Tag Archives: Birds

The Lambertville Swallow Sign Decline

2017/4/23-Swallow Sign Decline-02

Whatever happened to the Cliff Swallow colony that lived under the Lambertville-New Hope Bridge??

Friday, April 19, 2019— This Spring I saw Cliff Swallows at Center Bridge (at Stockton) and Bulls Island, but are there any Cliff Swallows nesting on the Lambertville-New Hope Bridge any more?

In short, yes. At around 10:00 am today, I counted 10 Cliff Swallows plunging from the underside of the Lambertville New Hope Bridge, flying erratically and quickly out, and up, and away, as they do, before you can snap a photo. That’s good.

But as recently as 2013 there were 75-100 Cliff Swallows nesting under the bridge and following those crazy flight patterns to catch insects and return them to waiting chicks. I’ve checked a couple more times, at different times of the day, but the news is no different. There is a small colony beneath the bridge. I will, check again later in the Spring. Meanwhile check out the slide show.

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Here’s what happened in the six photos above:

  1. The Frame started to come off the sign.
  2. Someone pushed the frame back on, and stuck a brick under it to hold it in place.
  3. The frame came off completely
  4. Something happened to the sign, it was removed, and the supporting panel remained.
  5. The metal panel attracted stickers and graffitti
  6. The graffitti-ed metal panel was removed, leaving just the sign post.

May 1, 2019 — I promised an update. In March I wrote a query on the Contact form at the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission web site.

DRJTBC Contact Form – Christopher Plummer Submitted Web Contact Form

Submitted 2019/03/05 9:13 PM on:

Regarding the New Hope – Lambertville Bridge: Around 1981 the DRJTBC placed an informational sign for pedestrians on the Lambertville side of the bridge that commemorated the bridge as a home for the Cliff Swallows (birds) that have maintained a colony under the bridge, returning every Spring. (The Center Bridge- Stockton Bridge also has a similar sign.) The sign in Lambertville has fallen into disrepair in the past few years and has now disintegrated into a shiny steel rectangle plastered with stickers and graffiti. There is a DRJTBC number and barcode on the back of the sign by which it can be identified.

As a long time resident of Lambertville, I would very much like to see the sign restored with the art and information about the swallows that it once had. (I have photographs I’d be happy to share.)

Is it possible that DRJTBC could find a way to repair this sign?

Thank you.
Christopher Plummer


And then on April 1 (I’m not laughing), I got this response:

From: Joseph F. Donnelly jdonnelly@drjtbc.org
Subject: Response to your inquiry to the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge CommissionDate: 04/01/2019 at5:53PM

Christopher Plummer:
Thank you for visiting the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission’s website and using the “contact us” portal.
Please be advised that the New Hope-Lambertville Toll-Supported Bridge sign you referenced in your message no longer exists and was not produced by the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission (DRJTBC).
As I recall, the sign promoted how proceeds from the New Jersey Wildlife Income Tax Check Off were utilized to place artificial nests at the New Hope-Lambertville Tax- Supported Bridge after the bridge’s concrete walkway was replaced by a laminated timber deck walkway in 1982 (subsequently replaced with the current walkway in 2004). (Note: The formal name of the bridge in 1982 was the New Hope-Lambertville Tax-Supported Bridge since it was jointly owned by the two states until July 1987, when its ownership was transferred outright to the DRJTBC.) The Commission, which controlled the bridge at that time on behalf of the two states, cooperated in the post-project remediation efforts regarding the migratory swallows.
Please understand that there is nothing in the Commission’s meeting minutes or in our engineering department’s records that support your assertion that the sign was placed at the location by the DRJTBC. I found nothing in the official record that shows the Commission requisitioning, procuring, or paying for the sign. Regrettably, it’s unclear who exactly produced the sign.
What I can tell you is the following:

In conducting research for an historical account that I compiled on the bridge crossing’s200th anniversary in 2014, I noted that the sign had the headline “Cliff Swallows Benefit from NJ Wildlife Income Tax Check Off” and its content explained a swallow-nest remediation effort that took place at the bridge back in the 1980s (over 30 years ago). For your edification, the sign’s credit line said the illustration and design were by Doreen Curtin with a copyright of 1984, suggesting the sign was placed at some point during or after that year. It also said “Screen Printing by Aztec Graphics.” But the sign did not cite what agency or group produced it.

