Friday, June 30, 2006

Launch time

As mentioned before, NASA planned to trap Black and Turkey Vultures temporarily in preparation for the July 1 launch of the shuttle Discovery. That effort began yesterday, and officials expect about 150 vultures to spend a short time behind bars and out of harm's way. That was one of various measures meant to ensure that birds do not strike the shuttle and possibly damage it.

Turkey Vulture courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Birding for the Blind

With the growing emphasis on birdsong, it makes sense that birders reach out to blind individuals and share the aural delights of birding. In Newburyport, Mass., the Massachusetts Audubon Society and the Lowell Association for the Blind lead blind folks through Parker River Wildlife National Refuge.

Joe O'Neil of Chelmsford, who was blinded as an infant when cancer attacked his retinas, was taking it all in.

"It's really nice to be able to identify these things by what they sound like and you don't have to see them," he said. "There are a lot of different things to learn here."

The instruction that day went well beyond bird calls, and the volunteers who led the members through the swampy areas were taken back by all that their charges were taking in.

"It's a very humbling experience," said Ellen Kunkel, an Audubon volunteer from Chelmsford. "We're all so used to seeing the world around us. It's interesting to see how someone who doesn't have that sense relates to the world."

One competitive birding event -- the Great Texas Birding Classic -- added a tournament for blind birders in 2004: the Outta-Sight Songbirder tournament. Here's one account, and here's another (check out the binocular designed like eyeglasses).

Do you lead birdwalks for blind folks? Do you know of organizations that do?


Yes, I'm still offering outtakes from this year's photo contest. Here's the sixth installment.

Selection tip: When investing your time to enter an image into a photo contest, stay on topic. Otherwise, save your postage, materials and time (c:

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Oregon city adopts Belted Kingfisher

Schoolchildren in Lincoln City, Ore., voted for the city's official bird and cast their ballots for Belted Kingfisher. Other candidates included Red-tailed Hawk, Osprey and Dark-eyed Junco.

Audubon Society of Lincoln City organized the election, and kids from a kindergarten and two elementary schools participated.

Tyler Lopez, 11, said he voted for the Belted Kingfisher.

"It has a cool mohawk and it likes to fish and I like to fish," he said.

Lopez said he thinks it's important to teach students and the community about respecting birds and protecting their habitats.

"If we learn about birds, we won't trash the environment," he said.
From the mouths of babes...

Birder confirmed as U.S. Treasury secretary

This afternoon, the U.S. Senate confirmed Henry M. Paulson Jr. as secretary of the United States Treasury. The chairman of Goldman Sachs also has served as chair of The Nature Conservancy, and his passion for birding garnered news coverage after his May 30 nomination.

He's served on the board of a well-known birding organization:
Paulson, nominated Tuesday by Bush to succeed John Snow at Treasury, took an early interest in nature. He was raised as a Christian Scientist on an Illinois farm, where he still keeps five acres and has let raccoons have the run of the house. Before college he wanted to become a forest or park ranger. Instead he opted for a business career, getting an MBA from Harvard.

He and his wife, Wendy, are both skilled birders. At their house in Illinois, they’ve raised birds, dogs, cats, raccoons, flying squirrels, lizards, snakes, mice, turtles, frogs and a tarantula.

“Environment is my passion,” Paulson told Charlie Rose in a PBS interview in 2004.

At Goldman Sachs, he arranged for a handler with a leather glove to bring in captive-bred birds of prey to show off each year. The handler would come from The Peregrine Fund, another conservation group on which he serves on the board.
Nice to see birding get some mentions in the financial media. Any chance that the presence of a high-profile birder like Paulson could result in more and/or larger donations to more birding and conservation organizations?

Let's work it, people!

First Friday deadline coming up

Would you like to turn your mind to crafting a short story about birds, birders and/or birding? Can you incorporate a setting, a character or characters, a conflict and a resolution within 500 words? The only other rule: The birds cannot be anthropomorphized.

The first contender arrived last week. It set a good standard, and I look forward to reading more entries.

Please send your feather fiction before or on Wed., July 5. I'll post the winner on Friday the 7th, and the winner can choose a book from the review copies in my office.

Bring on the fiction, fellow wordsmiths!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Really old footprints found in Argentina

Argentine paleontologists have found bird-like footprints 55 million years older than the oldest known bird fossils.

