Tuesday, January 31, 2006

I'll say it again: Beginner's pride

An individual in the birding industry recently described me as a "know-nothing who calls herself a birder." The comment prompted a couple questions.

Did I miss the test that would qualify me as a birder? Is there a peer review board that I should meet soon?

Doesn't almost everyone in the birding community "call themselves birders"? We append that label to ourselves based on the enjoyment of observing birds. No doubt WildBird's Advisory Board members and knowledgeable writers called themselves birders before anyone else recognized them as such.

It does, however, take some of us longer than others to publicize our affinity for birding. For many years, I've called myself "an editor who works on a birding magazine." My affinity for words and pictures preceded my active observation of birds, and I didn't want others to presume an inaccurate level of knowledge on my part.

Recently, the label "novice birder" began to feel appropriate. After seven years of working on the magazine, learning scads of details, attending festivals and events around the country and observing birds in day-to-day life, I promoted myself.

Some generous individuals actually question the "novice" portion of that self-appellation, but I'm not embarrassed to use it. Everyone in the birding community was a beginner at some point, even today's experts.

We all have to start at the beginning, usually with backyard species. Some of us then race to increase our knowledge so that we can describe ourselves as "intermediate" and "advanced" as soon as possible.

More power to those folks! No doubt they're having fun during their quest for more observations and information.

I'm certainly having fun as a novice birder and am not alone in that respect. This community encompasses a huge number of novices--and it relies on beginners to renew and grow its ranks.

Many of those beginners eventually share their passion for birding and educate the general public about the value of habitat conservation. In other words, the community relies on know-nothings who call themselves birders while they become know-somethings!

(This originally appeared as the Editor's Note in the March/April 2006 issue.)

The Salton Sea's future

For many birders around the country, the Salton Sea in inland Southern California is a Mecca. More than 225 feet below sea level, this 365-square-mile body of water in the Pacific Flyway attracts and hosts numerous species.

The water's increasing salinity and the ecosystem's health have long been points of concern. Today, the advisory committee that grew out of the Salton Sea Restoration Act of 2003 are meeting, right now in fact, in Sacramento to select the restoration alternatives. Here is the agenda.

Monday at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary

The American Crows had begun to gather when I stepped into the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary's parking lot. Dozens upon dozens of the cawing, cackling creatures landed in the tall bare trees and added to the late-afternoon cacophony.

Continuing along a manicured trail, I heard the buzz and chitter of a hummingbird. Looking up, I spied a male Anna's Hummingbird presiding over a patch. His head and throat resembled black velvet until the sunlight hit the feathers at a certain angle... then ZOWIE! The iridescent magenta cap and gorget left me dazzled.

Retracing my steps, I walked toward the four ponds. A Pied-billed Grebe dove, then reappeared not much father toward the center of pond A. As it swam, it made a half-hearted lunge at a low-flying insect. It approached the far side of the pond, where Great Blue Herons and Black-crowned Night-Herons stood sentinel in the waterside vegetation. The sun sank below the clouds along the horizon.

Three Northern Shovelers, two males and a female, zipped past overhead. They'd likely just left pond C, which hosted many NOSH and other waterfowl. A male and a female NOSH fed in unison, their heads going into the water and their pointy tails going into the air in tandem.

The light faded even more. The sanctuary closed at dusk, so it was time to retrieve the car from the parking lot. On the trail between ponds D and B, I paused and felt cheated by the fading light. In pond D (for "dapper"), numerous Black-necked Stilts and winter-plumge American Avocets fed in the shallow water. They were easy to see, but the decreasing light and time prevented good looks at the discreet, brown sandpipers at the far end.

Turning to my right, toward pond B, I gasped at the Great Blue Heron standing just off to the right side of the trail. It intently looked into the vegetation while I looked at its blue-gray body with the overlaying white plumes, its velvety-looking grayish-brown neck, its blue-gray plume and its yellow, long, pointed bill. I hated to break its concentration, but the encroaching darkness and the cold breeze convinced me to walk slowly past the heron and toward the parking lot. The bird didn't acknowledge me, just 10 feet away, and offered a wonderful memory at the start of another week.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Ivory-bill in the news

An article on the Herald & Review site describes an Illinois birder's visit to Arkansas. David Johnson from Sullivan, Ill., says he saw a possibly female Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

"I was lucky," Johnson said. "I just happened to be looking at the exact spot where the bird took off.

"I'm 100 percent sure it was an ivory. There's nothing else that big that has those markings, and just before that, we had heard it call and rap," he said. "What's ironic about the whole thing is that people spent months looking for it, and we made contact in a few minutes....

