Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Pigeons on the Pill

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

From the "Now I've Heard Everything" desk here at BOTB, comes the news that rock pigeons in Hollywood, California will now be ingesting birth control drugs placed in pigeon food that human Angelenos will put out for them. The drug is called OvoControl P and it inhibits egg production in female birds.

First, a serious question:

I know pigeon poop on your brand-new Mercedes ragtop or plopped into your double venti Mocha, half-caf, soy Chai latte is a huge, gnarly bummer, but is anybody thinking about the Cooper's hawks that will eat these semi-sterile pigeons? Will the drug affect them?

Are we getting ourselves into one of those situations where we throw a chemical solution at a small problem and this causes a more serious problem? Spraying for gypsy moths in New England had a catastrophic effect on the nightjar population there.

Even non-chemical solutions can have an unforeseen but devastating impact: The introduction of the house sparrow from Europe was meant to control the infestation of wire worms in the East--now we've got an infestation of house sparrows.

And now, some stupid jokes (which came immediately to mind)
  • If you ask me, that's taking the 'rock' right out of rock pigeon. Get the AOU on the line....
  • If this pigeon ain't rockin' don't bother knockin'
  • This opens up a new product opportunity for the animal drug industry: Pigeon Viagra.

I'll welcome your comments on this post.
I'm sure there are some other good pigeons-on-the-pill jokes out there...

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Glimpsed Lately Around the Yard

Sunday, July 29, 2007
A territorial chipping sparrow, scolding me away from nest or fledglings.

I was hoping that I'd get some decent sunlight for bird photography this weekend but it was not to be. What we did get was almost three inches of much-needed rain and the associated clouds, thunder, and lightning. After the cleansing renewal of the downpours, that familiar summer-in-SE-Ohio humidity settled in. Oofta!

So I have nothing very new to share here. These images were all taken in the past 10 days. Then, the sun shone, bathing the farm in lemony light and making my photography work much easier.

A head-on view of Gene Simmons, the familiar hummer, perched in the Japanese maple that serves as first base for whiffleball.

This male indigo bunting teases me by letting me get just close enough to take a really bad photo.

Cedar waxwings are in the yard eating the wild cherries.

This Adelie penguin was WAY off course. It's hanging around, though, so I tossed it some frozen shrimp tonight.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Friday At Last

Friday, July 27, 2007
Nyahh, nyahh, nyahh-nyahh, nyahh. Here comes the weekend!

At last! The end of the week. This is a week that I'm happy to see go. It was one of those weeks where I just felt out of sync with the planet's rhythm. You know what I mean?

And now that it's Friday, and the weekend is drawing near, I can thumb my nose in the rear-view mirror and look forward to spending the next few days alone with Liam at the farm.

The girls are away in New England at a wedding shower, so it's a Hotdog Brothers' Reunion Party all weekend long. Lots of great activities, like watching 10 episodes of Spongebob Squarepants in a row, peeing outside, and eating entire meals devoid of a second green vegetable. We are, after all, just simple cavemen...

If the weather cooperates, I might spend tomorrow morning in the photo blind, shooting the birds that come to the bird spa. Lots of avian activity there in mid-summer.

This hummingbird (above) loves to perch in the Japanese maple in the front yard. I call him Gene Simmons. He's waving goodbye to this past week for me, with his impressive tongue. Or maybe he's saying hello to the weekend.

Either way, I hope you have a good weekend, folks, wherever you are.
Cowboy Liam, watching over his imaginary herd.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

(Almost) Cut My Hair

Wednesday, July 25, 2007
With apologies to David Crosby and his fine song, Almost Cut My Hair, yesterday I let Joe the ex-Marine barber cut about three pounds of great nesting material off my head.

Years ago, when Phoebe was just a little red-headed thing, we spread the cuttings from her first haircut on the front lawn. Within minutes a pair of chipping sparrows were gathering bill-fulls of hair to line their nearly completed nest. That fall we collected the nest and it now decorates our Christmas tree each December, still lined with our daughter's red hair.

