Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Why Laughing Gulls Laugh

Among the many delectable delights of the Delaware Bayshore is the constant presence of laughing gulls. They are everywhere and now, I think I know why they are everywhere, and why they are always laughing.

I'll let the photos do the talking from here on out....

El Fin. Master of his domain.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Some Recently Encountered Birds

During our time in Delaware, we DID do a bit of birding, and here is the visual proof.

Delaware's legendary Port Mahon Road hosts thousands of shore birds along its tideline each spring. These birds gather to feast on the eggs laid by horseshoe crabs.

We were shocked that Delaware still has not done anything to protect this vital stopover site for migrant shorebirds. Here some completely oblivious tourists are walking down the beach, spooking huge flocks of feeding shorebirds into flight. How could we blame them, there were no signs prohibiting beach walking.

To me this looks like a beautiful, tall woman on pink stilts on a busy street. In reality it's a female black-necked stilt among several dozen semipalmated sandpipers.

I love this red knot doing the angel-wing thing.

I found the knots devilishly hard to digiscope--they never stopped moving.

Jeff Gordon and Jim White picked out this lone least sandpiper (center). Note the dark "backpack strap", the yellow legs, and the thin bill as compared to the nearby semipalmated sandpipers.

Jeff G. also found several white-rumped sandpipers (center on the rock). Note the overall longer and leaner body shape, and the orange tint to the base of the bill.

A feeding frenzy ensues each May on the Delaware Bayshore. These are semipalmated sandpipers.

I kept watching to see if a sandpiper would walk between the legs of this stilt.

The ruddy turnstones were omnipresent, and this one was kind enough to perch on a post for me.

At Camp Arrowhead, I took this average image of a Forster's tern on a pier piling. Then I took the next photo.

Lightening his load just before taking off. It was total and complete luck that I got this shot.

It was not all shorebirds in DE. I stalked this male blue grosbeak, and this was the best I could do,. He was shy. I like how this shot shows the girth of his bill.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Faces in the Crowd

Here are some of my favorite images from this weekend's wedding adventure in Lewes, Delaware.

Next post, some bird images. I promise!

Liz, the bride, made magic bubbles in the afternoon sunshine.

Jeff and Liz at the post-rehearsal party, where, after a brief rainshower, a giant rainbow appeared--always a good sign.

The wedding's theme was luna moth. This wild luna appeared near the chapel on the morning of the wedding!

Phoebe, the flower fairy, and Marci Fuller (left) and Sally O'Byrne were the bridesmaids.

Liz's son Travis (right), an aspiring musician, and his pal Zach gave the event a punk flair.

Jeff's mom, Kathleen, gave him a pre-ceremony hug.

"Hey Jeff! It's WEDDING TIME, dude!"

Liz misplaced her shoes on the morning of the ceremony. It did not faze her one bit.

Julie and I put on our fancy dress outfits for the big day.

After our band played, Travis and his pals took the stage. This is Trav totally shredding.

Liam decided that he LOVES punk rock. He danced and danced. Later he announced that he wants us to call him Rockpile now.

Two boys, four ears, one IPod. No problem!

Marci and I compared notes on the fancy beer being offered to the guests.

Chet, like all of us at the wedding, had too much fun.

Vinnie Mele, the Musical Wonder of Marietta, accompanied us to Delaware and made our music 33% better. Here he croons a smarmy ballad.
I played more guitar this weekend than I have in years. It felt really great to just close my eyes and play for hours.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Tying the Knot, Chasing the Knot

Our pals Jeff and Liz tied the knot this weekend in Lewes, DE and the celebration has nearly ended--three days later. This afternoon a group of us unwound by heading up the coast to Port Mahon Road to see the concentrations of shorebirds feasting on horseshoe crab eggs. I tried like crazy to get a good shot of a red knot, but they were pretty skittish (lots of holiday makers on the beaches) and would not sit tight for a good photo.

I have a feeling we'll be talking about this wedding for a long time to come--it was quite a happening scene. Thanks Jeff and Liz for including us in your big day!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Song in My Head

La Cienega Just Smiled
by Ryan Adams
from the album "Gold"

Whenever I'm prepping for a show, I find much inspirato from listening to music by my favorite artists. Ryan Adams moved to the top of the heap about five years ago and has remained there through his copious audio output ever since. His "Gold" album is still my fave. The thing I love most about this song, other than the simple, perfect lyrics, is the eight-note rhythm played by the acoustic guitar--both melodic and percussive, holding the entire song together the way the mud holds a robin's nest together or mayo holds your favorite sandwich together. Love this song...

