Monday, April 30, 2007

Birding Almost Heaven


Later this week I head south to the hills of West Virginia for the annual New River Birding and Nature Festival, held for a week each spring in and around Fayetteville, WV. It seems like this is the fourth year I've been to this festival--it's a can't miss for me.

The New River Birding and Nature Festival is kept intentionally modest in size so the quality of the experience is high. That's a great philosophy for a birding festival--bigger is not always better.



Birding by boat is a very popular field trip. As we float down the breathtaking New River, we're flanked on each shore by the ancient Appalachian Mountains. The songs of hermit and wood thrushes, scarlet and summer tanagers, Baltimore and orchard orioles, and many warblers echo across the gorge. Such a peaceful way to spend an afternoon. And, yes, we avoid the whitewater portions of the river.

Warblers are a key focus of the New River festival. We often see 20+ warbler species on a single field trip. These happy folks (above) have just seen their life golden-winged warbler. They are performing the Life Bird Wiggle® high atop a mountain, where it's safe to dance like no one's watching.

Mark your calendars for next spring and join us in Almost Heaven, West Virginia... (you know the rest...)

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Bee-Buzzzzzzz!

A few images, taken yesterday, of one of our male blue-winged warblers. They've been back for about a week, calling Bee-buzzzzz all day long from the orchard and meadow edge.

I don't really have anything edifying to say, so I'll let the pictures tell the story.




Saturday, April 28, 2007

Worm Eating


We have several territorial worm-eating warblers on our farm this spring. Here's one fellow I ran into today along the east-facing slop below the oil road, while looking for morels. No dice on the mushrooms, but this bird made up for it nicely.

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Song in My Head


Is it too early to start thinking about summer? I hope not. Because I'm listening holes in a new song about summer from a newish (to me) band called The Decemberists.

I first heard about The Decemberists from my sister Laura, who has great taste in music. So when I read all the raves about the band's album called The Crane Wife, I paid attention. Last month I finally downloaded the album from the iTunes store.

Yes, I'm pleased to report, The Crane Wife lives up to its hype.

This band reminds me of The Band, and of CSNY, and of much of the great melodic, non-formulaic music I've always loved. I'm drawn to music that has layers of meaning and melody, like peeling an onion. And in this way, The Decemberists could be called The Onionists. Their songs are like epic dramas--every one telling a whole story with full character development.

Today, The Song in My Head, is:
Summersong
by The Decemberists

from their album
The Crane Wife

There's a guitar/melodion riff at the start of Summersong that is reminiscent of the famous guitar riff in Breakdown by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. This made me love it on first listen.

The instrumentation in Summersong is fab. The arrangement of the song is strong to the point of being Beatles-esque. The tempo lilting. The lyrics are fascinating and deep.
The vocals are alluring. All in all one great song. Go here to learn about the band, and to listen to their online jukebox.

Give The Decemberists a try. I know I'll be listening to them all year long--not just in December.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Meet Our Prairie Warbler

Our spring–summer resident prairie warbler got in early on Tuesday morning, after spending the winter in the Sunny Tropical Southland. He shouted out his glorious song, rising up the chromatic scale, from halfway out the meadow--the same place he held a territory last summer.

Zick and I sallied forth with our cameras hoping for a bit of luck. The words of our friend and master digiscoper Clay Taylor echoing in our heads: "Prairie warblers are the hardest songbird to photograph! I've NEVER gotten a good shot of one!"

The prairie warbler as we first saw him.

The western edge of our meadow is covered in the kind of brushy, scrubby stuff prairies love. It's got multiflora rose and sumac, saplings of several tree species, Japanese honeysuckle, and grape vines. And the middle-aged woods rise up behind this messy edge, tall tulip poplars, aspens, oaks, and maples, creating the perfect blend of buggy paradise, thick cover, and exceptional nesting and singing spots for songbirds.

A few minutes after tracking our singing male prairie, we found him about 25 feet high in a sumac/honeysuckle tangle. He sang as he foraged, seeming to ignore our movement closer to him as easily as he ignored our pishing.

Then, as if possessed by a magic spell, he came closer, then closer still. All the while he sang and foraged. And we went into full photo-monger mode. Our cameras clicked and beeped as we choked back our giggles at our good fortune.

