Save the Best for Last


My wife, the Beautiful AP, and I went bird watching recently at the Jamaica Wildlife Refuge in Howard Beach, Queens, New York. This is my favorite place to go for the variety of birds, and for everything else—the marsh, the lakes, the ponds, the bay, the paths, the forest and the magnificent vistas.

You are in beautiful nature yet, through your binoculars off in the distance, you can see the skyline of Manhattan, which is always a spectacular sight. And since this refuge is quite close to Kennedy Airport you get to see hundreds of planes flying into the sky—mankind’s successful attempt to mimic the birds of the air.

Having gotten out of a 10-day post-New Year’s single-digit deep freeze, it was a relief to escape into 40-degree weather, although along the ocean and wetlands, it was still cold and windy.

We had to sneak into the park; it was closed because of the Federal government’s shutdown. We did a two mile walk on the main path; on our left the salt quarter-frozen bay and on the right the completely frozen freshwater lake.

About a hundred feet into the walk we encountered a young female photographer who was sitting on a bench looking at the bay on the opposite side of which is Far Rockaway.

“Any luck?” asked AP.

“Nothing except some flitters that are too fast to photograph,. They zip into the bushes and vanish,” she said. “Nothing is standing still today. There just isn’t really much to see.”

“Well, good luck,” I said as we walked on.

When we hit the area that had no bushes or trees on either side of the path, the wind whipped us. “So much ice,” said AP, looking over the bay.

“Nothing out there,” I said. Just then high overhead a small flock of Canada geese sailed over our heads. “I wouldn’t want to be a Canada goose,” I said. “Nobody seems to like them.”

“Do you like them?” asked AP.

“Not after stepping in their shit all these years,” I said.

“Remember the ones that were so aggressive at Hall’s Pond? If you didn’t give them something to eat, they attacked you.”

“Even if you fed them,” I said. “They still bit you.”

So we kept walking the path, stopping occasionally to look through our binoculars to see if there was anything to see. There wasn’t. The Manhattan skyline looked great as did the planes soaring into the air, but that was about it.

“Maybe we will see something in the second half of the walk,” said the Beautiful AP. “Maybe the second half will be good.”

“The second half of life’s been good,” I said.

“My first half wasn’t so hot,” said AP.

Indeed, AP’s first 29 years saw her more like a deer caught in a car’s headlights on the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey. She titled her parents’ marriage “Ozzie and Harriet in the Twilight Zone.”

“I was in the Twilight Zone with them,” she said. “It was a middle-class suburban family in chaos.”

“I had wild ups and downs in my first half of life. I certainly disappointed my father,” I said.

“You didn’t become a major league baseball player,” said AP.

I laughed, “I didn’t become the next Joe DiMaggio. I was nowhere near as good as you had to be to become a professional player, even a minor leaguer. So I didn’t get the fame he wanted for me. I petered out. And then a bad marriage, divorce and damn it wasn’t exactly turning out like It’s a Wonderful Life.”

“If we hadn’t met each other I sometimes wonder if I would ever have left Twilight Zone,” she said.

“Without your support I would never have become a well-known writer,” I said.

“The second half has been the best,” said AP.

“Agreed,” I said. “I’ve always felt bad for the people who look over their early years, say in high school or even in college, and reminisce as if these were the best years of their lives. It is sad that the right now is not their best times.”

“I have no nostalgia about those years. I’d never go back,” said AP.

“Me too. Just as we wouldn’t go back from where we came from on this walk, other than a flock of Canada geese, not a bird in sight, I prefer moving ahead. ‘Let the dead past bury its dead,’ as someone famous once said.”

“So let’s move on with the future of this walk,” said the Beautiful AP.

Right then a sparrow landed on the path in front of us. Our first non-goose! AP focused her camera but the sparrow scooted into the bushes before she could take a picture. The sparrow was not the last. We took a couple of steps and two unidentifiable black birds zipped over our heads. At least they were birds!

