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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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Winter Day at The Wilds

Dust-bathing horned larks.

The Ohio Ornithological Society had its annual winter birding day at The Wilds in SE Ohio recently. More than 125 hardy souls made the scene. It was colder than a gyrfalcon's uvula there on the rolling grasslands near Cumberland, Ohio. The Wilds is a rare animal breeding and research facility nestled in the middle of 10,000 acres of recovering strip mine. And it's got the birds. In winter it's home to loads of raptors. The day's raptor tally included American kestrel, red-tailed hawk, Cooper's hawk, northern harrier, rough-legged hawk, bald eagle, and golden eagle. Large numbers of waterfowl were seen on those few ponds still unfrozen. Horned larks, a snow bunting, and even a few over-wintering eastern meadowlarks were present, too.

Cars lined up to see the last bird of the day.

But the bird that about half of us stayed to see waited until sunset to make its appearance. A short-eared owl coursed low over the frozen grasses giving all of us a great look.

Short-eared owl.

It was a fitting end to another wonderful day of birding with my fellow members of Ohio's largest birding organization.

For an another report of the day, see OOS Director Jim McCormac's blog here.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

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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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Three Days at Mohican

We had 26 folks on the Gorge Overlook field trip on Saturday. Best bird: A very cooperative Canada warbler.

Friday through Sunday afternoon the hills and hollers of Mohican State Park and the halls of the Mohican Resort resounded with the shouts, gasps, and laughter of 200+ bird watchers attending the Ohio Ornithological Society's annual conference.

This is how you get warbler neck.

We saw nearly 160 species in this fascinating hunk of special habitat (three glaciers met here a few thousand of years ago and made the landforms and subsequent plant and animal life a very north-meets-south feel.)
This river of sycamores (full of yellow-throated warblers) exactly follows the contour of the river itself.

I'm home now and weary. But we had us a good old time. Steve McKee lectured about Mohican's birds and plants on Friday. Donald Kroodsma lectured about bird songs and sounds on Saturday. Our brains grew. The coffers of OOS's Conservation Fund also grew by $1,800 thanks to the generous bidding on the silent auction items (and only a little coercion from me while at the podium).

A pair of wood ducks that sat tamely while we took photos from the van.

Since I was leading field trips on Sat. and Sun. I did not carry the big Canon camera. It's too heavy and besides, it's hard to lead a field trip AND take photos. So I've got lots of grab shots and a single keeper digiscoped image.

My only decent digiscoped image: a rough-winged swallow photographed from the covered bridge .

While waiting for the veery we lost ourselves in the skunk cabbage.

Group shot of Sunday's field trip. The gorge is in the background.

My favorite bird of the weekend? The veery we got last of all this afternoon just near a huge patch of skunk cabbage. He sang and preened and veered. And sat still for me to get him in the spotting scope for my group.

And the sun sets over Mohican's main lake on another great OOS convention.

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