Crouching prairie, hidden cloacal protuberance.

It lasted just a few minutes, then he was gone. But he'd given us a memorable show. We shared views of our images, high-fived a few times. Then I headed back to the house to work on a book project and Zick headed out to the orchard to continue to try her shutterbug luck.

Here are a few of my best shots from the morning. Check out Julie's blog for her excellent pix.

Spring is here, at long last.

Perhaps a bit curious about the clicking and beeping of our cameras.

Singing for all he's worth from an apple branch.

Prairie warbler badonkadonk. Dig the red neck! He fits right in here on the farm!

Is THIS his best side?

Or is THIS his best side? Or is it the badonkadonk?

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Just-Missed Kiss

Seconds after these cardinals were beak-to-beak, happily swapping seeds, I snapped this photo. Too late!

On Saturday last weekend, recovering from my Hotdog Brothers revelry of the night before, I was in my new photo blind, taking pix of birds.

We have about 1.2 million northern cardinals around the farm right now. They are fighting like mad over turf, especially around the feeders. Males and females are blurry streaks of red and gray as they parry and thrust at interlopers.

Our male cardinals are such sexy beasts!

This pair of cardinals did two different "cardinal kisses"--where the male feeds a seed to the female as part of his courtship. They performed this ritual right on top of the feeding station, in full view. These priceless nature moments happened while I fumbled with my camera. DOH!

I missed the kiss. And although I continued watching for an hour, they never did it again (at least not where I could see them).

We'll get 'em NEXT year.

"I feel his staring eyes! But I'm NOT going to look! Oh this is creeping me out!"

"OK. Now I'm ready! Kiss me you fool! But just because you pass me a seed, does NOT mean I'm going to... you know..."

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The First Big Wave of Spring

Yesterday morning the first sound I heard was a yellow-throated vireo singing from the orchard to the west of our house.

The second thing I heard was Julie running into the room shouting "Get up! There's a yellow-throated vireo singing outside!"

The male YTVI was not alone. There was a red-eyed vireo out there too. And a white-eyed vireo! All of them were singing.

I was fascinated to see that the tent caterpillars were obvious all of a sudden. Perfect timing for this vital bird food source.

I hurried upstairs to get my binocs and then stepped out onto the deck. A blue-winged warbler sang from way out the meadow. I shouted the name of this new arrival in to Julie. She shouted back from the front yard with another species.

We walked the kids out to the bus, then spent about an hour on the deck listening and watching. It was sweet noting the new arrivals, after such a long wait for spring's arrival. We had a false spring with warm weather and bursting flowers. This was followed by 10 days of cold, snow flurries, and icy nights in the 20s. We were happy that few songbirds arrived early because they would have had a tough time of it.

As the morning wore on and I began thinking of getting to work, the burry song of a scarlet tanager burst forth from The Point, along our north border. Then, as if we'd willed it, the male scarlet took his place at the top of an elm sapling and sang for a few minutes. What a sight for sore eyes his scarlet color was! We drank him in through the spotting scope until he moved farther into the woods.

The first male scarlet tanager of spring. The last scarlet tanager I saw here at the farm was on last year's Big Sit!

After several weeks of anticipation, with many missed early-arrival dates, spring itself arrived--in feathered form--in a big way!

All in all we had 11 new bird arrivals for Monday, April 23:

  1. Yellow-throated vireo
  2. Red-eyed vireo
  3. White-eyed vireo
  4. Hooded warbler
  5. Prairie warbler
  6. Yellow warbler
  7. Palm warbler
  8. Blue-winged warbler
  9. Scarlet tanager
  10. Wood thrush
  11. Louisiana waterthrush
The wood thrush and waterthrush (no relation) were heard last evening just before dusk, while we sat out in the lawn, talking to our neighbor, Dave Hawkins.

Photographic proof of a pass-through palm warbler. Too bad the camera focused on the dead willow leaves.

Our broad-winged hawks got back a week ago. I have not yet heard their two note whistle, but surely will soon.

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Going Camo: My New Photo Blind!

