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April 2007

March 2007

Mrs. Ace in the morning (w/audio)

  Just as I was about to take a photo of the  changes inside the nesting box in the predawn today, Mrs. Ace the screech owl returned and perched in the opening.

   For the next 15 minutes, she made a traditional screech-owl call every 10 to 15 seconds.

   Hear a 15-second Real Audio clip here. Morning owl calls.WMA

   She then sat quietly in the opening for another 15 minutes before hopping down into the box and settling in for a nap.


  While she was in the opening, I scanned the woods for any sign of a companion, for naught.

  What I had noticed inside the box was a different arrangement of feathers.

   Slowly but surely, the owl is sticking more and more prey feathers into the small gaps between the door and the box  itself. (Note, in the upper right-hand corner of this image, all of the feathers crammed into the corner of the box where the opening is.)

  So many feathers are plugging the gaps that I've noticed one feather sticking through to the outside of the box.

   I am hoping this caulking with feathers is part of the preparation for egg-laying, as it was two years ago. But it's always risky to guess the reasons behind screech owl behaviors, and it's always foolish to get too excited about events that are beyond one's control.

  The timetable for the start of nesting in earnest is probably still a week away, and the big question is whether Mrs. Ace will choose this box to lay her eggs or opt for an alternate site.

   It is anybody's guess.

Woodcocks gone wild! (w/audio)

  A nifty rite of spring occurred last night in the Greenway at the Celery Farm -- the courtship ritual of the American woodcock.

  The action started around 7:30, when the woodcocks, still hidden in the fields, began to call. Their calls sounded more like bugs getting zapped by electric bug-zappers, but apparently other woodcocks find it attractive. (For a fleeting soundbite of two calls -- eight seconds -- click on the Real Audio file below.)


   Soon after, the woodcocks started showing up on the path that leads into the Celery Farm  -- then started flying around and showing off for one another. Think of a singles bar without the drinks or music.

   We saw maybe 10 woodcocks total. The whole show took 20 minutes or so.

  My friend Kevin Watson got a great shot of one on the ground. Woodcock

A terrific gallery of his Celery Farm photos, including this woodcock shot, can be found at

Simple pleasures

   My definition of a good morning is a nice sunrise and the sight of Mrs. Ace back home in her nesting box after a night of foraging.

   In this instance, no news is good news. Nesting season approacheth, and we still have an owl living in the box.  (Mrs. Ace photo at bottom.)

Sunrise Mrs_ace_in_the_hole_326

Pied-billed grebes

    Among the ring-necked ducks, hooded  mergansers and other waterfowl that have been returning to the Celery Farm by the dozen, pied-billed grebes have been seen on Lake Appert the past few days.

   Although they're not uncommon sightings, grebe are uncommon birds.

Grebe   Many people may think that of a pied-billed grebe as some sort of odd-looking duck -- if they think of it at all.

   But a grebe is not a duck. It is a bird of a completely different feather, with paddle-like toes instead of webbed feet.

  As a breeding species, it is endangered in New Jersey.

  As the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection link below notes, "Habitat degradation and destruction resulting from the draining, dredging, filling, pollution and siltation of wetlands are the greatest threats facing the pied-billed grebe population in New Jersey."

Courting season at the Celery Farm


   Nothing like yesterday's beautiful sunrise to kick courting season into high gear.

   Besides the screech owl intrigue, I can see all sorts of courting and house-warming activities going on.

   The images below are of:

   * a pair of swans who culd be looking for a place to nest.

   * a pair of house sparrows who have been setting up shop in a little nesting box in my backyard.

   * a pair of mallards who have been hanging out in the backyard. Mallards typically lay eggs somewhere along the stream in the backyard.

  * a pair of mourning of mourning doves acting, well, lovey-dovey.