Trans: Latin prefix implying "across" or "Beyond", often used in gender nonconforming situations – Scend: Archaic word describing a strong "surge" or "wave", originating with 15th century english sailors – Survival: 15th century english compound word describing an existence only worth transcending.

Category: Sit Spot Observations (Page 2 of 3)

Bird Observations Today- Langdon Woods

This is in lieu of a wonderful 2 hour walk around PSU property during my natural history class.

Firstly- open the below link to see the 25 species we encountered today:

I want to also point out how spectacular and special the 3+ courting yellow bellied sapsuckers were.  These birds are relatively rare to find- here are the first things off the top of my head you all should know:

  • They do not suck sap.  They eat bugs like all the other woodpeckers…
  • They are farmers.  These are the only birds to my knowledge who literally farm for a living….  They peck a matrix of holes in trees with sap- often perfect rows and columns- into which bugs fall and get trapped. Then, at their leisure, the sapsucker will visit its “sticky bug fields” and gobble the bugs up.  This not only makes their life of pecking and eating super laid back, it allows them to have personal property.  🙂
  • They were pests not long ago.  Because of the whole farm-the-tree thing, human farmers of high octane fruit trees and other trees pushing a large amount of sap would generally shoot the sapsuckers ASAP to avoid the sapsucker killing the tree.  As scary as that is, the humans are correct- the sapsucker will win,  One sapsucker doing some farming can spring a significant number of leaks in young trees, allowing bugs and parasites in, killing the unassuming orchard.
  • They not endangered.   These birds are rare because, as any farmer will tell you, they have lots of work to do around the active bug-sap-hole farms.  They each have their own space, and respect each other’s trees and areas.  This makes the concentration low, but the overall population number still healthy.
  • They are a wild card for at risk forests.   Sapsuckers don’t mean any harm, but fragile ecosystems with just a few sap filled trees can get a makeover after a few sapsuckers move in.   Sometimes, this is fabulous: old trees die, allowing other animals and organisms to move in, including other species of woodpecker.  New plants will grow, and the space will move on and evolve.  On the other hand, as our orchard friends know, a tree bleeding sap is undoubtedly going to have a problem sooner or later.  Woodpeckers are fine with that, but other species are not…


…So those who saw the sapsuckers today, consider yourself lucky; that was spectacular!


Wolf Pine @ Fox Park #13: 4/9/17, The hills are alive, with the sound of…

I walked into Fox park at around 6:25am.  I did not leave until 7:35am.

Forgive this post for being entirely about birds.  There are tracks (the melting prints from happy-go-lucky dogs, mostly), there are trees (haven’t changed much since that time I covered the trees on my route), there are plants (budding beechs for the most part) and there are….  Birds!  Today is the first day of spring (albeit for the third time), and the forest was singing to celebrate.  Without further and in no order besides memory:

Crows:  Making merry and causing raucous, the crows were gurgling and grunting around with the blue jays, who actually did not have a real reason to cause tomfoolery, but did so anyway.

Blue jays:  Yelping about with cheer and a general noisiness, the blue jays are no longer saving their breath for owls and hawks.  I watched them zoom around, babbling at the top of their lungs, with absolutely zero objective concern for getting eaten, or whatever they usually are concerned about.

Raven:  At least one.  A lower burp of a sound, these may have been causing some mischief with the crows.

Mockingbird:  This one mockingbird yodels atop its thicket as I enter Fox Park.  I have observed it only speaks when people are around, making it just another attention getter.  This one has less of a vocabulary than the one near Allwell at PSU, singing “robin” and “cardinal” instead of “barn owl” and “wood pewee”- the latter two I heave heard in the same breath from the other mocking bird.

Chickadee:  DEEEE – doo!  These chickadees plan to make babies, with a call like that.

Titmouse:  PETER PETER PETER!  Peter?  Pete?  The local titmice say this a lot.  This seems to be a dialectical decision- even though all titmice are programmed with between three and four real songs, the boston titmice choose to say whaah, whaah, whaah! more than these ones do.

Robin:  So many everywhere, they are in with all stops out.  They have a truly fabulous thrush song (indeed, they are a “true thrush”- unlike the euro-asian ones, who just occupy a subfamily of old-world chats… Don’t even worry about the australian or japanese ones, it just gets worse).   The song is parsed in a almost questioning fashion, with clear whistles and swooping notes.   Easy to tune out during a walk in the woods, but amazing to really listen to.

Downy woodpecker:  Found a few at the bend in the trail closest to the houses, after exiting the wolf pine clearing.  They whinny when the call, as opposed to the single, dull “chek” of the hairy woodpecker, which occupies the same pitch.

