Friday, January 30, 2009

Owler mentions concerns about Western Screech-Owls

In Thursday's Seattle Times, self-taught owler and licensed bander Jamie Acker talks about his work on Bainbridge Island. He's studied owl distribution on the island since 1996.

What began as a hobby has led to illuminating findings, including some trends over the past 12 years. Natives of the East Coast, barred owls have been slowly expanding their territory westward. The first individual was reported on Bainbridge in 1992, and Acker counted 86 barreds during the 2008 Audubon Christmas Bird Count.

"People keep asking, 'What's their saturation level?' — but we just don't know," he said. Acker has documented one barred owl continuing to nest even with a greatly reduced territory, as new barred neighbors close in. Though he emphasizes his evidence is only circumstantial, Acker is concerned about how the increase in barred owls might relate to the decline in Western screech owls. Counting 12 screech pairs 12 years ago, he was unable to locate even one individual during the recent Christmas Bird Count.

"This is a common trend among those who do owl research, yet nowhere do we see them being listed as a species of concern," he said. "To me, their numbers are crashing. They are a species we should be watching and caring for."

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Focus on local birders' spot

Very nice to see a community newspaper, The Laguna Beach Independent, focus on Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve, also known as Back Bay, and the birders who enjoy it. In today's edition:

As is his custom on each month's first Saturday, Laguna Beach bird-lover John Heussenstamm follows the bend of Back Bay Drive, and pulls to the curb just before the entrance to the Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve. He waits for his flock to gather around 8 a.m., and once there, the bird watchers head into the reserve, with eyes peeled for congregations of waterfowl.

The others benefit from his knowledge and enthusiasm. Heussenstamm has been birding for 45 years, and knows each of the roughly 100 species wintering here not only by sight. For those hiding in the bushes, he can identify them by call. When he makes a good spot he gets excited, manning the spotting scope, lining up the distant bird, then encouraging the others, "Get a look at that one, quickly! That osprey is eating a fresh kill."
Map courtesy of Newport Bay Naturalists and Friends

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Fill out the WildBird reader survey, and enter a prize drawing!

The January/February 2009 issue of WildBird gives readers a chance to win Celestron prizes after filling out a 45-question survey, providing contact information and returning the survey to the Irvine, Calif., office. The postmark deadline is tomorrow!

The double-sided survey appears on pages 39 and 40, and readers who answer every question and give their name and phone/e-mail address are eligible to win a Celestron VistaPix 8x32 binocular/digital camera or a Celestron Mini-Mak C65 spotting scope.

The postmark deadline is Jan. 30, 2009. In early February, we'll conduct a random drawing of qualified participants. One respondent will receive the binocular/digital camera (above), and another participant will receive the spotting scope (right).

Thank you in advance for completely filling out the survey, and good luck with the drawing!

Click on the images to see larger versions.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

From 36,000 feet...

the clouds look a little different, don't they?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Space Coast: Sunday

My colleague, new to WildBird and birding, sounded enthusiastic about dipping his toes into it, so he and I joined Clay Taylor of Swarovski Optik at Viera Wetlands -- officially known as Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands at Viera -- on Sunday morning. When we arrived, Clay provided good looks at two perched Bald Eagles. What better way to begin a sunny, warm day?!

Slowly driving around the manmade wetlands -- attached to a wastewater treatment plant in Melbourne -- we saw a plethora of species: White Ibis, Glossy Ibis, American Coots, Double-crested Cormorants, Blue-winged Teal, Common Moorhens, Tricolored Herons, Great Blue Herons, Pied-billed Grebes. Oh, the list goes on and on.

The highlights for me included this rather nonchalant creature foraging out in the open (do you recognize it?)

and the Crested Caracara sporting colored leg bands and a radio transmitter that perched in a couple spots within our view.

Another highlight was hearing my colleague point out two wrassling birds -- Red-bellied Woodpeckers -- in the trees next to the auto route. I think the birding bug might've bitten 'im.

