Wednesday, May 31, 2006

No answers from bird flu conference

The conference in Rome concluded today, and the scientists did not leave with clear conclusions about the role of wild birds in the spread of bird flu.

The main problem, according to the FAO's chief veterinary officer Joseph Domenech,
is that no one knows for sure whether wild birds can act as long-term reservoirs for the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) viruses such as H5N1.

Migratory birds are known to carry the virus long distances, and in early spring, large-scale outbreaks of H5N1 were feared across Africa due to migrating bird flocks.

However scientists hit a wall when bird flu outbreaks were much fewer than expected but, worryingly, found nothing to link the outbreaks with wild birds.

"Before saying there is no role for wild birds in Africa we should be careful, however. We have to wait a little bit," said Domenech, particularly given that evidence of sick or dead birds can quickly disappear.

"A dead bird doesn't stay on the ground for very long in countries where there are hyenas and vultures ready to eat them up."

Wind farm proposal in Buzzards Bay

Perhaps you'd heard about the offshore Cape Wind proposal in Massachusett's Nantucket Sound? It apparently has been blown off the table, and Jay Cashman Inc. now proposes a wind farm in Buzzards Bay (the body of water between Dartmouth and Oak Bluffs on the linked map).

The South Coast Offshore Wind Project would encompass 90 to 120 wind turbines three to four miles from the shore and would provide electricity for about 240,000 homes.

But approval of the Buzzards Bay project is no sure bet.

Buzzards Bay is also a playground for beachgoers and recreational boaters, and some residents fear the turbines will stifle tourism, damage the ecosystem in a region know for rare bird species and deflate waterfront property values.

Being unfamiliar with birding in Massachusetts, I wonder about the "region known for rare birds species" claim. How valid is it?

While Massachusetts Audubon Society offers many details about the Cape Wind project, I couldn't find anything yet about the Buzzards Bay proposal.

For other details, visit Buzzards Bay National Estuary Program,

Brown Pelican ready for delisting?

The California subspecies of Brown Pelican might be healthy enough for removal from the federal endangered species list. The populations on the Atlantic Coast and in Florida and Alabama were removed from the endangered species list in 1985.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service will begin a 12-month status review to look into that hypothesis, now that it completed a 90-day review of a petition submitted last December by the Endangered Species Recovery Council (which doesn't appear to have a functional website).

The service now seeks data about the subspecies from the public. Before July 24, you can send information to or
Christine Hamilton
2493 Portola Road Suite B
Ventura CA 93003

For more details, click here.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

From the trenches of a photo contest

As noted before, the annual photo contest presents a few challenges. In addition to the 15+ mail crates (storage can be tricky) and the unlabeled entries (the rule exists for a valid reason, believeyoume), the envelopes' size can pose a predicament.

Perhaps you're thinking, "Oh, what is she complaining about now?" I'm not so much complaining as befuddled.

If the largest accepted print size is 8 inches by 10 inches, why do participants send their entries in flattened boxes that measure 15x21"? The logic escapes me. Why not use a 9x12" envelope?

Such are the thoughts of an editor faced with handling and evaluating the entries in these five crates and 12 more in another office!

Bird flu conference this week

In Rome today and tomorrow, about 300 scientists from more than 100 countries will discuss bird flu -- aka highly pathogenic avian influenza -- and the possible role of wild birds in its spread.

Organized by OIE (World Organization for Animal Health) and FAO (United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation), the conference will allow scientists to compare wild birds' role versus that of domestic poultry. (Click on the map to see a larger version.)

...almost three years after HPAI first broke out in Southeast Asia, scientists are still searching for a vital piece of the puzzle as they strive to check the disease. “There is a fundamental piece of information missing,” says Joseph Domenech, FAO's chief veterinary officer.

The main problem, according to Domenech, is that no one knows for sure whether wild birds can act as long-term reservoirs of HPAI viruses such as H5N1.

“Where they are not reservoirs but only victims of contamination from poultry, then prevention has to remain at the domestic bird level,” he says. “But where they are, we have to find out which birds are involved and where they migrate to in order to prevent other wild birds and poultry being infected.”
As noted in the above link, H5N1 has killed almost 125 humans since the first outbreaks in southeast Asia in late 2003, with domestic fowl responsible for almost all of the deaths.

Map courtesy of

Progress for Laysan Duck

The United States' rarest, endangered duck seems to benefit from life in paradise - specifically Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. As noted before, biologists transferred ducklings from Laysan Island to Midway last year.

Now, two of Midway's first-generation ducklings have nested, and eggs from those nests hatched. The second generation includes four ducklings from one nest and one duckling from the other nest.

For more info, click here!

Spotted Owls not endangered in California

After receiving two petitions in three years, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service studied Spotted Owl populations in California and recently concluded that most populations remain stable or are growing. The subspecies should not be listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, the service said. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

Highlights from the recent study:
Most Spotted Owl populations in the Sierra Nevada are stable or increasing.

The "statistically non-significant" decline in the San Bernardino population isn't sufficient to trigger an ESA listing.

Although forest-fuel reduction efforts could have a short-term impact on the owls, those efforts will have long-term benefits by decreasing the risk of wildfires.

Barred Owls, which threaten the northern subspecies in Washington and Oregon, apparently haven't arrived in the Southern California mountains but have moved very slowly into the Sierra Nevada.

