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: https://anshome.org/birdathon-sponsor/?_sf_s=Birdathon 

For more photo out-takes like Mikes Otter,

visit: http://www.voit.org/pic-x/Birdathon2019/index.html 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: http://www.voit.org/pic-x/Birdathon2019/index.html 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.