Sunday, September 30, 2007

Amazon Nocturne

In the post before last I alluded to a dark form in the trees above where our Amazon boat, El Delfin, had been temporarily moored during an afternoon thunderstorm. That dark form, as many of you guessed,turned out to be a sloth--a male three-toed sloth to be precise.

Three-toed sloth.

This was my first-ever look at a sloth in the wild. Their faces are haunting, reminding me of one of those monkey heads carved out of a coconut. And they move like sedated furry snakes from limb to limb through the trees. This guy was taking his time and seemed completely unconcerned about the gathering thunderstorm.
As the male sloth reached the outer limbs of this branch we got a clear view of the orange patches on his back. Such a cool creature...

As the rain slackened we boarded the skiffs for an evening excursion up a small tributary. Having the shoreline habitat closer than it was on the big river made the birding better and easier. Too bad the light was fading.

On the left hand shore, a feeding flock caught our attention and I called out an all-blue bird I saw swoop into the center of a tree. It was a plum-throated cotinga! This is a bright blue bird with a purple throat and a white eye. Cotingas are a tropical family of birds, somewhere between a thrush and a flycatcher. They can be hard to see because they are not very active. But once you spot them they may sit for a long while.

This bird did and I used my new green laser pointer to get everyone else on the bird, describing a large circle around the bird. I found the laser pointer to be utterly useful for jungle birding, when saying things like "It's in the top of that large green-leafed tree" just won't cut it.
Plum-throated cotinga (if you squint your eyes).

I got a crummy shot of the cotinga in the low light. But at least you can see the blue plumage, dark throat, and white eye.

As we left the cotinga, one of our skiff's passengers screamed. A fish had lumped into the boat and was flopping around in the bottom. As one of the passengers reached down to pick it up to toss it back into the river, our guide said "Please be very careful of his teeth and spines!" Michael, an American tour packager and avid fisherman, picked up the fish. Dave, another outdoorsman touched the fish's mouth and promptly for a bad bit on his index finger. This was not a piranha, but it still packed some wicked teeth! Could it be the influence of all those hopped-up outdoor adventure shows where it's not enough to just LOOK at an animal, you've also got to HANDLE it? I'm not casting aspersions here, just wondering....

The offending fish was released to the dark water once more.

Soon it was too dark for birding so we turned our attention to spotlighting other wildlife, such as caimans. Our guide leaned out over the bow and snagged this juvenile caiman from the shallow water.

Caimans are lovely to look at. Little ones like this could not hurt you unless you invited them to bite you. In the days to come we'd see much larger caimans that actually licked their chops as we motored past in small dugouts.

One of the birds we got close-ish to was this ladder-tailed nightjar. We also saw (poorly) a greater potoo--one of my quest birds.

Ladder-tailed nightjar.

Soon enough the bugs were getting bad putting thoughts of bad tropical diseases into our tired heads, so we began motoring back to the big boat. It was pitch black at this point and the guide had to shine the flashlight ahead of us to try to see the best route through all the shallows and submerged logs. WHAM! We hit a mudbar and everyone grunted. I hit my forehead on the wooden seat in front of me and the passenger next to me cracked his seat's support. It was more of a scare than an actual accident--no one and no gear was lost overboard. Still, it made us proceed with caution.

Heading back to the boat.

Once back on board El Delfin we cleaned up, had a drink, and headed for dinner. After yet another delightful meal, we were told we'd be going on a little hike the next day. The ship's crew began passing out knee-high rubber boots. Our destination? A large inland lake with the very evocative name El Dorado. The Gold!

What sort of adventure would tomorrow hold?

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Friday, September 28, 2007

Peru Haiku #1

Caracaras watch
Night like a misty shroud falls
Jungle turns gray black

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Shelter from the Storm

Late in the day, just as the heat was starting to abate, the sky to the West began boiling up a thunderstorm stew. We were unprepared for how fast these tropical storms come upon you. In Ohio, if I saw this sky, I'd know I had an hour or two to get the tractor in, the windows shut, the lawn furniture covered. In the Amazon, in a matter of 10 minutes, you will find yourself in a gale.

Waiting out the afternoon storm.

The staff of El Delfin rolled down transparent tarps to keep the rain off the top deck where we were sitting. And the captain nosed the boat into shore. The bow was tied off on a large tree trunk. Was the weather going to be that bad?

Mopping up the rain that blew under the tarps. In the Tropics everything gets a little wet.

All the rest of us could do was run through the bird list, check the field guide, and doze off to the thrum of the engine and the patter of the rain.

Roadside hawk.

When the rain poured itself out and the tarps were rolled up, we spied the creatures who had no shelter from the weather. A wet roadside hawk was perched just near the boat.

We wondered how our fellow humans had fared in their dugouts and small shelters. I love the primitive vista of this image.

Soon the weather broke and we saw a dark form in a treetop far above the bank where El Delfin had sheltered on the shore.

What was it? We did not know at first...

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Amazon Morning

Tuesday's dawn came fast, but the mist rising off the river and out of the humid woods held the sunlight at bay for several hours--a respite from the tropical heat that was not althogether unwelcome. Cutting through the mist were the calls of birds from every direction.

We were still motoring upstream on the Rio Ucayali, passing small settlements that were waking up just as we were.

El Delfin in the mist.

Upper deck, El Delfin.

The mist covered everything, including camera lenses, making the upper deck of our boat look mistier than it really was.
Beautiful tropical splendor everywhere I turned.

Getting drinking water.

The people living along the Amazon and its tributaries will fill up water bottles or other containers and let them sit all day long until the sediment settles out, then the water is considered drinkable. But if you or I drank it, we'd be meeting the vengeful Señor Montezuma soon enough.

A huge stump leftover from a tropical tree. It may have been hollowed out as a boat.

As the mist cleared, we embarked on the skiffs and headed to shore for a morning birding outing. The non-birders among our group stayed behind on El Delfin sleeping and enjoying a full breakfast. We eschewed the desayuno for the chance to find some island endemic birds.

Lesser hornero. A cool bird, but a name by which no human male would like to be known.

One of our first new birds of the day was a lesser hornero.

The photographers among us had plenty to shoot. This is Chris Knights, a farmer from Norfolk in England, who is also a world-class bird photographer.

There was a Peruvian couple living on the island we landed on. The woman was washing clothes at the river's edge while the man repaired his fishing nets, strung between two pieces of driftwood nearby.

Lesser yellow-headed vulture.

