of furlough on account of the conservative side of the House of Representative having their heads up their anal orifices. 

So, today, six weeks and two days in to my employment, I find myself at home with Mary and the kids, which ain't all bad. Since I got to Frederick I have been trying to find the time to do a blog post on life there and now I seem to have found the time to do just that. I do expect to go right back to Frederick when the intestinal obstructions are cleared as we still have approximately seven weeks of training to complete. For now I will enjoy my mini vacation and being with my family.

Frederick is an interesting little town. Actually, it isn't that little. The metropolitan Frederick area has a population of about 66,000 people. It lies about 50 miles west of Baltimore and about 50 north-northwest of Washington DC. Established in 1745, it is an old town with a rich history. It served as a major cross road in both the American Revolution and the Civil War. The town is the final resting place for Frances Scott Key. In fact, my daily bike commute goes past the Mount Olivet Cemetery where his family plot is located.  

Frederick is the home of Fort Detrick and just outside of town you can find the presidential retreat Camp David. The town is in  Maryland's piedmont between the Appalachain Mountains and Chesapeake Bay and outer coast. Ten miles to the south is the Potomac River. Along the rive is the C&O Canal bike trail which runs from Washington DC to Pittsburg. I would love to take a few days off of training and ride the the entire trail, but since my training is a condition of my employment, I'll wait to do that some other time. My first weekend there I did manage to ride about 40 miles of the trail up to Harper's Ferry and back which was fantastic. 

Downtown Frederick is pretty neat. It has a vibrant downtown area with many shops and places to eat and there are many old and interesting buildings to see. There is a canal that runs through town that I thought must be linked to the C&O Canal in some way, or at least harken back to a bygone era when goods moved easier on little barges than on the stiff wheels of a wagon. When I googled the Frederick canal I did not find a thing about it. I ended up asking one of the instructors at our training center about it's history and he told me it was built in the late 1970's for flood control. Not the answer I was expecting. When I googled "Frederick flood" I did come up with many images showing Frederick underwater. So in the end it seems as if the Frederick Canal had more influence from a civil engineer than an urban designer. Either way, I found that the canal adds lots of charm to the downtown area. 

We are living in a Marriott Suites Hotel and the rooms are actually quite nice. Most of us share a suite with a roommate, however, we all have separate bedrooms. My roommate is Jake. Jake is from Utah but his CBP duty station the Blaine border crossing in Washington State where the Peace Arch is located. He is also a botanist, so we have much to talk about. The hotel is on the south side of town and our training center is on the north side of town. We are provided vans to get to get to and from the training center, however, I brought my bicycle with me and ride it to the training center every day. It is only about 6 miles each way and only takes me about 20 to 25 minutes to get there. I occasionally stop a the Starbuck's Coffee in downtown Frederick which adds a little time to my ride, but it sure makes me happy.  

My training program is demanding, fun and interesting. Our class is made up of 35 people from all over the United States, and I am certain that they will all be a new set of life long friends. I especially like the diversity of our group. Perhaps half of our class speaks english as a second language or are bilingual. There are even a few southerners in the class so I can speak my native tongue - Southernese. However, with no other Philadelphians in the class I generally keep that tongue to myself as it is a lexicon that most adults generally find offensive. I don't even know what you call that tongue. How about "Yo, youse got sumtin to say, din say it", or how about just "Yo?" Yes, that's it, I speak Yo!

So, like, yo, if'n youse want, click on the word "here" over dare -----> here  and check out sum shots of Frederick and my friends and stuff. Aright? Aright den, dats what I'm talkin'bout. 

 

The Sun Sets on Summer

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It's that time of year again where a great moan can be heard across our great land as kids are pushed out of bed and shoved onto a bus and taken back to the place where joy is surgically removed from their being. For parents on the other hand it is the one time of year that we feel really good about paying our property taxes. Some parents are so happy to get their kids out of their hair for a while that you could probably get them to pay a little extra.  

Yes, the kids are back in School. Both Russell and Mary are working, which is an oddity. It is actually the first time that Mary and I have been fully employed at the same time since we were married. Our first full paychecks come next week. It will be nice to shovel money into the hole instead of shoveling it out. One difficulty that my new job has for us is that I am in Maryland for training until Thanksgiving! I'll post some photos of Fredrick, Maryland when I get the chance. 

Our final weeks before school started were mostly lazy. They involved playing with the puppy, soccer games and a visit to the zoo. Check out photos of it all here.  

