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Monday, March 31, 2008

My Little Chickadees?

I don't know for sure when I saw my first Black-capped Chickadee, but for sure knew them as a kid in the early 1980s when I started more actively keeping bird lists. I didn't see my first Carolina Chickadee until 1986, when I traveled out to visit a girlfriend in Georgia.

I've now lived about as much in the Carolina Chickadee range as I have in the realm of Black-capped Chickadees. Looking at the feeder out my window at work today in the rain, I have both species, and maybe some hybrids. Which species should I now consider "my" chickadee? After all these years, its hard to say. Maybe by now I'm bi-parid?

And then there's those Mountain Chickadees that I miss from my college days in Utah and my summers of bird surveys in Montana. Now that's another sharp chickadee!

Did your shopping list kill a songbird?

New York Times Op Ed piece here.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Outdoor Cats=Poachers

Hunters can appreciate how much of an impact free-roaming cats have on birds and other wildlife. Check out these posters from ReMaine Wild:

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Morning Commute

Started off the morning with a Great Blue Heron and Fish Crows flying over my kids' preschool. On the drive into work, I pulled over to watch 27 Wild Turkeys in one field, including one Tom turkey displaying without attracting too much attention from all the hens around him (image:wikipedia).

At Peace Valley Park, most of the ducks and geese have moved north. Highlights were the lingering Common Loon, a couple Lesser Black-backed Gulls, and five Bonaparte's Gulls that flew the the length of the lake and kept going while I watched. The only ducks I saw on the lake where three Green-winged Teal. By the time I got to work I'd found 17 species, and got my Bird RDA within minutes of walking in the door and sitting at my desk overlooking my bird feeders.

Not a bad way to start my day. How was your commute this morning?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

BIGBY Wood Ducks


This afternoon I took a short walk down to the creek behind my office and was able to find 3 Wood Duck, new for the BIGBY list. Very sharp looking two drakes and a hen. Takes me back to the first time I saw these birds as a kid, back in April 1982 at Eastmoreland Park in Portland, Oregon. They nest along the creek here at work, and have probably been back for a couple weeks, but I haven't had a chance to get down to the creek for awhile.

Birdchaser in the News

A few papers are starting to run the GBBC results news release, including the Environmental News Service. I also have a short write up of GBBC results on the official GBBC site here.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Blast from the Past: When Wrens Attack

April 2002

Dried leaves rustle as a Carolina Wren pursues a large brown spider across a dry creek bed. The spider, seeking an escape, darts out of the leaves. Half way across the stream channel, exposed in the open, the spider freezes momentarily. The wren is on it immediately, grabbing it in its beak and shaking it repeatedly until all of its legs have fallen off. Without legs, the spider lays helpless on the ground. The wren rises up above the arachnid and, using its dagger-like bill as a pile-driver, repeatedly attacks the spider’s head and thorax. After pulverizing the spider’s head, the wren picks up the remains, which appear larger than its own head, and quickly swallows it belly first. Immediately after consuming the spider, the bird disappears into a greenbrier tangle above the creek bed.

It isn't enough to say that wrens eat spiders. They hunt them, track them, and completely mangle them before wolfing them down. It may not be a scene from nature that we see every day--but only because maybe we aren't watching closely. After watching this spectacle, I can't help but see wrens in a completely different light. If they were as big as cats, we wouldn't let our kids anywhere near them! If they were as big as horses we'd have to hunt them all down, like we did with saber-toothed cats!

Its a very cool world out there, when wrens attack! (image:wikipedia)

Boyds n the Hood

Birds were really active on my street this morning. Where I only saw two birds and heard another a couple days ago in the wind, this morning I was able to find 20 different species--all on three blocks of row homes and small suburban lots. A Red-tailed Hawk sitting in a neighbor's tree was the highlight, I suppose. It for sure warmed my heart more than the pair of Brown-headed Cowbirds making mating motions on a powerline. Otherwise just the common local birds. By the end of my walk, I'd spotted 35 species, including the first Hairy Woodpecker I've seen in over a month.

