Wednesday, December 3, 2014

How to Groom Your Baboon

Wednesday, December 3, 2014
I was fortunate to be invited along on a familiarization birding and wildlife tour of Uganda with my friends Tim Appleton and Dominic Mitchell. The trip has been epic and I'll be posting and podcasting about it in the months ahead. But I just had to share one little scene that we witnessed yesterday.

We've been seeing olive baboons constantly on this trip through Uganda. They are along every road and in our near many villages and settlements. Some of them even stoop cars to beg for food.

This troop was spotted along one of the roads through Queen Elizabeth National Park and they demonstrated a very important lesson in baboon grooming, which I'm pleased to share with you here.

First examine your groomee carefully.

Next, spot a pest or bleb that needs to be removed and carefully remove it.

Examine the removed item closely.

Then eat it to ensure that it does not reattach itself to your groomee.

Receive the thanks from your gromee—you'll know by their body language.
Here endeth the lesson. Go forth and groom your baboons with your new-found skills and knowledge.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Tundra Swan Song

Friday, November 14, 2014
Tundra swans. (NPS Photo/ Tim Rains/via Wikimedia)

Twice in the past week I've heard calling (you can't really call it singing) tundra swans here in southeastern Ohio. The first time was last Friday night just about dusk. I was sitting alone, watching a small bonfire in the fire ring on the hill near our garden when I heard the crazy, high-pitched voices of a flock of tundra swans in the dark sky overhead. Just as my face was breaking into a smile from the realization of what I was hearing—only the second record of tundra swans for our farm—the local coyotes started up, jolted into action I think by the weird, kind of doglike sounds, coming from the sky. I have no idea what the coyotes were thinking but it was a very cool natural catalyst connection.

Listen to a flock of tundra swans:

The second tundra swan episode happened this morning. Bird Watcher's Digest  intern Mollee B. and I were shooting some product shots in the BWD office parking lot when I again heard the swan's anxious yelps. This time it was daylight and, while screaming "HOLY [naughty word]! Tundra swans!" and racing across the lot to alert the BWD staff, I spotted the flock, high overhead.

The swan flock over the BWD offices. I think they came by to check us out!

We all ran out to the front of the building and everyone (except Ann, who ignored my screams—remind me never to go mountain climbing with her—and Dawn, who was out of the office) got to see them. A large V of more than 30 individuals!

I've only seen this species a couple of times here in Washington County, Ohio—usually along the Ohio River in winter. To encounter them twice in one week (and add them to the BWD office list) was a special treat!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Big Sit 2015 Results

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Well, it was close.

The 2015 Whipple Bird Club Big Sit in the birding tower at Indigo Hill started off slower than expected. Snowy tree crickets and other assorted singing insects created just enough white noise to make it hard to hear the calls of night migrating birds overhead. Then, about 4:30 a.m. the wind picked up and took over the job of keeping our heard-only list short.

By the time dawn crept in and the first Big Sit guests began arriving, the bird list total was in the low 20s and the outside temperature was in the high 30s. Brrr.
Yours truly, Captain of the Indigo Hill Big Sit, in the freezing cold pre-dawn.

The morning bird action was hot. Lots of expected resident species: northern cardinal, eastern towhee, Carolina wren, blue jay, American crow, red-shouldered hawk. This was augmented by some expected fall arrivals: yellow-rumped warbler, dark-eyed junco, yellow-bellied sapsucker, white-throated and white-crowned sparrows. We also had a few hold-outs—birds that should have been gone by now: gray catbird, brown thrasher, chipping sparrow, house wren, tree swallow, And then there were the surprises: six thrush species, including gray-cheeked and veery,  Philadelphia vireo, red-headed woodpecker, green heron. We did better on warblers than we did in 2013—a decidedly down year for us. This year we had six warbler species: Tennessee, Cape May, magnolia, blackpoll, yellow-rumped, and black-throated green.

We passed 50 species, then 60. Things were looking really good. Then the cloud cover blew in from the Southeast and it began to drizzle. it continued on and off from about noon until 4:00 p.m. This killed the bird activity more or less. Leaving us stranded at 68 species. Our all-time record for this Big Sit is 72. We could practically smell and taste 73. A palm and magnolia warbler had been our last two adds. One found by Julie Zickefoose, one by Kyle Carlsen. We were hoping that the lifting of the rain would lift the bird activity and our list of sightings, and thus our spirits.
Shila in her rain poncho.
Late in the day in a Big Sit is when you really need to concentrate. However circumstances are conspiring against you. You're tired. You haven't added a new bird to the list in an hour or more. The beer and wine are flowing. You're tired. Now you have to repatriate some of that beer or wine. Your optics are covered in orange Cheeto dust. You're tired.
Kyle and the hands of others toasting a great day before it was over.
David "Tools" Wesel demonstrating how to eat Cheetos, official snack for of the IHBS.
Just when we thought it was all over, longtime Indigo Hill Big Sit participant and the Royal Meteorologist of The Whipple Bird Club Steve McCarthy pulled one out of his bag of birding magic. Scanning a hillside more than two miles away, Steve got a flock of turkeys out for a dusk feeding, before heading to roost. That got us to 69.

We could feel the magic. We could DO this!
We never stop looking.
Alas, a flyover Cooper's hawk in the gloaming (#70) was the only additional species we could muster. As our group began to dwindle and dear friends headed off toward their homes, I remained in the tower hoping for a flyover American woodcock or a late common nighthawk. Nada.

Most Big Sits are full of "what ifs." This Big Sit was prevented from being a record-setter by the afternoon drizzle. But that didn't stop us from having a record amount of fun.
Official beer mug makes the Big Sit beer taste better.
Late in the day the sun came back to taunt us.

Thanks to all the friends near and far who made it to our Big Sit, held their own Sit, or merely participated vicariously via social media (#bigsit). You can see some of the results at both the Big Sit Live page and at the Big Sit results home page.

The official/traditional date of the 2015 Big Sit will be Sunday, October 11. Some sitters will elect to Sit on Saturday, October 10, and that's OK, too.

While the sun never sets on the British Empire, it did set on the 2014 Big Sit.