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Monday, December 22, 2008

Join me in Alaska--June 6-14

In June I'll be leading an Audubon Odyssey cruise out of Juneau. Come join me if you like whales and seabirds! Details here.

Magpies, etc.

I made a quick trip out to Utah and Idaho last week for my grandfather's funeral. Not much time for birding, but did get to spend some time watching magpies. I love those birds. So social. Stunning black and white pattern. I know farmers don't like them...but taken on their own terms, they are great birds.

I also saw several Rough-legged Hawks on my trip. I don't get to see these birds here in PA, so that was nice.

Mostly I just saw a lot of snow and sage. I nice tonic to the overdeveloped landscape I live in here in the East.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Pie Birds

OK, not sure why I never knew about this one, but just found out about the tradition of placing ceramic birds as steam vents on baking pies. Pretty cool. Two of my favorite things. Birds and Pies. Awesome!

Image: Wikipedia

FeederWatch Day

Thursday and Friday is Project FeederWatch day at work. Most days I can see 15-20 species at our feeders, but FeederWatch days are a nice excuse to pay a little more attention and try and see even more birds coming to the feeders or hiding in the bushes. A Downy Woodpecker (the official PFW bird!) just showed up with my House Finches, Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, Dark-eyed Juncos, White-throated Sparrows, and White-breasted Nuthatches. Will today be a four or even five woodpecker day? Every FeederWatch day is an adventure--its exciting to see what shows up. You don't have to be a crack birder to participate. If you know the common birds in your yard that's enough to get started. So, if you need a little excitement in your life, check out the Project FeederWatch website and give yourself a FeederWatch day every week to add a little spice to your routine.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sungrebe in New Mexico--anything is possible!

In case you didn't hear, a Sungrebe (a tropical water bird never before seen north of Mexico) was photographed in New Mexico last month. Almost nobody ever guessed that this bird would show up north of the border, let alone in central New Mexico. If you haven't seen the photos of this bird yet, wander over to the Sungrebe page on the Arizona Field Ornithologists website for a treat. Keep your eyes open out never know what you may see!

Methane Burned Kestrel

Still collecting info on birds of prey killed or injured by methane burners at landfills. Here's an American Kestrel from Illinois:

The kestrel didn't make it--too much permanent tissue damage.

Here's a Red-tailed Hawk with a melted beak and singed face. Fortunately, it was able to be released, but only after 5 months of rehab:

For more info on this problem see Audubon Birdscapes.

Photos and info courtesy of Bernadette Richter, SOAR.

Baby Nighthawk Hors D'oeuvres?

Pennsylvania Game Commission biologist Tim Hoppe has been studying roof-nesting Common Nighthawks for the last couple of years in and around Erie, PA. Of the four rooftop nests he found last year, none were successful--all babies disappeared from their roof gravel nests soon after they hatched. We don't know yet what is taking the babies, but crows may be the culprits. Further studies are needed to figure out what is taking these baby birds, and if this is a significant problem for these birds across their range. Nighthawks have declined in numbers by 51 percent over the last 40 years. For more info on how Tim and other biologists are trying to help nighthawks, see Audubon Birdscapes.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Keep your eye out for banded Savannah Sparrows

Folks conducting Christmas Bird Counts this year have a chance to help us better understand the distribution of Savannah Sparrows.

A group of biologists are working with a heavily studied Savannah Sparrow population that breeds on Kent Island, Bowdoin College's scientific field station (Nat Wheelwright, of Bowdoin College, is the head of this effort). They band all Savannah sparrows that breed, hatch, or are found on the study site as juveniles with at least two bands; juveniles receive two bands (an aluminum USFWS band on one leg, a plastic color band on the other) and adults receive four bands (an aluminum USFWS plus a color band on one leg, two color bands on the other).

We know that the birds, both adults and first year, return each year to the study site to breed. One part of the project centers on song development, and it is clear that some of that process occurs before the young birds return to the study site for their first breeding season. It would be very useful to be able to find their wintering grounds so as to determine what effects the winter environment has on song learning in this philopatric population. However, we have no idea where this population winters (except that it is likely to be in the southeast US).

