Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

It's once more that most ghoulish day of the year!

No, not election day or tax day, my pretties! It's Halloween!

In the spirit (gasp!) of the moment, here are a few images from trick-or-treat night last Saturday (when folks 'round here celebrate Halloween, I guess to get it out of the way so they can start decorating for Thanksgiving).

The kids and I went to the elementary school Halloween party, then into town for trick-or-treating. It's pretty cool and nostalgic to take my kids to many of the same houses I rang the doorbells on nearly four (!) decades ago.

Many things are exactly the same now as they were back in the early 1970s on the streets of Marietta on Halloween night. The excited shouts of packs of kids trying to find the most lucrative candy stops. The crunching of fall leaves underfoot. The dog crap that someone inevitably steps in and tracks up the front steps. The smell of cigarettes from parents smoking beyond the pool of porchlight, watching their kids rake in the sweets.

(If THAT house gave you a Snickers Brittany-Jo, your mamaw's gonna need a bite! And that ain't optional!")

But then some things are different today...

The candy is better and seemingly more abundant. The costumes are better, too, but fewer of them are home-made these days. A few other differences I noticed: when I was a trick-or-treater there was always a foot of snow on the ground and there were wolves and Indians chasing us. Plus all I had for a costume was an old feed sack. Kids today don't know how easy they've got it!

Here's some eye candy of my OWN candy grubbers.

Liam at the school party as Batman in his store-boughten costume. For more on the costume decisions, see Zick's blog.

Phoebe as a blue-haired goth harpy. Liam as grave desecrator.

Campesino Man.

Julie's costume this year was ossum!

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Thinking About Palms

Dusk falling rosy
Bedtime for parrots, monkeys
wind rattles palm fronds.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fiery-throated Hummingbird

The male fiery-throated hummingbird on his favorite perch.

I've focused the last few BOTB posts on the first days of my recent Panama trip. During those initial field trips in Panama (a new entry on my Countries I've Birded In list) the best bird we saw (for me anyway) was the fiery-throated hummingbird. There was a very cooperative male fiery-throated coming to the feeders at the upper cabin owned by Los Quetzales Lodge and Spa in Volcán Barú National Park near Guadalupe in the province of Chiriqui. This was one of the stops on our birding tour of Panama, courtesy of Panama La Verde Birding Circuits.

There were dozens and dozens of other hummers there at the Los Quetzales cabins—and perhaps 10 or more different hummingbird species. But it was the fiery-throated hummingbird male that captured the attention of the avid photographers on this field trip. The challenge of course was getting a good photograph. In the low light conditions of the cloud forest, under not only a thick canopy of trees, but also under a sheltering roof, there were two choices: use a flash unit or open your camera way up and hope that a tripod offered enough stability to compensate for the slow shutter speeds. I opted for the latter strategy, sans flash.

Now I know just enough about the finer details of digital camera settings to fill a thimble halfway. And I try not to think about all the great photographic opportunities I've blown by being such a digital photo doofus. (Note to self: Ask Santa for a photography workshop for Christmas).

Lucky for me this male hummingbird had a penchant for a certain perch when he wasn't visiting the feeders, so I (and my more talented fellow camera-wielders) got ample opportunity to take pictures, check the results (LOVE that about the digital era!), change settings, and shoot some more. As I mentioned before, both Jeffrey A. Gordon and Mike Freiberg gave me some sage advice. Later on, at the David airport, I paid them back by buying them rounds of a Panamanian beer that made Budweiser seem like fine French wine, but I digress...

Everything on the male fiery-throated hummingbird seems to be iridescent.

We took turns stepping into the best spots for photographing the fiery-throated. Then we'd edge closer. Every few minutes the male would fly up to the feeders and we'd head back under the porch roof to await his return. Eventually, just before we had to leave, I got close enough to get some decent, frame-filling images of his fieriness.

In low light, when he faced to the side, the fiery-throated hummer looked like just another small, straight-billed, dark hummingbird.

In low light, facing to the side, only two gorget feathers of the male fiery-throated offer any hint of the colorful plumage.

But when any part of his head, breast, or gorget faced directly at you, a blast of color went right to your eyes.

When he turned slightly toward me, the colors began to appear.

