2021's 100 Creature Challenge

Part blog, Part species-identification


Friday, June 11

What an interesting progression back into some kind of normal. Went on a lot of bike rides in the past week.

Here's what I saw:

60. Common snapping turtles, chelydra serpentina,
some giant ones that were the size of tires and one that had a shell not much bigger than a quarter. All of them look like they just stepped out of the Cretaceous to take one of your fingers off. I try not to get near them because they can be dicks.

61. Box turtles, terrapene carolina,
some hanging out on the side of the canal and many on rocks and tree branches in the water. They have neatly patterned shells with orange and yellow highlights.

62. Eastern wild turkeys, meleagris gallopavo,
a female hen with a baby! Just wandering through some tall grass.

63. Eastern kingbird, tyrannus tyrannus,
a flycatcher I would have mistaken for a catbird in the past had I not been regularly reviewing birds on Merlin Bird ID. Yeah I'm a shill for the Cornell Orinthology Lab, you got me.

64. Fisher, pekania pennanti,
the cutest ferret-looking dark weasel. He crossed the trail in front of me and went into the canal. I stopped on the bank and looked down and there he was, his little face just looking up at me like ! and then he went under and presuambly swam away because I didn't see him again. Extremely adorable killers.

I am Tired. That's all.

Friday, May 14

This is an overview of new birds I saw--many for the first time!--from last weekend at an amazingly picturesque cabin. I'm going to start to mark brand-new sightings with an asterisk.

Here's what I saw:

50. Wood thrush*, hylocichla mustelina,
with spotted bellies and brown bodies. Initially I was unsure if I'd be able to distinguish it from an ovenbird or other spotty brown birds, but no worries.

51. Black-throated blue warbler*, setophaga caerulescens,
extemely unique-looking little guys. Had never even heard of them before and saw a bunch.

52. Gray catbird, dumetella carolinensis,
named for their feline-like cries. They're back for the season and are everywhere until fall.

53. Baltimore oriole, icterus galbula,
which I've only seen fleetingly previously. This was the first time I was able to observe and listen to several of them--they make a sound similar to mourning doves, which I didn't know--and it's just neat to see a bright orange bird.

54. House wren, troglodytes aedon,
looking like puffy golf balls with tails. This one had nesting material in its beak.

55. Common yellowthroat*, geothlypis trichas,
the bandits of the treetops! They have little black masks over their beaks and eyes and (obviously) yellow throats and will STEAL YOUR HEART because they're so cute.

56. Yellow warbler*, setophaga petechia,
which flash yellow as they fly and magically disappear into the foliage the minute they land on a tree branch. Aptly named, as they are the definition of yellow.

57. Eastern towhee*, pipilo erythrophthalmus,
some of which have red eyes, which is badass. They also make a funky rhythmic call.

58. Cedar waxwings, bombycilla cedrorum,
slick-looking birds with black masks and tan bodies, with some red and yellow feathering on the wings. Again I thought one was a mourning dove but because of its coloring--when I looked with my binoculars, I saw I was wrong.

59. Chipmunks, tamias,
one of which was not afraid of me and let me get a nice picture of him.

Really blew by the halfway point here thanks to warblers! Hopefully I'll keep seeing enough new guys to round out the next half--this weekend was also filled with robins, cardinals, vultures, phoebes, sparrows, and plenty of other birds I've already documented here. My brother also swore up and down he saw an indigo bunting but later retracted this when we saw bluebirds in the area. Maybe though! Also the other day I had my first GOOSE ATTACK! It hissed like usual as I approached (slowly and ringing my bell) but then BOOF it came at me flapping and biting and throwing its dumb goose body at me. I yelled "HEY!" and just kept riding and it stayed back with its babies. There was a guy working on the railroad tracks nearby that probably saw, or at least heard me yell, and then heard me laughing like a fucking weirdo. Anyway tootles!

Monday, May 3

It's funny how sometimes I'll get in a bike ride at the canal before work and sometimes it's completely uneventful and other times it's weird as hell or exciting as shit. Today was the latter.

Here's what I saw:

48. North American beaver, castor canadensis,
swimming in the canal. I shit you not when I tell you that I flipped the fuck out--I've said this before but I spent a good portion of my childhood and teenagedom running around the woods and I've never in my life seen a beaver in the wild. And here this guy was, just blissfully swimming in circles until I got too close and he smacked his tail on the water so hard it cracked like a whip and he dove under. May have been late to work because I spent so much time watching him.

49. Green heron, butorides virescens,
dudes who look like they are sneaky shits who would definitely shake your hand and steal your watch without you knowing. A lovely, goofy, welcome harbinger of spring/summer.

