Monday, October 31, 2005

Being Steve Irwin

Julie and I are among the handful of parents that dress up for the Salem Liberty Elementary School Halloween party. I mean, why should Liam and Phoebe have all the fun? Hours before the party, as I was rummaging through our basement for a costume idea, I came across our medium-large and very lifelike plastic crocodile. "Crikey! That's my bloody costume, mate!" suddenly came forth from my mouth. I had morphed into Steve Irwin, The Crocodile Hunter. Moments later I was wriggling into some short-shorts and donning my hiking boots with white sox.
But I needed a few other crucial elements: Dirty-blonde mullet wig? Check
Aussie bush hat (to help people understand my costume)? Check
Attractive female American naturalist wife? Check
A naked baby doll made the outfit complete (Steve dangled his newborn child over a huge, hungry croc at his compound a few years ago. Immediately inviting comparisons with Michael Jackson.)
Here's a picture of our nuclear family shortly after we each won prizes for our costumes.
Phoebe is a red hat lady. Liam is a pterodactyl.
Crikey! That croc's got my Bay-by!

Phoebe's Scary Story

Phoebe Linnea Thompson (age 9) was the winner of the Marietta Times' Scary Story Contest, beating out all other 4th graders in Washington County, Ohio. Even better, as a winner, she got to record her scary story for our local radio station WMOA and a rapt local audience got to hear all the winners' stories last Friday night. I am so very proud of Phoebe, who like her mom, is now a radio personality. Dan Castelli (WMOA's friendly engineer for Phoebe's session) promised to send us a CD of Phoebe's story. Once it's in hand, I'll post the audio clip here. But be is VERY scary.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Autumn falls upon us

More signs that autumn has struck its heaviest blows here in rural southeastern Ohio: The trees are nearing peak color and there was frost on this young angus bull's back yesterday morning.
Oh, and we've got to turn our clocks back one hour on Saturday night. I never remember to do that until I show up for something an hour early on Sunday (or even Monday).

Osprey Tracker

This is very cool! Click on the words Osprey Tracker above and you'll be magically transported to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources website's osprey tracking page. A mated pair of ospreys was fitted with radio transmitters near their Lake Erie nest site. The birds are now located along the Amazon River basin in Brazil, a few hundred miles apart.
As a taxpaying resident of Ohio, I'm pleased to see that my tax dollars are spent learning this sort of stuff about our birds. Enjoy!


Thursday, October 27, 2005

Black-tailed gull

Rarity-chasing birders will be heading to the shores of Lake Champlain near Charlotte, Vermont this weekend hoping to catch a glimpse of a rare Asian gull: the black-tailed gull (Larus crassirostris). Here is CNN's item on the sighting.
This is a very cool bird. Unfortunately I will not be join the stampede to Vermont. I'll be trick-or-treating with Phoebe and Liam this weekend. Phoebe is dressing as a Red Hat lady.

If you go, please send me a photo if you see the bird! Oh, and say hello to Ben & Jerry.

Voice of the Wetlands

My friend Paul Baicich, a dedicated birder/conservationist who writes for BWD, and creates the Swarovski/National Wildlife Refuge Association Birding e-Bulletin, sent me this interesting note:

Music for the Gulf Coastal Wetlands
One of the few good things coming out of Hurricane Katrina has been
increased awareness over the importance of Gulf coastal wetlands. (It is
estimated that by the year 2050, coastal Louisiana will lose more than
630,000 additional acres of marshes, swamps, and islands.)

In one fine example of concern, acclaimed blues guitarist Tab Benoit has
stepped forward. Benoit is a native of a small town in southeastern
Louisiana. Because of the loss of coastal wetlands, the Gulf of Mexico is
20 miles closer to Benoit's home than was the case when he was a boy.
These wetlands, of course, are home to hundreds of species of birds and
other wildlife, locations for refuges.

Even before Katrina, Benoit started a nonprofit organization called Voice
of the Wetlands in an effort to raise public awareness of the problem. One
effort of VOW has been a very impressive CD, released on 1 October 05.
Benoit is joined by other fine Louisiana performers including Dr. John,
Cyril Neville, Anders Osborne, and Waylon Thibodeaux. They sing and play
meaningfully about the frustration of losing an important and unique part
of America. Check it out.

Bird enthusiasts, refuge supporters, wetland conservationists, and music
lovers alike would do well to check out this CD.

Thanks to Paul for sharing this interesting item.

Urge For Going

See the geese in chevron flight
Flapping and a-racin' on before the snow
They've got the urge for going
they've got the wings to go...

From "Urge for Going" by Joni Mitchell

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Another Cool Giant Thing

This incredibly cool giant rooster is the icon for The North Market in Columbus, OH. I could not resist its wily graphic charms. And the market itself is really great, too--lots of fresh produce and unique gourmet food stuff. The rooster is my favorite, though.

