Thursday, September 29, 2005

Giant Cardinal Sighting

In a momentary lapse of judgment, Julie and I let the kids pose for a picture with this giant cardinal-like bird at a theme restaurant in a Pennsylvania strip mall. Sadly, this was the height of our dining experience. Phoebe looks justifiably scared, while Liam smiles innocently. The person inside the costume was WAY too into the role. Not the perky smile on the bird's bill. And the lifeless blue eyes. And all the pieces of flair on the hat, combined with a Hawaiian shirt. I suppose it's better than having a mime for a mascot. Now THAT would be scary.

Bye for now.


Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Don't Ask Jeeves

Warning: Mini-rant coming!

I saw another one of the new Ask Jeeves TV ads last night. This one features a harried mother carrying a child as she wades into a wetland toward a bearded, bespectacled older man who is covered in cattail leaves and is wearing an Elmer Fudd hat with a mallard decoy on top of it. The woman says: "I need a recipe for lasagna." The man looks at her, then squats down in the cattails and blows a duck call. A voiceover says: "Don't ask a bird watcher for a recipe. Ask Jeeves."

Didn't anyone tell the Ask Jeeves marketing people that bird watchers do not fit the oddball, absent-minded professor stereotype anymore? This is far worse than the Folger's commercial of the 1980s where a couple, totally outfitted in safari gear, tiptoe deep into the woods where the woman whispers breathlessly to her husband: "There it IS honey! The red-winged blackbird! Now let's go have some crappy instant coffee!"

I thought we'd buried that Miss Jane Hathaway image of bird watchers long ago. I guess no one told the folks at Ask Jeeves. Perhaps they had no place reliable where they could get an answer to the question: What is today's bird watcher like? Or is it offensive, even slightly, to make fun of people pursuing a certain hobby?

Well they could have asked me or any one of the million or so other avid birder/bird watchers in North America. Call me hyper-sensitive, but birding is both my hobby and my profession and I've been a bird watcher for 35 years. I remember when bird watching was socially unacceptable and embarrassing. It's a huge relief not to have that stigma about our favorite activity.

I know one thing. The only question I'll be Asking Jeeves anytime soon is this:
Excuse me, Jeeves! Could you please shut up?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Cranky Bluebird

I'll never be a world-famous bird photographer (like the dude who took the famous Mad Bluebird photo). Yet I feel compelled to share my own digital image of Sialia sialis, a piece I call "Cranky Bluebird." I took this photo last winter on a very cold morning. This male had already eaten his fair share of the suet dough. And when I took his picture he was just sitting tight keeping the other bluebirds from eating.
Our bluebirds have just this week returned to our yard from their annual sojourn elsewhere. We think they take a break in early fall to get their last brood acclimated to foraging on their own. From late August to mid-September we rarely see them, so when they return later in the fall, we're very happy to welcome back our old friends.

Bye for now,


Birding by Boat

Have you ever tried birding from a small boat? I'm here to tell you that it totally rocks! Well, not if you sit still. Anyway...It's so easy to sneak up on birds when you're paddling in a kayak or canoe. I think it's because the birds do not "see" you as a threat.

Julie and I have a pair of decked canoes (though they look more like small, wide kayaks). We love to take them out on a lake, wetland, or estuary in search of birds.

On our recent trip to western Maryland, we kayaked on the lake at Herrington Manor State Park--a lovely 50-acre lake that's (blessedly) too shallow for power boats or jet skis. So we had it practically all to ourselves. Late on Sunday afternoon I took the kayak to the back of the lake where beavers had created an incredible wetland. Along the shore, perched in a dead tree was a young (bird of the year) merlin. We stared at each other for almost 15 minutes before I paddled away.

This image of my pal Joe Parisi in Julie's kayak on Herrington Manor lake reminds me of how blissful our birding-by-boat was that weekend.

Bye for now,


Friday, September 23, 2005

My Nest Box Checker

All spring and summer Julie maintains our bluebird trail (about 12 boxes) and we enjoy decent reproductive success amoung our feathered tenants. Our all-time high is 72 fledglings for a breeding season--not bad for just a dozen boxes in our wooded habitat.

Phoebe (our nine-year-old daughter) loves to check the nest boxes, especially when the babies are getting feathered and cute. In this image, she's helping out on a early-spring box-checking run in our meadow.


Thursday, September 22, 2005

Giant Weird Statue Images

The reaction has been swift and resounding: "Bill! PLEASE! Send us more images of what-were-they-thinking giant statues!"
And because I hate to disappoint, here are two more for you.

