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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Salamander on the brain

I seriously must have had salamanders on the brain. After not seeing any this afternoon at work, when I got home I fortuitously dug up a Red-backed Salamander while working in my garden. The kids have it in a plastic container, we'll watch it for a few days and see how it does.

Meanwhile, I had fun throwing the giant beetle grubs I dug up onto the back alley, hoping a starling, robin, or Song Sparrow hopping around out there might go for them. Made me wonder if I could make a grub feeder (like a mealworm feeder)--a flat platform with a tray on it where I could put these grubs. Has anyone out there experimented with a grub feeder like this to feed their lawn or garden pests to the birds?


Down near the creek at work, a Common Yellowthroat (COYE) was singing during lunch--#71 for my 2008 BIGBY.

Walking through the woods I had a dark and lonely thought--out of over 1 billion people, am I the only person in the industrialized world that is bending over to look for salamanders under a rock at this moment (12:30pm EDT)?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

In the Yard

Got a new yard bird today while gardening--a distant singing Field Sparrow. All in all, 22 species from my 18 x 40 foot back lot this morning. Forget asking how many angels can dance on the head of a pin; the real question is how many birds can I see from this postage-stamp sized yard? As of today, its a mere 60 species.

Big BIGBY Walk

Last night I noticed a lone Ring-necked Duck on a pond near the middle school, and also saw that the local Purple Martins had returned, so this morning I took an extra long walk to see those birds for my 2008 BIGBY list. I also picked up my FOS House Wrens singing in three spots along the creek. A nice way to pick up 39 species in the morning.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Bird and Windpower Resources

For folks interested in the impacts of windpower development on birds and other wildlife, the National Wind Coordinating Collaborative (NWCC) has a lot of online resources that might be of interest.

NWCC is a U.S. consensus-based collaborative of agency, nonprofit, and business interests formed in 1994 to identify issues affecting the use of wind power, establish dialogue among key stakeholders, and catalyze appropriate activities to support the development of environmentally, economically, and politically sustainable commercial markets for wind power. Over the past 14 years, the NWCC has developed a wealth of resources addressing the impacts of windpower on birds and other wildlife, most of which are available on the NWCC website.

As a matter of full disclosure, I'm currently on the NWCC Steering Committee and a Core Member of the NWCC Wildlife Workgroup.

Links to most of the NWCC wind and wildlife resources are here:

These include the following recent publications:
* Assessing Impacts of Wind-Energy Development on Nocturnally Active Birds and Bats: A Guidance Document (the Journal of Wildlife Studies Paper November 2007)

* Critical Literature Review: Impact of Wind Energy and Related Human Activities on Grassland and Shrub-Steppe Birds (October 2007)

* Songbird Protocol (Updated June 2007)

* NWCC Mitigation Toolbox (May 2007 - 962KB PDF)

The toolbox describes various mitigation measures or tools that can be used in the decision-making process. To help guide future decision making, this toolbox provides information about existing mitigation policies and guidelines, as well as on whether strategies are based on sound scientific research. It indicates the effectiveness of various methods of avoiding, minimizing, or compensating for direct and indirect impacts on wildlife caused by wind power facilities. The toolbox is a living document and is updating twice annually.

There are also minutes and reports from meetings, and powerpoint presentations on a lot of issues, including a recent presentation on Lesser Prairie-Chicken impacts in Texas.

There's an embarrassment of riches here, one could easily spend a week just reading all the great material here.

So bookmark the NWCC wind and wildlife resources page and make it a point to check there as a starting point when looking for good information on wind and wildlife issues.

NWCC puts out a brief bi-monthly email update, so if you want to keep up with the latest NWCC happenings including events and resources under development, you can subscribe by sending an email to Taylor Kennedy (tkennedy AT


Does this look like fun or what!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

New Stuff

Spring is here! New BIGBY birds I've seen during the last week or so include Tree Swallow, Black-and-white Warbler, Broad-winged Hawk, and Northern Rough-winged Swallow (nesting at work).

I've also got an Eastern Bluebird nesting in one of the nest boxes at work. Very cool.

I've continued to get my Bird RDA each day (so far every day since the beginning of the year). I may have to start doing more than the minimum, as after a couple months I know where enough birds are to get my minimum of 20 species on my commute to work. Rock Pigeons on the barn, check. Lesser Black-backed Gulls on the lake, check. Song Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Northern Cardinal singing as I drive with the windows down, check.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Birdchaser at IATB #73

My interview with Howard Cosell is included in the latest version of I and the Birds (#73) over at A Snail's Eye View. Check it out.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Palm Saturday

After torrential rains last night, there were at least 3 Palm Warblers (a new BIGBY bird) on my walk early this morning. Also a singing Field Sparrow. 27 species (135% of Bird RDA). Spring is in the air.

