Of Birds, Moms and Alligators

Palmyra Jewel

This was a strange – but satisfying – weekend. I had a long week at work, and was looking forward to some downtime, but then realized that between work that needed to be done around the house and Mother’s Day, that would be fairly unlikely… but I still had a great weekend nonetheless.

My weekend actually started Thursday with my stepson coming home from college – and letting us know that he ended up with a 3.0+ (3.06 or so) for the semester, and about the same for the year. Not bad for a freshman year, particularly for a kid that rarely had to really work in high school (I was worried about his study habits). Then Friday night was a short night out with my wife for dinner.

Saturday Morning Birding

Saturday morning, I planned on going out to Palmyra Cove Nature Park to do some early morning birding. But I was so tired when it was time to get up that I was going to bag it – but the cat and dogs had other ideas and woke me up about 20 minutes after I had planned on getting up anyway. Since I was up, I figured that I would make the trip – and I’m glad that I did.

[ • critters ABOUND • ]

I didn’t see anything new, but I still had fun getting out and enjoying the morning hiking around, taking pictures, etc. The weather was a little crisp, but not too bad, and everything was up and enjoying the weather – including a number of people who were involved in the World Series of Birding, which I had forgotten was going on that day (although it wasn’t too bad – not many people chose Palmyra to do their counts). I walked in to check the new retention ponds, and found that they were filled with water and wildlife. Red-winged Blackbirds, Canada Geese, Common Yellowthroats and Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers were plentiful in the marshy areas, while Baltimore Orioles were singing overhead. But one of the best things I saw over there wasn’t a bird – it was a pair of adult foxes and 1 kit in a brush pile just past the smaller of the two ponds. The one adult saw me and ran to the edge of the pile, which brought the other (I assume the female, although I have no idea if it really was) out to see what was going on. One of the kits (at least I think it was one) also seemed to poke its head out for a second before disappearing in the early morning shadows within the pile.

Red Fox

[ • attack of the TICKS • ]

Going further into the park, I went to a large pond that is located in what is commonly called “The Big Pit”, an old drainage area full of sandy soil and sparse vegetation surrounded by great fringe habitat for all sorts of wildlife. I saw another Common Yellowthroat and walked into some brush near the edge of the trail to try to get a better angle to get a shot. I was standing in the weeds for 2-3 minutes when I happened to look down, and I was glad that I did: I was covered in ticks. I ran out of the brush, put my camera down and starting picking them off of my jeans. By the time I was done, I had pulled off SEVENTEEN (17) of the little blood-sucking bastards. They were all over my jeans, crawling their way up as I intercepted them and tossed them back into the weeds (I would have squashed them, but they’re really hard to squish in loose dirt).

Needless to say, I grabbed my bug stuff and put on copious amounts to avoid a repeat elsewhere in the park. I’m not sure if it worked or if it was just a particularly virulent spot, but I only got 1 more tick the rest of my hike; I felt a bunch more, though they were all imaginary (it’s hard not to after watching a small division of these things crawl toward you like a bad SciFi movie).

[ • better BIRDS • ]

Once I got out of Attack of the Killer Bugs, I had a fairly enjoyable hike the rest of the day. The Big Pit was strangely quiet, but elsewhere was fun. I saw a number of other common birds, including tons of Yellow Warblers and Baltimore Orioles, but nothing too exotic or interesting – just a lot of catbirds making quite a racket with every step. Once I got back in the woods, things got better and I saw a number of things.

I’m normally not that great at birding by ear (I was quite humbled by how bad I was compared to the guys I went out with last weekend), but I was getting better. Hearing a call that was familiar, I finally tracked it down to a single tree, but still had to wait until the singer moved before I was spotting him; you’d think an orange and black bird like the American Redstart would stick out, but he doesn’t:

American Redstart - Male

I also saw my first Black-throated Green Warbler in breeding plumage, a much better look (and photo) of an Ovenbird (pictures forthcoming), and this cute House Wren (who also seems to need bug repellent):

House Wren

[ • once AROUND THE BEND • ]

Further exploration of the back end of the park provided a lot more interesting stuff, although I had a harder time getting good shots as they were a) more wary and b) in thicker-leaved trees. But I saw a ton of yellow warblers, an Orchard Oriole, a Great-crested Flycatcher, Eastern Towhee, Song Sparrows and more. I stopped by the larger pond, and was amazed to see what a pair of beaver had done – the pond had grown considerably, and the shoreline had been greatly impacted. But in a way, it was a more pleasing set of lines so I think I’ll like it as long as it doesn’t mess with our prime dragonfly habitat that is usually there.

