Friday, December 28, 2007

Cud-Chewing Retrospection

Dear Bill of the Birds Readers:

There's nothing like the end of another year blurring past to force one to be retrospective (can that word be used as an adjective? I'm feeling introspective in a retroactive way...). Here we are, mere days from el fin del año and I am trying to s l o w d o w n, to savor the good from this year, to excise the bad, and perhaps most importantly of all, to be in the moment.


I just wish there were more time in each day--or at least time available in larger chunks. In spite of my best intentions to get a worthwhile, meaty post up here in this very blog every day, I often find myself falling asleep thinking "Dang! I forgot to blog today!" Or worse, sitting on my tuffet chewing my cud, when it occurs to me "Hey! You haven't blogged in several days!" Work and life intrude on, um, work and life and the time flows past in the aforementioned blur. And there is no way to stop time as far as I can tell.

The truly original band They Might Be Giants probably said it best in their song Older.

You're older than you've ever been. And now you're even older, and now you're even older, and now you're even older. . . .
You're older than you've ever been. And now you're even older
. . . . .
and now you're older still.

think happy thoughts.

So to stave off the effects of aging, I've been scanning through my iPhoto library for 2007 looking at the photographic highlights and low lights. Some of the images I'm finding are surprising--and interesting enough to be the subject of a post or two here in BOTB.

Here's a neat series of pix I took in Florida last January, of a little blue heron striking at a fish and missing. Nothing outlandishly special about these images. But they do capture a moment in time quite vividly.

Stalking the shallows.

"Hold still little fishy. I'm not gonna hurt you! I just want to pet you with my dagger-like bill."


And comes up empty. Ah, well. There are other fish in the sea!

I doubt that that little blue heron is still hungry. But he IS older than he's ever been. And now he's even older. . .

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Friday, December 21, 2007

My Year in Bird Photos

Northern harrier, near Pingree, North Dakota, June.

I've got a love/hate relationship with those year-in-review, best-of lists. Normally I LOVE them because I miss a lot of good stuff in the course of the year (new music, movies, books, etc) and it's nice to see what other people pick as their favorites or what is chosen as the year's best whatever.

I tried to make my own 'best of' list this weekend: My Best Birds of 2007. That crazy train quickly ran off the rails. What, after all, constitutes "best"? Life birds? I got two in 2007: Florida scrub-jay in January in The Sunshine State, and American three-toed woodpecker in November in New Mexico. Those two birds pushed me into the mid-to-high 600s on the old life list (I really need to update that). But I also got loads of lifers in my three trips outside the U.S. this year. How do you fairly compare the relative merits of an Andean cock-of-the-rock with a LeConte's sparrow? I decided to limit this initial list to the continental U.S.

Were the best birds the rarest ones I saw? Or the most challenging to find? Or the most cooperative? Most beautiful?

Because I was blogging about this list, it would be useful to include on the list birds I had photographed. That's IT! My Best Bird Photos of 2007!

Still, the hair pulling was not over. I have images stored in several places on at least two different computers. I lost a lot of good images from North Dakota in an iPhoto crash. And how do I choose the bird photos? Sharpest? Largest in the frame? Rarest? Most cooperative? Aaaarrrrrgggghhhhh!

I woke up at 4:45 this morning determined to get this post finished. It's now 10 am and I'm still looking through images. STOP THE MADNESS!

Folks, I done did my best. I'm leaving a lot out, but I'm also saving you from seeing every single shot I took (somewhere in the neighborhood of 7,000 images).

I hope you like the images I chose. Please feel free to send along your comments.

Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Female anhinga landing in a snag. January, near Titusville, Florida.

Limpkin, Viera Wetlands, near Titusville, FL., January,

Florida scrub-jay. Merritt Island NWR, Florida, January.

Digiscoped. Hybrid drake blue-winged x cinnamon teal. Viera Wetlands, near Titusville,FL. January.

Willet, Merritt Island, NWR, FL. January.