Chipping sparrow.

I loved having long hair again--it was the first time since about 1984 that my hair reached my collar. Back then it was all brown with a touch of red. This latest middle-aged version featured a touch of gray. And it was fairly mullet-like, too, since the entire front half of my head, above the eyebrows is innocent of any hair at all.

Having a personal neck warmer this winter and early spring was great. It's not so good for the dog days of summer. Neck warmer, by the way, is another name for a mullet. As are these: Business in Front/Party in Back. Kentucky waterfall. Beavertail. Missouri Compromise.

The haircut has gotten mixed reviews at home and at BWD. When asked why I cut off my luxuriant, flowing locks, I reply "The birds at our farm need the nesting material."

And that's where the hair is actually going. Joe, the ex-Marine barber, swept the hair up for me and bagged it so I could take it home with me. We'll scatter some over the lawn for use by late-nesting field sparrows and chippies and bluebirds, if they're so inclined. I'll save the rest of the nesting material for next spring.

If you'd like to share your opinion on this haircut, please do so via the Comments button below. I've posted Before and After images for your viewing displeasure.

Two things to bear in mind:
1. If I get a lot of votes for the Return of the Mullet, I can always grow it back.
2. My haircuts cost US$9.

In conclusion, I am compelled to report that, as David Crosby sang, I still feel like letting my freak flag fly.



Flower Power


Purple stripes converge
A promise of sweet nectar
Not what it appears.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Happy Birthday JZ!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Standing on the ancient stones of Tikal. "And oh how they daunced... the little people of Stonehenge!"

Today is Julie's birthday.

We've spread the celebration out over the past 10 days with other events (including Phoebe's birthday), a trip to Cowtown, and friends visiting from near and far. These little distinct commemorations have been more like small, semi-precious stones strung on a necklace than like a giant diamond ring.

For gifts she wanted plants for the garden, so we scored (but she hand-picked) several special rose bushes. Her sister Barb sent along the perfect complement to the roses, a really great garden gnome.

Mother Nature even marked the day by bringing us a momentous thunderstorm at dawn--just the sort of thing those new roses need--buckets of rain.

Artist, writer, singer, photographer, gardener, mother, partner through thick and thin, fixer of broken animals, deep thinker, Science Chimp, and naturalist extraordinaire....

Happy birthday dear, sweet Julie.

Leading a Swainson's warbler field trip in West Virginia. Image by Jeff Gordon.

Belting out an Aretha tune with The Swinging Orangutangs.

Monday, July 23, 2007

This Birding Life! New Episode

Monday, July 23, 2007
Lang Elliott recording bird songs at Indigo Hill in March of 2007. Image by Jeff Gordon.

The latest episode of This Birding Life is available for downloading at Podcast Central on the Bird Watcher's Digest website. This episode's "victim" is Lang Elliott, the Mighty Maven of Bird Sounds.

Lang has been recording nature sounds for the past two decades. In our conversation he describes the very first bird sound he ever recorded, and some other interesting adventures he's had along the way.

We also talk about his latest book, The Songs of Insects, co-authored with Wil Hershberger. This book profiles 75 of the most common sound-making insect species with gorgeous photos, full descriptions, and the species' song or sound included on the CD that comes with the book. This book is going to open a lots of ears (and eyes) to the world of singing insects--a world that has gone largely unnoticed by most bird watchers.

Lang and Wil have recently created a really cool insect-sounds website to support the book. Check it out.

The This Birding Life podcast is available in both MP3 (audio only) and M4A (images and sound) formats and can be downloaded from the BWD website or in the iTunes Store.

Lang Elliott (L) and Ted Mack prior to a 1988 sound-recording field trip. Image courtesy Lang Elliott.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Tagged and I'm It.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

I got tagged for the second time in a week for the "Eight Random Facts" meme. The taggers this time were The Birding Couple. Last week The Birders on the Border got me. I figured I'd better git-r-dun or the tagging might never stop.