Spotted Owl courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. To read a species profile, pick up the new July/August issue of WildBird!

Healthy Yard campaign

Want to attract birds, butterflies and bats to your yard? Peruse the new poster provided by National Audubon Society and National Resources Conservation Service. It provides nine ideas for creating enticing spaces in yards.

The educational campaign includes a Healthy Yard Pledge:
I pledge to the best of my ability to:
Reduce pesticide use
Conserve water
Protect water quality
Remove invasive exotic plants
Plant native species
Support birds and other wildlife on my property
The Audubon At Home program also provides information for those of us who live in apartments or want to create a healthy schoolyard. Please consider working with a local school so that children catch the birding bug!

Friday, May 26, 2006

Congressional Wildlife Refuge Caucus

Is your Congressional representative doing everything possible to support national wildlife refuges? Has she or he joined the Congressional Wildlife Refuge Caucus?

Four lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives created the caucus earlier this month: Ron Kind (D-Wis.), Jim Saxton (R-N.J.), Michael Castle (R-Del.) and Mike Thompson (D-Calif.). The co-chairs, Kind and Saxton, have asked their peers to join the caucus, yet only the four above names appear on the list of the 109th Congress Congressional Member Organizations.

The caucus plans to
- increase awareness of the National Wildlife Refuge System
- strongly represent the refuge system in Congress
- support adequate funding for the refuge system
- support the six activities outlined in the Refuge Improvement Act of 1997: hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, wildlife photography, environmental education, environmental interpretation
- encourage growth of the refuge system

If you support those goals, please ask your representative to join the caucus. You'll find your lawmaker's contact information here.

If we don't hold our elected officials responsible for accurately representing our interests, then we don't have a legitimate basis for complaint.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

I and the Bird #24

Don't miss this month's second carnival, hosted by Carel, a wildlife artist, at Rigor Vitae: Life Unyielding. Carel's graphically delightful roundup includes some wonderfully dry wit.

Blog-erview with June Osborne

June Osborne enjoys writing almost as much as she enjoys birds. She's written four books -- The Cardinal, The Ruby-throated Hummingbird, I'd Rather Be Birding and Birder's Guide to Concan, Texas (and Surrounding Area) -- and numerous articles and columns for WildBird. She currently pens the "View From a Room" column in each issue and lends a hand as an Advisory Board member for the magazine.

After years of enjoying phone calls with June, we finally met in February at the Call of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker Celebration in Brinkley, Ark. It was such a delight to spend time with June and her dry-witted husband, Harold. And now, here's your chance to spend a little time with June.

Did a specific event/species encourage you to start birding?
Thirty-one years ago in March, I was captivated by the many species of warblers migrating through the pecan bottoms of our local Cameron Park (Waco, Texas) when I was on a field trip with the instructor of a bird I.D. course at our community college. I was hooked then (1975), and I’m still hooked.

Where do you like to bird most often?
My favorite place to bird in the whole world is the Texas Hill Country--specifically, at Neal’s Lodges in Concan, where I am Resident Birder every April and May. I go there as often as possible, usually three times a year in different seasons. (Never in summer when there are too many "tourists"!) (That's June and Harold, above, at Neal's Lodges.)

Which species is your nemesis, the one that repeatedly eludes you?
I’ve looked for the Connecticut Warbler for years! One summer, we repeatedly drove a three-mile stretch in northern Minnesota where the bird nests, three days in a row, hearing the bird sing all along the route but never seeing it. I guess that’s one species I’ll just have to count as "heard only" on my Life List.

Do you consider yourself a "bird nerd," and why or why not?
I don’t think of myself as a "bird nerd." My kids and friends might see me that way, but I don’t. I am totally fascinated with seeing birds and learning all I can about them, but it’s not the end of the world if I miss one now and then, or if I cannot distinquish between a species and subspecies. If that makes me a "nerd," then so be it.

Describe your dream birding trip: who, where, when, why, how long, which species.
My dream is to go on a birding tour to Antarctica with my friend Greg Lasley as guide. Of course, I would want my husband, Harold, to be there, too. I have always dreamed of seeing Wandering Albatross, because I’ve told schoolchildren about them many, many times and showed them with a long tape measure how long their wingspan is (11 1/2 feet) and told them how they soar and soar for hours or days without flapping their wings. I have seen other species of albatross at the tip of South America, but my dream is to see the Wandering Albatross. I doubt that I’ll ever get to make that trip.

How do you feel about rubber ducks?
I love them! Especially yours!

What is your favorite birding book (other than a field guide) and why?
Currently, my favorite birding book is Tim Gallagher’s The Grail Bird, because I am so fascinated with the search and re-discovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. I know there is controversy about this sighting, but I have to say I am a true believer in the sighting, the men who confirmed it, and the hope that more will be found in The Big Woods of Arkansas, not far from the little town where I was born. I guess that’s why I feel a special connection with the
ivory-bill: because we share the same home roots.

How do you encourage the next generation of birders?
By teaching a beginning birders workshop during Nature Quest in Concan every April and by teaching my 6-year-old grandson all about birds, how to spot them and how to recognize their songs. Also, in years past, I have given uncounted educational presentations to groups of school children, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Campfire groups and children’s church groups.

Which do you enjoy eating more: turkey, duck, chicken, quail?
Actually, I like all four.