"There's no doubt in my mind it was not a pileated. A pileated doesn't have that marking on top, and it's not as big a bird, and this one had two white stripes up its neck. I had about a two-second look at it, and I feel it was a female bird because I did not see a red crest.

Blog-erview with Brian E. Small

Brian Small travels the country to capture and share the beauty of birds. He contributes his photographs to almost every issue of WildBird, and he occasionally writes species profiles (see recent examples in the November/December 2005 and the March/April 2006 issues). Brian also participates in WildBird's Advisory Board.

We last chatted in person at the American Birding Association convention in Tucson in July. Sunday morning, I'd driven from Yuma, Ariz., without air conditioning. After sitting on black vinyl for four hours, with the heater vent open to draw hot air off the engine and onto my toes, I looked frightful and fervently hoped not to see a familiar face in the lobby of the host hotel. Brian happened to be at the front desk when I arrived, and the gentleman ignored my bedraggled appearance. Very nice chap he is.

Without further babble:
Did a specific species/event encourage you to start birding?
It was a specific person. My father, Arnold Small, had me birding at the age of 3. As a kid, I loved to tag along on his weekend birding trips, and it kind of grew from there until I became a teenager.

I sort of lost interest in birds when I discovered girls, rock concerts and cars in my teens. After I finished college, my interest in photography got me interested in birds again, and I haven't looked back since.

When did you begin photographing birds?
I actually still have old photographs of birds that I took when I was about 5 or 6 years old, but I really started to take photographing birds seriously in my mid-twenties. I've been at it pretty seriously and constantly for the past 20 years or so.

How do you feel about rubber ducks?
I've always liked them... especially the ones that squeak when you squeeze them.

Where do you most like to shoot?
That's an easy one. I've got an addiction to photographing Neotropical migrants, so I spend every April on the Texas coast. The funny thing is that I've been at it so many years now (12 consecutive) that I really can't photograph many species that will be new to my files. But I get so much enjoyment out of seeing and photographing all those warblers, thrushes, vireos, buntings, grosbeaks, orioles, tanagers, flycatchers and more that I keep going back.

How do you encourage the next generation of birders?
I try to be really good about responding positively to people that are new to bird photography, who may have contacted me with questions or whom I meet when I'm in the field. I also hope that my published work serves as an example of what you can achieve when you are really passionate about something like birds.

What is your dream shot, the one that appears in your mind’s eye but eludes you in reality?
An interesting question and one that has a new answer all the time. I'm always after those species that I've never photographed before, and so I always want that perfect shot of something new. My target list is ever-changing, but a few of the birds that I most want to photograph right now are Cerulean Warbler, Buff-collared Nightjar, Crissal Thrasher and Swallow-tailed Kite.

Who is your photographic mentor?
Again, that would have to be my father. He was a pretty accomplished bird photographer as well as a teacher, and he was able to help me learn photography. He exposed me to birds, birding and photography but never pushed it on me. I guess it was in the genes, and once my interest kicked in, he was always there to help me along.

What are your favorite pieces of photographic equipment (1) at home and (2) on the road?
It's the same answer for both places: my Canon 600mm telephoto lens. This single piece of equipment is my bread and butter, and I wouldn't be able to create the images I like without it. I probably make 95 percent of my bird images with that lens, so it's got to be my favorite. Now if only Canon could figure out a way to make it about 5 pounds lighter...

What was your worst experience as a photographer?
Mosquitoes. I hate 'em. Whether it was Florida, arctic Alaska or the Texas coast, they have really made photography miserable on more than a few occasions.

Which is your favorite species to shoot?
I've been asked this question many times, and my answer is still the same: warblers. I just love them!

Friday, January 27, 2006

1st annual The Best of Birding survey

As part of WildBird's 20th anniversary, we're initiating the first-ever reader poll of this industry: The Best of Birding.

We want to know what birders of all skills think of various backyard products, binoculars, spotting scopes, printed media, activities, destinations and online/digital/audio media.

The survey form appears on pages 43 and 44 of the January/February 2006 issue. We ask that you tear out that page (photocopies will not be accepted) and mail the completed form before July 1.

What do you get for your efforts? Well, if you vote for at least 25 of the 100 categories and provide contact info, you become eligible for some great prizes.

It is possible, however, for you to disqualify your entries; the rules appear on page 43.

Wanna see those prizes? Behold!

Nikon Sport Optics has offered a Monarch ATB 8x42, a waterproof roof-prism bin made with exclusive Eco-Glass, a 5.3mm exit pupil and an 8-foot close focus.

Victor Emanuel Nature Tours donated a $150 gift certificate for one of its 140 tours to more than 100 destinations worldwide.

