Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Song in My Head

Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Dawn clouds, Halloween 2006, Indigo Hill

You BOTB regulars know that these TSIMH entries come in fits and spurts.

Well today a song that I've heard bits of for much of the past year finally came home to roost.

We have satellite TV here in the country (our only option) and one of the side benefits to this is that we get XM Satellite Radio via our TV set. I hooked up an extra-long audio cable to our stereo so we can listen to it throughout the house. There are several times a day when one of us goes running into the living room to see the name of the song being played or the artist performing that song. The XM channel we listen to most often is "The Loft" and with the exception of the occasional slip into bad sugar pop (e.g.: Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl") the music they play is excellent.

Today's entry is a song I heard on "The Loft" last week. I was transported by what I heard. Of course, I navigated the digital ether to the iTunes store and bought it right away. Then I found out it was from Over the Rhine, an up-and-coming Ohio-based band.

So tonight The Song in My Head is:

by Over the Rhine
from their album "Drunkard's Prayer"

The song is simply written, with straight-ahead lyrics, and spare instrumentation. The female singer's voice (that's Karin Bergquist) is breathy and mesmerizing. The general theme of the song is something we can all relate to, at least those of us living here on this mortal coil.

I was born to laugh
I learned to laugh through my tears
I was born to love
I'm gonna learn to love without fear

Pour me a glass of wine
talk late into the night
who knows what we'll find

Check it out. Highly recommended ear candy.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Milkweed Pod

Monday, October 30, 2006

Milkweed pod, the former home
of monarchs now deposed to Mexico
catching warmth of Halloween sun
and letting it go free
inside its seeds adrift on chill breeze
floating to dank earth
for sleep the winterlong
awakening in April's clasp
to warm unfolding, powdery cells
of next summer's
glistening monarch wings.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Mr. Incredible

Sunday, October 29, 2006
Saturday night was Trick-or-Treat night in Our Fair City. The wind howled up and down the wet brick streets, pushing swirling walls of leaves along, freezing the bare parts of kids dressed as ballerinas and surfers.

I was sitting in the parlor of my parents swank abode, enjoying a frosty-cold beverage of my choice, when all of a sudden, Mr. Incredible leapt into the room and knocked my block off!

Memo to self: Dock Mr. Incredible's allowance.

photo by the Crazy Dog Lady of Whipple.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Mike DiGiorgio

Saturday, October 28, 2006

I first met Mike DiGiorgio 15 years ago in Connecticut. He was the first of Julie's friends to whom I was introduced. But any nervousness that I felt as Julie's new boyfriend vanished when I met Mikey. I knew he and Zick had played in a band together (called The Cuckoos) so we started off talking music, then moved on (much later) to talking about birds and art. We've been pals ever since.

Mike is a top-notch bluegrass banjo player and has played in a number of professional, gig-playing bands over the years. It's no surprise that someone with the manual dexterity to play the banjo (vastly harder than playing guitar or piano) is also a talented artist.

He is currently painting plates for a series of regional field guides to Brazil, as well as an upcoming field guide to Central America with Robert Ridgely and Guy Tudor. He's recently completed a series of 20 bird portrait paintings for future publication in a coffee-table book entitled Beautiful Birds of the Americas that will be published in Brazil. The red-crowned parrots, ivory-billed woodpecker, and resplendent quetzal below are from that project.

Mike has created numerous cover paintings for Bird Watcher's Digest, including the upcoming Jan/Feb 2007 issue, featuring a yellow-bellied sapsucker. Among the other species he's painted for BWD are: tufted titmouse (with a hidden long-eared owl), Atlantic puffins (below), great horned owl, and Blackburnian warbler.

In October 2004, Mike won the first ever Eckelberry Endowment Award from the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia in recognition of his bird illustration work. This award is given in memory of the great American bird artist Don Eckelberry.