For Christmas Santa Zickefoose brought me a new portable photo blind. One of the advantages of being married to a Science Chimp is that she does lots of research before making an equipment purchase. She consulted many websites and several of our professional photographer friends for info on a portable starter blind--one that I could use here on the farm to photograph feeder birds. All the data pointed to the Doghouse Blind by Ameristep.

For one reason or another, I had not used the new blind until today--a mere four months after it dropped down our chimney and nestled under the tree. And I've got to say that this blind totally ROCKS!

The blind popped up quick as a flash--instant camouflage.

I pulled it out of the bag, and like many of the lightweight, high-tech camping tents in this modern era, it practically sprang into fully set-up form by itself. Since there was no wind this morning I did not stake it down or use the internal struts that help solidify its shape. Instead, I stuck a lawn chair inside, along with my tripod, camera, binocs, and coffee and I was ready to go.

Oh wait!

Forgot to fill the feeders and put up a few handy snags with perfect backgrounds.

Done!

OK, bring on the birds!

During the winter, I sat outside in many layers of outerwear, trying to get some feeder bird photos. I got a few, but the birds were slow to return to their relaxed feeding activity no matter how still I was sitting there. With the Doghouse (which I am strangely accustomed to being in) the birds resumed their activity almost immediately.

Wow! Now I wish I had used this blind much sooner!

Taking it down was only a little more difficult than setting it up. But once I get used to it, I'm sure it'll be a snap. From my own search of the Internet, it appears that the Doghouse is available in many retail stores, including hunting/camping/outdoor stores like Cabela's and even the big box stores, if you're so inclined.

The blind fits into this Boston-terrier--sized bag (and it comes with shoulder straps for hauling--the blind, not the dog).

Here are a few of the morning's keeper shots.

The male American goldfinches are nearly ready for spring.

Male eastern towhee at the suet dough.

Male northern cardinal wondering what that clicking sound is inside that giant pile of leaves.

Boo! Hiss! The female brown-headed cowbirds are back.

I'm proudest of this male eastern bluebird image.

This blind also works for photographing other wildlife besides birds.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

We Are the Hotdog Brothers!


Tonight and most of tomorrow Liam and I will be having all-guy time at the farm. Phoebe is sleeping over at a friend's house. Julie is in the Far North giving a talk at Mohican State Park.
We boys are FREE!

Liam and I have a two-member club, that meets only on weekends like this. We are called The Hotdog Brothers. This started a few years ago, when Phoebe would accompany Julie on weekend trips to wherever. Liam and I, left to our own devices, would cope as best we could, and The Hotdog Brothers were born.

We even have a theme song for the Hotdog Brothers that goes like this:

We are the Hotdog Brothers
Yes We Are!
We are the Hotdog Brothers
Yes We Are!
Hotdog! Hotdog!
Yum! Yum! Yum
Hotdog! Hotdog!
Lots of FUN!

We don't always eat hotdogs, but the often comprise two or more of the food groups on our planned menus.

Tonight, an otherwise normal Friday in April, we had plans to do EXACTLY what WE wanted to do. With no GIRLS around to say otherwise. We'd eat, spit, pee outside, and tell jokes and scary stories. Our menu would be of our own choosing. This involved chocolate milk, hotdogs roasted on an open fire, baked beans, beer (for some of us), chips, and s'mores (not necessarily in that order).

We can do WHATEVER we want, including taking off our shirts and dancing around.

We always have plenty of wood for hotdog cooking.

I started a fire in the fire circle up on the hill east of our house. Liam gathered wood for the fire. We watched it until it was well established.


The fire starter.

Watching the fire.

Then we created some art on the sidewalk in front of the house, just in case some unsuspecting civilians happened upon the scene.


While we were cooking our dinner on the fire, Liam wax philosophical:

"What is it about springtime that makes us SO happy? The sound of the crickets? The sound of the sun rising? The sound of a lawnmower running over a little girl's hair!"
Liam tells me a story--one of many.

NEVER get between a Hotdog Brother and his hotdog.

Yum! Yum! Yum!
And the sun sets on another Hotdog Brothers extravaganza at Indigo Hill. The problem is we have just 48 hours to clean up the house and grounds before the gals return.

