Sunday, February 21, 2021



Let’s compare confusing birds with NO pictures!

I don’t take pictures when I am birding. That is what my husband is for – he has the camera and he knows how to use his camera. I stay away from photography for the simple reason that by the time I grab the camera, aim and shoot the bird in question is gone. Eric, on the other hand, is accustomed to catching birds on the wing.

So, how does one tell birds apart especially when the two in question look like kissing cousins?  For starters, bird with friends.


Mike: How do you tell a Canvasback apart from a Redhead?

              Me: Canvasback has a beak shaped like a ski jump.


Me: I don’t think there are Greater Scaups here. I looked it up – Greaters like greater, bigger waters like the ocean.

Mike: Both Greater and Lesser Scaups have been seen in the Bay. One has a purple head and one has a green head.

Me: (Looking in Kaufman’s Field Guide) Got it! GReen for GReater.


Mike: Ruddy’s have blue bills.

Me: Lots of ducks have bluish bills.

Mike: Ruddy’s have a perky tail.

              Me: Right on! Cute perky tail.


See how that works? Bird with your friends.

(Photo credit: Eric Voit)


Tuesday, May 14, 2019



That’s a funny word. Say it ten times fast and try not laughing.

Dickcissel may not have been the last bird we counted but it was the last word on the 2019 Birdathon.  After hours of chasing birds across the beaches and wildlife preserves in Cape May and Brigantine, NJ, it was the Dickcissel we spent the most time trying to identify from Eric’s photo when we returned to our hosts house. No matter how old one is (15, 55, or 75,) some words bring out the sophomore in all of us. I forget how we concluded this little bird is a Dickcissel, but it is the last box that we checked on the American Birding Association official bird checklist.

You could ask what are we doing and why, and the explanation is simple. We are birders and last weekend we counted birds to raise funds for the 39th Annual Bloomn Birdathon for Audubon Naturalist Society in Chevy Chase, MD.

The rules of play are to count as many birds (or wildflower species) in a 24-hour time frame and to have fun while doing so. There are lots of highlights, but I will limit myself to Mikes original question when the weekend was over: What were your three favorite birds? And I said:

One. The little Common Yellowthroat.

He throws back his head and then sings his heart out! Witchy-witchy-witch

Two. The Juvenile Hawk

Poor little thing looked like he was screaming MOM, the crows wont leave me alone!

Three. The Laughing Gulls.

It is hard to believe that these regular gulls can be interesting but they are. They return to Cape May in March marking the start of Spring.  By mid-May, they flock in the tens of thousands to feast on horse shoe crab eggs along the shoreline.  Put this all together and it is what I call phenomena – Thousands of birds (or any species for that matter,) congregating and behaving according to their biological heritage.

Unbeknownst to me, the second Saturday in May is the World Series of Birding sponsored by the New Jersey Audubon. Everywhere we went, we met people doing the same thing we were - raising funds to support Birds.

At Coral Beach we ran into Vince and his gang who were in the middle of a Big Stay which started at 4 in the morning.  The premise is if you stay in one place long enough, all the birds will eventually fly to you. Apparently, they did because by 2PM, Vince and his gang counted 138 species including the Chuck-wills-Widow calling in the pre-dawn hours.  Thanks to Vince, our team saw the Northern Gannet and Mississippi Kite during our 20-Minute Stay. 

At Higbee Beach we picked up Arthur who confirmed via the bird interweb that Mike really did see the Swallow-tailed Kite that flew overhead during the 15 minutes we all got separated.

When Eric made an unintentional turn onto the Ocean City causeway, we decided to stop at the visitor center where we ran into a group of Happy Campers who flew in specially to participate in the World Series. It was here that we saw these Yellow-crowned Night-Herons building their nest.

I asked my fellow teammates what were their favorite birds and here is what they said:


It’s hard for me to pick just one…
but I’m always delighted to see and hear Indigo Buntings, and we saw so many!

Also, I loved the flock of Skimmers standing facing the rain and wind, and flying en masse then suddenly a few would break off and do their skimming thing.


I love Indigo Buntings and seeing their rust-colored wing against his iridescent blue body.

Second was watching the Field Sparrow sing with his whole body that 
his tail feathers were quivering.

And I really liked seeing the Otter take off with a fish in his mouth, BUT
if has to be a bird, then it was the Clapper Rail skulking around the mud flats.  

Tree swallow peeking out from nesting box!

Starting Saturday, May 11 at 11AM to Sunday, May 12, 11AM, we snagged 95 birds breaking our first record of 87 species in 2018. We were hoping to spot 100 of course but that just means we have even more incentive next year to learn our Warbler songs before we get out and count! 