Friday, April 11, 2008

When Penguins Dream

We've all seen this by now. But I still like it!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Six Word Birding Meme

I've been tagged by BirdingGirl. What is birding, for me, in six words?

Grasping the glorious fourfold of being.

Lets take this as a rough draft. If you are into Heidegger, this might mean something for you. For the rest of us, a little explanation is in order.

In his later writings German philosopher Martin Heidegger described the world in which we live as the interplay between what he calls the fourfold: earth, sky, divinities, and mortals.

So lets look at my six word definition of birding, word by word.

Grasping: Tough to find the right word here, but in birding, I do think that we seek to possess or somehow seek a connection with the birds. And if we are really into it, not just birds, but the whole everything that birds are, including all of their connections. But more on that in a minute. To grasp is not to hold delicately. Birding is not a delicate operation. It is a visceral activity that somehow connects my inner soul to...well, the glorious fourfold!

The: this might seem like a wasted word, but it somehow conveys the unity that underlies all things. Being, if you will.

Glorious: There is something about birds, and everything around them, that radiates, that goes beyond their merely being present for us to see. A glory, power, electricity, energy--something that charges you up and shakes your whole soul.

Fourfold: So here we go--birds unite earth, sky, divinities, and morals.
Earth: Birds are of the earth. Earthy. They have solid substance, feathers, bones, sinews. Their colors reflect their surroundings, they are tied to the ground that gives a support for the places they build the nests from which they emerge.
Sky: Birds more than many other creatures seem to embody the sky as well, through flight. Who doesn't like to watch birds soar through the air, or hasn't dreamed of joining them there?
Divinities: In some cultures, birds are messengers from the Gods. In some of the Mayan communities, the word for bird is the same word for spirit. Regardless of your views on that, I see something eternal, a spark of the divine, when I stare into the eye of a bird. A reflection of a shared eternal existence.
Mortals: And birds are mortal. Like us, they die. We can kill them. In rare cases, they might even kill us. Just as we share a spark of the divine, we share a mouldering future as our bodies slip back into that from which we came.

Of Being: We are all part of the all, of being, mere reflections of each other and parts of the whole. The Cooper's Hawk crashing through the tree in pursuit of the robin is in some sense myself. As is the robin. And the tree. Bound together. Birding is just a recognition and celebration of that. Through birding we embrace, in a dance of being. Wrestling together. Its not about the birds. Its about us. All of us. Sealed together for the eternities.

So, how's this for my 'final' draft--what is birding?

Embracing earth, sky, divinities, and mortals.


Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Economic Incentives: Conservation's Weakest Link

As noted in this NY Times piece on the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), any conservation program that depends upon economic incentives will fail when there is a greater economic incentive take a less environmentally friendly position.

In the 1990s we saw this with ecotourism. If someone can make more money developing a golf course community than leaving their habitat in place for birders, guess what they are probably going to do?

Now that agricultural prices are climbing, we can't pay farmers enough to keep them from plowing up habitat to cash in on the latest boom.

Paying people to do the right thing only works until someone is willing to pay more for something else. In the end, if we are willing for it to be all about the money, then the money will win and the birds will lose.

Cosell Interview with the Birdchaser

From the archives, a short interview with Howard Cosell. Not sure how we did this one, since he died thirteen years ago this month. But what the heck, good fun for all.

Cosell: Those of you at home may not know this, but birdwatching, or birding as the binocular-sporting crowd calls it, is more popular than golf and tennis combined. Millions of folks out there spy on birds for fun, but only a relative few have actually taken it to the level of a sport. I'm joined today by one of those curious few who think they can convince the rest of us that watching birds is actually a sport. Please join me in welcoming The Birdchaser.
Birdchaser: Pleasure to be here.

Cosell: Lets start out with a simple question. How would you convince me that watching birds is really a sport, and not just a mild obsession for folks who prefer feathers to felines?
Birdchaser: There's no question that for most people, watching birds is just a curious pastime. But just like there is a difference between playing catch with your kid, and playing Major League Baseball, there is a difference between birding and birdwatching. Watching birds is an idle pursuit. Birding--chasing around to see how many birds you can see in a given area over a limited period of time--is a serious sport.

Cosell: If its a serious sport, are there fans? Why don't we see birding competitions on television? Sponsorships of birding events? Cash prize winnings?
Birdchaser: Ah yes, as a sport, there are many events and contests--such as big days, big years, and team events such as the Great Texas Birding Classic and the World Series of Birding...