But the coolest thing I saw today was probably the "wing-shivering" display of the Tufted Titmouse, where the female bird crouches down and flutters its wings while making an incessant series of high-pitched calls. She does this to get a mate to feed her, as part of the courtship before nesting. Yes, its springtime in titmouse land! image:wikipedia

Common Loon

In spite of being in lots of places that should have had Common Loons this year, I hadn't seen one yet in 2008 until my drive home from church on Sunday. A beautiful breeding plumaged bird floating 150 yards out on the lake at Peace Valley, it was too far away to really do much with, but great to see. I love how wide loon bodies are when they are sitting on the water. image:wikipeda

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Easter Bird Legends

There are a couple Easter legends and stories involving birds. Unhappily, sparrows betrayed the location of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane by flying straight towards him, while swallows supposedly tried to lead his enemies away with irregular flights.

But here's my favorite about the crossbills, said to have tried to pry the nails from the hands of Jesus on the cross, and their red plumage derives from getting blood soaked in the process. image:wikipedia

The Legend of the Crossbill

by Julius Mosen
translated from the German by Longfellow

ON the cross the dying Saviour
Heavenward lifts his eyelids calm
Feels but scarcely feels a trembling
In his pierced and bleeding palm

And by all the world forsaken
Sees he how with zealous care
At the ruthless nail of iron
A little bird is striving there

Stained with blood and never tiring
With its beak it doth not cease
From the cross t would free the Saviour
Its Creator's Son release

And the Saviour speaks in mildness
Blest be thou of all the good
Bear as token of this moment
Marks of blood and holy rood

And that bird is called the crossbill
Covered all with blood so clear
In the groves of pine it singeth
Songs like legends strange to hear

Poems of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Happy Easter, everyone!

BIGBY Fox Sparrow

A somewhat shortened morning walk today, with snow falling in huge flakes that disintegrated upon hitting the paved hike and bike path. Without a huge amount of time, I only went two miles, but checked out a side path I never take. Since it had a lot of multiflora rose bushes along the path, I hoped there might be a Fox Sparrow there, since they are moving through right now, and sure enough I was able to spot one--first flying away and then perched up for a good look.


Perhaps the most mysterious thing today were two flocks of 20+ Blue Jays all calling and hanging out together in the trees. I never did really figure out what was up with that!

Day List: 29 species (145% of Bird RDA)
2008 List: 287 species
BIGBY List: 60 species

Friday, March 21, 2008

BIGBY Rusty Blackbird

The wind was still blowing this morning, but the birds were much more active, and I ended up with 30 species on my walk--including the elusive Red-breasted Nuthatch that I see occasionally in my neighborhood, and a singing male Rusty Blackbird, which is new for my year list and my 2008 BIGBY list. I'm used to seeing this bird in its winter colors, so nice to see that glaring yellow eye against the glossy black breeding coat (image:Glen Tepke).

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Birding in the Wind

Only thing harder than birding in the rain is birding in the wind. By 4:30 this afternoon I realized I'd only seen Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Mallard, Turkey Vulture and American Crow. A far cry from my Bird RDA! And the wind was gusting over 25 mph. For a split moment I thought about flicking in the whole Bird RDA streak (80 days and counting!). But then I came to my senses, got on my coat, and headed out for my walk. (image:wikipedia)

A block later, I'd only managed to hear a Song Sparrow (weakly singing in a bush), and seen a Northern Mockingbird drinking rainwater from someone's gutter and a lone Mourning Dove huddled on a powerline. Slow pickins!

By the time I got to the hike and bike path, I'd picked up a Carolina Chickadee, a calling House Sparrow, a field full of American Robins, and one flyby Rock Pigeon. You know its slow when your highlight after 20 minutes is a Rock Pigeon.

It was looking very grim, but I shouldn't have worried. My little feathered paisanos always come through in the end. By the time I got home, I'd wracked up 26 species (as compared to 28 yesterday in the rain). Luckiest sighting was probably the Sharp-shinned Hawk blowing through--I only happened to see it while double-checking a distant Turkey Vulture.

Day List: 27 species (135% of Bird RDA)

Cats Kill Over 1 Billion Birds Each Year in U.S.

Hopefully my last cat and bird post for awhile!

Some folks don't seem willing to accept the magnitude of the cat predation problem. While it is a bit tricky to come up with solid numbers of birds and other animals killed, we can make estimates based on a growing number of studies of cat predation.