S'mores are a crucial part of our ritual.

The shimmering embers remind us of the hotdog that burns (forever) in our souls.

Liam is the best Hotdog Brother a guy could ever ask for (and he likes chocolate milk as you can see).

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Vulture Mystery Solved


While driving through a major city in the American tropics on recent afternoon, I noticed a turkey vulture standing in a puddle at the edge of the road.

"That's strange!" I thought. "I wonder why that TV is doing that?"

I looked skyward and saw another adult vulture, then several more, soaring overhead, just above the roof of a nearby store.


"Is there something dead on top of that roof? Why would those vultures be swooping so low over a store?"

Then I noticed the sign on the front of the building and all my questions about vulture behavior were answered. I always thought that vultures located their food by smell. But now I think it may be because they can READ!

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Your Favorite Field Guide?

Photo by Mitch Casey for BWD.

I'm doing an informal survey here on Bill of the Birds about the various field guides to the birds that we bird watchers use.

Here are a few questions that I really want to ask (and I hope you'll be willing to answer):


1. How many field guides do you own?

2. What is your favorite field guide and why?

3. Do you prefer field guides illustrated with photographs or with artwork/paintings?

4. Do you always take a field guide with you when you go birding?

5. Do you find yourself using one guide in the field but referring to a different guide at home?

6. Do you think printed (book format) field guides will ever be replaced by digital devices (such as the
Handheld Birds PDA that features the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds.)?

Please use the comment function here to post your answers.

I'll be interested to see what y'all have to say.
Thanks!
BOTB

Sunday, April 15, 2007

American Power Symbols


On Friday evening, while driving east from Crane Creek NWR along Ohio's north coast, I encountered this scene with two symbols of the power and might of our fair country. If you've ever driven Route 2 between Cleveland and Toledo, you can't miss the hulking towers of the Davis Besse nuclear power plant. Its cooling towers have dominated the northern Ohio skyline for decades. The plant, while not Three Mile Island or Chernobyl, has had its share of recent problems.

As I drove by, I noticed an adult bald eagle perching practically in the shadow of the nearest cooling tower. And it struck me, this juxtaposition of two such oft-used symbols of America's power. My mom often comments about how, when she was a girl, there was no more stirring representation of America's power than photos or footage of smoke billowing out of smokestacks. It took us a while to consider what all that smoke was actually doing to us and to the environment.

The adult bald eagle is indeed a striking bird, white head and tail, all-dark body. Everything an eagle does is majestic, especially if you don't pay attention to its mooching ways (it often robs ospreys, gulls, cormorants of food) its preference for carrion (it's so much easier to eat fish that are already dead and just sitting there), or its unbelievably wimpy call (the red-tailed hawk's scream is habitually substituted for the eagle's on movie soundtracks, in commercials, in political ads, and in the intro to The Colbert Report).

I remembered coming up here to Lake Erie in the spring of 1982 with my ornithology class from Miami University (of Ohio). We came up to see THE bald eagle nest. Yes, there was only one and we viewed it from about a mile away through a spotting scope. It was a big deal. Now eagles are common in northern Ohio, nesting in the hundreds throughout the state.

As I sat there on the roadside, I didn't want to think about the PCB load this bird was probably carrying in its system. I didn't want to think about how nuclear power can be both clean and low-impact or completely deadly. I just wanted to appreciate the two symbols for what they were, and what they are.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Para los Pajaros

On my last two annual trips to Guatemala I was able to fit some birding swag into my suitcases (yes, that's suitCASES--plural) to share with birding friends and with folks new to bird watching.

Houghton Mifflin, publisher of many field guides we natural history buffs rely upon, has graciously donated or discounted to me copies of the Kaufman Guía de campo a las aves de Norteamérica. That's the Kaufman Guide to North American Birds translated into Spanish. It was published in 2005 by Houghton Mifflin.