At the tail end of our walk all hell broke loose! Or maybe you could say that the heavens’ opened. Suddenly there were a half dozen different birds flying overhead, landing in the denuded trees, walking on the snow on the path searching for water and seeds, and some just stood on the side of the path looking at us. AP took dozens of photos. A couple came over and both the husband and the wife exclaimed, “Look at all the cedar waxwings!”

These birds are small and look like miniature cardinals. They were not skittish and the Beautiful AP got dozens of pictures of them. There were cardinals and robins and sparrows and gulls and, yes, flying overhead and honking like crazy were those Canada Geese. There were some other birds too—I just don’t what kind. It was, I kid you not, like being in an aviary.

When we finished, we snuck out of the Refuge and walked  to the car.  AP summed up our lives and this bird walk stating, “The second half was so much better!”

Frank’s latest books are Confessions of a Wayward Catholic!; I Am a Dice Controller: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Craps, and I Am a Card Counter: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Blackjack. Available from, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.

The Pursuit of the Puffin

On a recent cruise in the North Atlantic ( my wife the Beautiful AP and I wanted to see the huge puffin colony on the Faroe Islands. Supposedly there are millions of puffin nests scattered throughout the islands on the sides of the monstrous mountains jutting out over the sea.

These little birds are beautiful with comical characteristics, including large, colorful beaks. Puffins are generally monogamous birds and build their nests on the sides of the giant mountains.

Puffins make up some of the diet of the Faroe Islanders and Icelanders. I wonder if they taste as good as they look?

“Oh, you probably won’t see many puffins today,” said the receptionist at the hotel where we were meeting our driver and tour guide Thordeval. “The weather is really bad and you are getting a somewhat late start. It is a long drive to that side of the island. You might not see a single one.”

“I thought there were millions of these birds on these islands,” I said.

“Yes, but this weather is not conducive to flying about.” She probably saw the defeated look on my face. “But you might see some, maybe, you know, you might see some.”

The word puffin means “little brother” as some religious folks saw the bird’s black and white colors as similar to monastic robes. Of course, that didn’t stop the islanders from eating these pretty little birds.

Thordeval came by in his taxi and we introduced ourselves. The day before this puffin adventure, the Beautiful AP and I had decided to forgo the bus trips that the cruise line sets up in favor of hiring our own guide. These bus trips had been harrowing, but most were also dull, so we jettisoned them. We wanted to see what we wanted to see in the time we had to see them.

Thordeval shook his head as the wind and rain pelted us as we entered his car. “Not the best weather,” he said. “Those birds may be hiding in their nests.”

“Well,” said AP. “Let’s give it a try.”

It was an hour’s drive to the side of the island inhabited by the puffins; a drive often through long tunnels in the mountains. The drive was beautiful and Thordeval explained how the sheep and fishing industries worked. The mountain sides were littered with sheep.

“Who owns these sheep?” asked AP. “There don’t seem to be any farmhouses nearby.”

“All different farmers own them,” said Thordeval. “They bring the sheep to these grazing areas and they are all mixed together.”

“But when winter comes, how do farmers know which sheep are theirs?” I asked.

“They are branded on the ears just in case the dogs usher the sheep to the wrong farmer,” said Thordeval. “Each farmer’s dogs know their sheep and they herd them in winter to that farmer.”

Keep in mind that winter can be dark up to 24 hours a day. Right now we were in July and it was light except for two hours of “dusk.” I couldn’t see spending almost an entire day in darkness. (See the great horror movie 30 Days of Night.)

Thordeval also explained that there was no crime on the island; at the worst, the police have to occasionally deal with fights between lads who have drunk too much in the pubs. “There aren’t many fights either.”

The Faroe Islands have no squirrels either. Or snakes. My backyard seems to have more dangerous animals than exist on these islands.

Thordeval, like many other islanders, loves where he lives. At one point, he tried living in Denmark, but lasted only six months and then returned home. Many of his schoolmates had the same experience.

At times the rain and wind were ferocious on the coastline. The only birds we saw were numerous varieties of gulls flying and soaring about. The scenery was beautiful even in the on-again, off-again rain.