What is the memeing of all this? Meme defined.

My initial plan was to play 'possum and hope that the threat would dissipate. Then I thought about acting like a hog-nosed snake and faking my own, very painful death.

But the true path of least resistance is to follow through with my own 8RF post and then, as with a cheesy chain letter, tag eight other innocent bloggers.

Rules for a memeingful life:
  • write a post with eight random facts (8RF) about yerself
  • list the rules of the meme
  • at the end of that post, list eight other bloggers that you've tagged to write similar 8RF meme posts, (including the rules)
  • leave comments on the "tagees" blogs to notify/warn them about the meme.
  • get on with your life, the course of which has now been forever altered.
Here are my 8RF.

1. I was born in the mostly Dutch community of Pella, Iowa. I've been inside the hospital there as a patient exactly twice--both involving labor: once when I was being hatched in the early 1960s and once last Labor Day.

2. If I were not gainfully employed editing Bird Watcher's Digest and writing books, I'd be a studio musician or sound recording engineer.

3. My wife and I have a band called The Swinging Orangutangs. Yes, we rock.

4. Our farm, Indigo Hill, has been a home to 14 different breeding warbler species: Louisiana waterthrush, common yellowthroat, yellow-breasted chat, American redstart, black-and-white, ovenbird, worm-eating, yellow, prairie, blue-winged, pine, Kentucky, cerulean, and hooded.

5. There have been two important Chet Bakers in my life. Only one of them played trumpet. Only one of them kisses me on the face, poops in our meadow, and brings ticks into the house. Both are handsome devils.

6. The movie I'll always stop to watch is "The Outlaw Josey Wales."

7. I earned a Bachelor of Philosophy degree from Western College at Miami University without ever taking a multiple-choice exam.

8. I have rooted tirelessly for The Pittsburgh Pirates since 1971.

And now for the tag-ees, some of whom may have already been tagged, but so what? (and I won't be mad if this meme virus stops with any of you...)

1. Julie "Beautiful Blogzilla" Zickefoose
2. Jeff "Birding, not NASCAR" Gordon
3. Jim "The Incredible Birding Hulk" McCormac
4. Kathi "KatDoc" H.
5. Mon@rch
6. Rondeau "It's Better than Pelee" Ric McArthur
7. Jeff "The Karaoke King" Bouton
8. Mike "Digiscoping Zen Master" McDowell

Good luck and let's be careful out there!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Here Lies the Unknown Birder

Tuesday, July 17, 2007
During our "Joy of Birding" session at Hog Island Audubon Camp in Maine, we took an afternoon side trip back on the mainland for some birding in a nearby village. The winding road from boat landing to village passes by an old cemetery. Standing guard on the cemetery's edge, facing the road, is a statue marking the grave of a Revolutionary War soldier.

Of course to us bird watchers, it looked like something completely different.

Looks like he's not getting enough eye relief with these binocs.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Irresistible Stones

Monday, July 16, 2007
Spotted sandpiper at low tide near Tenant's Harbor, Maine.

While visiting a favorite patch of land along an inlet on Maine's coast, we spent a morning walking along the shore at low tide. The shore there is mostly rocky and the tide difference from high to low is substantial. Walking at low tide there are a lot of things exposed that are covered with salt water when the tide is high.

Among these low-tide wonders are the beach rocks. From tiny pebble to house-sized boulder they are all beautiful. We could not resist picking a few up and admiring them. Some went into pockets for transport home, others went back where they came from. Still others went into a few little rock sculptures we left in our wake.
Rock sculpture by Phoebe, Liam, JZ, and BOTB.

Atop one of the largest boulders there bobbed a spotted sandpiper. We realized that there were few shorebirds here in Maine at this time of year. I guess most of them were farther north, nesting, or inland, where it's easier to nest near water without getting your eggs washed away by the incoming tide.