Christmas Bird Counters should be on the lookout for these banded Savannah sparrows? A simple report of their presence would be very valuable, and if the colors on each leg could be ascertained, that would be an amazing bonus. In the absence of tiny transmitters with GPS units (which may come our way eventually), the only chance of finding the wintering location of these birds is to disseminate the question and a heads-up to watch out for and notify those interested of banded birds to a community such as the CBC participants.

If you see a color-banded Savannah Sparrow during the Christmas Bird Count, or any other time during the winter, please contact

Heather Williams
Biology Department, Williams College
Williamstown, MA 01267
hwilliams AT williams DOT edu
(413) 597-3315

More information about the study is online at

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Birding for Everyone

One of the best things I did when I was working for the Travis Audubon Society in Austin was help with a birding class that took two dozen mostly Hispanic and Black at-risk 6th graders, gave them binoculars, field guides, and notebooks, and taught them how to identify and enjoy birds. Half the kids were from the talented and gifted program, and the other half were "resource" kids that needed academic help.

After the first session, it was clear that some of the dyslexic and other "resource" kids were much better at finding and identifying birds using the Ken Kaufmann's field guide. One kid named George clearly excelled at this--perhaps the first academic activity he had ever been good at. It was great to see him light up. At one point he boasted that if he could do this, he could do anything--he could even be president of the United States someday!

We took these kids birding once each month during the school year, and had a great time. During the second session, I saw that one of the kids had drawn a bunch of Mexican birds in his notebook. I asked him if he had been just copying birds out of the book. He said no, he had taken his book on a visit to his Grandparent's house back in Mexico and had drawn the Green Jays and other birds he saw there. Pretty cool, huh?

These kids had a great time while the class lasted, and sometimes I wonder what happened to them afterwards. Without a community of friends and family to support their interest, did it just eventually die?

In a brand new book, Birding for Everyone, John C. Robinson--an African-American and birder for nearly 30 years--discusses the challenges of engaging minority audiences in birding. The biggest problem seems to be, like we found in Austin, that there isn't a lot of support for birding in these communities. They aren't anti-birding--the kids we took out loved it--but there just isn't a tradition of birding and birders in place in those communities to foster and support birding activities.

So how do we share the joy of birding with more of our neighbors? Robinson offers a number of suggestions--most of which will involve birders taking a greater role in actively encouraging our minority friends to take up birding, and working through the schools and other institutions in minority communities to create a network that can support those kids and others who might enjoy birding, but who don't do it because they don't see it happening around them and don't have anyone to go birding with.

Robinson has a lot of good ideas about this, so take a look at Birding for Everyone and think about how you can be a better ambassador for birding in the communities around you. While it may seem like a lot of work--sharing birds with others is always a joy, and unless we want these minority communities--who are soon to outnumber the rest of us--to not care about birds and the environment, the future of birds and birding may depend on it!

(See a more detailed review of this book at Audubon Birdscapes)

Monday, December 01, 2008

Birding Lenapehoking

Lenapehoking is the homeland of the Lenape (Delaware), where I live. On Saturday we went to the Penn Museum and saw the exhibit Fulfilling a Prophecy: The Past and Present of the Lenape in Pennsylvania.

I enjoyed this from the Prophecy of the Four Crows:
Netami ahas kenthu li guttitehewagan wichi Kishelemukonk.
The first crow he flew the way of harmony with Creator.
Nisheneit ahas kwechi pilito entalelemukonk, shek palsu ok ankela.
The second crow he tried to clean it the world, but he became sick and he died.
Nexeneit ahas weneyoo ankelek xansa ok koshiphuwe,.
The third crow he saw him dead his brother and he hid.
Neweneit ahas kenthu li guttitehewagan lapi wichi Kishelemukonk.
The fourth crow he flew the way of harmony again with Creator.

According to the interpretation of the prophecy at the exhibit, we are living in the time of the fourth crow, when the Lenape and others will live in harmony again with all of creation.