Houghton Mifflin provided three books and a birdsong CD: The Grail Bird by Tim Gallagher, The Singing Life of Birds by Don Kroodsma, Wild America by Roger Tory Peterson and James Fisher, and Peterson Field Guides: Backyard Birdsong CD.

Droll Yankees offered two Yankee Family squirrel-proof feeders, one each for two participants. The line includes Yankee Flipper, Yankee Tipper, Yankee Dipper and Yankee Whipper.

So, if you have an opinion... and don't we all... here's your chance to share it and win a fantastic prize.

Just pick up a copy of the January/February 2006 issue (the one with the preening Northern Cardinal on the cover), turn to page 43, and start making notes about which squirrel baffle, 7x42 binocular, tripod, regional field guide, festival, national forest, listserv and other items fit your definition of "best."

Making a magazine 3

The birth of a magazine issue involves a large team that generally remains invisible except for their names in the masthead. On page 2 of each issue, that yellow box on the left contains all the names of folks who participate in the development and delivery of the 72-page bundle of joy.

The March/April issue involved some labor pains, so I'm offering a public "thank you" to the imaging and prepress crews.

You guys rock. I hope that you enjoy the cookies!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Quackery 6

We all agree that one form of birding resembles a scavenger hunt, si? When we "go birding," we've got a map and an idea of the likely prizes if we accurately follow the map and explore all the nooks and crannies that it depicts.

Interesting thing about these scavenger hunts: The prizes move, darn them. Just adds to the fun and unpredictability of the game, right?

In the spirit of a less-challenging type of scavenger hunt, see if you can find Park in this image. This little shop sits on a slanted street in Siena, Italy, behind the Duomo museum.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Corvid cheerleader

A WashingtonPost.com article discusses the West Nile Virus's negative impact on crow populations, particularly American Crows. Some folks, including some birders I know, probably think, "OK, fewer crows, no biggie."

Some of us, though, like the intelligent black birds very much. Kevin McGowan of Cornell Lab of Ornithology is among that select group of admirers, as the article and the preceding link make clear.

Near the end of the article, McGowan says, "People tend to think of them being evil, hoodlums -- this gang of crows... But they aren't gangs -- they're families. Nobody gives them credit for their admirable family values. They stay together for a long time and help each other out."

I think not enough people give corvids credit for their intelligence, either. Who can dismiss the cognitive skills displayed by Oxford University's New Caledonian Crow, Betty? The crow created a tool repeatedly to retrieve the food at the bottom of a tube. (And she's right-handed.)

On a less significant note, I'm pleased to learn that Kevin and I share an appreciation for corvids. I had the pleasure of meeting him during the American Birding Association convention in Tucson last July. He and his son, Jay, shared a table with me and a friend on Saturday night, and I remember laughing often during the evening. It's cool to see him quoted in this article.

This just in: bird flu briefing this week

Do you have a free hour on Friday morning while in Washington, D.C.? Neither do I.

But between 10 and 11 a.m. on the 27th, four federal employees will provide details in a congressional briefing about efforts to track and prepare for the presence of avian influenza.

The speakers include Mark Limbaugh, assistant secretary for water and science in the Department of the Interior; Sue Haseltine, associate director for biology in the U.S. Geological Survey; Ron DeHaven, administrator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service; and Dale Hall, director of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

If you happen to have time and the means to hear the info firsthand, you'll find the briefing in room 2325 of the Rayburn House Office Building.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Want to peek at peregrines?

In a few weeks, two Peregrine Falcons probably will start nesting again on the 12th-floor window ledge of a Cleveland skyscraper. Via a video camera, the Raptors in the City program gives us the chance to be online voyeurs of the once-endangered species.

As part of the program, the Cleveland FalconCam provides minute-by-minute views of the nest site on the Terminal Tower on Huron Road. This photo shows the nest site's location.

Raptors in the City offers a science and technology curriculum for ages 7 to 11. Check it out, and help the next generation learn about birds of prey!

Forbes.com article about birding

An Associated Press article about "extreme birders" appears on Forbes.com today. I never tire of seeing mainstream-media coverage of birding in all of its variations.

The nut graf:
What the three baby boomers have in common is an expensive passion for birds shared by countless others with the wherewithal to pursue it from Antarctica to Zimbabwe. While the cost of chasing birds to the far corners of the earth is high, virtually everyone afflicted with this obsession says the rewards - beauty, mystery, awe and longer lists - are well worth it.