Hairy woody pair:  Chek, Chek!  I found two hairy woodpeckers flying around upon entering the park looking for bugs.

Nuthatch:  These were hopping around the area the hairy woodpeckers were.  They like to be with the titmice and other woodpeckers.  White breasted ones in these parts, but the red breasted could still show up.  They both “honk” or ‘toot”, but the red breasted ones sound really tinny compared to the white breasted.

Goldfinch:  Well, they have arrived, with the finchy song and “PO-TA-TO-CHEEIP” flight call.  I know it is hard to overlay “potato chip” on a monotonous, 4 note chip call…. But that’s how I learned, and it has worked rather well so far.
Phoebes:  I saw at least two pheobes at a time in 6 instances.  That is a large number of pheobes, no matter how you slice it.  The big fuzzy grey head, the tinted-olive sides (but not like a olive sided flycatcher, mind you) and the perpetual tail pump.  They also are OCD to the extreme, and will do a kind of circuit from specific branch to specific branch.

flotilla of golden crowned kinglets:  Yay! the fuzz-covered golf balls are at it again, with their unique, rolly-polly approach to the world.  The like to hop up a coniferous tree (the love hemlocks),  then valiantly leap into the air, but without the wings in gear.  They then stick their wings out to slow their descent, thus causing them to tumble through the air until daintily alighting on the branch below.  This way they can look cool and catch a flying bug on occasion.  This may or may not actually work out for them- they also glean insects like other passerines- but it certainly keeps they busy and happy.  They are marginally larger than an adult ruby throated hummingbird, though significantly more puffy.  They are also rather unintelligent, and get so absorbed in tumbling about in the trees approaching them is easy- requiring nothing more than knowing where they are.

Brown creepers:  Though not too crazy, these are great winter birds- always looking up (birder joke, they only walk up, and need to fly back to the base of a tree to get back down)….   And taught me something very important today.  The song I heard in the middle of the winter from the short video I made?  Brown creeper.  It turns out they have a beautiful song, one I had not heard before.   The sound is akin to a smaller wren, but slower and more distinct.  Huzzah!

Wolf Pine @ Fox Park #12: 4/7/17, Evening Checkup

I trundled into Fox Park at around 7:15 pm on 4/7/17.   The sky was overcast (as it has been for the last few days), kind of rainy/above freezing, and provided just enough evening light to let me do a proper sit spot.

There were some fantastic tracks.  I did not take any pictures, but I am fairly sure there are some extremely large dogs wandering these parts.  One issue I have been having with some of the medium sized tracks is the position of the toes.  I know there simply are not 4 bobcats and 4 catamounts wandering around my sit spot….   But these dog tracks seem to sometimes show very forward toes, which is is indicative of a cat.  Alas.

another problem I became acutely aware of is the highway.  On my way up the hill to my wolf pine, I began hearing all sorts of crazy sounds….   Animal?  Owl?  Alien?  Upon getting to the pine however, it became evident to purrs and chirps were indeed car sounds from the interstate.   🙁

I did not hear much in the way of singing, but over the last day or two, the song sparrows, cardinals, titmice, and robins have definitely been singing more than before.

To be continued…


Parking Lot/Sit Spot @ Fox Park #12: 4/3/17, Owling 2 Hours Before Sunrise

It was very dark when I left the parking lot variant of my sit spot, and still it still is.  Was it worth it?  Maybe.

I entered the parking lot around 4:35am this morning.  After spending a while just listening to the sounds of “nature”, finishing my coffee and trying to not make sounds into what they weren’t, I gave in and decided to play some screech owl trills.  Unfortunately, an issue I have not yet addressed was beginning to get in my way for real: the highway.

Even when I play calls from my phone, I could tell the white noise from the interstate not far away was cancelling the sonorous sounds of my owls.  That part isn’t a big deal, but I know my inferior human hearing will  struggle to pick out a chatting owl even within my part of Fox Park.  The frequencies are just too similar, often exhibiting a similar timbre.  This means a sound carrying more energy (lower frequency rumbles and what not) will not only mask the weaker and more refined owl toots and hoots, but could “phase cancel” them out altogether.  Phase cancellation is obviously not a standard concern of birders, but I happened to know from recording sounds in this frequency range (lower end of a medium grand piano and acoustic guitar for example) achieving a mini “Bose noise cancellation” is quite easy.  All it takes is two sounds going the opposite direction and/or of similar magnitude or at least frequency (a  distant truck with a Jake brake and closer GHO for example and whoops! there goes the owl hoot.

I mention all this because in the ~50 minutes waffled around in the parking lot (10 degrees below freezing mind you), during which I played screech, saw-whet, and GHO, I heard lots of mumbles and whoos and blops…   …yet I can only take one seriously.  One toot, that’s all.

