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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Audubon Bird Clock

Here's the dirty little secret in the bird marketing world--real birders HATE the Audubon Singing Bird Clock. You know, the one with a different bird picture marking each hour and that gives that bird's call when the clock strikes that bird's hour. At $19.95 its a not an expensive gift, and its an all time best-seller in the bird merchandizing world. And maybe that's the problem with the clock--many birders just find too many incongruities between the worlds of birds and marketing. No offense to the clock people, many birders feel the same way about bird mugs, dishrags, or pillowcases. There's a wide divide between bird people and bird mug people.

But maybe there's a way beyond this impasse. What I propose is a new singing bird clock. Instead of featuring real birds at each hour, it should have beloved pop culture birds in their place. Since they aren't real birds, they won't annoy real birders. And since most cartoon birds are more popular than real birds, this clock would be a guaranteed best seller. Here's your million dollar idea for the day!

The new "oughta been" singing bird clock could feature the following birds and their calls:

1--Donald Duck saying "Mickey Mouse" from the Mickey Mouse Club song.
2--Big Bird saying "Snuffy, Snuffy...where are you?"
3--Tweety Bird saying "I tot I taw a putty tat!"
4--Foghorn Leghorn saying "I do say..."
5--Daffy Duck saying "Despicable"
6--The Roadrunner saying "bbbbbbbppppttt"
7--Heckle and Jeckle (for the old-timers) saying "Hey, Old Featherhead"
8--Iago (from Disney's Aladdin, for the younger kids) saying "Look at this. I'm so ticked off that I'm molting"
9--Alan-a-dale the rooster from Disney's Robin Hood singing "dododododododododo, dodododododo"
10--Zazu from Disney's The Lion King saying "Not so fast!"
11--Toucan Sam saying "Follow your nose, it always knows!"
12--Woody Woodpecker and his famous laugh

C'mon, it made you laugh, right? You even followed a link or two. You'd buy this clock for someone, right? And its totally inoffensive. Who can get upset at the marketing of pop icons? No real nature to despoil or prostitute there! Even hard-core birders have a soft spot for some of these beloved characters. I'm telling you its a winner. Look for it in stores by Christmas!

Hummer Nest

There must be a Ruby-throated Hummingbird nest near the office at work, as this morning as I came in I saw a female fly down to the foundation to pick spider webs--which they use as nesting material--from the basement window wells. Very cool to see these tiny birds doing their thing.

Field Birds

This weekend I took a walk at Pine Run, going another half mile or more farther than I usually do there, and finally found a pair of Eastern Meadowlarks that were rumored to be there. These may be the only meadowlarks for several miles around. Also had Yellow-billed Cuckoo calling in the woods, as well as several Willow Flycatchers. Summer is pretty much here, and we had to break out the window AC units this weekend.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Lee Creek sanctuaries

Sunday afternoon we got a tour of the Lee Creek area on the south shore of the Great Salt Lake. Fun to see some more old friends, including Burrowing Owl, Sage Thrasher, Prairie Falcon, and a pronghorn antelope. But the stars of the show were a family of four baby Long-billed Curlews with their parent in the tall grass. These are perhaps the cutest little birds I've ever seen. Its amazing to think how much those bills have to grow in the next few months as the birds mature! I couldn't find a good photo of these guys online. If anyone has a good photo of baby curlews, let me know!

Park City

On Saturday, I woke up early and hiked up the mountain behind The Canyons at Park City. Lots of old friends up there--Virginia's Warbler, MacGillivray's Warbler, Dusky Flycatcher, and my favorite of the morning, four booming Ruffed Grouse. I love how you almost feel the low wingbeating of the grouse before you actually hear them. Its been probably ten years since I've heard these guys, so a real treat. (grouse photo credit: Utah DNR)

Farmington Bay

Friday I flew to Salt Lake City to take part in some Global Warming meetings at Park City. On my way to the meetings I stopped by some of my old stomping grounds, including Farmington Bay. Fun to see American Avocets, Black-necked Stilts, and Cinnamon Teal--old friends that I don't get to see too much of out here in Pennsylvania. (photo credit:Sandra Bray/Great Salt Lake Audubon)