The article cites Phoebe Snetsinger, who set a Guinness Book world record for seeing 8,450 species out of the world's almost 10,000 avian species. Her son, Tom, appears in the article and says:
"In addition to seeing these incredibly beautiful and diverse birds, ranging from flightless penguins to little tiny hummingbirds, it takes you to places that are just stunning and show a diversity of life and the diversity of this planet," he said. "Birding is a lens to look at the world. It guides me to places I'd otherwise never go."

No doubt many of us feel likewise, whether we travel the world or explore reams of information while at home.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Win a trip to Texas for 250 words

Familiar with The Lister’s Forum and Birder’s Back Yard departments in each issue of the magazine? Those departments offer readers the chance to win a Bushnell 8x42 NatureView binocular, a certificate suitable for framing and a nomination for the Birder of the Year contest. (The 2006 Birder of the Year likely will visit south Texas in 2007.)

The deadline for the questions posed in the January/February 2006 issue is Jan. 30. You’ll find Forum Focus on page 25 and Backyard Inquiry on page 31.

Send your 250-word response today! It might appear in the May/June issue, and you might receive the title of Forum Birder or Backyard Birder and the prizes mentioned above.

Proud penguin parents-to-be

Late last month, some fiendish person(s) stole a 3-month-old Jackass Penguin chick from Amazon World Zoo Park off the coast of England. The chick, Toga, wasn't found.

Fortunately, his parents recently produced another egg, according to zoo manager Kath Bright. She said, "They have been very lovey-dovey." The egg should hatch in early March.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Ivory-bill search in Texas!

Did you see Friday's post to the TexBirds listserv by John Arvin titled "The Ivory-billed Chronicles, Chapter I"?

John, the research coordinator at Gulf Coast Bird Observatory, recently received funding to search for ivory-bills in their historical range in the Lone Star State. Stay tuned!

Friday, January 20, 2006

Prizes in 2006 Great Backyard Bird Count

Want to win recognition for helping scientists learn about birds' winter distribution and numbers?

For the Great Backyard Bird Count on Feb. 17-20, localities can receive accolades for submitting the most checklists, recording the most species or counting the most birds. Individuals can win a photo contest of images taken during the event and posted to the gallery.

During the Presidents' Day weekend next month, please participate in the ninth annual count by tracking birds anywhere in North America, not just in back yards. For one day or all four days, record the number of each species at your feeder, in a city park, at a nature preserve or in a national wildlife refuge and contribute to a national effort to study birds.

Organized by National Audubon Society and Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the citizen-science program includes folks of all ages and birding abilities. Participants can find checklists for their appropriate areas, download tally sheets, count on one day or all four days, and then enter their observations online.

Why should you bother? The data that everyone enters allows scientists to look at the birds' distribution and numbers during winter. For instance, last year's GBBC revealed the northwest expansion of Eurasian Collard-Dove, with 59 birds in Idaho. Your efforts will provide ornithologists with a snapshot of the birds' movements and status.

Speaking of snapshots, don't miss the gallery of photos submitted by previous GBBC participants. I especially liked the Gyrfalcon. The detailed captions are informative and occasionally fun.

Last year's most commonly reported species were (in order):
1. Northern Cardinal
2. Mourning Dove
3. Dark-eyed Junco
4. American Goldfinch
5. Downy Woodpecker
6. Blue Jay
7. House Finch
8. Tufted Titmouse
9. American Crow
10. Black-capped Chickadee

Any of those surprise you? I thought that House Sparrow would be more common.

Which species will appear in this year's Top 10? And who will win the prizes in this year's new competitions?

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Bald Eagle shooting in Kentucky

Federal and state officials just announced a reward of up to $1,000 for details that lead to the conviction of the dastardly person who shot a Bald Eagle last week near Madisonville. Information should go to Special Agent Bob Snow at 502-695-2722 or Wildlife Officer Marcus Bowling at 270-825-8497.

The shooting evidently took place while the eagle perched in a tree beside Browder Church Road in Hopkins County. After being found, the eagle was taken to Raptor Rehabilitation of Kentucky in Louisville. The bird cannot be released into the wild.

Three federal statutes protect Bald Eagles: the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, the Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Violators can receive fines of up to $100,000 and/or one year in federal prison.

Behavior like this makes me ask: Why shoot the national emblem?

Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

I and the Bird #15

Be sure to check out this week's bird-blog carnival. You'll find Aydin's unique format at Snail's Tales.

The Feb. 2 edition (#16) will appear at Dharma Bums. Please don't hesitate to submit your favorite recent post about birds before the deadline!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

WildBird's Birder of the Year

In each November/December issue, WildBird readers receive their ballots for the Birder of the Year contest. They then elect a peer to receive optics and a trip to a birding hotspot.