Of all the people I've met in this world, Mike DiGiorgio stands at the front of the line as one of the nicest, most genuine, and most interesting humans on the planet. Even better, he tells great (and sometimes saucy) jokes. Plus, he JAMS on the banjo. And just LOOK at these paintings.

For more information about Mike DiGiorgio, visit his website.

The Fog is Rising--Atlantic Puffins.

Thick-billed parrots from the forthcoming book Beautiful Birds of the Americas.

December Doves--Mourning Doves.

Ivory-billed Woodpecker, from the forthcoming book Beautiful Birds of the Americas.

Resplendent quetzal from the forthcoming book Beautiful Birds of the Americas.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Thursday's Birds

Friday, October 27, 2006
Started yesterday (Thursday) off by taking the kiddos to meet the school bus at the end of our driveway. Hard frost again in the night and the meadow across our township road was heavy with the glistening, frozen blanket. The rolling meadow appeared to my eyes like a deep, dark lake, its surface rippling with gentle waves.

Facing back to the West, my camera caught my shadow unawares.

And just as I clicked the shutter, an adult red-shouldered hawk shrugged off the morning chill and took silent flight across a seamless blue sky.

I spent much of the morning writing on a book project and was deep in thought when I heard a scuffling sound at the sliding-glass door next to me. It was one of our brazen wren neighbors (of the Carolina persuasion) and he/she was billing through the dead leaves caught between the screen and glass doors. Seconds later the bird emerged with a spider as big as its head. The arachnid was firmly clenched in the wren's bill, yet it still seemed determined not to be eaten. A few quick whacks against the pavement and the spider gave up the ghost. The wren looked at me and I gave it the thumbs up. It gave that rusty pinwheel call and flitted off, belly full.

Later in the day I drove in to the BWD offices, where most of the staff still remember my name (it's not like Norm walking into Cheers.) After a cluster of meetings and some copy-editing, I realized I was the last one in the office. Must be time to go home! So I headed out into the rain and decided to drive the scenic route.

Motoring along the ridgetop I was listening to an NPR story about the plans being made and drills being held for a potential flu pandemic. It's expected that the world might suffer another pandemic like the one that killed millions in 1918. I thought about where we live, far from town and neighbors--small satisfaction. And I thought of my friends and family who live in town, in cities, in apartment buildings. Dark thoughts to be sure. But as has happened so many times, the birds came to my rescue--to change my mental channel--sort of.

Rounding a hill along Pleasant Ridge, I came upon a flock of large dark birds sitting hunch-shouldered in a pasture. Turkey vultures--and a lot of them. They were gathering around a rain-soaked deer carcass--probably a roadkill. I stopped and several vultures powered their way up into a nearby tree, and then I began to count. There were dozens of vultures all around roosting in the trees. I could see and count at least 65. What an amazing sight! And so close to Hallloween!

Hoping this was not a sign of things to come, I snapped a few quick digital frames in the dying light, and sped the rest of the way home.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Barry Van Dusen

Thursday, October 26, 2006
This is the first of a series of posts I want to make here in BOTB showcasing the artwork of the folks who were part of last weekend's Artists' Gathering at our farm. I'll share a few pieces of their work and point you to their individual websites for additional information.

One of the nature artists who came to our farm last weekend was Barry Van Dusen. Barry is well known in New England for his many projects for Massachusetts Audubon, including paintings used to illustrate a number of field guides, booklets, and books. He's also done a number of beautiful cover paintings for Bird Watcher's Digest, including species as varied as vermilion flycatcher, American robin, pileated woodpecker, and white-crowned sparrow.

Barry is an enthusiastic field sketcher (and enthusiastic about most everything). Most of my favorite pieces of his are the field paintings he's done--field sketches that he's painted, sometimes in the field, sometimes afterwards in his studio.

Finally, Barry is a natty dresser in the field, his drawing style is aligned with many of the great European bird artists, and his work is very popular in the United Kingdom. For this reason, and because he's such a regal guy, we call him Sir Barry Van Dusen.