If you haven’t already donated to the 2019 Bloomn Birdathon for Audubon Naturalist Society then I invite you to do so. Just follow this link and be sure to mention our team name: THIS ONES FOR JANE HUFF – who was an extraordinary birder and naturalist herself and my beloved mentor.  Here’s the link: 

For more photo out-takes like Mikes Otter,

visit: You will be glad did!

And now for the List of Birds which are grouped by name and phylogenic sequence according to the American Birding Association.  They are all there – count them!

Canada Goose
Mute Swan
American Wigeon
American Black Duck

Rock Dove
Mounring Dove       

Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Clapper Rail

American Oystercatcher

Black-bellied Plover
Semipalmated Plover

Ruddy Turnstone
Curlew Sandpiper
White-rumped Sandpiper
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Long-billed Dowitcher
Lesser Yellowlegs
Greater Yellowlegs

Laughing Gull
Herring Gull
Black-backed Gull
Least Tern
Common Tern
Forsters Tern
Black Skimmer

Common Loon

Northern Gannet

Double-crested Cormorant

Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Green Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Glossy Ibis

Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture

Swallow-tailed Kite
Mississippi Kite
Bald Eagle
Broad Winged Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk

Red-bellied Woodpecker
Northern Flicker

Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern King Bird

Blue Jay
American Crow
Fish Crow

Purple Martin
Tree Swallow
Bank Swallow
Barn Swallow

Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse

White-breasted Nuthatch

Carolina Wren
Marsh Wren

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

American Robin

Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
Northern Mockingbird

European Starling

House Sparrows

House Finch

Field Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow

Orchard Oriole
Red-winged Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Boat-tailed Grackle
Common Grackle

Common Yellowthroat
Northern Parula
Magnolia Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Palm Warbler

Northern Cardinal
Blue Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting

For more photo out-takes visit: You will be glad did!

Monday, March 11, 2019


I lose them sometimes. Not literally but figuratively speaking I sometimes lose my nature club kids. For example: Recently I saw their eyes glaze over then one by one pick up a stick and fiddle with it. When they started whacking their fellow classmate on the next stump, I knew that my excitement couldn’t change the fact they weren’t all that jazzed about tree buds.

Yup, I am hoping to excite the kids for Springs awakening by pointing at the minuscule buds on the ends of a branch. The buds on the Cottonwood are visible a bit from below, but at 80 feet above, it is still hard to appreciate their beauty. We simply can not see them from where we stand on the ground.  

I tried to explain that when Spring finally arrives, they will be amazed by the buds bursting open and the forest coloring up – spring greens, yellows and reds will brighten the woods entirely like fireworks!

Nope. They still didn’t see it.

Me: AHA. THERE! You see? It is the nasty bush honeysuckle. Its tiny leaves are already breaking bud and soon it will shade the forest floor so that our beautiful native spring flowers cannot grow.  


I didn’t say that. The kid with the stick did.  And now their eyes are no longer glazing but lit with fury to eradicate Fernwood Forest of the dread bush honeysuckle and save the forest flowers.

A few days after introducing the bud and stem arrangement of woody plants, Eric and I returned to cut back invasive vines strangling some of the trees. When we finished clearing the Cottonwood of a euonymus vine, I swear the tree gave me a thank you gift. It was a branch with buds I could use for my next lesson.

Since Fall, my nature club kids have been learning and identifying the following species: American  Elm, White Oak, Black Oak, Mulberry, Black Walnut, Cottonwood,  Green Ash, Spicebush and Bush Honeysuckle. We colored coded each tree with ribbons, collected and pressed their leaves and now we will watch the trees spring into action.

During our first lesson about bud/stem arrangement, I sent the kids on a scavenger hunt to look for buds and quickly learned that this lesson is a little over their heads. The next week we played a matching game. I gave everyone an illustrated card and asked each person to compare it to the branch being passed around. The last kid in the circle identified the twig as belonging to the Cottonwood. (Of course, I planted the answer.)

When the kids and I left Fernwood Forest that day, the woods gave me another gift to share: this time it was a White Oak branch. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2019


I just delivered a kick-ass class about taxonomy to a bunch of elementary school children.  

I have a pet corn snake, or I should say, my daughter Anna has a pet corn snake that lives in my husband’s office and that I commandeer from time to time to show to my nature club kids. The snake road show usually comprises of me doing a dramatic interpretation of Johnny Cash singing Shel Silverstein’s poem I’m being Swallowed by a Boa Constrictor.  I step into a giant slinky and sing OH NO, he’s up to my toes and the kids go nuts. Soon everyone is being swallowed… It is a fun introduction to my snake Stormy who is an easy-going snake and doesn’t mind climbing through a jungle of kids before he is let into an acrylic snake maze where he amazes the kids with his twisting and turning through the tight corridors in search of Micky.