I had played screech, then saw-whet, and screech once more at this point.  The toot sounded much lower than a saw-whet toot, and there was just one.  It was not dainty, and had a nice conviction and resonance.  I have never been  compelled to describe an automobile this way, so I can say with good faith this was an owl.

But was it Barred or GHO?  Both make single toots in this way sometimes.  Indeed, I’ve seen it done on trips where the either owl may want to just put a small idea out there, a pleasantry maybe to the owl it listened to from a birders phone, or perhaps just to test the waters on who could call back.  For whatever reason, more than half of my hearing/visual owl encounters involved a single toot instead of a full blown dissertation of whoos and haws.

So, I will tentatively stick with the current idea this is a GHO, because my other evidence seems to support this.  As I played some GHO after the toot, I quite honestly could not listen between the cars and trucks from, say, half a mile away.   Thus, while the tooting owl was not in spitting distance of my mini encampment on a bit of ice in the parking lot, it could easily been in Fox Park or an adjacent landowner’s pine tree and I would never have known.

The saga continues…


Wolf Pine @ Fox Park #11: 4/1/17, It Is A Snow-Show, Debunking The Melanistic Dogamount

I slipped and slid my way into Fox park Saturday, 4/1/17 at about 4pm.  About 7 inches of snow had appeared on the ground over the last 24 hours, which (for the second time) definitely stifled and spring-like activities for the critters and what not.  Yet, the still powder-like snow was melting already.  This stuff hadn’t really had time to settle and compact, it just came down from the sky just below freezing, then bobbed above freezing at about noon and rained.  This made for perfect postholing snow.  Indeed, I saw some dogs who took it hard- leaving postholes almost 3 feet deep.

I heard some confused titmice and a lonely Hairy woodpecker over (almost) the whole time out, though a the crow crew started up yakking away just as I left.  I had really come for the tracks in the snow, but because of the rain and rapidly melting cover, I could only make out big dogs.

“Big Dog”

Here we have one of these big dogs.  things to note:

  • triangle shaped claws
  • very symmetrical
  • creates a distinct circle-oval shape
  • Can easily be broken into left, right, two leading toes and rear pad quadrants



These traits are interesting, though they get way cooler and silly when we look at the crazy, unique, and very artistically rendered “black panther” prints I found in the PSU dining hall:


I realize this is the worst iPhone-picture-while-scooping-ice-cream example, but…


…I do not think these prints are for a black panther.  I do not think they are for a dog.  These are the one of a kind “melanistic dogamount” prints!



Here we have the local catamount (cougar) vs the dog (similar to the big dog I found).

Remember, the PSU mascot is a melanistic jaguar named “Pemi”.   Jaguar prints are anatomically very similar to the puma/cougar version that is theoretically in new england, if only on occasion.   Indeed, these “uber crazy level” cats have an (average) range of about 300 square miles.   Which is 192,000 acres, if you weren’t so hot on math.  🙂

This range makes tracking a single cougar extremely difficult, and as far as I can tell, nobody has been particularly successful- thus, finding photos of actual paw prints is really, really hard, and makes the far larger melanistic jaguar prints impossible to find.  Below is a cougar paw from captivity.

{{Information |Description= {{en | paw of cougar (”Puma concolor”)}} |Source=From: No Place for Predators? Gross L PLoS Biology Vol. 6, No. 2, e40 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0060040 [

So, what are the good and bad parts of the PSU sign?


  • Toes are mostly in front of the pad.  This is indicative of a cat.
  • Rear pad is wide, (almost) a cat trait in this example


  • Rear pad is too oval shaped.  Real cougars and jaguars have deep scallops creating three distinct parts of the pad

All cats have retractable, grappling-hook shaped claws.  These are rarely out and about when walking, as they are really best for catching one’s balance and slicing stuff to shreds.  They are usually seen as dots with a groove toward the toe on a paw print.  Dog claws on the other hand are designed to be a permanent part of the foot, and are shaped like a wider “V” to generally help with transport.  These are what we see, making this paw print completely and unforgivably wrong.

That concludes today’s sit spot observation.


Parking Lot/Sit Spot @ Fox Park #10: 3/31/17, Whoo’s Clues

I entered the Fox Park parking lot at approximately 5:30, about an hour before sunrise.  32 degrees, partly cloudy, and very dark and supremely quiet.

I didn’t have to wait 5 minutes after settling into a comfortable standing position to hear the first of 2 fat clues about my  owl buddy at Fox park.  Three sonorous “whoos” reverberated across the surrounding fields and white pine trees, followed by some muffled humming and burbling over the drone from the highway about half a mile away.  What luck!  The thing to know about this scenario however is these whoos were higher pitched than “ye average” great horned owl, BUT were far from the “hawws” and other gurgles the barred owls make.

