Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Washington County Big Day 2009

What is that old saying about publicity? I don't care how you talk about me, just talk about me?

Saturday morning, May 9, 2009, came mighty early for those of us who were playing a gig at the Whipple/Wrangler Tavern the night before. But did that stop us from getting up at some ungodly hour to tally birds in the Mostly Annual Washington County, Ohio Big Day? Nope.

When I was a mere boy bird watcher, under the watchful tutelage of Mrs Pat Murphy and my mom Elsa Thompson, it was an annual ritual each May to try to see 100 species within Washington County, Ohio, where we all lived. We called it a Century Day—get it? Century=100 species!

I think I remember maybe one year when we got 100+ species. Nowadays with all our newfangled technology, including the Tubes of the Interwebs and The Google, we can pinpoint the location of happening bird action on a minute-by-minute basis. Our friends can tell us where all the warblers are warblering and where all the tanagers are tanagering.

These days, three full decades removed from Pat Murphy's Century Days, it's The Whipple Bird Club that has taken up the chalice and taken on the challenge of trying to top 100 species in little old Washington County, Ohio. This is an account of how things went on Saturday.

After we finished our gig on Friday night/Saturday morning, we loaded up the vans and cars with gear and everyone hit the road. I stayed behind a moment to collect my thoughts—the only person still extant at The Whipple/Wrangler Tavern. And I was rewarded for my fortitude by the nocturnal flight call of a Swainson's thrush! A mere 20 minutes later, as I traipsed up the walk to the house, I added species #2: An American woodcock which kindly peented its way onto the list.

And then I slept for 2.5 hours.

To start the daylight portion our Big Day, I rolled my tired carcass up the stairs to our birding tower. Day was dawning and the birds were already aloft, calling, or stirring themselves to life. But the clouds in the West indicated a day of unsettled weather. In quick succession I heard or saw a dozen, then two dozen species. By 7:15 am I was up to 45 species. That's when Shila showed up and added her bird-spotting skills to the team effort. The wind picked up and we pulled on additional coats against the wind. At least it was not raining.

The day started off promisingly from the birding tower.

The Whipple Bird Club is four core members: me, Julie Zickefoose, Shila Wilson, and Steve McCarthy. We've got lots of honorary members, but, it's the four core peeps who wave the flag of the good ol' WBC.

Every Big Day has a few birds that are total surprises and a few that completely skunk you. One of our early surprises was a merlin that Shila and I saw skirt the tower not once but twice! I got a bad photo of it flying away, having missed on its chance to nail a tree swallow.

Julie floated up the tower stairs about 8 am, bearing more coffee and some munchies. We were somewhere north of 50 species. Three hours later we were ready to leave Indigo Hill for the rest of the county and we had 70 species.

Pine siskins were still hanging around after last winter's influx.

A gorgeous male rose-breasted grosbeak came close enough for digiscoping.

Our male blue-winged warbler sang from the end of the orchard.

Phoebe and Chet came up to check on us in the tower.

Down the road just a couple of miles, we came across an eastern box turtle. It was a beautiful adult male and we helped him across the road to wherever he was going.

The box turtle we saved.

The Whipple Bird Club flashes its gangland hand signs near the Belpre Bridge (where there were no peregrines).

After poking around the western part of the county in a largely fruitless search for some long-shot species, and waiting to pick up the Royal Meteorologist of the WBC, Steve McCarthy, we headed back toward Marietta, the county seat, for some more familiar birding turf. We got the bobolinks not far from Route 676 where they've nested for a few years. We got American kestrel and killdeer there, too. Then it was off to the Kroger Wetland for some target shorebirds. We got both spotted sandpiper and solitary sandpiper there, plus willow flycatcher and house wren. A bonus yellow-billed cuckoo flew over. We dipped out on phothonotary warbler, however.

It was 5:00 pm and we had 96 species. The county record (unofficial) is 110 set by Steve, Shila, and me in 2007. We ate LEAST wanted to tie that. Preferably we'd beat the living tar out of it.

Spotted sandpiper at the Kroger Wetlands.

