My journey as a birdwatcher (the time period “birder” had not been coined but) started within the woods and overgrown fields behind my mother and father’ ranch home in Whippany, New Jersey. To save lots of you a Google search, Whippany is positioned about 25 miles west of Manhattan. It sits atop the eutrophic stays of glacial Lake Passaic and exactly the place, I estimate, the retreating Laurentide ice sheet dumped its largest load of rocks. Ask any of the youngsters who needed to clear them by hand so their dads may have the flat, inexperienced lawns suburban householders dream of. Adjoining to my mother and father’ rockpile was a number of hundred acres of publicly owned hardwood forest in early levels of succession, with crimson maple, pin oak, and white oak dominating.
The “Huge Woods” have been bisected by a powerline lower we referred to as “the Meadows.” Past have been the three “Brickyard Ponds” and past that, a number of thousand acres of forest and wetlands generally known as “Troy Meadows.” In sum, this was my playground and chicken laboratory. The one rule within the Fifties and ’60s was to be “residence for supper.” In any other case, my time was my very own, and from the age of seven, I used to be free to wander so far as “the ponds,” a quarter- to half-mile from residence.
It happens to me that as the one surviving member of the Explorers Membership, as we neighborhood children referred to as ourselves, I often is the solely particular person alive who nonetheless recollects such hallowed factors of discovery as “Huge X Swamp,” the place the Mallards nested; “Bee Hive Hill,” the place the screech-owl lived within the hole outdated beech tree; and “Island Eight,” within the third brickyard pond, the place the Canada Geese nested in 1957. I write this text in order that this treasured storehouse of lore might not go into obscurity.
Huge X Swamp was a mere quarter-mile from residence however a slog within the spring. It was named for the crossed drainage ditches dug by the mosquito fee that we (the swamp’s self-appointed guardians) have been obligated to dam each spring to maintain the swamp correctly flooded. In winter, we’d ice skate between the tussock grass and swamp maples and seize noticed turtles swimming beneath the ice. It was due to this endeavor that I discovered to not put moist sneakers within the oven to dry in time for Sunday church service. All you get is crinkled leather-based.
The Meadows have been a marvel: half broom sedge, half brushy tangle, residence to Area Sparrows, Maryland (now Widespread) Yellowthroats, Blue-winged and Golden-winged Warblers, and in fall, the overhead powerlines attracted migratory kestrels. They by no means allow you to get shut sufficient to make sure of your identification. However that’s what they have been.
The Brickyard Ponds have been a treasure trove of enjoyable and discovery. It’s the place I noticed my first Pied-billed Grebe and Belted Kingfisher, and the place a blue-eyed boy as soon as stood eye to eye with a golden-eyed Nice Blue Heron. Each of us have been too startled to maneuver. The cove, simply west of “Heron Seaside,” later renamed “Stevie’s Seaside” in honor of a neighborhood child’s many impromptu beer events, was the place I noticed my first Ring-necked Geese. The flock pitched into the pond throughout a blinding March snowstorm and swam to inside 10 toes of my crouched kind — shut sufficient for me to see the burnished copper ring across the neck of the drakes (the primary and solely time I’ve seen the chicken’s namesake trait). We have been forbidden to swim within the ponds, so after all we did.
“Bullhead Cove,” “Black Duck Cove,” “the Hidden Highway” — the listing goes on till it disappears within the rising mist enveloping my thoughts. So, I commit these names to paper and to you, the most recent member of the Explorers Membership. The membership meets each Saturday afternoon in McDowell’s basement, the place, after including new objects in our pure historical past museum, your membership will probably be made official by attending membership officers. Insofar as we want a quorum of only one, me, and since you have already got my vote, your membership is assured. Be at liberty to carry any shed snake skins, deer antlers, or deserted chicken nests for the gathering. We have already got nests of American Robin, Maryland Yellowthroat, Baltimore Oriole, and (gasp, sigh) even Cedar Waxwing. Simply don’t do one thing silly like falling out of a tree to achieve some prized exhibit. And truthful warning. Bald-faced hornet nests might look empty however usually will not be. In winter, the bugs are simply dormant, and the warmth within the basement is sufficient to make them lively.
Different helpful data: In summer season, when drought drops water ranges, the shores of the First Brickyard Pond usually entice shorebirds; in any other case, summer season birdwatching is fairly uninteresting. However in July, just a few migrating birds seem. My first Yellow-throated Warbler was on the path to Heron Cove on July 4. You needn’t, as I lengthy did, anguish about complicated the chicken with Blackburnian Warbler. They’re like apples and oranges, it seems. The Hidden Highway is an efficient place to flush grouse, and the screech-owl on Bee Hive Hill usually sits on the entrance to his gap to catch the morning solar. Deer? Typically within the Meadows at daybreak; crimson fox, too. The native crow with the touches of white in its wings is known as Silver Wings. It likes to perch on the transmission towers and has a hoarse name.
In August, hummingbirds sip from the tubular blossoms of the noticed touch-me-nots that flourish within the moist areas beside the deserted railroad tracks. In winter, the brushy fringe of my mother and father’ property is filled with American Tree Sparrows, and the marshy space east of Huge X Swamp hosts wintering Fox Sparrows. You’ll hear them scratching within the leaves. Vesper Sparrows? By no means discovered one, however Music Sparrows are widespread.
I ought to point out that my grasp of birds and their habitat wants was restricted again then, accounting for my incapability to search out the grassland-dwelling Vesper Sparrow in woodland habitat. On an excellent 12 months, it’s best to discover 50 to 60 chicken species round residence. And by the way in which, a chicken that I’m fairly positive is a mockingbird has moved into the overgrown lot throughout the road. I do know the vary map says it ain’t so, however there it’s — white flashes within the wings and tail and all.
A closing word: Adults appear ever to anguish about getting younger folks concerned in chicken research. Truly, nothing may very well be simpler or extra pure. Simply give your budding John James Audubon or Rachel Carson binoculars that match their fingers (6 to eight energy are effective) and a area information. Their pure curiosity and Ma Nature’s capability to captivate will do the remainder.
No programs, no organized area journeys, simply the latitude to let children uncover. The geographic parameters you set are as much as you. Regardless of the latitude to wander at will that I loved, a lot of the new birds I discovered have been within the flowering oaks round our yard in April and Could. Birds love suburbia, that hybrid habitat the place birds and people meet. Simply add curiosity, and you’ve got a world of marvel to interact the subsequent era of explorers.
This text was first revealed in Pete Dunne’s “Birder at Giant” column within the November/December 2022 difficulty of BirdWatching.