Monday, June 30, 2008

American Birding Association: Thursday's evening program

After dinner on Thursday during the American Birding Association's convention at the Snowbird resort outside Salt Lake City, Utah, Ted Floyd provided the evening's entertainment: the 10 greatest birds in the world. The editor of Birding magazine, Floyd brings humor and energy to his talks -- a fact that I learned during his keynote speech at the San Diego Bird Festival in February 2005.

With large photos appearing on the wall behind him, Floyd counted down his top 10 greatest birds in the world and related anecdotes about each. I bet you'll be surprised by his choices.

10. European Bee-eater
9. Screaming Piha
8. Three-wattled Bellbird
7. Brown Trembler
6. Pygmy Wren-Babbler
5. Eastern Screech-Owl
4. Common Raven
3. American Robin
2. Chipping Sparrow
1. Swainson's Thrush

Floyd credited the thrush with helping him rediscover the wonder and amazement of nature and birding. Although many birders and nonbirders consider birding an escape from reality, Floyd said otherwise: Birding isn't an escape but a connection to the intensity of reality.

Do you think of birding as an escape? What are your top 10 greatest birds of the world?

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American Birding Association: Thursday field trip

During the American Birding Association's convention at Snowbird resort south of Salt Lake City, Utah, the Bridal Veil Falls field trip began with a stop at Bridal Veil Falls to look for Black Swifts.

Bridal Veil Falls

Looking for Black Swifts... and finding 'em

Birdchick (in the center) avoiding "swift neck" -- a variation of "warbler neck"

The area also yielded Warbling Vireo, Yellow Warbler, Violet-green Swallow, Cedar Waxwing and slate-colored Fox Sparrow among others. I delighted in the singing sparrow and the four waxwings chasing each other.

The next stop, Vivian Park, included a bridge with an American Dipper nest. We could see the adults dipping, bobbing and collecting food in this channel.

Lookit Birdchick's images and videos of the dippers.

I enjoyed seeing a Bullock's Oriole (so bright!) and Cordilleran Flycatcher, too. After a stop at Vivian Park -- where I spotted little but soaked up the sun and scenery -- we ate lunch in the amphitheater at the Mt. Timpanogos trailhead. Various birds engaged the group's attention. Delightful spot.

Mt. Timpanogos trailhead

The last site: Sundance Resort, where we received free rides on the chairlift and wonderful views of the grounds' beauty. Birdchick, Gail and I lucked out by sharing the lift with an employee who provided lots of details about the resort's preserve, history and activities.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008


This morning, I get to fly to

and join these fun birders during the American Birding Association convention at Snowbird, outside Salt Lake City. Details to come as time and Internet access allow.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Fantastic conservation news in Florida


The state of Florida has agreed to buy nearly 200,000 acres of land from a major sugar producer in a $1.7 billion deal to help restore the Everglades, Gov. Charlie Crist announced Tuesday.

Crist said the purchase provides "a critical missing link" that will restore the flow of fresh water from Lake Okeechobee into the Everglades, the massive South Florida marshland.

"It is as monumental as the creation of our nation's first national park, Yellowstone," he said. "This represents -- if we are successful, and I believe we will be -- the largest conservation purchase in the history of Florida."

The 187,000-acre tract -- about 292 square miles -- comes from the cane fields of U.S. Sugar, which will be going out of business within six years as part of the deal, CEO Bob Buker said.
The Everglades need all the help they can get. Quite simply, birders can celebrate this land purchase.


An appropriate query

In a previous post about freelance writers' queries to magazine editors, Casey asked "You provide an example of what not to do, and give a few critiques or thoughts about why the example query was not a good one. Could you provide an example of a successful query?"

Here's a template for a query that reveals birding knowledge, writing skills and some business sense. The writer has no previous contact with me and sets a business-casual tone.

Dear Ms. Hooper:

I propose an article about backyard landscaping for hummingbirds for a future version of WildBird's annual hummingbird issue. The May/June 2008 issue included "Birdscaping for Buzzers" by Val Cunningham, but I can offer a different take on the topic.

As a long-time gardener and avid birder... [Convincing details ensue.]

The submissions guidelines cite six to eight weeks for a reply, so I'll follow up with you then. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to working with you.