The team discovered dozens of three-toed footprints in rocks older than 212 million years in northwest Argentina. Averaging about 3.5 centimeters wide and similar in length, they look very much like bird footprints made in small shallow ponds along a river. However, the rocks are some 55 million years older than the most ancient known bird skeleton, Archaeopteryx. The big question is what made them.
More details here and particularly here.

Whooping it up

Last week included a historic moment for Whooping Cranes in the Midwest. On June 22, two chicks hatched in the wild at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Necedah, Wis., for the first time in more than 100 years.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service/Richard Urbanek

"With the hatching of the first two wild chicks from the migratory whooping crane reintroduction, another chapter in wildlife history has been made. The journey took six long years of dedication, vision and believing it could happen--as well as the blood, sweat and occasional tears of the many partners that worked on the project. This is truly the start of a new generation of wild things...and a symbol for restoring our wild places," said John Christian, co-chair of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership.

Four days later, eight chicks arrived at Necedah NWR from the U.S. Geological Survey's Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Md. The four males and four females will prepare for their fall journey behind ultralight aircraft to Chassahowitzka NWR in Crystal River, Fla.

In addition to WCEP and PWRC, organizations involved in the preparation and journey include Operation Migration, International Crane Foundation and Walt Disney World's Animal Program.

The current buzz: giss

Check out this Fort Wayne News Sentinel article about birding by impression, the basis for two recent books: The Shorebird Guide by Crossley, Karlson and O'Brien and Pete Dunne's Essential Field Guide Companion. "Giss" stands for "general impression of size and shape."

Kevin Karlson -- who writes the Birder's I.D. column in each issue -- provided a glimpse at the shorebird book's gist in the January/February issue. An excerpt of Dunne's work appeared in the May/June issue.

Monday, June 26, 2006

ABA bloggers roundup

Interested in various perspectives of this year's American Birding Association convention in Bangor, Maine?

Here's a sample of the bloggers who attended the weeklong event.
Bill of the Birds by Bill Thompson III
BirdAZ by Rick Wright
BirdChick by Sharon Stiteler
Field Notes by Derek Lovitch (He talks about the Young Birder Track, which needs all birders' support.)
JeffGyr by Jeff Gordon
Mokka mit Schlag by Rusty Harold
Stokes Birding Blog by Don and Lillian Stokes

Remember to look for a Previous Posts section or an archives, where you'll find earlier related entries about the convention.

Kindly let me know if I missed someone. Thank you!

ABA: A family affair

On Tuesday's Schoodic Peninsula field trip, I met Kali, Tiny and Richard. What makes them special? They represent three generations of the Furman family. I was stoked to see an 18-year-old, her dad and her grandfather birding together.

Kali and her dad live in St. Maries, Idaho, while Richard calls Huntington, N.Y., home. They met up in Maine to participate in the convention's field trips, workshops and evening activities.

Last week marked Kali's introduction to "organized birding." She's noticed birds while sitting on the deck at home, especially when Richard visits the family's 20 acres and points out the birds, but she's not participated in group birding before this month.

Tiny works as a forester and learned a lot about birds by osmosis on the job, but he credits his dad with creating an interest in birds during his childhood on Long Island. This trip with his dad and his daughter gives Tiny a chance to continue that tradition.

Richard's interest in birds began in his childhood. He's been birding informally all his life, and he said it was his first merit badge as a Boy Scout. He's obviously pleased to share this activity with his son and granddaughter.

ABA: Barred Owls

Many thanks to Bill Schmoker for sharing his photo of the young, fuzzy trio as they perched in Acadia National Park during Saturday's rainy field trip. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

ABA: Saturday

The last Acadia National Park field trip of the convention began under wet skies, but that certainly didn't stop us from looking for birds or enjoying the scenery. At first, the weather did stop me from being quite as snap-happy as anticipated, but the falling water occasionally relented.

The first order of business: the King Eider at the seawall. He obliged us with good views among the Common Eiders and Black Scoters riding the swells. (Click on an image to see a larger version.)

We walked up the road and encountered Northern Parula, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Gray Catbird, American Robin, Black-capped Chickadee and Black-throated Green Warbler before retreating to the two buses.

