A High Mountain Hike

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A couple of friends and I hiked to the summit last week on a clear winter’s day. The trails have a few patches of ice but were otherwise navigable. 

I only got lost once. (That’s why I always bring my cellphone with a maps app, and water.)

High Mountain is located in Wayne and North Haledon. 1,260 acres and more than 10 minutes on trails. (Just stay on the well-marked trails.)

 


R.I.P., Flaco

Eurassion Eagle Owl 0Virrazzi 0B0A5087 (1) 1 Photo by Fred Virrazzi

I  was saddened to hear over the weekend that Flaco, the famous Eurasian Eagle Owl of Manhattan, had died after flying into a high-rise window.

Flaco flew away from the Central Park Zoo over a year ago after someone misguidedly cut open his cage's wire mesh, allowing the owl to fly away and ultimately die in an environment it was ill-suited to survive in.

As the Wildlife Conservation Society put it succinctly:"The vandal who damaged Flaco’s exhibit jeopardized the safety of the bird and is ultimately responsible for his death. We are still hopeful that the NYPD, which is investigating the vandalism, will ultimately make an arrest."

Here’s the Bird Watcher column I wrote about Flaco last year:

By Jim Wright
Special to The Record

   I visited Manhattan’s Central Park earlier this month to participate in a phenomenon I call celebrity bird-watching. You don’t watch birds alongside famous people. Instead, you try to see a bird so rare, so unusual or so photogenic that it has developed its own huge fan club.

   In this case, the bird is Flaco the Eurasian Eagle Owl. He is one of the world’s largest owls, with spectacular camouflage plumage in every shade of tan and brown. 

    Make no mistake. Flaco is a star. He has his own Wikipedia page and a Twitter handle, @flaco_theowl, which posts updates on his whereabouts. Photos of the owl regularly appear on Twitter, TikTok and Instagram. Someone already made a mural of him.

    The owl escaped from the Central Park Zoo in early February after someone vandalized his cage, allowing him to escape. The owl, an import from the other side of the world,  hung out near the zoo shortly thereafter while officials took a wait-and-see approach lest they injure the owl trying to capture it. Flaco eventually fled uptown. 

   My quest to find the owl didn’t take long. After checking Flaco’s latest Twitter feed for his uptown location, I toted my binoculars up the park’s West Drive. In less than a minute, a walker approached and asked, “Looking for Flaco? Because he’s on Great Hill up there on your left.”

  I spotted a small cluster of people looking up at a tree, and bingo! There Flaco sat, perched in plain view on a high branch, oblivious to what turned out to be a steady stream of sightseers. 

     Flaco ddn’t seem to mind the attention. After all, he spent his whole life being gawked at by zoo-goers. Nor did he spook easily. When a murder of crows dropped by to scream at him, he ignored them until they got tired and flew away.  

   Flaco’s future seems, appropriately, up in the air. At the time of this writing, the zoo plans to keep an eye on him and has no plans to try to catch him. The biggest concern is that he eats a rat that has ingested rat poison – sort of like secondhand smoke, but far more lethal.

   Central Park has a long history of quirky bird sightings that tickle the public’s fancy. Five years ago, for example, I wrote about a celebrity mandarin duck in Central Park after it appeared in a pond near the Plaza Hotel and began posing for photos. The duck was in no way rare – several resided in the nearby zoo with Flaco – but he was photogenic and cooperative, and folks seem to love these quirky “good news” bird stories.

   I wish Flaco well, so long as he doesn’t start eating the other local raptors. Ideally, he’ll become a vegetarian before he eats the wrong rat.

The Bird Watcher column appears every other Thursday. Jim’s next book, "The Screech Owl Companion," will be published by Timber Press. Email Jim at [email protected].

 

 


A Heron in Wait

If you (and your kids) want to see great wildlife at the Celery Farm? Walk slowly, stay quiet, and hope others are considerate of nature (and nature-lovers) in the preserve.

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A Pair of Peas in a Pod

Two owls in tree 842A7138    It’s getting to be the time of year when screech owls find companionship.
    Friends in North Jersey called to tell me about this matched pair that have been roosting in a tree in their yard.
    How cool is that? 
    By the way, although they are called “red-phased” screech owls, they are actually red-morph screech owls. They won’t change color.


Hooray for Our Celery Farm Volunteers

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 If you’ve been by the Pirie Platform of late (the trails are a bit muddy), you’ve seen the miracle. Until recently, you couldn’t observe much of anything from the observation platform because of the overgrown Phragmites — despite several of us whacking away at it every year or two.

This time, our crew of volunteers took a whack at it, and all I can is "Wow, thank you!"

The volunteers include Christian Alcaide, Tracey Schiess, Jim Newell, Neil MacLennan, Ken Wiegand, Carl Krag, Jeff Dugan, and Lee Stoeski. Not sure all of them were involved in this overhaul, but the entire crew has been incredible. Can’t thank them enough!

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The Next Fyke Talk

Passing this along...