The rain let up as we arrived in puffin territory. We walked down a slippery mountain path; around a small herd of rams, and we checked the sides of the mountains but saw no puffins. We saw more waterfalls and beautiful vistas of mountains and ocean and the ubiquitous gulls.

Suddenly Thordeval pointed to a spot just below us, maybe about 10 feet down. “There are two!”

And there were two, looking out of their nest. Then they left their nest. What beautiful birds! What comical birds! Oh my God, they just kissed and put their necks around each other. And, and, they were looking right at us. They did not seem afraid of us at all. Maybe these two weren’t aware that they could (someday) be a dinner for someone.

AP spent time cooing as she watched them through her binoculars. She took dozens of photographs with her phone. “I don’t think these are going to come out too clear. I wish I had my camera!” Since we always travel with carry-on and never check luggage, AP had decided to leave the camera home. Maybe we could get one good “phone” picture.

We watched these two birds for a good 20 minutes. They watched us too. Finally they went back into their nest; the rain picked up just then, and we headed back up the path, past the rams, and to Thordeval’s car.

A third puffin zipped by, his wings beating so fast he could have been a colossal hummingbird.

On the way back we toured Torshavn National Museum.

Thanks to Thordeval and a happily married pair of puffins, AP and I were very satisfied with our day in the Faroe Islands.




An Old Hand at Birding

I face the abyss. I am about to turn 70. How is that possible? 70. Seventy?

I would be lying if I said 70 is just a number – it is a number, but one with great meaning; I am at the end lap of life’s race. I can’t pretend that is not so. 70! Time has sped up so that a blink now seems to be the time a year takes, yet I am somewhat slowed. I experience faster and slower simultaneously. I do not put in eight to 10 hours of writing work a day; I am down to three or four.

I still feel I haven’t done all of the things I want to do and I do worry I will not have the time to do them.

The abyss is opening. I see its edges not so far away.

These thoughts weighed heavily on me as my wife the Beautiful AP and I headed for Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge for our weekly South Shore Audubon Society’s Sunday bird walk. Last week we were at the Hempstead Lake State Park. I do love these bird walks.

If you have never been to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge take a trip there. It is a fascinating ocean of nature on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, with lakes and bays and birds galore. You also have magnificent views of Manhattan off in the distance. Raw nature entangled in civilization.

We met in the parking lot. There were about 20 of us, led by Joe our birding expert. I noticed there were some new folks at this walk – there are always a few new folks each week – plus the regulars, a truly nice group of people.

At 9 a.m. Joe led us into the park. There is a single path that goes around what used to be a fresh-water lake that has now become salt ever since tropical storm Sandy smashed through the barrier that had kept the salt marsh on its side of the path and the lake on the other.

Today we would be able to walk the one and a half miles around the lake. Estimates are the lake will again be fresh water in about 20 years. Will I see that?

As we walked I noticed her, an older woman, far older than my approaching 70, who would stop and sit every hundred yards or so. There are benches all the around the lake so people can sit and watch the birds on the water, on the marsh grass, in the air and in the branches of the trees.

She sat and eyed everything through her binoculars. As we progressed along the path, I noticed something. This woman’s eyes were sharp. She’d pick out birds none of the rest of us could see and alert us to where they were.

The great fish-devouring ospreys have returned to the Northeast and use the nesting sites set up to protect them from the perils of manmade havoc in their habitat. But the ospreys were not in their nests as we walked; they were in and around the marshlands, basically unnoticeable as they blended with their environment – but she could find them and point out exactly where these beautiful birds were hunting for Sunday brunch. The osprey’s diet is strictly fish and several she had sighted were eating such fish.

She also walked with a great gait, walking stick in hand, from one bench to another bench where she would scour the water-scape and alert us to the unseen birds.

I watched her for the entire 1.5 miles. She had a zest for birding. She had a fine sense of humor (anyone who laughs at my witty remarks has a fine sense of humor) and she knew her birds. She obviously enjoys her life.

Maybe the abyss is not so abysmal? Maybe I should just do the things I want to do and not worry so much about time? Maybe 70 is just a number – one that leads to other numbers. Maybe it isn’t the end of it all.  Maybe, just maybe, seeing this sharp, vibrant person who sees 70 distantly in her rearview mirror, is helping me see 70 through my windshield in a better light.