Describe your worst birding experience.
I wrote about my very worst birding experience in a species profile on the American Dipper for WildBird, May/June 2004. Here it is, changed a little from the original text:

Because the American Dipper is a bird of the mountains of the American West, I don’t get to see it as often as I’d like. Four years ago when my husband asked where I’d like to go for my birthday, my answer was unequivocally, "Red River, New Mexico!" I wanted to look for a dipper in the same location we’d seen it many years before when we were there for a family vacation. I knew it wouldn’t be the same bird, but I thought perhaps its progeny would be bobbing along the same half-mile territory of that mountain stream 20 years later.

Checking into our motel in Red River at 5 p.m. on a Wednesday, I couldn’t wait to go to Junebug Campground in Carson National Forest right outside town. With quickening heartbeat, we walked to the stream and caught an oh-so-fleeting glimpse of the charming little bird right where we expected it. With plans to spend the next two days watching the dipper to my heart’s content, we went back to the motel. Unfortunately, fate had other plans.

During the night I began itching all over so badly that I couldn’t sleep. Before daybreak on Thursday, I was broken out from head to toe with a rip-roaring case of hives. In my discomfort, I was jumping around almost as incessantly as the dipper does. Seventeen hours after arriving in Red River, we knew we must head back to Waco for me to see my doctor.

Our brief sighting the day before confirmed in my mind the fidelity of dippers to the same "half-mile of territory along mountain streams," for most birds (or their offspring) return to the previous year’s breeding site as well as the same winter territory. My malady turned out to have been caused by an allergy to an antibiotic I had recently taken, but that was no comfort when I had to give up the chance to observe one of my favorite birds for two solid days.

Do you consider birding a social activity, and why?
Yes, it is very social. During my 31 years of birding, I have met literally thousands of people from all over the world, and I have made numerous lasting friendships. The camaraderie between birders when sharing an experience is unsurpassed.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Girly bird stuff

This is for the chicks in the audience: Do you read Lucky, the magazine about shopping? The May 2006 issue includes a bird-themed "Lucky Editor's Picks." I loved it. Do you know of fun apparel that features birds? Please send links to me.

Sparrow Cardigan from E.C. Star ($59).

The hummingbird picnic dress from Cass Guy ($310) in limited (small!) sizes

Yak Pak Megu for $33 (The style comes in various colors and prints.)
Perhaps this variation -- Yak Pak Nobu ($35) -- better suits you. (This style also comes in various colors and prints.)
Because a girl can never have too many shoes, I'll include this Lucky selection: the Misha pump in the "Faryl Robin" print from City Soles for $130.

2006 Duck Stamp on June 1

If you'd like to contribute to the purchase and restoration of wetlands habitat, please purchase a Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp on or after June 1. When birders purchase the annual stamp for $15, they contribute $14.70 toward habitat conservation in national wildlife refuges. Birders also receive free entry to NWRs between July 1, 2006, and June 30, 2007.

As mentioned before, the Duck Stamp offers a very powerful conservation tool. If you'd like to see how it's benefitted habitat in your state, click here. If you'd like to continue those conservation efforts by purchasing a stamp, click here.

If you purchase a 2006 stamp, I'd really like to hear from you and publicly offer kudos for your contribution to conservation!

Ross' Goose by Sherrie Russell Meline

Monday, May 22, 2006

"...too good to be true"

An anonymous comment to the previous post says: I guess it was too good to be true. Oh well.

I have to disagree with a few aspects of that comment.
1. The phrase "too good to be true" seems to imply that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker rediscovery was false and that the people who say they saw the bird lied.

2. I'm not ready to say that the ornithologists and birders who say they saw an ivory-bill lied, because I'm not ready to impugn their birding skills and their study of the bird, which began 30 years ago in some cases.

3. If I was ready to impugn their skills and expertise, I wouldn't do so with an anonymous comment. I'd stand behind that statement, put my name to it and risk the feedback, just as those ornithologists and birders risked their reputations -- and their careers? -- by saying they saw a bird long thought to be extinct.

4. Anonymous comments no longer appear here. If we feel strongly enough about something to publish it on the Internet, we can identify ourselves and take responsibility for our comments. Doing so could reduce the level of snarkiness that's invaded the debate about the IBWO rediscovery.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Ivory-billed Woodpecker search results

The teleconference with representatives from Cornell Lab of Ornithology, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Audubon Arkansas just concluded.

Participants included Jon Andrew, recovery team leader from USFWS; Audubon Arkansas - Dr. Dan Scheiman, bird conservation director for Audubon Arkansas; Dennis Widner of Cache River National Wildlife Refuge; and various folks from Cornell: Ken Rosenberg, co-chair of the recovery team's biology working group; Ron Rohrbaugh, director of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker research project; Martjan Lammertink, project scientist for the research project; and Russ Charif, acoustics engineer for the research project.

"The situation hasn't changed from a year ago," according to Rosenberg. The search season did not yield additional confirmation in the Big Woods of eastern Arkansas. "We're pretty sure there is not a resident pair in Bayou De View. We've pretty thoroughly searched that area."

Rohrbaugh said the search team is somewhat disappointed; however, "we have had enough tantalizing sounds that we still have a lot of hope that there might be a pair in White River. Just because we put in two field seasons [and don't have unquestionable proof] doesn't mean the bird isn't there or that we should've found it by now."