 

Keith's Putting on the Miles

This is our nephew Keith. He is known for being...well, let's just put it out there, silly. This is a photo of him a few years ago in his beard-tastic phase. We've been told that he had something to do with the bringing Lilly into this world (sitting on Carrisa's lap). We aren't completely buying it as Lilly is quite possibly the cutest baby girl in the world and we can't figure out how Keith did that. 

Silliness aside, Keith has been on a mission since Mom-mom passed away. He's taken to walking great distances very summer to raise funds for breast cancer. Sixty miles to be exact. If you could support him in his endeavor he would certainly appreciate it. Lilly will be happy to pop down a few Cheerios as well. Click here to donate to his page. 

Good luck Keith! 

While we were at the beach...

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...some one turned 15 years old. Holy cow, time does fly by.  

One of the nice things about picking up and moving across the county is that all of your possession get picked up and reorganized. I use the term "reorganized" rather loosely. You look in a box of stuff and find that long lost sock that you've been looking for the last six and a half years.  

One of the things that I found a few months ago was a little tiny Rite-in-the-Rain note book. In it were these notes from August 1998. 

AUG 2

0300 - Contractions began

0500 - Called nurse. Told Mary to take a hot bath which she did. When contractions get 4 minutes apart call the hospital.

2130 - Went to hospital. cervix was not dilated at all. Midwife gave Mary morphine so she might sleep.  

2400 - Went home. 

AUG 3

0230 - Mary slept good for a hour and half, then woke up vomiting. Was up the rest of the night. 

0700 - Called midwife. Told us to come in for a checkup.  

0745 - Christine checked Mary's cervix. She was about 1 cm. She gave Mary a drug for nausea and we went home. Need to call back at 1100. 

1100 - Called midwife. Mary was resting much better now. Midwife asked us to come back to hospital.  

1230 - Got admitted. Got blood samples and such for first serval hours. Around 1450 Mary took a whirl pool bath which really relaxed her. Came back to room and we both napped until about 1530.  

1550 - Christine broke Mary's water and gave her potussin. to induce labor. 

1600 - Contractions became much more intense. 

1730 - Epidural given. 

1830 - Epidural worked great. Mary is sound a sleep. Even with contractions. 

1930 - Diana, the nurse left, and Mary Lou the other nurse came on duty.  

2310 - I saw the baby's head. 

AUG 4

0030 - Emily born. 8lbs 12 oz, 21 inches. 7 hours labor.  

It seems like just yesterday. Happy Birthday Emily! Check out these photos of how to give your big sister a birthday kiss. 

 

Rehoboth Beach, DE

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As I mentioned in earlier post, we were at Rehoboth Beach for two weeks. Pop-pop got us a nice condominium that was only a few minutes walk from the beach. For the most part, the weather was pretty good while we were here, although we did have solid rain for a couple of days. 

I enjoyed cycling down there as the landscape is flat as a pancake. The only real challenge at times was the wind, which almost always blows towards the north. The ride from Rehoboth Beach to Ocean City Maryland was about 20 miles. The ride down was always in a stiff headwind. However, coming back was awesome! Mary, William and Paddy spent as much time of the beach as they could while Emily stayed at the condo and read books all day. Timmy and Dotty, Kenny and Violetta and Kevin came down for visits while we were there. All in all it was very relaxing. Check out photos of the trip here

Meet Charlie!

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Somewhere along the way I must have said something to the effect that "if and when I get a job we can talk about getting a dog!" Of course this served absolutely no incentive for me to find a job and quite frankly I don't remember ever saying such a thing.  

Now, Mary and the kids remember things quite differently. What they heard me say was "if *** **** I get a job we can **** ***** get**** a dog!" 

Ether way, the day after we returned from the beach, Mary and the kids disappeared for a few hours and returned with this little fluffy thing! As a person that has spent their life studying wildlife I would say that based on current observations and other recent data we now own a dog.  

I have been told that his name is Charlie and that he is eight weeks old. Genetically, he appears to from a pack with a very high effective population size (layman translation: he's a mutt!). He was rescued from a litter that was abandoned along with the female. He is darn cute and a very low keyed and well behaved puppy. He is responding to training very well. 

If the truth must be told, during the two weeks we were at Rehoboth Beach, Mary and William spent the majority of their time reading books by the Dog Whisper and searching the internet for puppies, how to chose the right one and how to train them. I will say that he sure seems to make William (along with the rest of the neighborhood) pretty happy!

Check out more photos of Charlie and the kids here.  

 

Finally some good news from the home front

I haven’t made mention anything about my search for employment, primarily because there hasn’t been anything to talk about. We knew when we left Washington State and moved across the continent to Southeastern Pennsylvania that finding work for me would be a challenge.