That's Mike Freiberg, one of the field trip leaders, on the far left. Ted Floyd's also in the pic, but he's facing away unfortunately. The excursion's other leaders included Jerry Smith, Michael Goode, Barry Lyon and Victor Emanuel. One of the many benefits of a birding event like the convention and some of the larger festivals is the opportunity to bird with guides who work for tour companies like Victor Emanuel Nature Tours, WINGS and Field Guides.

During the drive from the seawall to the next stop, Victor told us about one of his rare-bird sightings: Eskimo Curlew on the Texas Gulf Coast. I enjoyed hearing the tale of his April 7, 1959, observations. He watched the bird for two hours that day and told us "It's hard to believe it really happened." At one point, he had a spotting-scope view of a Whimbrel, a Long-billed Curlew and the Eskimo together.

Our field trip's second stop included a walk through woods that hid an elusive, vocal Ovenbird. Even though we didn't see the bird, we got to see beautiful scenery.

That stop also allowed us to watch three young Barred Owls sitting way up in the trees. I hope to offer a picture of them soon, with help from the ever-smiling Bill Schmoker.

At the Peregrine Falcone eyrie, we unfortunately didn't see or hear any raptors. (The other bus did, though -- darn them!) I did hear a Red-eyed Vireo there with help from Barry.

Our last stop involved a delightful walk near Schooner Head outlook. We heard Nashville Warbler a couple times and enjoyed the sounds and sights of Hermit Thrush and Ovenbird. At one point, the thrush chased a chipmunk -- perhaps away from a nest?

And that was the last of our ABA adventures for the week. The days had sped by, and despite my fatigue, I was bummed to see the end of the festivities. I can, however, look forward to next year's convention in late April in Lafayette, Louisiana. Perhaps you'll join us?

One last image from Maine:

Sunday, June 25, 2006

ABA: Friday

The convention's schedule included presentations in the morning and afternoon as well as the vendor mart in the Bangor civic center. Birdchick's coworkers agreed to staff the booth so that she could chase the King Eider at Acadia National Park. Despite my plan to go on Saturday's Acadia field trip, I joined my roommate on her quest to get 20 lifers in Maine.

Priorities, however: First stop -- Dunkin' Donuts coffee and fried, decorated dough. Mmm mmm good!

The directions given to Sharon proved to be less than clear, and we didn't find the distinctive duck. We did, however, cross paths with a deer and later find a road that took us through delightful habitat that included singing Hermit Thrushes. With the windows rolled down, we enjoyed hearing the song for a few minutes before continuing.

An odd tick convinced us to get out of the Jeep, and we encountered some vocal Dark-eyed Juncos and Red-breasted Nuthatches. A Brown Creeper also did its thing, and a possible Hermit Thrush made a cameo appearance. The nuthatches' yank amused the heck outta me.

On the drive back to Bangor, we amused ourselves by documenting unusual miniature golf decorations.

I spent the afternoon schmoozing at the vendor mart and enjoying the wit of various colleagues. After dinner, I returned to the room to find Birdchick cutting up the Sooty Shearwater head that had been chilling in an ice bucket since Thursday. My apologies for not photographing that lovely sight ;^)

Saturday, June 24, 2006

ABA: Thursday

The northern boreal forest field trip on Thursday took us into beautiful country. After an almost-two-hour drive from Bangor, the two buses turned onto a logging road. The logging company that owns the land graciously agreed to stop operations so that we could explore the habitat – much appreciated. (Click on an image to see a larger version.)

I initially joined a group led by Louise Zemaitis and Don Freiday, both of New Jersey. Their knowledge of birdsong leaves me in awe.

While enjoying the sound of silence – or rather, the sound of a forest without human-related noise – I was able to see Northern Parula, Black-capped Chickadee, Magnolia Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Purple Finch, Nashville Warbler, American Robin, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Osprey, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Dark-eyed Junco and Gray Jay.

The Gray Jay particularly pleased me because it allowed good looks while perched on a snag. My first thought upon seeing the jay’s dark toupee through a binocular? “Hey, it’s a Gray Catbird on steroids.”

I really enjoyed seeing all the warblers, too. Can’t get enough of those flitty, colorful creatures.

Our groups reconvened on the buses, traveled to a new section of the logging road and divided into new groups. I followed Jeff Wells of Boreal Songbird Initiative. We quickly saw a half-dozen Cedar Waxwings, followed by a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and Palm Warbler.