These Spanish-language guides are incredibly useful to bird watchers in the Latin American tropics because most of the migrant species that spend spring and summer with us in the U.S. and Canada spend their winters to the south of our borders in Central and South America. The existing guides to birds in many Latin American countries cover their own endemic, common, and migrant birdlife. To also include all of "our" birds would result in a book that would not be portable or useful in the field. The Kaufman Guia is perfect for filling this gap. It's got great color photographs, short, descriptive text, and it's in Spanish!
This young man and his father came to a bird walk I was leading in Guatemala. It was the boy's first ever trip outside his village in northern Guatemala. I bet he'll use this guide a lot in coming years.

The 10 copies that accompanied me to Guatemala went into the hands of my friend Claire Dallies who works for the Peace Corps there. Claire has been instrumental in helping a handful of remote villages develop their ecotourism opportunities. Visiting bird watchers do enjoy seeing many of Guatemala's special bird species--birds like the pink-headed warbler, resplendent quetzal, and the horned guan. Claire and others are helping to train the villagers to become birding guides for visiting ecotouristas. And she thought some of the Kaufman guides would go a long way to helping the human guides learn more about their local birds (especially those that spend the winter in Guate).

Ernesto Col, one of the new Guatemalan birding guides, with his new field guide, courtesy of Houghton Mifflin.

Dear Bill:
Here is the photo of you with Ernesto Col. He is one of the bird monitors from a monitoring program funded by ProEval RAxmu that Knut Eiserman spoke about.
He lives in a small community named Senimtaca, in the Sacranix mountains, west of Coban. He is learning how to be a bird watching guide as well, and is pretty good at identifying the birds from his locality by sound . He will be teaching other people in his community with the book you gave him and the other 2 guides from there who could not come.

Thank you again for your help and support.

Take Care,

claire

Claire Dallies (far right) presented four guides to community members in Candelaria Camposanto.

Later that week, Claire wrote me again:

Hello Bill,


I took 4 guides to the area of Chisec, to a good community-based ecotourism project currently named "puerta al mundo maya" (the door to the Maya World).
This project includes 5 ecotourism sites in 5 different communities. One of them is the Archaeological site of Cancuen which has recently been excavated by Dr. Arthur Demarest from Vanderbilt University. The other 4 are all community projects with other interests: caves, lagoons, rivers, and all in tropical rainforest. I left 4 books there, one for each community. The only community that I did not want to give a book to was the Cancuen site community because they are not interested in birds.

The gentleman holding standing next to me on the picture is Sebastian Tut, who is a Guatemalan working for Counterpart International, the International NGO that is currently supporting these projects, and the gentleman next to him holding the book is the president of the Tourism Committee at the community of Candelaria Camposanto. All the people standing at the back as local guides trained to guide throught the caves of Candelaria. The young man with a beard on the left is Mark Yoders, the local Peace Corps Volunteer currently working with them as well.

Mark was actually the person who called me and asked me if we could get birding guide books in Spanish for the communities he works with. I ask you based on his request, and we are all very grateful, Bill, that you helped us get the donation of books for them. I am sure that each of those books will be put to good use by them.
Miguel Ramirez (at right) is one of the lead local birding guides in the Cerro San Gil regions of Guatemala. He a Kaufman guide to one of the local community members who is very interested in birds.

Whenever you get a chance to come back to Guatemala, maybe on your own, and spend more time discovering some of our beauties, I would gladly take you to some of these places and meet the wonderful local people who are now understanding that ecotourism can represent and IS an additional income for them and a strong incentive for not cutting down the rainforest.

Best regards,

Claire
Thanks to you, Claire, for helping find the best new owners for these guides.

Dear readers of BOTB, the next time you visit Latin America--or if you know a Spanish-speaking person in your community or school who is interested in birds---consider giving the gift of birds in the form of this excellent field guide.

Es un regalo muy bueno
.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Song in My Head


I had THE most vivid music dream last night.

In the dream, I was down in the mountains of Tennessee and somehow I ended up at an old cabin where they were recording a country music radio show, featuring Johnny Cash. And the radio show's producers were asking for volunteers to play three songs each with The Man in Black. You had to perform one of Johnny's songs. Then sing a cover song of your choice by another artist. Then you had to sing one of your OWN songs.