[Read Frank Scoblete’s books I Am a Card Counter: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Blackjack, I Am a Dice Controller: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Craps and Confessions of a Wayward Catholic! All available from, on Kindle and electronic media, at Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.]

Birds of a Feather

When I first took up birding in late September of 2016, I figured two things; that the majority of birders would be nuts or so severely neurotic that they could pass for nuts, and second, that the entire group would be composed of progressive leftists and Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders Democrats.

I got those ideas over the years by knowing nothing about birding or birders, and my first talk with a birder on one of my first South Shore Audubon Society birding walks incorrectly confirmed the progressive nature of the birding population.

I opened my conversation with this woman by relating that my recent trip to Cuba disgusted me by the filth, poverty, and unemployment of the country. Even the ships in the harbor were rusty! [Read, October 15, 2017)

She listened to me and then said she and her husband were really impressed by the country and the people on their trip to Cuba. That had to be impossible because every other building was a decaying dump and little had been done to fix the crumbling once-great architecture of Havana. I didn’t argue with her because she was fierce in her belief in Castro’s revolution; a true progressive, she probably cut her teeth on the 1960’s love for the Communist movement.

She didn’t have anything negative to say about the revolution’s golden boy, Che Guevara, the official executioner of the regime. He probably lovingly watched the executions of thousands of people — that is, those he wanted executed. I am guessing good old Che was a hero to her as he is to the government of Cuba.

But I was wrong. The birders in our South Shore Audubon Society aren’t anything like a coherent group. Yes, most are of the left but there are plenty of Trump supporters. In New York City and its environs, the leftist Democrats rule by something like two or three to one over Republicans and conservatives. So I found the many rightists in the society surprising.

Now, many of my own opinions are leftist but I do not share the wide-eyed love of communism — a failed, violent philosophy that destroys societies. [Read the Black Book of Communism.] But I do have affection for some of the Trumpian ideas and I respect plenty of the basic conservative principles. I do not, of course, buy into the right-wing evangelism and anti-science nature of the ultra-right.

Aside from the love (or like) of birds, the members of our society are philosophically diverse but they all basically agree on several issues: protection of the environment, protection of our national parks and protection of the habitat of our feathered friends and other animals. Habitat is a key ingredient in the protection of birds.

The rightists and the leftists agree on these principles and that brings everyone together. They are birds of a feather.

[[Read Frank Scoblete’s Confessions of a Wayward Catholic and The Virgin Kiss. Both available from, on Kindle and other electronic media, at Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.]

Swan Lake

It was to be an average Sunday birding expedition with our South Shore Audubon Society. There were about 25 people gathered on Merrick Road in Massapequa, New York. At this juncture of Merrick Road, the word “road” is a misnomer as the “road” is more of a parkway and the cars are whooshing by at 50 miles per hour.

That was okay; we were all on the sidewalk looking out over the beautiful Massapequa Lake checking out any one of the 31 species we would see that day.

I caught the event in my peripheral vision and simultaneously heard the woman scream, “Aaaaarrrrrggggghhhh!” A huge Mute Swan, one of those beautiful all-white creatures, had flown over our heads and across Merrick Road, then hit the electric lines and fell onto the road just at the edge of the curb. I saw it drop. The bird moved a little but I was sure it would die. It must have hit those power lines at maximum speed.

Four of our members braved the traffic with Bob yelling, “Don’t cross the road; you’ll get hit.” But committed birders are committed birders, that’s for sure. Four bravehearts, first Bill, who was then joined by Bill. Then Cathy and Anne crossed that road. The first Bill knelt by the bird. The bird moved its legs slightly so it was still alive.

“They had better get that bird onto the sidewalk or some car is going to hit them,” I said to Paul and Bob.

“The bird is dead or it will be dead,” said Paul.

“They were crazy to cross that road,” said Bob.

A car pulled up near us and a grey-haired lady got out. As fate would have it, this lady had just gotten her certificate in animal rescue. She and some of our birders talked and she called the animal rescue society.