In my search for a job I applied to well over 100 positions. I don’t know exactly what I applied for, as I quit keeping track of them after the 84th one. Some of these were positions where I met the minimum qualifications and really didn’t have high expectations for, but I figured I had nothing to lose by applying. Most positions, however, I was highly qualified for with a graduate degree and around 20 years experience.

Of all these I had only 3 interviews, all three with the state of Delaware. I believe all the interviews went very well, but in the end, I was not the one selected for the position.

The 37th application that I sent out was back on 28 March 2012. This was for a position with position as an Agriculture Specialist with US Customs and Border Protection, which is part of Homeland Security. This position was a very good fit with my education and work experience. I figured I had a pretty good shot at that one. Also,  on 12 June 2012, I applied for a position with USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service as a meat and poultry inspector. Not as great a fit, but I did meet the minimum qualifications. Both of these positions were with federal agencies and were permanent positions and had full benefits.

On 29 June 2013, I got an email from Customs saying that my application scored an 80 and that 70 was passing. It didn’t give me any other reference as to what this meant, so I had no idea if this was good or bad or what my chances were. I ultimately figured it was good, as I wasn’t rejected from the process. Then on 13 October 2012 I got an email saying that I was a tentative selectee for the position and the pre-employment process of background check, drug test, health screening, so on and so forth, would begin. I also learned at that time that I was selected out of 2000 applicants! Oinga-boinga.

Also in mid November of 2012, I got a letter from USDA stating that I was being considered for a meat inspector position in southern New Jersey. However, they had changed the position from permanent with full benefits to a temporary hourly position with no benefits. When I first applied, the commute to New Jersey would have been just barely worth it if it included health care. Without health care, this position simply wasn’t worth leaving my current position as a stay at home dad, so I turned it down.

Days, weeks and months clicked past. Just when I’d get to the point that the Custom’s position was slipping away, I’d get a message from them with a question about this or that or that they were moving on to the next step in the process. In what seemed like measurements on the geologic time scale, I passed the qualification verification, drug test, background check, etc. By the first of March I was left with only the health screening.

Let me tell you, when you are over 50, there is nothing but questions about your health. In short, I made over four trips to the doctor for this, that, and the other. Questions arose about injuries that I sustained over 30 years ago when I was a young gymnast. As aggravating as this was for me to deal with, it was probably more so for my doctor who had to address and document all these questions.

Finally at long last, on 22 July 2013, a checkmark appeared by the medical review part of the pre-employment process. Everything was completed! I got a letter stating such and that I was now being referred to the “scheduling unit.” What this really meant was that I was entering into another period of uncertainty because I know I would not be scheduled for anything unless there was a funded vacancy available for me to fill. Knowing that our legislators currently have no interest in making our government function smoothly a funded vacancy could occur tomorrow or a year from now.

Another big unknown would be if I got a final job offer where would the Duty Station be? I applied for the position because it said there was a position available in Philadelphia, assumedly at the airport. This would be a very reasonable commute from West Chester. However, applications for the position are to a region, in my case, to the Mid Atlantic, which stretches from JKF in New York to Richmond Virginia and west to Charleston, West Virginia. If a job offer was for Richmond Virginia, then all of this could be a wasted effort. I had not option other than to sit back and wait. Something I have become very good at.

In the meantime, on 3 June 2013, I got an email from USDA saying that I was being considered for another position as a meat inspector, this one in a kosher poultry processing plant in Birdsboro, PA. Shortly thereafter I had a telephone interview with the supervisor of the position. On 18 June, I got a letter offering me the position. Like the other position, this one was temporary and had no benefits. However, with Mary at home for the summer to keep the kids and the uncertainty of the Customs position, I accepted this one as something to do while I wait. Plus, I think it somewhat ironic that I got my graduate degree in ornithology and all those years studying and watching birds, that it would all culminate with a job as a chicken checker in Birdsboro, PA. What were the chances of such a thing?

Like the Customs position, this one had a pre-employment process. I assumed it would be somewhat less rigorous since national security is not involved, however, like the Customs position, this one had a health screening. And as before, it involved the body of a 50 year old male. Ergo, the process began to stretch out. Again, my poor doctor had to respond to what seemed to be an endless number of questions. Finally, yesterday at noon, my doctor emailed me and said that the final set of health forms were being faxed to USDA.

