Monday, May 04, 2009

Rainy Days of Birding

A weather front followed me on my latest birding adventure.

From Tuesday night through Sunday morning last week I was in West Virginia at The New River Birding and Nature Festival. As I left for the festival, crossing the Ohio, West Virginia border, a large weather front appeared in the West, darkening the previously blue, sunshine-drenched sky. Apparently this weather front was also attending the New River Birding and Nature Festival because we both arrived at the same time and stayed for the rest of the week.

But what's a little weather among avid bird watchers? We laugh in the face of a driving rainstorm, as long as we can get somewhere sheltered to dry off our lenses, preferably somewhere with hot chocolate.

Intrepid birders at the bobolink field.

The birds were showing well despite the weather—the only miss being the golden-winged warbler, which we figured must have not yet returned from the tropics. The bobolinks at the bobolink field were already in, but the males were flying around in bachelor groups singing and perching in trees. Two days later they had staked out territories and were at war with each other. What a difference between their migratory behavior and their on-territory/breeding season behavior!

Every trip I lead for this year's NRBNF netted some lifers for one or more of my group. On some trips we had new birders along, or bird watchers from the West (for whom many eastern birds were new), and we cleaned up on life birds! One festival attendee netted 70 life birds! That's nothing to sneeze at!
Cloudy skies did not diminish the nice views. At least when the fog blew away.

There are at least 50 reasons why you should go to the New River Birding & Nature Festival. Twenty-five to 30 of those reasons could be warblers, because that's how many North American warbler species are seen annually at this event.
A singing male Kentucky warbler photographed on another, sunnier day of birding.

More on my New River adventures tomorrow. If you are starved to read more about this wonderful event right this very minute, check out some of the posts from the Flock of Bloggers that attended this year's festival, which included:

Mary from Mary’s View
Nina from Nature Remains
Kathie from Sycamore Canyon
Kathleen from A Glorious Life
Barb from My Bird Tales
Lynne from Hasty Brook

I met most of these fine folks during my six days in Fayetteville, WV. Also posting mightily about the event are Jeff Gordon (from whom I copped the list above), Jim McCormac, and Julie Zickefoose.

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Out There with the Birds

When we get a life bird on one of my field trip, I will force you (nicely) to do The Life Bird Wiggle.

I'll be attending, trip leading, speaking and performing at a couple of upcoming birding events here in the greater Ohio/West Virginia region.

The first is the North Coast Nature Festival held in Rocky River, Ohio, near Cleveland starting on Friday, April 24 through Sunday, April 26, 2009. I'm giving a Friday night talk, twice (The Perils & Pitfalls of Birding at 7 and 9 pm), a Saturday afternoon talk (No Child Left Inside: Birds as a Doorway to Nature), and morning bird walks on Saturday and Sunday.

The second event is one of my annual favorites: The New River Birding & Nature Festival held near the New River Gorge near Fayetteville, West Virginia. If you want to see 25 or more species of eastern wood warbler, The New River Birding & Nature Festival is THE event for you. It's set in the gorgeous Appalachian Mountains of south-central West Virginia and the festival atmosphere is friendly and laid-back.

We see male American redstarts on nearly every field trip at the New River Birding & Nature Festival in WV.

I'll be leading field trips at the New River fest from Wednesday, April 28 through Saturday, May 2. And on Saturday night the festival will end with a special performance by The Swinging Orangutangs at Opossum Creek Retreat.

I'm hoping I'll see you out there with the birds at one of these two fine birding events or at another one, farther on down the road. Until then....

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Candaba Bird Dancers

One of the principal dancers for the Candaba group.

Much of the Philippines' natural habitat and landscape has been greatly altered by human activity. In fact, a number of the areas we visited on our "fam" trip were not as birdy as they might have been due to the effects of subsistence farming and hunting, large-scale agriculture, and logging. There are some areas that are bucking this trend, with the local government and people working together to preserve special places and unique parts of the ecosystem.

One such place in north of Manila, near the large wetlands known as Candaba Swamp. Thanks to my delayed flights I missed most of the birding at Candaba Swamp on the first morning of the trip, but my fellow travelers told me it was a very birdy spot.

As we were leaving the swamp, we passed through the nearby town of Candaba, where we were to meet the first of many mayors we would encounter over the next two weeks. After a quick handshake and photo with Mayor Jerry Pelayo, we were ushered a short distance away to a large, open walled building, for a presentation by the local school kids.

The hardcore birders in our group groaned silently. It was prime birding time, and (nothing against the kids) we were hungry for more new birds.