The trick is to come up with a calculation based on:

a) The numbers of cats roaming the landscape
b) The number of birds killed by the average cat

There is no agreement about either of these two figures, so the trick is to try and come up with a fairly defensible number.

Here's one quick look at it.

Number of cats
Really there are three important numbers here, the number of pet cats, the number of those cats that are allowed outside, and the number of feral or stray cats. The first figure is the easiest to come close to. The American Veterinary Medical Association provides numbers of pet cats (and other animals)

They calculate that in 2007 there were 81,721,000 pet cats in the U.S.

Now you have to determine how many of those cats are allowed to roam outside and potentially kill birds. According to the $1,195 American Pet Products Manufacturers Association survey 43% of cat owners allow their pets to roam outside (as quoted by the Cat Fanciers Association).

If we accept these numbers (and they are probably the least controversial of all the numbers here), that gives us:

35.1 million outdoor pet cats in the U.S.

Now we have to add the number of feral and stray cats. This number is a lot squishier. We need better numbers here for sure. I haven't seen a good study on this, but the numbers published by feral cat advocacy groups seem to range between 60-100 million cats. In the absence of good numbers, for now it is probably safe to presume that there are as many feral and stray cats as there are owned cats. So lets say 81 million again.

So that's 81.7 million + 35.1 million = 116.8 million outdoor cats

More realistic might be a range of 95.1 to 135.1 million (based on possible feral range). But for simplicity and for arguments sake, lets just stick with 116.8 million cats for now.

How many birds killed by cats?
Here's where it gets trickier, but here are some good options--

According to a study in Michigan by Lepczyk et al, outdoor pet cats across an urban to rural gradient killed an average of .683 birds each week during the breeding season.

IF you can extrapolate that across the full year, that would be an average of 35.5 birds killed by each cat/each year. IF you can use that figure for all outdoor cats, you get a calculation of 4.1 billion birds killed each year.

But maybe cats don't kill birds at the same rate all year long, or at the same rate everywhere that they do in Michigan. But, for example, if we presume that cats everywhere ONLY kill birds during a 22 week breeding season (and we know THAT isn't true!), that would still be 1.76 billion birds killed per year.

Another study in San Diego (Crooks and Soule 1999 cited here) found each cat to kill an average of 15 birds per year (and 41 other small animals). IF you multiply this number by the number of outdoor cats you get 1.75 billion birds killed per year. And that's just in the U.S. and doesn't take into account our migratory birds killed by cats in Canada or Latin America.

You can play this game all day, based on numbers from various studies. The cat advocates will try to cast doubt on these predation rates, but there are arguments to be made that real average predation rates may be higher (these are mostly studies of owned cats which may hunt less, owners may not be seeing all birds killed by their cats and consumed or left elsewhere, etc.).

So what's the number? A calculation of 1.7 billion birds based on either the San Diego study or the MI study seems reasonable. A more conservative statement might be "at least 1 billion birds a year and quite probably higher". That's what I generally say. That would still be an order of magnitude higher than many people will want to accept. But it seems to be a conservative calculation. You can read what the cat advocates think in a series of articles here

From my perspective, the cat advocate positions linked here seem to make many more unwarranted assumptions than these quick calculations based on the best available science. Cat predation of birds in the U.S. seems to be on the magnitude of a billion birds a year, rather than any lower numbers reported elsewhere.

Birdchaser post at IATB #71

I and the Bird (IATB) #71 is up at The House and other Arctic Musings. Host Clare Kines is one of my favorite online blogging buddies, and one of our Great Backyard Bird Count regional reviewers. Thanks to the Internet, has something else to do in the Winter besides search for Common Ravens in the Nunavut darkness. Spring is coming, Clare. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Cat People Win, Birds Lose

This week a property management company in Virginia caved into pressure from Alley Cat Allies, and will allow over 200 feral cats to remain on their property (story here). That means there will be hundreds, or more likely thousands, of birds and other small animals killed by cats in their community over the next year.

Alley Cat Allies essentially has a rigid bottom line--no euthanized stray cats. I can understand and mostly support that. But will they also accept the bottom line of bird and wildlife experts that birds and wildlife killed by free ranging cats is unacceptable?