Vultures coasted past, looking for a dead fish, a bit of trash, or anything else to eat. Everywhere you look in the tropics there are vultures--soaring, sitting, hanging their wings out in the sun. They serve an important role here, eating dead flesh before it can become a vector for disease. If I'd kicked the bucket here on this island, there would have been vultures all over me before the shine left my eyes.

We heard a lot of small birds calling and singing. We did not get great looks, but we did see a handful of the island endemics, including white-bellied, red-and-white, and rusty-backed spinetail. This last one is also known as Parker's spinetail, for the late and legendary tropical ornithologist, Ted Parker. Spinetails put the skulk in skulker--I did not get any photos.

This island had a broad sandy beach, perfect for scanning for loafing nightjars, shorebirds, and swallows.
Usiel, a guide from El Delfin, came along. When he spotted a bird, he shot his machete into the sand so he could put two hands on his binocs.

White-headed marsh-tyrant.

We reboarded the skiffs and ventured to another river island, this one much larger. Upon landing we walked through some planted sandy fields of beans to a nearby marsh which was home to a white-headed marsh-tyrant--a very cool-looking bird.

Oriole blackbirds.

Oriole blackbirds were everywhere, sounding very much like our yellow-headed blackbirds, which is to say, like someone retching.

As we climbed up a short rise we came to a large field of rice growing in a low, marshy area. Flocks of parakeets circled over the rice, steeling for a few seconds, then taking flight again, all the while screeching loudly. I was mesmerized by the swirling flocks. One second they'd be invisible--green birds against green grass and jungle. Then they would turn and their red and yellow colors would flash brightly.

Can you see the parakeets in this image? There are two distinct species.

How about now?

Or now? Larger birds with red spots are white-eyed parakeets. Smaller ones are dusky-headed parakeets.

These are all white-eyed parakeets.

Most of our looks at parrots and parakeets during the trip were fleeting, heard-only birds or birds zipping overhead.Sorry for the poor quality images.

And then it was time to head back to El Delfin for our own breakfast and a bit of downtime.

While we motored back to El Delfin,we passed several large river ferries, carrying passengers and goods. The stern was loaded with many, many bananas. The upper deck was strung with hammocks for folks who want a nap during the journey.

Hammocks for weary passengers--what a concept.

These two Peruvians seemed happy to give us a smile and a wave from their camp. Note the parakeet the woman on the right has as a pet.

I have a lot more to tell you but need to stop now. It's time to meet the Sandman. Mas mañana le prometo.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Upper Amazon

We enjoyed our first meal aboard El Delfin with a late and very large lunch. Fresh fish, various fruits, and a frozen dessert made from local fruits. I entered a food coma almost immediately and only came out of it when it was announced that we'd be taking a late afternoon birding excursion on the boat's two skiffs after siesta time. Es perfecto!

Strange fruit, but delicious when peeled and mashed into ice cream.

But I could not sleep--there was too much to see. So I went back to the top deck for some birding. Immediately I was fascinated by the various craft plying the river. Boats, rafts, and floating objects of all shapes and sizes were drifting downstream as we motored upstream.

Heading to the market.

Bananas heading to Nauta and then to the world beyond.

We passed small camps and settlements on the shore. The human population along the Amazon and its tributaries relies primarily on fishing, hunting, and small-plot farming. The effects from this subsistence living has greatly reduced the region's flora and fauna. Natural resource organizations and conservationists are rushing to preserve large tracts of rainforest. And they are beginning to work with the local communities to develop more sustainable means of living, including developing ecotourism projects. More on this in a future post.

Check out the footholds cut into the mud bank for access to the river below.

Washing day.

We passed many small dwellings that were not much more than campsites, though they probably were lived in nearly year-round and vacated when the floods of the rainy season swelled the river beyond its normal banks.

We also passed commercial boats including ferries, cargo craft, and even large skiffs full of gringo ecoturistas, who waved at us as though they were very happy to see us.
Turistas blancas.

Soon it was time for our own skiff adventure. We divided into two groups and headed off farther upstream in search of birds and other creatures to see. Among the group were at least three serious photographers and a few of us who were dabbling at being serious. We traded advice (I got much more than I gave) and asked photo questions freely.

"Hey what F-stop are you shooting at right now?"
"Is that an IS lens?"
"Are you completely KILLING that kingfisher?"
"Hey look at THIS shot I got!"
"Does anyone know how to turn the flash off on one of these things?"

It was pretty fun taking pictures of parrots overhead (all bad images) and passing large-billed terns (blurry as a vanilla milkshake), and the dark-green jungle. The light was good but failing fast so we motored over to the sunlit shore and right away had good luck.
One of El Delfin's two skiffs.

Ted Stedman was with our group on assignment for Outdoor Photographer magazine.

Along the Amazon and its tributaries raptors and vultures perch and prowl for food. It must be because this is the only edge habitat for miles around in this roadless region. But I have never seen so many birds of prey along any river, ever.

First among our photographable raptors was a yellow-headed caracara.
Yellow-headed caracaras. After a while I did not bother photographing them.

Farther downstream we came across a drab water-tyrant, sort of a cross between a wagtail and a warbler. It was flycatching midges on the muddy bank of the river.

Drab water-tyrant. Which begs the question: How can you be both drab AND a tyrant?

Riverside roadside hawk.

Here in the roadless Amazon there are many, many of the common hawk of Latin America known as the roadside hawk. But they are jokingly referred to as riverside hawks here--no roads! One of our El Delfin guides told us that at least 11 times and laughed his cabeza off every time.

Short-tailed parrots showing off their best field mark.

Flights of parrots and parakeets zipped back and forth across the river giving us impossibly bad looks. Without the knowledgeable ID skills of Pepe and Noam, we'd never have known what ANY of them were. All of them called loudly. None of them perched within our view.

It wasn't just birds, though. We found a small line of bats clinging to a mid-river snag. I have no clue what species these are, but they stayed put until we were right next to them , then flew in unison, like shorebirds avoiding a peregrine, and then settled back down on another snag farther up the stream. Perhaps one of my experienced tropical naturalist blog lurkers can help me with the ID here. Scott, are you there?

Some kind of river-loving bat. Later in the night they entered our cabins and feasted upon our blood. Not really. But Liam asked me that.

My favorite tropical tanager, the blue-gray, hove into view in a small flock. Too far for decent photos, but nice to see again. These BGTans were fancier than those I'd seen in Mexico and Guatemala. These had pale-blue wingbars which only added to their allure.

[Don't tell the blue-grays, but over the next few days I saw some other tanagers that really set my eyes on fire--bay-headed tanager and something called a paradise tanager! They really laid me low.]

Blue-gray tanagers (the tiny blue spots in this photo). Formerly my favorite tanager.