Boy, were we in for a treat.
This troupe was covered in iridescent spangles, like the local kingfishers.

The local kids—there must have been 200 or more—had created a 30-minute dance performance, accompanied by the school's fantastic drum corps. They had made their own costumes to look like birds and added these to choreography and acrobatics were worthy of a Broadway show. The drums were thumping a groovy beat and the dancer/performers ran and twirled and catapulted in beautiful unison.
This student/bird was lifted skyward by her classmates, flying like a bird.

Two years ago, Candaba initiated its first annual Ibon-Ebon Festival (Birds-Eggs Festival) as a way to honor the rich birdlife that is found in the nearby wetlands and to honor the local patron saint, San Nicholas of Tolentino. This saint is considered the patron saint of the Candaba poultry and egg industry as well as the wild avian riches nearby.

The 2009 festival was held in February, (and now it was March) but we still had the pleasure of watching the dance performance that was created for the Ibon-Ebon Festival. I can just imagine that some of these young Candaba residents might become bird watchers as a result of having such a fine birding spot nearby, and a local birding festival. They'll also have a great bird organization to join, when they're ready, in the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines. The WBCP conducts both field trips and bird surveys in Candaba Swamp.

I would like to send my thanks to the performers and organizers in Candaba for this fine experience. Salamat po!

The dancing birds' wingspans were longer than my reach.

Happy kids: They seemed proud of their performance and their town.

Here are some additional images and a short video of the dance performance. Enjoy!

The drum corps ROCKED!

Boys and girls participated equally in the dance performance.

All of the most colorful birds posed for a flock shot.


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Monday, December 08, 2008

Highlights of 2008

Photo by Julie Zickefoose.

As the end of another year draws nigh, I am beset and bemused by thoughts of the year's highlights. One of the first highlights to come to mind for 2008—and for many of the past six years for that matter—was my annual ride on the Pale Playground Pig of the Prairie.

Located in a small lakeside playground not far from Carrington, North Dakota, the pig is one of those timeless kids' rides: a cartoonish animal attached to a giant spring mounted in cement in the ground. Every time I make the pilgrimage to see it, I am amazed at its longevity. It probably gets covered in feet of snow each winter and chilled by howling, sub-zero Alberta Clipper winds, then baked by the prairie sun each summer. And though it's a bit paler each time I see it, it's always smiling.

When I'm lucky enough to be a leader on the Arrowwood NWR birding field trip at the annual Potholes & Prairie Birding Festival held each June in central North Dakota, I look forward to getting in a little quality riding time with the PPPP. We always stop at the park because it has public restrooms, which are near the top of the must-have list for any birding trip (just below a thermos of bad coffee and a bag of waxy chocolate donuts). The park also has breeding least flycatchers, western kingbirds, both orchard and Baltimore orioles, and tons of warbling vireos.

The Potholes & Prairie Birding Festival is the very essence of quality over quantity, which is one of the reasons we've done the event for many years running. Other festivals may get more attendees, but few offer more birds, or nicer people. If you're interested, visit the festival's website and see for yourself.

Who knows, may YOU'LL get to ride the Pale Playground Pig of the Prairie in 2009. If you come to the festival, I give you directions right to it.

I'll share some other highlights from 2008 as they come to mind. In the meantime, please share a few of yours!

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Phoebe & The Young Birder's Guide

Phoebe with her copy of the Young Birder's Guide at the New River Birding Festival.

The thing I'm most proud of in my career as a bird content guy is the Young Birder's Guide which I wrote with the help of my daughter Phoebe's elementary school class. The book has gotten quite a bit of notice from the media and seems to be doing a good job connecting with its target audience (8- to 12-year-olds). Working with Phoebe and her schoolmates was the best.

Phoebs and I recently were interviewed by Mark Lynch, host of the excellent radio show Inquiry on public radio station WICN-FM in Boston. The interview is now available on WICN's website. To give us a listen, go here.

Clearly, during the interview, I talk way too much and Phoebe—not enough. Phoebster, next time I promise to give you more airtime, babe.

The "Inquiry" page on the WICN website.

Share the joy of birds with a young person with the YBG.

If you live anywhere near western Maryland, south-central Pennsylvania, or eastern West Virginia, and are looking for something birdy to do this weekend, come watch birds with us at The Berkeley Springs Fall Birding Festival. This is the first year of what is planned to be an annual event. I am leading a bird walk for kids on Saturday morning and giving my "Perils & Pitfalls of Birding" talk on Saturday night.

Hope to see you there (or somewhere) soon!