Orville Lewis

Why would that query prompt me to consider working with and paying this freelance writer? The query
* arrives via e-mail
* uses my name (not the previous editor's name and not the generic "Editor")
* correctly cites the magazine's name (attention to detail!)
* shows familiarity with the magazine's previous content and submission guidelines
* provides a different perspective on a previously covered topic
* offers clues about the writer's background and expertise
* comes across as businesslike but not stilted


Monday, June 23, 2008

Photo contest judging!

We did it. Today, the judges evaluated more than 40 bird photos for WildBird's annual photo contest.

What a pleasure it was for me to sit aside, see their faces and hear their exclamations of wonder and disbelief at the quality of the finalists. It felt very good to see my efforts -- evaluating more than 1,200 entries -- result in their deliberations... and some judges really hemmed and hawed about which photos deserved to earn prizes.

The 2008 winning images will appear in the September/October 2008 issue, available in late July to subscribers.

This is the 2007 grand-prize winner: Great Horned Owls by James F. Cowell of Milwaukee, Wis. He received a Canon EOS 40D as the grand prize.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Ghostly birds at the beach

During the drive north on Pacific Coast Highway this morning, a wall of fog stood past Superior Avenue and Cappy's Cafe. The fog completely erased the sunshine that lit my apartment just two miles away.

As my car crossed the channel where the Santa Ana River flows into the ocean, two Black Skimmers flew low over PCH. A smile lit up my face. Those birds are so cool.

My 30-minute walk on the damp sand didn't reveal many birds other than the usual gull gang. I had the place mostly to myself, soaking up this scene.

Maybe the next scavenger hunt -- because that's what birding walks are, right? -- will reveal more avian prizes. Good luck with your hunts this weekend!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

So you want to write for a magazine...

and not just a bird magazine? Then take the time to glance at the freelance tips in the right-hand sidebar of this blog.

Maybe I'm not the only editor with those thoughts about freelance writers and queries. For instance, maybe I'm not the only one who rejects queries that begin with "Dear Editor" or "Hey Amy" rather than a more businesslike salutation that shows familiarity with a magazine's staff.

Maybe some freelance writers would benefit from taking a clue from those tips and would find themselves receiving more assignments and more income. Just maybe...

This public service announcement brought to you by an editor crafting the 2009 editorial calendar for multiple magazines and currently wading through queries


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Plastinated ostrich on display

Are you familiar with "Body Worlds" and "Bodies... The Exhibition"? The companies prepare cadavers for public viewing, turning the bodies into incredibly educational displays by removing all water and fatty tissue and replacing them with polymers. I viewed the latter in Las Vegas and felt enthralled by the exhibition, which included a lot of information (with a touch of humor) with the dissected bodies and colored organs.

The creator of Body Worlds, Dr. Gunther von Hagens, recently unveiled an ostrich plastinate (and a giraffe plastinate) in "The Story of the Heart" exhibition at the California Science Center. Seen before only in Germany, the ostrich plastinate shows how that species' cardiovascular system differs and mirrors the human cardio system.

Body Worlds 3 -- with the ostrich specimen -- will remain at the California Science Center in Los Angeles until early September.


Monday, June 16, 2008

Bird names appear in law enforcement operation

Operation Falcon took place last week in the Southeast. According to the article, it was the one of the biggest fugitive sweeps in that region of the United States.

Robinson was one of 1,250 fugitives busted in Georgia last week as part of Operation Falcon, a nationwide sweep to arrest some of the most violent offenders. Of the arrests in Georgia, 724 came in metro Atlanta; two were suspected killers, authorities said.

Multiple sweeps like these have already taken place in other cities in recent weeks as part of Falcon. More are coming to undisclosed regions of the country. Authorities would not release further details about the nationwide hunt due to the ongoing nature of the operation.

"Our primary focus when we do this operation are violent offenders, sex offenders and gang members," says Keith Booker, the commander of the U.S. Marshals Southeast Regional Fugitive Task Force leading this sweep that included 115 federal, state and local agencies.

The fugitives were wanted on felony charges ranging from murder and aggravated assault to rape and armed robbery to child molestation and an array of parole violations.
I like that the operation's name is a predatory bird -- beautiful, fast and focused. FALCON, however, is an acronym for Federal and Local Cops Organized Nationally.