The season did yield four brief, possible sightings, Lammertink said. One volunteer searcher and three birders on day permits in Bayou De View described sightings with only one diagnostic field mark: the white trailing edge on the wings.

Some of the full-time searchers (of which there were more than 20) heard double-raps and kent calls and recorded the sounds, Lammertink said. Those recordings from Bayou De View and White River NWR still are being analyzed.

The search will resume next fall in Arkansas with more expert volunteers, Rohrbaugh said. That effort also will include more time-lapse cameras to monitor potential cavities and feeding sites.

Lammertink clarified that the search covered 33,000 acres this year, for a total of 72,000 acres searched during the two seasons. That figure represents only 13 percent of the available habitat in the Big Woods, he said: "There could be really good habitat in that unsearched area."

Efforts won't be limitd to Arkansas, Rohrbaugh added. Cornell's IBWO staff will work with state biologists in Texas, South Carolina, Mississippi and a few other locations to share their search methodology.

Andrews said the recovery team continues to receive reports from Alabama, Florida, Missouri and Tennessee. "They're in likely places by credible observers," he said.

Now, birders who want to freely explore Cache River can do so, Widner said. "There's no need any longer for limited public use," he said. As of today, the refuge opened the managed access area (which required day-use permits) and removed restrictions on Bayou De View.

Vacation postcard

Hi! How are you? Having a great time in the city of Orioles, Ravens and their many fans. Went to Fort McHenry yesterday; great spot for Extreme Croquet! Started a new book, The Big Twitch, by an Australian named Sean Dooley; very fun read so far... despite all the unnecessary u's in various words ;) See you soon! Amy

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

IMBD: Federal funds for conservation

How did you celebrate International Migratory Bird Day on May 13? In California, the acting secretary of the Interior Department, Lynn Scarlett, announced almost $4 million in grants for conservation efforts that benefit migratory birds. More than 40 partnerships in almost 35 American states and 17 countries will receive the grants.

Monday, May 15, 2006

World of Series of Birding: Sunday

At the Grand Hotel on Sunday, the doors opened at 9 a.m. for the scramble to find seats before the buffet opened. Zen Zugunruhe and I easily found a table that offered a great view of the banquet room and the awards podium. The social aspect of birding never fails to entertain me.

Zen Zugunruhe: Glen Davis, Matt Garvey, Dave Hedeen and Tait Johansson

The buffet once again offered a plethora of filling choices; the cherry blintzes get my vote for the best item. The awards presentations began about 10 a.m. with the three divisions in the Zeiss Youth Birding Competition.

The number of youth teams seems to increase every year, and that’s very encouraging… and necessary. The adults in the birding community need to make sure that the number of minors and young adults in this hobby/sport/lifestyle continues to grow. Today’s youth are tomorrow’s conservationists.

Conservation is a huge aspect in the World Series of Birding. This competition isn’t just about finding the most species within the entire Garden State or within a limited geographic area. It’s also about gathering pledges per species seen or heard and raising money to fund the teams’ chosen conservation projects. The birds become the ultimate winners in this listing game, a point made repeatedly during the awards brunch.

One of the things that I always enjoy at the brunch is seeing the complete list of team names. Some of the most clever names belong to the youth teams. Along with the U-Terns, the list included the Mighty Mighty Turnstones, the Punk Rock Doves and the Saw-What Owls.

I also enjoy seeing folks who’re associated with WildBird on the various teams. For instance, Matt Hafner competed on WildBird’s team in the Great Texas Birding Classic for a few years; this year, his World Series team—MOS Yellowthroats, sponsored by Maryland Ornithological Society—won the Cape May County competition. Go, Matt!

Mike Lanzone used to write for WildBird, and his PennsylvAvian Monitors—sponsored by Carnegie Museum of Natural History—won second place overall in this year’s World Series. Congrats, Mike!

The digiscoping teams included a plethora of WildBird associates. For instance, the Digi Trio (sponsored by Nikon) included Mike Freiberg and Cameron Cox; they both competed on the Nikon WildBirders in last month’s Great Texas Birding Classic. Jessie Barry, who writes the reviews in Book Nook for each issue of WildBird, completed the Digi Trio. On the Double Exxposures digiscoping team (sponsored by Leica) were Jeff Bouton, who writes the Adventures with Austin column in each issue, and Bill Schmoker, who contributes photographs.

One last proud mention: A few years ago, Chris Wood joined Zen Zugunruhe for the World Series. Now, he works for Cornell Lab of Ornithology on eBird with Brian Sullivan. This year, Chris competed with the Sapsuckers, sponsored by Cornell and Swarovski, and the Sapsuckers won first place overall with 229 species. Congrats to Chris and the other Sapsuckers!

At every awards brunch, Dave Hedeen contributes some humor, and this year was no exception. Although Dave didn’t have to talk at the awards podium (a friendly rival in the Cape May Island competition won first place by four species), he did say a few words during the traditional team roundup… something along the lines of “Last year, I asked some teams to bird south of the canal so that we’d have some competition. Well, now I’m asking you to bird north of the canal!”

World Series of Birding: Saturday

Mother Nature smiled on the teams competing in the World Series of Birding. Down in Cape May, the sun shone, and a mild breeze blew. It was a vast improvement over the previous forecasts.