Soon enough the sun was down and it was starting to get buggy, so we turned the skiffs downstream and caught El Delfin in the middle of the river. Soon it would be dinner time, then, I hoped, a good night's sleep. I was still running a bit of a snooze deficit from the weekend before.
Ohhh Cholllly LOOK at that looooovely boat.

I did sleep, but could not WAIT to experience dawn on the Amazon. It was just hours away.

It's another pisco sour sunset....

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Peru: Iquitos to Nauta

Our early morning flight from Lima took us to Iquitos, a city in the mostly roadless rainforest surrounding the Amazon River in northeastern Peru. Iquitos, which can only be reached by plane or boat, became a bona fide city during the rubber boom of the early 20th century. The movie Fitzcarraldo (about a rubber-boom baron) was filmed here.

We did not linger long in this boomtown. Stepping out into the tropical heat already in the 90s at 7 am, we gathered our luggage and staggered over to a small bus. Black caracaras and an assortment of vultures cut across the horizon and fork-tailed palm swifts sliced the air above us. Welcome to the tropics, amigo.

THE road from Iquitos to Nauta.

There is one road that leaves Iquitos, going south about 62 miles to Nauta, also on the Amazon river system. We took this road about 45 km to a relatively new nature preserve that protects a very special habitat. The Pacaya-Samira National Reserve encompasses more than 8,000 square miles of Amazonian rainforest habitat, including the white sand forest habitat where we went for a morning hike, looking for special endemic Peruvian birds.
Breakfast in the white sand forest of Pacaya-Samira Presrve.

We hiked into the jungle on a single track path, visions of fer-de-lances and bushmasters dancing through our sleep-deprived heads. The morning haze lifted just in time for the heat to settle down on us. The air, thick as pancake batter, was moved only by the singing of hidden birds and droning insects. We stopped halfway into the jungle for a breakfast hauled in for us in coolers. They even had cold camu-camu juice a local fruit juice very high in vitamin C. Then it was back on the trail...

Our guides were two of Peru's most avid and knowledgeable birder/ornithologists: Noam Shamy, an expatriate Israeli who co-authored along with Jim Clements, the current Birds of Peru field guide, and Jose "Pepe" Alvarez, a Spaniard who had come to Peru as a missionary, but left the church to pursue birds and conservation. Pepe has, in recent years, discovered five new bird species in Peru! All of them endemic species in very specialized habitats.

Between the two we would see or hear more than 300 species of birds in the coming week. Here in the white sand forest it was mostly hearing birds rather than seeing them. We did manage good looks at one of the habitat's special endemics, the ancient antwren. And we saw a few other glimpses of becards, flycatchers, manakins, woodcreepers, and fruitcrows. But it was a bit late in the day for the best bird activity, and we still had a river boat to catch.

Ancient antwren a white sand forest endemic.

After a two-hour hike, it was decided that the heat was sending the birds to their siestas, so we trudged back out to the road. There at the bus we were greeted with cold waters and--salvation in cotton--rolled-up frozen washcloths. What a clever way to get your core temperature back down below 200 degrees F!

Cooling off with frozen washcloths.

While we were cooling off, one of our party spotted a zone-tailed hawk swooping amid a kettle of vultures--both black vultures and lesser yellow-headed vultures.

The zone-tailed hawk mimics a vulture in shape, coloration, and flight style. After all, what living creature has anything to fear from a carrion-eating vulture? Surprise! I'm a HAWK! Not a vulture. This bird had already snatched a lizard and was eating it on the wing.

Our best look at a bird so far--not a lifer for me, but definitely a tropical birding scenario.

Three views of a zone-tailed hawk eating on the wing.

Yum! Crunchy green lizard.

Among our group I was happy to see my old friend Chris Harbard, formerly of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in England, now a freelance journalist and columnist for BirdWatch Magazine in the UK. Chris had a good friend and super birder along, Steve Rooke of Sunbird Tours in the UK. Between the two of them they spotted nearly all the good birds we were to see on the trip. I felt lucky to have them along. And they bought me a beer or two, too.

Chris Harbard (left) and Steve Rooke--top-flight British birders.

Weighing chickens at a roadside market outside Nauta.

Soon we were back in the bus, driving to the end of the highway and Nauta, where we'd board an Amazon river boat. Along the way we saw small villages, roadside shops, and families sitting in the shade, watching the day go by.

Emerging from the bus into the scorching sun at Nauta, we saw the Marañon River, one of the tributaries of the upper Amazon. It was brown--the color of coffee and the buzz of outboard motors alerted us to the main mode of transport here--small boats. Chestnut-bellied seedeaters played in the grass on the riverbank. LIFER! Yellow-headed caracara! LIFER!

"Time to get on the skiffs, amigos!"
"But wait--there are birds here!"
"You'll see more birds soon, don't worry!"

We boarded two skiffs, our luggage boarded another, and we were shuttled to our main craft, El Delfin, a recently refitted, three-tiered river boat catering to tourists coming to see the Amazon in Peru.

Nauta, as we left on the skiffs to board El Delfin.

As we left Nauta, we left behind the signs of permanent settlement for the next several days. We cruised up the Marañon to the Rio Ucayali, past the mouth of the Amazon, and into the wild .
El Delfin, our floating home for four days of cruising the Upper Amazon tributaries.

We were welcomed aboard with yet another pisco sour, given our keys and assigned our roommates. We dumped our gear in our cabins and headed back to the uppermost deck, an open-air floor with a thatched roof. A library area up in the bow, just behind the captain's pilot house, a bar at the stern, and in between comfortable chairs beckoning us to sit and watch the olive-green jungle drifting past us.

The riverboat reminded us all of the African Queen, and the setting was not that much different from the movie--except that Bogie and Kate Hepburn were not aboard. Periodically I felt the urge to shout out "Ohhh Cholllly!" just like Ms. Hepburn.

Already the sun was dropping lower and I was reminded that days in the tropics have sunlight only from 6 to 6. When it starts to get dark, it gets dark fast.

With the cooling river breeze, the air full of smells of the water, mud, wood smoke, and tropical musky-ness, I began to relax. A cold beer helped me cool down further. I scanned the tree tops with my binocs--the birds were becoming active again.
Top deck of El Delfin.

After years of dreaming and wondering, I was finally in the Amazon.

I thought to myself, "I could get used to this!"

Friday, September 21, 2007

From Lake Erie to the Amazon

Birding the Marblehead Lighthouse park. Great birds. Fine company. Crappy light.