“That bird is dead,” I said.

“Dead,” said Paul.

“I know dead when I see it,” I said.

“We’re lucky our guys didn’t get hit by a car,” said Bob.

Bill and Bill and Anne and Cathy lifted the bird to the sidewalk. These Mute Swans are quite large, upwards of four feet sometimes, so it took them a little time to get that bird onto the sidewalk.

“It’s dead,” I said.

“They should throw it into the stream,” said Paul.

“What a way to die,” I said, “slamming into those wires.”

“Those guys were crazy crossing that road,” said Bob shaking his head.

Then the bird moved. It flapped its wings and tried to stand up. Our four birders lifted it. “Let’s get it back to the lake,” one of the four bravehearts said. And so Bill and Bill lifted the bird and started across the road while the grey-haired lady and Kathy and Anne stopped traffic.

As the bird came towards the lake it seemed much better. The men released it and it paused on the banks of the water.

“Man,” I said. “I really thought it was dead.”

“So did I,” Paul said.

“I still wouldn’t have crossed that road,” said Bob.

The bird took to the water and we all burst into applause. You would think this conclusion would have made our day but then…

…another Mute Swan came zipping over – this one was gigantic, much bigger than our injured one.

“Oh, God, no!” shouted one of our birders.

“No! That other swan is going to kill it!” shouted a second woman.

The gigantic Mute Swan aggressively slammed his head right into our swan. A skirmish ensued, but our swan struggled to shore while the gigantic one waited for him to reenter the lake. Our swan stayed put. When the gigantic swan saw that our swan would not head back into the lake, it paddled away but you could see he was still eyeing our swan.

When our swan reentered the lake the gigantic swan came flying over.

“I don’t think our swan can survive another fight,” I said.

“The big swan is going to kill it,” said Paul.

“Our swan should never have gotten back into the water,” said Bob.

“Our swan can’t fly,” I said at the exact same moment our swan took to the air and escaped the gigantic one who, surprisingly, did not follow it.

Joe, our leader, said: “They are territorial. They stake out a section of a lake and will fight any other one from going into their territory. Mute Swans tend to mate for life. Another bird enters its territory at risk.”

Our mute swan survived an awful ordeal.

“I really thought it was dead,” I said.

“So did I,” said Paul.

“I still wouldn’t have crossed the street,” said Bob.

[Read Frank Scoblete’s book Confessions of a Wayward Catholic. Available from, kindle, Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.]

Meet the Mrs.


My wife, the Beautiful AP, has taken up photography, specifically photographing birds.

Our birding group was at Mill Pond in Bellmore, New York this past Sunday and AP had a big breakthrough that brought attention and applause from our South Shore Audubon Society.

Now the Beautiful AP is a sociable person and as she has been learning her camera she has shared her ups and downs with everyone in the group and with some people who are just wandering around in the woods. They have given her encouragement as many Audubon members are excellent photographers. She has received valuable tips – from everyone, even those scruffy folks who might be homeless. To be honest, by and large her photos have been (shall we say) disappointing.

A couple of weeks ago, she got one great picture of a Great Horned Owl and one good shot of a Red-Bellied Woodpecker. Everything else was a blur.

I am not quite as sociable as my lovely wife but I do talk to my fellow birders about this, that or the other thing. Since I know little about birds we talk about politics. The Audubon Society is mostly liberal although there are some conservatives and Trump supporters. The liberals are concerned about the environment, while the conservatives are concerned about the liberals.

As AP photographed like a crazy woman, she’d show me some of them.

“What do you think of these?” she asked.

“Where is the bird?”

She hit me in the arm. “Right there,” she pointed.

“I just see fog with some dark lump in there,” I said. She hit me in the arm again. Honesty is sometimes not the best policy with a wife.

But towards the end of the birding day she nailed it! She had a picture of a beautiful Robin and two gorgeous pictures of a duck.

“Wow!” I said. “Now those are beautiful pictures. What kind of duck is that?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “It looks different doesn’t it? I’m going to ask the experts if they can identify it.”