What an awesome morning. Saw a unique-looking mallard hybrid as well. Also the Canada geese have their adorable yellow babies out now and are extra hiss-y but I just ring my bell and ride on by. I'm not trying to hurt your babies, okay--share the trail, man! Exciting shit, I'll tell ya. Really good day.

Sunday, May 2

First decent hike of the season with my amazing wife. Got in a bit over five miles of some good trekking--some light scrabbling down a mountain, a lovely picturesque straightaway by a creek, and a switchback trail back up. What truly stuck me about this trail is the silence. Normally--even on the Appalachian Trail--there's ambient noise of not-far highways or other hikers. We probably saw fewer than 10 people the entire three hours, which is also a bonus, even in not-covid times.

Here's what we saw:

43. Black and white warblers, mniotilta varia,
tiny little zebra-looking chatty guys part of the spring warbler invasion. First time ever seeing one. They behave much like nutchatches, which is initially what I thought it was.

44. Blackburnian warbler, setophaga fusca,
small, orange-faced birds with black winged eyeliner (WINGED eyeliner! on a BIRD!). The funny thing about warblers I learned is that a lot of their flashier colors don't appear to the naked eye, but once I viewed this one through my binoculars, it was obvious how colorful it was.

45. Chipping sparrow, spizella passerina,
who let me get close enough to it to differentiate it between other sparrows.

46. Belted kingfisher, megaceryle alcyon,
whose creaky-door sounding call I initally pegged as a woodpecker's until he swooped down next to us toward the creek. Been on the lookout for one of these guys since I saw one down at the canal last year and although I didn't get to observe it with binoculars, it was a very satisfying catch.

47. Northern waterthrush, parkesia noveboracensis,
seen on a rock in the middle of the creek as we tried to follow the Kingfisher. Neat matte gray birds with white stripes on their faces.

This was totally an awesome day of a lot of first sights. And it was the first time I've had to opportunity to properly appreciate the amount of small warblers that move in during this time of year. Also it easily one of the best trails I've ever hiked in terms of strenuousness but also moments for relief and observation through different kinds of woodland environments. Really, really solid, incredible day.

Friday, April 30

Wow, the last day of April. Time has lost all meaning, except that on some days I go to work and that this time of year means I can wake up at 6am and it's not dark. It also means I can hit the trail and say good morning to my fellow early birds.

Here's what I saw:

41. Blue jays, cyanocitta cristata,
pretty corvids I do not take enough time to appreciate. Known assholes.

42. American goldfinch, spinus tristis,
who are small, yellow cheery-looking dudes.

I might've also seen some warblers because the small, yellow bird crowd was out in full-force but they move so fast it's hard to identify them (excluding the goldfinch, who let me watch him for a minute). It was also a good morning for mallards, geese, mergansers, a male wood duck, and a really neat looking mallard hybrid that I'm pretty sure I've seen down there before. Bad morning for anything not tied down because it's SO WINDY.

Monday, April 26

Went to a new part of the bike trail along the old canal, more northernly and mountain-y than I usually ride. Truly gorgeous. The canal was dug in the 1830s to ferry anthracite coal from the mountainous regions of the state down to the industrialized cities; the rivers were too shallow for the heavy coal barges, so engineers developed a system of "locks" to raise and lower the water levels to carry shipments between elevations. Mules pulled the barges from a towpath alongside the canal, which has now been converted into a 165-mile stretch of path for walking, biking, and other outdoor activities. It's a neat piece of history and something I'm fortunate to be able to enjoy. It's also a prime example of how quickly new technology can displace old--the canal system was only in use for 30-40 years before railroads railroaded it into oblivion. Thanks, Conductor Zuckerberg.

Here's what I saw:

38. Eastern phoebe, sayornis phoebe,
who yell their names Pokemon-style through the woods: "fee-bee!" Very similar looking to Juncos.

39. Common starling, sturnus vulgaris,
with short tails and cool iridiscent feathers that look like they've been sprinkled with sesame seeds. At certain times of the year these dudes move in huge flocks, diving and dipping altogether and it's honestly impressive and kind of freaky.

40. Eastern hognose snake, heterodon platirhinos,
hanging out in the middle of the trail, getting some sun. Moved him so he wouldn't get run over and he hissed a lot. Despite growing up as a woodland child, I can't remember ever seeing this kind of snake before. Cool as hell.

Also saw another pileated woodpecker! Can't believe I've seen them twice in one month now, having gone 30 years without ever seeing one before. Seems like spring is warbler season up that part of the trail so I'm gonna have to keep an eye out for little yellow dudes now too, because hell yeah I'm gonna go back there soon.

Sunday, April 25

These were from a weekend of being outside. Spent some time stomping around in a wooded swamp that was left over from a glacier receding during the last ice age 11,000 years ago. I found some signs of beaver activity--they left the coolest comically-chewed trees--but I didn't actually see them. Heard some Eastern Phoebes but didn't see them either.