Saturday morning September 8, I was helping to lead a bunch of bird watchers on a fall warbler walk at the Marblehead Lighthouse on Lake Erie's south shore. This was one of many field trips scheduled as part of the Ohio Ornithological Society's Fall Warbler Symposium, held at Lakeside, Ohio.

On our morning bird walk there were many familiar faces among the birders and lots and lots of migrants--plenty to look at, but overcast skies and an oncoming cold front rendered the light poor from every angle. There's no such thing as a bad day birding, and the 30 or so bird watchers on the walk kept things fun and interesting as we ID'd dozens of "baypoll" warblers.

Twenty-four hours later I was on a plane headed south, bound, like so many of our migrant birds, to the tropics. My destination was Peru in northwestern South America.

Peru is home to 1,800+ bird species--that's close to the most bird species of any country in the world. Peru also boasts something like 120 endemic species--birds found ONLY in Peru and nowhere else. I wondered about how many new birds I'd see. Looking through my various South American field guides I noticed birds I was completely unfamiliar with: bare eyes, cinclodes, hornero. And there were others that I'd only dreamed of seeing: Andean cock-of-the-rock, paradise tanager, harpy eagle.

This trip was sponsored by PromPeru, a department of the Peruvian government that oversees promotion of tourism and Peruvian culture and history. PromPeru's goal is to increase ecotourism to Peru with the hope that it will not only mean revenue for the country but will also encourage the people and government to increase conservation and habitat preservation efforts.

Like other Latin American countries, Peru has had its share of problems in the past--problems that gave the country a reputation as being potentially unsafe for foreign travelers. The allure of Peru's diverse flora and fauna seems a likely place to begin to build up the flow of tourists. And so Peru's first Birding Fair and a series of three birding routes were created. Among my fellow invitees were other bird magazine editors from the US and UK, tour company planners, and ecotour wholesalers. We were divided into three groups, each group going to a different part of Peru for a week of birding. My group was to fly from Lima to Iquitos then cruise along the Amazon River tributaries on a riverboat.

Sunset on the Amazon River.

But first I had to get to Peru.

My Columbus to Houston flight on Continental was canceled. Engine trouble. I got a voucher over to Delta via Atlanta to Lima. Flight delayed. Got to Atlanta and made it to the gate. I was about to collapse into the corner of the gate area (the weekend's intensity combining with the stress of modern-day air travel) when I heard my name called out in a British accent. It was Simon Thompson (no relation) of Ventures Birding Tours. He was on the same flight to Peru and part of the PromPeru tour as well. Simon has been to Peru at least 17 times as a tour leader and tourist, so on the flight to Lima I peppered him with questions about Peru's birds and scanned the field guide trying gamely to capture some general info for later use in the field..

We finally landed in Lima just before midnight. We got our luggage and headed out of the airport into the cool, misty night air of Lima. This, the capital city of Peru, is kept cool and damp by the proximity to the Pacific Ocean and its cooling Humboldt Current. We met the PromPeru folks, headed across the street to our hotel where a welcome drink awaited us: a pisco sour, made from pisco (a Peruvian brandy), sugar syrup, bitters, and frothy egg white. YUM! The hotel bar was full of birders--many familiar faces among them--Steve Howell legendary tropical birder and field guide author, Chris Harbard from BirdWatch magazine, and others who would soon be my good pals. Peru was really fun so far.

Then the bad news. It was, by this time, about 1:20 am. I was running on fumes, having been up since the equivalent of 4 am.

Omar from PromPeru: "¡Amigos! Those of you going on the Amazon trip, we will meet you here for breakfast at 3:30 so we can get your flight to Iquitos! Buenas noches!"

Bill from Ohio: "That's 3:30 pm, right?"
Omar: "No my friend. In the morning. En dos horas."
Bill: "It's a good day to die."

The next morning, after a relaxing, thoroughly refreshing hour of sleep, we hit the air and flew northeast to Iquitos. This is my first view of snow-capped Peruvian mountains.

And soon the Amazon's snaky brown form appeared below us. What wonders awaited?

We'd soon find out.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Before I Go All Peruvian...

I am knitting together some images and stories from the Peru trip in between putting an issue of Bird Watcher's Digest to bed, interviewing new prospective employees, and having meetings about tasty things like budgets and printers.

But before I go all Peruvian on you, I wanted to issue fair warning about something:

I will be appearing (if I don't get bumped for a celebrity chef) LIVE tomorrow morning (Friday September 21, 2007) on the Martha Stewart Living radio show. Those of you who have a subscription to Sirius Satellite Radio can listen in between 8:30 and 9 am ET. The show is on channel 112.

And if you don't currently get Sirius, there's still time! Or, you can sign up for the free online trial at this link.

I have no idea what this will be like, but there will certainly be backyard bird questions asked and answered. I have been told I have a face for radio, so I've got that going for me.... And, sadly, there will be no half-& half in tomorrow morning's coffee.

If there is any among you who does not know who Martha Stewart is, ask the Wiki Gods and you shall be enlightened.

¡Mañana, vamos a Peru!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

While I Was Gone...

Chris Harbard, BOTB, and our local Peruvian guides after an 8-mile hike from Lago el Dorado to Manco Capac on the Yanayacu River.

¡Hola Amigos y Amigas!

I am officially back from being "geographically indisposed." No, I was not running from the law (that's NEXT month) or undergoing delicate surgery that I'd rather not talk about (binocular implants--still experimental but Wow! the results!).

Nope. I was birding in Peru and attending that South American country's first-ever bird-watching fair promoting ecotourism.

Before I get into the trip, I have some muchas gracias' to express. To Zick: I can't thank you enough for wrangling the posse of guest bloggers. Thanks, darling. Besitos!

To the Guest Bloggers: Liz, John, Jim, KatDoc, Sharon, Debby, and Ric I am thrilled beyond belief and very flattered by your wonderful contributions.

I hope that we've swapped some eyeballs on our respective blogs--it seems we have. Please know how much I appreciate your help while I was birding my heiney off in Peru.

Here are a few pix. As soon as I get my feet back under me, I promise to tell you some stories and share more images of my very first trip to South America (continent #4 for me out of 7!).

The kids in the village of Manco Capac loved looking though my binoculars.

