Today is Thanksgiving, the perfect time to pause for a few moments — preferably in a favorite park or natural area — and celebrate nature's blessings.
Since this is a column about birds, I'll focus on a few avian reasons to be thankful (except for the birds that currently find themselves on the wrong end of a carving knife).
In fact, there is so much good news out there that I am starting to take for granted a few things that I would not have believed possible a few years ago.
Most notable is the incredible comeback of the bald eagle in North Jersey. Four decades ago, all of New Jersey was home to just one nesting pair. In 2011, this region alone was home to three nests that come to mind immediately.
In recent weeks, I have seen bald eagles all over: in Carlstadt, Lyndhurst, Allendale, Secaucus, Alpine, Oradell, even along the Garden State Parkway just north of Atlantic City.
What's more, local hawk counts have been tallying high numbers of migrating bald eagles the past few years. As of last week, for example, Montclair had counted 123 bald eagles so far this fall, a bit behind last year but nearly double the 2009 total of "just" 66. Mount Peter in nearby New York State had 70, 19 behind last year's count but far ahead of the 40 in 2009.
We are not talking about just any old seed-eater here. We are talking about the symbol of this nation, and the most awe-inspiring bird in all of North America.
Add this to such other long-term good news as the rebound of peregrine falcons, ospreys and Cooper's hawks — other raptors at the top of the food chain — and you can't help but feel optimistic.
I also celebrate the real-life version of the empty-nest syndrome. As I walk around my back yard or favorite walking paths these days, I am intrigued by the orioles' and robins' nests that have become visible now that so many trees have shed their leaves.
Last week, I discovered a strange snaggle of vines atop a sapling no more than 20 yards from my living-room window. A bird family had been my neighbors for at least part of the summer, and I never knew they were there. What species of birds were they? Was the nest successful? I smile at the thought that they lived so close by, hidden in plain sight.
On this day, rather than mourn the open space lost to development over the years, I celebrate the open space that has been saved through New Jersey's Green Acres Program and through the foresight and determination of individuals who love wildlife and elbow room.
On this day, rather than lament the thoughtless folks who litter, refuse to clean up after their dogs or flick their cigarette butts wherever they please, I celebrate all the folks who groom trails, plant native plants, or put out bird feeders just to make this neck of the woods a little more nature-friendly.
On this day, above all, I celebrate nature's abundance — not the food on our tables, but the feathered creatures large and small that we share our small part of the planet with. After all these years, I remain amazed at the world around me.
As David Sibley writes in his preface to "The Sibley Guide to Birds," "I still learn new things every time I go birding, and I am certain that the opportunities for learning will never end."