Turkey vulture, Merritt Island, NWR, FL. January.

Eastern bluebird male, Whipple, OH, February.

Ringed kingfisher, Anzualduas County Park, near McAllen, TX. March.

Tern comparison: Forster's tern (left) and common tern (right) Muskingum River, Marietta, OH, May.

White-eyed vireo, Whipple, OH. May.

Prairie warbler, singing male, Whipple, OH. May.

Blue-winged warbler, singing male, Whipple, OH. May.

Wood duck pair, Mohican State Park, OH. May.

Alder flycatcher, Allegany State Park, Salamanca, NY. June

Chestnut-sided warbler, male. Allegany State Park, Salamanca, NY. June

Displaying upland sandpiper, near Pingree, ND. June

Wilson's snipe, near Carrington, ND. June

Sora, near Pingree, ND. June

Black tern in flight, near Carrington, ND. June

LeConte's sparrow, Arrowwood NWR, ND. June

Barn swallow on antler. Carrington, ND. June

Chestnut-collared longspur, singing male, near Lake Juanita, ND. June

Eastern kingbird, near Carrington, ND. June

Wilson's storm-petrel, near Eastern Egg Rock, MA. June

Northern parula, male, Hog Island, ME. June

Atlantic puffin, Eastern Egg Rock, ME. June

Common eider, male, Hog Island, ME. June.

Yellow-throated warbler, male, Whipple, OH. July

Sedge wren, Whipple, OH. June.

Orchard oriole, male, Whipple, OH. July.

Ruby-throated hummingbird, male, Whipple, OH. August.

Ruby-throated hummingbird, female, Whipple, OH. August.

Cape May warbler, fall plumage, Whipple, OH. September.

American dipper, Taos Ski Valley, NM. November.

Black-billed magpie, Arroyo Seco, NM. November.

Snow geese at Fly-out, Bosque del Apache NWR, San Antonio, NM. November.

"Blue" Ross' goose, Bosque del Apache NWR, San Antonio, NM. November.

Ross' goose (left) and snow goose, Bosque del Apache NWR, San Antonio, NM. November.

Greater roadrunner, north of Socorro, NM. November.

Lewis' woodpecker, Arroyo Seco, NM. November.

Sharp-shinned hawk, Whipple, OH. December.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Snowflake the Junco

Looking out my home office window about a month ago, I spied with my little eye, a white spot on the green-turning-brown lawn. It was out under the pines where corn and mixed seed are scattered.

At first I thought it was a piece of tissue.

Then the white spot moved.

I got binocs on it and saw that it was a female dark-eyed junco but that it was leucistic, what most of us might mistakenly call "partially albino." There are no partial albinos. [Science Chimp chimes in: "That's like saying She's partially pregnant"] You either are or you aren't. Same thing is true with albinism.

Actual albino birds completely lack pigment. Their eyes are red. Their fleshy parts are pink. Their feathers are all white. They normally do not survive long for a variety of reasons (poor eyesight, difficulty of NOT getting noticed by predators, other genetic problems).

This bird intrigued me. It is leucistic--partially lacking in pigment. It's not only noticeable and beautiful, it's quite willing to come in to our front stoop feeder, to our studio feeders, and basically hang around the yard all day long.

I am calling this whitish dark-eyed junco Snowflake (awwwww!). She is easy to spot among the 50 or so juncos spending this winter with us.

I have yet to get a really good photo of her this year. I'm wondering if it's the same leucistic female we had here last year. This year's model is noticeably whiter. But what are the chances of two different leucistic female dark-eyed juncos showing up at our farm on consecutive years?

I have a lot of questions about this...
Does the amount of leucism change from molt to molt? Does it come on stronger with age?

Is this the same bird?
Well, I'd like to get your opinion on this.

Here is the December 2007 bird:

December 2007. Photo by Julie Zickefoose.

And here is the December 2006 bird:December 2006.

Viewed from different angles, it's easy to see that the leucism is not uniform—she has one side that's whiter than the other.