Monday, September 17, 2007

A Champion for Bill--Jousting Piper

Oh, Liz of the Cosmos, we love you. Krazy girl. Only you would give us a giant metal peep. For Letters from Eden readers, this is the same Liz who appears at the opening of the chapter, "Calling Kali." She is a font of the good and the bizarre alike. And often the bizarrely good.--JZ

Silver legs, yellow bill, crested crown these were the first field marks I noted. But it was big--BIG--too big for a shorebird.
It must be a Bill of the Bird's bird!
So there I was snapping pictures of this giant silly bird with a golden egg wondering if it was the city mascot, thinking, this is perfect for Bill. He could blog about this and have the best time. That silly man. He makes me laugh and it is fun to make him laugh.
I thought, wait I could blog about the great metal peep--yes, my precious. He shall not have it! It is mine. Yessss.
Then I awoke from my dreams to find Bilbo had been sent on a quest. A quest that would take him beyond the bounds of Indigo Hill, flying on the back of the Dragon to the mountains of the Inca. Bill of the Birds must leave the shire on a mission and needs a guest host to post.
So the story begins. I grabbed my cosmic communicator and buzzed the Snow Hill Chamber of Commerce to find out about the origin of the Jousting Sandpiper that lives across the street from the greatest bookstore in Snow Hill Maryland, ALICE on the banks of the Pocomoke River.
The Chamber maid informed me that this was one in a series of sandpipers commissioned for a fundraiser out of Ocean City, MD "Ocean City Birds". South Padre Island TX had Porpoises. Wilmington, DE had Dinosaurs. New Orleans wanted crazy Buddhas...but that idea was shot down.
Sandpipers in various forms painted by various artists live all over
Worcester county. "The Den of Iniquity" a Maryland blog has photos of the complete flock
I like Driftwood!

--photo by Den of Iniquity

After all this time of holding that silly photo I have the rest of the story.
Thanks for trippin' Bilbo!

Here's wishing you and all your friends a bearded helmetcrest hummingbird.
May we all get to Peru someday.
Happy trails,
Liz of the Cosmos

All right, you've outed him. He's in Peru. He called me on our anniversary, September 11. He was on a riverboat in the upper Amazon. Pink dolphins were surfacing all around the boat. He couldn't stop calling out their locations to everyone else. The conversation went something like this:

"So, yes, I do miss you and I want to..RIGHT THERE!! RIGHT AGAINST THAT DARK LOG!!! get home and start NO! FARTHER TO THE RIGHT!!...figuring out..WOW THEY'RE SOOO PINK!!!

I understood, and let him go. --JZ

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Born-Again Barn Owls (Bird No Longer In Hand)

Born-again Bird Watcher John Riutta graciously offers a post about the human-bird interface for our mini-carnival. He rocks. Check out his wonderful birding blog!

As Bill of the Birds is away and beyond the range of computer access (if such a state of being is truly possible these days), I volunteered to help out with the posting. So, taking a moment away from my own site, Born Again Bird Watcher, I thought I'd offer a few remembrances of a recent owl release I attended with my mother and daughter in northwest Oregon.

Not so very long ago, four young Barn Owls were brought into the Audubon Society of Portland Wildlife Care Center. Due to the special circumstaces of each owl's case, they were not able to be returned to their respective nests.

The first two owls were rescued from the Oregon Highway 99 West bridge that spans the Tualatin River. They had become entangled in fishing line and were found in their nest on the underside of the bridge. Suffering from injuries to the legs and feet, they were brought in to the care center in fairly serious condition. (Sadly, one young owl's injuries were much worse that the other's and it did not survive very long.)

The third young owl was found in a nest inside of a bale of hay that was delivered to a local hay processing plant. As is all-to-common in cases of Barn Owls found in transported hay bales, by the time the owl was discovered its place of origin was not able to be traced so it could not be returned to its parents.

The fourth owl was found orphaned, weak, and very thin in a Milwaukie, Oregon, industrial area. How it came to be in this condition remains a mystery.

So on a warm and windy Sunday evening, a small number of Audubon members, owl enthusiasts, and the merely curious who lived in the neighborhood, gathered at the Center for Research in Environmental Sciences & Technologies in Wilsonville, Oregon for the purpose of returning these three rehabilitated owls back to the wild whence they came.

Despite arriving at the release site in oversized restaurant take-out boxes, the owls were in hight spirits and quite eager to get back into their natural habitat (the reason the CREST facility was chosen was for its proximity to many working farms and their associated epynomous outbuildings).

However before taking their first wild flight, there were the obligatory poses for the teeming paparazzi (OK, one other lady with a camera and myself, but we were doing our very best to teem). Deb Sheaffer, DVM and Wildlife Care Center Operations Manager, did her best to position the owls for us to record for posterity.

For a few brief seconds, each owl displayed a moment of calm. Perhaps using its extraordinary directional hearing to take in all the sounds and activity surrounding it; perhaps pondering its next move.

However no one was in doubt that these owls were keen to "get the show in the air." So without further ado, the lucky three attendees who were selected to act as official releasers took up their owls one by one and gave them what is hoped will be their final human physical contact with a slight boost up to the sky.

When each owl mounted to the sky, there was a collective cheer, then a sigh, and then a palpable silence as we all stood in rapt admiration of the grace and beauty of these creatures. Regardless of each of our faith traditions, I think it is safe to say that we all offered our own little prayers in our own ways for each of their safety.

Two final points. First, a shameless plug for the organization responsible for the care and return of these magnificent owls to the wild. The Portland Audubon Society Wildlife Care Center is Oregon's oldest and busiest wildlife rehabilitation facility. Each year the center treats over 3,500 injured wild animals, including these owls who learned to hunt and to fly in the center's 100 x 30 foot flight cage. The center is run by the equivalent of three full-time staff and over 100 volunteers. It is almost completely donation funded.

Second, a member of the previously noted "posterity" for which so much of this type of work is done and for whom I drove forty-five miles through late summer returning-from-the-beach Sunday evening freeway traffic in order that she might be able to see this event up close, to most firmly imprint it upon her heart.

My daughter Elizabeth. May she and her generation always know a sky where owls and their kin still fly free so that they may do their best to preserve and protect them for their children as well.

Peace and good bird watching.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

BOTB--An Appreciation

This one's sweet. Jim McCormac is the best all-around naturalist I've had the pleasure of accompanying. Being in the field with him is like having a walking, talking nature encyclopedia that pumps iron, sneaks cookies and makes terrible jokes. His blog is terrific, an immersion in Ohio natural history. Check it out! I'm touched that he's decided to make a tribute to Bill in his guest post.--JZ

Hi all ye BOTB devotees. Let me start out by saying it is truly an honor to guest blog here at my friend Bill Thompson’s electronic portal to the world whilst he trots around the jungles of Peru finding birds the rest of us are only dreaming of. I’m flattered he asked me to do this.

It wasn’t hard to come up with a subject for this post. I choose Bill. Probably many of you know him, but I bet some of you don’t except perhaps through his writings and this blog. And since Bill would never blow his own horn or talk about himself, I’m going to.