But back to the rocks. Why is it that when you take a lovely stone from some spot and put it in your pocket to take back home, it does not retain the same visual appeal as when you first encountered it? Is it the setting that makes the stone so beautiful? Is it the convergence of the natural elements that makes it so? Is it the moment of discovery? Who can say?

The stones we brought back from Maine (and I'm surprised that our plane could actually take off) look fine on our front stoop. But they looked even better on the rocky beach with all of their "friends."

Here are some macro shots I took of the patterns in the stone. To my eye, they look like wood grain and ocean waves all at once.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Hummingbird Reflection

Friday, July 13, 2007
Man the hummingbirds are thick on the farm right now, especially around the feeders on the front stoop.

One of these days I am going to set up the camera and blind and try to take some decent hummingbird photographs.

One of these days...

All I've managed to do so far is aim the camera at the feeder a few times and snap off a few frames. No thought given to background, exposure, framing, shutter speed, ISO...

I've gotten a few interesting shots. Here's one, cropped two ways.

This female might actually be a very young male (see the faint gorget streaks?)

I wonder if she is checking out her reflection on the feeder's plastic surface?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

One Day Wonder: Sedge Wren

Thursday, July 12, 2007

On Monday morning, Julie was up with the dawn and heard a strange bird song coming from out in the meadow. Because she has a mind like a steel trap, she immediately recognized the singer as a sedge wren--a species we heard almost every day recently while birding in North Dakota.

This is a very rare visitor to our dry, ridgetop farm. We've had only one or two other records--both in fall.

She did what any avid bird watcher would do, she grabbed her binocs, camera, put on her Wellies, and woke me up.

"There's a SEDGE WREN singing in the meadow. I'm going to try to find it!"

Sure enough, as soon as I staggered out into the cool morning air, I heard the wren's staccato song from about 50 yards out the meadow path. I grabbed binocs and followed Julie's footprints in the dew out the upper meadow path toward the bird.

We soon found it singing from the base of a cherry sapling growing near an old snag we'd erected years ago as a bluebird perch. There's a little clump of cherry tree saplings in this spot surrounding the snag. The saplings are only growing there in the middle of our meadow because a bird (or several birds--maybe our bluebirds) ate some cherries and stopped on the snag. While there, the bird or birds pooped. The cherry stones, scarified by the bird's digestive tract, hit the soil ready to root and grow. The saplings, about three feet tall, are still present because I can't mow that close to the snag with the bush-hog and tractor.

What a happy coincidence that this is where the sedge wren chose to set up camp.

He sang and sang and even moved up to the topmost branch where the light was perfect for photography. Julie began snapping off frames with her digital camera. My camera was sitting in my camera bag, in two pieces, still packed away from our Maine trip.

"Go get your camera, B! the bird is REALLY cooperative!"
"It's all the way in the house, by the time I get back here, he'll be gone...."
"Don't be silly. GO GET YOUR CAMERA!"
So I sighed, and did.

And I'm glad Julie insisted.

The sedge wren stayed in the same area for the next hour. And as the light got better, we snapped a few hundred frames each, switching modes, settings, trying to get at least one good shot of this tiny bird.

I made some calls to birding friends but no one could make it out on such short notice. The wren sang in bursts for the rest of the day. The next morning he was gone.

Late summer and early autumn here on Indigo Hill are the birdiest time of year, better even than a May morning in many ways. There are lots more birds, their numbers swollen with birds of the year, and there are lots more surprises. Post-breeding wanderers, misguided fledglings (which we think our sedge wren was), and unpredictable visitors are the norm at this time of year.

It's a good time of year to get up early to listen and watch. You never know what's going to turn up.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

For Phoebe Linnea...

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Today is the day that Phoebe Linnea turns 11 years old (in fact, the hour of her birth has already passed). We commemorated it with strawberry shortcake, hugs and kisses, and big, fat smiles. Later today a half-dozen girls will come to the farm for a birthday party--we're hoping the rain will go away before party time. But it won't dampen things even if it's pouring.

Phoebe and Liam like to dress up like movie stars.

Phoebs was game to dress up like an owl for the OOS Owl Symposium last winter.

At 11, Phoebe is many things: Budding naturalist and bird watcher, excellent artist, spelling bee champ, fast-improving softball player, practical joker, excellent (usually) big sister to Liam, fashion maven, music aficionado, and dog lover.
Her "da" likes to take her on trips to faraway lands.

A family birding trip near Magdalena, New Mexico.

We look at her and can't believe this is the same tiny thing we nervously brought home from the hospital just over a decade ago. She was so bright and shiny (with red hair to boot) that we called her "New Penny."

In the months leading up to and immediately following Phoebe's birth, I was hard at work writing my very first book, Bird Watching For Dummies. I'd often give Phoebe her late bottle of milk and then head down to the basement guest room to write during the quiet hours.
When I got done writing the book, I felt as though Phoebe had been there with me the entire time.

And so the only dedication that seemed appropriate was:

For Phoebe, my favorite little bird.
This is Avis, an orphaned eastern phoebe that Julie and (human) Phoebe raised and released.

Some nights during Phoebe's first year, I'd stay up watching "baby TV," gazing into her big blue eyes, which even then seemed to be windows into a very wise, old soul. In my entire life I've never felt so at peace as when Phoebe would fall asleep on my chest while I sat in my big gray recliner, rocking gently.

"The magic chest" Julie called it. And it seemed to fit--on those rare occasions when nothing else would calm Phoebe, I'd put her head on my chest and hum to her softly. She'd quiet down and drift off to see the Sandman.
She can be a woman of leisure when she wants to be.

And now she's all "growed" up. But every so often, (and not often enough for me) we have a nice cuddle just like we used to.
Dancing with Daddy at a wedding.

Happy birthday, sweet Phoebe! You make me (and us all) so proud!

All too soon, our Phoebe will be fledging. As you might guess, we're in no rush to see her go.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Summer's Cauldron

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Cone of coneflower
bumble bee's hairy embrace
love symbiotic

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Cows That Love KISS

Sunday, July 8, 2007
While we were birding our rump roasts off in North Dakota, we took an afternoon excursion into the Coteau region west of Pingree looking for chestnut-collared longspurs. We did not find them (that day, anyway), but we did see some amazing things.

Among the amazing things was a herd of cattle that contained many individual bovines that had face patterns just like the famous rock band of the late 70s and early 80s, KISS.

I was never a huge KISS fan, and I don't really care what the letters in the band's name stand for (kids ingesting Salisbury steak?) but what I DO wonder is this:
The meanest cow in the herd. And DON'T call out "Hey #41!"

Were these cows bred by their human caretakers to give this obvious tribute to Gene Simmons et al? Or did the cows do it themselves?
This one seems to be very yin-yang in its face pattern.

I could almost hear the logic of a large Angus bull...
"Hey if I can just get over with Bossie, we could have a calf that looks just like that dude in KISS with the cat whiskers!"
White face, black eye shadow. And What happens backstage stays backstage.

Kind of a free-form face pattern. This is probably the one with the 7-inch tongue.

The boys in the band. They wanna rock-n-roll all night and party everyday, after they're done putting on their make-up, which takes 11 hours per face.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Hog Island Part 2: Puffins!

Thursday, July 5, 2007
All aboard the Puffin V!

On the morning of our final full day on Hog Island, everyone at the camp embarked on the camp's large boat, the Puffin V for a cruise out to Eastern Egg Rock. Eastern Egg Rock is where Stephen Kress and his colleagues at National Audubon began the very successful reintroduction of the Atlantic puffin to Maine's coastal islands. At the time, there were only two small nesting colonies of Atlantic puffins in the U.S.--both off the Maine coast and both threatened by predation, harsh weather, and ever-growing gull populations.