I signed the Treaty of Renewed Brotherhood at the museum, and look forward to doing my part to promote Lenape culture and environmental stewardship here in Lenapehoking.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Turkey Day Turkey Search

Well, we officially dipped on Wild Turkey on our annual Thanksgiving Day turkey search, making us 3 for 5 now. I did get to go out with my kids and my Father-in-Law and a Sister-in-Law for a couple hours, but the turkeys were nowhere to be found. Best bird of the morning was probably a young Snow Goose mixed in with the Canada Goose flock at Lake Towhee. A fun morning of driving slowly around a few Upper Bucks County areas near Lake Nockamixon, but sadly, no Wild Turkeys!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Home at Hornsby

I wrote my master's thesis on sewage ponds and the birds at Hornsby Bend in Austin. I started the Hornsby Bend Bird Observatory while I was starting my PhD program. Now that I am in Austin to finish that up, Hornsby was the first place I went to after picking up the rental car. Just a quick spin around the ponds was great to see old friends like Crested Caracara. Also saw a couple birds that can be tough to find out there some years--3 Common Goldeneyes and a female Hooded Merganser. Good to be home. How often do you hear that said about a sewage pond?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Prepare now for Turkey Day

Those of you who have been here for awhile may remember that every Thanksgiving Day morning I take my kids out to look for Wild Turkeys. Its a great Turkey Day tradition now in our family, and one you may well wish to take up if you live in range of these great birds. If so, take time this week to scout out some of the best turkey haunts. I know where I'll be looking come Thursday morning. So far we're 3 for 4 on finding the birds in three states--our only miss was the year we went out blind when we were visiting family in Virginia.

Here's hoping to make it 4 for 5 and that everyone has a great Turkey Day--and fun getting ready for it!

Gettin all doctored up

So, long time ago, almost in a previous life, I was a PhD student at the University of Texas. Then I got a job. Then I got another job and moved away. But I still paid tuition, and kept working on the dissertation as time and energy would allow. Finally, several years later now, I'm almost done. Tomorrow I fly to Austin to defend my dissertation on urban bird conservation to my doctoral committee. If I pass the defense, I'll get my PhD in Geography. Looking forward to some good Tex-Mex, some Hornsby Bend birding, and finishing up my schooling! It's been a long and windy road!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

More Methane Burned Hawks in Oklahoma

Newswires have been picking up the story of Red-tailed Hawks burned by methane burners at landfills in Wisconsin (see more and links to story at Audubon Birdscapes). This morning I had a good conversation with Gary Siftar of Here's some photos of burned birds from his area:

Looks like the birds are usually young Red-tailed Hawks.

Here's the culprit in Oklahoma--a 60 foot tall stack, unlike the smaller burner in Wisconsin (see photo at Audubon Birdscapes).

May be tougher to retro-fit this larger stack to make sure birds can't land on it or fly through the flare. But should still be doable.

Photos: Gary Siftar

Monday, November 17, 2008

2009 Great Backyard Bird Count Buttons

Its not too early to steal these buttons for your blog or website. Get ready to join us for the 2009 Great Backyard Bird Count in February!

Duck, Duck, Goose

Between a stop at Peace Valley on my way into the office, and the birdfeeders at work, I got my Bird RDA well before lunch today. Highlight were 70 Bufflehead, 20 Lesser Scaup, 4 Hooded Mergansers, 2 Ruddy Ducks, and 1 Green-winged Teal with the Canada Geese at Peace Valley, along with a Pileated Woodpecker calling near the dam. At work, the feeders are really pulling in the little songbirds and I'm enjoying a constant stream of chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, etc. Right now two dozen Mourning Doves and a handful of Red-winged Blackbirds are under the feeder next to my window. Good thing I'm not easily distracted!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Welcome to the Party: Common Myna