Birds with noticeable physical traits (white feathers, abnormally long bills, a drooping wing) are known as marker birds. You can spot them as individuals.

I posted about our other marker birds last December here in BOTB, including several images of a whitish junco.

I'll keep you posted on her whereabouts. I just hope the sharp-shinned hawk does not prefer white meat...

Snowflake the leucistic junco.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Along the Edge of the Woods

Appearing like a rusty apparition
along the edge of the woods
the red-shoulder sits
waiting for a noisy skitter
of cottontail or squirrel.

He shiver-shakes snowflakes off his back
pulling one foot up
into warm belly down,
slowly settling every feather back into place.

I admire this bird
living by his wits, patience, and killing skill
through afternoons of wet snow, rain
and nights cold enough to crack trees.

Make it through this winter
and let me hear you
screaming keee-yah! keee-yah!
right into the the sun's face.

Then I'll know that spring has finally come
and another winter has passed.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Snow, the Wind and Rain

The snow has changed to rain. Bleech!

We are being assaulted by high winds and blasting sheets of rain. The rain is changing back and forth from liquid form to its slightly more solid forms of snow or sleet. This weather is just an inconvenience for most of us, but it always makes me worry about the birds and animals that have few options for getting out of such nasty weather.
Male eastern bluebird giving me the "More suet-dough please!" look.

Our bluebirds are keyed in to the suet dough once again. Perhaps its due to the cold and wet, or maybe they've already eaten all the large, obvious grasshoppers from the meadow. It's clear that the grapes and sumac fruits are rapidly disappearing—mostly down the throats of cedar waxwings, American robins, and European starlings. In any case we're keeping the feeders fully stocked with peanuts, sunflower seed, regular suet, and suet dough.

Having the bluebirds around the house reminds me it's time to winterize the nest boxes—many of which are used nightly by the bluebirds and by downy woodpeckers, white-breasted nuthatches, Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice, and Carolina wrens. I'll get the roll of Mortite and warm it up in my pocket as I walk the bluebird trails. A four-inch strip will plug the vent holes at the top of the box keeping wet and cold weather outside and more bird body heat inside the boxes. I like thinking of a pair of bluebirds finding a cozy nighttime roost in a nest box with dry grass on the inside floor and weatheripped vent holes.

Female eastern bluebird.

This got me thinking about my own ability to escape the winter weather. If I had the means, I'd certainly spend much of the winter in the tropics. Not Florida or Arizona. I mean the serious tropics, where the common blue bird you see is a blue-gray tanager.

Blue-gray tanager.

It's a nice fantasy. Must find that buried treasure first. And buy lottery tickets.

In the meantime I think I'll winterize the nest boxes here....

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Song in My Head

When Paste Magazine arrives, I always look to see what is on the CD sampler that comes with every issue. In the two years that I've been subscribing, there has only been one CD that had nothing on it that I liked. Sometimes it takes a few listens to "get" a few of the songs selected by the Paste Mag staff for the CD. Other times there are several good or even great songs (at least to these ears).

I even wrote the editor of Paste a fan letter saying that, as a fellow editor and music fan, I admired his product and wanted to let him know. [We editors get a fair amount of letters outlining things we've gotten wrong or things that made readers mad, so it's nice to get a letter full o' kudos every now and then.] No reply from Ed Paste yet.

I have been accused of being a musical snob. Guilty as charged! I know what I like.

My friend Lisa once told me she could tell whether I'd like a song or not "because there's a certain something similar in all the songs you love." Hmmm. Is that good or bad?

The latest Paste Sampler CD [#38] has one good song and one great one. The good one's charm has worn off already. It's the great one that's been in my head this past week.

The Song in My Head

"I'll Follow You Tonight"
by Anna Ternheim

This song is haunting and beautiful. Perfect music for a dreary winter afternoon. I'm glad it's the song in my head right now.

