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Friday, December 30, 2005

Birds as Individuals

Julie's Hummingbirds have me thinking a lot more about birds as individuals. Check out photographer Harri Vainola's meditation and photos on this theme, as well as the classic Len Howard book Birds as Individuals (scroll down for discussion here). Makes me wonder, who exactly was that Carolina Wren tossing leaves on the ground behind my new house this morning?

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Julie's Hummingbirds

If you haven't heard the story of my friend Julie Zickefoose's hummingbirds, check it out at NPR. First, listen to the story of how she raised three baby hummingbirds here. Then, listen here to find out how they came back to her yard again the next spring. These are great stories illustrating just how close of a connection some people are able to make with some birds. After listening to Julie's stories, you may have a lot more questions about the birds in your backyard!

New Yard Birds

Over the past year, the birds that I've called new yard birds have been those sighted for the first time at my office on 160 acres of field and forest near Ivyland, Pennyslvania. Today, I my 14 new yard birds are actually my first sightings of birds at my new yard, a tiny lot behind a townhome that we are going to buy in Perkasie, Pennsylvania.

While getting the townhome ready for an appraisal tomorrow, I noted over 70 American Robins coming to a holly tree in the backyard. They were joined by a couple dozen Cedar Waxwings. When I stepped out onto the porch to see them, I noted several other species, including a Song Sparrow, Downy Woodpecker, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Northern Cardinal, and Mourning Dove. Its a tiny yard, but this new yard is adjacent to a wooded alley and a park on Perkiomen Creek. Lets hope these new yard birds are the first of many, many more to stop by our new home.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Five Crows

What kind of day is a five crow day? Today, five crows were the only birds I saw. They flew past this morning as I said goodbye to my inlaws outside in the driveway. The rest of the day I spent inside with the kids, recovering from the overstimulation of the holidays.

Most "real" birders probably wouldn't consider five crows a notable sighting. Crows are common. You could see five crows without even trying (like I did today). There is nothing sporty about finding five crows. Nothing worth noting at all.

Except when you start to wonder about those crows. Most likely, a group of five crows is a family group--probably two parents and their young. This time of year, the family group may consist of young from this year as well as a couple older young birds from last year--birds spending their last few months with the family before heading out to find their own territories.

Whether I know it or not, there is something going on with those five crows...they have a history, one that continues each day when they awake. The adults will probably spend the rest of their lives in short flying distance of my driveway. I may see them from time to time and just note two crows, three crows, or even five crows. My life may intersect with them at odd points in time as I happen to be in the yard as they fly by.

For most of us, these five crows could well symbolize our relationship with birds. Distant. Impersonal. We see them, and note them. Or not. But we really don't know them.

The sighting of five crows is an indictment. An admission that I don't know my local crows. A friend at work knows her crows. She can call them and they will come. She feeds them. Talks to them. Knows where they go and where they spend the night.

But for me, I merely note that five crows flew across the road and through the trees behind the row of townhomes on the other side of the street. They called...or at least one of them called...but I don't know what it was calling for.

Five crows. Living an ancient crow lifestyle amidst 21st Century humans and their technology. Knowing their business perhaps better than we know theirs. And for all I know, we may be less anonymous to them, than they are to me. Perhaps they know me as the guy who leaves early each morning in the red Mazda Protege, often returning after the sun has gone down.

Many of us barely know our human neighbors, let alone our neighborhood crows. But I, for one, vow to do better. To know my crows. And to be known by them as more than a passing figure in their life.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Holiday This and That

With family here for the holidays, birding has been spotty the last few days. Yesterday I did take off for an hour and hit Peace Valley. Over 7,000 Canada Goose and two dozen Lesser Black-backed Gulls were the highlight in the cold windy afternoon.

I went back there this morning with my brother-in-law from Dallas to show him his lifer American Black Duck. We dipped on the owls near the nature center, and didn't have enough time to pin down an American Tree Sparrow. Birding with time limits is a drag!

This afternoon, we caravaned down to Valley Forge and Amish country. At Washington's Headquarters, a nice Brown Creeper was working the lower trunk of a sycamore tree. While their habit of creeping up a tree and flying down to start over again has been much noted, the thing that struck me today was how insect-like the flitting flight was--almost like a moth as it flicked itself down the trunk and along a few branches. It's been a long time since Brown Creepers have been a regular part of my birding fare--they were hard to come by in Central Texas--so it was nice to watch one for a few minutes today before it moved on to another part of the park.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

One More to Go

This afternoon, as I took my bird walk at work, I saw a long-tailed rufous-brown bird fly low across an open space and land in a low tangle. Not much of a look, but good enough to identify it as a Brown Thrasher--a bird that should have migrated south earlier in the fall, and a new yard bird that I had just about given up on. That makes 109 for the year...with just one more work day left in 2005, can I find another new bird to reach 110?

A Two Owl Morning

Took the four year old and one year old birding this morning for a couple hours before work. At the bird blind at Peace Valley, a grey-phase Eastern Screech-Owl was sunning itself in the entrance of a wood duck box back by the pond. The four year old was able to get spectacular looks through the scope. The one year old...again, hard to tell!