After taking a bunch of images I decided I needed to see the bird better with my eyes, so I got the keys to the Land Rover and ran back down the muddy trail to fetch my spotting scope. Back at the cabin, scope set on the male on his favorite perch, I blissed out (despite my panting from the run down the hill and back) just watching the little guy sit, preen, snooze, and chatter at passing rivals.
Every so often I got lucky and captured a blast of iridescence.

This is one individual bird I am going to remember for a long, long, time.

Fiery-throated seems like an appropriate name for this little dude.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

More Panama Cloud Forest Birding

There's a reason they call this the cloud forest.

On the morning of Day 2 in Panama we headed back up the mountain to the distant, off-the-grid cabins operated by Los Quetzales lodge. These cabins are inside the Volcan Baru National Park and are reached via a very rugged and rocky road, winding upward, crossing several streams. Our group loaded into two Range Rovers for the drive to the cabins. I am not sure I've ever been on a less vehicle-friendly road, and yet the Range Rovers got us there—over seemingly impassable rocks and through (literally) rushing streams.

Every stream on the mountain was rushing from the heavy rains.

These cabins are rustic but cozy and are on the Panama itineraries of several birding tour companies. Our very own trip companion Jeffrey A. Gordon had helped to lead groups here several times in the years he was working for Victor Emanuel Nature Tours. Jeff gave us an idea of what to expect.

One of the two cloud forest cabins operated by Los Quetzales in Volcan Baru NP.

The weather continued in its own rainy and cool way—on this day we would not get any sunshine, but the rain, at least, was intermittent. And despite the precipitation we got birds.

After arriving at a pull-off, we hiked up a narrow trail, across a couple more small streams to the cabins. There, our guides Ito and Abel opened up the doors, started a fire in the fireplace and spread out a mid-morning snack for us and some mixed seed for the birds. Within minutes we had slaty finch, large-footed finch, and yellow-thighed finch coming in for the seed. There was a pair of common bush tanagers in the —yes—bushes. And the hummingbirds started visiting the newly refilled feeders.
Large-footed finch.

Aside from a short hike up a nearby road, we'd spend the next several hours watching the hummingbird action at the feeders hung under the porch roofs of the two cabins. Both the birds and the birders were happiest under the sheltering roofs as the rain became heavier. Had the light been better, the photographers among us might have passed out from sheer image exhaustion. The birds were just feet (sometimes inches!) away when at the feeders, and most had favorite perches to which they returned repeatedly. Jeff Gordon, Mike Freiberg, Kees van Berkel, and I took turns at the best photo spots. I also bombarded my fellow shutterbugs with questions about camera settings and adjustments. [I know almost nothing about such things and realize that a photo workshop needs to be in my future.]

The lighting was a challenge for photography.

A couple of times, the rain let up and we'd organize a short walk down the trail. Someone would yell that they had a good bird, and we'd all hurry to get there in time. Among the other cool birds we found at the Los Quetzales cabins were prong-billed barbet (freaky!), and a warbler-meets-wren-meets-thrush-like bird called a zeledonia (sometimes also called wrenthrush).

The group scans the canopy for a long-tailed silky-flycatcher.

Birding was good right near the cabins.

We also had other birds, many of which I could rattle off here, but, frankly, I mostly remember the hummingbirds.
Male white-throated mountain-gem.

All the hummers we saw at the cabins were fabulous, but one was more fabulouser than the others: the fiery-throated hummingbird. I got lots of photographs of white-throated mountain gem, and a few of green-crowned brilliant, stripe-tailed hummingbird, and violet-crowned woodnymph. But my attentions were primarily focused on the fiery-throated and, thanks to good photo advice from Jeff and Mike, I actually got a few keeper images of this bird which is the very definition of iridescence. I will share those images with you in tomorrow's post.

I'll close out today's post with a few of my favorite non-fiery-throated shots.

Green-crowned brilliant, one of the many hummingbirds visiting the feeders at the cabins.

A closer look at the green-crowned brilliant's head.

Female white-throated mountain-gem—I like her reflected colors in the rainwater.

I took hundreds of bad shots of this male white-throated mountain-gem. Better flash gear needed.

He flew right at me (really at the feeder near me) looking slightly satanic.

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Chiriqui Cloud Forest

Gardens at Los Quetzales in Guadalupe, Panama.