For more about Barry, visit his website.

Scoters--Southport Maine

Yellowhammer in Brambles

Blue-headed Vireo in Maple (detail)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Many Eyes, Many Birds

Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Ohh. It's COLD this morning. As cold as the buns on a bronze statue (not that I'd KNOW how cold that is, just imagining). The sun is bright but has no strength to warm, so it's slow to melt off the killing frost we had here last night. The tulip poplars, leaves glowing gold these last weeks, are now browning and submitting themselves to winter's chill embrace.

So I'm thinking back to the glorious and warm Saturday we just had with our artist friends visiting.

Artists on the deck last Saturday with pencils, sketch pads, optics and of course, coffee.

We all moseyed out to the deck for a bit of early morning birding and some field sketching. Having so many crack birders on the farm meant we saw lots of birds. Sir Barry Van Dusen spotted a merlin rocketing over the meadow, heading magnetically south. Cindy "The Pastel Queen" House calmly called out the season's first double-crested cormorant flying high over the orchard. The last time Cindy visited, she and Zick added common raven to our property list (#181 at the time). And Mike "Banjo Man" DiGiorgio got both a blue-headed vireo (late record!) and a Cape May Warbler (even later record!). Julie and Jim Coe found the swamp sparrow that we hope is planning to spend the winter with us.

The artists sketched our eastern bluebirds and cedar waxwings. I stood slack-jawed at their talent at putting pencil to paper to create birds that, although simply rendered, shone with life.

Brenda Carter came to Indigo Hill from Ontario.

Barry VanDusen won the award for Most Avid Field Sketcher.

Later in the morning I created my own simple and edible art on the stove top, fed the troop, then shoved them out the door for a walk around the loop.
Heading out to walk the loop on a gorgeous October day.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Artists' Gathering

Monday, October 23, 2006
Pardon my hiatus from BOTB. I've been busy all weekend feeding a flock of starving bird artists that showed up at our doorstoop Friday night.

Julie is a member of a small cadre of nature artists, all of whom are friends. Most of these folks started out as bird artists, painting illustrations for books, magazines, field guides. But many of them have now transitioned into other subject matter, or have changed media, and they love to get together to share their work with each other and (more importantly) to hang out and have fun. They hold "The Artists' Gathering" about once a year at one of their houses. This year it was our turn here at Indigo Hill and eight artists joined us for the weekend, coming from near and far.

So that Julie could fully engage in and enjoy the weekend, I volunteered to do all the cooking and facilitating for the weekend. It was a lot of work but I realized two things afterwards: It was an honor to host such an array of talent in our home and it was a privilege to handle their care and feeding.

The art was shared in a variety of ways. I set up my laptop and a digital projector and we watched slideshows on Saturday afternoon and Sunday. Many of the artists also brought sketchbooks, small originals, limited-edition prints and giclees, and printed works in books and catalogs. Each artist takes his or her turn showing their work while the rest make comments and ask questions. And it's not all just ohhing and ahhing (though there is plenty of that). Several times an artist would show a piece and say "I'm just not happy with this," or "I just don't feel finished with this. Do you have any suggestions?" and the comments would get very insightful and interesting. These artists are friends and colleagues and they welcome constructive criticism. They want to know what they've done wrong in a painting and sometimes it takes another artist to see it.

I've always been in awe of the ability of the fine artist. And it was a rare treat to share my space and our farm with this group of world-class talent. I would not be at all surprised if someday in the future, this group is considered as an influential "school" of thought among natural history artists in the same way The Bloomsbury Group is to literary circles or the Hudson River School is to landscape painting.

