A day at the feeder — sunflower seeds and suet

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The first day of Spring or the last day of winter. A bit of a transition today. The snow fall is wet but steady and although the temperature is above freezing, snow is sticking. I filled our feeder with sunflower seed from Peace Valley Nature Center, and put out a fresh block of suet. Let the birds come.

Thomas Jefferson, Franklin, and other colonial fathers were journal keepers. Jefferson for instance recorded each day’s weather, his garden journals were extremely detailed. Today I decided to record the birds at the feeder. All winter we have had a lot of woodpeckers — Downy, both male and female. The male has a small red spot on his head. Downeys are very similar to Hairy Woodpeckers only smaller — 6 rather than 9 inches. Bigger like the Hairy and more distinctive is the Red-bellied Woodpecker. Red head patch, tan belly and white and black checkered back. As much as I like woodpeckers they are a bit of a nuisance. Lines of small holes on the siding document their attention to our house. Here is a Red-bellied getting its fill of suet.

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Although typically a ground feeder, one female Cardinal decided to try her luck at the feeder. Although the buff colored, red beaked female is not as showy as the red male, I like them. Our most common feeders today and for the past few months are Dark-eyed Juncos (gray backs, white bottoms), House Finches (a touch of red-purple in the males) and American Goldfinches (not as yellow in winter). Black-capped Chickadees (or were they Carolinas) are pretty common. Always enjoy the White-breasted Nuthatch walking and feeding up side down. According to my guide Stokes, this evolutionary development allows them to find food that “right side up” birds like woodpeckers might miss.

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One of my favorites this season has been the Carolina Wrens. A pair of them live close by but I am not sure where. In previous years (I’m sure the same family), they have lived in our shed and the pipes of Jenny’s swing (that was many years ago). But for decades we seem to have always had a family of Wrens. I always called them Jenny Wrens but that may been a homage to my daughter Jenny or to Paul McCartney’s song Jenny Wren.

For a few weeks we have been seeing Yellow-rumpled Warblers. They have splashes of yellow on their rump and on their side. Males have a touch of yellow on the crown. They may have been around for years but it was only a few weeks ago that we identified them in Yardley. Not a life bird however, in 2008 we saw them in Cape May.

The last bird for today is a bit of a guess. Diane and I both think we saw Song Sparrows. It’s a bird we’ve seen on Nantucket but we usually ignore sparrows at home. I wanted to nail down a sighting today but they didn’t return.

Eleven different species at our feeder during this transition day — winter to spring. Still snowing. Transition continues tomorrow.

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Signs of Spring — maybe

Finally got back to walking on the canal this morning. Ice and snow kept me off for a few weeks. In addition to Canaga Geese and Mallard couples, I spotted a single interesting duck. Wasn’t certain of an identification, so I got out my Stokes Field Guide to Birds when I got home.

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It was was a female Common Merganser. My notes recorded sightings in the late 1990s in Yardley.

There have been a lot of ducks on the river the past few days. Despite the scope and new Nikon binoculars, identification form the house was uncertain. So I walked down to the river’s edge and was pleased toidentify a group of male and female Ring Necked Ducks and Buffleheads.

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No question about the identifications. The male Ring Necked had white/light gray sides, black head and back, white band on bill and yellow-orange eye. The female was gray-brown with a white ring on the bill. Their crowns form a bit of a point. According to Stokes they feed on tubers, leaves, seeds and insects. Courtship peaks during Spring migration. I didn’t notice any but copulation is preceded by bill dipping. It was interesting to watch them gather close to a fallen tree but then be swept down river a bit by the swift current.

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The Buffleheads were furthur out in the channel. Very easy to identify the males who have a large white patch at the back of the head. As reported they were diving, looking for small fish, mollusks, snails or acquatic insects. Seems their courtship begins in January accompanied with a high level of aggression. Not of that today.

The Ring Necked Ducks were totally a new sighting for me. A lifetime bird in birding lingo. And although I thought I’d seen Buffleheads, there was no notation in my guidebook until today. So two new birds. Neat.

Diane and I enjoy birding. Hopefully with the weather changing, signs of Spring, we can get out on some birding walks. Of course, more snow is predicted for tomorrow.

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The Man Who Came to Dinner

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We knew that the The Inn at Barley Sheaf was a Bed and Breakfast but only recently learned that they serve dinner and have weekend brunches. What a delightful place for a Sunday brunch. Although the ground was covered with early March snow, the sun was shining and the temperatures were moderate, a beautiful day. I remembered that Barley Sheaf was associated with the New York theatre group that escaped to Bucks in the summers, 1930s through the 1950, but was uncertain who had lived there. The current owner, Mark Frank, filled us in on the history. The original stone house and stone banked barn were constructed in the 1740s. In the 20th century the farm was owned by Juliana Force, the director of the Whitney Museum. In 1936, George S Kaufman and his wife Beatrice purchased the property for $45,000. The Pulitzer Prize-winning NYC playwright called the farm Cherchez La Farm (which some translate as “I can’t find the farm).

