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• Sunday, January 06th, 2013

Christmas came early this year to the Newitt household. I have been enjoying the visitors to my bird feeders since mid October, but while my husband and I were having coffee on the screened porch one late fall morning, we were treated to a gift from the north. No not Santa, yet. While watching the goldfinches gorge themselves on the sunflower seeds, a Red-breasted Nuthatch flew in and grabbed a seed, then flew off. We followed his comings and goings for several minutes. Each time he’d fly in, grab a seed, then fly off to a nearby perch. Quite a treat for the bird and us.
The next day, as we watched several American Goldfinches feeding, we noticed two other birds on the ground that were much larger than the finches. After closer inspection and a retrieval of the binoculars, we realized they were Evening Grosbeaks. Then the grosbeaks were joined by about 30 Pine Siskins. Wow, what a show. It was quite a party!
It seems last summers drought caused a massive failure for the pine cone production. This failure forced some northern birds to migrate further south. It is a rare treat for us “southerners” since these birds aren’t seen here every year; only when conditions merit them to move south.
Pine Siskins look very much like the winter plumage goldfinches, but they have heavy streaking on their breast. Red-breasted nuthatches are small inquisitive birds with black and white stripes on their head and a reddish hue on their, you guessed it, breast. The evening grosbeaks haven’t been seen in Bucks County in 10 years, and though it wasn’t confirmed by an expert, my husband and I feel confident that’s what they were. They have been recorded close by, so it isn’t just grandstanding. Keep an eye out!

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• Monday, October 08th, 2012

Early fall nights can be quite noisy, with the last of the katydids and crickets singing to each other before the weather turns cool. I love to drift off to sleep to these monotone conversations. The other night though, I was awakened by a God awful sound that roused me from slumber as a mother would leap out of bed when her child calls out in pain. In those first disorienting seconds, when your mind races to identify the sound, determining if it is a dream or real, if it is in the house or out, and whether you need to call the police or just look outside, I sat up in bed, heart racing, breathing hard and feeling the sweat roll down my back. What the heck is that?????

This sound, not quite a yelp, not a scream and not a cry, but a combination of all three was coming from right under my bedroom window. It is a terrible sound of a baby being strangled, (or so I’d imagine that sound to be). It is a gut wrenching, maternal nightmare of a cry.

In those few seconds from sleep to wakefulness, I run through the rollerdex of my brain, (yes, I am that old!), ticking off the possible nocturnal auditory insults that it could be. Dismissing each as they come to mind: owl, no, bat, no, raccoon, no, opossum, no. Fox, yes. Somewhere from the back corners of my sleepy mind, I remember hearing this dreadful sound. It was a red fox.

Mind you, this all is taking place in about 5 seconds as I listen to what sounds like cries of pain. A red fox had parked itself under our front bedroom window, barking and yelping at what I can only guess was our neighbors cat. I’m not sure if this was a standoff, if the fox was warning or he was just happy to be out and about, but this little critter was vocal in his intent, even if I didn’t know what his intentions were.

Red foxes are found throughout the northern hemisphere and have adapted well to human encroachment. Despite their name, red foxes come in a variety of colors from black, to gray to albino white, in addition to the most common orange-red. Though considered nocturnal, red foxes may be seen during the day, especially when the vixen is with pups and more food is required. Outdoor house cats are not much smaller than red foxes, but can become prey for a hungry vixen; yet another good reason to keep your cats indoors where they belong.

Red foxes vocalize for a number of reasons. Males and females call to each other during courtship or vixens will call to her kits (pups). Males call to establish territory and they call when there is a threat. It may take you a few sleepy seconds to run through your rollerdex if it wakes you from slumber, but once you hear the guttural cries, you’ll never forget the sound.

Category: Uncategorized  | One Comment
• Tuesday, May 05th, 2009

“At a time when climate change and urbanization are poised to set off a new wave of extinction, some members of the scientific community are turning toward backyard biologists for the data they need to monitor ecosystems and protect struggling species.” Read more.