Steve scans the Kroger Wetlands while Liam and Phoebe dream.

Then we headed up the Ohio River for some other hopeful hotspots counting every species we got and plotting to add the next bird. We ran into a streak of shorebirds at the tank farm along Ohio 7: greater and lesser yellowlegs, plus an unexpected snowy egret. Then we hit Newell's Run. By this time it was already dinner time and the sun was sinking below the hills. We added a few of the expected warblers along Newell's Run: Louisiana waterthrush, yellow-throated warbler, and
Trying to drum up a few target birds on Newell's Run.

Bored kids will find something to climb.

By 8:30 pm we were deep in the woods of Wayne National Forest, hoping for a cerulean warbler. We got no joy. By 9:10 pm it was actively dark and the kids were weeping from hunger (as were we). A calling whip-poor-will came in as species #108 and we called it a day.


We pulled out ALL the stops in our effort to find more than 100 species.

I stepped outside the house a couple of times before midnight, but the wind was howling and the rain spitting and I knew that no self-respecting owl would be calling in such weather.

108. One shy of tying the record, which still stands.

Of course, the next day dawned clear and sunny and still and I felt like doing it all over again.
But would I?

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Thursday, April 09, 2009

This Birding Life: Episode 19!

The opening spread of the "True Nature" column from the Nov/Dec 2008 issue of Bird Watcher's Digest.

The latest episode of my podcast, This Birding Life, is now available for your downloading or streaming pleasure in Podcast Central on the Bird Watcher's Digest website.

This one, Episode 19: Love & Death Among the Cranes, is a bit controversial.

When Julie Zickefoose wrote about the hunting of sandhill cranes in her "True Nature" column for BWD last December, the column generated a LOT of reader feedback. Some people were pleased—others were, well, angry—in fact, the column set records for the amount of letters, e-mails, and comments it generated.

I invite you to listen to Julie reading her column in this new episode of This Birding Life. And I encourage you to come back here to comment about the subject of the podcast.

As always, the podcast is available for free and in two formats: MP3 (audio only) and M4a (enhanced audio with images). You can download it from Podcast Central or from Apple's iTunes store, in the podcast section.


This Birding Life's page in the iTunes Store Podcast section.


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Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 11, 15 years later

Most people associate September 11 with the terrorist attacks on the United States. I have something additional with which to associate this date: the anniversary of the day I got married. Today's post is a small tribute to the gal who was with me that day, way back in 1993.


Happy 15th Anniversary to Julie! It seems like only yesterday that we were enjoying our pig roast wedding reception right here at Indigo Hill.

Lord only knows how you've hung on this long!

After all...you've had to:

...raise helpless wildlife such as this phoebe, and this Liam.

You've endured trips to many, balmy, exotic locales...

where you've met many interesting people and creatures.

You've put up with me and my drinkin' buddies.

You've been forced to play gigs with Fredo from The Godfather.

You have "sweated to the oldies" right along side me.


You have been a great Mom to our (mostly) happy kids...
and especially to our youngest, adopted child, Chet Baker (who has your eyes).

Thanks for being my fellow traveler these past 15 years, Zick.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Happy Birthday to Zick!


Happy Birthday to the Science Chimp of Indigo Hill!
Wishing you many more!

love,
B (otb)

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

This Birding Life, Episode 12

Bullfrog tadpoles.

Messing around with nature can really screw up the balance in an otherwise stable ecosystem. Take Fergus the bullfrog for example. When he was first released into a small backyard pond, he was a cute little tadpole just living his life. Two years later he was a voracious predator.

Fergus the bullfrog, looking hungry.


Intrigued?

Then you might want to listen to the new episode of my podcast This Birding Life available from Podcast Central on the Bird Watcher's Digest website. This episode is called "Paradise Lost" and features Julie Zickefoose reading from her best-selling book Letters From Eden.

Episodes of TBL are also available from the iTunes Store. Just click on 'podcasts' and search for This Birding Life.

This Birding Life is sponsored by Houghton Mifflin and hosted on the Web by Bird Watcher's Digest.

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