There is a way to satisfy both the bird and cat lovers--trap, neuter, and restrain stray and feral cats in fenced sanctuaries where they pose minimal risk to birds and other wildlife. Of course that will take raising money to create cat sanctuaries. But I'm sure if the bird and cat people worked together on this, we could create a place for unadoptable stray cats in every community, and protect the birds and wildlife that are otherwise threatened by cat predation.

Whatcha say Alley Cat Allies? You ready for a real solution? A win-win solution? One that protects both cats and birds?

Naked Birding in the Rain

OK, not birding without clothes, but stripped of binoculars. Since it was raining this morning, I just put on the rain coat and went for my three mile walk without binoculars. I find this a fun and refreshing way to get my Bird RDA sometimes--making me pay attention to the bird sounds around me, rather than just getting lost in my own internal music soundtrack and monologue. Without binoculars I still managed to see or hear 28 species. Best bird was a Field Sparrow on the side of the path--a bird I've only seen on my morning walk a couple times.

Birdchaser in Mexico, by proxy

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to go to this conference in Mexico, but I was a co-presenter of a paper on birds and bird knowledge among the Ch'orti' Maya of Eastern Guatemala:

Los pájaros y el prognóstico en la vida diaria de los Ch'orti' Maya de Guatemala (Birds and Prognostication in the Daily Life of the Ch'orti' Maya of Guatemala). Paper presented at the XVIII Coloquio Internacional LAILA/ALILA, March 10-14, San Cristobal, Chiapas, Mexico. Co-presented with Kerry Hull.

Hope to get back down for more field work in Guatemala this summer!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

BIGBY Wild Turkey

It had to happen eventually. Today a co-worker called me over to watch a Wild Turkey feeding just outside the window under one of our feeders. There are at least a dozen of these birds running around the 160 acres here, but I hadn't run into them yet since starting the 2008 BIBGY. I'll take a 10 minute break for a Wild Turkey any day!

Save birds, play with your cat!

We all know that house cats allowed to roam outside kill hundreds of millions, and perhaps even billions, of birds in North America each year. The solution to this is to keep your cats inside. But what do you do with an energetic cat that is used to running around in the woods chasing birds?

Cat aficionado Elissa Wolfson has written the perfect book to help your cat make the transition to healthy indoor living. In 101 Cool Games for Cool Cats, she specifically addresses the issue of keeping cats indoors for their health, and the survival of local wildlife. She discusses outdoor cat enclosures, and a host of ways to help your cat make the transition to indoor living. But this book isn't preachy. It's about how to have fun with your cat, indoors!

Most of the book consists of the promised 101 cool games to play with your cat--each one with a very fun drawing by Stephanie Piro. Some of the games even sounded like fun for me to use with my kids! It was great to see how much joy and fun could be crammed into each of the 143 short pages.

So if you own a cat, or have friends who own a cat, this book is a quick must read. Since it is originally published in the UK, you can get a copy directly from the author (see website here). Save birds. Have fun. Play with your cat!

Here's a little teaser to get you started!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Most Fearsome Creature in the West

Check out the Washington Times story here. No matter what you think about the Endangered Species Act, the Greater Prairie Chicken is in trouble, due to over 100 years of abuse to its sagebrush habitat across the West. Its no time for handing out blame, its time for our sharpest minds to figure out a way to protect this bird, and the ability of rural folks to make a living off that land. As for corporations seeking to make somebody rich by destroying grouse habitat, well, its not like they have a constitutional right to destroy the world, right?

Sometimes I wonder if folks are really afraid of this bird because it threatens their livelihood, or if they're really just made uncomfortable by a male bird with inflatable boobs!

Hitting the Minimum

Most of the last month I've been just barely hitting my minimum recommended daily allowance of birds. For instance, today it when I picked up my kids from school I realized I'd been on the computer almost all day and hadn't seen more than just a couple birds. So at 5:30 I headed out for a quick walk down along the Perkiomen Creek hike and bike near my house.

Late in the day, the birds aren't calling nearly as much as in the morning, so it was slow going at first--just European Starlings, House Sparrows, a House Finch, and a couple Mourning Doves by the time I hit the end of my street.

Near the head of the hike and bike trail I finally picked up a Blue Jay, a couple American Robins, a Carolina Chickadee, Song Sparrow, and Tufted Titmouse. Several pairs of Mallard were feeding in the flooded field near the trail, an American Goldfinch and a couple White-breasted Nuthatches flew overhead, and Northern Cardinals chipped in the woods.