In the next several days I will post images of the gathering and some of the works of the participants. For now I'll simply share a photograph of the group during our long Saturday morning hike over these southeastern Ohio hills.
The Artists' Gathering (standing, from left): Mike DiGiorgio, Jim Coe, Debby Kaspari, Cindy House, Julie Zickefoose, Phoebe Thompson, Shila Wilson, Brenda Carter, Linda Barth, Larry Barth. Front row, kneeling: Liam Thompson (orange hat), Barry Van Dusen, Chet Baker.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Just Like Trix Cereal

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Way back in 1992, when Zick of the Birds and I were visiting southeastern Ohio, looking for a farm to buy so we could move here from Baltimore, we had an interesting experience with a realtor. We'd made several trips out to Ohio for my work (I was the managing editor of Bird Watcher's Digest but was working with then-editor Mary Beacom Bowers in our Baltimore office) and each time we'd spend hours scanning the real estate flyers for rural houses with a chunk of land. Then we'd take a day or two to look at potential properties.

Julie had agreed to move from the East Coast to the Appalachian edge of the Great Midwest only if we could find a place with hummingbirds and bluebirds. I felt confident that we could, but this was proving more difficult than expected. We looked at several dozen places over the summer and fall of that year. None was IT.

It seemed like each place we checked out fell into one of two categories: great house with no land. Or great land with a house fit only for the bulldozer. Or no house at all. Sometimes we'd find a place that seemed close to perfect, but there would be issues with it. Lead paint on the exterior. No interior plumbing. No access to a road. Property and legal disputes. Neighbors so close by that you could ask them to pass the salt. One place we really liked was going up for a sheriff's auction. We bid on it far beyond our agreed-upon maximum and we still lost it. We spent a while on the courthouse steps after that disappointment, shedding some tears.

Then a place came on the market that sounded ideal. "Surrounded by national forest lands, you can live like a king in your own kingdom. 4BR, 2 bath, new carpet. Beautiful vistas, excellent frontage, house in great shape. Seller primed to sell." We'd read enough 'realtorspeak' to know that there were hidden meanings in this listing. Surrounded by national forest probably meant not much land. But it might also mean few neighbors. No mention of a garage meant there was no garage. 'New carpet' meant there had been lots of pets in this house, or perhaps a taxidermy business. "Seller primed to sell' could mean anything. 'Live like a king'? Did this refer to actual royalty, meaning the house was really nice? Or did it mean you could live like Elvis, sitting on the 'throne' clogging your arteries with fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches?

We decided to check it out and made an appointment with the realtor.

If you've ever bought a house, you know that sometimes you take a tour and the current owners are there. Other times they politely make themselves scarce so you can feel freer to poke around and ask the realtor direct questions. When the owners are there, you find yourself listening to their sales pitch and complimenting them on their collection of gnomes, the nice dark paneling in the kitchen, and how cute their cats are--all things that you HOPE will not be there when/if you move in.

These owners were planning to be gone for two hours during our tour. We arrived at the appointed time and found ourselves alone in a strange driveway. No realtor. No owners. No note. These were pre-cellphone times for us, so we just waited. And waited. And waited. We enjoyed the view, which was very nice. It was mid autumn and the fall foliage was peaking. We tried to envision ourselves stepping out onto the front porch of the house and scanning the valley before us for migrant hawks. We pondered what warblers might nest in these woods: hoodeds and Kentuckies for sure, and maybe ceruleans, too! It seemed to hold some possibility. But we'd need to see the inside of the house first, and it was locked-up tight.

Soon two teenaged boys from the slightly scary-looking homestead next door emerged from an outbuilding. One started a chainsaw and started running it along the frame of a car that was up on blocks in the yard, orange sparks mixing with blue smoke in the air around him. The other boy jumped on an ATV and began demonstrating just how fast one of these things could go without a muffler. The noise was incredible and our reverie was broken. Their activity continued for the next 45 minutes. With every one of those passing minutes, we saw something else about this particular place that was a concern. The roof looked like it would need to be replaced. There was no garage, just a muddy part of the yard where the current owners parked. The side yard had a dog run and was devoid of grass. The house was perched on a knoll and the land fell off precipitously on all sides--not great for gardening or even hiking. And the house was set very close to a fairly busy county road and to the neighbors who were actively pursuing their hobbies at this very moment.