The giant Native American lives in front of The Chieftain Motor Lodge in Carrington, ND, site of the Potholes and Prairie Birding Festival (a truly great birding event).

The giant turkey lives in Frazee, MN. a town I was passing through during a field trip from the Detroit Lakes Birding Festival in Detroit Lakes, MN.


My Secret Affliction

I travel with an Olympus digital camera. It's not a top-end camera like the pros use (thought I pine for one of those). And it's useless for digiscoping (at least with my scope's eyepiece). But it is GREAT for getting "grab shots" of birders, landscapes, some very cooperative birds, and my favorite subjects: large, goofy statues.

Here's a shot I took in western New York state of a statue of a rare bird: a mini-golf macaw.

I'll share more of my favorite images, unless you scream for mercy.


Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Blissful Morning of Birding

There's no better combination than a good cup of coffee, a beautiful misty morning, some birding pals, and lots of migrant birds. Two weekends ago, JZ (the artist/author/spouse, not the rapper/movie star) and I took Phoebe and Liam for a weekend adventure at Herrington Manor State Park in westernmost Maryland. We met pals Joe & Tami and Howard & Marta. Both couples also have two offspring, so it was a multi-family confab. And it was mondo fun, too. Lots of laughs, swimming, games, too much eating, and not really any serious hair pulling or shin kicking.


Howard (of Howard and Marta) is Howard Youth, newly minted BWD Field Editor, and top-flight bird dude. Hobes, as we call him, is one of our fave birding pals. We enjoyed two truly excellent mornings of birding around the main grounds of the park, catching sight of loads of warblers, including Cape May, bay-breasted, blackpoll, black-throated green, black-and-white, northern parula, Tennessee, Blackburnian, palm, yellow-rumped, chestnut-sided, redstart, common yellowthroat, and Nashville.

Pictured are JZ and Hobes, in the misty morning air at Herrington Manor.

Bye for now,


Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Recent Visitor to Our Spa

Julie (talented artist writer whom I tricked into marrying me in 1993) took these digital images of a recent visitor to our Bird Spa. It's a male dickcissel and it bathed for several minutes while Julie clicked away with her camera.
We were pretty excited about this visitor—dickcissels are rare in Ohio.

Of course I was at the office when this bird showed up.

Last fall Jules had a female white-winged crossbill at our bird bath.
Where was I?
At the office.

The Swinging Orangutangs

Bird Peeple:

Millions of you have asked me:

"Bill, what's the name of the incredible band you perform with, and where can we listen to your music?"

Well, I'm glad you asked. My band is called The Swinging Orangutangs. Yes, that's orangutang with a "G."
We put the 'tang back in orangutan.

We've been playing out since about 1994, and recorded the critically acclaimed (if our parents' opinions count) CD "Mood Swings" in 1997.

Here is "Sadness Turns to Slush" from that album:
Sadness Turns to Slush.mp3

We have been on a hiatus for the past year while I worked on some books, but now we're baaaack.

This past Sunday we played for a wedding reception on a local sternwheel boat, The Valley Gem. It was a beautiful evening on the Ohio River. Of course we rocked the house, made everyone dance, and as a bonus we saw lots of birds on the river, including a merlin and an osprey. Plus, we got paid!

The Swinging Orangutangs are:
BT3: guitar, vocals
Julie Zickefoose: vocals, flutes, percussion
Andy Thompson: guitar, piano, vocals
Steve McCarthy: drums, vocals
Marty Margolis: bass

We are currently getting our karma together for another CD. I'll post a rough cut of one of our songs here soon.

Bye for now,


The Big Sit!

Bird Peeps:

If you've never participated in The Big Sit! you should try it this year.
October 9, 2005 is the date.

Details are here: The Big Sit!
It's free.
It's TOTALLY fun.
It's my favorite birding event of the year.

Because my Big Sit circle is high atop the birding tower (pictured) on our farm, Indigo Hill, in rural southeastern Ohio.

Oh man do we have fun.

This year, we hope to break the all-time Indigo Hill Big Sit Record of 64 species (set in 2004).

Bye for now,

Howdy Bird Watchers!

It's been a year since all of us at Bird Watcher's Digest started working on our super new website:

Print publishers are struggling all over the planet to figure out how to "make the Web work." Well it's working for us just fine, (thanks to Laura K. and Katherine K. (not related)). Still, we're always trying new things--some of which succeed and some of which plummet to Earth in a flaming ball.

Today's new thing is to try creating my blog via Will it work? Let's see.

Hold on tight....