I'm a bit late catching up on recent readings...and just noticed that the American Birding Association has just admitted Common Myna to the official list of North American birds--so if you see one in south Florida, you can now add it to your official life list. Mynas are from Asia, and are pretty aggressive, so not all will be happy to see this bird considered fully established in Florida, but there you have it. I saw a pair of these walking around on the road just outside of Everglades NP when I was down there a couple years ago. Welcome to the party!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Not much around on the local lakes lately, just a few Pied-billed Grebes moving through, and flocks of Bufflehead. I had fifty of these small diving ducks at Peace Valley on Monday, and several scattered around Lake Nockamixon and Lake Towhee this morning. Also a large flock of Cedar Waxwings, American Robins, and Eastern Bluebirds eating berries near the marina at Lake Nockamixon, and a Red-shouldered Hawk. Temperature is dropping, its getting cold out there!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Cool Bird Pop-up Book

I had heard about the new Birdscapes book months ago before it came out, and yesterday I was finally able to get my hands on it. It may be the coolest bird book I've ever seen.

The concept is so fresh, I wish I would have come up with it--pop-up scenes of quintessential American bird habitats combined with the recorded sounds of the birds found there. As you open each page, the habitat pops up and the birds start to sing.

It is tempting to call Birdscapes a wonder rather than a book. The book is mostly just seven separate scenes, followed by a few pages of short notes about each of the 70 birds depicted in the various scenes.

As soon as I took it out of the box, my kids were all over it. They loved the complex pop-up landscapes, and the songs of the birds--especially the owls, which they know and love. And the puffins. My kids have only seen Atlantic Puffins, but they knew the Tufted Puffins as soon as they saw--and heard--them on the massive Pacific Coast bird colony pop-up.

Everyone at work was blown away by Birdscapes as well. As I said, it is much more novel and engaging book than its specs (it is only 18 "pages" long!).

Ever wonder what book to get someone who likes birds a little, but maybe doesn't quite "get it" when it comes to your birding passion? This would be the book. It will sit on their coffee table, they will pick it up, open it, and be awestruck again and again.

Then you can invite them out to actually see whichever of the Birdscapes can be found locally (take them owling!) and their life will never be the same again.

Consider it a down payment on their future connection to birds!

Update: I've also added another review of this book at Audubon Birdscapes.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Upcoming Birdchaser talk in New Jersey

What do Madonna and Mt St Helens have to do with urban bird ecology and conservation? To find out you'll have to come to the presentation I'm giving next week for the Monmouth County Audubon Society in New Jersey. Hope to see some of you there on November 12. Details here.

Bird Conservation Lessons from the Great Depression

This past week Audubon Birdscapes features posts on:

Local Bird Refuges. Who says you can't do bird conservation during an economic downturn? Check out this 1937 government brochure on how to make cemeteries, roadways, and other neighborhood landscapes into bird refuges.

Wood Ducks. You've seen the boxes. Maybe you've even put one up yourself. Do you know the history behind the box?

Dimming the Way
. Check out the latest Audubon magazine online exclusive about how folks are trying to design buildings that are safer for birds.

Bird Helping Hero: Malcolm Wells. What would the world look like if all our buildings were designed not just so they didn't kill birds, but as actual bird habitat? Check out what even a gas station could look like if we really cared!

So take a mental health break, stop in at Audubon Birdscapes and get inspired!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Emergency Bird Walk

After a tougher than usual morning of getting the family out of the house, my acute birding anemia flared up really bad, and I had to take an Emergency Bird Walk to at least get my Bird RDA and keep my bird neurons from completely collapsing. A slow hour stroll seems to have done the trick, at least temporarily. Many thanks to the following birds, in order of appearance:

Blue Jay
(lots migrating through and calling right now)
American Robin (ditto)
Carolina Wren (a couple singing still)
European Starling
House Sparrow
Mourning Dove (on the power line)
American Goldfinch
American Crow (proud to be an American, apparently)
House Finch
Carolina Chickadee
Common Grackle (less common than they used to be)
Red-tailed Hawk (sitting in a tree, being harassed by jays)
Northern Mockingbird (coughing away in a thicket by the creek)
Tufted Titmouse
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow (singing)
Northern Cardinal
White-breasted Nuthatch
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Eastern Bluebird (checking out the birdhouses by the hike and bike trail)
Dark-eyed Junco
Yellow-rumped warbler (feeding in the lawn of a flooded field)
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker (a pair in a tree)
Mallard (calling down by the creek)
Canada Goose (calling off across the creek somewhere)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

75 year old flamingo attacked

Sad story here. But cool to know there is a 75 year old flamingo out there!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


I've been really busy working on my doctoral dissertation, and working, and haven't gotten out for any length of real birding. So most of what I've done lately has to fall under the rubric of quasibirding--snatching a look at something here or there, on the way to work, or out the window. My most intense quasibirding moments recently have come walking in and out of the office. A couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, several Carolina Chickadees, and some American Goldfinches greeted me at work this morning as I got out of the car. That was it. My biggest observation of the day.

Yesterday before the snow I stopped in at Peace Valley on the way to the office, thinking for sure I could see something good on the lake, but no dice. One lone Lesser Black-backed Gull was all I could muster. I'm severely undernourished in the bird department. I haven't gotten my Bird RDA for at least a week. Its my own fault. I've allowed myself to get distracted. But quasibirding is now leading to acute bird anemia. Maybe I can get out for an hour or more tomorrow. I sure need it. Somebody send help quick!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Identify that feather you found

Ever find a feather, and were just dying to know what bird it came from? You can get a little help in your feather identification quest from The Feather Almanac. It may take some browsing around, but you can find images of flight feathers from hundreds of birds (flight feathers are the long feathers from the wings and tail of birds--the big straight feathers). So, check it out!

New freaky feathered dinosaur from China

This is one strange dino--and since it is feathered, probably very closely related to birds. Without further ado, straight from China, here's Epidexipteryx!

Or, as one of the describers colorfully puts it, The Vampire Peacock of Daohugou!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Identifying flushed grassland birds in Texas

Back in the early 2000s, Project Prairie Bird was a citizen-science program to monitor wintering sparrows and other grassland birds in Texas. Participants had to learn to identify the little brown birds on the fly as they popped up out of the grass--no easy feat! But not impossible either. If you want to get a handle on how to identify these little birds, take a look at this chart, still available to all thanks to the WayBackMachine Internet Archive!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Its official. The birding police have demoted me to the position of Casual Birder. Its true, I've been busy writing my doctoral dissertation, and barely glance outside when I'm not either at work or writing at home. I did see a couple hundred Tree Swallows at Peace Valley this morning on the way into the office. I saw a Tufted Titmouse on my porch yesterday. I think I saw a duck yesterday. Maybe. Ok, so I've been negligent in my birding. Maybe even grossly so.

But is that enough to strip me from being a Real Birder anymore?!?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Are You Spoiling Your Birds?

This week Audubon Birdscapes features cartoons, old bird feeder ads, and other goodies addressing how we care for birds and the environment in our yards, including:

Spoiling Birds--are you doing too much for your feathered friends?

Helping Orioles--how can you get these colorful gems to grace your garden?

Lessons from Pink Floyd--what can a Chilean Flamingo on the lam in Utah tell us about how to help birds?

10 Commandments for a Healthy Yard--how healthy is your yard?

As always, your comments are welcome, as well as additional post ideas. If you have a question you'd like to see a post on, send it my way. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Bread and Butter Birds

Usually when you go out to eat, you don't think too much about the bread they serve, unless there is something wrong with it. You just expect to have some nice bread with your meal.

Likewise, when we go birding, we often don't think much about the common birds we see, even though most of the time, that may be about all we find. The common neighborhood birds, the ones you can see almost anytime you go out, might be termed bread and butter birds.

Today during my lunchtime walk, I saw 33 species--including some nice FOS birds (Blue-headed Vireo, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, etc.), but most of the birds were pretty common bread and butter birds.

Now, anytime something as beautiful as a male Eastern Bluebird can be considered something to merely glance at, there is something wrong. Perhaps we need to better appreciate these bread and butter birds. What if we didn't have the time or money to go off to the shore to see something more exotic? Could we learn to be satisfied with our bread and butter birds?

For most of us, there is more to be learned, enjoyed, and appreciated about most of these common birds. That said, we enjoy a little jam or some other topping on our bread. For me today it was probably a Nashville Warbler, a FOS and also a 2008 BIGBY bird.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Herons, and warblers, and owls...oh my!

This week Audubon Birdscapes features posts on:

Great Blue Heron Feeders--you can probably guess how to create one, but do you know how to NOT create one unintentionally?

Lights Out to Save Birds--how many cities are making efforts to keep migrating birds from smacking into buildings at night?

The Whirl-A-Bird Feeder--unless you were reading Audubon magazine in the 1960s, you probably haven't ever seen this wonder!

Artificial Burrows for Burrowing Owls--how can you help these little guys when there aren't any prairie dogs around?

Check it out and enjoy!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Mopan Maya Bird Stories

Here's an online source for a bunch of Mopan Maya stories, most involving birds. We collected additional versions of some of these stories, and additional stories, during our recent research trip to Belize.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Hey! There's a Bird in my Bellybutton!

I'm not sure if its my recent 40th birthday, or the upcoming 4th anniversary of this blog, or what, but I seem to be succumbing to some serious navel-gazing!

And what do I see, besides some extra flab? Why, a great big bird in the middle of my bellybutton!

To most people, having a bird in your belly would probably be cause for a visit to the hospital emergency room.

For me, it just leaves me puzzled.

Are birds too big a part of my life? Have they crowded out other things to the point where they are sometimes an irritant, like a flicker in your navel?

Once, I asked a friend if he ever thought birds had ruined his life. He scoffed at the notion. But I wonder. Do I ever, personally, take it too far?

After more than six months of getting my Bird RDA every day, I've fallen off the wagon. I can't tell right now if I am itching to chase birds in some exotic far away land, or if I just want a nap.

Am I in trouble, or what? Has my case progressed beyond Bird Induced Attention Deficit Disorder (BIADD) to develop into a dangerous Acute Birding Induced Malaise (ABIM)?

What happens when birds burrow so deeply into your soul, that you have a hard time functioning without them, yet they seem to be eating away at the rest of your life? When you feel all hollowed out, like a flicker snag, heavy and over-sodden in a rainstorm?

We love to speak of the joy of birding. But what of the burden? The dangers of peering too deeply into the heart of something so alien, that it numbs the mind?

I suspect more birding isn't the remedy for that. I need bird rehab. Not the kind where you take injured birds. More of a Betty Ford Center for birders who have gone too far!

But in lieu of that, perhaps its best to just settle in for a nice long nap! A couple days of rest is apt to be a tonic for the bird blinkered soul!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Slim Pickins

Despite the photo I'm talking about my recent bird sightings, not the actor. The last couple weeks have been pretty light on the birding front. This morning I was able (just barely) to make my Bird RDA, but the birds were pretty few and far between. I was able to finally find a couple pockets of migrant warblers--American Redstart, Magnolia Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Northern Parula, and Common Yellowthroat. Nice to see them coming through, since they'll all be in the tropics before long.

With high winds, it was mostly a morning to enjoy the calls of Blue Jays and the rustling of the wind through the trees. Nice to get out, even when the going is slow.

What are you?

Someone once told me that you know what you are by what you do when you don't have to do anything. With a free day or morning on your calendar, what do you do? This morning, I am a birder!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Hurricane damage to High Island

Here's a report on damage caused by Hurricane Ike at High Island. It sounds pretty bad, but could have been worse. It'll probably be fine for spring migration again next year.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Mega: Wandering Albatross in Oregon

When I was a kid in Oregon, we made ourselves giddy even thinking about something like this. Now it has happened, a Wandering Albatross (2nd North American record) was seen last weekend off the Oregon Coast. Sweet! Wish I had been there!