After an early morning flight to the David airport in the western highlands of Panama, our group had breakfast at Los Quetzales lodge and spa in Guadalupe. This hotel, well-known to tropical birding tour companies, is located in a small village near the cloud forest of Volcan Baru National Park. It being the "green" (or rainy) season in Panama, it felt like we were already IN the cloud forest. The temperature at this altitude (about 7,000 feet above sea level) was much cooler than in Panama City and a misty rain was falling.

Around the table at Los Quetzales.

Carlos, the owner of Los Quetzales, was a delightful host during our stay. His hotel, as its name suggest, is decorated with a quetzal/cloud forest theme, which only made me MORE anxious about seeing a resplendent quetzal.

Cloud forest in Volcan Baru National Park in the province of Chiriqui in Panama.

At Los Quetzales, while waiting to leave for our first field trip, some of us had slaty flower piercers and green violet-eared hummingbirds in the gardens. Rufous-collared sparrows hung around like house sparrows, as common as dirt.

Soon we took a bus to a nearby road into the park and began birding in earnest. The day remained mostly gray and rain came in fits and starts—not enough to disrupt our birding, but enough to have to wipe our binoc lenses dry every few minutes. I was glad I'd brought my Muck Boots, even though they'd garnered me some ridicule from my fellow travelers. Was it the fact that I wore them on the plane ride to David? Or was it the boots' distinctive hunter-orange linings?
My ossumly orange muck boots in the David Airport. Sneaky photo by Jeffrey A. Gordon.

Anyway, back to the rainy cloud forest. . . which is redundant, I realize.

The birds did not seem to mind the temperature or the rain. Among the first species we all got good looks at were mountain thrush, black-billed nightingale-thrush, and ruddy treerunner (which looked like a 'roided-up brown creeper).

The group on the cloud forest trail. Far right is our guide, Ito, from Los Quetzales.

We had a smattering of "our" birds, too, including Wilson's and a black-and-white warblers.
I tried taking a few photos, but the rain was a bit daunting and the light was dim. We all donned our raincoats, ponchos, and hats. Some of us improvised, creating umbrellas from whatever was at hand.

Mike Frieberg with his jungle umbrella.

Lisa White sheltering from the storm.

Jeffrey A. Gordon trying to keep camera and head dry.

The road we were walking on seemed suitable only for foot or perhaps donkey traffic. We were shocked, however, to hear the rumble of an engine coming down the mountain. A few minutes later, a rickety farm truck pulled around the bend, belching exhaust, with a load of home-grown lettuce for the local market. Much of Panama's agriculture happens in this part of the country, blessed as it is with rich volcanic soil and ample water.

The Lechuga Express passing Jeff Gordon. Only really good drivers pass Jeff Gordon.

After about an hour on the trail, and while we were sorting through a small feeding flock of tanagers, thrushes, and warblers, I saw a large greenish bird swoop into a tree far above me. Its red belly meant it could only be one thing: a female resplendent quetzal! The looks were not great, but we all got to see her and one or two other younger birds. This would prove to be our only looks at this spectacular species. It was nice, but, who wouldn't want more?

Still, Los Quetzales had lived up to its name.

The rain started coming down harder. We tried another spot or two, then decided that we'd go back to the hotel to wait for the weather to break a bit.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Panama Birding Day 1

My most recent trip was to the isthmus of land that connects Central and South America: the country of Panama. I was the guest, along with seven other birders, of an organization called Panama La Verde Birding Circuits. The Panama La Verde group is trying to develop ecotourism (especially birding) routes connecting (mostly) rural hotels and lodges in places that have not been traditional stops for most tourists visiting Panama. Our familiarization trip was aimed at helping to spread the word about Panama. I plan to write a feature article in Bird Watcher's Digest in the future, so I shouldn't share everything here at Bill of the Birds.

But I do want to give you a flavor of birding in Panama, so we'll be visiting that fine tropical land over the next several days.

I arrived in Panama City late last Monday night on a Delta flight from Atlanta with Jeffrey A. Gordon (BWD field editor, regular tour leader and Leica birding rep) and Mike Freiberg (Nikon's full-time Pro Birder dude) also on board. All we had time to do was schlep from the Panama City airport to our hotel, The Albrook Inn.

Before we went to our rooms for the night, Jeff heard and then squeaked up a tropical screech-owl in the garden of the Albrook Inn. The trip's first good bird (nocturnal great-tailed grackles don't really count)!