After a lively, leisurely dinner at Lucky Bones, our group—relatives, friends and sponsors of two teams—migrated to the volunteer fire hall in West Cape May. The new location for the Finish Line offered much more room than the trailer next to the lighthouse at Cape May Point State Park.

When we walked into the hall about 10 p.m., we saw various teams already chatting about their adventures and enjoying the generous buffet. Along with youth teams, we noticed the digiscoping teams—three adult groups that competed in the Classic’s new category. The digiscopers did a modified Big Day, working from sun-up to sundown to photograph the most species using a digital camera and a spotting scope.

Most World Series teams turn in the official checklist when they get to the Finish Line. The digiscoping teams had to put their photographs on CDs for review by the judges. I’d like to know if the digiscoping rules said anything about the quality (specifically, focus) of the images and if not, if that will become an element in upcoming Classics. That could add a demanding twist!

After the judges reviewed the teams’ checklists, an official total appeared on the tally board. Another board showed the unusual and unexpected finds during the day, citing species, location and team.

As the hour approached midnight, more teams arrived at the fire hall, and the noise level increased. I always get a kick out of observing all the chatter by birders who’ve been awake for at least 24 hours.

Right after the “five minutes until midnight” announcement, one of the fellows from Zen Zugunruhe walked into the hall. Dave turned in the WildBird team’s checklist, and Matt and Tait soon joined him. They said it had been a challenging day on Cape May Island—but fun, as always… which is the point of the exercise.

With another World Series complete, it was time for a few hours of sleep before the awards brunch on Sunday morning.

Friday, May 12, 2006

World Series of Birding: Friday

Today’s sunny, dry weather allowed a return visit to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. Now, some folks might think I’m crazy to drive three hours north to revisit the NYC refuge that I explored yesterday, but there is a method to my madness.

Yesterday’s visit was a “Well, Friday’s weather might put the kibosh on Jamaica Bay, so I’ll visit it after the red-eye lands in Philly to make sure that I finally see the site.” Today’s visit was a “Cool. I get to meet Mike Bergin, who lives nearby and knows the site.”

Mike blogs at 10,000 Birds and founded the bird blogosphere’s biweekly carnival, I and the Bird, almost a year ago. He’s a great blogger (much more of a thinker than I am) and a great birding companion.

We walked around West Pond, following the loop trail that I walked on Thursday morning. With Mike, though, I saw more species today than my eyes detected or my brain recognized yesterday. Mike pointed out Brown Thrasher, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Red-breasted Merganser, Gadwall and Black-crowned Night-Heron.

The highlight for me, aside from the amiable conversation, was walking into North Garden and watching the colorful birds eating amid the greenery. We watched Black-throated Green Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, American Redstart, Baltimore Oriole, Northern Parula, White-throated Sparrow and Eastern Towhee before returning to the gravel trail.

The garden enchanted me with its many paths, tall vegetation and various treasures. I look forward to my next visit and my next opportunity to visit with Mike. Thank you for a delightful outing, Mike!

After returning to Cape May… wait, I need to commend New Jersey drivers for a minute. For the most part, Garden State drivers follow the rule of staying to the right and moving into the left lanes only to pass. I really like that and dearly wish that SoCal drivers were as observant of the principle; it would make freeway driving much more efficient.

Anyhoo, after returning to Mile 0 on the Garden State Parkway, I indulged in tiramisu for dessert and then walked across the street to the beach. The bright moon hung over the slowly breaking, small waves.

While strolling on the damp sand, I sent good thoughts to the fellows of Zen Zugunruhe, who were resting up before the midnight start of their Big Day. They’d spent the day scouting Cape May Island, the “limited geographic area” that they’ve covered for years in the World Series.

This year, Zen Zugunruhe has some bonafide competition from four other teams that will focus on the area south of the Cape May Canal. I hope to run into the Zen guys during the day and hear how they’re faring before seeing them tonight at the Finish Line before 11:59 p.m.

World Series of Birding: Thursday

Time for some East Coast birding! After the plane landed in Philadelphia at 7 a.m., I drove to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge to satisfy some curiosity. Some of WildBird’s photographers rave about Jamaica Bay’s shorebirds, so I wanted to see the site myself.

Part of Gateway National Recreation Area, the refuge includes more than 9,100 acres within New York City limits. My short visit included just the loop trail around West Pond, where I first heard, then saw, a Gray Catbird… quite the dapper-looking songster who didn’t run out of steam for quite a while.

The trail provided a look at the almost-complete visitor center on Cross Bay Boulevard. No doubt that’ll prove to be a useful and well-used facility. (Click on an image to see a larger version.)

A family of Canada Geese nibbled and dozed next to the gravel trail. My binocular allowed a close-up shot of a gosling, and one adult hissed only twice when I ver-r-r-r-y slowly walked past their spot to continue on the trail.

Then I saw the bird that captivated my attention for most of the walk: Tree Swallow. I’ve never seen that many swallows in one place—perching, preening, swooping in the air, gliding over the pond surface before a quick dip. They looked fabulous, too, with their crisp white feathers below and blue-black-purple-green iridescent feathers above.

Granted, the trail offered other cool birds—including Glossy Ibis, Yellow Warbler, Eastern Towhee—that I don’t regularly see. The bright warbler provided an especially welcome contrast to the gray, windy weather.

The West Pond trail includes more than its namesake. Gardens sit off the trail, as does Blind Pond (shown). I’m looking forward to a return visit very soon.