She walked a ways down the path to the others of our group. I love the way she walks, so determined, so AP-like.

In a moment I heard, “Wow!” and “It’s a Pintail! Where did you see it?”

The Beautiful AP lead the group of about 15 to where she photographed the Pintail.

“That’s a female Pintail,” confirmed Bill our leader for this tour as he looked at the photo.

“She’ll be known as Mrs. Pintail,” said AP.

Bill saw Mrs. Pintail, pointed her out so everyone could see it. Cameras clicked, video was taken as Bill then explained why it is called Pintail. “You can see that its tail comes to a pin.” It also has quite a long neck.

Since it was February, this duck should have migrated south to winter. But here she was. Rather, here they were: Mrs. Pintail and my Mrs.

[Buy my book Confessions of a Wayward Catholic at, kindle, Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.]





Found: The Great Horned Owl!

If you read my article “The Hunt for the Great Horned Owl” you’d recall that my wife the Beautiful AP, my son Mike and I spent three days in Cape May during Christmas trying to locate one of the great apex predators, the Great Horned Owl. I wanted to find this amazing creature so that I could go back to the South Shore Audubon Society (which is on Long Island) and tell the members that not only had we seen this bird but I was now no longer just a birdbrain in the society.

I wanted to strut around like a birding big shot.

Such wasn’t to happen. The Great Horned Owl didn’t make an appearance.

But yesterday at Hempstead Lake State Park on Long Island, one month after the defeat in Cape May, on our Sunday bird walk with the South Shore Audubon Society we got to see this awesome predator. Olga, a wonderful photographer with a keen eye, spotted one. What’s ironic is that the Beautiful AP and I didn’t expect to see any birds because the day was foggy and dreary. “Do birds come out in this crummy weather?” I asked. Evidently they do.

The 15 members stood in awe, photographing and exclaiming what a magnificent bird the Great Horned Owl is. The Beautiful AP shot dozens of blurry photographs with her new camera (AP has taken up photography) but one stood out (see below). At one point this usually nocturnal bird let loose and flew over our heads. The Great Horned Owl is large and strong!

So we saw it, watched it for quite a while and then continued on our birding expedition. We saw a variety of birds but the Great Horned Owl was the hit of the day!

Photo by A.P. Scoblete

[Read Confessions of a Wayward Catholic! On sale at, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.]






The Hunt for the Great Horned Owl


By Frank (and the Beautiful AP) Scoblete

After four months of weekly birding trips on Long Island, where I became the well-known expert in not-knowing-anything, my wife the Beautiful AP, our son Mike and I headed to Cape May, New Jersey for our annual Christmas trip. And this time, now knowing that Cape May is a premier bird-watching venue, we brought our binoculars.

This would be a bird-watching vacation! The three Scobletes reveling in nature while staying in a magnificent hotel, just where we (meaning “I”) belong. Knowing that Mike sleeps just as well camping under the stars as he does in a top hotel, AP told him, “This is as outdoorsy as Scobe and I get,” as we navigated well-marked trails.

Cape May has woodsy, watery, and grassy places harboring birds of all types, from cute little colorful and skittish songbirds to ravenous raptors such as hawks, falcons, and sometimes even bald eagles. It is one of the best birding areas in the world.

As we entered the “bird observatory” (about two miles of trails around a few lakes) I noticed a prominent sign. It had pictures of the birds that were currently being spotted, and smack in the middle was a photo of the great horned owl.

The great horned owl – at almost three-feet tall with strong wings and slashing claws – is perhaps the largest owl on earth and it eats just about anything it catches, including mammals and birds, some of which are its size or bigger.

Seeing the great horned owl would be a major coup in my birding career and quite early on at that. Very few birders in my South Shore Audubon Society have ever seen this bird since it is nocturnal. It would give me much-needed status in the birding community and take me from my current position of “Oh, he’s a birdbrain,” to a position of, “Can you believe this guy once saw a great horned owl?”

The following two days as we tramped around the great areas near the Cape May Lighthouse, we saw an amazing number of birds:

On a small pier in a salt-marsh lake we saw three cormorants perched looking for lunch.