That's how Dick Lutz got to spend five days in Cape May, N.J., in September 2004 with, from left, Sheila Lego, Marleen Murgitroyde, and me (and my rubber duck, Park). He also got to bird with WildBird Advisory Board member Kevin Karlson and chat with Pete Dunne, another Advisory Board member (who wrote a must-see article in the soon-to-be-available March/April issue).

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The names on the ballots in the November/December issue are readers who responded to questions posed in The Lister's Forum and Birder's Back Yard departments in each issue. From those responses, the WildBird staff picks a Forum Birder and a Backyard Birder based on a nice writing style and the reader's contribution to the birding community and/or birds' welfare.

Psst... Anyone's eligible to become Forum Birder or Backyard Birder! If you haven't responded to the questions in the January/February issue, just turn to pages 25 and 31, and send an e-mail or a letter to the appropriate address before Jan. 30. You might be published in a national magazine and win cool stuff!

The Forum Birder and the Backyard Birder receive Bushnell 8x42 NatureView binoculars, certificates suitable for framing from WildBird and the chance to win more optics and a trip to a hotspot.

This year's destination is the lower Rio Grande Valley, as it was last year. This year's winner will receive round-trip airfare for two, a rental car, two-night accommodations at Alamo Inn in Alamo, two-night accommodations at Vieh's Bed & Breakfast in San Benito, a Bushnell Elite 8x43 binocular and an Elite spotting scope... and my delightful company ;)

Last February, we saw tons of rarities in south Texas during the Birder of the Year's visit. I'm keeping tabs on TexBirds to see what's going on this year.

Would you like to know who the 2005 Birder of the Year is? You'll see all the details in the March/April issue, available in a couple weeks!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Dusk at Back Bay

After decompressing a bit from Monday's flights from Atlanta to John Wayne Airport, I glanced at the clock and realized that I needed to get outside and stretch my legs before more time elapsed. The sunny, warm afternoon looked too delightful to spend the last of it in an enclosed space.

I grabbed a new binocular, shoved a field guide into the back pocket of my jeans, retrieved a pen and a small notebook, and hopped into the old Bimmer for the lickety-split drive to Back Bay. After parking in a neighborhood cul-de-sac and navigating the logs that mark the start of a trail, I immediately saw a small brown bird flit into the brush. A look at the underside of its tail made me think "wren," and the subsequent scolding sound confirmed it: House Wren.

Continuing down the trail, enjoying the sound of a Black Phoebe and stepping aside for teenage boys on mountain bikes, I arrived at the low bluff above the estuary. My visit coincided with low tide, and the now-visible muck hosted waders and shorebirds. I spied American Avocet (those birds look so dapper in their winter plumage), Snowy Egret, Great Egret, Willet, American Coot and immature Double-crested Cormorant through the 8-power bin. Mental note: A spotting scope would've been more appropriate. (Duh.)

One bird didn't require a scope's magnification, though. While walking along the elevated trail beside a stream, I saw another small brown bird dash across the dirt and into the leaf litter below a tree. It started rustling the leaves a lot, making it a wee bit easier to search for it -- but not that much easier.

The critter's cryptic coloring performed its job quite well. The peripatetic LBJ played "catch me if you can," and only its foraging behavior -- kicking leaves back with both feet -- allowed me to follow its erratic progress amid the leaf litter. Multiple quick glances revealed a dark crown stripe, a light supercilium, a brown eyeline, dark streaks on a light chest... and then the lightbulb went off.

This exasperating little bird (Will it ever stop moving? No!) looked like the Song Sparrow that a friend identified last month at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary. A later look through the field guide confirmed it: Melospiza melodia heermanni.

After experiencing the warm glow of "I.D. triumph," I started feeling the cooling temperature of the evening. The setting sun had turned the mirrored high-rise buildings into orange rectangles, and the jets overhead now flew south toward pinkish-orange and lavendar clouds in the pale-blue sky.

Retracing my steps on the dirt trail, I revelled in this natural open space surrounded by urban Orange County. A wonderful antidote to a day spent in airports and jets, the bay allowed me to observe the modern world's born fliers.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Birdwatch America 4

Sunday, 4 p.m., marked the end of the 2006 trade show. The event included the introduction of interesting products that appeal to backyard birders and to listers as well as a Saturday night presentation by Bobby Ray Harrison about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

I enjoyed hearing about Bobby's "obsession" with the bird that he and Tim Gallagher rediscovered in Arkansas in February 2004. I've heard his tale before but haven't tired of hearing about the huge woodpecker that was thought to be extinct in the United States. (Apparently other birders haven't tired either, given the response to Bobby's updates that appear in each issue of the magazine.)