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Midwest Birding Symposium 2009

In 1997 and 1999 Bird Watcher's Digest hosted The Midwest Birding Symposium, a biennial (every other year) festival that moves around the Midwest and is hosted by local or regional bird clubs, companies, and tourism organizations. The MWBS has been held in Illinois (where it was founded), Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and now it's coming back to Ohio. The dates—and you're going to want to write this down right now—are September 17 to 20, 2009.

If you attended one of the two symposia we hosted at Lakeside on Lake Erie in the late 1990s, you know what this event is all about: bird watchers coming together to see birds, to expand their birding knowledge, and most of all, to have fun!

Joining BWD in hosting the 2009 Midwest Birding Symposium are our friends and fellow birders from the Ohio Ornithological Society. We've once again chosen the charming community of Lakeside, Ohio as home base for the event. Given the enthusiasm we have as organizers and hosts, we believe the 2009 Midwest Birding Symposium is going to be the best one ever.

If you've never attended an MWBS, this is your chance. If you've been to one before and you want to come to another one, don't wait to register. Space is limited! We are already taking pre-registrations on the MWBS web pages.

We are busily lining up speakers and choosing field trip sites (and looking for corporate sponsors!). We'll share all these developments with you via the official MWBS e-updates, which will be sent to all pre-registrants. You can also watch for details in the pages of Bird Watcher's Digest.

I hope I'll see YOU at the 2009 Midwest Birding Symposium.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Ye Olde Brytish Byrd Faire

Ahh! The British Birdwatching Fair! The world's largest gathering of bird aficionados--kindred spirits to us all. Looking for something--anything--having to do with birds? It's probably here. Lots of neat new products, great books we'll never see in the U.S., clothing MADE FOR BIRDING! And the Bird Fair even has a beer tent. U.S. birding festivals please take note....

More than 20,000 bird watchers wend their way to north-central England each August for this unique event. I try to go as often as I can, but as travel to Europe has gotten more expensive, it's gotten tougher to make it to Rutland Water, an RSPB reserve that is the site of The British Birdwatching Fair.

The BirdFair is set up inside of several huge tents, called marquees. I think there were at least five different marquees, plus two optics marquees, and an art marquee. Even though I spent parts of three days there, map in hand, I never really felt I got the lay of the land. Everywhere I looked I saw something else interesting and someone I wanted to talk with about birds and birding.

Perhaps the most fabulous thing about the BirdFair is the set up for trying optics. In two different optics marquees perched on the shore of Rutland Water, all the major optics companies are set up, side-by-side. This allows attendees to sample the optics under actual field conditions, looking at actual wild birds! I'm not sure what the sales figures are, but I saw a steady stream of grinning bird watchers walking out of the optics marquees clutching new optics. I was sorely tempted to buy several binocs I tested. Thank the gods that the exchange rate made such purchases insanely expensive for me.

The optics marquees were jammed all day long with eager bird watchers sampling the world's finest binoculars and scopes.

The BirdFair always features a large number of bird and wildlife artists in the art marquee. Nearly all of the participating artists contribute their time and talents to creating a large mural

The BirdFair annually chooses a bird conservation cause to support. This year it was highlighting the world's most critically endangered birds and these species were painted onto the BirdFair mural by the participating artists.
I got to hang with my pals from Guatemala at the BirdFair. They were there telling people about all the wonderful birds that can be seen in their lovely country.
Dozens of other organizations were also at the BirdFair promoting birding tourism in their regions and countries. This booth is promoting birding in Uganda.

I got to see several dear friends at the BirdFair. Among them were (from left) Nicholas Hammond of The Wildlife Trusts, Lisa White from Houghton Mifflin, and David Quinn, bird artist extraordinaire.

While visiting with Mavourneen from Lawson's Birdwatching Tours (at left, back) I was surprised to see this very friendly Englishman wearing a T-shirt (from High Island in Texas) with one of Julie's designs on it. Had to snap a pic of that moment! It's a small world after all....

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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Searching for Words, Birds

Photo by mi esposa J. Zick.

Sorry, BOTB readers, that I have not had a lot to say of late.
I've been busy running all over and have been searching for both birds and words.

I'm off again soon to my next speaking gig. This one's at the Allegany Nature Pilgrimage near Salamanca, NY. I'll be giving my "Perils and Pitfalls of Birding" talk on Saturday evening in the big tent in Allegany State Park.

And I'll probably play a little music because no one can stop me.

No web access there either, so you'll have to bear with me until next week. In the meantime, I'll keep searching for both birds and words.

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