Off in the woods, a Red-bellied Woodpecker called, then another. A Downy Woodpecker call gave me another woodpecker for the day, and an American Crow off in the distance padded the list. One female Eastern Bluebird and a Northern Mockingbird brought me within a few birds of my needed goal. A Carolina Wren finally sang briefly off in the distance, and a pair of Yellow-rumped Warblers calling just off the trail brought my walk to a reasonable 20. What with a few other birds seen earlier in the day driving my kids to school, I ended up with 24 species, 120% of my Bird RDA.

Nothing overly unusual, but more than I'd have seen today if I'd just stayed inside on the computer all day.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Timberdoodles with kids

Last night I took my kids out to look for the woodcocks that are displaying at Peace Valley near our house. In the gathering darkness, me and my kids stood shivering in the cold, listening as the Canada Geese settled down on the lake, and American Robins called from the woods. Eventually, we started hearing the loud "bzeent" calls of the American Woodcocks in the tangles around the edge of the field. Then the whistle of wings. There were at least six birds calling, but they didn't do any close flights my kids could see. I saw three birds off in the distance, but it wasn't the best showing.

Interestingly, though we did this last year, it seemed like my kids didn't remember it. Too many video games, not enough birding!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Local jinx no more

Everybody and their dog has been seeing Red-shouldered Hawks up at Lake Nockamixon by my house, but I've missed them every time I've been up there (about once a week for the last month). Finally, today, on a short hop up there to check out the lake, I finally saw an adult hawk in a tree on the side of the road. I whipped the car over and took a look--sure 'nuff, Red-shouldered Hawk. It flew off a few dozen yards and landed in another tree. Nice to finally get this bird on my county list.

No other real surprises on the lake. A drake Red-breasted Merganser was nice and unexpected. Then a drake and two female Hooded Mergansers on a small pond in Blooming Glen on the way home made it another three merganser day.

Day List: 37 species (185% of Bird RDA)
2008 List: 284 species

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Birdchaser in the Washington Post

Check out the story here.

Early Spring at Peace Valley

After several days of just barely getting my Bird RDA from home and around town, I headed over for an hour to Peace Valley to catch some early spring birding. Common Grackles have been moving through the area for a couple weeks, an early sign of spring. Fox Sparrows have been seen at the bird blind at the Peace Valley Nature Center for a couple weeks, but I'd missed them on a couple visits. Today there were four of them hopping around. Nice to see their rusty bodies and gray faces shuffling along under the feeders and bushes. (photo:wikipedia)

At the bridge on Chapman Road past the nature center, there were three Horned Grebes hunting in the lake. One bird was already molting into breeding plumage, and I watched it kill a small frog and eventually swallow it whole. The other two birds were in their black and white winter plumage, and spent most of the time underwater.

Not a lot of other surprises, but its a good day when you see a Bald Eagle, so it was fun to see one try to grab a fish out of the water and then fly off empty-taloned. I ended up with 36 species at the lake and nature center. Not bad for a quick morning trip.

Monday, March 10, 2008

On the porch

Pressed for time this morning, I did a point count while working on some writing on my back porch. European Starlings and House Sparrows are the most conspicuous birds in my tiny urban backyard. But a Northern Cardinal and Song Sparrow were singing back in the alleyway, and an American Robin hopped onto the ground near my compost bin.

Within a few minutes, I could hear a distant flock of Canada Goose, and a calling Mourning Dove down the block. Then a Tufted Titmouse started singing. An American Crow flew over, then another. A flock of House Finches landed in a neighbor's tree, and I heard a few chips of a Dark-eyed Junco at the base of a large tree in the alleyway.

A pair of Carolina Chickadees worked its way down the block, checking out the entry to the cross-pipe of my neighbor's clothes line pole. Scanning the horizon, a distant Great Blue Heron was flying downstream along Perkiomen Creek, and a pair of Mallards flew past. A White-breasted Nuthatch started calling from the trees down the block, and far off towards the creek, I could just make out the song of a Carolina Wren.