Then we joined the Sunday social and keynote at Fox Lake Park, where festival attendees ate lunch while sharing the highlights of their experiences. The incredible weather provided a fitting touch to the end of the festival.

After Chris Wood and Jessie Barry of Cornell Lab of Ornithology concluded the photo quiz, I briefly introduced the keynote speaker, Pete Dunne. Pete's talk, "Twenty-five Things that Changed Birding," stemmed from an article he wrote for WildBird in 2006. That's when WildBird celebrated its 20th anniversary, and I asked Pete to write about 20 milestones in the last 20 years.

Sunday's talk naturally deviated a bit from the article and included time for attendees to suggest other catalysts. I enjoyed the back-and-forth between Pete and everyone else.

That night, I got to share dinner with various colleagues, including one of my favorite birders, Austin Bouton (yep, from the "Adventures with Austin" column in WildBird). Have you tried the corn fritters with cinnamon butter? Heaven!

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Space Coast: Saturday

Highlights from today: A leisurely morning in Titusville. A relaxed approach to Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival. Ample time to reconnect with colleagues while soaking up sunshine from a bench at Brevard Community College. Going to Merritt Island NWR's Black Point Wildlife Drive for the first time with Birdchick.

Watching three Snowy Egrets mooch from two foraging White Ibis.

Seeing gobs of Northern Pintails, Blue-winged Teal and American Avocets. Watching Glossy Ibis fly into a pond. Soaking up the blue and purple plumage of Little Blue Herons.

Hearing the wings of ~15 White Ibis fly overheard. Spotting three Wilson's Snipes near two Killdeer. Becoming hypnotized by an Anghinga waving its wings to dry them. Reveling in a beautiful sunset.

Marveling at a huge alligator. Becoming mesmerized by the acrobatic Tree Swallows zooming over the road. Returning to the city and finding a restaurant recommended by colleagues. Enjoying a hearty meal and tasty tiramisu with Birdchick at Portofino on South Washington Avenue.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Space Coast: Friday

My flight landed in Orlando about 6 a.m., so after a rather leisurely breakfast and retrieval of a rental car, I reached Titusville -- site of the Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival. Off Hwy. 1, the hotel lobby yielded Panamanian colleague Carlos Bethancourt as well as two WildBird contributors, Kevin Karlson and Jeff Bouton. Always good to see far-flung friendly faces all together.

After a nap, I ventured to Brevard Community College and investigated the vendors in the gymnasium. That's where I met Cracker, a Crested Caracara, at the booth for Audubon Center for Birds of Prey. The education bird apparently was born without bones in its left wing.

These raptors always have intrigued me. It might be the delightful contrast between the orange bare skin and the gray-blue beak. It might be the shape and size of that hooked beak. It might be its status in the falcon family yet its unfalconlike behavior; do you see any resemblance to a Peregrine?

Those dark feathers make a great mullet, no? Eventually, the silent raptor graced us with a few chirps -- which sounded like quickly striking typewriter keys. Birdchick might post a video clip of the caracara's sound.

Then Birdchick and I visited a local birder's home with the hope of seeing Painted Buntings. The generous fellow allowed us into his home with views of his seed feeders. The bright, male and female finches graced us with long looks of their beautiful plumage. Birdchick obtained photos and video of her former nemesis bird.

The long day ended with Clay Taylor and Fritz of Swarovski Optik. The powder-sugared corn fritters proved to be my downfall. Between that admission and this photo, you might know where we enjoyed a filling meal.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

I and the Bird #92

The new year's second edition of the birding carnival comes to us from Canadian blogger Seabrooke Leckie of the Marvelous in Nature, and she's crafted a fabulous and amusing poem that includes rhyme and meter (it warms my old-fashioned heart!). She skillfully wove 37 bloggers into her wordsmithery, and I applaud her heartily.