Our dream was to buy an old farm with some elbow room--maybe 20 or even 40 acres. We did not want to farm actual crops. We wanted to farm for wildlife and especially birds. And we wanted to protect this piece of land and take care of it. We got back in our car and realized this was not going to be our new home. It was disappointing to find yet another unsuitable place, but we were in no rush, and were willing to wait for the right place to appear.

We were just about to leave, when, an hour-and-a-half late, our realtor showed up.
She was in gym clothes and sweaty and obviously embarrassed for having forgotten our appointment. As I walked toward her car, forming the words in my head that would let her know that we really weren't interested in seeing the property, she leapt up from her vehicle and said: "The leaves are so pretty this time of year. Don't that view look just like a bowl of Trix cereal?"

We had to agree it did.

We thanked her for her time. And we drove back into town along roads lined with Trix cereal, still wondering if we'd ever find a place of our own.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Signs of the Times

Tuesday, October 17, 2006
On a recent birding trip, I spotted this sign. I had to marvel at its very clever marketing concept: a weekly rate for the use of a jacuzzi! Because an hour or even a whole evening simply is NOT enough jacuzzi time, if you ask me.

Sure you get a little pruny, but--here's a newsflash from Dr. Lance Boyle of the BOTB Department of Physical Well-Being--prunes are GOOD for you!

Sign me up, doc!

Monday, October 16, 2006


Monday, October 16, 2006
When our Canadian friend Rondeau Ric told me he had definitive proof that I was "outstanding in [my] field." I was quite flattered.

Then he sent me this picture.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Song in My Head

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Marching Bands of Manhattan
Death Cab for Cutie

I've done my time in cities big and small and find I have only limited use for them. I've lived in New York City, London UK, Columbus OH, and Baltimore MD. Each had its charms, but I left them all in my wake to live deep in the heart of Appalachia. Why? Sometimes I ask myself that very same question. But it is answered in the night when I am awakened by coyotes or great horned owls instead of car alarms and sirens.

I love a good opera, a major league ballgame, and a good crabcake--all of which are much easier to find in a metropolis. I hate having to drive three miles for a half-gallon of milk, but that's the price I pay. My home is in the country.

Have been listening to dangerous amounts of Death Cab for Cutie of late. Talk about wizards of good pop melody! Great arrangements, clever lyrics (that seem to blithely ignore rhyming convention). These days my favorite hook-filled DC4C song is Marching Bands of Manhattan. And it's this song's references to NYC that have me thinking about where I have lived and where I live now.

Following closely behind in the derby that is The Song in My Head are Tiny Vessels and Transatlanticism. I reserve the right to name them as TSIMH in the future. Surely they'll be in ongoing contention.

Sorrow drips into your heart through a pinhole
just like a faucet that leaks
and there is comfort in the sound

Friday, October 13, 2006

Moving Day

Friday, October 13, 2006

If I were a local sharp-shinned hawk here on our farm, today is the day I'd be moving out and headed south. The huge cold front that ripped across the continent over the past day and a half would be incentive enough to leave the plump titmice, juncos, and mourning doves behind for warmer climes.

The wind right now, at midday, is incredibly blustery. The greenhouse door is banging against its frame. And though the wind blows from the southeast, I know from my sailing last summer, that it's quite possible to use a headwind to your advantage, if your sails (or wings) are set just right. But the raptors know this instinctively and soon they be up and soaring.