The next morning we'd get up at 5 am to go BACK to the airport for a commuter flight to the western highlands of Panama, a region known as Chiriqui. Within 36 hours, I'd go from doing The Big Sit in my birding tower on my southeast Ohio farm to standing in the cloud forest of remote western Panama.

I. Could. Not. Wait.

From left: Cristina Cervantes, Yenia Mendoza of Panama La Verde (obscured), Lisa White, Jeffrey A. Gordon, Kees van Berkel, and Liz Payne.

My fellow travelers on the Panama La Verde trip were: the aforementioned Jeff Gordon and Mike Freiberg, plus Lisa A. White of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Arizona birder and travel facilitator Liz Payne, birder/blogger/businessman John Ruitta, Cristina Cervantes general manager of birding tour company Tropical Birding, and Dutch birding tour leader Kees van Berkel.

¡Algo mas mañana mis amigos!

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Dawn, Cerro Azul

From the overlook, dawn breaking like soft rain
the humid, warming earth heaves skyward its misty breath.
Smaller hills like sleeping bodies peek above the blanketing white.
Squeak-buzz of hummingbirds, tinamou whistles, toucan croaks
and this forest of rain—this jewel-filled jungle—launches itself unquietly into another day.

—from the garden at Birder's View, Cerro Azul, Panama

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Monday, October 20, 2008

For the OOS

Here's a shout-out to my homeys in the Ohio Ornithological Society. I'm wearing my OOS hat during several days birding in the cloud forests of Panama. This mural was in a small cafe in the western highlands.

Below, a friendly resplendent quetzal tries on my blue OOS hat.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Bird of the Trip Thus Far

We spotted a white hawk on a distant forest mountainside while birding in the El Valle region. I took this digiscoped image of it through the rain and mist. Quite a beautiful bird.

More soon, when time and access allows. Right now we're getting on a bus bound for Cerro Azul.

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Giant Things of Panama City

Wherever you go in the world, it's comforting to know that there are Giant Things to see and admire. This guy lives in front of the Shrine Building in the Albrook region of Panama City. I really dig his fez and his white shoes.

This was on my first morning in Panama. There was a tropical screech-owl calling nearby.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Far Gone, But Where?

Sorry for the gap in the posts here at BOTB. I have been traveling.

After the enjoyable but taxing 24 hours of The Big Sit I was quite tired. So I'm not really sure where I am.

One thing I DO know is the birds are weird here. We're not in Whipple anymore, Toto!
Here's a "chickadee" I saw today in the hedge near a feeder.

Dude, where am I?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

No Birds, Just Clouds

During The Big Sit, the cloud formations were strange and amazing. We watched them from the tower, turning some into creatures, some into famous people. Others we simply admired.

I liked this one of two contrails heading for an unseen convergence. What would have made iteven more wonderful would have been a peregrine falcon jetting through the blue in theforeground. That would have been #70.


Monday, October 13, 2008

Big Sit 2008: Final Report

The view from the tower on Big Sit day 2008.

Well we ended up the 2008 Big Sit at Indigo Hill at 69 species. That's a new record by four species (the old record was 65).

It was a fine fall day: cool early and late, but pretty warm in the middle. As always we missed a few birds that showed up the day before and the day after: house sparrow and killdeer to name two. But we didn't really have any major misses, which was nice.
Late in the day on the Big Sit.

Thanks to all the birding pals who made the scene. This is my kind of birding event.


Bill of the Birds

For some reason, Blogger/Blogspot is not letting me post images. I'll come back and add them in later I guess. Sorry!
We're still hoping for that beer company sponsorship. Hey how about Newcastle?


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Big Sit 2008. Post #12

Most of the 2008 Big Sit crew at Indigo Hill in the birding tower.

The sun is setting at 6:59 PM (the Blogger/Blogspot server clock is on weird time Pacific I think).

We broke the record!

Let me say that again:


Moments after I posted at noon, a small flock of GRACKLES flew over. Can you believe we broke then record with common grackle?

We tied the record with a red-headed woodpecker spotted by Ethan Kistler. Then the grackles. After common grackle, we got broad-winged hawk (spotted by me and ID'd by me and Jim McCormac) , then tree swallow (spotted by me and ID'd by several), and, finally (so far) scarlet tanager (spotted by Dick Esker and ID'd by me).

But we're still trying for #70....our new goal.

Thanks to all who wished us well. Hope your sit went swimmingly, too.