The second clue about this sound (and I heard it one more about 10 minutes later) is how a classmate recently described exactly what I heard today to me.  “It was saying Whoo!  but it was started going up, then down to some quieter sounds.”  This was heard not far from Fox Park, near Langdon Woods.  That forest has a great field used for light football training by humans, and critter hunting by birds of prey no doubt.  This is well within an average great horned owls “zone”- in fact, owls have been seen occupying a 25 mile radius of space as a residence.   That means no other GHOs are allowed to live there.  Quite territorial, and have interesting family/land relationship patterns because of the vast zones required for a proper turf.   This is almost entirely the reason the GHO is both widespread and thus “common” and essentially impossible to find, making it a treat to locate.

So, I know this pattern is very likely a GHO after two pairs of ears have heard it and agree.   So…


As usual, after the second “whoo” and maybe 10 minutes of standing in the parking lot a sole cardinal started singing.  Then, one by one, the local crows woke up and decided the calling owl was a significant problem (they decide this every day) and started up with the tomfoolery we can expect from them.   On that laural, I was sure the owl would be silent to give the crows a sporting chance at hide and seek, so I left, after a bit more than 30 minutes in the parking lot.


Beaver Dam @ Quincy Bog #1: 3/30/17, The World Has Gone Mad

The first year PSU natural history class wandered into the middle of Quincy Bog onto the local beaver lodge at about 10am today, 3/30/17.

We had came to this spot originally to float about the area and gather fun and mildly interesting questions and about the “real” natural world (as opposed to the classroom).  We found lichen to be a mutualistic symbiosis between algae and fungus; the bog is full of “leather leaf”, but is not acidic enough to be completely full of this plant, as real bogs around here are; we also saw a few crows mobbing a raven.

And:  A peregrine falcon…

…And (what to my knowledge is) a short eared owl.

There have been between three and five short eared  owls in the main portion of New hampshire in the last decade (besides at the seashore near the northeast tip of Massachusetts).  According to the eBird, we can see in 2013 and 2014 there were around two or three short eared owls migrating up to their summer home in far north Canada.   After reviewing a few migration routes from around the web, I can say there is a good chance a few short eared owls will be coming from the “middle of the east half of the west”- likely farms and fields emanating from Tennessee- at this time of year.  Obviously, this owl is vastly more important than anything else I could have done today, so it will occupy the remainder of this spot review.

Taken from:

Screenshot from a google image search. Not my image. Note the black slashes parallel to the body on the median and greater coverts, and a dark head.











Firstly; things pushing against the evidence I do have for this owl.   The owl like to float around 10 feet over the grasses in fields to snatch mice and voles.  This owl was about 700 feet up in the air.  Additionally, it is likely there were two of these birds seen up there soon after we arrived.  After that initial glimpse however, there was just one.

Reasons this is a short eared owl:

  • We were standing in a prime hunting spot for a migrating short eared owl-an iced over bog should be riddled with yummy critters.  A group of 20 people milling about the middle of this bog could be a good reason to do some gliding at some distance, waiting for the people to leave and the mammals to emerge again.
  • The bird was a light grey color, with distinct black wing tips.   That is the first mark we saw.  A fat “buteo”-like (think a soaring red-tailed hawk) tail, creating almost a complete semicircle, was really built into the bird’s body.  This is totally different than a flared harrier tail, which is long.

    REALLY LONG TAIL- Harrier.

Look at the fat but short tail.,d.amc&psig=AFQjCNEO_XfgvoVIrwFXZPwIcwVJCdFp_A&ust=1490998137246086












Additionally-the real kicker in my opinion- are the black slashes on the medial and greater coverts on the short eared owl.   The two photos I have included here are enough to show these unique field marks.  I have never seen a bird with that pattern; just a flat matte white with two black marks parallel to the body, and black wing tips.  Many birds of prey have black wingtips or interesting patterns/markers under the wing.  In fact, this is an outstanding way to learn big birds who usually fly overhead/don’t usually hang around on a perch.

In summary: unless we find another bird with this wing shape and color pattern, this is a short eared owl.

 …(And it may have a migration buddy!)


Wolf Pine @ Fox Park #9: 3/26/17, Everyone Is On Vacation

I walked into Fox park Sunday afternoon, 3/26/17, after “spring” break.  Please note, however, neither the suburbs of Boston or Fox Park have turned the ignition on the spring thing.   So, I will not provide pictures today because the view is, for both flora and fauna alike, the same as the last time I took pictures.

The weather was warmer than freezing, but there is evidence of chilly rain and wind slowly wearing away at the snow.  the Beech leaves are also having a hard time staying attached this long into the cold season.  they are rustling and falling off both because the the weather but also because we really cannot have too much longer before our warblers come through, song birds start really singing, buds and leaves ome out, etc, etc.

Let us see where the warblers are today, ehh?

Here we have the most up to date info on the Palm warblers.  If you are not used to the eBird species range map, you should click the link and get used to it.  This is the most efficient way to find where species are, assuming there are people around the areas in question to report sightings.  Here, I narrowed the time frame to this year and this month.  We can see the Palm warbler crew is still in Florida for the most part.  This is where many Palm warblers go when they go south, the farthest ones only ferrying over the Cuba.  Up the coast they go, but the leaders of the pack are not really in New England yet.

Palm warblers are an early warbler in my experience around here.  They often will be showing up as the buds on the trees begin to get serious about leaves.  They simply don’t cross the Gulf of Mexico or the Caribbean, unlike many of their peers.

Another early bird is the pine warbler.  They don’t really migrate much, but in the spring they wander up from the south, making for regular sightings in MA in NH.

But what about the real warbler crew?   Blackburnians!  Chestnut sided!  Well, as you can see below, they are all still singing songs in portuguese and spanish, as far south as Ecuador (for the blackburnians) right now.

Remarkable!  Both of those birds will fly between 2,000 and 3,000+ miles, just to visit us in NH!  Special indeed.

Despite the snow, rain, and cold winds at my sit spot, the anticipation for spring is getting into gear.


Wolf Pine @ Fox Park #8: 3/16/17, Someone Bumped The Snow Machine

I decided to snowshoe into Fox Park at about 6:30am Thursday, 3/16/17.

Firstly, the forest sounded like it is in shock; dead quiet.  No crows or bluejays, only the odd cardinal or chickadee singing a questioning song to advertize its previous idea about making babies.  The snow is at least a foot deep, all powder, deadening sound as well as the attitudes the local animals were gearing up for the so-close-but-so-far spring.  I found no tracks- none, zero.  The mammals are sure to be down below the snow again, grudgingly re-entering the “subnivean” lifestyle.

My owl friend was not home either; as we know from the GHO talk from a previous post, the vertical depth challenge snow presents doesn’t deter the GHO from hunting, but plenty of other factors can cause an owl to take a vacation in a different tree.  Obviously, the clues I have been using with this “Strix” or “Bubo” buddy are way more annoying for the owl itself.  Imagine being mobbed by “idiot bird brains” day in and day out, especially when they tell their cronies where your house is…  Yes, sometimes it is time to take a break.

The snow was definitely the “highlight” of this morning’s sit spot, even as a snowshoed out of the park at 7:45….  For how long though?  When will the spanish-speaking warbler team from Panama touch down?


Sit spot #N.1: The GHO Talk

Great horned owls.   Except for the only exception feasible- Which is of course the Great Grey Owl who has decided to move to southern NH from its previous home in frigid Canada– the GHO is the ultimate, TOTL, high-ender of the hunters in New England at the very least.   There is a reason all the other members of the animal kingdom hate these “Bubo” eagle-owls as much as they do.   GHO’s have every trick in the book, every bell, whistle, and gadget, making the whole evolution game seem wholly unfair to, say, an unassuming chipmunk.  I wanted to give a quick rundown of the key toys and tools the GHO has at its immediate disposal, why I care, and why everyone else should care.

By shudrburg –, CC BY 2.0,

The “ears”

GHO’s ears are essentially their entire head.  The poky things are literally there to throw folks off, though the idea was originally to emulate some bark or a pair of pine cones, some think…  Though horns, ears, or party hats are probably ok too.  As I say above, one could say with a fair amount of accuracy the entire head is a single, huge ear; Those pretty concentric eye rings?  Chamfers and fillets on the face?   these are funneling, extracting every scuffle and heartbeat falling in the laser-like path of the big, round, swivel-face.  Remember: these owls are seeing with their ears.  The GHO is always sleepy during the day, even while other owls might be a bit active- ruling out light as a reliable system for vision.