Here's what I saw:

36. Osprey, pandion haliaetus,
flying over a lake and landing in a prime spot for observation. They have white underbellies and black wings so they look like little penguins sitting in a tree. I watched this guy for a few minutes and while I could tell it was a raptor, I just knew it wasn't a hawk, and something told me to keep my eyes on it. It's cool to follow those instincts and be rewarded for it with a sighting of something you've never seen before.

37. American kestrel, falco sparverius,
also known as the Sparrow Hawk because of their small stature. Two of them were flying and fighting (or fucking??) in the woods, and s c r e a m i n g about it. Fun to see.

38. White-tailed deer, odocoileus virginianus,
a whole family of five wandering through the woods. They've still got their winter coats on which I gotta say make them look ratty as hell.

I'm also getting better at identifying bird calls, which sort of feels like a magic trick. Tomorrow I'm taking a bike ride north so maybe I'll see some new dudes. Even if I don't, it's nice to better get to know the area I live in and see it from a different perspective. Thanks for reading.

Friday, April 9 & Saturday, April 10

Biking Friday, walk outside Saturday.

Here's what I saw:

31. Green-winged teal, anas carolinensis,
swimming near a fisherman who definitely thought I was a freak for jumping off my bike and running up the wooden bridge over the canal to get a better look at a duck I was sure wasn't a mallard. Joke's on you, fish-man--it wasn't. Also congrats on catching a fish.

32. Double-crested cormorant, phalacrocorax auritus,
big dudes with long necks, orange faces, and creepy blue eyes. Never seen them on the river before, which was cool!

33. Red-winged blackbirds, agelaius phoeniceus,
back for spring to yell and yell and yell and hang out in swampy ponds. Males look matte black in the sun.

34. Northern flickers, colaptes auratus,
which have mustaches! Sort of--the coloration gives the males a black mustache. Otherwise these are really neat looking birds and one of the first ones I worked hard to identify, chasing them on my bike for months before I got a good look at one (before I even had binoculars!). They're very meaningful to me.

35. Carp, cyprinus carpio,
HUGE and at least TWO of these massive suckers in a TINY pond. Like so small! Is one of them afraid to leave for a larger pond in the big city? Maybe they won't be so locally famous for being fucking enormous anymore? Will they start to look into mirrors and wonder, "who is that? What part of myself did I lose by coming here? Did I compromise my morals and sense of self for a selfish shot at fame when I should have stayed home to take care of my ailing grandmother, who's now passed? Did I throw away what I had in my small town only to fail here and now can't go home and face my family and friends who told me this would happen? Will Trevor ever text me back and is my landlord ever going to fix that leaky faucet in the bathroom? Oh god is that scratching sound in the walls or in my head?" Idk who knows what fish think.

L8r sk8rs

Saturday, April 3

Went to a heavily wooded reservior in New Jersey that is definitely where the Jersey Devil lives. There's a 6-8 mile loop around it and everything echoes because of the water and the lack of vegetation on the trees, which makes the whole thing eerie as all hell. I loved it. Plus I actually got to see a bald eagle's nest and grab some wood to try whittling.

Here's what I saw:

21. Black-capped chickadees, poecile atricapillus,
peeping and looking adorable, as usual.

22. Tufted titmouse, baeolophus bicolor,
a wonderfully named bird that always looks like it's freaking the fuck out.

23. White-breasted nuthatch, sitta carolinensis,
going up and down trees.

24. Pileated woodpecker, dryocopus pileatus,
which was HUGE. This was the first time I've seen one. They're as big as my forearm and smack their heads into trees with a dramatic ferocity you'd only use if you weren't worried about your frontal lobe. Incredibly cool.

25. Red-tailed hawk, buteo jamaicensis,
hanging out in a tree and flying around.

26. Tree swallows, tachycineta bicolor,
awesome little dudes with white bellies and a purple-blue iridescence that catches in the sun. They're back for spring! And they're one of the first birds I was ever able to identify with my field guide.

27. Buffleheads, bucephala albeola,
which is an excellent name, though it does seem like the plural should be "buffleshead" because somehow that seems correct. They're a duck I've never seen before so I was stoked. The males and females are very distinctive--this seems common in ducks?--and I was fortunate to see both.

28. Common loon, gavia immer,
also which I'd never seen before. On a cold-ass windy line of rocks on the outskirts of the reservior I spotted something on its own floating out in the water. I spent maybe twenty minutes watching it. It kept diving and I kept losing it, and again, it was cold as hell, but each time I'd go to move on I'd spot it again. This was also the first time I steadied myself on the ground to get a good look at a bird--whatever, okay, I saw a fucking loon, man!

29. Dark-eyed juncos, junco hyemalis,
only in one part of the woods. They're winter birds here so it might be the last time I see them for the season.