I first met him back in 1998 or ’99, when we became jointly involved in a birding conference here in Ohio – one of scores of birding events that benefits from the life that Bill breathes into such affairs. Although he might deny it, we’ve become pretty good friends since then, and have spent much time together birding, partying, serving together on the board of the Ohio Ornithological Society, and otherwise having a good time.

This is (L to R) Jeff Gordon, world-class bird guide, ornithologist and naturalist, Bill, and your guest blogger at the 2003 Texas Birding Classic Big Sit just north of the Mexican border. Not pictured is Jeff’s wife Liz. We found 92 species from our 15 foot diameter circle and had a great time. I recall suggesting that Bill looked like an outcast from The Village People in that hat. He was mildly offended, but did not remove it.

Bill is one of those very rare people who can get along with anyone, and somehow seems to make time for all, in spite of a schedule that is often beyond hectic. Anyone who has been fortunate enough to go along on a field trip with him knows just how patient and helpful he is. Bill always watches for those who seem to be especially quiet or having trouble seeing birds, and pulls them into the action. No one knows for sure just how many, but the number of people that Bill has gotten life birds for is huge – I mean, really huge. And such an occasion is always made memorable, often due to his insistence that we all do some sort of dance when life birds are encountered for anyone. He makes birding fun, that’s for sure.

Something that is possibly not recognized as widely as it should be is JUST HOW GOOD a field birder Bill is. I’ve spent scores of hours in the field with him, and have been routinely blown away by calls he’s made from extreme distances of unexpected birds he saw before anyone else and named instantly. I remember a birding session from the tower at his Whipple, Ohio estate; another Big Sit, I think. Most of us weren’t thinking Peregrine Falcon, as the unglaciated hills of southeastern Ohio aren’t noted for producing them. Suddenly, Bill whirls around and instantly shouts PEREGRINE! And it was, spotted as a speck so tiny against the far hills it took a while to get everyone on it. The magnificent raptor eventually flew right by, offering wonderful looks. If you don’t have his book, Identify Yourself: The 50 Most Common Birding Identification Challenges, be sure and pick one up. Bill being chauffeured about in a golf cart on Kelleys Island in Lake Erie last weekend. Fortunately, we weren’t saddled with the task of finding him a Connecticut Warbler. After years of trying and experiencing soul-crushing failures, he just added that to his life list last year after hiring a team of special Minnesotan tour guides to take him to hidden breeding grounds.

This past weekend, the Ohio Ornithological Society co-sponsored a Fall Warbler Symposium along the shores of Lake Erie. This event was a big deal to us, and attracted 230 people. Of course, we all wanted Bill as emcee for the evening festivities, which featured keynote speaker Victor Emanuel, founder of VENT. The reason? No one makes a better emcee than Bill – he is upbeat and funny, sings, and tells bad jokes. Bill’s enthusiasm and personality always uplift the group.Involving the 230 participants at last weekend’s warbler symposium in a sing-along, before introducing Victor Emanuel.

Bill’s presence at that conference is telling of his willingness to help out. With little rest and not feeling at his best, he nevertheless drove five hours to Lakeside, Ohio, was a big part of things, and then only hours after the above photo was snapped, drove to Cleveland and jumped on a plane for ten days in Peru. Those of you that have engaged in International travel know how stressful it can be, and I dare say very few of us would have agreed to play a major role in a large conference the evening prior to such a trip.
One more photo from last weekend. That’s Bill on the right with birding legend Jon Dunn, and me on the left. Bill is known and respected throughout North America and far beyond. Few people – anyone? – knows more people in the birding world than does our own BT3. For all of the reasons I’ve listed above, and many more. Much of his soul and personality come out in the pages of Bird Watcher’s Digest, of which he is editor. Be sure and subscribe to that fine mag, if you don’t already.

So, I hope you’ll forgive me for trumpeting the virtues of my friend, but I’ve never before had such a good opportunity to do so. And in return for all that Bill’s given to us, a tip of the hat to him is certainly in order.

Thanks, Jimmy Mac. You're right--he'd never say any of this about himself. And you've outed him. He's in Peru, seeing pink Amazonian freshwater dolphins and water tyrants, among other things. I trust he'll bring back photos, as well as an oversized diamond tennis bracelet, or at least a cool bedspread or two. I of course am home with the kids and our savage attack-trained Boston terrier, who stands ready to lick any cyber-stalker to death on command.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Back to the Wild

It's a pleasure to have KatDoc post here. She's a veterinarian and all-purpose live-wire. We've birded with KatDoc in West Virginia and Ohio, and are hoping to lure her to North Dakota soon. Check out her amazing blog,"Katdoc's World," where she informs and entertains. The illustrious, comment-mongering Boston Terrier Chet Baker keeps KatDoc on speed dial for his most trivial complaints. (He's fit as a fiddle now, KD!) Here she goes:

"Back to the Wild:" No, I'm not talking about where BOTB has gone. "Back to the Wild" is the name of a wildlife rehabilitation center in Castalia, Ohio. Its driving force, Mona Rutger, was awarded Animal Planet's "Hero of the Year" award in 2006 for her tireless work in wildlife rehabilitation. She and her facilities are amazing.

When Bill asked me to fill a guest spot on his blog while he was away, I thought "How can I possibly compete with his fabulous bird photographs, using my little point-and-shoot camera with its tiny 4x zoom lens?" Then, I remembered I had planned a visit to Mona's open house after the OOS symposium at Lakeside, Ohio. Even I should be able to get photos of birds if they are nailed to the perch!

The rehab center had 6 or 8 Bald Eagles on site the day I visited. One, their program bird, is blind from West Nile virus, and so of course cannot be returned to the wild. Two were in a flight cage, getting their wing muscles back in shape in preparation for release, while others were housed in the aviary. I'm not sure of the status of this particular bird, though the ultimate goal for every creature taken in by Mona's crew is to get them "back to the wild."

This Red-tailed Hawk, a recent admission, was in a clinic cage. Others were in the aviary or in the smaller flight cage used for hawks. As you might imagine, all this construction is not cheap. Birds must be housed with their own species, with sufficient room, and in a manner which both prevents escape and yet protects them from harm. Flight cages are particularly problematic. They require a lot of materials and take up a lot of space, yet are essential for getting birds back in shape before they are released.

This is the first Short-eared Owl I have ever seen. They also had barred, barn, great horned, eastern screech and saw-whet owls.