The drive from Jamaica Bay to Cape May went smoothly. Can I just say, as a Californian, that this toll stuff is irritating? Dishing out 35 cents, 70 cents, $2 and even $9 to drive on the turnpike/parkway/expressway was a nuisance. Thank goodness we have freeways at home (c:

At the Cape May Bird Observatory's research and education center in Cape May Court House, I joined the evening's Swap Meet, where teams competing in the World Series of Birding gather to eat, drink and share details and birds' locations. Pete Dunne speedily led the discussion down the checklist, and then everyone mingled for a while. I really enjoy the chance to visit with folks whom I see only once or twice a year, like the fellows on Zen Zugunruhe (WB's team).

Mother Nature threw a temper tantrum much later. The strong winds had made the flags fly perpendicular to the poles for a few hours, but about 11:30, the thunder, lighting and rain briefly raised the noise level. It appears that Mother Nature got it out of her system and that Saturday’s weather forecast looks much less dreary for the WSB teams. I’m crossin’ my fingers!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Zen Zugunruhe!

That's the name of WildBird's team in the World Series of Birding this Saturday in New Jersey. This year's team consists of Dave Hedeen, Matt Garvey, Glen Davis and Tait Johansson. I'm looking forward to seeing them after getting into Cape May tomorrow.

The World Series began in 1984 when birders converged on the Garden State to I.D. as many species as possible within 24 hours and to raise money for conservation projects. The event's grown tremendously in two decades, and the growth that most delights me is the number of youth teams.

We get to hear from the young birders during Sunday's awards brunch, when all of the teams share tales of their 24-hour scavenger hunt. We never know what Dave Hedeen will say, but we know that he'll elicit laughter!

Friday, May 05, 2006


Want to see little birds on the big screen? Today marks the nationwide release of "Hoot," the tale of three Florida teenagers who try to stop construction on land inhabited by Burrowing Owls.

The official synopsis says
HOOT revolves around a Montana boy who moves to Florida and unearths a disturbing threat to a local population of endangered owls. Determined to protect his new environment, the boy and his friends fight to prevent the adults from making a big mistake.

While young birders might enjoy seeing their peers protect endangered birds and have some great adventures, adults might enjoy seeing Jimmy Buffet in the film. Mr. Parrothead also contributed to the soundtrack. And those of us with a soft spot for Luke Wilson might enjoy the film, too.

Don't skip the movie's website, which offers a plethora of treats: a desktop pet owl that generates a donation to the National Wildlife Federation, oddles of details about the movie, sounds clips of and educational materials about the owls, screensavers, AIM icons and an online game where you can help an owl cross a field and avoid snakes, dogs and alligators.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The sound of silence

It'll be quiet on this end while I tackle the deadline for the July/August issue. In the meantime, please peruse the Favorite Posts in the right-hand column. A few posts in the archives feature video clips (including Birdchick and Pete Dunne) that might amuse you.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Most Beautiful Birds meme

Jay tagged me last night, so I'll play the game this morning.

The rules: Post a list of the 10 birds you consider most beautiful on your blog; you may limit the list to the ABA area (continental United States and Canada) or use a geographic area of your choice. Mark birds you have seen with an asterisk. Tag 3 bloggers to keep it going.

Having just returned from the Great Texas Birding Classic, where I witnessed a fallout on South Padre Island, it's not difficult to think of avian beauties. BTW, my list is not in order of most to least gorgeous. That would require more time than today's schedule will allow!

1. Wilson's Warbler*
2. Green Jay*
3. White-tailed Kite*
4. Buff-bellied Hummingbird*
5. Roseate Spoonbill*
6. Magnolia Warbler*
7. American Kestrel*
8. Black-throated Green Warbler*
9. Common Yellowthroat*
10. Peregrine Falcon*

One more thought: Beauty is not simply visual appearance. Beauty can encompass a bird's form or behavior, such as a Peregrine's incredibly fast dive. I find that completely ravishing!

I tag BirdChick, Jeff and Home Bird.

American Kestrel courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Junior Duck Stamp winner announced

A 15-year-old from Amoret, Mo., won the 2006-2007 Federal Junior Duck Stamp Design Contest last week. Rebekah Nastav's acrylic painting of a Redhead, called "Morning Swim," will go on sale June 1 for $5. The funds go toward environmental education programs.

Previous winners include Adam Nisbett of St. James, Mo., who recently earned the Overall Young Birder of the Year Award for the 14- to 18-year-old group in the American Birding Association's annual competition. Nisbett painted Fulvous Whistling-Ducks for the stamp contest.

The junior Duck Stamp contest wraps up a year-long conservation curriculum, and each state hosts competitions between February and mid-April. The state winners receive scrutiny from five judges in Washington, D.C., and the winning artist receives a free trip to D.C. with a parent, the art teacher and the state coordinator in June... and $5,000. Not too shabby, as Adam Sandler would say.

Nastav's junior Duck Stamp will go on sale June 1, the same day as the federal Duck Stamp depicting Ross' Goose by Sherrie Russell Meline of Mt. Shasta, Calif. Federal Duck Stamp sales benefit birders as well as hunters, and the $15 stamps are available at post offices and via

This weekend, I heard a well-known birder say he'd never seen a Duck Stamp. As someone who'd benefited for decades from national wildlife refuges and other sites conserved with Duck Stamp proceeds, how could that have happened?

