I sit on my son’s front porch this clear, cold Thanksgiving Day soaking up the last rays of late afternoon sunlight. From this clearing in the woods, I can hear the furry buzz of nuthatches, the percussive clink of a neighbor’s sledge-hammer striking a wood-splitting steel wedge, and the light rattle of wind-driven leaves skittering across the yard.
In northernmost New Jersey’s Sussex County, Tillman Brook has cut a narrow chasm on its precipitous way from the western slopes of Kittatiny Mountain to the nearby Delaware River. Read More »
As my birder son Dave and I walk through a dew-soaked April field we hear the familiar honking of Canada geese. I glance up briefly as a dozen north-bound high flyers in a wavering V formation cleave the overcast gray sky. But Dave, who knows that discovery usually relies on persistence, raises his binoculars. Read More »
The human hand lies heavy on the landscape of Newark Bay. From where I stand in Bayonne’s Rutkowski Park on the Bay’s eastern shore, giant container ships and gantry cranes at Port Newark, the nation’s third busiest seaport, dominate the opposite shore. Above me roar some of the 65,000 vehicles that cross the New Jersey Turnpike’s Newark Bay Bridge each day. Low in the sky zoom planes which carry 43 million passengers each year to and from Newark Liberty International Airport. Behind me rise the uniform red brick buildings of a housing development. Read More »
We’d chuckle as the peregrines sparred with each other like tumbling airborne puppies. One morning a pair of peregrines flew by us at eye level.
A quarter century ago, my son Dave had a series of summer jobs helping re-introduce peregrine falcons to places their ancestors inhabited before pesticides nearly exterminated the species. Dave’s job was to feed chicks imported from Cornell University’s hawk barn and protect them from intruders until they were old enough to leave the nest and fend for themselves. I visited Dave’s worksite on a Maine cliff top one June and remember the awe I felt watching the juvenile hawks honing their aerial skills in the weeks before they learned to kill. We’d sit at the cliff edge and observe stoops in which peregrines tucked in their pointed wings and plummeted hundreds of feet at 150 miles per hour. We’d watch the young hawks harass blue jays and crows, approaching laterally at speeds that made their mock prey appear motionless. We’d chuckle as the peregrines sparred with each other like tumbling airborne puppies. One morning a pair of peregrines flew by us at eye level. They were on parallel courses, one a couple of feet higher than the other and regularly dropping down to buzz its companion. The companion retaliated by rolling over and flying upside down so that it presented lethal yellow talons to its persecutor above. After several beats, the lower peregrine completed its roll, a graceful 360-degree rotation made without the slightest diminution of speed.
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The trail dips down to the rocky bed of a brook and I’m greeted by a dozen stone sculptures – piles of stone that humans have arranged with varying degrees of artistry and complexity. Some are only a foot or two high, others reach above my waist, but all bring to these deep woods the air of ragged Hindu temple spires. My favorite consists of two columns made of flat rocks supporting a broad flat horizontal stone on top of which a tapered third column reaches almost chest high. Who left these here, I start to wonder, and then stop myself. Better to think of it as an anonymous gift. That way I can imagine any stranger I happen to meet as capable of acts of kindness. Read More »
At the shore recently I was thrilled to see a Caspian tern coursing back and forth over a tidal inlet, hunting with its head down exactly like its cousin, the common tern. At first glance, the two species look identical except that the Caspian is half again as large as the common tern. The unexpectedness of the sighting and the similarity between the two birds in all but size produced a Swiftian moment. Read More »
“We are none of us good enough for the sweet earth we have, and yet we dream of heaven.” – Edward Abbey
Last night’s thunderstorm has left an early morning mist across the highlands. I wander through the oaks and mountain laurel, passing through slanting columns of light from the rising sun. Some look solid enough to climb onto and shinny up to their source. Our language is rich in images inspired by this illusion. Just in the realm of song, think of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” Glenn Miller’s “Stairway to the Stars,” and George Gershwin’s “Stairway to Paradise.” Read More »
As I cross a wintry hilltop field, a dozen large black birds flap up into the wind from their roosts in the edge oaks. Crows, I assume, but then I hear a guttural croak that is definitely not a caw. Looking for a distinctive diamond-like tail, I confirm that among the black shapes is a pair of ravens. Read More »
Leaving, the hawks forgotten, I looked up and saw the redtail herself, gliding through the sunshine like an afterthought. That was balmy yesterday.
On a hilltop pasture yesterday, white tail-flags alerted me to a small herd of deer fleeing toward the field’s far end. Reaching an encircling fence, the deer milled about deciding whether or where to leap. Still undecided, they bounded off over the hill, presumably looking for a less demanding exit
I walked on, past a pair of bluebirds hawking out from a low oak branch, past a flock of robins advancing over the grass like an invading army, past a red-glinting shape in a far treetop whose size and subsequent undulating flight revealed it to be a flicker. I sat on a rock soaking up the late March sun and speculating over whether redtailed hawks would return this spring to the big stick nest below. Read More »