With that, I was back to waiting. Waiting for everything. We happen to be on vacation at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. With nothing left to worry about I set out for a bike ride down the Delaware coastline. I stopped along the way to look at grasses and sedges and other interesting plants grow in coastal saline environments. At 2:00 PM, as I was standing in ankle deep mud with a handful of interesting sedges, I got a phone call.

I am happy to say that on Monday, 19 August, one year, four months, and 22 days after I applied, I start work at the Philadelphia Airport. It looks like my chance at chicken checkin’ in Birdsboro is behind me.

In the end, this was the one position that I felt was a great fit for me and only one that I really had hoped I would get as it is a great continuation of my career that I began in Washington State. The pay is good and there is great opportunity for advancement. I look forward getting started!

Russell

 

The rest of the summer

The entrance to the Barns Foundation. 

The entrance to the Barns Foundation. 

Besides visiting North Carolina we have been quite busy with other stuff. Back toward the end of June Mary singed us up for a volunteer day at the Chester County Food Bank where we helped removed stones from a potato field in Spring Manor County Park. 

Spring Manor is a working farm where the produce is all contributed to the food bank. We were astonished to learn that while Chester County, Pennsylvania, is one of the wealthiest counties in the country, there are still over 80,000 residents here that go hungry every day. Being able to contribute to an effort to help eliminate this was a great experience. We wanted to sign up for more volunteer sessions but hey have more volunteers than they know what to do with. So, we may not be able to do that again until the fall. 

Also at the end of June I turned 30 for the 21st time. I had a nice birthday where the Fozards came over for cake and ice cream. The following day I went to see the Union play Dallas FC to a 2-2 draw, which is not a loss, which was a nice birthday present for me. Even nicer was the fact that my friend Lee Pavorsky and his son Jake joined Steve and I for the game. Lee and I go way back to Rome Italy where we shared many great adventures. His son Jake is a budding sports writer. See some of his work here and here.  

Shortly after my birthday it was our neighbor Miranda Fozard's birthday. Mary treated both Miranda and I to a day at the new Barns Foundation galleries in Philly. If you are not familiar with this fantastic collection of early twentieth century collection of art, you should be. It is fantastic. The collection use to be in Lower Marion but was recently relocated to Center City Philadelphia under much controversy. I was lucky in that I got to know the collection quite well when I was going to school at the Tyler School of Art. I have to say that former location was special and unique, the new building in Center City is world class. If you come to Philly go see it. You won't be sorry. 

We will be at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware for the next two weeks enjoying a pleasant summer vacation with Mary's family. I'll update the blog with new and exciting news when we get back!  

See photos of the rest of the summer here.  

Russell

 

Down on the farm with Grandma and Grandpa

IMG_5024.jpg

Back around the first of the month we all went to visit Grandma Linda and Grandpa Gene. Mary, Emily and I stayed for about a week. We came home, but left William and Paddy with Grandma and Grandpa. Cousin Ian came for a visit was well, so all of the  grandsons were there all at once. 

It was a nice stay excepting for all the rain, of which there was a lot! The trade off for all the rain was that the temperature was really cool. I also got to visit with my dear friend Laura Thomas that I grew up with in Fort Mill. She just happened to be at a potter's retreat in Spruce Pine the week we were at Mom and Dad's house. Mary, Emily and I too the opportunity to go visit her while we were there. It was great to she her after more than thirty years apart! It also rained like the dickens on that day as well. Check out photos from our visit here.  

 

Bicycle Botany: Rare Junk

IMG_4886.jpg

Actaully, it should be rare Juncus, and I should change the name of this post from  Bicycle Botany to Soccer Botany, or perhaps Fotbol Botany. 

One of the fun things about being a biologist is that I can often find great surprises in the strangest of places. For example I remember back in the early 80's when I was in college I visited New York City. It was a fall day and I was in lower Manhattan when I walked past a tiny park with only four of five trees in it. I heard a strange call coming from the top of one of the trees. I looked up to see a Western Kingbird. A rare bird for anywhere on the east coast, especially NYC. 

As I have stated on my blog before, I enjoy going to see the Philadelphia Union Soccer games with my friend Steve. Also, as I have made mention of I have been knee deep in learning as much about Pennsylvania's plant life as I can this summer.  

The photo above is the back end of parking lot C, where Steve and I like to park on game day. As you may notice, it is like any parking lot with various and sundry weeds around it's edges. This end of the parking lot is usually a mud puddle, or what a biologist would refer to as a wetland. Below is another look at the "wetland." That is our friend Dave looking back at me wondering what kind of nutcake would be so excited about a little mud puddle. 