Monday, May 01, 2006

GTBC: Sunday

Nick, Clay and I joined the awards brunch at Quinta Mazatlan at a fashionably late hour. (John and Father Tom had other responsibilities and unfortunately couldn't attend the festivities.) We settled into a table in the shade and enjoyed chatting with other participants and special guests. (Click on an image to see a larger version.)

Carol Jones (left) and Shelly Plante shepherded the program, first honoring folks who created the Classic 10 years ago: Madge Lindsay, John Herron, Ted Eubanks and Andrew Sansom. They also presented gifts to corporations, sponsors and individuals who've participated all 10 years. Then the teams shared tales from their adventures.

Then it came time for the awards, of which there were many. Among the awards of particular interest to me were the weeklong tournament, in which the Nikon WildBirders placed second with 325 species (Go team!), and the lower coast sectional, in which the Swarovski Roadside Hawks placed first with 215 species (Woo hoo!). Once again, the WildBirders will choose a habitat conservation project in Texas to receive funds.

Nikon WildBirders: Cameron Cox, Ken Behrens,
Michael Retter and Mike Freiberg

A big shout-out to the blind and visually impaired folks who participated in the Outta-Sight Songbirder Contest (birding by ear only)! This was the tournament's third year in the Classic. Kudos to the young birders who traveled from around the country to participate in the Gliders youth division; I hope to see you at next year's event.

I have only one complaint about the awards brunch: There isn't enough time to chat with everyone before we scatter to catch flights home or to bird more!

GTBC: Saturday

Game on! The Big Van containing the Swarovski Roadside Hawks--Clay, John, Father Tom and Nick--and I pulled into Brownsville a little after midnight, the official starting time for the Lower Coast tournament. The first species of the guys' Big Day: Green Parakeet. A calling Dickcissel overhead filled the No. 2 slot. The Peregrine perched at the top of the Chase bank building back in McAllen became No. 3 (The strong winds really buffeted the bird of prey.).

This entry won't become a run-down of each species sighted or heard before midnight at various stops. Clay remained behind the wheel, taking us to Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park (where I really enjoyed walking in the moon-lit dark and hearing multiple Eastern Screech-Owls) and farther west. We switched places west of La Joya, and I drove to Roma, where the team sleepily ordered taquitos from Whataburger. Next stops: Roma Bluffs and Chapeno, where we again encountered Ben Lizdas' team as well as a youth team, the ABA/Leica Tropicbirds, led by Louise Zemaitis and Michael O'Brien from Cape May, N.J. (As always, click on an image to see a larger version.)

Retracing Highway 83 with Clay in the driver's seat, the Big Van next stopped at Anzalduas County Park, where I resumed driving duties. At a sod farm on 281, the fellows were pleased to find Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper and Baird's Sandpiper among others. While looking through a scope, one guy said, "What the h*ll?" A teammate looked through the scope and said, "Yep, he's got a What-the-h*ll Sandpiper over here."

While moving toward South Padre Island, John directed me to a dirt road on the left side, where the team anticipated finding Botteri's Sparrow. They did find Aplomado Falcon and Cassin's Sparrow while I considered some guidelines for first-time drivers: Practice making quick but smooth moves to the right shoulder at a moment's notice, drive less than 15 miles per hour while the windows are down, remember to turn on the hazard lights while creeping along a highway shoulder while the windows are down.

Along the causeway to South Padre Island, I kept the van at 45 miles per hour in the right lane while the fellows scanned for birds. We stopped briefly at the end of the causeway and saw two American Oystercatcher chicks (miniscule puffballs!) near the adult. A stop at the Sheraton hotel pond didn't reveal the anticipated Redheads, but that disappointment quickly faded when we got to the convention center.

Oh. My. Goodness. Colorful migrants dove into the vegetation. I felt stunned after seeing Magnolia Warbler and Yellow Warbler and Wilson's Warbler (quite dapper with the black cap) and Painted Bunting and Black-throated Green Warbler and and and WOW. The beach also held shorebirds, which the fellows investigated before we drove to Campeche Street for more delights including Blackburnian Warbler, Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Philadelphia Vireo. A visit to the mayor's yard revealed a nearby Grasshopper Sparrow, prompting Nick to call the Nikon WildBirders and clue them to the species' presence. One of the neat things about the Classic is the teams' ability to share information and help each other (as opposed to the World Series of Birding).

Nikon WildBirders: Michael Retter, Mike Freiberg, Ken Behrens, Cameron Cox

A visit to the jetty increased the Roadside Hawks' count of species and yielded a very amusing find by Nick: a juvenile Magnificent Frigatebird on top of a telephone pole next to a parking lot. Another stop at the Sheraton pond revealed the previously elusive Redheads, and then we returned to the convention center, where we enjoyed Mourning Warbler, a calling Marsh Wren and a beautiful sunset among other other delights.

At a brisk pace, the Big Van drove west on a quest for a couple elusive species. About 9 p.m., I relinquished the driver's seat and crawled onto a rear bench before resting my eyes. The team called it a night about 10 o'clock, and after the fellows double-checked the final checklist, Nick, Clay and I returned to the finish line in McAllen about 11:45 p.m. There, we encountered other teams, still jazzed about their day in south Texas or week along the Texas Gulf Coast.