To partake in the fun, send a link and summary by Feb. 3 to Vickie for that Thursday's edition.

Want to host a carnival? Mike's looking for enthusiastic and creative bloggers. Let him know of your interest today!

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The making of a magazine: e-mail interviews

(11th in a series)

My colleagues and I talk occasionally about e-mail interviews -- the appropriate situations in which to resort to e-mail rather than the telephone. An electronic interview definitely is the second choice of the two methods.

Phone interviews give journalists much more flexibility and information. We can hear the pauses, the changes in tone of voice, the emotion behind the words. We also can change the direction of an interview should an answer point to a different path.

E-mail interviews don't provide that information and flexibility. Their appeal, however, lies in their convenience. If I'm trying to interview a source who lives in another time zone or travels often, then an e-mail interview gives me and the source another format to share information.

I use e-mail interviews very sparingly, and my news journalism professors likely would cringe at that usage. I typically call the source to ask for a phone interview before offering the e-mail option if our schedules conflict.

Sometimes I'll arrange a phone interview, send 10 or fewer short questions via e-mail so the source can prepare for our conversation, and then learn that the source prefers to provide answers via e-mail. Sometimes I'll send an e-mail to potential sources for an article, offer the option of phone or e-mail interviews, include the five or so questions, receive confirmation of the sources' desire to participate and then follow up with those who want to gab on the phone.

Some problems with e-mail interviews:
1. An unsolicited e-mail interview does not reflect well on the sender. It can come across as presumptuous, particularly if the sender did not have previous contact with the source.

2. An agreed-upon e-mail interview is not a license to ask umpteen questions. A source's time remains limited, so the journalist has to respect that and limit the number of questions.

3. An e-mail interview still requires time, so the journalist cannot expect the source to turn around the responses justlikethat. In fact, an e-mail interview requires more of the source's time because the source is typing, not speaking.

4. Because the source has typed the responses to the questions, the journalist can copy and paste the responses into the article. Lazy journalist. In fact, that person isn't a journalist or writer, because copying and pasting requires no skill.

A good writer will paraphrase the source's responses and select limited sentences as quotations. From an editor's perspective, I'm leery of contributors who use e-mail interviews because I don't know who wrote the article, and I don't want to pay lazy contributors.

One advantage of e-mail interviews: The source has a written record of the responses and can refer to that if a discrepancy appears in the article. That paper trail can serve the source well.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Jean Keene, 'Eagle Lady,' fed eagles for ~30 years

Los Angeles Times carries the obituary today of Jean Keene, known widely as the "Eagle Lady" for her habit of feeding Bald Eagles in Homer, Alaska. She died Jan. 13 at the age of 85.

She started feeding the eagles in the late 1970s, when she was working at a fish-processing plant called Icicle Seafoods, located on the narrow spit of land that juts into the Kachemak Bay. Every day she would chop hundreds of pounds of salmon heads and tails, as well as cod and herring, most of it spoiled or freezer-burned, and toss it to the predatory birds.

The eagles' wintertime arrival and the woman feeding them on the pebbly beach outside her tiny trailer attracted photographers to Homer from throughout the country. As a Washington Post reporter put it in 2005, "If you have seen stunning close-up photographs of bald eagles with fish in their beaks in glossy magazines . . . chances are good that they were shot outside Keene's trailer."

Some residents in Homer saw the daily barrage of the birds seeking Keene's handouts as a nuisance, and a town law was passed in 2006 to prevent people from feeding certain species.

After a public outcry, however, Keene received a special reprieve and was allowed to continue feeding the eagles until 2010.
Click on the link above to see Keene's image.


Global warming due to planetary trends?

According to Rasmussen Reports, "an electronic publishing firm specializing in the collection, publication, and distribution of public opinion polling information":

Forty-four percent (44%) of U.S. voters now say long-term planetary trends are the cause of global warming, compared to 41% who blame it on human activity.