Below I snipped a good description of the GHO system.  The asymmetrical face construction of a GHO also is used for “vertical” hearing- check this out:

“An Owl uses these unique, sensitive ears to locate prey by listening for prey movements through ground cover such as leaves, foliage, or even snow. When a noise is heard, the Owl is able to tell its direction because of the minute time difference in which the sound is perceived in the left and right ear – for example, if the sound was to the left of the Owl, the left ear would hear it before the right ear. The Owl then turns it’s head so the sound arrives at both ears simultaneously – then it knows the prey is right in front of it. Owls can detect a left/right time difference of about 0.00003 seconds (30 millionths of a second!)”   (taken from:

Obviously, anything can hear something more in the left ear and less in the right ear and know roughly where it is.  However, “roughly” isn’t in the GHO vocabulary.  Other studies have shown how owls crunch sounds at .00003 seconds; accuracy comes at the price of wildly complex brain structures that are solely used to draw auditory conclusions.   Think; each ear has a set of pre-decision-making brain structures, analysing in parallel  both the intensity of incoming sounds and the passage of time- synced perfectly to the other ear’s set and the brain as a whole.  Look at it this way;  the GHO sensing system, with its multiple super-computing cores is physically 3 times the size of the one found in our usual “smartest local birds”- the crows and ravens.  No wonder the owls are always being bothered by crows- they must be so jealous!  (and GHOs are a unrivaled predator to crows if the tides turn nasty)

2. The wings

Firstly, our local owls are dialing in around 10lbs of lift capacity.  This makes even fat wild bunnies a piece of cake, no pun intended.  Supposedly, these wings are rather disproportional to the usual bird weight/wing lift ratio, though I wouldn’t know.  Just assume the owl can lift around 2.5 times its body weight, at least as far as a nearby pine tree to start snacking.

More importantly however, these evidently powerful wings are dead silent.  The legend goes the mouse has no idea about its rapidly nearing demise until it feels the claws come in from above.  I personally believe this to be 100% accurate- every possible flight detail has been subject to evolutionary innovation, from the crinkled, broken shape of the beefy coverts and wrist to the micro-turbulent primary and secondary feather structures, all the way to those huge, fuzz-covered legs and feet.  These oversized fluffy feet, by the way, have a clamping force beginning to enter young snapping turtle territory…  …You have been warned.

The micro-turbulences generated by the wings has sparked much intrigue over the years.  Each feather exhibits a subtle, diffusive, “spiky” shape- the idea being the “ripping” and whooshing of air you hear from most birds when they take off can be removed by softening the hard edges of the feathers and wing such that the overall acceleration and lift isn’t hindered.  This acoustic principle is really the opposite of how their faces work, diffusing sound instead of funneling it in.  An intersting addendum in this GHO technology is how the coverts- the thick, leading edge of the wing- are formed.  Many other predatory birds, like the local supercar of aviation, the peregrine falcon, bank on really sharp, hard curves and edges in the coverts to squeeze as much speed and maneuverability into these big important body parts.  But not the GHO!  Without sacrificing effective speed or agility, the coverts are sort of rounded and “broken up” into smaller edges and curves, directing the air and subsequently sound into a more diffuse pattern.  Case to point:  the mouse example.  The general consensus on these coverts is these nubs are exactly the tool needed for the final swoop in to snatch the ground-dwelling prey.  Even at a steep, speedy angle, the GHO can silently hurdle to the ground without spooking anyone.  Amazing!

3. Other gizmos and gadgets:

The color and shape is its favorite spot to sleep.  The local white pine trees, especially the trunk, are prime real estate for sleepy GHOs after a night munching- so, the owl naturally looks like a white pine tree trunk (complete with two pine cones on the top).  Despite these owls being huge, they are rather common (in theory).  The chances of finding one with human vision is essentially impossible, so we must rely on other clues on its whereabouts.

The digestion system is the best among owls.   When the forest has been robbed of mice and chipmunks, GHOs can- and might even enjoy- eating frogs, big insects, reptiles, domestic pets…  The trick is they simply eat the whole animal.  There is no kerfuffling with fur here or teeth there; GHOs just go for it, 100% in.  This may contribute to the widespread success in the north east, with our crazy weather and prohibitive geological extremes other species struggle with.

In conclusion:

I hope this has been both educational and convincing enough to be enthused about owling.  Something this special and this relavent in the northeast is too important to ignore.


Wolf Pine @ Fox Park #7: 3/12/17, Surprise! It’s Cold

Arrived at Fox Park at about 1:30 today, 3/12/17, under a deceiving blue sky and some light scattered clouds.  A prohibitive 10 degrees and ~0 degrees with wind chill (at most) set the tone of my walk, though it did make walking a bit easier in general- the snow, mud, and debris had been frozen solid, so I could comfortably walk my sit spot loop in sneakers and and number of pairs of socks.  I spent the first 20 or so minutes wandering the base of Fox Park, going around from the usual parking lot, to the lower-level parking lot, around the artificial, square-shaped wet area, and up around the immediate road.  I didn’t find any owl-related clues, but I did find some other points of interest:  a few turkey vultures and a few red wing black birds.  I think it is apt to be a bit concerned (mostly for the red wing black birds) because they clearly thought it was spring time, but it actually is not.  Ground foraging, insect eating birds who rely on marshy habitats do not seem suited for today’s balmy 10 degrees.

Moving into my sit spot, I heard a brown creeper singing and a muffled “beep!” from a hairy woodpecker.  At least they seem happy.

The local “hooligan crows” and their cronies (blue jays) were zipping around in little gangs occasionally.   There was very little localization, so I think they were just rabble rousing and partaking in tomfoolery.

I did not take photos today, despite hauling my equipment around.  It seems like much of what I saw two days ago is solidly frozen in place from the time being.

Wolf Pine @ Fox Park #6: 3/10/17, Theoretical Owls and Real Tree Bark

I hit the trails at 5 am sharp Friday 3/10/17.  Nice morning, some cloud cover but a reasonable temperature for prospective chipmunks  for jaunt out of the subnivean environment.

This is where I started- within the vicinity of my theoretical big owl.  The big murder of crows was there; that is a good start.  Being around dawn-ish time however, the raucous birds dispersed within half an hour, perhaps implying my nocturnal friend either fell asleep in a huff or flew away for a less noisy and more welcoming environment (if there even is an environment that welcomes oversized, silent, essentially unrivalled killing machines…?).

I now can see a distinct, GHO-likely trend.  The crows are noisy at the time I know owls like to come back to a nice spot to go to bed, thus a time they are most easily bothered;  the crow activity is extremely centralized around this stand of large, sheltering pine trees- the crows all seem to circle the trunks of the pines that are growing most close together.  GHO’s love pine tree trunks, and rarely will nap far from the center.  I have noted the crows are never “bothering” a deciduous tree, where barred owls could be more likely found (than GHO).  I heard a few possible “whoos”the first day owling in response to screech owl calls, which is common with the GHOs.  I played barred too around then, so I wasn’t sure (the sounds I heard were very muted and did not complete any full call, but were unique owl-ish sounds nonetheless).

Here we have two common sights: red, “spear-like” Beech buds and the lingering brittle beech leaves.  These are everywhere on my way into my sit spot.

Here we have some white pines.  These are the only species of pine I could find around my sit spot…


Paper Birches?  -Yes, but they are too easy.  Here we have a grey birch (the grey colored one) and a yellow birch (the yellow-tinted one)- both of which are sort of near my wolf pine tree.


Hemlocks!  Look at the “crunchy” bark.   These are everywhere…

Red oaks.  Look at the deep cracks exhibiting an almost reddish color…..

…And some red oak leaves.  Pointy, “fire-flame tipped” leaves.  They are also reddish, which helps a bit.


What could these be?  White oaks!  These have this random pattern to the nubby bark, and have a “whitish green” lichen or fungus on it more often than not.  The tree to the right is the best non-greenish bark I could find.


The obligatory white oak leaf, in with some beech leaves.  these do not seem to be nearly as prevalent as the red oak leaves in terms of what is currently still on the ground.  This is the only leaf I could find.

To conclude, here we have a striped maple and a red maple.  I assure you:  both maples are well into adulthood!  Despite one being green and thin and the other looking old and broken, this is in fact “how they do”.  Distinct barks, but also easy with the “opposite” branching pattern (not shown).   In addition, the red maples are not only opposite branches but branch in a neon crimson color.  This helps I.D. quite a bit.


Wolf Pine @ Fox Park #4: 3/5/17, Noon-ish time

This is the kind of day it is today.  Not a cloud in the light blue sky, the sun casting sharp shadows from the bare branches.  A bit blustery, and cold- I’d guess 25 degrees, not including wind chill.  The snow is very hard, and has a icy surface.  I wandered into Fox park at around noon- all I could hear was a few high peeps from chickadees and the occasional crow yelling at something.  Notably, the woodpeckers seemed absent on my way into the woods toward my pine tree- could the extra-frozen trees deter all but the most robust woodpeckers?  Usually at least a downy will be somewhere, tapping away.





These two trees on the right exhibit this intersting “crinkly”, wafer-like, “scaly” bark.  Around these parts, I would wager a guess these are black cherry trees.  Magnificent!


One interesting feature:  they are always alone!  I have yet to see two of these “scaly” trees within eyesight of each other.  Compare this to the gaggles of hemlocks, clubs of white pines, and stands of beeches… I really haven’t the foggiest why such an impressive and dense tree would manage to populate itself so sparsely.



Someone has been doing house cleaning!  This cavity in the tree is getting excavated, and upon further inspection, the space inside is enormous.  The wood chips at the base look relatively fresh, and the wind hasn’t blown the sawdust off the bark yet.

These green conk mushrooms I found are gnarly.  Beginning and end of story.