That said, the Commission is not in a position to repair the sign for the following reasons: 1. It had fallen into disrepair and had outlived its purpose in promoting a project that took place more than three decades ago. 2. The Commission did not produce the sign. 3. Whatever entity did produce the sign never maintained it after its installation.

While I can’t speak unilaterally for this agency on a matter such as this, it’s certainly conceivable the Commission would be open to considering installation of acceptable signage referencing the bridge’s swallows and/or swallow nests if some organization or entity were to again shoulder the time, effort, and costs of design and production.

– Joe Donnelly
Deputy Executive Director of Communications DRJTBC
New Hope, PA.


So…we have more information. I had forgotten the initial connection of the sign to the appreciation of the nests disturbed beneath the bridge and the careful restoration of ceramic nests in the hopes of maintainting the colony. I am quite sure that subsequent “upgrades” to the footpath over the bridge—which is now some kind of plastic-paint-covered metal—were not so attentive to the colony.
The sign disappeared mysteriously shortly after I sent my query. I don’t believe in coincidences.
Maybe we can get someone to step up and restore the sign as suggested by Mr. Donnelly? But first, I think it’s more important to restore the appreciation for the birds themselves, the Cliff Swallows of Lambertville, which appear to be in decline to the point of non-existence.
Peace Out,
— Christo


A Non-exemplary English Major Claims his Crown

Summer 2017 Book Reviews


Thinking about a house in LA, lying in bed this morning at about 4 AM half awake and the color yellow seemed somehow important, because it had something to do with that house—maybe I remember the house as being yellow. Was it? Or maybe it was that the kitchen or the wall in that little nook was yellow, with the small table where we used to sit and drink coffee and talk with Doctor “Dick” Kocher, our favorite English Professor? I don’t know.

It was a dream. But then, there was some very complex thought in the dream about aging, memory, and the difficulty of communication, which I understood as my brain was presenting it to me (and isn’t this the grand tease of dreams? That as they are happening they seem so brilliant, and we seem so brilliant to be dreaming them, but when we return to the mundane “real world” and wakefulness, we can barely recall the substance, much less the brilliant detail of our brilliance.) So of course, I can hardly remember any of it now. It was a dream.

I had hoped to finish writing about my trip to France (“The Great France Art Tour of 2017”), but that is becoming one of those long narratives that will take a great deal of effort and probably time to complete. Nevertheless I am working on it.

Meanwhile, somehow it occurred to me that it might be of interest to share with you some of the books that I’ve been reading lately. As you probably remember, I have never been a very good reader, and have struggled to finish as few as eight books a year outside of technology publications. I am no idiot, but I am not the exemplary English Major. I’m proud of my friends and colleagues from my college days, who can spout off stanzas of Wordsworth and remember lines of Blake. Me? I can remember Green Lantern’s oath. “In brightest day, in blackest night…” whatever. I probably judge myself more harshly on this than anyone else, but I have decided it is time to catch up!

I am writing this using “dictation”. The Macintosh usually understands what I am saying—although I am not convinced that speaking is any faster than typing—especially with all the corrections. So pardon some non-standard formatting and punctuation, because I, claiming the crown of the non-exemplary English Major, probably won’t correct it all.

For these books I’ve lifted a few descriptions and blurbs to save a little time. (I will enclose these in quotations without the source. You may assume it’s the book description on Amazon.com, for which I have included a minefield of potentially income-generating links!)

Hillerman_Fly_on_the_wall_coverThe fly on the wall Tony Hillerman If you enjoy Hillerman, you’ve probably read this one; it’s a pre-Navaho Police book, using most of his basic plot techniques, suspense, the ticking time bomb, etc., in this case using a journalist as a detective. Nothing great. “A good read.”

McBride_Good_Lord_Bird_coverThe good Lord bird – James McBride  A picaresque/historical novel, by this Award winning, African American author, it’s about a young freed slave who passes himself off as a girl, having many adventures, and ending up with John Brown at the raid on Harper’s Ferry. A book with an engaging first-person narrative reminiscent of Little Big Man or one of the Flashman adventures (of course, Flashy was at Harper’s Ferry too!). I confess I laughed aloud in a number of places. Deeply researched and historically accurate (for a novel), its humor is inconsistent—which is to be expected I guess, given the subject matter.

http://amzn.to/2gViFPEThe autobiography of Mark Twain Samuel Clemens I imagine this is standard reading for all English majors, and I started it, but did not get too far. The Introduction to this older edition went on endlessly about Twain’s difficulty in writing it, finding his voice, all the variant releases, etc. In the end, I don’t care. It didn’t hold my attention. 