Scanning the skies, a Cooper's Hawk was circling over the creek. Then another bird, larger chested, with quick and heavier wingbeats, bull-neck, and more pointed wings caught my attention as it powered through--a Peregrine Falcon, the first I've seen from my house, and a new BIGBY bird for the year. Three Ring-billed Gulls also flew over.

Finally, as I needed to get back inside, a Blue Jay started calling back by the creek. That made 20 species in just under half an hour of sitting on my porch. Not a bad way to get your Bird RDA, and to start the day.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Birdchaser in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette

Quoted in GBBC story here.

New BIGBY birds

In addition to the FOS Eastern Phoebe on my walk this morning, I picked up another two new birds for my 2008 BIGBY List: Ring-necked Pheasant and Killdeer.

Ring-necked Pheasants are native to Asia, and have been released by hunters and fish and game departments all across the country for over 100 years. Its not clear that there are any really established populations of these birds in my county, so perhaps this was just a released bird that survived the annual hunt this year. As I was walking along the hike and bike path, a male pheasant strutted across the trail about 100 yards ahead of me, and disappeared into the trees along Perkiomen Creek. (photo:wikipedia)

Killdeer are rather uncommon nesting birds in this part of the world. They were much more common where I lived in Austin. Here I mostly hear them at the local high school, where there are large athletic fields for them to feed in. Today I heard one flying over the field across the creek from the hike and bike path, perhaps a half mile or so from the school where I heard my FOS Killdeer a couple weeks ago.

Day List: 36 species (180% of Bird RDA)
2008 List: 284 species
BIGBY List: 56 species

First of Season (FOS) Birds

One of the joys of birding is to keep track of the changes in birdlife through the seasons. The first bird of each returning migratory bird species that a birder sees is considered a First of Season (FOS) sighting. FOS sightings can be of northbound migrants or arriving breeding species in spring, southbound migrants in fall, or arriving wintering birds in late fall.

Today on my four mile walk, a heard a FOS Eastern Phoebe near one of the bridges over the Perkiomen Creek near my house. I've written before about how these birds are probably direct descendants of the phoebes that John James Audubon watched closely at his farm 20 miles downstream on this same creek. They leave for the winter, but its nice to see them back.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Why birds are being killed by cats

For over 100 years, birdlovers have complained about cats killing wild birds. But now there seem to be more cats roaming around out there than ever before. Here's one reason why. Take a look at the income and expenditures of Alley Cat Allies, the leading feral cat advocacy group (from their 2007 annual report)--

$4.2 million spent last year to promote the caring for free-ranging cats. Nobody who cares about birds is spending close to that amount of money to protect birds from cats.

I'm not a fan of killing cats. I'm all for TNR (trap-neuter-release) of feral cats--as long as the cats are released into a controlled situation where they can do only minimal damage to birds and other wildlife. Alley Cat Allies, and other feral cat advocates, need to realize that they've only gone 80% of the way to fixing the feral cat problem. Unless they find a place to put the feral cats where they can't roam willy nilly over the landscape, TNR is a flawed and incomplete solution.

Mom and Dad's House

Playing around on Microsoft Virtual Earth, I was able to get nice images of my parent's home in Oregon. Amazing how much the neighbor's trees have grown up since I lived there as a kid. No wonder my folks got a Pileated Woodpecker visiting their yard last year. You wouldn't have seen that in my yard when I was growing up in the 70s and 80s.

Back on 21 December 1999, while visiting my folks, I had a Eurasian Collared-Dove fly over the road and my neighbors house (on the left). The Oregon Bird Records Committee eventually accepted my sighting as the first accepted record of that bird in Oregon.

Birds and Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan has a radio show on XM that presents songs based on a certain theme. Last night's show had the theme "Birds." If you don't have accesss to XM radio, the shows are unofficially archived at Dylan's Blindwilly.

Last night's show is a 98M download, but check it out if you are a Dylan fan, or just in it for the birds.

Internet Bird Collection

I have to admit, it had been awhile since I'd been over to the Internet Bird Collection. Taking a look at it now, its quite impressive! If you haven't visited there lately, take another look. There are now videos up for over half of all the bird species in the world. You can easily find videos of most birds you might be interested in. What a great online resource!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Cape May: Waking from Catatonic Shock?

Apparently, under duress, the Cape May city council is starting to make at least small moves towards keeping feral cats off the beach where they can threaten rare bird species. But what about all the other birds? Read news story here.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Movie Bird Lore

What most American's probably know about bird migration. And coconuts.