La Cienega just smiles and says I'll see you around.....

In other news, and perhaps in a sign that the apocalypse is upon us, while listening to Pandora today, on my station built around the music of Wilco, up came music from an artist that nearly made me retch. Fortunately Pandora lets you veto an artist from your playlist, banishing them for all time.

As I leapt across the room for the computer to hit the "I Hate It, Banish This Artist!" button, I saw that it was.....


May the cosmos have mercy on our souls.....Hanson?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Aftermath of Lizapalooza

This weekend our friends Jeff & Liz are getting married in Delaware. We first met Jeff at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival in Harlingen, Texas, where he was leading field trips. Julie and I were there giving a programs and leading trips, too. Jules was also the featured artist for the festival, something that Liz, then festival chairperson, had arranged. So it was only natural that we'd all hang out together.

What was not so natural is that we had so much fun hanging out that we ended up having giant parties in the adobe cottage where we were being housed. We'd put the kids to sleep, then people would start showing up with guitars, percussion instruments, adult beverages, and the next thing you'd know we'd have 25 or 30 people singing, jamming, and laughing. We crashed at 3 and still got up at 4:30 for our trips!

Then we did the same thing, only bigger, the next night. Live music can have that effect on a party. Liz had so much fun that the party has ever since been referred to as "Lizapalooza."

After that weekend, Jeff and Liz, well, let's just say the rest is history. We're honored to be playing music for the wedding of these two special pals and world-class, incredibly cool people.

Long may you run, amigos!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Fields of Daisies

If you're a regular reader of Julie's blog, you'll know that we have a soft spot for large patches of wildflowers (who doesn't?). While out on Twp 92 last Sunday afternoon (after dropping our old gas heater off at the township dumpster for Clean-up Day) I was spending some quality time with a flock of eastern kingbirds when I realized that I was standing thigh-deep in a giant meadow of field daisies.

This spring has been pretty cool and wet, which must be the perfect conditions for these sweet, and very fetching wildflowers. These flowers have the perfect combination of colors: white petals surrounding a lemon-yellow center--like a beautiful woman in a bright yellow sundress.

With the spring sun slanting in from the West, I stooped over to take a few snaps of the daisies. They seemed to smile sweetly, nodding their heads in the caress of the evening breeze. What a lovely way to end the day and the week.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Kingbirds and Highways

One of the eastern kingbirds that have been hanging around in the fields surrounding our farm. A few will stay to nest here.

I love eastern kingbirds. They appear each May, zapping their "fork in an electric socket" calls and fluttering from treetop to wire and back again. This week we've had a half-dozen or so hanging around the neighbors' hayfields. And I finally had the time and cooperative sunlight to digiscope a few of them.

Recently I was given the honor of introducing Kenn Kaufman as the keynote speaker at the Ohio Ornithological Society's annual conference. Those of you who know me realize that I relished this opportunity as a chance to swerve from the middle of the road. Sure I could've done the boring emcee thing and cited Kenn's long list of accomplishments, his many published works, his years of leading bird tours, but no.

I decided to write a song for the occasion.
Kenn Kaufman, author, bird ID maven, lover of kingbirds. Photo by Julie Zickefoose.

And that song, copped from Hank Williams, Sr's "Lost Highway" morped into a song bearing the same title as Kenn's book "Kingbird Highway." If you have read the book, these lyrics might resonate with you. If you have not read the book, well, I am sorry amigo, but you have not led a full life. Get it. Read it. Come back here for the lyrics.

Kingbird Highway (with apologies to Hank Williams, Sr.)

I’m a rollin’ stone all alone and lost
For a life of birds I have paid the cost
When I pass by all the people say
There’s that weird dude who wrote Kingbird Highway

With binoculars and an old field guide
Eating canned cat food and trying to hitch a ride
To add one more bird to my big year LIST
If I miss that bird, well I’ll sure be…..MAD

I was just a lad, nearly 17
When I left my home to chase those things with wings
Then I lost my scope, it got washed away
Lord I paid the cost, on the Kingbird Highway

Now if you’re out just a chasin’ birds
At the sewage plant, where there’s lots of …..YELLOWLEGS
Just keep your cool, don’t get carried away
As you travel down that Kingbird Highway

Kenn dug it. Hope you do, too.
Meanwhile, spend some time appreciating what a great bird the eastern (or western) kingbird is.
BT3, your singing emcee introducing K2 to the OOS faithful.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs

Here are three new additions to my ever-expanding collection of inane, insane, sometimes profane signs. And, no, we are not making these up.