Beginner's Guide to Bird Blogs up at I and the Bird #84

I've posted a Beginner's Guide to Bird Blogs on the Audubon Birdscapes blog for the I and the Bird #84 blog carnival. Enjoy!

Friday, September 12, 2008

2008 Maya Bird Research Trip

With generous funding from Reitaku University in Japan, Mayan linguist Kerry Hull and I spent 17 days in Guatemala and Belize collecting Mopan, Q'eqchi', and Tz'utujil bird names and bird lore. A continuation of our previous research on Ch'orti' Mayan bird lore, this time we interviewed dozens of local residents and managed to get over 250 bird names, as well as over a hundred items of local bird lore, and several longer recordings of bird stories, which we will publish over the next couple of years. Here are links to my posts about various parts of our trip:

Birding Punta Gorda, Belize
Big Falls Lodge, Belize
Mopan Maya Deer Dance, San Antonio, Belize
Birding Blue Creek, Belize
Birding the Mopan Mayan Village of San Jose, Belize
Q'eqchi' and Mopan Maya Bird Traditions
Birding Lubaantun Mayan Ruins
Pygmy-Owl in Antigua
Bird Lore from Santiago Atitlan, the House of Birds
Birding San Pedro Volcano, Guatemala
Birding with Maximón
Birds on the Altar at Santiago Atitlan
Birding Hotel Bambu in Santiago Atitlan
Ghost of the Poc

Ghost of the Poc

Of course, the one bird we didn't see on Lake Atitlan is the now extinct Poc, or Giant Grebe. The last of these large flightless water birds were seen in 1989. The reeds around the lake where they once lived are strangely quiet--a few Green Herons and Great-tailed Grackles were mostly all we saw there. An empty lake, reminding us to walk gently on the planet.

Birding Hotel Bambu in Santiago Atitlan

Our base of operations while we were in Santiago Atitlan was the Hotel Bambu--with a nice set of bungalows and other accommodations. Food and wireless internet there were great, and the grounds featured over 20 local birds, making it possible to get my Bird RDA without too much trouble, at least when it wasn't raining. The most common birds included Azure-crowned Hummingbird, Clay-colored Thrush (still want to call that a robin, despite what the AOU says), and Tropical Mockingbird.

Birds on the Altar at Santiago Atitlan

The Catholic church in Santiago Atitlan has a famous altar featuring traditional Mayan beliefs mixed with more traditional Catholic imagery (see Allen Christensen's book on this amazing altar, Art and Society in a Highland Maya Community). Above is a panel featuring a traditional Deer Dance (on the left), as well as the local saint Maximón (in the center).

This image of a Quetzal bearing the good word of the gospel comes from the front of the pulpit.

Perhaps most amazing is the navel of the universe, which is a hole in the floor in front of the altar, seen here covered and with two candles on top.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get a good shot of the double-headed bird high up on the altarpiece (it was pretty dark in there), which represents a figure from a very old local story.

Birding with Maximón

While in Santiago Atitlan, we did some work with the priests of Maximón, a local saint who may well be the modern version of the old Mayan God L. He lives in a cofradia house("God House") where he is taken care of by several Mayan priests. Most visitors arrive, snap a few photos, and leave. We sat down, broke out the bird books and iPod loaded with local bird songs, and spent half an hour recording bird names and local bird lore. It isn't everyday you get to bird with a Mayan saint!

We didn't want to ruin the moment, so didn't snap any photos of our own. Hence, photo: Wikipedia

Birding San Pedro Volcano, Guatemala

One morning we paddled across Lake Atitlan from Santiago to visit the lower slopes of the San Pedro Volcano. On top of this volcano, you can see Horned Guans, but we didn't have the time to make the 5 hour hike (and would have probably needed police protection--best to try this hike from the Village San Pedro side). We did manage to collect some great additional bird names--and get the local lore on curing warts by dancing with a Band-backed Wrens. Highlights birdwise in the coffee plantations and corn fields were White-faced Quail-Dove (heard only), Blue-and-White Mockingbird, and Blue-throated Motmot.

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