This routine is a hit with the four and five-year-old crowd, however, elementary kids don’t necessarily want to see me getting into a slinky and singing off key. It’s not funny then. Plus, we are a bona fide nature club, and as such, I feel it is my duty to open the elementary students’ eyes to the world of biophilia.  The truth is, as I told my kids today, they are already budding biologists. From the moment they can discern a cat from a dog, a bird from a frog, they are classifying the world and beginning to understand The Tree of Life. And that’s when I launched into my lecture about taxonomy.

What is the first thing you do when your mom asks you to clean your room?

Immediately one kid shouts out, I sort my clothes.

Correct. The animal kingdom is just like your clothes and it too gets organized into groups -

Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species.

Yikes. Too much.

King Philip Came Over From Great Spain.

Mnemonics are good way to remember long lists but as my nature club kids pointed out - who ever  heard of Great Spain? So I shared a tip I learned from my friend and fellow Audubon classmate Susan. She said, Everyone knows Kingdom, Phylum and Genus, Species so just remember to COF (or cough) in the middle. How easy is that?!

At this point, I asked the kids to help me sort a set of animal posters into major groups to demonstrate my point –


These are the five Classes under the Animal Phylum called Chordata.
Then we separated the mammals into even smaller groups -

Hoofed animals
And African Animals

At this point, the kids all smiled because they knew they had just categorized the animals at the Family level. After that, I explained we call the Genus, Species of most animals by their common name.

The kids really liked sorting the animal cards.  And they graciously put up with the long introduction about my favorite member of the Colubridae family, Pantherophis, guttatus better known as a corn snake. Most of all, the kids loved holding Stormy.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018


There is an expression, can’t see the forest for the trees.  It literally means getting so caught up in the details that one loses sight of the problem, the question, or the situation.  But in nature, it is the opposite. I can’t see the trees for the forest. And teaching a new class is just like that for me. I can’t see the children for the class.  Until I understand each child better, I don’t know what they need. I hope my lessons are meaningful but it takes me time to discover who each person is -  their individual strengths and challenges, likes and dislikes, friends and frienemies - before I know how best to steer attention and ignite curiosity.  That is my aim. Ignite the children’s curiosity so they become nature teachers too. We simply don’t have enough nature teachers and time is running out for the trees and the bees. But that is morbid. My aim is to inspire.   

I have been teaching a nature class called Naturally Fun to four and five-year olds for the last five years.  I have created a curriculum that introduces children to trees and leaves; birds, reptiles, and bugs; rocks and water.  I think I like my Watershed Class best but the Christmas Bird Count and Leaf Collection and Big Bug Dig are lots of fun too that it is hard to choose just one.  And every year concludes with a day at a nearby nature center where the kids get to go creeking. When the parents come, I feel like cupid because now I have gotten Mom and Dad to fall in love with nature too. 

My new class is a mixed Montessori group of elementary school kids. I have three 6-year olds, three 8-year olds and three 9-year olds. All are boys except for one girl who I will call Eve.  She is one of the 6-year olds and already showing her mettle; I am quite fond of her to say the least.  I am working with a seasoned teacher who is just as excited as the kids to learn more about nature and she patiently helps me to stay on track. Being a nature teacher means I am a little distracted. How could I not be? There is so much to see and tell! Where to begin?? Then I hear Julie Andrews start to sing and I think, oh right. Start from the very beginning. I am also working on curbing my wit. I am funny. But whether the kids understand my humor or not, they devolve easily.  Admittedly, I pack too much into my hour-long lessons…  I am working on that.

Recently, I came across a great term in Richard Louvs book, Last Child in the Woods. It is called Directed Attention Fatigue.  The way I interpret it, I should talk less. Smile more. And let the kids discover the woods themselves. (Thank you, Lin Manuel Miranda.)

Funny. This isn’t even the blog I wanted to write. I wanted to share what the Fernwood kids dug up. But today's lesson had the kids changing location every ten minutes so that I cycled three groups of three children to survey three sites and look for more than three invertebrates. THEN they had to count what they saw and write it down. YIKES! Even my head is spinning now that I think about how much they had to do in so little time.  The plan looked good on paper but it was unrealistic and neurotic. Fortunately, Adam (who would rather be engineering the trail,) saw a green, wingless insect on a spicebush leaf just as we were calling it a wrap, and he called me over to ask, What is it?  Fascinated by its color, I said, I don’t know! Hum. My guess it is an insect despite being wingless.