Anna Ternheim is a Swedish singer/guitarist/songwriter who's already hit the big time in Sweden (just like another recent fave of mine Jose Gonzalez). She's been on tour this year, opening most recently for Ohio's own Joseph Arthur for his U.K. shows.

Want more info?
Anna Ternheim's My Space page. And her official website. And her wiki-nod.
On her website, click on Music, scroll down to "Ill Follow You Tonight" music video to see her sing about half this lovely song.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

When Death is on the Wing

Male sharp-shinned hawk.

We've had a male sharp-shinned hawk haunting our farmyard and feeding station. I can see why he's coming here. We've got a plethora of feeder birds, some of whom seem to NOT KNOW WHAT AN ACCIPITER IS.

Well, in case any of our backyard birds are reading Bill of the Birds (and they SHOULD be) an accipiter is a bird of prey that specializes in eating other, smaller birds. Sharp-shinned hawks and Cooper's hawks are our two widespread and common accipiters across most of North America. A surprising number of people who feed birds also get to see birds feeding upon birds at their feeding stations when an "accip" bursts into the yard to nab a victim.

Short, rounded wings and a long rudderlike tail (a build like a fighter plane) allow Coops and sharpies to pursue songbirds at high speeds through wooded habitat. They either sit and wait for a bird to pass by, or they soar high overhead and make a dive on unsuspecting birds below--often coming at them directly out of the sun, a strategy that fighter pilots often use.

This male sharpie is unflappable. He lets us snap his photo out the windows of Julie's studio and he even let me walk out the door and sneak within about 30 feet of him as he sat on the crossbar of our feeder set-up.

I love having this bird around. He's keeping our birds on their toes and keeping their populations healthy by weeding out the slow, sick, and weak.

He's not here everyday. Every third day or so I find another pile of cardinal or junco or goldfinch feathers in the yard. Then I know that death has come again, on the wing, passing through this old ridgetop farm.

It is stealth then flashing pursuit. Talons grabbing, parting feather barbules and piercing skin, a songbird's tiny heart racing through its last few beats. Blood droplets merge with the soggy soil. Then the coup de grâce, and Nature, red in tooth and claw, heaves another sigh of contentment.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Poem for a False Falling Star

Before the storm's gray-cloud fist
could blot out winter's shy sunset
I thought I saw a falling star
tho' the day was upon us yet.

A squinted eye, a closer look
revealed a rosy contrail
jets fly high, but are not stars
and wishes made upon them fail.

Do not lose heart for two nights hence
the Geminids dance across the night
true meteors can grant a wish
so make your wish with all your might!

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Chasing a Three-toed Lifer!

On our last full day in New Mexico, the weather forecast called for snow and cold. We planned to spend the day in our rented fauxdobe casa playing music with our friend Caroline Quine. But when the day dawned clear and warming and the weather forecasters recanted their earlier prognostications, our two families decided to pursue outdoor adventures.

Our modus in NM has been to take expeditions in search of life birds. As you can imagine, the possibilities get more limited each year. Last year our target bird was the Lewis' woodpecker--a lifer for Julie and a bird I'd only seen twice before (and one of those times was a vagrant bird in Virginia!). We went back to our lucky Lewis' spot again this year and rekindled our acquaintance with this fine species--but there was only one bird, not several as there had been last year. This worried us a bit.

The following day we drove south looking for a good hike and some petroglyphs near Embudo. We never did find the hike or the 'glyphs, but we did drive through several orchards that had trees full of huge red apples. The apples were being eaten by a large number of Lewis' woodpeckers. We needn't have worried.

But back to the life-bird quest.

This year we got ants in the pants to see a northern three-toed woodpecker. It would be a life bird for both of us. For me it would be the last (likely) North American woodpecker to add to my life list. [side note: If some lucky soul in Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, or elsewhere can remember to keep their camera ON and lens cap OFF, I might still have one more peckerwood to add, but until then....]