So I'm keeping my eye to the sky as I sit here writing away. Huge cumulus billows are skating from west to east, the perfect backdrop for the crossbow shapes of migrant accipiters. The trees, whipped by the wind as they are, are mostly holding on to their leaves, as if they are reluctant to undress just yet.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Now Here Comes Winter

Thursday, October 12, 2006
Cold front's chill embrace
Wet as an old wool blanket
Ash gives up the ghost

Winter's first cold kiss
Saps Autumn's richest colors
Counting days 'til Spring

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Within a Gnatcatcher's Eyelash

Tuesday, October 10, 2006
After a day of mourning over our so-close-to-breaking-the-record effort in the 2006 Big Sit,(we got within a gnatcatcher's eyelash of the record of 65, finishing with the previously reported total of 63 species), I am ready to share some of the day's highlights.

I finally beat Blogger into submission (this post only took about three hours to complete--don't worry BWD colleagues, it's after working hours!)

The Big Sit crew in the Indigo Hill Birding Tower, working hard at hardly working. photo by Ric MacArthur.

Late in the day but not giving up: Shila, Steve, Chet, Zick, Peter, Lynn, Rondeau Ric.

Our yard and driveway began to look like the parking lot at a birding hotspot.

As I said in my first post on Sunday, halfway through the Big Sit, we got off to a thundering start: sweeping the thrushes and woodpeckers, grabbing a handful of warblers, all three likely owls and some early "gift" birds such as American woodcock, house wren, and gray catbird. Our good luck continued into mid-morning with tree swallow, chimney swift, swamp sparrow, scarlet tanager, and cedar waxwing--all species we could easily miss. We got some early winter arrivals, too, including white-crowned sparrow, white-throated sparrow, and dark-eyed junco.

A pale male house finch stopped by to add his species to our list.

Then we hit a wall.

The weather was simply too nice for the birds to keep moving. We had all the migrants we were going to get and the crystal clear blue skies meant we'd have a hard time picking out a common loon, double-crested cormorant, or osprey flying high overhead. If they were up there, we didn't see them. Better weather for a Big Sit day is clear, sunny morning for the post-dawn feeding frenzy of songbirds. Clear mid-day for raptors to get up and soar, then a fast-moving cold front and cloudy skies, ideal for pushing birds south (front) and for spotting them as they move past (clouds). We had one or two tiny puffy-white clouds and pure blue skies until sunset. It was perfect picnic weather and we enjoyed it. But a front might have given us a few more birds.
Lisa Casamatta, Jason "The Amazing Bird Boy" Larson, and Jim "Tastycakes" McCormac kept the tower rocking with good bird sightings and bad jokes.

By the time the afternoon was hot and still, the tower top was surrounded by thousands of non-aggressive wasps and hornets. The Asian ladybugs were swarming into our house. We sputtered forward with a female rose-breasted grosbeak. We visually confirmed the hooded warbler chip as coming from an actual hooded warbler (Jimbo, we were spot-on on that one). As dusk's curtain began to drop on the day, Steve McCarthy, royal Meteorologist for the Whipple Bird Club and die-hard Big Sitter, spotted a flock of foraging turkeys on a hill so distant we had to squint into the scope just to see them. That was species #63 and although we'd continue for another two hours, scanning the skies and emptying the cooler of beer, our 2006 species list was finished.

Here are some points of reference.

Birds we missed that were seen the day before AND the day after the Big Sit:
Lincoln's sparrow, ruby-throated hummingbird.

Birds we SHOULD have gotten if they'd been thoughtful enough to stay just a day or so longer:
brown thrasher, eastern wood pewee, common yellowthroat, palm warbler, pine warbler.

Birds seen outside the circle by people coming and going or taking walks on the farm:
Eastern kingbird, pine siskin, ovenbird.

Birds we missed for no apparent reason:
Red-winged blackbird, common grackle, brown-headed cowbird, red-breasted nuthatch, Canada goose, great blue heron, killdeer.

Bird that appeared and sang and showed-off just to torture us on the day after the Big Sit:
solitary vireo

As the day drew to its inevitable end, we talked, as we often do, of holding our own Big Sit-like event in September, when it's far birdier in SE Ohio than it is on the second Sunday of October (always the traditional date of the official Big Sit). Who know, maybe next year we'll do just that. I'd even like to hold a Big Sit in our tower in each month of the year, just to chart the annual pattern of "birdiness."