The road took us by a Common Yellowthroat nest, and the female made her displeasure known. The male came out after most of the group disappeared.

Our path took us along a muddy road that included moose tracks. Cool!

The Hermit Thrush’s song sounded incredible – fluty, musical, what other birders have described as “hollow.” Our group also heard Blue-headed Vireo, Blackburnian Warbler, Pine Warbler and Northern Flicker.

On the drive back to Bangor, a moose appeared on the side of the highway. We were so stoked and erupted in spontaneous applause. The four-legged creature provided a fantastic finish to the outing.

The day’s finish included a filling meal at Angler’s Inn, west of Bangor, with a very fun group of field trip leaders who kept the laughter at an almost-nonstop pace. I finally got to eat one of Maine’s specialties: blueberry pie!

Friday, June 23, 2006

ABA in the news

When more than 500 people wearing binoculars invade a city of 32,000 for a week, someone's going to notice -- particularly the local media.

Bangor Daily News joined Tuesday's Schoodic Peninsula field trip (yep, the one that I went on), and the resulting article appeared Wednesday. It includes a photo of Rick Wright, one of the leaders and another bird blogger.

This online article from WLBZ includes a video clip filmed during one of the many field trips this week. One of the interviewees is WildBird's Birdboy columnist, Noah Strycker, whose photo also appears here.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

I and the Bird!

GOOOAAALLL! Patrick scored a winning shot with his World-Cup version of our biweekly birding carnival.

As an AYSO alumnus, I particularly enjoyed his timely theme... and it lessens my grief about the U.S. team's loss to Ghana today and elimination from the tournament. Sigh.

Check out the teams that Patrick assembled for this week's carnival!

ABA: people-watching

Wednesday’s convention schedule included workshops and an all-day vendor mart. I visited with various vendors, catching up on their products and on industry news. It was cool to see folks who cross my path only once or twice a year. (Click on an image to see a larger version.)

Pete Dunne’s got another book on the market. He said he wrote it in four days, including drily witty chapter titles, and it comes with a compact disc. No doubt the CD includes clips that’ll sound familiar to people who’ve watched the video clips in this post.

If you read this post about Jen Brumfield’s artwork, you might enjoy seeing the distinctive artist. She completed another book this spring – illustrations and text about dragonflies and damselflies. It’s receiving rave reviews about the quality of the art.

Another artist who appeared previously on the blog has joined this week’s festivities. Radeaux, who created the poster for International Migratory Bird Day, has many pieces on display, and I’m hoping to purchase a watercolor before the end of the week.

I was stoked to catch sight of a WildBird columnist, Noah Strycker, in the vendor hall. Noah writes the Birdboy column in each issue, and this was the first time that our paths crossed. I hope to gab more before Saturday night.

Noah previously earned the ABA Young Birder of the Year Award, and his successor is Adam Nisbett, who also joined this week’s activities. I’m pleased to see the younger generation of birders at the convention, and I hope to see more of their peers at future events.

The next generation of birders depends on older birders’ mentorship and funding for opportunities to expand their skills. Let’s do more to support them locally and nationally!

And the social day ended on a fabulous note with dinner at a local eatery, McLaughlin's (on Main Street) with fun-lovin' folks like Birdchick.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

ABA: Tuesday

The Schoodic Peninsula field trip first stopped at Acadia National Park’s Fraser Point, where we saw Black Guillemot, Common Eider and Common Loon. We watched one guillemot take an extended bath, saw both male and female eider, and heard a loon call while flying almost directly overhead. It was awesome. (Click on an image to see a larger version.)

On our next stop, the group of 29 birders and four leaders split into three groups, and our group of six walked up a hill to enjoy the woods. We enjoyed views of Golden-crowned Kinglet, Brown Creeper, Black-throated Green Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Black-capped Chickadee, Yellow-rumped Warbler and Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. The woods looked beautiful in the morning light.

At the Schoodic research and education center, a small group of us – aided by leaders Jeff Gordon and John Coons -- hung out in the parking lot and enjoyed great looks at another Black-throated Green as well as a Black-and-white Warbler, Dark-eyed Junco and Magnolia Warbler.

Then we walked down the Sundew trail to the coast and watched the waves and the lobster boats for a while. Great Black-backed Gulls, Laughing Gulls, Common Eider, Herring Gulls and others passed our location.