I had to laugh after reading this graf:
The police kept close tabs on the six different teams' arrests, an internal competition to see who could bag more wanted felons. Team Vulture beat out Team Osprey with 147 arrests to 132.
Nice to see that the team names stayed with the avian theme.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Guatemala: Friday

The itinerary for the third and last day of the Nikon EDG launch took us to Los Tarrales Reserve, a wonderful facility with a checklist of almost 280 bird species. The property encompasses three habitats: subtropical humid forest, cloud forest and pine-oak mountain forest.

After we consumed a yummy breakfast, Mike Freiberg put me in the group for the upper trail, and 12 of us piled into vehicles for another bumpy drive up the volcano's slope. Along the way, we glimpsed a perched Gray Hawk and views like this.

(As always, click on an image to see a larger version.)

On the way up, we stopped to form smaller groups. Two cars continued up the road to a small village, where the children came out to see us and where we saw a Common Tody-Flycatcher.

Our excellent guide, Josue, led us up the trail on our quest to see Azure-rumped Tanagers. I didn't see a lot of birds but thoroughly relished the long looks at White-winged Tanager and Blue-crowned Chlorophia -- egads, what colors!

Perhaps this will get me drummed out of the club, but the lack of species didn't bother me in the least. I enjoyed the experience for what it was rather than wishing for more. How could I complain when given these views and memories?

We returned to the village, and the children joined our short walk to a deserted building with nice views. After I snapped a photo of the kids and showed it to them, they turned into circus performers and exclaimed "Una foto! Una foto!" An amusing end to the outing.

After an E ticket ride back to the main lodge, we feasted on another delicious meal amid colorful decorations in the warehouse. Feeling the beginning of a food coma, I opted to remain at the lodge rather than venture out for more birding.

A group of us coalesced in a room with comfy chairs, and we enjoyed good conversation while the sky grew darker. Then the rain began... and it really came down. We congratulated ourselves for remaining under a roof.

At one point, we learned that our bus wouldn't start, so we joked about staying overnight at Los Tarrales -- a possibility that didn't bother me in the least. It's a fantastic property, operated by really nice hosts... and I wouldn't mind taking a gander at the Long-tailed Manakins -- in drier weather.

After everyone in the group returned to the main house and dried off, we consumed another tasty meal, complete with gifts and live music by Colibri. What a delightful finish to a wonderful introduction to birding in Guatemala.


Guatemala: Thursday

Thursday's destination: Los Andes Private Nature Reserve. After conquering an adventurous road up the mountain, the buses finally reached the lodge, Casa Oliver...

where we met Olga and her father, Jim. They spoke of the property's history and habitats on the slopes of the volcano; the land lures species such as Resplendent Quetzal, Blue-throated Motmot, Cabanis Tangager, Green-throated Mountain-gem and White-throated Magpie-Jay.

(As always, you can click on an image to see a larger version.)

We split into groups, and the first group -- which included me -- climbed into the bed of a small pickup truck. Like sardines in a tin, about 10 of us stood in the bed and tried to maintain our balance as the truck trundled, fish-tailed and spun its wheels on the muddy road up Atitlan volcano. We dismounted a couple times when the mud thwarted the driver's skills, adding to the sense of adventure.

At the beginning of the quetzal reserve, we enjoyed views of the coffee and tea crops.

On the trail, we were surrounded by lush vegetation everywhere. It felt dazzling and overwhelming and breathtaking (and not just because we kept going up-up-up).

Then the clouds rolled in and added an ethereal atmosphere to an already incredible scene.

While in the cloud forest, I didn't see many birds, but that didn't diminish my pleasure or awe. The forest looked like a wonderland, and the birds provided a soundtrack to the sights. I did glimpse a Forest Falcon that had called almost continuously, and I watched a Golden-winged Warbler perform a distraction display across the trail about five feet in front of us.

Back at Casa Oliver, we enjoyed a delicious lunch and a couple hours of relaxed birding on the grounds. I soaked up views of a Cinnamon Hummingbird, Red-legged Honeycreeper (Thanks again, Pete!) and a Green-throated Mountain-gem. The lawn chairs offered a perfect spot to sip the incredible iced tea, give attention to the resident pooches, and watch hummingbirds buzz into the plants below...

before zooming back to the feeders and foliage. Los Andes also stands out as my first encounter with fire ants, which found me during the group photo. Despite that, I easily could spend a few days at the reserve, walking the trails, soaking up the cloud forest and reveling in the location.


Friday, June 13, 2008

Dude: tictac

Which raptor is this?