Moriarty – Anthony Horowitz Ever since my very good friend Anne gave me The Complete Annotated Sherlock Holmes I’ve been a Holmes fan. “The game is once again afoot in this thrilling mystery from the bestselling author of The House of Silk, sanctioned by the Conan Doyle estate, which explores what really happened when Sherlock Holmes and his arch nemesis Professor Moriarty tumbled to their doom at the Reichenbach Falls.” The author’s ability to impersonate Doyle’s style is fun, but I will not recommend this book. In fact, I say DO NOT READ THIS BOOK. The plot itself contains an annoying gimmick. Really annoying. Don’t bother.

LIfe_of_Pi_Martel_CoverLife of pi – Yann Martel I was looking for an ebook from my local library and this caught my attention: escaped zoo animals, survival on a boat. I did not see the movie, so I had no idea what I was getting into. It had that odd part at the ending, reminiscent of the Tin Drum, where the whole narrative is called into question and you wonder if in fact he was on the boat with the tiger and other animals, or really humans, and all that suggests about cannibalism etc.. But I enjoyed the adventure, back-and-forth narrative style, and the explanations of zoos and zoo animals throughout.

A_Month_in_the_Country_Carr_CoverA month in the country – J.L.CarrTom Birkin, a veteran of the Great War and a broken marriage, arrives in the remote Yorkshire village of Oxgodby where he is to restore a recently discovered medieval mural in the local church. Living in the bell tower, surrounded by the resplendent countryside of high summer, and laboring each day to uncover an anonymous painter’s depiction of the apocalypse, Birkin finds that he himself has been restored to a new, and hopeful, attachment to life. But summer ends, and with the work done, Birkin must leave. Now, long after, as he reflects on the passage of time and the power of art, he finds in his memories some consolation for all that has been lost.

The above sounds like the parody of some overdone, silly romance. Really this is a beautiful novel, with a little mystery, a little romance, and a bit of information about restoration of old paintings. It seems as if it could easily have been written shortly after World War I instead of it’s actual origin, published in 1980.

Genius_of_Birds_Ackerman_CoverThe genius of birds Jennifer Ackerman This non-fiction book supposedly reveals the recent discoveries about, and studies of, the intelligence of birds. Starts with the premise that most of us assume birds are just “dumb” animals. This assumption is a huge one, since at this point in history, most people have experienced—or at least are aware of—birds using tools, having complex communications, navigational abilities, and so on.

I have a prejudice against this book. Early on, the author labels quail “on the dumber side” of bird intelligence! Then she revels in the brilliance of a Chickadee chirping in different ways to communicate not just the presence of a predator, but of the proximity and type of predator. Those specific communications are exactly the kind that our quail Peep-sight used to share with the rest of the family to warn of a Red-Tailed hawk overhead, a snake in the bushes, or the dreaded basketball rolling in his direction.

If you like the sort of well researched tomes that explain scientific information for the masses, I suppose this book is okay. But I found myself going to “skim mode” for most of it because there’re just too many words about brains and brain development. Great insomnia cure.

H_is_for_Hawk_MacdonaldH is for Hawk – Helen MacDonald This  book was recommended by a few friends as another “bird adoption book” (since they are aware of my personal weakness for those – see Peep-sight ). I have started and stopped twice trying to read “H”. Written by a British woman who loves words. Lots of words. All kinds of words. Too many words. And it seems to be way more about her father and personal loss of family than about the bird…

History_of_Jazz_GioiaThe History of Jazz – Ted Gioia  An excellent, well written, and deeply thorough reference. It took me at least a hundred pages to get into this book. I love jazz and wanted to learn more about it. And if I were more patient, and it weren’t a library book, I might have finished it. But after 2 extensions, and trying to read fast, I stopped just when it was getting interesting – Be Bop and Cool Jazz. I could read more about that era, but I really don’t want to hear any more about Dixieland and Big Bands!!

Chasing_Cezanne_Mayle_CoverChasing Cezanne – Peter Mayle A lightweight novel about art forgery from the well-known author of the non-fiction “A Year in Provence”. Fun reading because of the descriptions of the South of France (where I was going to be traveling). Coming over the high road on the drive to Monte Carlo, it was really a treat to know something about Cap Ferrat sitting on the azure sea below.