Seven percent (7%) attribute global warming to some other reason, and nine percent (9%) are unsure in a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey.
Your thoughts?

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South American bird of prey sets world record

From Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Kempton, Pa., comes news of a White-throated Hawk that became the first raptor proven to migrate north across the equator to spend the winter.

An international team of ornithologists from Argentina and the United States used satellite telemetry to monitor White-throated Hawk movement and watched one individual move more than 3,700 miles north along the western slope of the Andes from its nest site near the resort town of Bariloche, Argentina, (41 degrees southern latitude) to winter near Bogota, Colombia, (3 degrees northern latitude). The bird crossed the Equator sometime between June 8 and 11.

This record-setting flight for “White-throated Hawk #72349” establishes the species as the first known bird of prey to breed in the Southern Hemisphere temperate zone and over winter north of the Equator in the Northern Hemisphere.

The raptor is the second member of its species to be tracked by Lorenzo Sympson of Bariloche, Argentina, Marc Bechard of Boise State University, and Hawk Mountain Sanctuary’s Director of Conservation Science Dr. Keith Bildstein in Kempton, Pennsylvania. The brain child of Sympson, the White-throated Hawk Migration Project has received critical support from NorthStar Science and Technology, the satellite tracking device manufacturer in Maryland that donated both tracking devices, and Hawk Mountain Sanctuary which paid for tracking time and data downloads.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Actually, closer to 48 million "birders"

The Jan. 13 edition of an e-newsletter includes the headline "Birding is Big Business" and cites the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation. The e-newsletter says

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that 71 million Americans participated in wildlife watching activities in 2006. ... Birding undoubtedly accounts for a large segment of all wildlife watching.
Actually, the service's survey pinpoints on page 36 the number of survey respondents who said they observe birds at home and on trips: 47.7 million. The survey results also said, "A large majority, 88 percent (41.8 million), observed wild birds around the home, while 42 percent, 19.9 million, took trips away from home to observe wild birds."

You can find lots of information in the PDF of survey results, released in October 2007. I, however, remain skeptical about the 48 million birdwatchers. That figure in no way reflects the number of birding magazine subscribers, festival attendees or tour participants.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

A bird stud

From the Los Angeles Times, the tale of an endangered bird -- a California Condor -- that created the next generation:

He was found dazed in a mountain bush in 1967, hanging upside down with an injured wing and smelling like rotten fish -- a rare male California condor, a fledgling member of a nearly extinct species.

He was a wreck, and the ornithologists who found him in a canyon north of Ojai speculated that he was also emotionally troubled. Yet Topatopa, named for the mountain range where he was found, was whisked away to the Los Angeles Zoo in the hope that his species, whose numbers had dwindled to a mere 22, could find survival in captivity.

Topa, as he is known for short, lived alone in a cage for the next 20 years, devoid of the socialization needed to learn the basics of condor life. As a teenager, he courted tree stumps and tufts of grass and tried to mate with sticks and rocks. His first encounter with a female was disastrous. He didn't know what to do. She beat him to a pulp.
Click on the above link to read the rest of the article and to watch a 1-minute video about captive breeding at Los Angeles Zoo.

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Friday, January 09, 2009

Birdwatch America

The annual trade show for the birding industry began this morning in Atlanta at 9 a.m. This is where I spent ~9 hours today.

Among the highlights of attending this event -- aside from gabbing and laughing with great colleagues like Birdchick and catching up on new products and industry news -- is the chance to drink copious amounts of sweet tea (which doesn't exist in Southern California) and to try new foods like this. Any guesses?


Saturday, January 03, 2009

Bird vs. bird contest

The sports headline reads "Falcons take on Cardinals in wild card battle." From a birding perspective, I can predict the winner in that contest.

Since it's actually referring to football game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Arizona Cardinals (17-14, Falcons' lead at halftime) and I'm not a football fan, I'm not qualified to make a prediction. No doubt someone else is (c: