Friday, December 28, 2007

Cud-Chewing Retrospection

Friday, December 28, 2007
Dear Bill of the Birds Readers:

There's nothing like the end of another year blurring past to force one to be retrospective (can that word be used as an adjective? I'm feeling introspective in a retroactive way...). Here we are, mere days from el fin del año and I am trying to s l o w d o w n, to savor the good from this year, to excise the bad, and perhaps most importantly of all, to be in the moment.


I just wish there were more time in each day--or at least time available in larger chunks. In spite of my best intentions to get a worthwhile, meaty post up here in this very blog every day, I often find myself falling asleep thinking "Dang! I forgot to blog today!" Or worse, sitting on my tuffet chewing my cud, when it occurs to me "Hey! You haven't blogged in several days!" Work and life intrude on, um, work and life and the time flows past in the aforementioned blur. And there is no way to stop time as far as I can tell.

The truly original band They Might Be Giants probably said it best in their song Older.

You're older than you've ever been. And now you're even older, and now you're even older, and now you're even older. . . .
You're older than you've ever been. And now you're even older
. . . . .
and now you're older still.

think happy thoughts.

So to stave off the effects of aging, I've been scanning through my iPhoto library for 2007 looking at the photographic highlights and low lights. Some of the images I'm finding are surprising--and interesting enough to be the subject of a post or two here in BOTB.

Here's a neat series of pix I took in Florida last January, of a little blue heron striking at a fish and missing. Nothing outlandishly special about these images. But they do capture a moment in time quite vividly.

Stalking the shallows.

"Hold still little fishy. I'm not gonna hurt you! I just want to pet you with my dagger-like bill."


And comes up empty. Ah, well. There are other fish in the sea!

I doubt that that little blue heron is still hungry. But he IS older than he's ever been. And now he's even older. . .

Friday, December 21, 2007

My Year in Bird Photos

Friday, December 21, 2007
Northern harrier, near Pingree, North Dakota, June.

I've got a love/hate relationship with those year-in-review, best-of lists. Normally I LOVE them because I miss a lot of good stuff in the course of the year (new music, movies, books, etc) and it's nice to see what other people pick as their favorites or what is chosen as the year's best whatever.

I tried to make my own 'best of' list this weekend: My Best Birds of 2007. That crazy train quickly ran off the rails. What, after all, constitutes "best"? Life birds? I got two in 2007: Florida scrub-jay in January in The Sunshine State, and American three-toed woodpecker in November in New Mexico. Those two birds pushed me into the mid-to-high 600s on the old life list (I really need to update that). But I also got loads of lifers in my three trips outside the U.S. this year. How do you fairly compare the relative merits of an Andean cock-of-the-rock with a LeConte's sparrow? I decided to limit this initial list to the continental U.S.

Were the best birds the rarest ones I saw? Or the most challenging to find? Or the most cooperative? Most beautiful?

Because I was blogging about this list, it would be useful to include on the list birds I had photographed. That's IT! My Best Bird Photos of 2007!

Still, the hair pulling was not over. I have images stored in several places on at least two different computers. I lost a lot of good images from North Dakota in an iPhoto crash. And how do I choose the bird photos? Sharpest? Largest in the frame? Rarest? Most cooperative? Aaaarrrrrgggghhhhh!

I woke up at 4:45 this morning determined to get this post finished. It's now 10 am and I'm still looking through images. STOP THE MADNESS!

Folks, I done did my best. I'm leaving a lot out, but I'm also saving you from seeing every single shot I took (somewhere in the neighborhood of 7,000 images).

I hope you like the images I chose. Please feel free to send along your comments.

Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Female anhinga landing in a snag. January, near Titusville, Florida.

Limpkin, Viera Wetlands, near Titusville, FL., January,

Florida scrub-jay. Merritt Island NWR, Florida, January.

Digiscoped. Hybrid drake blue-winged x cinnamon teal. Viera Wetlands, near Titusville,FL. January.

Willet, Merritt Island, NWR, FL. January.

Turkey vulture, Merritt Island, NWR, FL. January.

Eastern bluebird male, Whipple, OH, February.

Ringed kingfisher, Anzualduas County Park, near McAllen, TX. March.