There were about a dozen other people there, all musicians, and they were struggling to come up with their three songs. The next thing I knew I was up there on the creaky stage, standing next to Mr. Cash (who smelled of beer) grinning like a fool, trying to remember what songs I wanted to do. We played a passable version of "Ring of Fire," my fave Johnny C. song. Then I pulled out a song I just learned, called "Blue Northern Lights" by Ollabelle. It's a lovely ballad with pedal steel guitar moaning in the background. Johnny Cash raved about it and wanted to play it over again.

Lastly I played him one of my up-tempo mountain-music tunes, called "I Don't Want to Be A Soldier Boy" about a reluctant participant in the American Civil War. He liked that one, too, but he LOVED the Ollabelle song. And I can see why, since it's been the Song in My Head for two weeks.

Too bad Johnny Cash is gone. In my dream he was a prince of a nice guy--very supportive of the younger artists trying to impress him. I have no idea what the dream meant, or what it portends, but it was vivid as heck. I can still smell the old cabin!

Ollabelle is a relatively new band with a great musical lineage. One of the female members of the band, Amy Helm, is the daughter of Levon Helm, drummer for The Band. Ollabelle has a very old-timey musical sensibility, without getting boringly repetitive. And since so many band members sing and play instruments, they put out a lot of different sounds. You can hear some of these songs and sounds here:

Tonight the Song in My Head is:

Blue Northern Lights
by Ollabelle

from their recent album
Riverside Battle Songs

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Monday, April 09, 2007

Red Belly

Red-bellied woodpecker, male, photographed on Saturday in the snow and through a closed sliding glass door.
He's showing off just a touch of his namesake belly color.

As a beginning bird watcher I often wondered about certain bird names. Why was the ring-necked duck so named? Where's the ring on the neck? And the red-bellied woodpecker? I never saw its red belly. These names are left over from the era of shotgun ornithology, when birds were shot, then examined in the hand for unique field marks.

It's hard to see the subtle ring around the neck of the ring-necked duck, unless one is lying in your hands and its head is dangling lifelessly downward, exposing the full length of the neck. Red-bellied woodpeckers in their normal pattern of living, keep their bellies firmly propped against tree trunks, making any red feathers very hard to see. Again, on a bird in the hand, those red belly feathers pop right out at you.

I'm glad we're not still shooting birds to identify them. It's loud, bloody, hard to do, and too hard on the birds.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

A Good American

Like all GOOD Americans I finished my taxes yesterday. Which is to say I crammed all my receipts and bank statements into a giant manila envelope and dropped it off at my accountant's office when he was not looking. Now it's his problem.

I worked really hard and got several nasty paper cuts. Here are some photos of me, upstanding American that I am, working hard on my taxes*.



*actual photos do not represent, nor are they intended to represent, a citizen of the United States of America engaging in his/her/its patriotic duty to prepare and pay in full all taxes due to the federal, state, or local government all of which are run by simians, which does not imply, infer, or suggest the validity or the invalidity of Darwin's theory of evolution. If the amount on line 14 was paid on or after 4/15/07, enter 0. If the amount on line 14 was paid before 4/15/07, make the following computation to find the amount to enter on line 16. Amount on line 14 multiplied by Number of days paid before 4/15/07 multiplied by .00022”. In 1814 we took a little trip. Along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip. We took a little bacon and we took a little beans and we fought the bloody British near the town of New Orleans. My gosh, look at the time!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Leggy Ladies in Pink Stockings

So tall and delicate and graceful, even when poorly photographed.


Tonight's post is a tribute to the beauty and undeniable charm of the black-necked stilt.

I don't know why it is that I think there's only one gender of black-necked stilt (female). Could it be their overall slender, sleek proportions? Or is it the contrasting black and white 'make-up' on the face? No, surely it's the dainty way they pick gently at insects and aquatic life with their finely pointed bills.

I think it might be the legs. Long, thin, and bright pink, yet strong enough and long enough to let stilts forage on mudflats or in thigh-deep water and still look graceful doing it.

The black-neck stilt reminds me of my grandmother, Margaret Miller Thompson, who taught high-school English for 43 year in our local public schools. She was always a lady, in every situation. Graceful, soft-spoken, well-dressed, articulate, and exhibiting perfect manners. They don't seem to make people like that anymore.