I spent the Wednesday morning before our Thanksgiving Day departure homeward scouring the Web for info on where to find the northern three-toed in New Mexico. I learned that they like burns--places where forest fires have swept through, leaving standing trees and open understory. The most regular spot for our quest bird seemed to be in the Jemez Mountains west of Los Alamos. The site was known as The Dome Burn. It was in the Carson National Forest--at least 2 hour's drive away from Arroyo Seco where we were staying. One bonus was that Bandelier National Monument was in the same area, so as long as we were making the trek...

Getting the four of us: BT3, Julie, Phoebe, and Liam outfitted, fed, loaded into the car took something like 11 hours. By 11 am we were ready to go. Oops it's time to feed the kids lunch. You know how it goes.

Finding the Dome Burn area took a full two hours. Along the way we had to go through a security checkpoint near Los Alamos, birthplace of nukes. The roads outside of Los Alamos are named for the highlights of the The Nuclear Age: Bikini Atoll Road, Dr. Robert Oppenheiner Road, etc. Thankfully I did not see roads named for Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

As we got into the Jemez Mountains west of Los Alamos, we could smell the smoke from forest fires. The Dome Burn happened in the 1990s, but intentional burning is still going on throughout this area. Burning the forest to keep it from burning...there is some logic and science in there somewhere. Soon we could see the smoke and even flames on the mountainsides below the road.

Smoke from the burning forest in the Jemez Mountains.

We climbed up and up the twisting mountain road, through the smoke-filled giant pines. It seemed a bit surreal to be driving calmly with other cars on this forest road with fires burning all around.

After following the very precise directions, we found the appropriate dirt road and took it the proscribed distance to the pull-off where our birds should be. The habitat was perfect--a wide open grassy bald with charred snags of fire-killed trees. Stumps from "harvested" timber were everywhere.

While waiting for the birds to appear, I sat on this stump and pondered.

The larger pines survive the fires, the smaller ones succumb. Still, there was ample evidence of life here. Fresh woodpecker drillings, scattered cowpies, horse and ATV tracks, a hiker's lean-to, as well as bits and pieces of trash.

Hiker's lean-to at The Dome Burn area.

Overhead a pod of common ravens croaked their annoyance at our presence. We fanned out and began looking for the woodpecker. It was very quiet and cold here, the sun not strong enough to make much difference. When the wind rose, it cut right through my down jacket.

I thought to try playing the bird's call but my iPod was dead. And I'd forgotten my speakers anyway. So we listened and heard only silence. The only sounds other than the ravens were sounds of Phoebe and Liam and their restless horseplay.

For nearly two hours we walked the burn. I thought I head the bird a couple of times but could never locate it. A feeding flock of pygmy nuthatches and mountain chickadees passed through, the nutties sounding a bit like the three-toed, which got my heart racing.

Pygmy nuthatch.

My feeling that it was only a matter of time before we found the bird (and joy!) now gave way to a rising ache of disappointment, then a taste of desperation. It was time to go. We had only a couple of hours of daylight left and quite a long road ahead of us to get to the ancient cliff dwellings at Bandelier. I told myself that it was just not meant to be. And, as I've counseled myself (and others) before, once you've seen all the birds, what do you have to look forward to? This would give me a reason to come back to this hauntingly beautiful and lonely place.

The view from The Dome Burn.

We climbed back in the car for the long drive back down the mountains. Along the way we passed newer burns in younger woods. The trees were still charred black with some stumps still smoking. I got a hunch and asked Julie to stop. I heard something. We got out.

There! What's that call?

I mimicked the loud, sweet call note I'd heard--much like a hairy woodpecker's call note. We heard a staccato drum, a woodpecker's territorial business card. A bird flew toward us and over our head, landing, hidden in a roadside ponderosa pine. My heart sank. It looked like a hairy woodpecker--I was expecting something bigger. I trotted up the road to a better vantage point and when I got my bins back on the bird I noticed something right away. Its sides and flanks were barred with charcoal stripes. THAT'S NOT A HAIRY WOODPECKER!