Tern comparison: Forster's tern (left) and common tern (right) Muskingum River, Marietta, OH, May.

White-eyed vireo, Whipple, OH. May.

Prairie warbler, singing male, Whipple, OH. May.

Blue-winged warbler, singing male, Whipple, OH. May.

Wood duck pair, Mohican State Park, OH. May.

Alder flycatcher, Allegany State Park, Salamanca, NY. June

Chestnut-sided warbler, male. Allegany State Park, Salamanca, NY. June

Displaying upland sandpiper, near Pingree, ND. June

Wilson's snipe, near Carrington, ND. June

Sora, near Pingree, ND. June

Black tern in flight, near Carrington, ND. June

LeConte's sparrow, Arrowwood NWR, ND. June

Barn swallow on antler. Carrington, ND. June

Chestnut-collared longspur, singing male, near Lake Juanita, ND. June

Eastern kingbird, near Carrington, ND. June

Wilson's storm-petrel, near Eastern Egg Rock, MA. June

Northern parula, male, Hog Island, ME. June

Atlantic puffin, Eastern Egg Rock, ME. June

Common eider, male, Hog Island, ME. June.

Yellow-throated warbler, male, Whipple, OH. July

Sedge wren, Whipple, OH. June.

Orchard oriole, male, Whipple, OH. July.

Ruby-throated hummingbird, male, Whipple, OH. August.

Ruby-throated hummingbird, female, Whipple, OH. August.

Cape May warbler, fall plumage, Whipple, OH. September.

American dipper, Taos Ski Valley, NM. November.

Black-billed magpie, Arroyo Seco, NM. November.

Snow geese at Fly-out, Bosque del Apache NWR, San Antonio, NM. November.

"Blue" Ross' goose, Bosque del Apache NWR, San Antonio, NM. November.

Ross' goose (left) and snow goose, Bosque del Apache NWR, San Antonio, NM. November.

Greater roadrunner, north of Socorro, NM. November.

Lewis' woodpecker, Arroyo Seco, NM. November.

Sharp-shinned hawk, Whipple, OH. December.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Snowflake the Junco

Thursday, December 20, 2007
Looking out my home office window about a month ago, I spied with my little eye, a white spot on the green-turning-brown lawn. It was out under the pines where corn and mixed seed are scattered.

At first I thought it was a piece of tissue.

Then the white spot moved.

I got binocs on it and saw that it was a female dark-eyed junco but that it was leucistic, what most of us might mistakenly call "partially albino." There are no partial albinos. [Science Chimp chimes in: "That's like saying She's partially pregnant"] You either are or you aren't. Same thing is true with albinism.

Actual albino birds completely lack pigment. Their eyes are red. Their fleshy parts are pink. Their feathers are all white. They normally do not survive long for a variety of reasons (poor eyesight, difficulty of NOT getting noticed by predators, other genetic problems).

This bird intrigued me. It is leucistic--partially lacking in pigment. It's not only noticeable and beautiful, it's quite willing to come in to our front stoop feeder, to our studio feeders, and basically hang around the yard all day long.

I am calling this whitish dark-eyed junco Snowflake (awwwww!). She is easy to spot among the 50 or so juncos spending this winter with us.

I have yet to get a really good photo of her this year. I'm wondering if it's the same leucistic female we had here last year. This year's model is noticeably whiter. But what are the chances of two different leucistic female dark-eyed juncos showing up at our farm on consecutive years?

I have a lot of questions about this...
Does the amount of leucism change from molt to molt? Does it come on stronger with age?

Is this the same bird?
Well, I'd like to get your opinion on this.

Here is the December 2007 bird:

December 2007. Photo by Julie Zickefoose.

And here is the December 2006 bird:December 2006.

Viewed from different angles, it's easy to see that the leucism is not uniform—she has one side that's whiter than the other.

Birds with noticeable physical traits (white feathers, abnormally long bills, a drooping wing) are known as marker birds. You can spot them as individuals.

I posted about our other marker birds last December here in BOTB, including several images of a whitish junco.

I'll keep you posted on her whereabouts. I just hope the sharp-shinned hawk does not prefer white meat...

Snowflake the leucistic junco.