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Our July/August 2012 Cover Species: Sora
By Rick Wright | BWD Contributor

Marsh birding is tough. The only sensible time to do it is at night, when the birds are most active—and the mosquitoes are at their bloodthirsty worst. Oddly enough, it's dark at night, and thus the only way to detect most marsh birds is by their vocalizations, which tend to be ventriloquial and uttered at low volume, making them more or less impossible to pinpoint. Even if a bird steps out ever so briefly from its cattail fastnesses, a not-so-clever searcher with a high-powered flashlight will find it difficult to use binoculars, and is likely to wind up head over heels in the stinky muck. And then the crazy birds start to laugh at you.

Above the chirping of the frogs and the buzzing of the insects, suddenly a new sound rises—a high-pitched, silvery giggle running rapidly down the scale: tee Hee heeheeheehee. If we stop teetering atop the slick mud, hold our breath, and strain our ears, we may hear another call, similar in its bright quality but sharper and ascending, with a whiplike accent on the second syllable: so-REE, so-REE. Then we hear that insane laugh again, as if the bird were holding its sides and shaking in amused delight at the featherless bipeds invading its swampy home.

Great Content for Bird Watchers! | table of contents »
Bird Watcher's Digest July/August 2012: Killer Pipes: Threatening Birds in the West

"Attack of the Deadly Killer Pipes" sounds like the title of a horror film, but it's actually a real-life horror that many of our western birds can't seem to escape. BWD subscribers, read online »

Bird Watcher's Digest July/August 2012: Watching Bird Behavior: The Impact of Light

How does light impact a bird's ability to sing, detect songs, and forage? Dr. David Bird explores this question. BWD subscribers, read online »

Bird Watcher's Digest July/August 2012: My Way: A Local Big Year

Can't afford a year-long birding excursion across North America? Try a county-level Big Year instead. You may be surprised at how much fun is waiting in your own local patch! BWD subscribers, read online »

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July/August 2012

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The Egret White Paper
By Alvaro Jaramillo
There are precious few birds that are entirely white. We go gaga over white birds from the Arctic—snowy owls, ivory gulls, and snow buntings—but sometimes overlook the equally white and appealing egrets. White is unusual and attractive, but to those interested in bird identification it causes a problem: White has no pattern. White is white. Unless there are spots, streaks, or some sort of pattern, we obtain little information from white alone. This means that the identification of the white egrets and herons has to be a little different than that of other birds, because you absolutely need to focus on size, shape, and the colors of soft parts (legs, bills, bare face patches). However, egrets are kind to us because they do not hide; they tend to stay out in the open, allowing for easy study.

What is an egret? Another way to pose this is to ask what is the difference between a heron and an egret? The terms are imprecise, and parallel the murky usage of "dove" versus "pigeon." The terms have a broadly understood meaning, but it's difficult to define exactly what they mean. The division of egret versus heron is not taxonomically meaningful, and not all egrets are more closely related to each other than to herons. What we generally understand an egret to be is a bird in the heron group that is smaller, slimmer, and daintier on average than a big old heron. We tend to associate egrets with the color white.

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Uneasy Rider
By Julie Zickefoose
It had been a weekend, a five-day doozy of preparation and execution of the Midwest Birding Symposium in Lakeside, Ohio. A whirl of talks and performances, and hanging around it all an art show—I was all done in, happily exhausted. I'd started for home with the kids, the dog, and a groaning cargo carrier of luggage and gear swaying on the back of my little Subaru. It was going for midnight when we got home, and I wearily pressed "Play" on the answering machine. The third message snapped me to attention.

His voice was clipped, military and precise, measured and intense.

"Yes. My name is John Doe. Approximately four hours ago, which would be 1600 hours on Sunday afternoon, I was driving on my motorcycle between Woodsfield and Sardis, Ohio, and noticed a bird floundering on the edge of the road, which as it turned out was a red-tailed hawk, which I know is an endangered species. I called Monroe County Sheriff's office in a roundabout way, but two people called for me and I know 'cuz I've talked to the deputy, and he said that he was going to contact someone in the wildlife area to go down and look at the hawk..."

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Far Afield: Birding Israel's Hula Valley
By Bill Thompson, III
There is not much of planet Earth that's been lived on, fought over, plowed under, built on, reshaped, and pondered over more than the land known as Israel. Serving as part of the small land bridge between Europe, Asia, and Africa, Israel is also one of the planet's most active bird migration routes. With relatively little land, and despite a high proportion of that land being desert, Israel has evolved into a mega-successful agricultural nation, producing crops from cotton to beef, fruits, and vegetables, and expanding in recent decades to include vineyards and fish farms. More than 95 percent of Israel's food needs are produced in-country. The expansion of agriculture in rural areas of Israel has created decades of conflict between birds and farmers, both of which are trying to make a living from the land and sparse water resources.

Bordering the Mediterranean Sea and the countries of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, Israel has come up with unique solutions to vexing problems of resource allocation. A high percentage of Israeli homes use solar power to heat water. Drip-irrigation means that crops in Israel thrive with highly efficient water use. When I was invited in late 2011 to travel to Israel's Hula Valley to observe the success of cooperative conservation programs between farmers and several of Israel's nature conservation organizations, I jumped at the opportunity.

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