When Project Puffin started, in 1973, it was based out of Hog Island, where Steve Kress had spent many summers as a camp instructor and director. Puffin chicks were collected from wild nests in Newfoundland were brought in tube-filled boxes to Hog Island, then placed in artificial burrows on Eastern Egg Rock. You can still see these puffin transport boxes in the Fish House on Hog Island.

The reintroduction effort was eventually a success, but there were many problems along the way. Chief among these is the clear fact that, for puffins and other rare nesting seabirds on these islands, survival relies on constant human surveillance and control of predators. Without both of these, the puffins, terns, and storm petrels nesting on Eastern Egg Rock and the other islands nearby would be gobbled up by gulls and other predators--both natural and introduced.

I'd made the puffin pilgrimage back in the late 1980s, taking the ferry out of Jonesport, Maine to Machias Seal Island. On that trip we all disembarked and spent hours in a puffin monitoring blind. No such adventure on this trip. Eastern Egg Rock has a handful of volunteer monitors on it, but it's too disturbing for the nesting birds for 30 birders to come ashore. So we'd have to be content with watching the birds from the very stable decks of the Puffin V.

Julie exclaiming over the fact that she's NOT getting seasick!

Julie was in high spirits as we cruised out toward Eastern Egg Rock, taking pictures like a crazy person. We knew we'd see puffins, but for Julie and several others on board, the anticipation of seeing a life bird as glamorous as the "sea toucan" was almost too much to bear.
Happy puffineers. And we hadn't seen a single puffin yet!

We cruised outbound for a couple of hours, seeing many picturesque islands, rocky shoals, and many, many birds. Among the common terns were a few roseates and the occasional Arctic.

Lighthouses still stand on several of the islands, though none is tended by a lighthouse keeper anymore, this being the computer age. It's impossible to resist taking photographs of a lighthouse--even when the daylight is harsh and the boat is rocking.We spotted several bald eagle nests on the way out to Eastern Egg Rock.

I've never seen so many black guillemots in my life. They flashes black and white in flight, their orange legs dangling behind them. Why orange legs on an otherwise plain bird?
Black-backed gulls are the top-of-the-line predator on many of the offshore islands. This one is clearly getting sufficient food to raise three chicks. Being the big bully, they can have their chicks on top of this rock and not worry about predation. Unless a bald eagle comes along....

As we got farther out into Muscongus Bay, the Wilson's storm-petrels appeared. I got my best-ever looks at this tiny swallowlike seabird as we cruised to and from Eastern Egg Rock.

And then, we saw them. Just tiny, black footballs whirring over the waves--PUFFINS!
They are fast fliers--tough to photograph from a moving boat. But that did not stop us from shooting. And shooting.....

That bill! I'm not sure what the purpose of such a large, laterally flattened bill is and I don;t really care. This is one of those totem birds that you see in the field guide and say to yourself: "Someday I'd like to see THAT bird!"

A volunteer puffin watcher in the blind on Eastern Egg Rock. Volunteers get to spend all day in the blind in all kinds of weather, getting overwhelmed by the smell of a seabird colony, and sometimes getting pooped on themselves. But they get to know puffins and storm petrels, and guillemots, and other birds very, very well.

Puffins feeding along the rocky shoreline of Easter Egg.

Guillemot and razorbill decoys on Eastern Egg Rock. Decoys and recorded puffin calls were used to lure passing puffins to Eastern Egg Rock to nest.

Jen Sauter, our Ohio birding pal, and Julie compare puffin photos. This was a life bird for both gals.
Shortly after seeing the puffins, Liam crashed out. He wasn't sick, just tired from all the excitement.

If you've never seen an Atlantic puffin, this is a great way to do it. Our co-leaders (and longtime Hog Island instructors) Mike Shannon and Tom Leckey filled our brains with fascinating natural history information about the islands, the creatures, the ocean. For more information about Maine Audubon's regular puffin-watching cruises, waddle on over to here.

What a day! The sun was out, the sea was calm, the wind was gentle, the company was good, and, as we cruised back to Hog Island, we had visions of puffins dancing about in our heads.