Big Sit 2008. Post #11

We are all tied up at noon. 65 species—tied for the record.
Many eyes make light birding.
We have 12 hours to find one more species the break the record.
No one wants to leave the tower until we do.
And I won't post here until we do.
So if you don't see another post today, save us a bit of sympathy.



Big Sit 2008. Post #10

At 9:00 AM on the dot, the count for birds stands at 50 species. The count for birders isn't far behind that. Among the Sitters present are Jon B., Lucine W., Eva B., Lee U., Steve M, Jim M, Shila W., Marc N., Cheryl H., Jen S., and the aforementioned Jim & Jason. Plus the residents of Indigo Hill: Julie, Phoebe, & Liam.

Last two new birds were white-breasted nuthatch and Nashville warbler.


Big Sit 2008. Post #9

I am no longer sitting alone. Jim McCormac and Jason Larson arrived shortly after 6 AM and the list is taking a turn for the better. Recent additions include gray0cheeked thrush, American woodcock, eastern towhee, and mourning dove. We're edging past 15 species.

More people arriving, too. And Chet Baker is finally awake and barking like a good watch dog.


Big Sit 2008. Post #8

Just before 5:00 AM and the count stands at 9 species. The last two added were yellow-billed cuckoo (a good one for this late in the fall) and Swainson's thrush.

Now I'm hoping for a pre-dawn rush of thrushes.

I slept for about an hour in the tower between 3:15 and 4:30. Now there is coffee, so there's no turning back. Crazy birdy time is only a few hours away. The moon has finally set, leaving me even more in the dark.

Hope you slept well.


Big Sit 2008. Post #7

All is quiet on the Big Sit front at present. Might be time for some coffee.


Big Sit 2008. Post #6

1:26 AM local time. A barred owl asks Whoooo? from down on Goss' Fork.
That's #7 and a sweep of the expected owls.

It's getting colder and the breeze is gaining strength. I feel a bit like Grandpa Simpson when Homer locked him out of the house: It's cold out here and there are wolves after me.


Big Sit 2008. Post #6

OK. The GHOs can shut up now. They're probably inhibiting the barred owls from calling....

Now a baby GHO is calling. It sounds hungry!

Being exposed up here in the tower I'm glad I'm not wearing my skunk-fur hat. GHOs love eating skunks.

Time for the sandhill cranes to fly over garoooing.

Other sounds: the loud report of a poacher's gun, someone backing up a truck miles away, an opossum on the compost pile, the rustle of dry autumn leaves, me typing, more gunshots from another direction, the peregrinations of my mind and the rumbling of my stomach asking for Cheetos.


Big Sit 2008. Post #5

Black-throated green warbler! My flight call wood-shedding is already paying off!

We need all the warblers we can get! That's 6 species—only 60 more to go to break the Indigo Hill Big Sit record of 65. If I can average 5 species per hour from now until midnight, we're golden!


Big Sit 2008. Post #4

Eastern screech-owl and chipping sparrow! We're halfway to double figures!


Big Sit 2008. Post #3

Species #3: Two REALLY close great horned owls!


Big Sit 2008. Post #2

First bird is a northern cardinal, chipping as if disturbed from its roost.
Second bird is a field sparrow flyover.


Saturday, October 11, 2008

Big Sit 2008. Post #1

And so another Big Sit starts.

I am up in the tower alone at midnight. It's a lovely night. I have one hour of sleep under my belt. May sleep more up here—it's not cold, about 55 degrees F with a light breeze from the southeast. That wind might hold up a few southbound migrants. Hope so.

I've heard two flight call notes of sparrows—probably chippies, but not since the starting bell rang. Only sounds right now are katydids, crickets, and two distant beagles—none of which are countable species.

The moon is about 3/4 full and casts enough light to see by. Now tuning my ears skyward and hoping for thrushes, owls, and maybe a flyby woodcock.

Good luck to all Big Sitters all around the world, wherever you may be!



Friday, October 10, 2008

Preparing to Sit

Big Sitters in action last year in the Indigo Hill birding tower.

