Thursday, November 30, 2006

Some Visions from NM

I find that I am rarely successful at sharing all I wish to share with you here in Bill of the Birds. This is especially true after a long and wonderful trip to some birdy place. There's far too much to show and tell and not enough time to do it all justice.

So here, below, I'll share some images and comments from our recent New Mexico sojourn.

Can you spot the burrowing owl in this frame? Taken in the I-25 cloverleaf north of Socorro, NM.

Loggerhead shrikes flash like black-and-white pinwheels in flight. This one is from the road to Magdalena.

My tribute to Ansel Adams--a color image so underexposed that it looks like AA's black-and-white. This is the roiling Rio Grande near Manby Hot Springs.

Gray-crowned rosy-finches from Sandia Crest near Albuquerque. I had all three rosy-finch species there--two of which were AOU split-lifers for me.

Liam meets a yak near the Lewis' woodpecker colony. They talked about Lightning McQueen.

Phoebe, sprite of the desert spring, contemplates life atop a shaded boulder. Photo by C. Quine.

High desert road in predawn light. We can see the torn-paper shapes of distant mountains, but the road's course is obscured.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Ghosts of Goldenrod

Goldenrod long dead
heads bowed in weak winter sun
asleep 'til next spring

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Lights! New Camera! Action!

Just got a new FANCY camera--one good enough to take actual, publishable bird photographs. It's a Canon 30D with a 300mm lens and yes, it ROCKS! Still have a ton to learn... but fortunately this camera has a setting called IP. This stands for Idiot Proof, which is like an AUTO setting for photography challenged blokes like me.

Here (above) one of my first images, taken in the side yard, near the feeding station. I can already hear the siren song of the monster 800mm lenses calling my name....Biiiillll! Buy meeeee! Your kids can work their ways through college! The bank will understand about your mortgage payment! You will be a famous bird photographer! Biiiiiillllll!!

After I took its picture, this tufted titmouse sang: peter! peter! peter! *#%[email protected] paparazzo!

To my digiscoping compadres out there, no, I am NOT turning in my digiscoping permit. Digiscoping and birding are mutually compatable. Birding and taking photos with this new Canon are mostly mutually exclusive.

Special thanks to Lillian Stokes for the advice on the camera and to BWD's own Linda Brejwo for greasing the wheels to make it all happen.

Male red-bellied woodpecker at our sunflower seed feeder.

Spotting the Little Dipper in New Mexico

The view from the top of the La Junta gorge. The Red River is on the left, the Rio Grande on the right.

Two days before Thanksgiving we went for a nice long hike with our fellow holiday-makers down the side of a mountain to the confluence of two mighty rivers, the Red River and the Rio Grande. Fifteen years ago Julie and I hiked these same northern New Mexico mountains with Douglas and Caroline and here we were back again--but with a few changes:

1. We were hiking in a new area.
2. We now had two kids in each family
3. We all felt a bit older.

The hiking path we chose was in the Wild Rivers Recreation Area, a nice chunk of Bureau of Land Management land not too far from Taos, NM. The wildlife list includes elk, mountain lions, bobcats, and lots of other interesting critters.

We decided to hike the La Junta Campground Trail down to the confluence--a distance of about 1.2 miles and 800 feet in elevation. But those 1.2 miles were on a narrow rocky trail at an angle that made us lily-white woodland dwellers from the East huff and puff. Our mountain goat-like companions live in Boulder, CO, so they had less difficulty with the hike.

The upper part of the La Junta trail was well managed with handrails and stairs or ladders for the more challenging bits of descent. We all carried packs with food, water, and extra coats for the kids. Up top, the wind howled around us, giving us a high-desert chill. The more we hiked and the lower we got there was less wind and our exertions warmed us quite thoroughly.

Red River, just above where it flows into the Rio Grande.

At the bottom, which we reached after about a 70 minute descent, we came upon the narrow flow of the Red River. I thought I had heard the metallic calls of the American dipper as we neared the river, but it had been years since my last encounter with this very cool species, so I could not be sure.

Once we got to the bottom, we crossed over a small bridge across the Red River. I scanned for dippers, the walked over to the Rio Grande side of the peninsula to scan there. Nada. When I came back, Julie had located the dipper, and we confirmed the call was indeed coming from this feathered swimmer. We both took lots of pix--Julie with her special Shila camera and me with my digiscoping rig.

BT3 at the confluence--a spot that really soothed my soul. I hope to go back one day.
Photo by Jay-Z.

Check out the rock in the center of this image for the back end of a dipper as it dives.

JZ and BT3 at the bridge over the Red River just above the Rio Grande. Photo by Phoebe.

My best digiscoped shot of the young dipper. Note the scaly appearance. Adults are solid slate gray.

We found it easiest to spot the dippers by their pink legs, which stood out nicely against the gray rocks they perched upon in mideam. You can locate the spots favored by the dippers by looking for their white poop on the well-used rocks.

We made the ascent in record time and then enjoyed a nice tailgate picnic with flatmeat sandwiches, salty snacks, and a few beers. Quite an adventure, quite a few memories made. Would love to do this every year. I am still a little sore from the hike!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Roger Tory Peterson

It's been ten years since the bird watching world was shocked by the news of the death of Roger Tory Peterson, the man who, more than anyone else, launched the modern era of birding with his simplified approach to bird identification. His first Field Guide to the Birds was published in 1934, and its usefulness made it an immediate best seller. This made it possible to identify birds without having to shoot them. The era of shotgun ornithology was dead.

After my parents started Bird Watcher's Digest in our living room in 1978, they sent out complimentary copies of the magazine to various bird clubs, Christmas Count compilers, and newspaper birding columnists. We received an encouraging response in both subscriptions and correspondence, but nothing excited my parents more than the personal letter sent by one Roger Tory Peterson. In his letter, RTP critiqued our first issue, telling what he liked and disliked about it and offering suggestions for the future content direction of the magazine.

In the magazine's early years we relied heavily on previously published material (hence the word "digest" in BWD's name). Within just a few years original content created specifically for our magazine began to flood in and BWD evolved beyond the constrictions of being a digest publication, though we still kept our digest size. As the content expanded in scope and quality, my dad took it upon himself to suggest, during a visit with RTP at his Old Lyme, CT home, that he write a regular column for the magazine. My dad never thought Roger would say yes, but he did!

From 1984 until his death in 1996, Roger Peterson wrote a bimonthly column for Bird Watcher's Digest, entitled "All Things Reconsidered." Mary Beacom Bowers, BWD's amazing editor from 1979 through 1994, edited those columns for publication. Some of the material was new and original, some of it was updated and re-worked from earlier pieces. But all of it was quintessential RTP.

Mary used to remark to me (I was a junior member of the BWD editorial staff at the time) about what a good and careful writer RTP was. His material came in on time and we barely needed to use the editor's red pen on it. In fact writing (or storytelling) may have been Roger's most natural talent. We always considered it our immense good fortune that the great man chose to write for our magazine when there were so many other things vying for his time.

This year, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Roger Tory Peterson's death, Houghton Mifflin has published a collection of Roger's BWD essays, entitled (of course) All Things Reconsidered. I was lucky enough to serve as the book's editor and got to select the 40 most interesting columns from more than 70 that RTP wrote for BWD. It was not an easy job, choosing just 40. Reading through the essays I was reminded of the incredible talent Roger Peterson possessed, and how deeply he felt his connection with birds and nature.

Even though I did not write this book, I feel a special connection to it. Roger Peterson is (or should be) a hero to every bird watcher or birder for the legacy he's left to us. I am deeply honored to have my name on the cover of this book, along with the great Roger Tory Peterson.

I got to met Roger several times, but our first meeting was the most important. I'll save that story for another post. But if you're really interested in reading about it, it's in the introduction to All Things Reconsidered.

Here is some additional information about the book in the BWD online store.
The book's publisher, Houghton Mifflin has a few nice things to say about the book.
And online giant sells the book and features some recent reviews of it.

The legacy of RTP is carried on these days by the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History in Roger's hometown of Jamestown, New York. Its mission is not only to commemorate America's most important birder/naturalist, but to educate teachers and children about nature, so that tomorrow's Roger Tory Petersons can begin their relationship with nature today.

I will be speaking at Peterson Institute on Wednesday, December 6, 2006 as part of the their Distinguished Speakers Series. Details about the program are available here from the RTPI website.

The next time you're out bird watching, spend a moment to think about Roger Tory Peterson. And maybe you'll want to smile and whisper a thank you to the memory of the person who changed forever the way we look at and relate to wild birds.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Leaving but Thankful

Today we celebrate Thanksgiving by driving to Albuquerque for the long flight home. We've had an amazing trip and we're already making plans with Caroline & crew for a repeat confluence next year. That is, when we're not scheming about moving out here....

It's before dawn and Liam and I have just finished an early soak in the hottub. Now we're watching the sun come up, showing us the direction we'll be heading home. Since we're all packed up I'm hoping to get out to the little patch of desert near the tiniest of creeks where the mountain bluebirds bathe each morning. It's just a few hundred yards up the road. That will be my last bit of birding before we hit the highway.

Here's an image of a favorite section of a mountain path in the Wild Rivers Natural Area, just above the confluence of the Red River and Rio Grande in northern NM.

May your path always lead upward. May the stones roll out of your passway. And may you reach the top of the mountain while the sun still shines and the golden eagle still soars.

Hoping you and yours have an enjoyable Thanksgiving (and lots to be thankful for).

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

More Lewis' Woodpecker

Here are a few more images from our Lewis' woodpecker expeditions. We spent about an hour and a half with the colony this morning and confirmed beyond a doubt that these birds rarely sit still for long. It was torture trying to digiscope them. By the time I'd spot one in perched in a spot where there weren't 2.5 million branches in the way, get my scope into position, grab the camera, and turn it on, zoom it to get rid of the vignetting, the bird would have flown to another location.

And still, it was a deeply fulfilling experience to spend some quality time with this unusual and uncommon species.

Meriwether Lewis' Woodpecker

One of the quest birds for this trip was the Lewis' woodpecker, first collected by and named for Meriwether Lewis of Lewis and Clark fame. We had a tip that they were findable in Chalma, NM about 90 miles northwest of Taos, but we did not really want to burn a whole day driving to and from there, so I got online and did a Google search for: Lewis' woodpecker, Taos. What I got was a link to a local birding guide's website: New Mexico Birdwatching. Ryan Besser of New Mexico Birdwatching was kind enough to give me directions to a local spot where he'd seen the Lewis' about a year ago.

I promised to let him know if we found the birds, and to share his contact info with you all via my blog as a thank you for sharing his inside birding info.

The Lewis' woodpecker is an odd bird. It's our only pink and green bird. It flies more like a crow than a woodpecker. And it never seems to sit still--constantly flying out in flycatching sorties, shifting positions, scooting from tree to tree. I saw my first and only Lewis' woodpecker years ago in Lucketts, Virginia--a vagrant from the West that stuck around for an entire winter.

So I was almost as eager as JZ to see this very interesting bird. Here's how the day rolled out:

We lit out from our house about 11 am headed for Arroyo Seco, a small, charming village northeast of Taos. Ryan's directions sent us up to the base of the foothills, along a dirt road. "Stop past the cattle grate and check out the cottonwoods to the right." We did this and saw several starlings and a red-shafted flicker. Oh well, the sighting was a year old and birds have wings after least we tried.

Just as we were about to drive farther along the road, I saw a Lewis' perched dead ahead. Zick got her lifer. We high-fived all around and sent massive thank-you vibes to Ryan. Then we noticed that there were at least four Lewis' around the grove of cottonwoods. We got lots of great, if short, looks. Our friends drove up in their car and everyone got at least one scope view of a perched Lewis'.
Sometimes these long-shot quests work out just the way you hope they will. Thanks Ryan! And thanks Meriwether! Your woodpecker totally rocks!

This morning we're going back so Jules can sketch the birds for a spell. Sorry but this is the only image Blogger would take from me this morning. I'll try to augment this post later, if the Web gods cooperate.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Haos in Taos

Our haos in Taos.

We made it Sunday night, after dark, to the house we're renting in Taos with Caroline, Douglas, Hazel & Pearl. It's perched on the northeast side of town in a loose subdivision of rural adobe homes.

We're here with great pals and loads of food and adventure ahead of us. We've got at least four Mac laptops for blogging, e-mailing, photo viewing, DVD watching, and music recording. Blogger, well, you may know what's been happening. I am simply not worrying about it. This is, after all, a vacation (four short, blissful days in a completely new landscape, rambling around wherever the wind and sunshine take us).

Liam and Hazel playing a game.

Caroline is an amazing musician so we're playing music at every chance. I am hoping we'll collaboratively compose a new song while here. There's a unique, invigorating energy that comes from playing music in a strange place. I think that's why so many bands go somewhere new to record their albums:
we all went up to Montreaux
on the Lake Geneva shoreline

Since I've been blog-free for a few days, I won't attempt to recount things chronologically. You can check Zick's blog for additional insight and perspective.

Caroline's hubby Douglas is the consummate outdoor action figure. He's been a climbing rigger for many movies (Cliffhanger), music videos (Britney Spears), and commercials. He knows, just by looking, how to climb a rock face.

Douglas hiking the trail up from La Junta.

Their two girls, Hazel and Pearl, are with us, too. Both are musicians--Hazel is a drummer and Pearl plays the guitar. Too bad we have more laptops than guitars.

Pearl picking out a tune.

I find I am still on eastern time, which means I wake up between 4 and 5 each morning. I have the house to myself for an hour or so before Liam comes padding out, puffy-eyed, to ask for breakfast. It's heaven to me to sit and read my book To the Last Man by Michael Shaara, while I watch the sun reach out to kiss the snowy mountain peaks to the west of us. Those pre-dawn hours are my favorite time of the day--at least until the birding begins.

My morning view.

A Townsend's solitaire along the trail to La Junta point.

Happy familia at the end of a long hike.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Not Really New, Not Really Mexico

Two more birds--the only images that Blogger will take tonight. A black phoebe photographed on Bosque's famous flight deck and a female shoveler who was giving me the hairy eye.

It's been a hectic but thoroughly enjoyable couple of days. Today we went to Water Canyon and Magdalena--a richly rewarding trip down memory lane. More on that when Blogger finds its willingness to cooperate. Sorry to make excuses. We've got time but no help from the technical side of things.

Tonight we moved across the street in Socorro to the San Miguel Inn--an improvement on our previous lodging. Dinner with J. Bouton tonight at the Socorro Springs Brewery. We gagged down a few beers, just to be polite.

Mas maƱana.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Mas Bosque

Man, I've traveled most of the way across the country, spent the last two days showing birds to people, and Blogger feels this is a good time to go unreliable on me. Asi es la vida. Win some, lose some, life rolls forward.

I have come to realize an inner truth on this trip (and it has nada to do with Blogger). My destiny is to roam the Earth in search of birds; then finding them and sharing them with other people.

It's a good gig. I like it. And I'm acceptably good at it. Someone once introduced me before a talk I was giving, as "The Pied Piper of Bird Watching." I'm not sure anyone has ever said a nicer thing about me. I willingly accept the scepter.

So here we are in Socorro, NM about 30 minutes north of Bosque del Apache NWR. We're taking lots of pictures. We are endeavoring to keep the kids in line. I have gotten up at 4 am the past two days to help lead a field trip called "Black-belt Birding." I have been unabashedly wearing a brown belt throughout the week.

The highlights thus far include Julie's amazing keynote last night at the Macey Center in Socorro. We played a bit of music (Side of the Road and Urge for Going, with images) before and after, and Zick rocked the house with her deeply intriguing and painlessly informative program called "Hummingbird Summer." Raves ensued.

The other highlight has been watching Phoebe and Liam out in the world, facing new challenges and situations. So far, not much blood, and things are going fairly well. At this very moment, JZ and kids are swimming at Jeff Bouton's hotel while I have ensconced myself in the Socorro Springs brewery (with a wireless connex) so I could catch up on e-mail, BOTB, etc.

Since Blogger is either hitting the rocky seas of puberty or the fiery furnace of menopause (or both) I'll just post just a few photos now with hopes for better luck in the coming days.

Peace! and a smile that lasts you awhile...

A young bald eagle tries to enjoy a meal of coot while several American crows look on.

Red-shafted flickers are very handsome birds!

JZ sketched the cooperative flicker while the rest of us sought new birds for the list. Moments later: white-fronted goose.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Back to Bosque

Sandhill cranes over the Bosque at sunset.

Way back in 1992, Julie was one of the two keynote speakers (the other was a guy with the initials RTP) for the Festival of the Cranes in Socorro, New Mexico. The birding at the festival was centered around Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge south of town. It was a life-changing trip for us because:
  • it was our first time birding together in the West
  • we got to hang out with Roger Tory Peterson (he of the initials RTP) and
  • we realized that we might actually be able to get hired to speak and lead trips at birding festivals.
Fast forward to 2006 and we're schlepping through airports with our two children in tow, heading back to the birds of Bosque.

Once again Jules is a keynote speaker. I am here to be her personal Geek Squad (to make the presentation run right) and to help lead a couple of birding trips at the refuge.

We made it into town and out to the refuge at the end of the day on Tuesday. These western sunsets go on forever, so we soaked it in, watching flights of sandhill cranes come in to roost, lines of waveys (snow geese) over the marshes, and thousands of ducks.

Phoebe seems to have taken to birding on this trip. Liam not so much, but we're lucky that there are lots of trains passing by all day long. We hooked up with Leica's own Jeff Bouton who is working the festival. And we ended the day eating green-chile cheeseburgers at the world-famous Owl Bar in San Antonio, NM.

Tradition dictates that you must sign or decorate a $1 bill and tack it to the Owl Bar walls. Phoebe, Liam, and Zick all did one. So if you get to the Owl Bar, they are in booth 23 in the back room.

It'll be a relaxing week of birding in the high desert. Much needed. Much appreciated. Wish y'all were here.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Song in My Head

The Song in My Head is:
Stranger Things
by Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians
from the album by the same name.

The new Edie Brickell & New Bohemians album is sweet. Definitely not the same old dreck we hear so often on the radio. I've always loved Edie B's music. Have had a 'thing' for her, you might say. Something about that Texas accent and the poppiness of her songs. I saw her with the band once back in my Baltimore days in the late 80s. Then she became Mrs. Paul Simon and I lost track of la Edie. It was as though she just evaporated.

She re-emerged a year or so ago with a stellar solo album Volcano and now she's back in my regular ear rotation. I'm glad she's still making such great music. And it's pleasing to hear the band is still as tight as ever.

Stranger Things starts with a fabulous fuzz guitar riff and gets better from there. Really simple lyrics push things ahead, which is the only way forward.

And the minute you get what you want you don't know what you want anymore.
And the minute you want to hold on, you let go. . .

The entire album is well worth a long listen. Check it out, my peeps. Special thanx to mi amiga fina Lisa for sharing the hot scoop on Edie's latest.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Around the Yard This Morning

I was up before the dawn's early light this morning. Eyes wide open, brain cycling over well-trod ground. There was no hope for a retreat back to the Land of the Sandman, so I decided to step outside into the damp, gray morning air to see who else was up around the farm. The answer was that I could see nothing but I could hear a lot.

Here's the rundown of what met my ears in the dark:

Hermit thrush whining and tchupping, northern cardinals chipping, American crows mobbing a raptor, white-throated sparrows pinking, eastern towhee chewinking, titmice and Carolina chickadees scolding one another, a white-breasted nuthatch ank-anking, eastern bluebirds burbling, song sparrow chimping, pileated woodpecker laughing maniacally, mourning dove wings whistling, golden-crowned kinglet see-see-seeing, redwing tchaking, downy woodpecker peeking, white-tailed deer snorting, eastern cottontail sneezing, and the sound of the last leaf from the sycamore falling softly into the dewy weeds near the orchard.

Nice way to start the day--by 'seeing' with your ears the world waking up.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Stuck In Wooster with Those Traveling Blues Again

There was no sunset tonight. This is just eye candy for you.

Gave my talk to the Lorain County Metro Parks/Black River Audubon Society tonight. Nice bunch of folks who bravely came out on a cold and rainy night. Thanks to Gary and Harriet for making it all happen.

Had ants in my pants to drive at least part way home after the show. Made it an hour south to Wooster (where I seem to spend all my Saturday nights of late). Rainy nighttime driving in deer-rutting season is not for the faint of heart. And I was fading fast, so I holed up on the north end of town.

The best part of tonight's program was the song I opened with: Far, Far Away by Jeff Tweedy. I played the entire thing with my eyes closed, just feeling the music as it came out of me. It was as peaceful as I've felt in a long time.

It was cool (literally) to stand on the Erie lakefront this afternoon, getting blasted by wind and spray. Loads of red-breasted mergs and Bonies. Birding the Lake Erie shore in winter is really a change from what we get in SE Ohio. Of all the bits of time I spent in Cleveland over the years, I sure missed out on a lot of neat people and birdy places. But then I was playing music and visiting friends and birding was lower on the list of priorities.

I am not sure there's anything colder than the wet, ripping wind of November, right off of Lake Erie, hitting your face so hard that your eyes water. Makes you feel alive--for a second or two.

I want the job of November lifeguard on Lake Erie. Plenty of time for deep thinking (and watching for jaegers).

Friday, November 10, 2006

Hello Cleveland!

Tomorrow (Saturday Nov. 11) I'll drive northward up I-77 to exit 81, where I'll get on SR 250 to Wooster (again), thence north and west to the western 'burbs of Cleveland to give a talk to the Lorain County Metro Parks and Black River Audubon Society. It's been awhile since I've been to the Ohio north country and it'll be nice to be back up along Lake Erie. Hope to see some birds, especially waterfowl, on Ohio's only Great Lake. I'm counting on my buddy Gary Gerrone to show me a few sweet birding spots.

The actual talk is being held at the Carlisle Reservation in LaGrange, Ohio at 7 pm. My topic is "The Perils and Pitfalls of Birding," but I plan to start and end the show with a bit of music. Songs penciled in on the set list: "Far, Far Away," "These Days," "Tall Buildings," and "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowbirds."

So if you're free tomorrow night and find yourself in north-central Ohio, stop on by. It's better than staying at home eating Funyuns and watching "Columbo" re-runs.

OK it's almost better than that.

Good For What Ails You

There are days when, try as I might, I cannot make words come out of my brain or fingers. Today I HAVE to get a bunch of writing done, but it's like pulling teeth. Grrrr.

Then I remembered an old medicine bottle I found and photographed in the basement of Aunt Toot's house (yes Julie has an Aunt Toot--I am not making this up) in Iowa this August and--you know what?--the stuff works! Just looking at the picture of the happy, clearly unconstipated family on the bottle helped unblock my brain. I've written three whole words in the past hour!

Better living through modern medicine.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Suet in the Morning

Female downy winks
white tail feathers notched with black
fat fueling her fire

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Liam is Seven

Our youngest, Liam, turns seven today. He is, more officially, known as William Henry Thompson IV, son of William Henry Thompson III, grandson of William Henry Thompson, Jr., great-grandson of William Henry Thompson.

When we had Phoebe, we were thrilled to name her after a bird we loved--one that nests right here on our farm. Three years later, here came a boy baby and we struggled with what to name him. A bird name? Martin? Jay? Raven? Dick-cissel? Pewee? Boy bird names are hard. If we'd had another daughter, she was going to be either Lark or Wren. Julie finally suggested William Henry Thompson IV.

I always thought I'd want to name a son after my dad and grandfather (whom neither my dad nor I got to know, he died when my dad was 2). But when it came right down to it, it did not really matter to me as much as choosing a name that fit the baby--a name we all liked. William IV seemed to work, but we really didn't need another Bill or Billy confusing things at family gatherings, so we chose to call our son Liam. Liam (not Billy) is the shortened version of William among the Irish. Liam seemed to fit.

We have called Liam "Popo" and Po, nicknames derived from mouth noises Julie made at Liam when he was a tiny squirmer. We also sometimes call him "Shoomie" for a sha-sha-sha-sha-shooooom sound Lima made as a slightly older baby, trying to talk. But now that he's a big boy, Liam is pretty much the name we all use. It's not a common name and gets mispronounced and spelled Lima sometimes. But it fits our boy.

So Happy Birthday to my sweet namesake, Liam, he of blonde hair, blue eyes, and a freckled nose--a combination you don't see everyday. But it's what you don't see that makes Liam such a wonderful child.

I love you, Po!


Sweet Liam on a long walk. He's humming in this picture.

Mr. Incredible is not impressed.

It might be tough to TELL your big sister that you think she is cool, but you can say it in another way if you create a work of art just for her.

Liam's Code: If you step on the Family Jewels while wrestling with your dad, write him a note of apology.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

All Around Us, Change

Change is in the air today
if we care to admit as much
where summer's meadow once bloomed fair
and fall's fancy dress waved in the wind
chill winter shares her death embrace
'til spring begins it all again

Old leaves once full of sun-fed life
whisper as they blow away
what secrets do they try to share
I cannot divine today
was it a word of caution spoken
to warn of hard, cold days ahead
or was it just a parting nod
before spring's promises and ground are broken

All around us change is flowing, friend
and Earth spins yet we feel it not
the full winter moon's sarcastic smile
a vision last spring I forgot
as gravity holds fast our feet
the seasons never stop their show
for nature cannot suffer standing still
yet we struggle with the letting go.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Winter Sun on Bare Branches

Sun on bare branches
breeze through dead goldenrod heads
palm warbler flicks tail

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Buckeye Book Fair

Some of my books on display at the Buckeye Book Fair.

The Buckeye Book Fair on Saturday November 4 was really great. Not a single Fufkin in sight. More than 3,000 people who still read books came through the doors of the OSU-Wooster Agricultural Research Center to buy books at a modest discount and have them signed by the authors.
People were waiting at the doors before the fair opened. Most of them wanted to meet two authors in particular: Dick Schafrath (former Browns standout) and Judith Viorst (best-selling self-help and kids' book author).

Julie and I signed more books yesterday than we've ever signed in a single day. And it reminded me how truly bad my handwriting and spelling can be. I really have to concentrate to spell tough names like Bill, Bob, Sue. And forget Phyllis or Marjorie or Anais or Roquefort. Nothing more embarrassing than handing someone a book in which you've misspelled a word.

Unjoy Ohio's beautyfel brids! Bile Thomaspson, III.

They usually don't notice if you close the cover quickly.

BT3 with another happy customer. I am sending him a subliminal message: You NEED more bird books!

The folks running the Buckeye Book Fair treated us well and the show ran like clockwork.
The sign might have more accurately said BT3 is Permanently Out To Lunch.

Sitting at a table, authors had their name a sign on a pole overhead, a reversible table tent with the book titles and prices on one side and a catchy "I'll be right back" message on the other, and little pads of paper where notes could be written. On the sign poles was a little red ribbon of felt. When you ran out of books or needed something, you scooted the ribbon up the flagpole and, seconds later, a young Book Fair helper was at your side, ready to solve all your problems. We timed their response to the ribbon raising. The best time was 11 seconds. The worst was just over a minute. Usually we asked them to fetch more books for our table. But sometimes we had other requests.

bookkeeper Worker: "Can I help you Mr. Thompson?"
BT3: "Yes young lady. Do you think these wide wale corduroys make me look fat?"
Book Fair Worker: "Yes they do, sir."
BT3: "Get thee away from me, knave!"

The notepads furnished to us came in handy when someone wanted something specific inscribed in their book. They could write it down for you to copy.

For Lucy:
If you ever pull the football out from under the foot of my pal Charlie Brown, he has my permission to beat you to death with this copy of
Bird Watching For Dummies. With best wishes from a fellow traveler,


Some Ohio birding friends made the BBF scene, including Cheryl Harner and Su Snyder. And we chatted about birds and nature all day long. Lots of librarians there buying books for libraries. Lots of people buying books for holiday presents (bless you every one!).

JZ at her author station, selling Letters From Eden like hotcakes.

Most of all it was reassuring to see that books still play a vital role in the entertainment and happiness of many, many people. So I guess I'll keep on writing them. It IS pretty cool to be a book author and to have the experience of signing copies of your own books.

What I need now is a book on how to sign books with all the words legible and spelled correctly.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Sun Setting on Another Day

Julie and I drove up to Wooster, Ohio last night for the Buckeye Book Fair (held all day Saturday). We'll be signing books and pressing the flesh. I hope it's not like that scene from Spinal Tap where Paul Shafer is playing Artie Fufkin from Polymer Records and NO ONE shows up for the band's record store appearance. All you hear is the band blowing its noses, sitting at a table behind a pile of their new album "Smell the Glove," and the mocking chirping of crickets.

Hope it's not like that today.

On the road to Wooster, which winds through Amish country, a glorious sunset beckoned from the West. Earlier in the morning I had completed a huge project and appreciating this sunset seemed like a good way to commemorate that accomplishment. Cold air, tinged with woodsmoke curled in the car window. We heard the whoosh of the occasional passing car and the distant clomp of Amish horses pulling buggies on the evening commute.

A nice end to a big day. We had dinner in Wooster with Artie Fufkin.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Some Recent Birds

If I am working at home and it's a nice, sunny morning, I try to get outside to take a few digiscoped shots of yard birds in the early-morning light, before I start the work day.

Here are some recent captures I'm planning not to release to the delete bin.

Winter female American Robin at the Bird Spa (taken through glass). I love her subtle beauty.

Male house finch (with no eye disease!) on a birch perch I attached to our feeder pole specifically for digiscoping purposes. Birds look much better on a natural perch than a poop-encrusted feeder.

Dark-eyed junco (literally!). I could not get him to perch where he was not in shadow. Is THIS why they are called dark-eyed juncos?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Debby Kaspari

Debby Kaspari at the Indigo Hill artists' gathering 2006.

How many people on this planet can say that they know TWO different amazingly talented banjo-playing bird artists? I can. My guess is that we are a small minority.

Today I am shining the Bill of the Birds spotlight on the second of my two banjo-playing bird artists friends, Debby Kaspari.

Debby is a California native now living outside of Norman, Oklahoma with her husband Mike Kaspari, an ant scientist. Among the yard creatures that the Kasparis share their space with are painted buntings, scissor-tailed flycatchers, and pygmy rattlesnakes.

I first came to know Debby via the mail and telephone, way back in the pre-Internet late 1980s when a mutual friend and birder introduced us to each other. It would be years before we'd meet in person, but DK and I developed quite a friendship through her art, our mutual interest in music and birds. At the time, Debby was working by day as a designer for a jewelry maker in San Francisco. By night she was the banjo player and a singer in "The All-Girl Boys" a highly successful, all-female bluegrass band.

These days she is a successful freelance artist with a toe in several different arenas of art and design. She is one of those people whose talent is so widely and wisely applied that it makes you dizzy.

Recently, she wrote me this:
I'm working on paleo-reconstructions for the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History in Norman where I'm doing giant acrylic paintings of extinct camels, crinoids and elasmosauruses. Besides that, I just finished with a solo show at the Oklahoma State Capitol of mostly tropical bird paintings, I have another one coming up this summer at the JRB Gallery in Oklahoma City, and I'm preparing for a big, interactive exhibit in 2009 at Sam Noble OMNH called "Drawing the Motmot", which is about the experiences of an Oklahoma nature artist on her personal tropical expeditions (this is the material I want to put into a book form, too). Besides this I do freelance illustrations, design gargoyle, fairy and mermaid figurines, cowboy dishes, and in whatever spare time is left over I play banjo and pet my cat.

She's also done a number of cover paintings for BWD, including scissor-tailed flycatchers, ruby-throated hummingbirds, and northern mockingbird. Her red-capped manakin painting was selected for the 2006 edition of the prestigious Birds In Art exhibit at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Museum.

Her primary focus these days is sketching and painting in the tropics.

And when she puts down her pencil or paintbrush and picks up the banjo, well magic happens.
No moss growing on Debby Kaspari.

For more about the amazing DK, visit her website.

Now, here are some examples of Debby's recent work:
Semi-plumbeous hawk.

Violaceous trogons.

Debby with one of her murals of a camelsaur for the Sam Noble Museum.

Lark sparrow.

Red-capped manakins.