When we stopped at Corea Bog, we had great looks at American Redstart and Alder Flycatcher before seeing an Osprey and a Northern Harrier harass a Bald Eagle. After lunch, we stopped at an old airport decorated with blueberry plants and enjoyed the sounds and sights of Killdeer and Upland Sandpiper.

This is Hilary Cosper; this was her first field trip and the beginning of her life list. She ended the day with 15 lifers. Woo hoo!

We ended the trip with close views of two Uppies near the bus as it exited the runways. It was very cool to see the inconspicuous critters.

Next field trip on Thursday: the boreal forest. Hot-diggity!

Monday, June 19, 2006

ABA: Monday

And so it begins.

The 2006 American Birding Association convention began in Bangah (or Bang-gore, depending on who says it) today. I like how these folks think: The week of field trips, workshops, presentations and evening programs started with a social hour with adult beverages... and the opportunity to peruse the vendor booths at the civic center.

Here's a vendor you might recognize.

After dinner at the civic center, the attendees enjoyed an introduction to Maine and its birds by Jan Pierson of Field Guides. His informative and concise points and the great photography made for a really nice presentation.

The evening ended pretty early in light of tomorrow's field trips. The buses will leave the staging area between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m., which translates into 3 a.m. wake-up calls for some of us. Ouch. But it'll be worth it!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The locals have been warned...

that the birders are comin' to Bangor and we're looking for these:

Atlantic Puffin courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Friday, June 16, 2006

Quackery 7

Perhaps you've seen previous evidence of my rubber duckery. Here's more.

Sylvie made her debut this spring during a photo safari of the Las Vegas area. In this shot, she poses at the Calico Hills outlook at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Purrrty rocks!

Sylvie joins me only on road trips; she doesn't travel well in a backpack. That means other quackers will have the camera all to themselves during next week's American Birding Association convention in Bangor, Maine. Stay tuned for updates!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Photo contest winners

Phew! I finally can say that the judges chose the 16 winners in this year's contest. More than a handful of judges noted the difficulty in making their decisions. Yes, we are blessed to receive so many excellent entries as to make our job strenuous!

Did you notice my... ahem... "complaints" in previous posts about the hundreds of entries? I wasn't talkin' 200 or 400 entries. Oh no, a whimper wouldn't pass my lips for numbers like that.

Try this on for size: 13 hundred. That's right... more than 1,360 pictures for my eyeballs to scrutinize and whittle for the judges' perusal. Yee haw!

The winning images will appear in the September/October issue, which will be available in early August. Lemme know what you think of 'em.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

New! First Friday

The bird blogosphere includes some really good writers--birders who can craft words as well as, if not better than, they can attract birds and identify them in the field. It'd be a pleasure to see those writers turn their skills to birding fiction for adults.

Birding fiction doesn't seem to be a well-mined genre. I'm not aware of any tales beyond Christine Goff's mysteries. If there are others, please clue me in!

I'd like to suggest First Friday, a monthly writing contest with a 500-word limit. Why 500? Because it's just 5 percent of the total number of bird species. (Isn't that a mind-boggling concept?)

Let's agree that a story contains four ingredients: a setting, a character or characters, a conflict and a resolution. I'd like to add a rule for our purposes: The birds will not be anthropomorphized. The judges will include wordsmiths in and out of the birding world.

So what's in it for you if you choose to bend your head to this challenge? You could win a recently released book from among the selection in my office. A fair number of publishers send review copies to WildBird, but only three books appear in each issue. That leaves a lot of books on my bookshelves and office floor. I'll gladly send a list of the available titles to the winning writer. Maybe you'd like to receive An Egg is Quiet or National Geographic Field Guide to Birds of Arizona & New Mexico in your mailbox?

What do you think? Is it possible to craft fiction that touches on birds, birders and/or birding within 500 words?