We didn't see any woodpeckers this weekend, but I spied American Robins outside the convention center Friday and Saturday and a hawk sitting on a lamppost over Highway 85 today. Otherwise, we saw those colorful birds above every time we walked into the exhibit hall.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Birdwatch America 3

One of the neat things at this year's trade show is the Internet Cafe in the center pavilion of the convention center. Six PCs sit on tall round tables, separated by wood and iron benches. I'm typing at one of the PCs right now.

The trade show hours, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., allow lots of time for talking with friends and colleagues while also meeting new folks and networking. It's like a low-grade Tower of Babel inside the huge hall. It's cool to consider all the ideas being grown, shared and refined. Who knows what products and events will develop from the combination of minds at this show?

Friday, January 13, 2006

Birdwatch America 2

WildBird sponsored the morning refreshment break during today's Birding Business Retail Workshop at the Georgia International Convention Center. The center contains many art pieces, including this one by Brad Durham.

The magazine's two advertising sales reps, Don and Aaron, and I greeted retailers and handed out copies of the January/February 2006 issue while fresh fruit, baked goods and beverages evaporated from the tables to our right. I was amazed at how quickly the workshop participants snapped up copies of the issue.

After chatting later with more folks, I ate lunch with vendors and retailers in one of the convention center's ballrooms. The food tasted great, including the sweet tea.

A couple hours back at the hotel allowed time for e-mail and voicemail updates before I returned to the convention center for the cocktail reception. Appetizers and adult beverages added to the pleasure of reconnecting with friends and advertisers during the two-hour social. Dinner with friends completed the evening -- a fine start to the trade show!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Birdwatch America 1

Today's journey to Atlanta for the Birdwatch America trade show included just one recognizable bird. It appeared in Dallas-Fort Worth, in the airport actually. Stepping off the Skylink tram into the terminal for gates A1-A18, I saw a huge, stylized American Crow in the floor design. (I would've taken a picture except for being late for the next flight!)

That, unfortunately, was it for the journey's list. Some friends challenged each other to bird from inside the plane during our trips to Atlanta, but I was shut out by my aisle-seat assignments and crowded flights. Maybe Monday's flights to California will prove more fruitful.

In the meantime, I'm looking forward to catching up with folks, learning about new products, listening to Bobby Ray Harrison talk during Saturday's banquet and conducting a silent auction that will benefit the WBFI Research Foundation's Project Wildbird. More details later!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Mexico's Saltillo Savanna

In the January/February 2006 issue's Conservation Corner, Peter Stangel discussed the Saltillo Savanna, considered globally important by the Alliance for Zero Extinction. One of the alliance members, American Bird Conservancy, agreed to raise funds to protect the 40,000-acre prairie through a Mexican Grasslands Appeal.

In today's Birdwire, ABC announced that a member, Los Angeles Audubon Society, will donate $1,000 to the project. Because ABC will match donations up to $20,000, the project will receive $2,000. Kudos to the Angelenos!

Perhaps your birding club would like to emulate the West Coasters? If you want tips about organizing a fundraiser, contact Alicia Craig at acraig AT abcbirds DOT org

This is a chance to preserve globally important habitat. Please step up to the plate!

P.S. You can read Peter's "blog-erview" in one of today's earlier posts.

Possible avian cholera in Arkansas

More than 1,000 Snow Geese and Ross's Geese have died at Bald Knob National Wildlife Refuge, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Refuge biologists found the sick and dead birds on Jan. 9.

Field necropsies point to avian cholera, a common infection in waterfowl. The bacterium, Pasteurella multocida, can kill in six to twelve hours after infection.

The outbreak at the refuge appears limited to Snow Geese and Ross's Geese. Project Leader Dennis Widner said, "We are doing everything possible to contain the disease outbreak by not disturbing the rest of the flock now. While we can't capture the thousands of geese here, our recovery operations are designed to not chase them away from this site. This should help reduce the chance of spreading the disease."

Snow Geese seem susceptible to the quick spread of bacterial diseases because of their rapidly increasing numbers and subsequent population concentration, the service said. The disease's fast action also might result from population concentration caused by lack of rain or other weather.

The number of dead geese at Bald Knob ranges from 1,300 to 1,500. From those birds, specimens were shipped to the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis., to confirm the field diagnosis.

If you encounter a sick or dead bird, please do not touch it. Instead, contact a state, federal or tribal natural resource agency.

Blog-erview with Peter Stangel

Peter Stangel coordinates bird conservation efforts for National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in Atlanta. He also writes the Conservation Corner department in each issue of WildBird and serves on the magazine's Advisory Board, providing timely and humorous advice about various topics.