We saw disorganized flocks of robins moving from tree to tree.

We also saw ducks: mallards, pretty males with their plain females; several spectacularly colored wood ducks (I consider them the peacocks of the duck world); and a few American black ducks, which are mostly brown with some gray and a spot of blue.

Of course, there were the ubiquitous Canada geese (named after a man named Canada – seriously – not after the country); a half dozen majestic white swans; three great blue herons, the largest of which came flying down from the sky to stand still on the edge of the lake also looking for lunch. These herons can stand still for a very (very!) long time just waiting for their meals to arrive.

We also saw numerous gulls – I just don’t know one gull from another yet. To be honest I also don’t know the names of most birds from most other birds. Sadly, I am a birder without a bird brain yet

And, of course, there were dozens of different types of songbirds – those small, swift flying creatures seemingly always looking out for predators that are looking to eat these little guys. It’s hard to get them into view because as soon as you lift your binoculars the birds tend to zip away.

Although we saw various types of sparrows, they don’t give us a thrill; we have maybe 800 thousand of them at our feeders every day.

We got a close-up view of a nest of the cute black-capped chickadees. Actually it was more like a communal apartment building made of leaves and small branches with quite a number of these adorable birds flitting in and out.

Then we saw a bird that Paul, a member of our South Shore Audubon society, calls “butter butt” which I think is actually called the yellow-rumped warbler. If you look at the bird’s butt, right under it is a yellow horseshoe design – I’m talking bright yellow. I have only seen this particular one so far in my expeditions, although the Beautiful AP has seen several.

For three days up above we saw numerous hawks. We’re still trying to identify them. They glided in the sky as if they owned it.

In fact, these predators, and other predators like them, do own the sky. They don’t so much fly as soar; they glide through the air like winged warriors. All other birds, constantly flapping their wings, look as if they are putting such energy in flight, but not the predators. They are the birds to be reckoned with.

As we hiked, we scanned the trees for the great horned owl. We talked about the past, the present and the future. We stopped to focus on myriad birds. We admired nature (as outdoorsy as we get). We joked around. We looked up birds on AP’s Audubon app. One or another of us stopped to pee. One or another of us produced mini alcohol wipes for the person who peed.

And our hunt for the great horned owl? No luck there. But the walking, talking, kidding around, the spotting of all the other birds, the admiring of nature even at our modest level of outdoorsy-ness – isn’t marked or marred by the absence of the great horned owl. Instead it is an occasion memorable for the time we did spend together away from the hustle and bustle of daily life, for what we did see together and for what we did say to one another.  And that, my friends, is a Scoblete bird walk.

[Read my new book Confessions of a Wayward Catholic! Available from kindle, Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.]

Look! A Big Bird with a Bright Orange Breast!


My fourth bird-watching expedition was to Hempstead Lake State Park on Long Island, New York. It was a lot of fun — even though I did make something of an ass of myself (something I am getting really good at).

The birding group composed of maybe 20 men and women, some quite old (some maybe dead), some quite smart and some I haven’t figured out yet; all bedecked in their bird watching gear of brown clothes with binoculars hanging from their necks, was an enthusiastic lot.

My wife the Beautiful AP and I were the rank amateurs in every way. Using our brand-new 8 x 42 powered binoculars every time someone said something such as “Look over there (pointing), a tan-breasted marmalade rotund chick flyer!” I’d put the binocs (being cool that’s what I now call them – binocs) to my eyes and try to focus on the bird – mostly where my fellow birders were pointing.

Inevitably I got branches and tree limbs or ground or marsh grass but I could never find the bird. The magnification of the binocs was great. I mean I could really see the stupid leaves of the stupid trees.

Maybe human eyesight and binoc sight are on a different level?

The bird walk took two hours and at the end of hour number one I had seen some birds. But usually only for a few seconds because those rotten birds could fly. Just as my binocs were honing in on them; off they would go! Pfft! That’s more annoying than someone talking during a movie.