Year_in_Provence_MayleA Year in Provence – Peter Mayle  I enjoyed reading a chapter or two of this non-fiction book, but it was an ebook from the library, and the system kept crashing and making me re-download it. So I will use inconvenience as my excuse for losing interest.

Rock_With_Wings_HillermanRock with Wings – Anne Hillerman  No matter how much we want this author to bring back Jim Chee and Lieutenant Leaphorn after her father’s death, it just isn’t happening. Now we have Chee’s wife, Manuelito, and her annoying sister, and aging mother who take up most of the book. Ms. Hillerman put a bullet in Leaphorn’s head in her first “comeback” novel and the poor Lieutenant may never completely recover – saving her the challenge of making him a decent and reliable character, or one that she ruined. Poor Chee is even more of a boob than he was in the past. I finished this, but I don’t think I’ll read another.

Master_and_Commander_O'BrienMaster and Commander  – Patrick O’Brien  My college Professor Dr. Kocher is probably thinking, “Why in God’s name haven’t you read any of these Royal Navy sailing books by now??” And I don’t know. My brother has read all twenty and been pestering me for years to try one. The only thing close I have ever read is Moby Dick. Master and Commander is wonderful storytelling with interesting and likeable characters, although the depth and vocabulary of sailing knowledge is a bit daunting. I looked up a lot of references and skipped or relied on context to understand the rest. There are twenty of these?? I may tackle another one some day.

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/518Njq32XkL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThe Return of Little Big Man – Thomas Berger  Another “picaresque”. After absolutely loving Berger’s Arthur Rex, I was sorely disappointed by his muddled Teddy Villanova hard boiled detective spoof. But somehow I had missed that he wrote a sequel to Little Big Man! I found this in the used book sale at the library, and read a Kirkus review before starting it, just to lower my expectations. (It actually got good reviews.)

I haven’t read Little Big Man in thirty five years, but remember really liking it. This book picks up from the original, explaining how Jack Crabb could come up with more narrative (since he was over a hundred and presumably near death in the last one). What a pleasure to read! We spend a little time with Wild Bill Hickock, and more with Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley, and near the end, as much as I want to keep reading, I want to slow down because you just know things are not going to end well for Jack’s friend Sitting Bull. I especially enjoy Berger’s ability to put us into the first person narration of Jack Crabb, who in turn, expresses so well the “different” way in which Indians see things. This book is a gem.

Murder_of_Sonny_Liston_AssaelThe Murder of Sonny Liston – Shaun Assael I’m slogging through this book, which has its moments, but is mostly pretty dull and poorly written. I am a captive audience though, because Assael is writing about the time when I lived in Las Vegas—the 60’s and 70’s—when in addition to the Mob, we had Nixon, Spiro Agnew, and the Beatles visit our city. It’s kind of a shock to me that I never realized that the casinos were SEGREGATED. But then again, I never went to the casinos. He writes a lot about “the race riots”, which I vaguely remember in my mainly white Las Vegas school as fights between ten or fifteen kids of different colors, completely overblown by the press and school administrators. He doesn’t mention what I always thought was the main cause, the abrupt de-segregation of schools by busing, with little preparation or sensitivity, and on all sides, our ignorance and inexperience with people who are “different” which created fear and tension. We’ll see what happens. But I’m pretty sure Sonny Liston is going to be murdered.

And for now, that’s all she wrote!!

— Christo

Now there are THREE!! All William J. Plummer books now available as ebooks.

Friends, students, and colleagues who have known me for many years might know I grew up in Las Vegas, they might know I raced dirt bikes, hitchhiked up and down the West Coast, and teach T’ai Chi. But very few are aware of my upbringing with a pet Gambel’s quail and “an unusual household of pets”, described in some detail in books that my father wrote and that were published with moderate success and fame, in the early 1970’s. Curious? Well, here’s your chance!

ALL THREE of my dad’s books, previously published by Henry Regnery Company, and out of print for about thirty years, are available in ebook editions from Crossroad Press at select online publishing locations (see links below) for a very reasonable $3.99 each. IMAGINE owning all three of the complete and enhanced electronic editions for less than $15.00!

Enlivened with newly updated photographs — In addition to all the functionality of ebooks (searching, syncing bookmarks across devices, touch access to definitions, and so on), all three books have been updated with a new “Meet the Author” biography, a preface to the ebook edition, and improved photographs (in some cases never before seen.)


