Wednesday, February 23, 2011

This Birding Life: Sophie Webb

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

There's a new episode of my podcast "This Birding Life" all about the fascinating and talented author/artist/ornithologist Sophie Webb, a Renaissance woman if ever there were one. This new episode (which is episode #30! Wow!) is titled Sophie Webb: Life at Sea.

An illustration from one of Sophie's children's books about the ocean.

In it Sophie talks about her early years as a budding artist/naturalist, the creation of A Field Guide to Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America with Steve Howell, her field research projects all over the world, and her series of best-selling, award-winning children's books.
Sophie Webb's name is familiar to birders who have used her Mexico Birds field guide.

The enhanced audio version (with images) of this episode is visually stunning, illustrated with many of Sophie's paintings, field sketches, and photographs. Here are a just a few:

A plate of parrots and macaws from the Mexico guide.

Sophie is the author of several best-selling nature books for children.

Painting in Antarctica.

Painting aboard the MacArthur II in the Pacific.

Field sketching in an Adelie penguin colony in Antarctica.

A painting of Adelie penguins.

Jumping Adelie penguin.

A feeding aggregation in the Pacific.

Field painting of a tawny-throated leaftosser in Bolivia.

As with all episodes of "This Birding Life" the files are offered as free downloads at Podcast Central and in the iTunes Podcasts section. Both mp3 (audio only) and M4v (enhanced audio illustrated with still images) are available.

"This Birding Life" is sponsored by eBWD, the digital edition of Bird Watcher's Digest. All subscribers to the print edition of Bird Watcher's Digest automatically get free access to the digital edition (!), which is enhanced with photo galleries, videos, audio files, and hotlinks to all kinds of great, informative websites.

I hope you enjoy this new episode of TBL. If you do (or don't) please share your comments here via my blog. I'd love to hear from you.

Happy listening!

Monday, February 21, 2011

First Robin of Spring!

Monday, February 21, 2011
I am pleased to report that on my recent birding adventure to the north country, I encountered The First Robin of Spring! Clearly these early returnees to the wintry parts of the species' range are made of different stuff than your normal, everyday robins.

I've written here before about TFROS. I wonder if they subsist on iceworms during spells of inclement weather.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Briefly Waxing Rhapsodic About Bohemians

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

They were even more beautifully Bohemian than I thought they'd be. We found a small flock of seven Bohemian waxwings in a retirement community cul-de-sac in Traverse City, Michigan. This was yesterday, February 15, 2011, just after noon. That's life bird number 600-something...

The telling of the complete saga will have to wait for another day because I am now having to re-enter reality and there's simply no time for storytelling. But when I DO tell the tale, you should know that it will include: extremes of cold, a stretching of the time-space continuum, a pet store, frantic phone calls placed to unknown persons who MIGHT have seen a flock, many helpful messages from Michigan birders, a stern scolding for my list-serv faux pas, bad food, good beer, the first robin of spring, bear tracks, snow buntings, Geoff's questionable choice of chapeau, late nights, early mornings, doldrum afternoons, and planked whitefish.

But like I said, there's not enough time to get into all of that now.
Thanks for following along, my friends.
I'll see you out there with the birds.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Gentlemen Seeking Bohemians

Monday, February 14, 2011
Geoff Heeter (right) and yers trooly BOTB.

Friends, by the time you read this, I will be far to the north, traveling with my old pal Geoff Heeter. We're on a several-day quest to add a bird to our life lists: the Bohemian waxwing. In case you don't know it, this is a species that's very similar to the smaller, more common cedar waxwing. But the Bohemian is a bird of the far North and it rarely ventures as far south as Ohio. Or across the international border into West Virginia.

This winter the Bohos seem to be popping up quite regularly in southern Canada and across the northern portions of the northern US. I've been following sightings on the listservs and it seems like our closest opportunity is going to be along Lake Michigan. That's about a 10-hour drive north of here—13 hours for Heets.

The Heets.

If you don't know Geoff Heeter, you should. He's one of the two dudes (Dave Pollard is the other) responsible for The New River Birding and Nature Festival held each spring near Fayetteville, WV. The New River festival is kept intentionally small to keep the quality of the experience high, and to permit the event to be held where it is—just minutes from great birding spots.

If you are not familiar with the NRBNF, here are a few words and images for your edification:

You get to go birding watching in places like this spot along the New River.

While you are in a beautiful spot such as the one shown above, you are likely to get a chance to see the hard-to-find Swainson's warbler.

And when you do, you may feel inclined to do the Life Bird Wiggle.

It's quite the charming and friendly, spiritually-enriching, fun-as-hizzle birding festival. The organizers and a great crew of field trip leaders go out of their way to make sure everyone is happy. You need to check it out.

Now back to my buddy Geoff Heeter.

The Heets is one of those throw-back people—firmly grounded in the fieldcraft of outdoor adventure and rural living, who also digs technology and many of the trappings of modern life, such as Facebook and smart phones.

He knows how to run whitewater rapids safely in a raft. He knows how to make a primitive camp in the boonies. He knows how, when, and where to harvest ramps (and how to cook them up). He knows how to keep a string of pack horses from bolting when there's a mountain lion around.

He is kind to all animals.

And he runs Opossum Creek Retreat near Fayetteville, WV—a delightful bunch of cabins he built by hand using local timber. Opossum Creek is the epicenter of the New River Birding Festival. Heets is a really amazing person and I'm proud to call him my friend.

However the occasional hole does appear in Geoff's very impressive suite of skills.
Keith Richardson (left) and Geoff Heeter tag-teaming the grill.

Last spring at the traditional final night cookout for the New River Birding Festival, Geoff and his right-hand man Keith Richardson were manning the brand new, huge and shiny gas grill. They hooked up the gas and fired that baby up, turning to prep the meat for its fiery demise.
That's when acrid gray smoke began appearing from beneath the grill's lid.

Upon opening up the grill, these masters of outdoor cookery discovered that they'd left the owner's manual inside the cooking unit. Had it not been reduced to ashes, I wondered (aloud) whether or not the instructions read something like:

Congratulations on the purchase of your new grill. Please follow these instructions before use:
STEP 1: Remove this owner's manual before lighting the grill.

The ashy remains of the owner's manual.

When I realized that I need a little birding break, and I felt the urge to head north after Bohemian waxwings, I called Heets to see if he could join me. Happily, he could make it happen. And now, as you read this, we're somewhere in the northern reaches of Michigan, searching for Bohemians.

I'll be sure to let you know how the quest turns out.

Monday, February 7, 2011


Monday, February 7, 2011
Blue jay.

The birds at our feeders LOVE the homemade suet dough we provide. We feed it to them in moderation, so there's no concern about them getting obese, lazy, or addicted, but they ARE often waiting just after dawn in the willow tree off the back deck. They perch there, shifting from foot to foot nervously, wiping a wing across their beaks as they sniffle, eyes glazed. Their mood is very anxious, jumpy. They stare into the house through the sliding glass doors. They are waiting for "the man." Some mornings it is "the woman." To bring them their "medicine."

These are the "doughheads."

The second we open the back door to start the morning feeding frenzy, the doughheads make a big show of flying away. But they only go far enough to be in a good position to swoop in first to the fresh handfuls of dough on the deck rail and in the hanging dough feeder.

Here are a few of the most avid doughheads.

Female red-bellied woodpecker.

Male dark-eyed junco.

Male northern cardinal.

Female northern cardinal.

Shy male eastern bluebird.

Male house sparrow.