Next stop: a bed for many consecutive hours of sleeeeep.

GTBC: Friday

After picking up egg/bacon/cheese taquitos at Whataburger (considered good luck by Clay), he and I returned to Quinta Mazatlan to see its morning activity. During two hours of ambling, I saw the previous days' suspects as well as Couch's Kingbird, Long-billed Thrasher, Common Yellowthroat, Curve-billed Thrasher and Lincoln's Sparrow. Most of the latter group appeared at a bubbling water feature surrounded by seed and suet feeders. Clay and I sat there for a while, heard the long-bill go through his repertoire repeatedly and enjoyed the sparrow at length. (As always, click on an image to see a larger version.)

We picked up the Big Van (a 15-passenger vehicle) for the Big Day before heading to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge and hearing highlights from intern Heidi Trudell. During the windy visit, Clay and I saw or heard Red-winged Blackbird, Great Kiskadee, Clay-colored Robin, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Black-necked Stilt, Blue-winged Teal, Killdeer, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Cinnamon Teal, American Coot, Gadwall, Tricolored Heron, White-faced Ibis, Northern Shoveler, Little Blue Heron, Common Moorhen, Great Egret, Cattle Egret and Least Grebe.

Zipping over to Weslaco's Frontera Audubon Center, we saw or heard Groove-billed Ani, Long-billed Thrasher, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Plain Chachalaca, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Inca Dove, Northern Cardinal, White-tipped Dove and Carolina Wren. Many of those species visited the large feeder set-up, where Clay and I sat for a good 10 minutes. As Clay said, "I could sit here all day."

Unfortunately, the center closes at 4 p.m. on Fridays, so we returned to the hotel and walked to Tony Roma's for an early dinner. While I zonked out for a three-hour nap, Clay retrieved Nick Block from the airport. I looked forward to hanging out with Nick, who served as the captain for WildBird's weeklong Classic team for a handful of years before grad school dictated otherwise.

With Clay at the wheel of the Big Van, the three of us set out from McAllen at 10:15 p.m. toward Harlingen to retrieve John Arvin of the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory and Father Tom Pincelli of the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival. The wind, thunder, lightning and rain made for a dark and stormy night as we traveled farther south to Brownsville. With Clay's laptop plugged into the cigarette lighter on the BV's dashboard, Nick and John refined the strategy spreadsheet for this 24-hour romp through the lower Rio Grande Valley.

GTBC: Thursday

After landing at the airport in McAllen, Texas, I ran into Ben Lizdas, Sean Smith and Roy Rodriguez, who're also competing in the Lower Coast tournament of the Great Texas Birding Classic. Clay Taylor of Swarovski collected me from the baggage claim area, and after a quick stop at the hotel, off we went to Quinta Mazatlan, a recently opened World Birding Center site. (As always, click on an image to see a larger version.)

The winding trails led us through some great habitat inhabited by many seemingly tame birds. Plain Chachalacas, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers and Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks provided the aural backdrop for our walk. The Olive Sparrows entranced me while they perched and fed very close to us. Clay, a sports aficionado, revealed that Great Kiskadees actually say "Ichiro" (as in Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners) rather than "kiskadee." I spotted a Yellow-breasted Chat (what a bright yellow!), and Clay found a Golden-winged Warbler as it foraged. An Inca Dove strutted near a water feature. We heard the Buff-bellied Hummingbirds before we saw them and enjoyed good looks at a perched male -- such long wings.

While we enjoyed long looks at Green Parakeets on a dead palm tree, the site's manager, Colleen, mentioned the Eastern Screech-Owl nest and then led us to it. Clay digiscoped the bird, which was perched in another dead palm that we'd passed earlier. That was a cool finish to the outing.

Before eating dinner at Logan's Roadhouse, we checked the Chase bank for the Peregrine Falcon that roosts in the lit letters at the top of the tall building. No sign of him. Hopefully he'll be there in the wee hours of Saturday morning.

From the trenches of a photo contest...

The postmark deadline for the 18th annual photo contest occurred on Saturday, the 29th. More than five USPS mail crates awaited me today. Those are in addition to the five crates already sorted and set aside. The next two or three days might bring five more 18" long by 11" tall by 12" wide crates full of photo entries.

Warning: pet peeve ahead. Two of those sorted crates contain envelopes that did not designate a category in the lower left-hand corner. This irritates me, perhaps more than it should. Let me know what you think after reading the rest of this post.

The rules say the category must appear on the envelope, and the category's absence gives me two options. One: If it's a fairly flat envelope, likely containing just one entry, I'm going to set it aside and not bother to open it. Two: If it's a bulky large envelope, likely containing multiple entries -- which could be in individual and labeled envelopes -- then I'll open it to see if my theory of multiple entries is correct.

Some folks think that I'm mean or unfair to disregard the thin, unlabeled envelopes. I think that I'm practical and time-efficient.

The rules exist for a reason. This particular rule allows me to efficiently sort the entries, a dire necessity with the possibility of opening and evaluating more than 1,500 entries. (Last year's contest involved more than 1,900 entries.)

While assistant editor Patti Carpenter helps me by opening the entries, I'm responsible for the initial judging of all the images. That's one person, facing hundreds of prints, slides and CDs (which require more time than the other formats).

So, am I mean or unfair to adhere to a simple rule that streamlines the process?