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Bucks County was the place to be for NY artists in the 1930s. Not just painters but the theatre types. Oscar Hammerstein settled on Highland Farm in Doylestown. When he wrote the lyrics to Oklahoma’s “Oh What a Beautiful Morning,” he recalled a hot summer morning when “all the cattle are standing like statues” and “the corn was as high as an elephant’s eye.” Hammerstein’s grandson is currently attempting to turn Highland Fram into a theatre and education center but is meeting some local resistance.

Kaufman and Hammerstein weren’t the only artists who retreated to Bucks County. Dorothy Parker, founder of the Algonquin Round Table, Moss Hart, S.J. Perelman, and Pearl Buck spent time in the county. And of course there was Bucks County born James Mitchener. The Bucks County playhouse, New Hope artists colony, charming countryside were all draws.

Kaufman entertained some interesting guests at Barey Sheaf including his associate Moss Hart, Harpo and Susan Marx, Lillian Hellman, and Broadway producer, Max Gordon. His outdoor passion was croquet which sometimes lasted into the night. His comedy “George Washington Slept Here” may have roots in farm renovations and his play with Moss Hart, “The Man Who Came To Dinner” was based on a visit by the theatre critic Alexander Wollcott, who showed up unannounced at Moss Hart’s Solebury home. He proceeded to take over the house and terrorize Hart’s staff. On leaving the next day, Wollcott wrote in the guest book, “This is to certify that I had one of the most unpleasant times I ever spent.” Hart and Kaufman laughed about the visit and joked that Hart was lucky Wollcott didn’t break a leg and get stuck there. And so was born Sheridan Whiteside, the obnoxious critic of “The Man Who Came To Dinner.”

Our brunch at Barley Sheaf was truly delightful. The porch like dining room was sunny, overlooked the pool and snow covered grounds. Deer fed in the distance. We started with a complimentary mimosa (it’s a BYOB). Diane and I both started with a smoked salmon platter. She had Eggs Benedict and I had shrimp grits and a side of sausage. I don’t think I ever had grits (a corn porridge); delicious. Although there were only three shrimp, we were offered a second entry if we were still hungry. It was totally unnecessary; one was filling. After brunch we took a back roads county explore.

That evening (in my think thematic mode), I ordered the 1942 film based on the Hart-Kaufman Broadway play, “The Man Who Came To Dinner.” Like our morning at Barley Sheaf, the film was delightful. Monty Wooley (who was in the play on Broadway) plays Sheridan Whiteside, a NYC critic. He slips on the ice while visiting the Stanleys, a prominent Ohio family. Brought inside a local doctor tells him he needs to rest. Sheridan immediately takes over the entire household, banishing the Stanleys to the back door and second floor. He monopolizes the telephone, making long distance calls to celebrities and world leaders. Sheridan uses threats, intimidation, and an acid-tonged wit to control as he meddles in everyone’s affairs. He is initially supported by his secretary, girl Friday, Maggie (played by Bette Davis) until she falls in love with a local reporter. Sheridan’s antics to break up the relationship drives Maggie to assert her independence. The romp ends and Sheridan is leaving, only he falls again on the Stanley’s steps. Repeat.

I highly recommend Barley Sheaf for brunch. We may go back for dinner this summer. And “The Man Who Came To Dinner,” is a fun 1940s comedy. A Bucks County connection always catches my attention. It would be fun to see a stage revival — where? At the Bucks County playhouse, of course.

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You see but you do not observe

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We just returned from McCarter Theatre’s production of Ken Ludwig’s “Baskerville: a Sherlock Holmes mystery.” It was better than expected, based on an Inquirer review. Yesterday I brought up from the basement, a 20 + year old Josef Seibel shoe box. Stored inside were a deer stalker hat, a Calabash pipe (purchased at the Yardley Friends Flea market and last smoked with Jim McCullough), a large magnifying glass, Sherlock Holmes-Basil Rathbone audio tapes, and index cards and print outs filled with quotes from the Holmes canon. The props and quotes were the basis of a lesson plan comparing detectives and historians that I did for decades in both high school and college classes. If I was in a charged mood, my Holmes impersonation was decent. Tonight I think I will watch a Sherlock Holmes movie. Haven’t decided if it will be Basil Rathbone, Peter Cushing, Jeremy Brett, Robert Downey, or Benedict Cumberbatch.

I enjoy what I call thematic living. When travel, reading, movies and other experiences converge, overlap and connect. As a librarian I totally enjoyed setting up a thematic display. In fact I frequently did Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes. Down from my closet came several boxes of books related to Doyle, Holmes, London, crime and detection. I’ve already mentioned the props I used for class which could become part of the display.

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I guess I read the Sherlock Holmes stories and novels in high school but I think fmy obsession began in the 1970s. At that time I kept on my bed stand a facsimile copy of the Strand magazine Holmes stories. Each was illustrated with the iconic Sidney Paget illustrations — smoking some shag or riding in a train from Charing Cross with Watson. For a decade I was a member of a Baker Street Irregulars group (magazine) and bought any book related to Holmes.

In 1976, Diane and I took my parents to production of “Sherlock Holmes” at the Broadhurst Theatre. A poster from the performce hangs in our laundry room. On the back side of the poster is a NYC Times add for the movie “the Seven Percent Solutionc” Amazing.

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