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Rondeau Ric did his interpretive bird-conjuring dance. Moments later we spotted (additional) wild turkeys.

This year was especially fun because we had so many friends join us--too many to list here. I asked everyone to sign their names on the wall of our tower hatch, so when I enter the official results on the Big Sit website, I'll be able to remember all of our 2006 participants.

Steve McCarthy, Royal Meterologist for The Whipple Bird Club (our hosts) and I were still confident of getting 66 species at beer time. Photo by Peter King.

My mom always says I never want the party to end. She's right and that applies to The Big Sit. Twenty four hours may seem like a long time to spend watching birds, but when you've got your birding pals around you, it passes in a blink.

Old friend, new birder, and first-time Sitter Marcy "Pie Lady" Wesel came bearing delicious pies. You're welcome back next year, Marcy!

So here's to all you Big Sitters out there. And to all of our friends near and far who joined us, and who could not be here this year. We love you, and we'll see you next year! Get a pen and mark it down NOW! Sunday, October 14, 2007: The Big Sit!

Too late for more birds but not too late to take some pictures. Photo by Rondeau Ric.

If you look closely in the gloaming, you can see me throwing in the Big Sit hat It was a great day and our second best Big Sit total of all time.

For some other "takes" on this year's Big Sit, visit Rondeau Ric's blog, or Jim McCormac's blog, or Julie Zickefoose's blog.

Blogger Bogdown

I've got a long post about the Big Sit ready to rock but Blogger is not taking any digital images and, you know, my posts are NOTHING without their images.

I'll appreciate your patience while Blogger works out the kinks. I am sure someone at Google/Blogger is applying their Cheeto-stained fingers to a computer keyboard right now to solve this problem.


Sunday, October 8, 2006

End of Daylight Update

Sunday, October 8, 2006
We are at 63 species.
This beats 2005's score of 62, but not the record of 65.
We need 2 to tie the record and 3 to break it.
We hit a wall this afternoon.
Steve McCarthy got us a flock of wild turkeys on a distant ridge to get to 63.


Still working hard to beat the sun's setting.....

Big Sit Update #1


Apologies for the lateness of this Big Sit update. We are on a record-setting pace, and are currently sitting at 60 species. The record is 65.

Just after midnight last night, Jen Sauter and I spent about 40 chilly minutes in the tower, starting the Big Sit officially. Before we climbed down we had great horned owl, eastern screech-owl, and field sparrow.

This morning I spent the first two hours alone in the tower before dawn and heard an unbelievable flight of thrushes, each species giving its distinctive flight calls: Swainson's, gray-cheeked, hermit, veery, and wood thrush. At dawn I added eastern bluebird and American robin to complete our sweep of the thrushes.

The farm looks beautiful on this amazingly lovely autumn day. Flora and fauna every way you turn.

As usual, we're short on warblers, completely without vireos, and only just hitting our expected raptor numbers. We need only the red-headed to sweep the woodpeckers.

It's been a crowd in the tower, but all are enjoying themselves. I made everyone eat a Cheezy Poof so we can be assured of breaking the record. We had to hold a few folks down and force-feed them, because that's how important this record is.

I'll update you later.

More to come and pictures, too.

Saturday, October 7, 2006

Preparing to Sit

Saturday, October 7, 2006
This is what we'll be looking at tomorrow all day. I'm going to put a plastic bobblehead great horned owl on a pole and see if it ticks off any passing hawks.

Our pal Jen is visiting and helping us to prep for The Big Sit. She arrived last night bearing much food, which is a good thing because we'll have many hungry bird watchers here tomorrow throughout the day. Marci called, she's bringing pies. Steve's got the pepperoni rolls covered. Anne and Ric smuggled some bean soup across the border form Canada. I've made chili, Zick made her cosmically delicious squash soup. The cooler is stocked, awaiting only ice. The bags of chips are lined up (and getting pilfered by Phoebe, Liam, and visiting friend Tara--hope they don't find the Snickers bars--them's mine!).