Kettle of TVs

While Julie and I were driving home to Whipple from Columbus on Saturday afternoon, we stopped at a traffic light near Easton and I-270. The women in the car next to us were looking skyward and pointing. Julie followed their gaze and spotted a HUGE kettle of turkey vultures. The weather was clearing after two days of cold and rain, so we figured these birds were kettling prior to migrating southward. It was gorgeous to see. We cheated death to swerve to the shoulder and snap a few images while the birds were low and the light was right. There are at least 114 TVs in this image of the kettle. And there was a slightly smaller kettle to the north of this one!
While a few TVs spend the winter in our part of southeastern Ohio, most migrate to points south in late fall. We often see our last vulture of the year just after deer season (and all its free vulture meals) ends in early December.

Ohioana Award

I was honored, flattered, and very thrilled to receive the John Barry Ohioana Award for Editorial Excellence last Saturday, October 22. I accepted the award on behalf of Bird Watcher's Digest which my family has published since 1978.
Here's the Ohioana Library's mission statement: The Ohioana Library Association is dedicated to: encouraging and recognizing the creative accomplishments of Ohioans; maintaining and preserving a permanent collection of books and music by Ohioans and about Ohio; disseminating information about the work of Ohio writers, musicians and other artists.
Of course I am just the person who happened to be sitting in the editor's chair when BWD won this award. Yes, this is my dream job, and I am utterly dedicated to BWD and our readers, but there are MANY other people who contribute to the magazine's editorial quality. In my acceptance speech I tried to recognize a few of the key contributors to BWD creation, existence, and overall quality. Bill and Elsa Thompson (my parents) deserve a ton of credit for having the gumption to start the magazine. The late Pat Murphy was our bird watching mentor and associate editor for many years. Mary Bowers was BWD's editor from 1979 until 1995 and set the tone for our editorial quality. These days we rely on BWD Managing Editor Debbie Griffith, Sarah Brady (production director) and Amy Wells (editorial assistant) to keep things in order. The entire BWD staff is a close-knit team that enjoys working together: Andy Thompson (BWD publisher and my brother), Ann Kerenyi (our controller), Susan Hill (fulfillment director), Heather Coty Smith (circulation), Helen Neuberger (customer service), Linda Brejwo (advertising), Josh Schlicher (BWD Direct). A handful of outside consultants and contributing editors also help BWD to be all it can be. Special mention here to John Johanek, Bob Ayers, Durrae Johanek, Julie Zickefoose, Jeff Gordon, Laura Kammermeier, and Katherine Koch.
I want to thank the folks at the Ohioana Library (Kate, Linda, Susan) for this wonderful honor. I still can't believe it.

Bye for now,

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Merlins a-poppin'

Yesterday, while I was on hold during a teleconference, a merlin zoomed past the conference room window here at BWD World Headquarters. That's the third merlin I've seen this fall. Recent reports have shown that merlins may be adapting to city life, much as the hacked-out peregrine falcons have done over the past 20 years. I'm happy about this because the merlin is a really great bird. It would be hard to find a bird watcher who is not thrilled at the sight of a merlin. Catch a glimpse of a merlin online at bird photographer Ron Austing's website

My Doppelgänger

You know how some people believe that we all have a perfect twin out there somewhere on Planet Earth? A doppelgänger? Well, I met mine the other day. I thought the resemblance was stunning. He's not that into birding, though, and he eschews baseball hats (which my English friend Nick Hammond refers to as IQ Reducers). My twin's name is Bob Thomas. He's a roustabout for a flea circus. He likes tennis, travel, and candlelit walks on the beach. Nice guy!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Shadows of Fall

As Julie and I (and Chet) walked Phoebe and Liam to the school bus this morning we reveled in another beautiful autumn day. These are our shadows as we waited for the bus. Lots of purple finches around now, and the bluebird clan was all lined up on the wires across the cow pasture. Rain and cold will arrive this weekend, so we're reveling while we can.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Blue Jays Moving

All day today I've noticed blue jays migrating. Some are carrying an acorn in their bills as they fly. Is this food for the trip? I wonder...
When it's autumn and the small flocks of jays are moving over Indigo Hill, our southeastern Ohio farm, we scan them for red-headed woodpeckers. The red-headed woodpecker (one of my favorite birds) is another acorn specialist that seems to migrate at the same time as the blue jay. I wish the 37 jays I've seen so far today had been red-headed woodpeckers.