I was a little surprised to see a Northern Mockingbird in Davis County, something I never would have expected when I lived in Utah during the early 1990s. Seems like there are more sightings of these guys away from Southern Utah or the West Desert where they were more likely to be seen back then. Is it Global Warming? Increased shrubbery in suburbia? Something else happening? Its always hard to tell what causes these kinds of distributional changes.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Birdchaser at IATB Wordchaser

Dave Bonta has the latest I and the Bird #49 up at his blog, and gives me a kind nod with the title of his poetic version of this blog carnival--The Wordchaser.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Bobolink Odyssey

Some birds are old friends that you only see now and again. This morning, on my way to work, I stopped by Pine Run to look for shorebirds. Walking back to my car, a Bobolink flew up out of the field and circled me while singing. This past weekend, I’d seen three Bobolinks in a horse pasture in Ambler, where I always see them on my birdathon, but this was my first one for Bucks County. (photo credit: USFWS)

I did not grow up with Bobolinks, as they are almost unheard of in Western Oregon. There are a few scattered colonies of Bobolinks in Eastern Oregon, and I saw my first ones at the P-Ranch near Malhuer National Wildlife Refuge on May 26, 1984. The next year I saw them on June 1, during the traditional late May or Early June trip to Malhuer to search for eastern vagrants.

The next year I graduated from high school, and missed Bobolinks. For the next couple of years, I didn’t live in Bobolink country. Finally, on June 26, 1993, I was married, finishing up my degree at BYU, had a car, and was able to drive up to see Utah’s most accessible Bobolinks in some wet pastures near Heber.

In 1994, we moved from Utah before the Bobolinks returned for the summer, but I was able to see some on May 20 west of Helena while doing field work in Montana. In 1995, we moved to Texas. Bobolinks are only extremely rare migrants in Central Texas, and I never did see them near Austin where I lived for almost ten years. Bobolinks are uncommon but regular during migration on the Upper Texas Coast, and I finally saw some at Bolivar while leading trips for the April 2001 American Birding Association conference in Beaumont.

For the past three years, I’ve been able to see Bobolinks here in Pennsylvania each spring during my birdathon. I love to hear their raspy songs, and their stunning display flights. And every time I see them, it brings back memories of all the times and places where my life has intersected with these charming black, brown, white, and butter-colored blackbirds. While I’m not sure I’ve spent enough time with them to actually call them old friends, they are familiar acquaintances, favorite guest stars when they show up on my birding exploits and help weave together over twenty years of my birding odyssey.

Monday, May 14, 2007


On Friday and Saturday I birded with a couple of friends to raise money for the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association birdathon. Our birding was restricted to sites within the watershed, which does not include any good waterbird or shorebird habitat, so we're always struggling to get to 100 species. This year was no different, we ended up with only 96 birds.

Highlights on Friday were a Black-crowned Night Heron at the Ambler Waterfowl Preserve--an old abandoned asbestos pit filled with water--and a Wild Turkey, which are easy to get this year at Four Mills, but a bird we've missed in the past.

Friday night I ended up camping at Fort Washington on Militia Hill, one of our best birding spots, for a father/son campout with my church group, so I got an early start on the dawn chorus there. It was a much better day for migrants on Saturday, and we ended up with 20 warbler species, including Cape May, Blackpoll, Wilson's, Hooded, and Nashville--some not-to-easy to get birds in our area. But the highlight for me was my best-ever look at Black-billed Cuckoo, a bird that has elluded me many times in the past.

So, a good weekend of birding, for fun and nonprofit. And congrats to my eBird friends at Cornell who won the big-league World Series of Birding in NJ this weekend.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Not so wetland

The detention basin that hosted 17 Solitary Sandpipers earlier in the week is almost dry, and only had two Least Sandpipers and two Killdeer this morning. Another detention basin near the Quakertown Lowes had a single Least Sandpiper and two Solitary Sandpipers. We're forcast for some rain tonight and tomorrow, which should be good for my birdathon as well as refresh some of this shorebird stopover habitat.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

More migrants

On my way to work this morning I stopped at the drainage basin with all the shorebirds in Quakertown--there were only 8 Solitary Sandpipers that I could see, along with the other shorebirds there yesterday, and a Greater Yellowlegs was new there.