I still have a long list of things to do before starting up the Indigo Hill Big Sit at 12:00:01 am on Sunday morning. Some of the highlights from this To-do List are:

  • put more rotten meat on the meat pile in the meadow
  • make brownies
  • make chili
  • buy Beano
  • ice down the beverages
  • grind the coffee beans
  • find my longjohns
  • find the intercom units
  • make a sign for parking
  • find a Sharpie marker for people to sign the tower (don't ask)
  • remove the wasp nests from the tower cabinets
  • hide the cookies from Jim McCormac
  • wash the spiders out of the coolers
  • fill the bird feeders
  • scatter seed under the pines
  • find my playlist of nocturnal flight calls
  • get some sleep early Saturday night
The next post here will probably be my first one during the Sit, in the wee small hours of Sunday morning, October 12. If you're interested, I'll be posting updates throughout the day on Sunday.

Keep your fingers crossed for enough birds to get us past the all-time high Indigo Hill Big Sit record of 65 species.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Mystery Bird Quiz #5 Answer

All right. Nice guesses all around, people! I agree that this one is a toughie. The correct answer is Cape May warbler. And I believe the bird is a fall adult male.

The first thing you notice about this bird is the striped upper back and the bold white wing bars. Unfortunately the "clincher" field mark of a fall Cape May (the contrasting, lime-colored rump) is not visible. but the bold wing bars and the yellowish wash on the part of the face that's visible are great field marks for a fall adult Cape May. Some fall adult males still show a lot of the rufous in the face—but this one does not.

A Blackburnian warbler in fall does share the Cape May's white wing bars, but the Blackburnian's are bolder. Also a Blackburnian in fall would show pale or white lines (not streaking) along a blacker back.

A black-throated green warbler in fall has an unstreaked upper back.

Blackpoll warbler is another good guess. But I think the larger wing bar is too obvious for a fall blackpoll. And the bird is too yellowish overall, especially in the face.

Below are a few other Cape May warblers in various seasons.

A fall Cape May warbler showing the classic, clinching field mark: the contrasting lime rump

A fall Cape May warbler male. This bird is retaining hints of it breeding plumage coloration. Note the huge wing bar.

Breeding-plumaged Cape May warbler in spring.

Breeding-plumaged Cape May warbler in spring. Note the rufous face and the bold wing bar.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Mystery Bird Quiz #5

Here's another birding-brain teaser for you. This photograph was taken in my yard in southeastern Ohio in early October.

Here's a closer look:

I'll have the answer here in a day or so. Good luck!


Monday, October 06, 2008

Asking Birds to Stick Around

I am hoping that our brown thrashers stick around for just one more week.

OK. Obsession confession time.

Like an out of control sports fan or a chocoholic, I, too, have something I focus way too hard on, spend way to much time and money on, and just can't get enough of: The Big Sit.

I am a Big Sit fanatic.

If you look at the Bird Watcher's Digest homepage, you'll see a countdown clock (in the orange bar just under the header) devoted to The Big Sit. Regular readers of this blog know all too well my love of this sedentary birding event, which is my favorite happening of the bird-watching year.

When September is beginning to flirt with October, I get all antsy. The Big Sit is coming soon!

The week before each Big Sit, I spend a lot of time getting ready—practicing my ID skills on passing fall migrants, trying to get a feel for what birds are around, schlepping the hundreds of bits of gear and clothing up to the birding tower in advance, and, most importantly of all, asking the summer birds to stay just a little longer.

Here are some of the birds seen or heard in our farmyard and surroundings this morning, all of which I asked to stay:
Brown thrasher, gray catbird, cedar waxwing, chimney swift, eastern phoebe, blackpoll warbler, Tennessee warbler, Cape May warbler, black-throated green warbler, red-eyed vireo, chipping sparrow, Lincoln's sparrow, field sparrow, eastern meadowlark.

There are others just arriving which are likely to be here (still I am friendly with them—one never knows): white-throated sparrow, yellow-bellied sapsucker, yellow-rumped warbler.

And the less-common birds among our residents, which I do not need to beg to stay, but which I DO ply with many enticements, nonetheless, including song sparrow, eastern towhee, our five regular woodpeckers, Carolina wren...

We always hope for a cold front right before the Sit, to bring in the fall and winter birds: migrant hawks, dark-eyed junco, fox sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, hermit thrush, migrant blackbirds, perhaps some passing waterfowl.

But we don't want it to be TOO cold in the weeks leading up to the Sit, lest the ruby-throated hummingbird, our blend of fall migrant warblers, the flycatchers, orioles, and tanagers, and other fair-weather feathered friends decide to split for the tropics too early.