Peter and I met in April 2002 but not at a birding event. He treated me to lunch during my visit to Atlanta, one destination in a two-week solo road trip from California in my 30-year-old car. He even consented to pose for photos with my rubber duck, Cortes.

Now, Peter has consented to participate as the inaugural interviewee in (what I hope will become) regular light-hearted "conversations" with WildBird contributors. Peter also deserves credit for creating the word "blog-erview" to describe a blog-published interview (c:

Without further ado:
Did a specific event/species encourage you to start birding?
I don't remember a particular event or species getting me started; I just seem to have been born with the interest.

There were, however, several people and events that stimulated my interest. John Kieran, an author and avid naturalist, showed me many good birds and plants when I was a young teen. I remember vividly that even though his vision was failing, he could identify everything by ear; that really encouraged me to learn more about bird song.

As a teen, I discovered two pretty rare birds for eastern Massachusetts, a Yellow-headed Blackbird and a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. The attention that those two birds generated from other birders was pretty exciting!

Where do you like to bird most often?
In my yard. After that, the South Carolina coast, especially Huntington Beach State Park in the winter--great waterbirds. (Did you know that there's a Huntington Beach State Park in Southern California? It hosts endangered nesting Least Terns. -- Ed.)

Which species is your nemesis, the one that repeatedly eludes you?
Curlew Sandpiper. I've given up looking for them when they appear on the East Coast.

Do you consider yourself a "bird nerd," and why or why not?
Hmmmm. I don' think so, but then others may disagree. I think of bird nerds as being reclusive and introverted.

Describe your dream birding trip: who, where, when, why, how long, which species.
I'd like to go to the arctic duing the early spring, when all the migrants are nesting. I'd like to take along President Bush and Vice President Cheney and share with them the beauty of the area. I'd really like to see some jaegers in their breeding plumage.

How do you feel about rubber ducks?
I was always a little uncomfortable with them until I saw the editor of WildBird being photographed with one. After that, they seemed OK.

What is your favorite birding book (other than a field guide) and why?
I enjoyed reading Eye of the Albatross by Carl Safina. Great story about these magnificent birds and how we nearly pushed them over the edge.

How do you encourage the next generation of birders?
Get them into the field looking at birds. It's also important for young people to know that birding is fun and cool. If they meet more birders who embody those traits, the more likely they are to get involved.

Which do you enjoy eating more: turkey, duck, chicken, quail?
Turkey, if it's smoked and moist.

Describe your worst birding experience.
Arriving at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico for several days of birding with a brand new spotting scope that had a loose lens that wouldn't focus.

Do you consider birding a social activity, and why?
Yes--because two-thirds of the fun for me is sharing birds with others. Birds are better when other people are around.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Quackery 5

The 2005 ABA annual convention in Tucson provided the chance to visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a facility about which I'd heard much. Having arrived in "The Old Pueblo" on Sunday (after a hare-brained drive east through the desert without air conditioning), I set out for the desert museum on Monday morning.

The drive west included fun twisty bits on Gates Pass Road and set the tone of the day. After reaching the museum and passing through the entrance turnstile, I saw my first Curve-billed Thrasher (such bright eyes!) and other firsts. Unfortunately, my notes have evaporated and won't facilitate a further recitation of species.

Make sure to visit the hummingbird aviary. I loved seeing and hearing the hummers at such close range.

In addition to the birds, the plants caught my interest. I finally learned that ocotillo (above) is known as coachwhip and is a succulent but not a cactus.

Monday, January 09, 2006

More than $15 million for coastal wetlands

Twelve states will receive more than $15 million through the National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program. After the 19 projects in Alabama, Alaska, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Texas and Washington met their goals, about 14,000 acres will have been protected, restored or enhanced.

Federal funding stems from the 1990 Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act, which stipulated that money would come from excise taxes on fishing equipment and motorboat and small engine fuels. (Why do hunters and fishers directly contribute to conservation programs when they purchase equipment to facilitate their activites but birders do not? The "consumption" argument [in defense of birders] doesn't hold water with me. --Ed.)

The grant program also incorporates more than $12 million from private landowners, state and local governments, and conservation groups such as The Nature Conservancy and Ducks Unlimited.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service administers the programs and awards the grants. Since the program began, the service has awarded more than $165 million. The grant program's fact sheet appears here.