Please send your short story via e-mail on Wednesday, July 5. I'll post the winning piece on Friday the 7th.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

This season of "Raptors in the City" concludes

At the beginning of the year, I mentioned "Raptors in the City." The online program gives us voyeurs an intimate look at nesting Peregrine Falcons in Cleveland, and it focuses on children as its audience:

For kids who love animals
For kids who care about animals that have faced extinction
For kids who want to learn more about the wildlife around them
For kids who promise to care about animals and nature in the future

Today marked the conclusion to this year's adventures of SW and Buckeye, the parents of four chicks that have learned to fly from a skyscraper ledge. Click here for the first episode, and then click on the lightning bolts to continue seeing photos and learning details about these urban dwellers.
Please share the website with youngsters in your life so that they can marvel at the images and "observe" some incredible birds.

Witnesses dispute window washer's claims

A Boston window washer claimed that gulls attacked him while he was working, and in self-defense, he swung a broom and killed a gull. A few folks didn't believe him, including the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which arrested him on charges of animal cruelty, which is a felony. The defendant pled not guilty.

Workers in a nearby office building observed the incident, and one shared her version of events.
Sarah, a witness who spoke on condition that her last name not be used, works in a cubicle overlooking the Devonshire Street rooftop where the sea gulls built their nest as she and her co-workers kept a daily vigil at the window.

She called Guay’s self-defense claim “absolute crap.”

“He deliberately walked over to the nest and began to beat them,” said Sarah. “He was batting at them, swinging and missing quite a bit. When he swung, he completely hit her and she flew. It was not a nice, gentle, get-out-of-the-way swing.”

For six weeks, she said, she and other employees watched as the pair of sea gulls built a nest for their family. Two of their eggs hatched Thursday, and the workers hung out a “congratulations” sign and another urging window washers to be careful of the gull babies.

Guay told the Herald he fended off three birds all day Friday while washing windows. He said he didn’t mean to kill the bird and said he used a broom stick. Sarah said the gulls had swooped down toward the window washers Friday only when they came near their nest. Guay went after them with a three-foot-long pipe, she said.

So here's my question: What's the status of the nest and the chicks?

Birder of the Year report

WildBird readers chose the Birder of the year from the 2005 Backyard Birders and Forum Birders, described in the November/December 2005 issue. (Look at The Lister’s Forum and Birder’s Back Yard in each issue for your chances to become Birder of the Year.)

As the 2005 Birder of the Year, college student Leigh Johnson of Newport Beach, Calif., received a Bushnell Elite 8x43 binocular, a Bushnell Elite spotting scope, round-trip airfare for two to south Texas and a rental car, courtesy of Bushnell Performance Optics. She and her mother received two-night accommodations at Alamo Inn in Alamo, two-night accommodations at Vieh’s Bed & Breakfast in San Benito and guided outings.

In the July/August 2006 issue of WildBird, Johnson recounted the trip.

The trip to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas was an incredible experience. We--my mom, Amy Hooper and I--started off the trip by spotlighting for Common Pauraque on Saturday with Sheridan Coffey and Martin Reid. We walked along the water at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. When we finally saw a pauraque fly, it became my first lifer of the trip. My nonbirding mom unexpectedly enjoyed the outing so much that she chose to bird with us for the rest of the trip.

Sheridan and Martin enthusiastically guided us for the first two days. On Sunday, we first stopped at Anzalduas County Park (956-585-5311) and saw Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, a quirky species. The Turkey and Black Vultures (a lifer) riding a thermal over the park provided an unexpected surprise. We also saw Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, a Northern Parula, Couch’s Kingbirds, Great Kiskadees and a magnificent Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.

On our way back to Bensten, I spotted my life Harris’ Hawk. Once at Bensten, we got our first look at Green Jays, and on a feeder, we watched a Long-billed Thrasher, an Altamira Oriole and an Indigo Bunting take turns. In a photo blind, we heard Plain Chachalacas calling from all sides.

Next stop: Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, where we birded with intern Heidi Trudell. Life birds included Black-crested Titmouse and Roseate Spoonbill. We sat to wait for the day’s last lifer, a Buff-bellied Hummingbird.

On Monday, we visited the hawkwatch at Santa Ana and saw Broad-winged Hawks, Mississippi Kites and many others overhead. The lift-off was breathtaking. Up the river at Chapeno, we picked up Ringed Kingfisher from a distance as well as Brown Jays, one juvenile and one adult. We later parted ways with Martin and Sheridan and headed to San Benito.

Tuesday morning, Pat Wade joined us as our guide, and we quickly got my first lifer of the day: Tamaulipas Crows carrying nesting material. Then we went to the Sabal Palm sanctuary, where I got my life Carolina Wren singing on a branch. We also saw the controversial Gray-crowned Yellowthroat.