Speaking of which, the insects are back, and I got an eyeful (literally and figuratively). I came across some butterflies and damselflies (first of the year), including a nice-looking Falcate Orangetip:

Falcate Orangetip

As I was setting back to actually go home and do some work, I heard another call that I recognized (incorrectly, it turned out) and went looking. It turned out to be that highlight of my trip as I got a beautiful set of shots of the Northern Parula that is gracing the top of this post. I saw him and started singing back at him, to which he responded by flying right over to me!!

Back to Work!

After my hike, I was really struggling to get motivated to do the work that I needed to do. We were supposed to have guests that evening for my nephew’s birthday, although the plans had gotten changed while I was gone. Still, I needed to do some general clean-up and maintenance: mowing, trimming, edging, finishing build the shed in the back, poop patrol, cleaning up sticks, planting grass seed, etc. It ended up being a long, hard day of work but the end results were fantastic. My wife spent her time doing stuff in the gardens, which look fantastic (I really need to get some pictures of them). By the time we were finished – and spent – the yard actually was looking quite nice. Still a lot of work to do but I was pretty happy with the start.

Mom’s Day

Yesterday, of course, was Mother’s Day. I got up early to clean the house before we had everyone over to have some bagels and lox, although the cat wanted Shari to come join the fun and she didn’t get to sleep in like I planned. Her family came over for a joint nephew’s birthday/mother’s day breakfast, and then she, Blair and her mom headed to Longwood Gardens, where I met them after picking up my grandmother (my mom was in North Carolina, so she couldn’t join us). We had a good time – I carried my camera around but only got to take about a dozen shots as I was the wheelchair pusher for the trip. Everyone had a great time, though, so it was well worth it. Grandmom had a good time, and seemed happy for the company. Pam, Shari, Blair and I then went home and proceeded to suck down some beer and fondue for dinner to top it all off. Then came naps and “Entourage” – a good way to end a good weekend.

What about the Alligators?

Another odd thing that happened was the discovery of an alligator in the pond a few blocks from our house. Living in NJ, we can expect frogs, snapping turtles, possibly even a rare poisonous snake or two, but alligators aren’t in any way on the native fauna list. According to reports, the animal is 3-4 feet long, and is obviously a pet that has been released. As of last night, they still hadn’t caught it and didn’t seem to be too sure that they would before winter. Personally, I’m going to go down and look for it tomorrow (tonight is softball, so…). This is one for Weird NJ…


4 Responses to “Of Birds, Moms and Alligators

  • Alligators?? Your kidding me? As always so many amazing photos and what great birds you had!! Can’t forget the butterflies! Lucky we don’t get many ticks around here but we have black flies right now! Ugg they will be gone soon!

  • You know what else is odd to me, since when did we have cactii in the woods? I noticed some on a bike ride down to Wild Boy Rd. I’ll take a photo if you don’t believe me.

  • Wow! That sounds like a full weekend. Palmyra Cove sounds awesome, especially with such a variety of habitats, and you got some great shots. It’s cool how you followed the bird’s song to find it. We heard some interesting birds singing this weekend, but I didn’t even think to try that. I looked around a little bit, didn’t see anything, and kept on going.

    As for the alligator, that’s just weird!

  • Yes, the alligator is an odd thing to have. And there’s talk of black panther down in the pine barrens south of us, too (obviously a released pet, as well). Now we just need an elephant and an ostrich and we’ve got the whole Animal Crackers set of odd wildlife.

    BTW, if you click on some of the links above, you’ll get more pictures (I’ve added a few more lately).

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