More Reminiscing


(This 1046th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on April 10, 2011.)


I begin this third decade of "Nature Watch" columns by completing my series of brief excerpts from my earlier writing at about this time of year.


2000. Wood frogs are my favorite amphibians. Tiny brown frogs, they are easily identified by their black mask. You must listen carefully to make out their soft quacking calls that are unlike those of any other frog. The more strident comb-ticking calls of chorus frogs come together to create an almost alarm clock pulsating sound that often overwhelms the wood frogs' soft gurgles and the simple bleeps of another tiny frog, the spring peeper.


2001. Bluebird houses are very simple to construct, requiring only a few boards and fasteners. Box location is most important as bluebirds like broad open areas with short vegetation and available perches. Many bluebird fanciers mount two nestboxes a few yards apart. Tree swallows will usually get to one first. They will not allow another tree swallow to occupy the second box but bluebirds are welcomed.


2002. Admit it, Doris and you other dandelion haters: who among you has not at one time or another enjoyed blowing those delicate parachutes off one of those round seedheads to watch them drift off in the breeze? Or better still, showed a child how to do that and seen the delight and wonderment in that youngster's eyes? And who among you hasn't held one of those gold doubloons under the chin of friends to determine whether or not they like butter?


2003. House mice will indeed eat what we eat but their diet goes well beyond ours to anything organic as well. They prefer grains and seeds but will also eat insects, soap, paper and the hardened glue of bookbindings. Some are even cannibals: I once saw one eating a family member caught in a mousetrap. Worse for us, they strip electrical insulation, creating in the process a serious fire hazard. (Although the insulation is chewed, little of it is digested; most is carried away for nest construction.)


2004. Mike Galas and I spent a morning checking the Lake Ontario shore east from Fort Niagara. We found flocks of passerines - mostly robins, jays, starlings and blackbirds - moving overhead, resting in trees or feeding in fields. Occasionally a hawk would dash in and make a pass at one of them. Along hedgerows we also found chickadees, tree and white-throated sparrows. We missed other early migrants like phoebes, sapsuckers, bluebirds, kinglets, brown creepers and hermit thrushes. They'll be along soon.


2005. If you're a beginning birder, I suggest that you participate in the Iroquois Observations program. This is a program at the Refuge specifically designed to help beginners get started. You need no equipment whatsoever to participate - they'll supply what you need - and the leaders are excellent.


2006. Sailing overhead the turkey vulture is, I believe, among the most attractive of birds. Yet up close there is a striking contrast. Now these are surely among the ugliest. Their heads are bare of feathers and colored the red of the raw meat to which they are attracted. And in front of this is a cruel beak.


2007. Our delightful chipping sparrows are back. I hear their cheerful chattering calls when I walk to the local grocery store. Sometimes they sing from the ground but equally often from treetops, especially from the tops of spruces. They have a bright rufous cap over a white eyeline.


2008. The 156-foot tulip tree in Zoar Valley is not only the tallest of its species in New York State but also our second tallest tree. (The tallest is a 158-foot white pine in the Adirondacks.) The tulip tree reminded me of our lost colleague and friend, Bruce Kershner, who, among his many contributions to natural history and conservation, headed up the group that sought out these old-growth trees.


2009. An inch-long arthropod dashed out of sight in our basement. It is called a centipede, but it has only 15 pairs of legs. Even together with its two longer antennae that only adds to 32 appendages.


2010. A still all-gray horned grebe came close to the Lake Ontario shore: within weeks this species will molt into its beautiful chestnut, black and gold breeding plumage.-- Gerry Rising