The Aplomado Falcon (unbanded) and the White-tailed Hawk provided roadside treats on the way to South Padre Island, an amazing place. My last lifer of the trip was Upland Sandpiper off-island, and like my first Texas lifer, I lost a pint of blood to the mosquitoes in order to get it.

I gained more than 40 new birds, enjoyed fantastic experiences and met some superb people. To top it off, my mother gained a better understanding of who I am and what birding is. I’d say that alone made it a successful trip.

(For pictures and more details about the trip, visit the April 8, 9, 10 and 11 posts.—Ed.)

Suggestions for entering a photo contest

the third in a continuing series

Follow the contest rules. Generally they exist for a valid reason. This is where you might hear me adopt a parental tone of voice: "Do it because I said so! It's for your own good."

If the rules say to send only two entries per category, then send only two entries per category. If you send three or more entries per category, the editors might disqualify all of your entries.

If the rules say to send each image in a separate envelope, then send each image--and its personalized entry form--in a separate envelope. This allows the editors to organize the hundreds of entries into the appropriate mail crates.

If the rules say to write the category on the lower left-hand corner of the envelope, then write the category on the lower left-hand corner of the envelope. This allows the editors to organize the hundreds of entries into the appropriate mail crates.

If you do not write the category on the envelope, then your entry will be disqualified. The editors cannot make exceptions to the rules when processing hundreds of entries.

If the rules say that prints and CDs will not be returned, then do not waste your envelopes, postage and time by including an SASE with your prints and CDs. The editors cannot make exceptions to the rules when processing hundreds of entries.

If the rules say to include an 8x10 print with a digital entry on a CD, then send an 8x10 print with the CD. The editors use the print to determine if they'll view the digital file in Photoshop--a time-consuming process when evaluating hundreds of entries--and if you do not send a print, the editors will not open the CD.

By the way, did I mention "hundreds of entries"?

Monday, June 12, 2006

Condor chick dies at Oregon Zoo

The hopeful tale of the last California Condor chick to hatch in the Oregon Zoo's captive-breeding program ended last week. The chick born to parents 137 and 147 needed help to hatch from its egg on May 28, and the zoo's staff discovered the dead chick on June 6.

In a press release today, assistant condor curator Shawn St. Michael said,
"While the loss of our chick is tragic, our primary focus for the recovery effort is to raise condors that are the best possible candidates for return to the wild, so whenever possible we try and return chicks to their parents. Our condors have a much better chance of thriving if they've learned how to be a condor by a condor parent rather than a condor puppet," he added.

"This is just part of a growing program, and something that all the condor breeding facilities have had to deal with," lamented St. Michael. "Hopefully we'll have better results next year from this pair."

California Condor courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Vultures: Please exit left

NASA hopes to keep Turkey and Black Vultures away from Kennedy Space Center in Florida next month when it launches the Discovery space shuttle.

Their concern isn't unmerited. Last July, a vulture collided with Discovery after liftoff, creating concern about a replay of the Columbia tragedy in February 2003, when damage from foam debris led to the shuttle's disintegration during re-entry.

To deter the vultures, NASA plans to play battlefield noises, temporarily trap the birds in cages baited with carcasses and water, and remove roadkill from nearby roads.


At the behest of an impish birding colleague, I'm going to offer outtakes from this year's photo contest. Here's the fifth installment.

Photography tip: Turn off the auto-focus feature of the camera -- "artificial intelligence" auto-focus functions are not always your friend -- or wait to take the picture until branches do not obstruct your view of the bird.

Friday, June 09, 2006


At the behest of an impish birding colleague, I'm going to offer outtakes from this year's photo contest. Here's the fourth installment... and your opportunity to identify the species.

Photography tip: I recommend turning off the date-stamp function on the camera before taking pictures of birds.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

I and the Bird #25

Fly over to I and the Birds of Idaho for Rob's version of the biweekly birding carnival. You'll find great details about that raptor-rich state. You also might find new bird blogs to add to your Favorites list, so check it out!

Neil Diamond as bird bait

Have you read Sean Dooley's The Big Twitch? He made me laugh innumerable times while recounting his quest to see 700 birds in one year and teaching me about Australian birdlife, geography and history.