Cosell: World Series of Birding? That sounds like wishful marketing to me...
Birdchaser: Perhaps so, but in all seriousness, there are events out there. As for prizes, well, we tried over a decade ago to get serious cash prizes for the Great Texas Birding Classic, but purists on the planning committee didn't want to take birding down the road of professionalization--actually they called it corruption--like we saw in surfing back in the 70s. So it remains mostly an amateur sport.

Cosell: So it doesn't even rise to the level of bowling, as a professional sport?
Birdchaser: Well, sadly, no, but...

Cosell: So why should we take it seriously, as a sport?
Birdchaser: Because there are tens of thousands of people out birding at any given time--competing to see how many birds they can see, posting their sightings on the internet for other birders to see...

Cosell: The internet? So its an online sport?
Birdchaser: Maybe. But the real birding takes place out in the field.

Cosell: So can we follow these guys around? Who would watch such a thing on TV?
Birdchaser: Perhaps not the same folks who watch golf, but if you can watch a guy hit a little white ball with a stick, you should be able to watch guys scoping out shorebirds on the mudflats...

Cosell: Shorebirds? Mudflats? Doesn't sound like the makings of a Wide World of Sports special to me...
Birdchaser: But what if there was a $500 cash prize for the team of birders that found the most birds during a competition on the Texas Coast? What if there were major automotive sponsors who wanted to showcase birders rushing around in their SUVs? What if there were a standardized course, where folks could stand and wait for the teams to arrive and see how many birds they could see there compared to the other teams? What if...

Cosell: Sounds like you're dreaming there, Birdchaser.
Birdchaser: Perhaps, but...

Cosell: Meanwhile, let me know when you get those million dollar prizes lined up, and the major sponsorship for an event we can televise. In the meantime, I wish you the best of luck. To you and all the bird watchers at home, have fun out there!

Yucatan Bird Festival

Here's a chance for some birding fun in the sun, as well as a way to help our friends (both birds and people) south of the border. More details at

Monday, April 07, 2008

BIGBY Pine Warbler

You'd think after several days of solid birding on the Upper Texas Coast, I could take it easy. Maybe take a day off from getting my birding RDA. But no. At 4pm, with only a Carolina Wren and House Finch on my day list, I had to go for my 3 mile walk. Lucky thing I did, as I was treated to two new BIGBY Birds--a nice Pine Warbler and an Osprey. I also saw a young Cooper's Hawk take an American Robin on the ground, and carry it off. All in all, I picked up 33 species on my walk.

Day List: 33 species (165% of Bird RDA)
2008 BIGBY List: 63 species
2008 List: 344 species

Whirlwind Tour of Upper Texas Coast

Last Thursday I flew down to Beaumont, Texas for two and a half days of birding the Upper Texas Coast with some Audubon donors and board members. Here's a quick look at where we went:

Thursday afternoon
Texas Point
Sabine Woods
McFaddin NWR

Anahuac NWR
Bolivar Flats IBA

Boykin Springs
Jasper State Fish Hatchery
Martin Dies State Park
High Island

Sadly, we missed the Yellow Rails on one of the scheduled rail walks at Anahuac (a very rare occurrence indeed on those great walks). We did have a mystery rail that might have been a Yellow Rail, but it didn't have the white wing patches that these guys usually have. Not sure exactly what that bird might have been, some options:

1) strange Yellow Rail without wing patches (unheard of?)
2) juvenile Sora that didn't molt into adult plumage last fall (unheard of?)
3) A strange Latin American vagrant, such as Yellow-breasted Crake (never before seen in USA)

Not a lot of good options there, so a real mystery at this point.

We did get great looks at a lot of the regular Upper Texas Coast species, though the landbird migrants were extremely thin (we got 4 species of warblers in two hours at High Island!). Highlights were great close looks at Clapper, King, and Virginia Rails. Snowy, Piping, and Wilson's Plovers at Bolivar Flats (as expected). Glimpses of Bachman's Sparrow, LeConte's Sparrow, and Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow. Great looks at Red-cockaded Woodpeckers at Boykin Springs. And finally on the mowed runway margins while taking off from Beaumont, an Upland Sandpiper--perhaps my favorite "shore" bird.

Non-bird highlights were my first ever River Otter at Texas Point (a jinx mammal finally in the bag!) and catching a Speckled Kingsnake at Smith Oaks at High Island.

And last, but for sure not least, the sights, sounds, and smells of some great parts of the country--including saltmarshes, pine woods, bottomland forests. Also a memorable dinner at Bryan's 797. Due to a lack of migrant landbirds, we only managed about 160 bird species. But a great couple days all the way around.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Last Great Auk

Latest photo from Canada! Looks like while we were wasting all that time on the Ivory-billed Woodpecker the last few years, we should of been doing more bird surveys in Nunavut!

cute little murderous fur balls?

Nature Blog Network Fatbirder's Top 1000 Birding Websites