It was our bird--the northern three-toed woodpecker--a female. She called again, hopped up the trunk a few feet, then flew off from whence she came. We had all of 20 seconds to watch her. Julie (with the largest brain in our family) thought quickly and snapped off a few frames of the distant bird. This locked in the ID.

It was a life bird for both of us! Hugs and high-fives all around! Even the kids were happy about it. Sweet!

Northern three-toed woodpecker, female. Photo by Julie Zickefoose.

We did make it to Bandelier on time, but only just. I had a close call there. More on that part of the adventure in days to come.

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Thursday, December 06, 2007


Red-shafted flicker at Bosque.

One of the great pleasures of this year's trip to New Mexico was that it was Woodpeckerpalooza. We scored more good looks at the members of the Piciformes than any other family.

It started out normally enough with the expected red-shafted flickers at Bosque del Apache NWR.
The flickers were going ape for the fruits on this tree in Socorro.

On Saturday, on the first trip we lead to Water Canyon (about 20 miles northwest of Socorro), our van was at the end of the caravan of vehicles heading up to start birding at the campground. We stopped along the entrance road, about half a mile below the campground, to look at some acorn woodpeckers and it was so birdy, we spent the next 30 minutes enjoying the birds.

The sunlight had hit this part of Water Canyon, so the birds and insects were active. The air was warming, too, so even the little birds--the bushtits and mountain chickadees--were moving about and calling. Farther up the canyon, the campground was still in the shade of the canyon walls, and the cold air prevailed making it far less active for birds.

While following the flight of the flock of acorn woodpeckers to a hackberry tree, I spied a long, dark sapsucker. Then another and another. They were not all the same species, either! The darkest one flew. No white in the wings. Striped overall. Yellow belly patch. A female Williamson's sapsucker! I shouted as the bird disappeared over the trees, headed down the canyon. Few others got on it. And this was a target bird.
Acorn woodpecker with its distinctive "clown make-up" face and head pattern.

Sapsucker wells and acorn woodpecker cache holes. The acorn woodpeckers store acorns in the holes for future consumption.

We enjoyed the acorn woodpeckers who seemed oblivious to our presence. They had been working over this hackberry tree for some time, it was clear.

I relocated the other sapsuckers--they were red-naped sapsuckers. They hung in the tree for the entire time we were there, tap-drilling new holes, and hitching from well to well. These were my best looks ever at this species, so I tried to soak up the experience as I got the spotting scope on a superb male for the trip participants.

Canyon towhee, western bluebird, Townsend's solitaire, western scrub jay and Steller's jay were among the other species highlights. Overhead common ravens kept up a constant stream of growls and croaks. We'd come from the desert below, where the ravens were all Chihuahuan (formerly called white-necked raven).

Soon guilt set in and we realized we'd better rejoin the main group at the campground. Up the road we went, intent on hiking up the mountain trail to where we'd heard a pair of Williamson's sapsuckers had been seen.

From the parking lot, we hiked up the logging/access road. The altitude was enough for us flatlanders to get short of breath. Scars six feet up the trunks of the ponderosa pines showed us where the snow plow had passed the previous winter.

The birding here was very quiet. Nothing much moving or calling. Then someone spotted a swooping woodpecker, flying to a the largest tree trunk in view. It was the Williamson's sapsucker! A male this time. He was very shy and scooted to the back side of the tree each time we tried to maneuver for a better view.

Leading a birding trip and bird photography do not mix, I found. It just didn't feel right to be concentrating on taking photos while several folks still needed to get on the bird. So I got the scope on the bird...and it flew.

Our first look at a male Wiliamson's sapsucker.

Most of our group decided to head on up the trail to meet the rest of our trip's participants. I radioed Julie, leading a group farther up the mountain. "Nothing much up here." Came the answer. I decided to sit tight to wait for the sapsucker to come back.