Harpy Eagles Eat Monkeys

Neil Rettig gave a fascinating program at the Midwest Birding Symposium about his harpy eagle. He's spent years studying, filming, and working to protect the species. Nearly everyone at the MBS stopped what they were doing to gaze at this magnificent creature. This is a bird that makes its living by swooping through the South American jungle and grabbing monkeys and sloths out of the vine-covered trees. Check out the bird's huge, powerful feet and deadly talons!
In the first photo the bird is at ease on Neil's arm.
In the second photo, a small child--a monkey-sized toddler if you will--entered the room. This got the harpy eagle's attention!

Monday, October 17, 2005

Chet Baker

This is our dog Chet Baker. He is named for the famous jazz trumpet player of the 50's, Chet Baker. Why? Because they look so much alike.
Don't you agree?

Our Chet loves to go bird watching when we walk around our farm. He's got a really good life list. Latest addition is ruffed grouse.

Full Résumé Disclosure

Sharon: No way! YOU wore the Chuck E Cheese outfit, TOO?
Jeff: Sadly, it is true.
Sharon: That ROCKS!
Jeff: Hey! You're too short to be a real Chuck E Cheese.
Sharon: Alas, the costume was wrinkled on me.
Jeff: You were a Shar-Pei Chuck E Cheese! Cool!

Special thanx to Julie Zickefoose for the snapshot.

Friends Don't Let Friends Sing Karaoke

Two of the three smiling people in the foreground of this photo committed Karaoke Krimes on Friday night in Davenport, Iowa, at The Commodore Club. From left, they are Lisa White (innocent), Jeff Bouton (guilty), Sharon Stiteler (very guilty).
The man in the back is Ed Begley, Jr., now a restaurant greeter in Davenport.

On the Way Home

The accompanying images show two impressive things we encountered on the way home. But we encountered them in the wrong order.

FIRST we should have gone to the Bob Evans in Zanesville, Ohio.

THEN we should have walked through the totally awesome Detroit Airport Tunnel of Light.

Stop! Mom! Noooo!

My mother is actually performing a service for our country in this photograph. No, she is NOT killing our national symbol. She's actually using that stick to remove cobwebs from the (stuffed) eagle's head. For a second I thought I was going to have to get her one of those "If It Flies, It Dies" bumper stickers.

Probably Not a Bird Watcher

Saw this window sticker on an SUV in Davenport, Iowa.

Midwest Bacchus Symposium

We had an enjoyable Saturday night dinner at Centro ("Chen Tro") with a table full of friends from the world of birds

Faces in the Birding Crowd

The BEST thing about attending birding festivals such as the Midwest Birding Symposium is that you get to see your pals, and make new ones. And you get to take stoopid pictures all the while. Here are a few. In order they are: Image #1: John Acorn, Julie Zickefoose, George Wheat, and Bobby Harrison (ivory-billed woodpecker finder guy), Image #2: Alisha Craig and John "Wincy" Acorn, Image #3: my beloved mother Elsa in full breeding plumage, and Image #4: John Acorn's Sleestak, a proto-dino-humanoid.

Midwest Birding Symposium

I scarcely saw any birds while we attended the Midwest Birding Symposium in Davenport, Iowa. That's not because there were no birds, it's because the event was so heavily scheduled that it was nearly impossible to get away for any birding.
Our journey began with lost luggage (courtesy Northwest Airlines) and a mad dash across the Mississippi River (from the Moline, IL airport) to pick up a group of people accompanying us to a book reading and signing in Iowa City. No luggage, no personal hygiene products, NO PROBLEM! Well as long as you had no sense of smell it was no problem.
Prairie Lights bookstore is one of those sanctuary-like independent bookstores that really understands its business. Julie and I, along with Donald Kroodsma (author of "The Singing Life of Birds") were to be the on the "Live from Prairie Lights" radio program, hosted by Julie Englander. Lisa White (our editor at Houghton Mifflin and Katrina Kruse also from HM came along as our chaperones and guides. We somehow managed to make the hour-long drive to Iowa City, arriving on time. A red-tailed hawk perched atop a gold-domed college building may have been a good omen. After the show and book signing, we enjoyed a lovely dinner at Atlas. Alas we got back to D-Port too late to join the Karaoke Krew at The Rusty Nail. But our journey to the Karaoke Kosmos was only a few hours away....
Pictured below: The authors pose with show host Julie Englander. And our books on display for all to see (and buy).

Thursday, October 13, 2005


Whenever, wherever Inspirato strikes you must surrender to its magic and let the creative energy flow. This is Julie writing one of her NPR commentaries in the Columbus, OH airport. This one will be about Liam's tummy ache at school.
Gotta go. Our flight is boarding. There are a couple of bags of raunchy peanuts in my immediate future.
More soonest,

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

After the Sitting is Done

After The Big Sit is over, and the birding tower is empty, I like to look up at the tower and think about all the great birds we enjoyed and all the laughs we shared. With the snap of autumn in the air, it's a slightly melancholy time when I realize that it will be an entire year before the next Big Sit. Then again, spring migration is only five or so months away...