Want to read some funny bits?
For the first hour or so it looked like I'd pulled the wrong rein with Little Beach. There was simply no sign of the birds. Apparently they are very curious and are attracted by any loud noise... I decided to do an experiment to see which moden noise a [Lord Howe] woodhen who had spent its entire life on a small South Pacific island would never have heard.

I thought I'd give hip-hop music a try. Sadly, no success with the impromptu rap stylings of MC Doolio. Perhaps another form of music? I tried a bit of James Brown, followed by everything from Monty Python to Kylie, but nothing seemed to work. Apart from Neil Diamond. Not just any part of Neil Diamond, but the bit at the end of the musical intro to "Crunchy Granola Suite" where Neil proclaims "Good Lord!" As soon as I uttered those words (in the style of Neil Diamond, of course) a pair of woodhens came running. They were ridiculously tame birds so every time I hit them with a "Good Lord!" they would respond with up to ten seconds of shrieking.

More, you say? Why, soytainly.
Now in her seventies, Stella took me out the next morning to meet her favourite pair of Malleefowl. ... At one point the male bird started displaying to the hen. He raised a small crest on his head (I had no idea they even possessed a crest), stuck his head between his legs and made a deep, resonant booming sound. Very impressive. I must remember that move.

Honestly, I'd like to see a fellow pull off that mating display. It would make dating so much more interesting.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Early success for RCWO

The North Carolina Sandhills population of the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker recovered five years earlier than expected, thanks to creative thinking between the U.S. Army and federal, state and private entities.

Fort Bragg [near Fayetteville] achieved its goal ahead of schedule with the help of many partners involved in the management of the RCW in the North Carolina Sandhills. Recognizing the importance of the region’s unique ecosystems to both military training and to the nation’s endangered species, the North Carolina Sandhills Conservation Partnership (NCSCP) was created to reach common conservation goals.

The NCSCP consists of federal, state and non-profit organizations including: Fort Bragg, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Army Environmental Center, The Nature Conservancy, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation, the Sandhills Ecological Institute, the Sandhills Area Land Trust and several other regional stakeholders.
How many birders know that the U.S. Army Environmental Center exists?

Suggestions for entering a photo contest

the second in a continuing series

When preparing your package, keep it simple. If you make it difficult for the judges to open the package and evaluate your entry, you run the risk of ticking them off and allowing their irritation to color their judgment of your photo.

To keep judges happy when they're evaluating hundreds of entries, simplify your packaging process. Minimize the use of tape, clasps and other doodads. You'll be happier, too!

Here's an ideal package for an 8x10 print:
- 9x12 envelope (with the entry's category on the lower left-hand corner!)
- cardboard to support and protect the print
- this year's entry form, completely filled out with requested information
- thin, paper CD sleeve to protect the CD (for digital entries)

Here's an ideal package for a slide or transparency:
- business-size or 6x9 envelope
- cardboard to protect the slide or trans
- this year's entry form, completely filled out with requested information
- SASE for return of slide or trans

Of course, if the contest rules specify packaging preferences, please abide by them (c:

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

New Yorker article about ornithological fraud

Thanks to a tip from, those of us who don't get New Yorker magazine can read the May 29 article about Michigan State University professor Pamela Rasmussen's confirmation of massive fraud by Col. Richard Meinertzhagen.

The article mentions the controversy about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker on page 53, and then it gets juicy on page 54.

Based on an analysis of several preparers' styles, Knox concluded that at least two redpoll skins which Meinertzhagen claimed to have shot in Blois, France, on January 17, 1953, were probably stolen from a series of birds in the Natural History Museum, which had been collected by Richard Bowdler Sharpe decades earlier, in Hanwell, Middlesex, on November 17, 1884. Meinertzhagen had replaced the tags on the birds' feet with new tags, containing false data about where and when they had been collected.

Side note: Isn't it lovely what the Internet allows us to share?

Worth 1,000 Words

Someone recently asked about my affinity for birds of prey. Let me illustrate the reasons for that affinity by showing other items that hold my attention.

They’re sleek and fast.

They’re ruggedly good-looking.

They’re powerful.

Now think of a Peregrine Falcon, a Bald Eagle and a Northern Goshawk.

How would you visually explain your affinity for a species or group? If you answer that question with a blog post, please let me know!