Courtesy of I Can Has Cheezburger


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Guatemala: Wednesday

The day began early -- actually, every day began with coffee, tea and pan (bread) at 4:30 a.m. -- and off we went to Patrocinio Reserve. The bumpy road to the plantation's main facilities provided welcome glimpses of the abundant green vegetation in the southwestern region of Guatemala.

Clambering off the two buses, we walked to the cafeteria and its large viewing platforms, where we enjoyed views like these. Aaaahhh.

While our hosts prepared breakfast, we soaked up that scenery and a few species. A Violet Sabrewing took my breath away; what an incredible hummingbird! Clay-colored Robins abounded, and Rufous-naped Wrens intrigued me with their plumage. A Blue-gray Tanager looked decorative while perched on a branch, and a Gray Hawk appeared to preside regally from its distant perch.

After eating a delicious and filling breakfast in a beautifully decorated setting...

we split into three smaller groups and set out to explore the trails. I benefitted from the company and skill of one of our Guatemalan guides, Hugo Enriquez (far left); Jessie Barry (tan shirt), who writes book reviews for WildBird and now works at Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Macaulay Library; and Ben Lizdas (green jacket), a seasoned field trip leader.

The trail led us through coffee plants, where Jessie and I sampled coffee cherries. Ick. The outer skin takes a while to chew, too. The hanging bridge proved much more fun albeit in a slippery way.

While enjoying looks at Yellow-winged Tanager, Red-legged Honeycreeper (three bright males!), Masked Tityra, Black Vulture and Turkey Vulture, I also enjoyed peering at the colorful bugs.

My favorite birds of the morning, aside from Red-legged Honeycreeper, included Rose-throated Becard -- male and female -- and White-winged Tanager. Hugo traded calls with the male becard for many minutes before we finally glimpsed him, and the bright red color on the tanager made me envious (my hair never will match that shade of red).

After seeing a perched Laughing Falcon on the other side of a gorge, we enjoyed this view...

before trekking back to the cafeteria amid light drizzle. We came across a stream of leafcutter ants, which combined with another stream to create a river of ants carrying small, bright-green and red leaf bits. What an interesting spectacle.

Back at the cafeteria, we enjoyed another tasty meal while chatting about the morning's sights. Some of the group ventured into the drizzle for more birding on the observation tower, while many of us remained under cover.

The birding didn't end when we reboarded the buses. From the back of one vehicle, I could hear birders in the front asking the driver to stop so they could get better looks at this or that species. Those of us in the back briefly spied the Blue-crowned Motmot perched in a tree near the road -- very cool bird.

Sitting in the back of the bus can lead to amusing moments. We heard someone in the front ask "Can I sit on your lap?" while trying to get a better look at a bird. Needless to say, we chuckled.

Our first day of birding with the new Nikon EDG binocular ended at the hotel with a discussion about the model's development and a dinner accompanied by a mariachi band. The highlight: Another restaurant guest, a woman, spontaneously joined the band and sang a few tunes. Such a delightful finish.


Sunday, June 08, 2008

Guatemala: Monday/Tuesday

My first trip to the Land of Eternal Spring began Monday night with a 2 a.m. flight out of Los Angeles International Airport. The plane landed in Guatemala City at 7:30 a.m., when I met up with other birders and our hosts from Nikon and Guatemala.

Because most of our group wouldn't arrive until the late morning or early afternoon, we -- including our guides Hugo Enriquez and Miguel Marin -- visited a nearby park, part of ongoing efforts to create a greenbelt: Parque Ecological Cayala (Cayala Ecological Park: Home to more than 80 bird species).

Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrushes repeatedly revealed themselves in the brush, and I became smitten with the demure birds with blazing orange legs and bills. After spending so many hours sitting in an airport and on a plane, it felt delicious to walk, smell the fresh morning air, continually look around at the plants and marvel at the birds, new (Bushy-crested Jay) and familiar (Great-tailed Grackle).

And in case we forgot the point of visiting the park, the helpful sign says "You want to listen to and observe animals."

Retracing our route from the airport, we stopped at an open-air market to await the rest of the group. The timing turned out perfectly, as the rain intensified while we sipped warm beverages and ogled the handicrafts.

Thanks again, James, for the cafe con leche.

We ate lunch at a restaurant at the market, and I tried hibiscus drink -- yum. The larger bus carrying the rest of our group arrived, and off we went for a four-hour drive to our hotel in Retalhuleu.

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