30. Brown-headed cowbirds, molothrus ater,
which literally look like you popped the head off of a brown bird and put it on the body of a black bird. Also they steal other birds' nests to lay their eggs in instead of making their own and I gotta say, that's some "work smarter not harder" shit I can respect.

FINE, it's a bird log.

Friday, March 26

Finally the snow has melted and it's warm enough for long bike rides, a good audiobook, and some birdwatching. I hit the trail this morning.

Here's what I saw:

13. Mallards, anas platyrhynchos,
who are always around, munching and quacking and putting their entire asses in the air as their dive for food.

14. Common merganser, mergus merganser,
a duck that's distinctive from mallards with a large, flatter white body. Males have green heads like mallards, but their beaks are differently colored and longer. This was the first time I've ever seen one and I freaked out a bit.

15. Great blue heron, ardea herodias,
which are definitive proof that birds are dinosaurs.

16. Wood ducks, aix sponsa,
flying around and making calls I've not heard before. The males are really interesting looking and have red eyes.

17. Northern cardinals, cardinalis cardinalis,
singing their spring songs now, which sound like they're having a laser gun fight: "pew pew pew."

18. Red-bellied woodpeckers, melanerpes carolinus,
unfortunately and stupidly named due to their lack of red bellies. But they have sick red mohawks.

19. American robins, turdus migratorius,
ha ha, a migrating turd. Despite their appearance signaling the return of spring, not all robins migrate for the winter. Stay tuned for more bird facts.

20. White-throated sparrow, zonotrichia albicollis,
identifiable by the yellow streaks just off their beaks. This is nice because otherwise all sparrows fall into "small, brown stripes" category and I can't distinguish between them.

This is turning into less of a species tracker and more of a bird log and you know what, that's on me, my bad.

Sunday, February 21

Went down to the trail along the river and its now-defunct canal to crunch through the snow and take a walk. It's where I usually ride my bike so I know it pretty well, but seeing it in the winter is a whole other landscape--my bike is not equipped to ride through snow, so it's been a couple of months since I've seen it totally bare. It's gorgeous.

Here's what I saw:

10. Brown creeper, certhia americana,
which look a bit like and behave a lot like Nuthatches.
Despite the name, they're adorable.

11. Greater White-Fronted Goose, anser albifrons,
in the street which a couple of the next guys, one of which came up to the car because I stopped to take a picture of it.

12. Snow Geese, chen caerulescens
These are incredible to see flying in enormous flocks or hanging out at ponds.

Winter brings a lot of different migrating waterfowl to this area, and I also saw a cool hybrid goose which occur due to interbreeding (this happens with ducks as well). There were a lot of deer and rabbit tracks, and we heard plenty more birds--a Northern Flicker, Black-Capped Chickadees, a Tufted Titmouse, and most frustratingly, an Kingfisher that I practically went into the river to try to get a look at. The cool thing about winter is that there's a lot more to see without leaves in the way, but the uncool thing is that there's a lot more places for birds to camouflage in them. Well, it's probably cool for the birds.

Saturday, January 23

A cold as fuck, windy-ass day to top off a pretty stressful week.
I bundled up and went on a walk with my family at at local park/arboretum.

Here's what I saw:

7. Canadian Geese, branta canadensis,
which usually hiss at me as I ride my bike by them down at the canal.
I wave to them because damn it I refuse to be intimitated.

8. Bluebirds, sialia sialis,
plump little dudes hanging out and peeping away in trees around a pond.

9. A Bald Eagle, haliaeetus leucocephalus,
soaring in the sky above us. Thanks, Joe Biden.

Tuesday, January 19

Me, Emma, Chipper. A walk. 3:30pm.

Here's what I saw:

4. A Cooper's Hawk, accipiter cooperii
hanging out on posts between my neighbors' houses

5. House finches, passer domesticus,
which are plentiful but not native to this region--actually became introduced from Europe due to an illegal pet trade in 1920s New York City. When authorities started to crack down, vendors simply let them out their windows, and they've thrived in North America ever since.

6. American crows, zenaida macroura
loud and proud, which is probably why they're American.

Sunday, January 17

Today was my first day allowed out of isolation.
Chipper and I went for a walk and took stock of who's taken down their Trump flags in the neighborhood in the wake of the coup attempt and also noted who's still flying their "Don't Tread on Me"s and their Thin Blue Lines and the one with the AK-47 on it that says "Come and Take Them"--which actually sounds very inviting and not at all threatening when you think about it.

Here's what I saw:

1. My dog, canis lupus familiaris,

2. Gray squirrels, sciurus carolinensis
some chittering and yelling at us from trees for existing.

3. Mourning doves, zenaida macroura
who like to play chicken when you're driving toward them