I'm off to Iowa tomorrow and The Midwest Birding Symposium. Hope to see you there!

Bye for now,


Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Big Sit Final Results

We ended our 2005 Big Sit species count right where it was when I last posted: 60 species. Our last bird was a chimney swift that Steve McCarthy (pictured emerging from the birding tower hatch) spotted overhead. "Hey! It's a flying cigar! No, wait! It's a chimney swift!"
Chet Baker (Boston terrier to end all Boston terriers) was with us for much of the Sit, taking his customary perch on a stool meant for humans. From this vantage point he can scan the yard below for bunnies, chipmunks, and deer. He's pictured, sitting between Jen and Julie, watching the action at the Bird Spa.
We did set an all-time record for human participants in the Big Sit at 28. It got a bit crowded in the tower at times. At one point someone suggested we needed "to vote someone off the island" in order to make more room. When the beer and wine began flowing at about 5 pm, all such concerns evaporated. Of course it also meant that we did not see any more species.
The Wicked Witches of the Web (Laura Kammermeier and Katherine Koch) appeared in our driveway in the afternoon and joined us for the remainder of the Sit. They, along with Doug and Ethel-Marie Levasseur, helped me finish off the squash soup and chili after the Sit, making this the first-ever Big Sit without massive food leftovers. Of course we did contribute mightily to global warming as a result.
Visit the link above to see Big Sit results from other circles around the world. Next year, host your OWN Big Sit!
Bye for now,

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Big Sit Report 2

It's 6 pm. Do you know where a red-headed woodpecker is? We need one for our Big Sit count. We're trying to break last year's record-setting number, 65 species. We have 60 species currently, and two hours of daylight left in which to spot another 6 species. Missing from this year's Sit count: kestrel, Cooper's hawk, palm warbler, wild turkey, scarlet tanager, red-headed woodpecker, yellow-bellied sapsucker. If you have ANY of these species, please rush them to southeastern Ohio.
We have had loads of fun. Among the culinary delights, as always, are Mary Ann McCarthy's pepperoni rolls. MMmmmm healthy and good, especially with black nail polish (on your hands, not the rolls).

More tonight,

Big Sit Report

Today (Sunday, Oct. 9) is The Big Sit! We're sitting in our birding tower at Indigo Hill, near Whipple, OH and although the weather is fairly nasty (cold, damp, drizzly) the birding so far is really good. We stand at 48 species at 11:00 am EST. I started the Sit last night with a veery calling as it flew overhead at about 1:15 am. I went up in the tower for good at 5:30 am. Joining our Sit thus far are: Jim "Tiny" McCormac, Jen Sauter, Debbie and David Griffith, Steve McCarthy, Sarah Brady, Matthew Williams, and Bob Scott Placier. My beloved Julie Z just fed everyone her famous apple crisp.

Latest species: rock dove!

More later.


Friday, October 07, 2005


It's a gloomy day here in Birdland. So, to make myself feel better, I'm posting another giant scary statue image. This time it's of a giant pirate, Cap'n Papier Mache, who stands guard over an abandoned mini-golf course in western New York. There's nothing quite so uplifting as screaming out a hearty "Aaargh!" Go ahead. Try it.

See? Now don't you just feel better? I do.

It's a fun-filled weekend. A Swinging Orangutangs gig tonight at the Blennerhassett Hotel in Parkersburg, WV. Phoebe's basketball games on Sat (much yelling and gesticulating), followed by my little sister's birthday party. Then The Big Sit on Sunday! We spent yesterday getting our home ready for The Big Sit (that's code for house cleaning that involved a backhoe and shovels.) Now we're ready and feeling great anticipation about our favorite birding event of the year.

Watch this space for some real-time results on Sunday.

Bye for now,


Monday, October 03, 2005

The Wezils

Our great birding pals, Lisa and Wezil Walraven (yes, that's his REAL name) visited us at the farm last week. The occasion was the press proofing of Lisa's cover print (her purple gallinule is on the cover of the Nov/Dec 2005 issue of BWD). Lisa's work is both stunning and unique. Wezil is one of Arizona's most sought-after birding tour leaders. Check out the website of this dynamic duo.
I captured this image of The Wezils (as we affectionately call them) while we were all enjoying another beautiful SE Ohio sunset. While The Wezils were visiting, we had two neat bird records for the farm: A pair of migrant dickcissels foraging around the garden, and a flyover common raven (only our second ever!). Wezil was involved in both sightings.
We first met Lisa and Wezil at the Southwest Wings Birding Festival.

Bye for now,