This year's recipients and projects:
Alabama -- Point Caddy wetlands
Alaska -- Eagle River South Estuary, Long Lagoon coastal habitat protection, Nushagak Bay/Wood-Tikchik State Park
California -- Arcata Baylands restoration/enhancement
Georgia -- Sansavilla Wetlands
Hawaii -- Kawainui Marsh wetland restoration/enhancement
Illinois -- Hegewisch Marsh restoration
Maine -- Thomas Island habitat protection
Massachusetts -- Great Neck and Moody Island, Salisbury Marsh land acquisition
Michigan -- Detroit River wetland restoration/enhancement, Keweenaw County land acquisition
New Jersey -- De Soi-Stinger property acquisition
Texas -- North Deer Island protection/restoration
Washington -- Crockett Lake coastal wetlands acquisition/protection, Eld Inlet tidelands and freshwater wetlands, Port Susan acquisition and protection, Qwuloolt Project estuarine restoration

Friday, January 06, 2006

Another deadline vanquished

Aaaahhhh. My relief of finishing the March/April issue feels very thorough, and my anticipation of the first-off (the first copy off the press) is very high. The unusual cover and the design of some feature layouts should look distinctive on the glossy paper.

With the deadline vanquished, however, I've lost the excuse to eat Nutella straight from the jar while working late! ... Actually, does one need an excuse to indulge in that chocolate hazelnut spread?

No, I don't think so either.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Lake Birdbegon Days

Please take a minute to obtain a satisfying beverage and settle into a comfy seat. Now delve into the birding-blog posts deftly collected into I and the Bird #14.

For a thorough description of the birding community's blog carnival, visit 10,000 Birds.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Lively discussion of I.D. techniques

Do you subscribe to listservs that focus on your state or a particular topic? Wait, let me backtrack.

Are you familiar with listservs, the online mailing lists that send e-mails or digests to subscribers? You'll find a wonderful roundup of listservs at Birdingonthe.Net.

When travel and deadlines prompt me to put subscriptions on hold, I can read subscribers' posts on Birdingonthe.Net. One listserv that always educates me is ID Frontiers. You'll find some big names in the birding community discussing the finer points of species identification and helping each other pin down the name of confounding birds.

A recent thread began with a post by Ted Floyd, editor of ABA's Birding, when he initially posted about a Harlan's Hawk on Dec. 30. That post led to another in which Ted brought up the importance of size, shape and proportion in developing our I.D.s and the need to better convey those ideas to the general public.

From there, various birders--including Kenn Kaufman and David Sibley--offered their two cents about "holistic birding" or "impression-based" field I.D., as WildBird Advisory Board member Kevin Karlson calls it. (In fact, you can read Kevin's take on birding by impression on page 54 in the January/February 2006 issue of WildBird.)

The spirited discussion is educational and likely to continue for a while--if not on this listserv, then in other venues. Good stuff, Maynard!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Snail-mail species

You've heard about the postage-rate increase that goes into effect next Sunday, the 8th? Perhaps you, like me, have a healthy supply of 37-cent stamps that'll need augmentation to meet the new 39-cent requirement.

A perusal of the U.S. Postal Service website revealed a good solution to my situation: 1-cent stamps. To my delight, that stamp features an American Kestrel. If you want to purchase these stamps online, click on this.

After the 37-cent stamps fly away, I can use these nondenominational stamps of stylized bluebirds. They're available here.

My curiosity prompted a peek at the other stamps in the Animals section of the USPS site. Lo and behold, the Muppets appeared! Having grown up on that satire and silliness, I loved seeing the various images. Alas, they are 37-cent stamps, but that probably won't stop me from buying them.

Of particular interest was the Sam The Eagle stamp. Looking into the Central Casting page of the Muppets site, I saw Sam guarding the desk and biographies of the cast members. Here's the official rundown on Sam The Eagle, courtesy of his Muppets Biography Form.

Name: Sam The Eagle
Nickname: Sam, Mr. Patriotism, The A-MER-ican Eagle
Auditioning For The Part Of: Uncle Sam
Training/Background: I am an Eagle-America and a patriot. Now, what do you have to say for yourself? Just as I thought! Hmph!
Special Talents: Reciting the pledge of allegiance, singing the national anthem, being appalled by the senseless acts of nonsense perpetrated by these weirdoes.
Favorite Movie: "An American in... America"
On My 'Must' List: I musted be treated with respect, or at least not ignored. And if that's not possible, it wouldn't hurt to pretend you're listening now, would it?
Why Are You Right For The Part? I am not only right for this part. I am far right.

Monday, January 02, 2006

New Year's birds

Yesterday's a.m. dorkwalk around the neighborhood yielded the first audible bird of the year, Cassin's Kingbird, and first visible bird of the year, Northern Mockingbird.

Hummingbirds, American Crow (such intelligent creatures!), House Sparrow and Bushtit rounded out the dorkwalk's bounty.

Then my birding was limited to looking at this duck for two days. Best wishes for a healthy year!