Now before you label me a sexist pig, and a throwback caveman, let me say that I am applying the word "lady" here in much the same way one would say a nice man was a "gentleman." Such folks always look great, behave politely, appear composed, and brighten any room they enter.

And this is how I see black-necked stilts. They add class to any gathering of birds.

I was at a local park near Weslaco, Texas, last week, and the group I was helping to lead came upon a large slough full of shorebirds and waterfowl. There were long-billed dowitchers, least and western sandpipers, blue-winged and green-winged teal, shovelers, American wigeon, and gadwalls aplenty. And then there were the stilts. Just two or three—but I could not take my eyes off of them.

It's a treat every time I get to see black-necked stilts. I can't seem to get enough of their "feminine" charm. Next time you're looking at some stilts, see if you agree.

Or, it could be that I AM just a simple caveman, confused and bewildered by the world's modern ways.

I call this photo "Gorgeous Stilt and Extraneous Minutiae." OK they're semiplamated sandpipers.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Utensil Birds #2

Back by popular demand, it's the second installment of Utensil Birds.

Today's Utensil Bird is PAIL-billed woodpecker....

Pail/pale-billed woodpecker photographed at Tikal, Peten, Guatemala in February 2007.

What?

My producer is speaking to me over my headset and telling me that it's P-A-L-E -billed woodpecker. Not P-A-I-L. How awkward...

OK. How about roseate SPOONbill?

Dig the crazy spoon-shaped bill on this flying spoonbill.

Here are two images I took in Florida in January at Merritt Island NWR. When you're a new bird watcher, flipping through the field guide, the roseate spoonbill is one of those species that makes you gasp and wonder. Is there REALLY a bird like that?

Well they're even better in real life. One of my most-wanted-to-photograph-well birds is the roseate spoonbill. Not much of a chance here in SE Ohio. Though with global warming it might just be a matter of waiting.... Sorry, bad joke.

The spoon-shaped bill is wide and flat. Perfect for straining yummy aquatic life out of swamp water but probably not very good for eating soup.

I'd love to get a photo of a roseate spoonbill perched next to a fork-tailed flycatcher, but what are the chances of that?

Worry not! I'll serve up another Utensil Bird soon.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Utensil Birds: Species #1

I hereby announce the start of a new series of (irregular) posts here at Bill of the Birds. The subject is: Utensil Birds. These are species whose names contain the name of a utensil or tool.

Today's featured Utensil Bird is the scissor-tailed flycatcher.



I LOVE scissor-tailed flycatchers for a variety of reasons.

1.) They are undeniably beautiful. Long tail streamers, pink wing pits, classic gray plumage, and acrobatic aerial maneuvers.

2.) I only get to see them once or twice a year. The nearest breeding scissortails to my SE Ohio home are in southwestern Missouri.

3.) It's one of the only vagrant birds I've ever spotted myself. One flew into view of our Big Sit team at the World Series of Birding at Cape May Point, NJ, on May 15, 2004. Late in the afternoon, the scissor-tailed flycatcher flew off the ocean and into a nearby marshy field, causing me to blurt out its name, followed by a somewhat inappropriate profanity. We'd just finished an issue of BWD with this species on the cover, so it was almost as if I conjured this vagrant bug eater. Hundreds of birders converged on our Big Sit circle atop the hawk watching platform that afternoon to see the bird. It was a great feeling to have been the one to spot it. Scissor-tailed flycatchers are regular vagrants in many places.

4.) I was once asked by a non-bird watcher why scissor-tailed flycatchers were so cruel to other birds. When I asked what he meant, the old fella replied: "Well they use them scissory tails to cut the heads off their victims don't they?"

I dialed 911.

I took some fairly awful images of a lovely scissortail at Santa Ana NWR last Friday. Since you can't stop me from doing so, I'm going to share the least awful ones with you right now.

Here's to you, Special Utensil Bird #1! Don't be a stranger!

Classic scissortail pose: on a wire, facing into the wind, tail streaming out behind.

Landing just after a hunting sortie, this scissortail is turning to face into the strong Texas wind.


Insect gulped down, it's bill-cleaning time. Two quick wipes on the wire and he's good to go.

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