Fri at 8pm via Zoom - Fyke Nature's Monthly Meeting and Presentation

Spring Migration at Teaneck Creek Conservancy with Executive Director Kathleen Farley

Teaneck Creek Conservancy stewards 46 acres of a restored wetland with 1.3 miles of trails for outdoor enjoyment.

Join Kathleen Farley, its executive director since July 2022, who will discuss migration at the park. In addition to other migrants, the park is woodcock stopover habitat. You may remember she gave a well-received Fyke presentation this time last year on her research on the American woodcock. Farley earned her doctorate in biology at Rutgers University-Newark where she focused on ornithology and community ecology in the urban environment. 

Please register in advance by clicking the link below. You will receive an email with your own unique link to join the meeting. 

https://us06web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_kQiiY7IuSimNNoZhEp_8Fg

Since 2015, Fyke meeting costs have been funded by generous grants from the Winifred M. and George P. Pitkin Foundation.


Remembering John Fell

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(With George Washington’s Birthday around the corner, I thought I’d post a 2010 article I wrote about Founding Father John Fell, who lived in what is now called Allendale. When Fell was imprisoned by the British for leading the resistance against their tyranny,  Washington was instrumental in gaining Fells release. The house still stands on Franklin Turnpike and was saved through a grassroots effort that prevented it from being bulldozed to make way for condos. )

Uncovering the Secret Prison Diary
of Bergen’s unsung Founding Father
By Jim Wright

   “Last night I was taken prisoner from my house by 25 armed men…”
   Thus begins the Revolutionary War prison diary of John Fell of Allendale, the leader of the Bergen County insurgency against the king of England and his local sympathizers.
   Fell’s 16-page diary, written in secret in the Provost Jail in Lower Manhattan from April 1777 to January 1778, is one of the most significant documents chronicling the horrific treatment of American
prisoners of war in British-held New York City during the Revolutionary War. Fell signature-1 (1)
  The journal, written in black ink on now-sepia-tinted thick paper, can be seen at the Brooklyn Historical Society by appointment.
   With George Washington’s birthday just around the corner and our Founding Fathers on our minds, My wife Patty and I recently made the trip to Brooklyn to view and photograph the document, which John Fell titled “Memorandum in the Provost Jail.”
   The diary is a reminder of what the founders of our nation endured in the name of liberty.
   Although few Americans know of John Fell, he was feared by northern New Jersey’s loyalists during the Revolution. As head of the Bergen County Committee of Safety, Fell was known as “the great Tory hunter.”
   My wife and I live across the street from Fell’s house, which still stands atop a low hill on the Franklin Turnpike. My wife has been involved in the efforts to prevent this historic house from being demolished and replaced by 11 townhouses, and now that it looks likely that the house and property just might be saved, we thought we should see the historic diary first-hand.
   We felt a small adrenaline rush as we approached the Brooklyn Historical Society, an 1881 red-brick and terra cotta building in Brooklyn Heights. Fell Diary IMG_6864-2      When we got to the library on the second floor, the journal was waiting for us. The diary, stored in an archival box, was much smaller and thinner than we had envisioned. When I carefully placed the diary in a special cradle to be photographed, I felt as though I were reaching back 232 years to actually hold history in my hands.
   The diary, weighing no more than a few ounces, contains all sorts of priceless historical data, all hand-written in tiny letters –cramming so much material onto each page that no space is wasted.
   The last two pages are nearly blank – an indication that Fell did not know how much longer he might be imprisoned. As Fell laterscrawled on the first page, he was held for “8 months, 15 days.”
    On the cramped pages, each measuring four inches by six inches, are lists of Americans imprisoned with him and the horrid conditions they endured – from whippings and dungeons to starvation and fatal illnesses.
   I got to see, with my own eyes, John Fell’s actual signature on the first page of the slender diary – a document that would have meant torture and perhaps even death if his British jailers had ever found it.
   In his preface to "Forgotten Patriots," Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Edwin Burrows writes that the number of Americans imprisoned by the British in New York City during the Revolutionary War may
actually have “exceeded 30,000 and that 18,000 (60 percent) or more of them did not survive – well over twice the number of American soldiers and seamen who fell in battle, now believed to have been around 6,800.”
   Of Fell’s diary, Burrows writes: “His terse notations, squeezed onto each page in a minuscule script, log the emotional ups and downs of  the prisoners there as they struggled with overcrowding, hunger, sickness, appalling squalor and petty, capricious cruelties.”
   When I returned to Allendale and saw the Fell House once more, I viewed it with new eyes. John Fell House by Charlie McGill 1 IMG_5194 (5)
   Northern New Jersey was caught in the crossfire between the British and George Washington’s patriots in the Revolutionary War.
   John Fell’s house is but one of the many testaments to our nation’s early history that stand in our midst – so long as we remember and protect them.

I also  wrote an essay on John Fell’s prison diary for the book “Revolutionary Bergen County: The Road to Independence” ($21.95, the History Press.)