In A Quail in the Family, the pen illustrations of the Regnery paper edition have been replaced with beautifully scanned and cleaned versions of the original photographs from which they were derived.

Friends_of_the_Family_thumbFriends of the Family features similarly replaced photographs. And because the quality of some of the photographs was so bad—I mean the ones I took with my Kodak Instamatic when I was…twelve—I have added public domain photos of several of the animals from the stories. (Thank you Wikipedia and all contributors of public domain photos!)


Five of a Kind in the book edition contained ample photographs of the “Five Ladies”, but some were grainy, and all in black and white. Now, all have been replaced with improved scanned versions, many in color!!

Links to the ebooks:

Amazon Link to Kindle Books by William J. Plummer

Apple link to Audiobook by William J. Plummer

Here’s my promotional blurb for “Friends”, which should give you a pretty good idea of what all three books are about…

Friends of the Family by William J. Plummer—Re-join the Plummers, who adopted and raised “Peep-sight” the Gambel’s quail rooster of A Quail in the Family. In this second book, William Plummer describes the family’s adventures with birds, rodents, snakes, lizards, and other animals–the visiting and resident members of the Plummer menagerie in Las Vegas. We learn of the rescue of “Beverly” the Desert Tortoise from the Nevada Nuclear Test Site; playing “dogfish” with “Georgia” the beagle; “Squeaky”, a kangaroo rat who occasionally left his open cage to make nocturnal household explorations, and “Ellery” the caiman–who resided for a time in his own backyard pool. And we first meet “Carrie”, “Rose”, “Red-Leg”, “Pearl”, and “Brownie”, the five charming female quail whose complete tale is told in the book Five of a Kind.

UPDATE: Thursday, December 15, 2022 – My father, William J. Plummer, passed peacefully on December 5, 2022. He was, as he might say, “Going on ninety-six.” I’ve updated the links to his Amazon Author page and the Audiobook of “Quail” on this page. There’s also a “Quail and Friends” web site where I hope to add some of Bill’s unpublished stories—and maybe a few of my own—in 2023.



Shelter in the Night

Boston, Massachusetts
Tuesday, March 24, 1981

Every morning the blackbirds fly to the east in long arching streams. A continuous band comes over the condo project across the street and disperses in a scattered line that breaks up the failing pink of the dawn as they head, approximately, for the ocean.

All winter, as I crossed the street, the wind cutting cold through my trouser legs, my cheeks red, scraped by the raw, I suspected that the blackbirds had set some dubious course for their migration and it was taking them to the coast before they turned south. Through the entirety of that season they persisted, crowding their sky-lane silently as their path intersected the man paths below. Did they ever actually leave? Were these the same birds? Every day?

One late afternoon I thought I’d discovered at least part of their secret.

I was waiting near the Brigham hospital for a bus. An agitated whirring drew my attention to the bare trees in the neighborhood nearby. Blackbirds filled the boughs, hopping about, leaning and looking, as if waiting for some imperceptible signal. One or two birds in the highest branches of each tree tested the air, springing free, five, ten, fifteen feet vertically; their greatest leaps mimicked by as many as five or six converts from the lower realm. These preliminary sortees gained in frequency and magnitude, clusters of birds circling the trees and then lighting again. And then springing spontaneously from the midst of hesitance and confusion, one bird shot with urgency and conviction into the darkening sky. Others followed at virtually the same moment, and then more, in ranks, one after the other, filling the air again with that dark scattered stream. The winding, blackbird cloud, swirled its way to the south, yet the buzzing, whirring remained. Many birds were left in the trees. Some, unsure, had peeled off from the original departing flock; others, anxious but not yet ready, never left the limbs.

Gradually the performance was repeated several times by those remaining, each a near duplication of the last—except for the deepening background of evening that was making the performers indistinguishable from their perches. Finally they all took wing, vacating the last trees in an instant, rushing to some goal beyond the approaching gloom, seeking companionship on the journey, or shelter in the night. 

Gone. Activity and noise receded like a wave, leaving a brief and sudden silence, until the #69 bus surged through the darkness, illuminating flecks of rain in the soft sphere of yellow light it pushed before it.

Looking Ahead to ShadFest

Available Now! An 8×8 Photobook of scenes from in and around beautiful Lambertville New Jersey.

20 Pages of beautiful photographs.


White Billed Pileated Woodpecker

Captured on film during a recent outdoor adventure. This guy has a white bill in all the photos, but the double white stripe means he is a Pileated and not the other one…