What's the fun in trespassing if you've got a permit?
Special thanks to Rondeau Ric for this one.

Italians are among the most socail people I've ever met. This ought to be really fun!

Either "Redneck" or "Hayseed" would have done it for me. But having both labels on this fine vehicle is just gilding the lily.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Wishing at a Train

Liam loves trains. I believe that fact has been previously established here in BOTB. Today, after attending Phoebe's softball game in a distant village, we heard a train whistle, so we followed the sound over the river and parked next to the tracks as the train (a 100-car coal train headed north) rumbled and screeched past.

After watching quietly for several minutes, Liam laid this gem on us:

"Ohhh. I wish we were hobos!"

Friday, May 19, 2006

A Dove's High Coo

Mourning dove coos love.
Mates every month of the year,
so why the sad song?

Thursday, May 18, 2006


This morning, while waiting with Miss Phoebe for the school bus, I had a rare thing happen. I added a new bird to our property list. Since buying this 80-acre chunk of old farm and woodland in 1992, my (lovely and talented wife) Julie and I have kept our eyes and ears on alert constantly for birds. I am not sure what our first bird was for the property--perhaps a northern cardinal since we moved in late in November of 1992. Until this morning, our property bird list had stood at 181 since November of 2004.

Just as the school bus pulled to a halt, I spotted a small V of birds, accompanied by a single larger bird. My first impression was that it was a flock of starlings doing its entropic best to thwart a sharp-shinned or Cooper's hawk. But something was not right about that ID. Then it hit me! Those are SHOREBIRDS! I shouted something inane to Phoebe as I dove into the van for my car binocs, a pair of Swarovski 8x32s. Totally ignoring Sue the sweet bus driver, with whom we always chat as we put the kids on the bus, I focused on the mystery flock, now disappearing behind the trees about 150 yards away, headed north.

"Black-bellied plovers! and a....rock pigeon? Yeah baby!"

Then it sunk in--Julie had elected not to come out to the bus this morning. No way to get her on the birds, our driveway is a quarter-mile long and cellphones do not work here in the boonies. She'd have to learn about it second-hand.

This was the second time that Phoebe and I had added a bird to the list out near the end of our driveway. Our #179 was a flock of tundra swans, in a snowstorm, as I was driving Phoebe into town to my parents' house. Phoebe said "Daddy, are those geese?" Eight tundra swans were just 50 feet overhead. I slammed on the brakes, slid into the neighbors hay meadow, leapt out of the van with my binocs and promptly fell squarely on my keister on the ice. Pulling myself up by the door handle, I got the binocs on the swans and, once I caught my breath, I shouted with glee and congratulated Phoebe on her mad birding skillz.

Here are the last 10 species we've added to our property list.

#173 Eurasian collared dove (3/25/00) seen as a birding tower fly-by by Julie. Not accepted as the first state record for Ohio, but accepted on our property list without going to some pointy-headed records committee. Jim McCormac still has Julie's documentary painting submitted with the (rejected) sighting.

#174 Golden eagle (3/29/00) seen by both of us (and videotaped by me) from our birding tower. A beautiful bird, showing the juvenile's tell-tale silver dollars in the wings, and dwarfing the local red-taileds that escorted it off our ridge.

#175 Sedge wren (5/8/00) Seen during our Little Big Day that May. Nature videographer Steve Maslowski was with us when we found the bird, from our birding tower. Its song gave it away.

#176 Black duck (12/22/00) A flyover that was long overdue.

#177 White-winged crossbill (4/15/02) A one-visit wonder to our birdbath. Seen only by Julie, but her digital photos of this female finch proved that she was not hallucinating. She also passed the drug test administered by me later that day. I was bummed to miss this one.

#178 Black-crowned night-heron (10/13/02) A flock of six, at dusk, our last species on the 2002 Big Sit at Indigo Hill. It just proves that when you are thinking about quitting your Big Sit, you should stick it out just a few more minutes. Several of our birding pals were present for this new list addition.

#179 Tundra swan (12/5/02) A species I expected to add at some point. Then Phoebe got it for us!

#180 Common raven (3/15/03) Julie and her artist pal Cindy House added this one to the list after hearing a raven's croak twice. If we doubted the record, our pal Wezil Walraven from Arizona, heard and saw another one in 2005 while sitting in our front yard.

#181 Saw-whet owl (11/09/04) Julie, Shila, and I were in the tower, digging a really great showing of the northern lights, when a saw-whet owl called three times. We know from our pals who band saw-whets, that November is the peak of this species' migration through Ohio. How many years we hoped for this species!

#182 Black-bellied plover (5/18/06) After seeing these beauties, I thought back to my first ever black-bellied plover--my lifer. It was in a muddy plowed field (now buried under a Lowe's) along the Ohio River. It was viewed through Pat Murphy's ancient and murky Bushnell Spacemaster scope. Pat showed me so many lifers, and taught me a ton about birds and birding. It was because of her that my family got into bird watching...and the rest is history.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Bird Watching: Pass It On!

All eyes on Mr. T. Phoebe's bird-brained daddy.

I've spent several days this winter and spring visiting Phoebe's 4th-grade class to talk about birds, about being a bird watcher, and about producing a magazine and books for bird watchers. The kids have been really enthusiastic about my afternoon "bird-brain" sessions, so I'm sure I'll continue them next year, assuming I am smart enough to teach 5th graders.

My goal: to teach these young 'uns that birding is fun, and that birds are really fascinating creatures. (And that there is more to the world of birds than hoot-owls, eagles, and ostriches). Unfortunately our field trip to Indigo Hill last week was rained out. I was looking forward to Julie showing the kids our baby bluebirds in the nest, and how we run our nest box trail.

My last session with the kids this spring was on Monday. Afterwards we went outside for a photo of the class practicing their "lock your eyes on the bird" technique. What a great bunch! I'm looking forward to our classroom adventures next year. But mostly I look forward to seeing Phoebe light up when I walk into the class (here's hoping that doesn't change anytime soon).

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Song in My Head

Tonight, the song in my head is

Just a Song Before I Go
by Crosby, Stills, & Nash
from their album "CSN"

This one is an oldie but a real goodie. I just re-sparked on this tune this week, after hearing it over the piped-in music at a doctor's office waiting room. I had forgotten how much I loved it. Its sad lyric kills me, sung in three-part harmony throughout, accompanied by a mellow five-piece ensemble of bass, drums, Fender Rhodes piano, and two guitars--one electric, one acoustic.

Sir Nigel Tufnel was wrong, F#minor the key in which this one is written, (not D minor) is the "saddest of all keys." Stephen Stills' electric guitar work is beautifully understated. At just barely over two minutes long, this song makes the most out of every single note.

And the verse about leaving a loved one at the airport--who hasn't felt that sadness before entering "the friendly skies" or embarking on a long, lonely journey? Man, I love this song.

Just a song before I go
To whom it may concern
Traveling twice the speed of sound
It's easy to get burned.

A Gnatty Gnest

Walking out the driveway on Sunday morning, Jules and I spied a male blue-gray gnatcatcher, then a female, hovering low on the trunk of a sapling. They were grabbing billfuls of tent caterpillar web to use in their nest building. My guess is that the web is used to hold the nest together, or perhaps to help attach it to the branch, or perhaps to help glue the lichens (used as camouflage) to the nest's exterior.

Being in constant motion, gnatcatchers are difficult to photograph, much less digiscope. But knowing that they would return to this source of building material, I was able to pre-focus on the spot and wait for their return. I managed to get these two images--not great, but they document the behavior.

The nest is on the other side of the driveway, and we look for it each time we walk the kids to the school bus in the morning. As noisy and "scoldy" as gnatties are around their nest, we're sure we'll find it soon.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Church in the Wildwood

Church in the wildwood.
Ovenbird calls the preacher,
Wood thrush sings the hymn.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Final Tally: Our Little Big Day

W is for Whipple, home of the Whipple Bird Club. If you see birders flashing this hand signal, seek cover. Something is about to go down.

Well, we did not make the century mark on today's Big Day attempt, but it was just about the most relaxing day of birding I've enjoyed in a long, long time. No pressure, just going where the birds and our collective whimsy takes us.

I admit to getting a bit crazed as the day wound down to dusk and our total hovered still within striking distance of 100. This was just after we had a late flurry of birds--from about 6:30 until 7:15--during which we added 10 new species. But a rainstorm, hungry bellies, tired kids, dropping temperatures, and unavoidable darkness won. So we opted for Mexican food (gracias, Las Trancas!) instead of a Quixote-like bit of tilting at birding windmills.

Here's a bit of Big Day wisdom: no bird is less findable late in a Big Day than a kestrel. I will not elaborate--it's simply a universal truth of Big Day birding.

So we ended with 96--respectable for this part of Ohio, especially since we ate all our meals indoors, attended a kids' birthday swimming party, participated in a girls softball game, painted chickadee nestlings, checked the bluebird trail, and blogged during the day.

In the afternoon, we spent hours longer than we should have crawling our way down the dusty gravel roads along the runs (what we call creeks or cricks in these here parts) that wind and burble toward the Ohio River. From County Road 12, we took Cow Run, then Newell's Run all the way to the river. I believe we set a world record for singing American redstarts, and we had lots of cerulean warblers, too. Many lovely patches of wildflowers and great pools of water perfect for tossing rocks into. I had an intense flashback, watching my kids leap out of the car to get to the water in the run where they could explore, throw rocks, look for fish. This is exactly what my brother Andy and I did, on these same runs, 30 years ago when Mom was afield with the local bird watching group. But before long, I was more interested in the birds than in throwing rocks....

So I made sure that Phoebe had some good binocs around her neck, and I got her to the scope as often as possible for good looks at birds. She enjoyed keeping her own checklist (of every bird we heard, saw, or mentioned). Liam is still completely immersed in the rock-throwing phase (which I have to admit, is still really fun for me, too).
Liam believes he is the fastest person on Earth. Who am I to argue? He was definitely the fastest person on Cow Run.

Phoebe, spotting scope, singing male wood thrush. Sweet!

Although it was International Migratory Bird Day, most of the really great birds we spent time with today were not Neotropical migrants. They were our local, resident breeders--red-headed woodpecker, eastern bluebird, a fledgling northern cardinal, Carolina wrens, eastern phoebes.
In fact, if we'd HAD a few more migrants, 100 would have been no problem. My guess is that the next warm, sunny morning we have will be amazingly birdy.
Just fledged from a nest in our forsythia, a brand new northern cardinal.

I am happy about our little Big Day. It was way fun. Here is some additional photographic evidence.
Buck the bull kept us from getting closer looks at the red-headed woodpeckers in the oak copse in his pasture.

Steve McCarthy, Royal Meteorolgist for the Whipple Bird Club, helps Julie check on some bluebird nestlings.

Jules sexed the nestlings, which will be fledging in just a few days. More, deeper blue, even at this age, means a male.

Three female red-breasted mergansers at the Ohio River levee were a surprise addition to our list.

Our final bird for the day was a singing willow flycatcher: "Fitz-bew!"

Mid-morning Update

Steve, Julie, and Liam joined me in the tower and helped push our morning total past 60 species. We'll go walk the bluebird trail now and add a few woodland species, we hope. Weather still cold, drizzly, and raw. Birds still singing only when they have to.

When the birding is slow, we watch for other signs of life, like this possum grooving on our compost pile. When I take shots like the group shot above, I call it MonkeyCam because the shots look like a monkey was operating the camera.

It Begins

From the tower, looking northeast. Leaden skies will be a challenge for maxing out the bird list today.

Our 2006 Big Day has dawned. Whip-poor-will at 5 am, heard by Julie. My first bird was a Carolina wren, teakettling outside the bedroom window.

Buddy Steve has just arrived at 8:15 and we're at 51 species. The first 50 are a lock. It's the second 50 that one has to work hard to get.

Here's the only digiscoped bird so far, and a look at the leaden skies. It's cold this morning so not a lot of singing migrants to enjoy. But the nesting birds are undeterred. More soonest.

Carolina wren singing from our weathervane. Hope he can sing up some sunshine for us.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Happy to Be Home, for a Change

Tomorrow we'll be birding from our tower at Indigo Hill. We hope the tree swallow is still there when we wake up.

Let me be the first to wish you a Happy International Migratory Bird Day (which is Saturday May 13, 2006). For the first time in several years I am going to celebrate it by staying HOME! I won't be in New Jersey for The World Series of Birding, nor will I be up at Magee Marsh with all of Ohio's other avid birders. Nope. It's home for me. But 75% of the Whipple Bird Club will be on hand to try to do a Washington County, Ohio, Big Day (we'll miss you, Sheels!). My record is 105 species, if memory serves. Back in the day we called a Big Day where you were trying for 100 species a Century Day. Here in SE Ohio, we can only get a Century Day in May, when the migrants passing through swell the local bird population.

We'll spend the better part of the day in the birding tower shown in this picture. Then we'll tool casually around Washington County to see what birds we can find. It's delightfully low-key. Weather looks grim, but at least we can always opt to be inside, where there are warm things to eat and drink, and the indoor plumbing is permanent, not portable.

In fewer than 30 minutes, at the stroke of midnight, I'll step out onto my back patio to listen for night birds to start our Big Day list. And I'll tip my cap to those insomniacs in NJ who will just be starting their grueling adventure at the WSB. (Mind you don't lock the keys inside the SUV, kids--NJ locksmiths are muy expensive at 3:30 am). Then I'll step back inside and curl up in my big, warm, comfy bed, until just before dawn.

Happy Spring Migration, y'all! Hope it's birdy wherever you are!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Clown Heads of Babcock

Here's yet another amazing tale from the New River Birding and Nature Festival, held last weekend in south-central West Virginia.

At first the tiny clown heads were shy. But we eventually won their trust.

While dining upon sumptuous cold cuts at the covered picnic shelter at Babcock State Forest, near Danese, WV, our little band of birders was approached by two tiny plastic clown heads. At first the little clown heads were quite shy. But then, as they realized that we were more interested in a nearby male bay-breasted warbler than in some tiny plastic clown heads, they began to act more naturally.

Soon, they faced off and began to perform the ancient courtship ritual that tiny plastic clown heads are known to do. This courtship dance has only recently been described to science, and is formally known as "The Salad Hat Dance."

"I may be dirty, but I sure can DANCE! I call it Dirty Dancin'!"

In The Salad Hat Dance, one tiny plastic clown head adorns his head with a piece of salad or some condiment (this ritual is commonly performed near picnic areas in parks or sometimes even in backyards, if the right bits of salad are available). He then offers a different piece of salad to his partner. By accepting this offering of salad, the saladee is indicating his/her willingness to mate (these tiny plastic clown heads are almost impossible to sex, unless in the hand, and then they are quite vicious).

"Hey! Nice hat!"
"Right back at ya!"

We watched the drama, the spectacle, the sheer majesty unfolding before us.
Then, with a quick honk of his nose, the salader copulated with the saladee, and they ate their salad hats together. It was all over in about 15 seconds. Those of us watching shared a cigarette and the last bit of bean dip. Then we headed back to the waiting vans for more birding.

Nature, in its purest form has such a capacity to amaze and renew us, doesn't it?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Song in My Head

Tonight the song in my head is:

My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)
by Neil Young
from his "Live Rust" album

I recently told a friend how this song and this album changed my life. From the first time I listened to it, I realized that I could probably play guitar like Neil Young. It was a revelation that set me on a musical journey.

I was a junior in high school and was assigned to review "Live Rust" for our student newspaper The Original. I can still feel the heft of the double album (kids, ask your parents what an LP record is/was). And I can still see the cover art--photos of the stage set from the live shows of Neil Young and Crazy Horse--giant oversized amps dwarfing the tiny robed gnomes which were the band on stage. It was mesmerizing. And the live acoustic sides sent me reeling into the world of guitar worship, wondering whether or not it actually IS better to burn out than to fade away. Still not sure on that score...

Music never fails me. It's always there to make me feel better or to help me work through the worst of times, to celebrate the happiest of moments. It's definitely played a major role in making me the person I am here, at 44, staring one way, then another, down life's crossroads. Still, Mr. Young said it best....and his words are a comfort.

Out of the blue and into the black
they give you this but you pay for that
and once you're gone you can't come back
when you're out of the blue and into the black

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Tonight, Around the Yard

Finally we think we might have a pair of Baltimore orioles nesting in the yard, something we've waited years for.

Some birds made a brief appearance around the yard here at Indigo Hill tonight. The family was off at Phoebe's softball practice, so I took the opportunity to amble about with scope and camera, stealing avian souls. It was a nice distraction from an intense day.

Now, as Rob Reiner (Marty DiBergi) once said in This Is Spinal Tap: "Enough of my yakkin'! Let's boogie!"
Our tree swallows are incubating six pinkish eggs in the mid-meadow box.

Young house finches are already fledged, but still have the downy "horns" of their nestling plumage.

A fledgling bluebird begs Dad for something to eat.

Our yellow-breasted chat, head-on, from just beyond our fire circle. His mate was gathering nesting material.

Barn swallows do not nest on our barn-free farm, but they do visit each day for the eggshells we crush on our front sidewalk.

One Foot Upon the Unknown Path

I choose the dark path
through woodlands unknown to me.
Each step uncertain.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Tag and I'm It!

Last week I got tagged for the Beautiful Birds meme by Jay Packer at Ocellated. Then this week Andrew Boyle tagged me again for the same meme. What's a meme? I had the same question, so I Googled it.
Here is one definition I found:
Richard Dawkins: Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leading from body to body via sperm or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation. If a scientist hears, or reads about, a good idea, he passes it on to his colleagues and students. He mentions it in his articles and his lectures. If the idea catches on, it can be said to propagate itself, spreading from brain to brain.

The rules of this blog meme are simple:
"Post a list of the 10 birds you consider most beautiful on your blog; you may limit the list to the ABA area (continental United States and Canada) or use a geographic area of your choice. Mark birds you have seen with an asterisk. Tag three bloggers to keep it going."

So here is my contribution to the Beautiful Birds meme, and I will limit it to the favorite birds encountered on our farm in southeastern Ohio:

1. Indigo bunting*. We named our farm Indigo Hill for this abundant breeding songster. My first look each spring at the blue of the male makes always signals the true arrival of spring for me.

2. Black-throated blue warbler*. My favorite warbler. Limited color scheme adds to its appeal. As does the hankerchief in the pocket of both male and female BTBs.

3. Red-headed woodpecker*. My favorite bird. They do not breed on our farm, but a small colony exists just two miles away and we get regular flyover migrants in spring and fall.

4. Worm-eating warbler*. Something about the colors of the head stripes on the worm-eating warbler really gets me. Possessing perhaps the least musical voice of any warbler, but lovely just the same.

5. Eastern phoebe*. A bird so wonderful and beloved we named our daughter after it.

6. American woodcock*. Beautiful shades of brown and other earth tones, but its real beauty lies in the courtship flight of the male.

7. Kentucky warbler*. The Fu Manchu moustache, the rolling, galloping song, the bird's skulky habits all lure me to the woods each spring to commune with the Kentucky warbler.

8. Red-shouldered hawk*. On a wintry day, when the snow is flying and all seems gray, a red-shouldered warms our orchard with his rusty-flame appearance. I have heard the red-shoulders screaming from our woods in every month of the year.

9. Pileated woodpecker*. It's always a thrill to see the pileateds on our farm. Such a powerful bird that it conjures dreams of ivory-billeds...

10. Eastern bluebird. A year-round resident of our 80-acre farm, the bluebirds we care for and feed suet dough and mealworms return this love with their confiding proximity nearly every day of the year. What's not to love about our blue thrush?

I hereby tag Julie Zickefoose, Jim McCormac, and Jeff Gordon.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

New River Birding Festival

I've been in the New River Gorge area of West Virginia since last Wednesday evening helping out at the New River Birding and Nature Festival. Not a lot of time to blog, or even access to the Web, so apologies for the darkness here at Bill of the Birds. Hope I haven't lost your attention completely....

Here's a quick post, done over a delicious breakfast at Fayetteville's legendary Cathedral Cafe. Pix for now, more words later, when I get back home....

Festival attendees have the chance to float down the New River (in calm water) for a bit of casual birding. It's big fun and very peaceful.

More than 140 birders came from all over to attend this year's New River Birding Festival, including famed Ohio weedpicker Jim McCormac (center in white shirt).

In a high mountain pasture we found a healthy breeding population of bobolinks.

Sunset and dogwood flowers over the New River Gorge...I love West Virginiaahhhh!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

More OOS, New River

OK. Enough already about the OOS conference.... except for this....

For a couple of alternative perspectives on last weekend's shindig with The Ohio Ornithological Society, slip on over to Julie's blog and Jim McCormac's Ohio Birding Blog.

The view from Picnic Point in Shawnee State Forest, looking upriver toward the charming river town of Portsmouth.

Doing the checklist at OOS. "Can I get an AMEN for an ovenbird!" "AMEN!" Ethan Kistler (center) is controlling my actions with his laser eyes, while Jim McCormac (right) watches helplessly.

Today I leave for the New River Birding and Nature Festival in Fayetteville, WV. Where I'll be leading trips and performing music tonight and Saturday night. So if you've got nothing to do, come see us in The Mountain State of West Virginia (known as Almost Heaven due to its proximity to Ohio, I think).

If there is Internet access, I will share some images and words about our mountain sojourn. The whole family is coming, including Chet Baker. Festival attendees will need to guard themselves or their faces will be licked (by Chet).

Birds of Shawnee

Red-phase eastern screech-owl in a nest cavity near the Shawnee cabins.

The birding at the OOS conference last weekend was totally fab, even without a major influx of migrants just passing through. I was leading trips on Saturday and Sunday, so only the most cooperative birds got their pictures taken (after all trip participants got to ogle the bird through my scope, I tried to snap a frame or two).

Low light on Sunday made getting sharply focused pictures nearly impossible, bit that never stops me from taking crummy photographs.

Here are a few of my least crummy photos.
This Louisiana waterthrush scolded us for walking near his stream.

When do wood thrushes actually perch high and in the open? When it's a male looking for love.

My best bird image of the weekend: a male indigo bunting in a tulip poplar along Pond Lick Road.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Big Time at Shawnee

The morning load-out: trying to get 250 birders packed into vans and off on 12 different field trips. Much coffee was spilled.

I spent the weekend with 250 of my closest birding pals at the annual conference of the Ohio Ornithological Society held at the lodge at Shawnee State Forest west of Portsmouth, Ohio. It was one of the best birding events I've ever attended. The spirit of our relatively new organization (I am proudly a founding board member of the three-year old OOS) is amazing--we try to keep things light and focus on enjoying birds, and connecting Ohio's birders with each other--which results in these wonderfully warm, welcoming, thoroughly enjoyable gatherings. The facilities at Shawnee can only handle about 250 people, otherwise I am certain that word-of-mouth advertising would push our attendance much higher.
Giant shoe horns, designed to be used on humans, helped us fill each van to capacity for the field trips.

The birding was very good, though everyone seemed to notice that we were missing lots of the expected spring migrants--palm warblers, maggies, black-throated blues--that we should have found. They just have not arrived yet.

One of Ohio's best-traveled birding couples, Hugh Rose and Judy Kolo-Rose. Clearly the patch has worked for them.

I was the emcee for the conference, and that's a fun gig, getting to introduce the speakers, make the announcements ("Remember to pick up your box lunch at ...." and "We found a lens cover for a Swift binocular on the bus....") and my favorite, going over the checklist. This year we had everyone give a James Brown-like "Uhhn!" if they'd seen a species as we called them out from the list. I am not sure what the lodge staff though of us after at least 124 loud "Uhhn!" sounds from 200+ people.

One of the highlights of the conference was Kenn Kaufman's very moving talk on Saturday night, about his coming of age as a bird watcher and his relationship with his parents, especially his mother, in the last years of her life. I have heard Kenn speak numerous times over the years, and he is always an engaging and entertaining speaker. But this program was on another level all together. Thanks K2!

Peter King, Dan Sanders and I lead the Birding 101 field trips on Saturday and Sunday. We rolled slowly along the back roads of Shawnee State Forest, stopping to look for birds as we heard them, in no rush to get anywhere. We topped 70 species both days, which was great. Saturday's trip got us 19 warbler species, and on Sunday, we got 20 warbler species--many of them in the spotting scope for everyone to enjoy. Shawnee has got to be the North American center of abundance for cerulean warbler. We heard dozens of territorial males along every road.
Our Friday Birding 101 trip was fabulous. Here we are enjoying a very cooperative ovenbird.

My mom has always told me that we two are so much alike in that we "never want the party to be over." That's so true. I love these gatherings of birding friends, where the reason for being together is as much about being together as it is about the special hobby that we all share. And when the gathering is over, we say our goodbyes and head home, already looking forward to being together again next year.