Mona doesn't limit her care to raptors or even only to birds. She had everything from a blind American toad to foxes, bobcats, song birds, herons, snakes, and salamanders. As you might imagine, most of the animals were there because of human-based problems. Birds may have collided with power lines, been struck by cars, or even shot, while mammals are frequently turned over after someone mistakenly tries to make a pet of them. Imprinted animals usually cannot be released, and so find a permanent home educating people about Ohio's wildlife.

To learn more about "Back to the Wild" or to make a donation to this worthy cause, visit their website at I will have additional photos on my blog, this week.

Guest Blogger Kathi, aka KatDoc

Thanks, KatDoc! You da bomb--JZ

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Chick o'the Birds

Next up is Birdchick, whose moniker might just as well be Beechick of late. I've learn so much from Sharon, starting with my first question to her: "What's a blog?" We're delighted to have her take on living life to the fullest, via a William Shatner song, in this installation of Taking Care of BOTB.--JZ

One of the coolest things about Bill Of The Birds is that the man does not meet a stranger. I met him for the first time at an ABA Convention in Tucson, AZ. I think back to how my life has been influenced since that meeting and I get an overwhelming sense of gratitude. He showed me my first zone-tailed hawk. He introduced me to my favorite beer, Fat Tire. I own not one, but two pairs of Keens shoes. (Jeez, Birdchick, get with the program. BOTB and I have eight pairs between us. I've got to turn you on to Pikolinos, girl. Look at Spring/Summer 07.) I've made the effort to go bird watching in North Dakota, all because of BOTB.

I was trying to think how to best do my part to keep his blog going in his absence.

I think I'll try one of the Song In My Head entries. The current song in my head is You'll Have Time By William Shatner. I know, I know what you're thinking--I'm off my rocker', I've had too much Scotch, I'm out of touch, but this song really rocks. I love the whole album, it's called Has Been and it has gotten me through some tough times. You can't help but sing along with Common People without feeling great--it's a cover and better than the original.

But You'll Have Time hits home with me when I'm making daily choices. Here's a You Tube user created video--it's a tad cheesy, but you can hear the lyrics:

For those who can't watch video, here are some of the lyrics.

Live Life
Live life like you're gonna die
Because you're gonna
Oh yes, I hate to be the bearer of bad news
But you're gonna die

Maybe not today or even next year
But before you know it, you'll be saying

"Is this all there was?
What was all the fuss?
Why did I bother?
Why did I waste it?
Why didn't I taste it?"
You'll have time, baby
You'll have time 'cause you're gonna die
You are gonna die
Oh yeah

On the surface the lyrics can look kind of morbid, but there's an important message there. I think back to one day years ago during the fall. In Minnesota we have this wonderful place called Hawk Ridge where thousands of hawks fly over in a day during the fall migration--even more than fly over Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania. I looked at the weather report and winds were supposed to be good, out of the Northwest. I had a day off from my then job at a wild bird store and a mountain of laundry to tackle at home. I could either drop my husband off at work and go home and deal with the laundry or drop my husband off at work and drive the two and a half hours to Duluth, MN for the day and drive home that night. I decided on Duluth. Although it wasn't a firm decision. On my way out of the northern Twin Cities, I almost turned back to go home to deal with the laundry.

The drive was easy and the view from Hawk Ridge was spectacular. I caught up with some friends and the raptor movement was pretty darned good. I was feeling better about ignoring the laundry. Around noon, all hell broke loose. A good day at Hawk Ridge is about 25,000 hawks flying over. By 1 pm, we were well past that. Before the sun set, the number of hawks that flew over was over 100,000 raptors! I was feeling FANTASTIC about ignoring the laundry. What would I have been thinking had I stayed home and done the laundry and read the birding reports of the unbelievable spectacle of the day?

At the end of the day, I want to avoid whining, "Why did I waste it?
Why didn't I taste it?"

Who knew, wisdom from William Shatner.

Thanks, Beechick! I want to know if Shatner writes this stuff. Guys, hang in there--he's got some kickin' backup singers. BC- A belly laugh and a waggle dance for you!--JZ

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Your Best Bet for Sharper Bird Images

Hello again. Welcome to Installment Two of Taking Care of Bill's Blog. Today, we hear from artist and banjo player Debby Kaspari.

Bill asked her to do some illustrations for Bird Watcher's Digest many years ago, and that relationship blossomed into a friendship that will endure many years into the future. Go to her web site. Just go. But pin your wig down, 'cause it'll blow off.--JZ

Spotted Antbird in the Panama understory- my best shot

I am not a bird photographer. Let me reinforce that: I’m a horrible bird photographer. I leave that to professionals like Bill and Julie.** But when I travel I want to bring back pictures, so I sketch. Drawing birds instead of using a camera has an upside and a downside, as you might guess, when it’s a birder’s primary image making method.

A study site in the forest on Barro Colorado Island- see the orange surveyor tape?

Barro Colorado is a former mountaintop now emerging as an island from the waters of the wide part of the Panama Canal, Lake Gatun. The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute has preserved it as a field station for scientists who study everything from soil ecology to army ants to fish-eating bats. I go there with some regularity to get my tropical bird fix and keep my scientist husband company when he runs experiments in that wonderful tropical forest.

On BCI, Collared araçaris, Crested guans, Slaty-tailed trogons and other fancy charismatic birds are abundant and sometimes even sit out where you can watch them to your heart’s content. But the little brown jobs that I’m fond of, the xenops and the antshrikes and the leaftossers, birds that hang out in dense understory or clamber around gleaning from the undersides of leaves, are just about impossible to get in photos without blinds, strobe flashes, and a National Geographic photographer to hold the camera (an actual possibility on Barro Colorado Island- go look at your back issues). So what’s a bird lover to do? Sharpen the pencils, is what.

Spotted Antbirds in the Panama understory- one more time, with pencil.

In point of fact, drawing a bird forces you to really, really look. It takes patience and quality time, which you’ll spend with fewer birds, meaning forget the big trip list when you’re busy with the sketchbook. On the positive side of the equation is that the birds you sketch will be practically engraved in your memory and a good reference point from then on (“hmmm, it looks like that Rufous motmot I drew last week, but, wait, the chin’s green- must be a Broad-billed!”). By the way, don’t try this on an organized birding tour unless you want to get yourself thrown off a canopy tower.

Spotted Antbird in the Panama understory, in acrylic, beyond the reach of my point-and-shoot.

