A Nighthawk at Frank Melville Park

Monday, May 13, 2019,

Four Harbors Audubon Society has monthly bird walks at Frank Melville Memorial Park in Setauket. I attended the most recent walk on this past Saturday. I had arrived a couple hours early in part to see what I could see, but mostly because, well, I really like that park. It’s a great place. As I was wandering around, I met up with a fellow photographer. We were comparing notes and she mentioned that she had seen a Common Nighthawk snoozing away in a nearby tree. These are photographs of that bird.

At the appointed time, I joined the Four Harbors group at the starting point of the walk, which is next to the Setauket Post Office that borders the park. When I saw my friend Luci, who is one of the leaders of our bird walk, I showed her one of the photographs I had taken of the Nighthawk. Here is a bit of our exchange:

Luci asked, “Where did you take this? Was it here? Can you show me where it is?”

I answered, “Yes but then I’ll have to kill you”.  Yeah, I am a wiseguy most of the time.

Luci replied, “You can kill me, but show me the bird first”. Luci can be a wiseguy too.

And that, my friends, is a typical birder for you.

Perhaps, a little explanation is due here. Nighthawks are not just another bird to us at Four Harbors, especially at Frank Melville Park. In 2016, some observers, including celebrated author Carl Safina and two of our board members, Patrice Domeischel and John Turner, noticed a multitude of Nighthawks flying in the skies above the park. They decided to start what became known as the Stone Bridge Nighthawk Watch. You can click on the link for more information. The gist of it is that Four Harbors counts migrating Nighthawks. This is a citizen scientist project and all are welcome and encouraged to join us.

A word of caution concerning this and any other Nighthawks you may see during the day. Nighthawks are crepuscular, which means they are most active at dawn and dusk. They tend to sleep during the day. These birds need their rest so that they can continue their nightly migration. The Nighthawks don’t live here; they’re just passing through and really do need to conserve their energy during the day. So, please, try not to disturb these birds while they sleep. Despite their moniker, Common Nighthawks are in steep decline and are deserving of as much TLC as we can give them.

We’re smack in the middle of migration season for many birds so there is a lot to see during this time of year. During the course of the walk, we saw several species of warblers, a pair of Redstarts, and a bunch of Baltimore Orioles. So many colors and so animated. All of them flitting from tree to tree and branch to branch, flashing their bright yellows, reds, oranges, and blues.

On a day where we saw all of that beauty and action, it was this nondescript lump of a bird that garnered the most attention. Go figure. JK

Veiled Chameleon At Sweetbriar

Monday, May 12, 2014,

And now for something completely different. Kudos to any of you Monty Python fans that actually understand that reference. As for the rest of you, it’s okay. We can still be friends. On that note, I invite everyone to click on these individual pics. In many cases here at Joe Kayaker clicking on a pic brings up a  larger (and hopefully) better shot for you to observe and enjoy. These two pics are prime examples of exactly that. This is one good looking lizard and you should see him in all his glory.

This handsome beast is a Veiled Chameleon. These guys hail from Yemen, which is just below Saudi Arabia. (I had to look that up). This is obviously a personal failing but whenever I think of the Middle East, my brain conjures up desert sands and oil. However, Yemen’s borders include just about as much waterline as it does dry land. Not to mention some mondo good looking reptiles.    

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I came across this guy at Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown, NY. He’s a pet that was ‘donated’ to Sweetbriar after its former owner decided he was more trouble than was expected. This happens all too often in the pet trade. Folks see a sexy, exotic animal and start thinking how cool it might be to have that particular piece of eye candy around. Thoughts concerning the care and requirements of said animal are often secondary. And so it goes. Word is that this particular lizard, as handsome as he is, has a very nasty disposition. That may be why he was discarded. I mean donated. At any rate, he makes for another wonderful critter to see at Sweetbriar. Go check him out if you’re in town. JK   

Two Green Frogs At Avalon

Sunday, June 23, 2013,

I took an early morning hike through Avalon Preserve Friday. It was the first day of summer and truly beautiful. ‘Glorious’ as my friend Sue would say. As soon as I entered through the gate, Catbirds were serenading me. Always a good start to any day. After climbing the stone steps to where the Frog Pond is – that’s what I call it, I don’t know that it has an official name – I found myself being serenaded by an entirely different set of critters.

The banjo twang of the Northern Green Frog my not be as intricate or downright pretty as the melodies of the Gray Catbird, but to me it is no less welcome. When I was growing up, frogs (and toads) were everywhere. Their calls, especially at night, were a natural part of the landscape. The choruses of several species of frogs near any body of fresh water was a given from early spring throughout the entire summer.  But we live in a different world today. Amphibians have been in crisis for over two decades. They have been disappearing worldwide at an alarming rate. Those choruses that have provided the background soundtrack on this planet for over 370 million years are being silenced all too rapidly. These songs were already ancient when the first dinosaurs started showing up, let alone Catbirds. I miss those songs; I miss their sheer abundance. I think the whole planet is a lesser place without them. So when I tell you that I appreciate the song of our local frogs, from the deep bass of Bullfrogs to the high soprano calls of Spring Peepers and all those in between, please note that this is one occasion when I’m not being a wiseguy.

These pics are of two different Northern Green Frogs. As you can see, Green Frog coloration can vary quite a bit even amongst the same population. I took the first shot just after six AM. (I told you I was out early). The second shot was taken just before eight after I had strolled through Avalon’s fields. As always, I was out looking for pics to take. I took well over 500 hundred photographs that morning, capturing shots of several bees, birds, flowers, rabbits, and turtles, but these two pics were my favorites of the day. They were also the most difficult. I really had to stealth both of these guys. Judging their approximate location by their calls is one thing, but actually finding them and getting close enough to grab a shot is another. When I was young, I was very good at finding and catching anything from frogs, snakes, or turtles. It was what we did when we weren’t playing baseball. To be honest, I was much better at catching critters than I was fly balls. It’s nice to know I still have some skills left. I still don’t suggest putting me in center field. JK

Juvenile Common Tern At West Meadow Beach

September 7, 2010,

Juvenile Common Tern

This Common Tern youngster was on an exposed spit of sand at low tide at West Meadow Beach in Setauket. He and several other similarly aged birds were standing around waiting for their parents to bring them breakfast. Today’s youth. None of them want to go out and work for themselves. JK

I like this shot. Call me vain.