A common type of plant that you see in places like this are rushes in the genus Juncus. Juncus tenuis is particularly common, I see it just about everywhere here in Southeastern PA. This small "wetland" has a patch of Juncus growing around it and I assumed it was most likely Juncus tenuis, however, there are 29 different species of Juncus found in Pennsylvania and they are all very similar in appearance. So, after one game, I yanked a specimen out of the "wetland" to bring home to put it under my microscope for a closer look. 

Much to my surprise, it wasn't Juncus tenuis, but instead Juncus dichotomus, one of the rarest plants in Pennsylvania! Commonly known as the forked rush, it is known from only 15 sites in Pennsylvania. Perhaps Parking Lot C is number 16. In an incredible stroke of luck, about about a week after identifying the plant from the mud puddle of Parking Lot C, I found another small population in the serpentine barrens of the Stroud Preserve, perhaps site number 17. Here is a poor photo of the plant. Even if the photo was great, it ain't much to look at, but pretty darn exciting if you are a biologist! Oh, by the way, it is the weed with the very straight grass-like leaves in a bunch in the middle of the photo. The fruit pods are the brownish-orange things that are out of focus. 

FORKED RUSH Juncus dichotomus Elliott 10 June 2013, Chester, Delaware County, Pennsylvania.

Bicycle Botany: Lamp Revamp

The microscope in use with my head lamps from my bike. 

Most of my post about Bicycle Botany are about how my bike takes me to distant places to look for plants or about plants that I happen to see on a ride (usually while moving at a snails place up a steep climb, plants are much easier to see that way!). Recently however, my bicycle has made another contribution to my plant obsession. I have a stereo-dissecting microscope with a fiber optic lamp that I use to help identify plants. The bulb in the lamp burned out which renders one's microscope pretty much useless. 

Here is another view of the set up. The head lamp is attached to the arm of the fiberoptic. The battery is attached in the rear. 

The bulb is not an easy one to find; a 150 watt 20 amp halogen bulb. I found them on line but being impatient I couldn't wait that long. Instead, I remembered how bright my headlamps (Niterider Trail Rats) on my bike were and wondered if I could possibly use them for my microscope. Since the fiberoptic "arms" were round, like a handle bar, I thought the lamps might mount there just like on my bike. Well the answer is, yes it does, quite nicely in fact. Click on the photos for a better view.

They are plenty bright. The only draw back is that the batteries need charging after about an hour or two of use. Luckily, I have 4 batteries so I can keep two on the charger at all times. While the preferable option is the have a functioning fiberoptic lamp, my Trail Rat substitute will work absolutely fine until I can find a replacement bulb.  

Ride lots, stop often.  

Russell

 

Paddy's big weekend!

IMG_4879.jpg

Way back in September Uncle Kevin and Uncle Rico told Paddy that he could come up for a visit as a birthday present from them. The only hitch was that he would have to wait until Kevin was done with nursing school.

Over the school year Paddy often talked about how he couldn’t wait to go spend the weekend with his uncles. Finally on the weekend of June 21 Paddy’s long wait came to and end. Basically, his trip can be summed up as copious amounts of movies and candy.

In short he had a fantastic time! Check out the photos of his weekend here.

 

Stroud Preserve, 15 June 2013

Venus' looking-glass      Triodanis
perfoliata  (L.) Nieuwl.  15 June 2013, Stroud Preserve, West Chester, Chester County,
Pennsylvania. 






  
  
   
  
  

  
  
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Venus' looking-glass Triodanis perfoliata (L.) Nieuwl. 15 June 2013, Stroud Preserve, West Chester, Chester County, Pennsylvania.

Whoa! It’s been a long time since I’ve done a bird post to le blog. Since 10 May to be exact. You might wonder where I’ve been. Well, I’ve been here, I just changed gears a little bit from birds to plants. When I was mostly focused on birds, I could go out birding, then come home write my notes as a blog post, post it and be done with it all in 30 minutes or so. Plants are a different matter.

Many plants I know. Most I do not. Especially the hard ones, like grasses, sedges, and rushes. Many of these require that I collect a specimen and bring it home and examine it under my microscope. The technical keys are, well, technical. They also employ the botanical lexicon with which I am quite rusty. So, things are slow and I usually go late into the night working on plant identifications. The result is this doesn’t leave much time to blog [case in point, I wrote this post on the 15th and I’m just getting around to posting it!].

The other complication is that my schedule altered slightly and most of my visits have been in the afternoon well past the time good for birds. This was compounded by the fact that my car, a 1994 Honda Passport with 270,000 plus miles, needed some attention from our local mechanic. I’ll spare you from the details of that unpleasantry.