Next week I’ll be on BCI again, for twelve days of sketching, painting, and yes, I’ll be using my camera, too, on all those slow-moving leaves, lianas and tree roots which will show up in paintings, along with bird images made the slow way. In the meantime, if you’d like to read a little more about how to draw birds on the fly, here’s something to get you started:
5 Steps To Better Bird Drawing

Draw a Bird, Own A Bird

Drawing Birds: How to Sneak Up On Your Subject

**what Debby means is, "people who have finally coughed up the money for a longer lens."

Sweet travels and peaceful sketching, Deb. May the antbirds sit quietly; the motmots not fidget.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Hello, everyone. This isn't Bill of the Birds. This is his wife. BOTB is geographically indisposed for the foreseeable future, and he has asked me, while sitting at Phoebe's basketball practices and games, attending PTO meetings, photographing our kids and dogs, cleaning closets, mowing the lawn, and continuing to carry coals to the homefire, to keep his blog going in his absence. Whoa. That almost turned into a rant. But we all know I don't do that.

Birdchick asked me to blogsit for her two Decembers ago, and look what happened.

I'm happy to report that, in addition to the partial and woefully incomplete list of responsibilities listed above, I will not be composing Bill's posts. There is only so much a Science Chimp can do. And I wouldn't attempt to match the unique mix of fabulous photography, zaniness and introspection that BOTB delivers. Instead, Bill threw together a mini-carnival of sorts. You'll be treated to the photos and musings of some cyber-friends. It should be interesting to see what they decide is fit fodder for Bill's blog, no? First to respond was Rondeau Ric.

Here he goes:

BOTB has a slight obsession with Giant Things and they show up here on an irregular basis.

My thing is signs, the odder the better.

I got a few strange looks going into the men’s room at the local bar to get a shot of this.
How often do you need to service your dinosaur?

I found driving in Scotland a bit like driving in West Virginia, narrow roads, speeding locals and single lane roads but at least they warn you in Scotland.I guess this hydrant is only good for dogs.
And my all time favourite. (Note: I am leaving this spelling intact because Rondeau can't help it. He's from Canada. I also think it's cute.--Zick)

If you have permission, is it still trespassing?

Hope you are enjoying yourself, BT3.

Zick: Thanks so much, RR. Sparkling, quirky, just right. I'll look forward to seeing what tomorrow brings in the BOTB blog carnivalette. Consider that a nudge, carnivaletters.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

This Morning's Passersby

It was a very birdy morning today at Indigo Hill. Lots of movement of migrants and much ado among the resident birds, too. Too bad it could not have been this birdy when our friend Carol B. visited last weekend.

I had to curtail things to head to the office, but before I did I got a few shots of an obliging fall-plumaged warbler. Can you guess its identity from this first image?

Here's a hint: Check out the lemon-lime badonkadonk....
That's right, it's a Cape May warbler and it conducted its very own Big Stay in our weeping willow tree for several minutes. Special thanx to Science Chimp for the artful pishing...

We get more than our fair share of Cape May warblers through here in the fall. It might be our most numerous fall warbler, which is a good thing because it lets me practice IDing them in their very varied plumages in this season of change.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

That Bonk on the Window

While sitting in the photo blind, the weekend before last, I watched a red-eyed vireo chase a smaller, frightened bird across the yard that runs along the north side of the house. Red-eyed vireos in autumn seem to get a surge of hormones or adrenaline that makes them spend absurd amounts of time and energy chasing other birds.

Why do they do this? I assume it's the hormonal effects of the seasons changing. Why do the chased birds flee? If you had an olive-green hornet of a bird with a dark crown, white eyelines, a stout bill, and red eyes flying directly toward you, would you sit there on your comfy perch yawning? Or would you head for deep cover?

The next sound I heard, after a "stop-chasing-me!" squeal was a sickening thunk. And a bird fluttering to the ground beneath the large glass windows of the studio.

I summoned Julie and she, after searching the ground in the flower bed, found a male yellow-throated warbler, slightly stunned by its glancing encounter with the window.

Each fall we get a number of yellow-throated warblers on our ridge-top farm. They seem to want to see what the view is like from the top of the ridge. This vantage point certainly offers more of a view of the landscape than their sycamore-tree habitat along river bottoms and creek beds. As a young birder in the early 70s, I knew this species as the sycamore warbler.

Our birdike-susceptible windows have FeatherGuards on them which help to reduce the number of window strikes by a large percentage. Still there is no stopping a panicked warbler with a heat-seeking vireo on its tail. Fortunately the strike was at a severe angle, so the impact was not forceful, and the warbler was already recovering when Julie picked it up. She held it for a few minutes to make sure it was on the mend (Julie is a licensed bird rehabilitator), then placed it in our birch tree.

Birds that have hit a window always appear dazed. They gape (bill open) and blink slowly. This male yellow-throated gathered his wits slowly but methodically, so we knew he'd survive the impact. (Many birds suffer a head trauma sufficient to kill them long after the impact).

Soon our bird was perching on his own, though not yet ready to take wing. We watched him from a respectful distance, snapping a few pictures with our telephoto lenses.

Recovering birds often gape while gathering their wits.

Bill closed, a good sign.

The first movement along a branch, the normal foraging maneuver of this species.

The following day, a male yellow-throated warbler stopped by our birch tree and spent about 20 minutes preening and chipping in the open. We thought it might be our same bird, come back to visit the scene of the accident.

He was in fine form, preening and foraging along the branches like any healthy member of his species would do. He LOOKS like the same bird, but of course, we can't be sure.

Looking fully recovered (if this is the same bird).

Preening like a wild man.

Ready for his close-up.

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Monday, September 03, 2007

The Last Brood

Last week the final brood of eastern bluebirds of 2007 fledged from our front yard box. Four fledglings--two females and two males--left the box on their first flight sometime early on Thursday morning. That makes a total of 57 successful fledglings from our farm proper.

I will take little credit for this. Julie is the Bluebird Oracle and does all the box monitoring and note-keeping. I mow the trails, stain and repair the boxes, and assemble and plant new boxes as needed. I am the brawn, she is the brains.

Adult bluebirds look their most beautiful in Autumn, molting in a fresh set of feathers for the oncoming colder seasons, dropping the tattered duds of the breeding season. While there is a tinge of melancholy in the air at seeing the last brood go, signaling the end of another season, we have their amazing, sleek, makeover molt to which we can look forward.

On Friday morning we walked the kids out to meet the school bus at the end of the drive. Perched along the power line over our neighbor's pasture were 17 bluebirds of varying ages. That many bluebirds in one place is a good sign. And we were happy to have played a part in helping them reach such numbers.

Of course I am certain that, if they knew of our existence and of our role in the bluebirds' success, the grasshoppers, katydids, and grubs of our farm would blacken our names for this "plague" of expert predators we've unleashed.

That's Nature in a nutshell. One creature's success is another's demise.