After the kids left, I spent time getting to know the neon bugger better. I am still not sure if it is an insect but it has most of the qualifiers: six legs, two antennae, maybe three body parts but no wings. Trapped inside an acrylic bug box, I discovered it climbs quickly on tall articulated legs; it reminded me of a daddy long leg.  And when it felt threatened, it folded up like a pop-up tent. I watched the critter for 10 minutes before walking further into the woods to look for more insects. What I found was this: a living snail underneath a huge oyster-like mushroom, (all the others we found were just dead, dried and empty shells,) and a white speck or feather floating in the air. It landed briefly on a limb near me before taking flight again. It wasn’t lint or fluff or feather after all. It was alive.

Next week I plan to repeat this week’s lesson but with a few edits. The kids will look for invertebrates at one site (not three,) and take as long as they want to see the bug for the invertebrates for themselves.

PS Here is the incredible mushroom. Can YOU see the shiny snail shell? Hint: It is a tiny glint and it is located in the lower right quadrant.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018


Maintaining focus was harder than I thought it would be. Todays scavenger hunt did not include looking for insects or other creepy crawlers. But right in the middle of my blah, blah, blah speech about these sacred woods and what to look for it  happened:

A spider.

Mack practically jumped into my arms. (I think his name is Mack; they are all new to me.)  When I asked who likes spiders, everyone raised their hands. I like spiders too. Then we watched the spider  wind its way up over my head to feast on an insect it had caught earlier in its web.  Because we were already side-lined, I explained that spiders liquefy its preys guts and drink it. But here is the problem. I was not able to get a picture, therefore I cannot i.d. this spider. All I can say is that it was about the size of a wolf spider and it had a white patch on the back of its abdomen. There was no time for me to check out its web design because 1.) it was above my head and 2.) it was not the point of todays nature lesson.

THEN Gareth saw a worm, or so he thought, and he tugged my arm to get me to look at it.  It was a green, ½-inch worm and when it opened its mouth, it looked like his whole head was opening up.  Frankly, it reminded me of an alien movie. I was intrigued and really wanted to look at it longer but Gareth and I were the only ones who saw it. Then, as it happened, the 1/2-inch worm cut silk cord and dropped to the ground. Thank God because then I could get back to what I was doing…

BUT just as soon as we started on the scavenger hunt, someone shouted BEE! Is that a Bumblebee? NO, I replied. It’s a carpenter bee… or maybe a ground bee… I don’t know. But the bee seemed to be in  bad  shape so I moved it out of harms way.  No sense in anyone getting stung on their first day in Fernwood Forest.

Todays lesson was simply an introduction.  We weren’t supposed to talk about the animal kingdom yet.  But here is the thing: Fernwood Forest is a forgotten woods.  AND there is so much life in there!! I am looking forward to seeing things I haven’t explored yet and so are my  kids.

Monday, August 6, 2018


Stops me every time.

And stops my companion too.

Toward the end of a weekly training bike ride last Spring, I saw what I believed to be a bufflehead at Widewater and I made my bike buddy Kathy stop too. Its not the first time she has had to brake for birds.  On another ride along the canal just past MP12, bright orange feet grabbed my attention; it was all I saw before this wading bird flew into the woods.  Looking it up on my phone, I declared it a green heron. I don’t see them as often because they camouflage easily in foliage along the shore line.  But there it was plain as day and now Kathy has another Life Bird. (Kathy doesnt know it, but it is my aim to expand Kathy’s life list while I grow mine. Since 2018 started, my bird list has grown by 21 species but that is a story for another day.)

So many birds make the C&O Canal their home especially great blue herons which is a perennial favorite for most people; just think about all the artwork, wood and metal sculptures and note cards that adorn homes, yards and personal-style motifs – they are great blue herons.

Since we started biking in the Fall of 2017, we have braked for a solitary sandpiper, egret, kingfisher, king bird, wood duck, merganser, downy woodpecker, a barred owl and of course lots of eagles. Once we ran into a fellow bird enthusiast who set up a scope and let us look at the eagles nest across the river.

Bird calls stop us in our tracks too.  It is how we identified the yellow warbler. Lucky for us one was close by and waited while we made confirmation. I make Kathy listen for the eastern wood pewee all the time and sometimes make a fool of myself screaming queeeep, queeeep in the hopes of attracting a great crested flycatcher. And every once in a while, we hear a pileated laugh at us.

But birds aren’t the only reason we stop. I like snakes too. And snapping turtles and muskrats, (or was that a beaver we saw?)

This here is the eastern wood pewee and it happens to be my favorite little bird.