The good news for me is that school is out and I no longer have to see the kids off to the bus, which frees up my morning quite a bit. My car is now moving forward again. However, I still try not to drive it and use my bicycle when ever possible. I’ll still be focused on plants but should be able to do at least one breeding season post per week.

As far as plants go, feel free to check out my photo albums for each family. I have many hundreds of photos posted at this point. If you see anything that is incorrectly identified, please don’t hesitate to let me know. My main focus with the plant project is to inventory all that grows at the Stroud Preserve. You can check out my running list here.

As for birds, I did manage to get out on Saturday (15 June 2013). I believe everything on my list below is pretty normal for this time of year. The most exciting thing for me was the many Yellow-billed Cuckoos that I heard and saw. Last summer I did not see or hear any. In fact, I did not record one for the preserve at all until the fall. Even then, I only saw two. On Saturday I saw twice as many as I have ever see or heard in total previously!

Here are the rest of the details. I misplaced my notes on the numbers seen today so an X signifies presence. All observations from 15 June unless otherwise noted.

 

Start time: 8:00 AM

End time: 1:00 PM

Temp: 60-82°

Wind: slight to none

Skies: Clear

Species Total: 58

  • Black Vulture – X
  • Turkey Vulture – X
  • Red-tailed Hawk – I haven’t check the nest site on the north side of the preserve since the middle of May.
  • Wild Turkey – heard calling on 19 June on the southwest side of the preserve.
  • Rock Dove – X
  • Mourning Dove – X
  • Yellow-billed Cuckoo – Up to 6 birds seen or heard. I did not detect this species at all last summer.
  • Barred Owl – a pair calling along the green trail where I suspect they nested.
  • Chimney Swift – X
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird – X
  • Belted Kingfisher – X
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker – X
  • Downy Woodpecker – X
  • Hairy Woodpecker – X
  • Northern Flicker – X
  • Pileated Woodpecker – Absent, last recorded on 10 May
  • Eastern Wood-Pewee – X
  • Acadian Flycatcher – A number of birds can be found calling in wooded areas of the preserve.
  • Willow Flycatcher – Many birds calling in open areas with small trees or shrubs.
  • Eastern Phoebe – X
  • Eastern Kingbird – X
  • White-eyed Vireo – X
  • Warbling Vireo – X
  • Red-eyed Vireo – X
  • Blue Jay – X
  • American Crow – X
  • Fish Crow – Not recorded at the preserve, however, numerous birds can be seen in downtown West Chester feeding fledglings.
  • Tree Swallow – X
  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow – X
  • Bank Swallow – X
  • Carolina Chickadee – X
  • Tufted Titmouse – X
  • White-breasted Nuthatch – X
  • Carolina Wren – X
  • House Wren – X
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – X
  • Eastern Bluebird – X
  • Veery – X
  • Wood Thrush – X
  • American Robin – X
  • Gray Catbird – X
  • Northern Mockingbird – X
  • Brown Thrasher – X
  • European Starling – X
  • Cedar Waxwing – X
  • Blue-winged Warbler – Multiple males singing on territory.
  • Ovenbird – X
  • Common Yellowthroat – X
  • Eastern Towhee – X
  • Chipping Sparrow – X
  • Field Sparrow – X
  • Song Sparrow – X
  • Northern Cardinal – X
  • Indigo Bunting – X
  • Bobolink – 15 to 20 birds in the usual nesting area.
  • Red-winged Blackbird – X
  • Eastern Meadowlark – ? I have not been able to check the suspected nesting area because of road construction. Last noted on 10 May.
  • Common Grackle – Strangely difficult to see in the summer months. Very common in other urban areas around West Chester and Exton.
  • Brown-headed Cowbird – X
  • Orchard Oriole – X
  • Baltimore Oriole – X
  • House Finch – X
  • American Goldfinch – X

 

A little catching up

IMG_3989 - Version 2.jpg

Wow, it has been over a month since my last blog post! I have been filling all of my free time mostly looking through a microscope trying to identify various and sundry little plants that most folks would call weeds. I'll do a blog post about all that later.  

For now, I'll give you an update on everything else. For the kids, the last day of school will be next Monday, June 17th. For them, there is nothing else. Next year, Emily will be in 10th grade, William in 7th and Paddy in 3rd. 

Paddy is looking forward to spending the weekend with Uncle Kevin and Uncle Rico. This is actually a birthday present from last year! Kevin was so busy with nursing school last year that he hasn't been able to take him until now. We know he will have lots of fun up in the big apple! 

