What a hoot – Day 13

The ospreys, herring gull, turnstone and swallows could have been in Scotland – even the brood of goosander ducklings and the distant great northern diver could have been Scotland, but these were common merganser ducklings and a common loon. And they were with hooded merganser, spotted sandpiper, ring-billed gull and purple martin so we were in upper New York state getting a few minutes birding in before a day’s work.

I had meetings with quite a few people at the Cornell lab of ornithology and then gave a talk in the evening.  I’m making new friends all the time and strengthening the links with existing ones.  Everybody has been very kind and helpful.

Tom Schulenberg showed me some of the skins in the Cornell collection.  There were extinct Bachman’s warblers, Eskimo curlew and Carolina parakeets.  And I held a passenger pigeon, a male, in my hands for a while.  It was a male shot nearby in the 1890s and was in very fine condition except for having breathed its last breath over a century ago.

This passenger pigeon was a strong-looking bird with that long graduated tail and the iridescent sheen on the side of the neck.    My hands did shake as I held it – it was a moving moment.  As I handed it back to Tom he told me that I should wash my hands as some of these old specimens had been dusted with arsenic.

Then an excellent dinner on Cornell and I gave my talk to a pretty respectably large audience.

It was coming on to rain as my hosts hooted like mad – and any observer would have assessed the behaviour as mad – by the road in the rain.  The target was barred owl.

We saw Virginia opossum snuffling about and fireflies flashing in the trees (I wasn’t expecting fireflies).  We heard a barred owl to end the day – what a hoot!



4 Replies to “What a hoot – Day 13”

  1. Hi Mark – good to catch up with the blog after a few days away from t’internet and know that the trip is going well. Mixed news from the UK – you already know about buzzardgate 2 I see (disgusted email to MP sent in lunchour), spring seemed finally to be turning to summer at the weekend but now appears to have gone straight into autumn.

    Most ash trees are in leaf and there is one in particular on my way to work that looks absolutely stunning – I think it looks even better fully clothed than with bare branches. How many more years will I be able to say that?

    Young starlings must be about because the adults are making that rasping call they make at this time of year (that call also used to mean exams!) – I hope they have a good breeding season. I was rather upset to see a cat kill a recently fledged house sparrow at the weekend despite an absolutely fearless distraction display from the parent, which practically flew in front of the moggie’s nose whilst fledgling sat rather gormlessly in a flower bed having crashed into a wall in it’s attempt to fly. It then cheeped manically from a low branch which distracted moggie for a minute, but moggie was clever and hid under a car and pounced on fledgling a few moments later as it tried to take off again. I swore at the cat but that didn’t help.

    Anyway, sorry to go on … I particularly liked your description of holding the passenger pigeon and of the old trees you’ve seen. The USA has possibly suffered worse than us with tree diseases … let’s hope the starling, house sparrow and ash don’t go the way of the passenger pigeon.

    I know I don’t need to wish you luck with the rest of the trip, but here’s wishing you luck anyway.

    1. Just a bit John, an incredibly impassioned speech and bang on the money.

      P.S, very much enjoying your travel blog Mark.

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