Bringing Nature Home on NPR

This morning NPR Radio Times talk show host Marty Moss-Coane interviewed Doug Tallamy about planting native plants in our gardens to provide food for wildlife. Professor Tallamy is the Chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware. He is also the author of Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens. You can listen to this great interview, with lots of insights into the relationships between plants, insects, and birds, via Real Audio at the Radio Times archive site.

Birds on the farm in New Mexico

Saturday afternoon I did an hour and a half workshop on birds for the New Mexico Organic Farming Conference. Started out with a review of birding--how to identify birds, and how to keep track of your sightings using eBird. Then we talked about the birds of conservation concern in New Mexico, and finally how to help specific birds on the farm--focusing on Barn Owl, Burrowing Owl, Western Screech-Owl, American Kestrel, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Western Bluebird, and Bullock's Oriole. Most of these are Audubon Birds to Help--birds that while perhaps not of the highest conservation concern, are species that are easily helped by providing food, shelter, and habitat plantings. For most people, its going to be easier to get them interested in helping birds by encouraging them to try and help these species, rather than more rare or difficult to help species. Lots of good feedback from the workshop, its always a lot of fun to talk birds and swap bird stories!

Monday, March 03, 2008

Rio Grande Nature Center, Albuquerque

Saturday I slipped out of the New Mexico Organic Farmers Conference for an hour before giving my talk in the afternoon. With only an hour to get my Bird RDA, I headed over to the Rio Grande Nature Center. A couple of small ponds and bird feeders in the riverside forest are the main draw here, and I quickly got over 30 species there. Highlights were four species of geese--Cackling Goose, Canada Goose, White-fronted Goose, and Snow Goose. But the show-stopper for me had to be the flocks of Sandhill Cranes flying overhead. I love these birds. When I lived in Austin, huge flocks would migrate north right over town. But living in Pennsylvania, they are a rare sight for me now. There are strings in my soul that only resonate now when stirred by the calls of cranes circling overhead. Hearing them in Albuquerque for the first time in a couple years, I was rejuvenated.

Day List: 39 species (195% of Bird RDA)
2008 List: 284 species

Rosy Finches

Saturday I had to give a talk to the New Mexico Organic Farmers Conference, so Friday I flew out to Albuquerque, got my rental car, and headed up to Sandia Crest, the best place in North America to see all three species of Rosy Finch. Sandia Crest is at the top of the Sandia Mountains adjacent to Albuquerque. From the top of the mountain, you are only a couple miles away from the streets and buildings of town, but you are 7,000 feet higher. It takes an hour to drive up to the top of the mountain, and you climb from pinyon juniper flats through ponderosa pine, douglas-fir, and spruce forests before reaching the lodge at Sandia Crest at over 10,000 feet elevation.

I was starved when I got there, so I ordered chicken quesadillas, and started my vigil at the bird feeder on the lodge deck. No rosy finches. Mountain Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and "Gray-headed" Dark-eyed Juncos made up most of the feeder visitors. My lunch arrived and I ate it while watching the feeder through the window.

After lunch, I went back out on the deck just in time to see a flock of 150+ rosy finches flying around, circling the lodge. They never settled down. I could see some were a bit larger looking and darker--Black Rosy-Finches. The others were swirling around too much to tell. Then they dove down the mountainside and were gone.

Fortunately, ten minutes later a few came in to the feeder. Then almost out of nowhere, there were dozens of them milling around the feeder and on the ground underneath. Perfect looks at all three species--Black Rosy-Finch, Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, and Brown-capped Rosy-Finch. The brown-capped, which only lives at high elevations in NM and CO was a lifer for me, but all three were great to see. There were two types of gray-crowneds, the interior ones with the small bit of gray behind the eye and back around the head, as well as a few of the Hepburn's subspecies, with the mostly gray heads. For several minutes the birds graced us with their calls and frenzied feeding. Then, quite abruptly, they were gone.

Driving back down the mountain I saw a few other goodies, including a pair of Williamson's Sapsuckers. But it was the magic of the swirling rosy finch flock flying over, 7,000 feet over, the streets of Albuquerque that will stay in my mind for a good long time.
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