Then I stopped by Nockamixon and saw Orchard Oriole, Baltimore Oriole, Yellow Warbler, and heard lots of Ovenbirds.

At State Game Land 157 there were over 20 Ovenbirds singing, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Black-and-white Warblers, Baltimore Orioles, and plenty of Gray Catbirds. Best birds were a Pileated Woodpecker and a fly over Broad-winged Hawk.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Unsolitary Sandpipers

This evening while running errands, I stopped by a detention basin in Quakertown and found two Solitary Sandpipers with a Spotted Sandpiper. At another detention basin, there were an eye-popping 17 Solitary Sandpipers, 8 Least Sandpipers, 1 Wilson's Snipe, 3 Killdeer, and 1 American Pipit. With the warm water, not sure how long the water is going to last in these detention basins, but worth taking a look over the next few days. It's a far cry from the coast, but I'll take what shorebirds I can get!

Spring colors

A colorful assemblage of migrants at work this morning, including brilliant blue male Indigo Bunting and everyone's favorite orange and black Baltimore Oriole. Not much singing in the woods, Warbling Vireo, Northern Parula. A male Eastern Bluebird was defending a nest box from four dive-bombing Tree Swallows in the field by the barn. Common Yellowthroats were singing in the brush below the power lines. (photo: National Park Service)

Dunlin on the run

On the way to work this morning I found a nice breeding plumage Dunlin at Pine Run. This sandpiper, formerly known as Red-backed Sandpiper or Black-bellied Sandpiper, is a rare migrant in Bucks County, seen only a couple times a year if that, so a nice way to start the week. Also saw my first Solitary Sandpiper of the year at Pine Run, and a lingering Bonaparte's Gull at Peace Valley. (photo: USFWS)

Saturday, May 05, 2007


I was in DC yesterday, and busy this morning, so didn't check my email until 3pm--when I learned that yesterday Cameron Rutt had discovered a Yellow-billed Loon about 100 miles away near Harrisburg. It was still there this morning, so within an hour my 4th grader and I were in the car cruising west on I-78. By 5:30 we arrived, a few birders were still there, and the bird was in view. We watched it and followed it as it dove just offshore in the Susquehanna River. This is another bird that I had chased and missed several times as a kid growing up in Oregon, so it was sweet to finally see this bird. Its almost in complete alternate (breeding) plumage, which is another treat, since most birds that wander down to the Lower 48 from Alaska and Canada are in basic (nonbreeding/winter) plumage and not nearly as classy looking as this beauty! What a great bird to end the day! (photo: Cameron Rutt)

Update: More photos of this bird are online here--
Tom Johnson's photos
Tim Lenz's photos
Geoff Malosh photos
Dustin Welch photos

Watch a local TV news story about the bird at WHTM.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Rose-breasted Fun

Sitting at my desk the fun continued at work today, when a brilliant male Rose-breasted Grosbeak flew to the seed feeder a few feet from my window. It spent several hours there, off and on, munching on seeds. Each year I get dozens of emails at work from folks seeing these birds for the first time--they're always blown away and think they've found something totally rare and unusual. They are spectacular birds. Ah, Spring! (photo: Bedford Audubon).

Warblers Arrive

Finally had a good flock of warblers at work this morning in the drizzle, with birds singing everywhere. Highlight was 1 Blackburnian Warbler high in the tree. Most numerous were 55 Yellow-rumped Warblers. Also singing--5 Black-throated Green Warblers, 3 Palm Warbler, and 3 Yellow Warblers.

Shorebirds on the move

On the way to work this morning there were 8 Spotted Sandpiper, 9 Least Sandpiper, 8 Lesser Yellowlegs, and 1 Wilson's Snipe at Pine Run. Not a huge number of shorebirds, but good to see them on the move. In the woods near the shore, were my first Yellow Warbler of the year, as well as several Yellow-rumped Warblers and a Palm Warbler. Migration is underway!
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