Around the first week in July, we will all be going down to see Grandma and Grandpa in North Carolina. Emily, Mary and I will be there for about a week then we will return and leave the boys there. Then cousin Ian will come out from Washington State and all three grandson's will be at Grandma and Grandpa's house for a week or so.  

When the boys get back from North Carolina, we will go spend a couple of weeks at the Delaware coast with Pop-pop. Then back to West Chester for the start of the new school year. It seems to short all ready!

We have also had lots of stuff going on over the past month. Paddy played soccer this spring. A few weeks ago he asked if the Philadelphia Union had players that were teenagers. I told him that yes, they do have a few teenagers. He then said that he was going to be on the Union team when he becomes a teenager. I told him he better get practicing if that is going to happen. So, very day, he works on his soccer skills. 

William and I went on a school trip to the Baltimore Aquarium yesterday. Needless to day William was very excited! It was the first time that either of us have seen it. I particularly enjoyed seeing the exhibits from the Pacific Northwest as I was the person that issued the shellfish transfer permits that allowed them to take them out of Washington State. I was glad to see they made the trip across the continent okay. 

Check out photos of it all here.  

Russell

 

The Stroud Preserve, 10 May 2013

Wood geranium    Geranium
maculatum  L.,  10 May 2013, Stroud Preserve, West Chester, Chester
County, Pennsylvania. 






  
  
   
  
  

  
  
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Wood geranium Geranium maculatum L., 10 May 2013, Stroud Preserve, West Chester, Chester County, Pennsylvania.

Wow! What a difference a day makes. I went from 53 species yesterday to 82 today. My combined warbler list for the past three visits was 9. Today’s total was 16, one of which was new for the preserve. Also added to my preserve list was Black-billed Cuckoo. In all, I added 14 first-of-the-year birds. A busy day at last!

I’ll let the notes below speak for themselves.

Start time: 8:50

End time: 1:30

Temp: 63-73°

Wind: 3 mph from the north

Skies: clear

Species Total: 82

  • Great Blue Heron – 1, both flyovers
  • Black Vulture – 3
  • Turkey Vulture – approximately 15
  • Canada Goose – 4
  • Wood Duck – 2
  • Mallard – 2
  • Red-tailed Hawk – 2
  • Mourning Dove – 1
  • Black-billed Cuckoo – 1, FOY and new for my preserve list and the first one that I have seen since moving back the east coast 19 months ago.
  • Barred Owl – In the same general area as yesterday.
  • Chimney Swift – approximately 40
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird – 1, FOY
  • Belted Kingfisher – 1
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker – approximately 10
  • Downy Woodpecker – 2
  • Hairy Woodpecker – 1
  • Northern Flicker – 2
  • Pileated Woodpecker – 1, heard only
  • Eastern Phoebe – 3
  • Great Crested Flycatcher – 2, FOY
  • Eastern Kingbird – 2
  • White-eyed Vireo – approximately 8
  • Blue-headed Vireo – 1
  • Warbling Vireo – approximately 10
  • Red-eyed Vireo – 2
  • Blue Jay – approximately 15, observed one nest building.
  • American Crow – approximately 10
  • Fish Crow – 1 on the east side of the preserve.
  • Tree Swallow – approximately 50
  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow – approximately 20
  • Barn Swallow – approximately 20
  • Horned Lark – 1, FOY, I had a nice look as it flew over head. First one since the fall.
  • Carolina Chickadee – 4, I don’t know where all of these went overnight.
  • Tufted Titmouse – approximately 12
  • White-breasted Nuthatch – 4
  • Carolina Wren – 5
  • House Wren – 2
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – approximately 10
  • Eastern Bluebird – approximately 10
  • Veery – 1, FOY
  • Swainson’s Thrush – 4, FOY
  • Wood Thrush – approximately 8
  • American Robin – approximately 20
  • Gray Catbird – approximately 30. The catbird factory is now open for business.
  • Northern Mockingbird – 2
  • Brown Thrasher – 1
  • European Starling – approximately 10
  • Blue-winged Warbler – 1
  • Northern Parula – 7,
  • Yellow Warbler – approximately 25
  • Chestnut-sided Warbler – 1, FOY
  • Magnolia Warbler – at least 2, possibly a few others. FOY
  • Black-throated Blue Warbler – approximately 20. FOY. Probably the most common warbler behind Yellow Warbler and Yellowthroat. The woods were filled with both males and females.
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler – approximately 10
  • Black-thraoted Green Warbler – 3
  • Yellow-throated Warbler – 1, FOY. A singing male. It took me a while to find it in the trees along the green trail.
  • Prairie Warbler – 2
  • Blackpoll Warbler – 3, FOY
  • Black-and-white Warbler – 3, heard only
  • American Redstart – approximately 12
  • Ovenbird – 3
  • Northern Waterthrush – 2, FOY, a long the Brandywine.
  • Louisiana Waterthrush – 1, same location as yesterday.
  • Common Yellowthroat – approximately 20
  • Summer Tanager – 1, female, FOY.
  • Eastern Towhee – approximately 15
  • Chipping Sparrow – 1
  • Field Sparrow – approximately 10
  • Song Sparrow – approximately 10
  • Swamp Sparrow – 1
  • White-throated Sparrow – approximately 25, all in the woods along the green trail.
  • Northern Cardinal – approximately 20
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak – 1 singing male. FOY
  • Indigo Bunting – 2, males. FOY
  • Bobolink – 3, all on the south side of the preserve away from the traditional nesting grounds.
  • Red-winged Blackbird – approximately 30
  • Eastern Meadowlark – 1, in the same location as previously described.
  • Brown-headed Cowbird – approximately 12
  • Orchard Oriole – 4
  • Baltimore Oriole – approximately 10
  • House Finch – 2
  • American Goldfinch – approximately 20