Until the late 19th century, the male and female Williamson's sapsucker were thought to be separate species. And it's understandable--they look completely different from one another. The male is boldly marked with black, white, red, and yellow. The female's coloration is more muted overall. She lacks his obvious white wing patch, as well as the boldly striped black head.

Back at Water Canyon, we were soon rewarded for being patient. A female came in. After she left a male came in too. Clearly this ponderosa pine--the largest in sight in these woods--was they favored foraging tree. I radioed up the mountain and Julie's group hoofed it back down to see the bird.

After everyone had gotten an eyeful, I snapped of a few frames with my Canon 30D. Shooting into the light I knew they'd be horrible, but I wanted a documentary record. The Wiliamson's sapsucker is named for a Lieutenant Robert Stockton Williamson, an early western surveyor.

The male Williamson's flashy plumage is obvious even from a great distance in poor light.

I think this might be a young male Williamsons. The face and head pattern seem to bold for a brownish female.

We returned to Water Canyon the next day, and had equally good luck with the woodpeckers. I still had no time or luck with photographing the woodpeckers, but Julie and I (and our fellow leaders Mary and Rob) got a lot of people their life looks at several birds.

The following day we were in Arroyo Seco in the northern part of NM. It was here, the previous year, that we'd found a colony of Lewis' woodpeckers. After several attempts to see the birds--their grove of cottonwoods seemed to have been taken over by American crows--we finally gt a single individual. The Lewis' woodpecker is named for Meriwether Lewis of Lewis and Clark fame. I didn't realize it when it happened, but a few hours later I would sweep the "Corps of Discovery" species by seeing a Clark's nutcracker!
Meriwether Lewis' woodpecker preening in a cottonwood.

The Lewis' woodpecker is a fine bird. It's got loads of color, it perches for long periods allowing good looks. And it flies like a crow--not in the undulating flight style of most woodpeckers. It was clear to us that the Lewis' woodpeckers used this cottonwood grove only from late morning until early afternoon. They preened and foraged in the sun. But when the day got on toward dusk, the crowns and ravens took over and the woodpeckers departed quietly for their roosts.

We also saw hairy woodpeckers and ladder-backed woodpeckers on this trip. However, the most special woodpecker was one we found on our last full day in the Land of Enchantment.

More on that soon....

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Fun With Food

I promise I'll get some meaty posts about birds up here soon--sorry--it's been a heckuva bizzy week so far. But in the meantime, here's another installment of Fun With Food.

We had a nice breakfast last Sunday at The Wooden Nickel in Millersburg, PA, following Julie's big weekend-long art opening at the Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art. The garnishes used that morning on the breakfast plates included orange slices (perfectly reasonable for breakfast) and ornamental kale (huh?). It got our creative Fun With Food juices flowing, so we created a breakfast plate masterpiece entitled "Pancake-legged Hula Girl with Kale Miniskirt."

Except for the plastic-coffee-creamer-container pillbox hat and the orange rinds, this art is totally edible. And just LOOK at the masterful use of blueberries! Who knew?

We were so happy with it we nearly took it back up the road to the Ned Smith Center to add to the Zickefoose exhibition running there through February 16, 2008.

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Reading the Clouds

I've always been a watcher of the sky.

I'm fascinated by its ever-changing visage and by how one can read the clouds to predict what weather is to come.

One evening during our recent trip to New Mexico the clouds, wind, and sunset combined to create this scene above. I at once thought the pink clouds looked like a woman praying or perhaps about to leap into action from a crouch.

Today I looked at the wider shot (below) and thought it might be a chomping crocodile. Crouching Woman, Hidden Crocodile.

What do you see? Woman or crocodile or something else all together?

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

Amazing Rocks of NM

New Mexico has lots of interesting rock formations. Some of them, like Camel Rock (above) near Española, are named for what they look like.

We found a really interesting formation south of Bosque del Apache NWR. It's called Bouton Rock because it looks just like Jeff Bouton, Leica's sports optics/pro-birder dude.

It's a sort of Mt Rushmore of Digiscoping.

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