Then we went for a walk to look for Long-eared Owls at a traditional roost site near the lake. Unfortunately, wasn't able to see the birds before two of them flushed from the pine trees and flew off, giving only fleeting glimpses as they winged off to another grove of trees. Not wanting to stress the owls anymore, and getting tired from carrying both a scope and the one year old, we moved on. The kids loved the dozens of birds at the feeders. Besides the owls, my favorite birds of the morning were two Horned Grebes diving in the distance at Lake Nockamixon.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Cold Morning

This morning I stood around waiting for a White-winged Dove to show up at a feeder here in Bucks County. For the last ten days, it has shown up at dawn to feed in someone's backyard. Today was the first day that local birders came to look for it (after the initial small party of confirming viewers), and the first day that it didn't come in for its morning feeding. Hard to know if it has moved on (its far, far away from its usual Texas and southwestern US range), shifted its routine, or succumbed to either the Cooper's Hawk or Sharp-shinned Hawk that we saw patrolling the yard this morning. A Red-breasted Nuthatch was working the trees in the yard, along with the more common juncos, cardinals, sparrows, chickadees, and finches. I wasn't ready to spend 2 hours in the cold, so got a bit more chilled than I was prepared for. Oh well. Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Arctic Ghost

This morning I kept my kids "home" from school to go searching for a Snowy Owl (that's Hedwig for all you Harry Potter fans) first found on Sunday about an hour away in Berks County (important for parents to instill a proper sense of priorities!). After driving around snow-covered fields for a couple hours, my four year old was getting hungry, pulled out a clump of my one-year-old's hair, and the subsequent screaming almost bagged the search right then.

After threatening to cancel our Burger King lunch plans if they didn't start behaving, we drove around some more. The four year old was really suffering, but he did suggest that God might be able to help us find the owl. So he said a little prayer, and we drove back to the place where the bird was last seen. Another searcher who had been there before us decided to call it a day and head back to Lancaster County. I scanned the fields one last time, then took a look at my map and noticed an area we hadn't covered yet on the way back to the main highway, and told the kids we were heading home.

Just as I was losing hope and looking for a place to turn around and head back up to the highway, I spotted the young Snowy Owl on the ground about 75 yards off the road. The eight year old and four year old were able to get great scope views of the bird. The one year old may or may not have seen the bird. Hard to tell with toddlers.

All in all a great morning with the kids, who can add Snowy Owl and Horned Lark to their life lists. That and the Burger King chicken strips make three good birds for the day!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Yard Bird #108

My friend Steve sighted a Red-breasted Nuthatch at one of the feeders here at work this morning. That makes it yard bird #108 for 2005. Interesting to note, is a cosmic kind of way, that yard bird #108 is the topic of birdchaser blog post #108. Freaky!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

WatchList Bird

Audubon has a WatchList, a list of birds that are of greatest conservation concern. This morning, while driving over the bridge on the edge of our land at work, I saw what looked like a duck in the creek. After I pulled into the parking lot, I walked back down there and found four American Black Duck and two Mallard swimming with two Canada Goose in the unfrozen section of the creek. American Black Ducks are native to the Eastern United States, and have been declining in numbers for decades. Nice to see them this morning as 2005 yard bird #107.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

New Yard Bird

At the office this morning, my friend and associate Steve called up from downstairs that an American Tree Sparrow was at the feeders. I ran downstairs with my binoculars and got excellent close looks at an adult sparrow feeding on the ground in the snow and at the feeder. This is yard bird #106 for the year--and a beautiful rufous and brown bird that I don't get to see all the time. A good way to start the morning.

Saturday, December 10, 2005


Started driving up to Ithaca, New York in the dark on unplowed roads yesterday morning. Quite a harrowing experience! Eventually, the roads cleared up some. About 20 minutes out of Ithaca, a snow covered corn field held a flock of 45 crows, a couple dozen Rock Doves, and as they took off, I noticed a pair of Horned Larks in with them. Sapsucker Woods around the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology building were pretty quiet in the snow. Did see a couple nuthatches, chickadees, and a Sharp-shinned Hawk.

When I got home, I had a copy of Marjorie Adams' new book Bird-Witched waiting for me in the mail. Marjorie is a grand old lady birder down in Texas. I had reviewed her manuscript for UT Press, and she very graciously thanked me in her acknowledgement section. Glad to see your book finally in print, Marjorie. It was worth all your hard work!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Bird Flu and Chicken Manure

Latest buzz in the bird conservation community monitoring bird flu is the possibility that the H5N1 virus is being spread to wild birds through the practice of feeding farmed fish on chicken manure. Apparently, this "integrated fish farming" is a fairly common practice promoted by the UN FAO, and could be a significant risk-factor in spreading viruses from poultry to wild waterfowl. There is a large state-owned fish farm on the south shore of Qinghai Lake in China, where there was a large bar-headed goose and other bird die-off due to H5N1 avian influenza this year. Researchers are trying to find out more about the aquaculture practices there to see if there might be a link between the farming operation and the local bird flu outbreak.
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