 

The Stroud Preserve, 9 May 2013

Purple cliffbreak    Pellaea
atropurpurea  (L.) Link  9 May 2013, Stroud Preserve, West Chester,
Chester County, Pennsylvania. 






  
  
   
  
  

  
  
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Purple cliffbreak Pellaea atropurpurea (L.) Link 9 May 2013, Stroud Preserve, West Chester, Chester County, Pennsylvania.

Today I spent the majority of my time focused on plants with preserve manager Fred Gender. I could have probably tallied more birds for the day list if I looked up more often, but I can’t complain about that today. I did manage to get one new bird for the year. Finally, after nineteen months after moving back to the east coast and many hours of fruitless searching I heard, the got extended looks at a Louisiana Waterthrush!

The waterthrush was in one of the smaller streams that drain off one of the hillsides in the preserve. Specifically, the stream along the “green” trail (I’ve started calling it green creek). It is probably the best creek in terms of a wooded stream with a completely covered tree canopy. It is perfect place to see a Louisiana Waterthrush.

Here is everything else. I didn’t really pay much attention to numbers today so unless otherwise noted and “x” will have to do.

Start time: 9:10

End time: 3:00

Temp: 63-68°

Wind: 3-7 mph from the east and south

Skies: overcast, with occasional sunbreaks

Species Total: 53

  • Black Vulture – X
  • Turkey Vulture – X
  • Canada Goose – X
  • Red-tailed Hawk – X
  • Mourning Dove – X
  • Chimney Swift – X
  • Belted Kingfisher – 1
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker – X
  • Downy Woodpecker – X
  • Northern Flicker – X
  • Eastern Phoebe – X
  • Eastern Kingbird – 1
  • White-eyed Vireo – X
  • Warbling Vireo – X
  • Blue Jay – X
  • American Crow – X
  • Fish Crow – 2
  • Tree Swallow – X
  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow – X
  • Barn Swallow – X
  • Carolina Chickadee – X
  • Tufted Titmouse – X
  • White-breasted Nuthatch – X
  • Carolina Wren – X
  • House Wren – X
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – X
  • Eastern Bluebird – X
  • Wood Thrush – X, heard only
  • American Robin – X
  • Gray Catbird – X
  • Northern Mockingbird – X
  • Brown Thrasher – X
  • European Starling – X
  • Northern Parula – 3
  • Yellow Warbler – X
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler – 1, heard only
  • Black-thraoted Green Warbler – 2, heard only
  • Prairie Warbler – 1, heard only
  • Black-and-white Warbler – 1, heard only
  • Ovenbird – 1, heard only
  • Louisiana Waterthrush – 1, FOY, Bird of the Day!
  • Common Yellowthroat – X
  • Eastern Towhee – X
  • Chipping Sparrow – 1
  • Field Sparrow – X
  • Song Sparrow – X
  • Northern Cardinal – X
  • Bobolink – 5, as with the past two visit, these birds were not in the usual field but in the larger field on the south side of the preserve.
  • Red-winged Blackbird – X
  • Brown-headed Cowbird – X
  • Orchard Oriole – X
  • Baltimore Oriole – X
  • American Goldfinch – X