As I left my sit spot, I found myself staring into the top of each pine tree I walked under.  I am getting a gut feeling the owls are going to be getting restless for spring soon.  So many more mammals will become breakfast, lunch, and dinner (for our GHO and barred owls especially) in a few weeks when they emerge.  I think I will aim to do my few sit spots before sunrise, armed with the saw-whet call, and see if I can pick out who is living up there in the multitudes of pines.

Bonus:  I found these well-preserved, flash-frozen crow footsteps literally wandering out of the parking lot and into the park, following the “human trail”.  


Wolf Pine @ Fox Park #3: 3/3/17, Noon-ish time

I walked into Fox Park on 3/3/17.  Note how I could walk right in; the snow has settled and melted into a single layer that had been frozen the night before.   The sun was shining, but an impressively chilled wind was blustering around.  That morning at 6am, the temperature hit somewhere around 40 degrees, which was followed by a hour-and-a-half blizzard starting at around 9am, followed by blue skies similar to what I experienced at 6am but about 15 degrees colder.  ???

I tried to document the interesting tree formations, issues, and patterns today, as I realized after more natural history class time I was taking these trees for granted and focusing on the more “immediately exciting stuff”.

First off, I was noticing these Beech leaves everywhere.  They seem to be the only leave around that is so stubborn about staying glued to the tree almost indefinitely- until of course the lext version pops out to replace it.

It was noted in class these leaves stay attached to the tree all year, the idea being maybe these trees can get a quicker head start on photosynthesis come spring.

Coppicing? General bizarreness?








Next, I was finding all sorts of tree species with this tightly knit organization, which implied they are  possibly sharing a mega-root system.


The following tree photos all exhibit this super weird “window” into each tree’s heartwood.  Fox park is riddled with this phenomenon…  …And I have absolutely no idea why.

By the time I got to actual spot to do some serious sitting, I already had these questions percolating.  it seems like most trees I encountered dealt with a sort of trauma at the base, and are trying to recover.

 Take a moment to observe the “Bull” pine, or “Wolf” pine.  That is my spot- isn’t in gnarly?   First off, it is HUGE.  Those birch trees in the foreground aren’t exactly little.   I met a few dog walkers soon after I arrived under its crazy branches, one of whom said there is a chance this was a shade tree for farm animals eons ago.  We wondered if the branches grew into this oddly un-shady shape when the farming situation came to a halt, and other shade and competition for the sun forced the needles farther into the sky.

Below are some close ups of the uber-gnarlies this tree has.  Note the little holes about 3-4mm across.  these look like bug activity.  (no shredded bark from even the most careful woodpecker, and seem totally unorganized.   That said, the quarter-sized cone shaped holes look like red-bellied activity, but was quickly abandoned.  It seems this tree has  some tough bark, and the bugs are just too hard to get at.

Looking out from my spot, I see the fungus/Scale beetle issue on the nearest Beech tree.  I also found this basketball-sized hive, high up in a tree.  Obviously, it is the epitome of fine construction techniques, because it is basketball sized, after a whole slew of crazy weather events.

These two conifer trees had me confused for a while.  The one on the right is a more spares when it comes to needles, and the bark/stem pattern  is more “expansive” and “flat”.   I dub this a hemlock, because my first gut instinct is to forage underneath for the highly flammable branches, which often have those thin, bendy fingers that ignite immediately and violently.   The tree on the right however, did not evoke this gut response.   That said, I think it is also a hemlock, just much younger – I think.


Bird activity:

 On the right, we have my favorite, all time greatest “big woodpecker” hole example tunk.  Top left: Probably a Hairy woodpecker.  Note the lack of a bezel around the hole.  Also, I doubt the local Piliated would be able to fit its beak that far into a tree, this hole is just too small.  Note also the Hairy does have a rather long beak.  I have heard and seen a hairy woodpecker in this area.  Top right:  Ehh, this one may be a collaborative effort.  I see the inner circle STARTS at the size the hairy woodpecker left off.  I say red bellied at that point.  I have heard the bubbly-squawk-like sound of this woodpecker here on occasion.  Also- note what happened!  The tell-tale funnel shape that starts about 3/4 inch seems to have given someone else some ideas…. Bottom:  Crazy Piliated woodie, who, as far as I can tell, has literally killed at least 1 tree nearby, by obsessively boring huge channels through the trunk (and almost out the other side in some cases!!!   The upper right hole looks like the pileated could have given that one a go, just to give it a test drive, before going back to work on the bottom hole.

Finally, I found an example of all 4 major league woodies in one sit spot visit!  Here is the resident diminutive downy, going berserk on a dusty branch.  Look at that head go!  My shutter way fast, but evidently not fast enough to stop a speeding downy head.

Until next time!!


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