All I was doing was basically tramping through the woods, over the tree roots that were above the ground. (“Please God; don’t let me break my ankle.”) I was sweating like a pig (do pigs sweat?) and fearful I would rub up against some poison ivy which seemed to be growing everywhere.

We came to the lake; a nice lake that was a little low on water since Long Island was not getting much rain. I binoced-in on a bunch that were lazing their way along the shore. Oh, yeah!

Other than huffing and puffing, I had not contributed anything to the bird-walk of our South Shore Audubon team except stuff like “I don’t see anything.” Or, “Is that poison ivy here?” “A yellow tufted what?” “The darn thing flew away!”

Then I saw them! Three Seagulls. Right at lakeside. “Look over there,” I shouted. “Seagulls! Three of them.” I pointed at them as if I were a pro.

Then a woman’s voice from the behind me said, “To a true birder there are no such thing as Seagulls. We just call them gulls. Seagulls don’t exist.”

(Oh, for crying out loud! Lady did you have to ruin my moment?)

My default is usually to say something funny in moments such as these and I went right to my default. I pointed to the “gulls” and said, “See, gulls!” There wasn’t a single laugh; not one stinking laugh. I thought “see, gulls” was funny. I was alone in the world on that one.

My other great moment came about 10 minutes later. I was scouring the lakeshore, trying to find some birds I could point to and make up for my “see, gulls” comment. I didn’t want to be on the outs with my new birding brethren. I had to redeem myself.

Then I saw it. A big bird with a bright orange breast; it was magnificent. “Everyone! Everyone! Across the lake. (I pointed triumphantly.) Over there. A big bird with a bright orange breast!”

Binoculars, far more powerful ones than those I had, held by birders far more experienced than I am, trained on the bird. (Oh, yeah; oh, yeah! Take that “see gull” lady!)


The telescope-man’s voice was kind, “Frank, that’s a pile of garbage.” Everyone laughed.

Listen to me; I still think “see, gulls” was funny.

[Read Frank’s new book I Am a Dice Controller: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Craps! Available at, kindle, Barnes and Noble and at bookstores.]


The Search for the Great Snowy Owl


All the birders (birders are bird watchers but “birder” sounds stronger and classier than bird watcher) were at Jones Beach West Field #2, tromping through the sand and the dunes with one harried lady scolding us: “Do not walk on the grass on the dunes!” We were not listening; instead we tromped all over the grass which was unavoidable since it was under our feet.

The grass is not like the grass on your lawn or on a golf course. Each stalk is about a foot or two high and every couple of inches there it was. You couldn’t help but step on the grass. But this lady, protecting our planet as she had a “Protect Our Planet” shirt on, was adamant. Everyone smiled at her benignly and she finally gave up the fight and stepped on the grass too.

Birders were all over the place – on the dunes, the beach, near the parking lot. Wherever you looked, there was a birder or groups of birders in their birding clothes with binoculars pointed wherever they thought they would see the creature we had all come to Jones Beach to see, the great Snowy Owl.

My group is from the South Shore Audubon Society and we were hunting for that great Snowy Owl also known as Bubo scandiacus. (Bubba scandiacus, if you are from the south.) We hungered to see it as these owls are tough to spot around our area since they hang out in the Arctic, which is a long drive from Long Island, New York. In the fall they migrate to the south. I guess these birds are the real snow birds, not to be confused with NY senior citizens who spend three months in Florida every winter.

Now, birding is not a precise activity. The leaders of our group saw the Snowy Owl just a few days earlier and some photographed it. So, everyone excitedly looked here, there and everywhere to catch a glimpse of this magnificent owl. Alas, after an hour and twenty minutes of climbing, walking and binoculing, Mr. Owl didn’t make an appearance. I have printed a great one from Claire Reilly, a pro photographer, who photographed the bird several days later on Jones Beach.

That night, after our day’s disappointment, my wife the Beautiful AP and I watched a documentary titled Wild Arctic and one beautiful sequence had a fabulous video of this fabulous bird. In the birding world, this sighting doesn’t count. We can’t put it on the list we’re not keeping (see article “The Pelican Brief”). But the documentary was great to watch.


Photo by Claire Reilly

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