The view up the final stairs, through the hatch, to the top of the birding tower.

Tonight The Swinging Orangutangs are playing a short one-hour gig in Marietta as part of a fundraiser for the restoration of our old downtown theatre. It will be fun, but I'm sure, even though the gig is short, the adrenaline from playing and the anticipation of the start of The Big Sit will mean a mostly sleepless night tonight. That's OK, though. We're aiming to have fun, and you can do that on very little sleep, I've discovered.

Check back on Sunday (tomorrow) for the lo-down on how our day is going. I'll try to post three or four times during the day. The goal is to beat the all--time record high species count of 65. Please keep your fingers crossed for a birdy day tomorrow. The weather looks great. The food looks yummy. The optics are cleaned and in place. The friends are already starting to pour in.

Prepare to have a good time, people.

Friday, October 6, 2006

Bookends for An Autumn Day

Friday, October 6, 2006

Cold wind, birds leaving
Ash leaves skitter, dawn nearing
Sun, I am waiting

Soft wood thrush chuckling
firey smoke I remember
deep night follows glow

Thursday, October 5, 2006

Big Sit Video

Thursday, October 5, 2006
The ever-effervescent Sharon "BirdChick" Stiteler and her non-birding hubby Bill have produced a clever video about The Big Sit. It features an interview with a guy in an orange baseball cap who is clearly a demented fan of this annual birding event. OK, so it's me, Bill of the Birds, interviewed in the video. And there is a cameo by Chet Baker, the Web's most-watched Boston terrier.

You can enjoy the video on the Birdchick Blog here.

And if you want to be part of the Big Sit insanity, here's where you check yourself in.

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Are You Sitting?

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

This Sunday, October 8, 2006, is The Big Sit.

We'll be sitting (well, mostly standing actually) in our birding tower with a few friends. We've done the Big Sit at our farm for each of the past 11 years. Eight of those we've conducted from our birding tower (which I dreamt of building for years, basically to improve our Big Sit totals).

We've had many friends join us over the years. There are the die-hard regulars that make it almost every year: Steve, Shila, Lucine, Ava, and others. And there are some folks who make it every once in a while (and we're always happy to see them, and will miss a few this year: Hobart, that's you!).

It's the most casual of birding events. Lots of birds, then lots of food, more birds, afternoon conversations, lots of very bad jokes, then happy hour at 4 pm (when the eagle or peregrine is usually conjured). Then a rush of birds at dusk followed by many wistful goodbyes.

I normally find myself alone in the tower between midnight and 2 am at the start of the Sit, and from 9 to 10 pm at the end. At the end of the Sit I'm hoping to add a bird--maybe an owl we missed before dawn, or a woodcock or a flyover veery. But really, I just don't want the day to end.

It's peaceful up there in the damp fall night air. I think back over the day and over the years of the Big Sit at our farm. If we've set a new record, I bask in the glory and whisper a thank you to the record-setting species. If we've missed the record, I think about all the great birds that were here just yesterday! And all the birds I'll see tomorrow.

The Big Sit is, by far, my favorite birding event of the year. I hope you'll create a Big Sit circle and enjoy this year's event. It's free and fun, so what's not to llike? I love thinking about all the Big Sit circles all over the world--small groups of friends, gathered in some birdy spot, enjoying the birds . . . but mostly just enjoying each other's company.

For more info on the Big Sit, [which is a registered trademark of The New Haven Connecticut Bird Club], get thee here.

In case you missed it, my charming, talented, hot-shot-birder wife Julie Zickefoose had a Big Sit-themed commentary on NPR yesterday (October 3, 2006). You can listen to it here. And you can visit Julie's much more interesting and literate blog here.

Happy Sitting wherever you are! Please pass the Cheezy Poofs!