This year's big wish bird for me? Sandhill crane. It would be a new bird for the property list and I just know there are cranes flying over our farm in the fall. Birders two hours north of our place saw more than 100 sandhills just yesterday!

Nothing would please me more than to add sandhill crane to the Indigo Hill bird list during the 2008 Big Sit.

I am counting down the days and hours...and hoping that the birds are hearing my pleas.

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Segway Birding

In my almost four decades of seeking birds, I've been birding in many different ways, using many different modes of transport. From bicycles to cross-country skis, scenic railroad cars, sternwheel riverboats, pontoon boats, huge inflatable river rafts, canoes and kayaks, small airplanes, ski-lifts, wagons pulled by both horses and tractors, and all manner of motorized vehicles, I've pretty much seen them all. Then, last week, I added a new mode of birding transport to my "life-experience list": The Segway.

Bill of the Birds on a Segway X2 on level ground.

Lee Underschultz of Little Hocking, Ohio, is a longtime birder and horse person who discovered the Segway on a trip to Canada. She thought they'd be great to use for birding trips on the 95-acre farm she and her husband own in southeastern Ohio. She tried one out and liked it so much she bought two of the specialized "off-road" Segway X2s.

Lee contacted Bird Watcher's Digest to see if we'd be interested in trying out the Segways on a morning birding outing at Firefly Hollow, the Underschultz's farm. Oh yeah! So last week my brother Andy and I drove down to Firefly Hollow for our very first Segway experience.

I'd seen these cool, quiet, battery-powered personal transporters in cities. I even tried to book spots on a Segway tour of Chicago while visiting the Windy City several years ago. No dice. They were booked up for months in advance. Needless to say, I was really eager to experience a Segway.
The Segway X2

Here's a link that tells you more about how a Segway works. It's an amazing machine and super easy to learn to ride, becoming intuitive within minutes.

After a quick lesson on how to operate a Segway, Lee, Andy, and I took off along the many trails through the fields and woods of Firefly Hollow.

Andy gets a lesson from Lee Underschultz.

Here's a short video about the experience.

Riding a Segway has the following advantages for birding: It's very quiet. It gives you a somewhat different perspective on the habitat than you'd get while walking or driving a car. It's a very green way to get from one place to another. Plus it's cool!

Riding a Segway was a lot of fun.

Of course it has its limitations, too. If you see a bird, you have to stop the Segway, which involves leaning backwards slightly. The Segway senses this shift in weight and slows to a stop. If you are on level ground, the Segway will stay perfectly balanced and you can release your hands from the handlebars and grab your binocs. If you're on a hill or slight incline, you need to step off the Segway and either power it down and lower the handlebars to the ground, or lean them against something (a tree, fencepost, your back). The gyroscopes inside the Segway are designed to prevent it from falling over.

For stop-and-go birding, a Segway might seem like a lot to handle. But to get to a spot where you're going to be birding for a while, it's perhaps the neatest way to get there.

Andy and Lee dismounted for some birding.

We had black-throated green warblers among the fall migrants during our birding outing. But the best bird of the morning was the first-fall red-headed woodpecker we saw in a snag near the big horse barn at Firefly Hollow. Red-headeds are my favorite North American bird.

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Bumps on a Log

Wood ducks, Williamstown Swamp, September 2008.

There's not much river-bottom wetland habitat left along the Ohio River, but one small piece that does still exist is in Williamstown, West Virginia. Locals call it The Williamstown Swamp and throughout the year it hosts some nice birds and wildlife. Last week I got a call that a glossy ibis was feeding in the duckweed-covered water of this swamp, so I took my lunch across the bridge from Marietta to check things out.

Glossy ibis, Williamstown Swamp, September 2008.

Sure enough, a young glossy ibis was there, feeding in the back corner of the swamp. We don't get too many ibises through this part of the world. My guess is that this bird was a post-breeding wanderer and it will likely head back south in the next day or so.

More interesting to me was the collection of 60 or more wood ducks loafing along the edge of the swamp and resting on a submerged log. The woodies were in various stages of molt—some still sporting the remnant summer feathers, some in partial eclipse plumage, and one or two males in their finest finery.

I'm really glad that this patch of bottomland swamp is still here for the birds (and people) to enjoy.
Wood ducks, Williamstown Swamp, September 2008.

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