Friday, May 30, 2008

Feeding the Lorikeets

Friday, May 30, 2008

Feeding the lorikeets at The National Aviary.

Last week I was one of the chaperones for Phoebe's 6th grade class trip to Pittsburgh, PA. We had a wonderful time in the city and saw lots of amazing things. The highlight for me was our visit to The National Aviary. And the highlight of our visit to The National Aviary was getting to feed their captive flock of rainbow lorikeets.

The "lories" are parrot relatives native to Australia and from their brilliant colors you might be able to guess why they are called rainbow lorikeets. At the aviary you can buy a small cup of nectar for $3 and hold it firmly while several lorikeets clamber along you arm to lap at the sweet liquid.

Most of the kids in Phoebe's class got to have a lorikeet on their arm during our feeding session. I took loads of images and some video (which won't upload for me today).

The class also joined me in signing and donating a copy of The Young Birder's Guide to the aviary. This was a cool culmination of our years of working on the book together to be able to donate a copy to a place that's dedicated to birds and conservation.

Today is the kids' last day of 6th grade. These same 20 kids, more or less, have been together in school, in the same class, since kindergarten. Next year they'll be mixed in with other 7th graders from other schools at the larger middle school. I'm hoping they'll take away some fond memories of their elementary years and of our time working together on the YBG. Not many 6th graders can say they helped write a book. And not many parents are prouder than I am right now of Phoebe and her classmates.

Phoebe feeding a rainbow lorikeet.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Time to Feed the Dogs

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Fledgling eastern bluebirds come to our suet dough dish with their parents every day. When the dish is empty they give us their sad, hungry hang-dog look. It makes us rush to put just a bit more in the dish—though in these insect-rich summer days we cut way back on the dough we dish out.

I swear I heard a whimper and a soft bark from the bird in the dish as I took this photo.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Groovy-billed Anis

Wednesday, May 28, 2008
The Groovy-billed Anis Back row from left: Jeff Gordon, Manny Madsen, BOTB, Ben Lizdas.
Front row from left: Marci M. Fuller, Nicholas Fuller, Terry Fuller, Liz deLuna Gordon.

Way back on April 30 when Blogger decided to "move my cheese," or rather it decided not to let me post my cheese in the way in which I had become accustomed, I was in the middle of a series of posts about the Big Sit team I was on for The Great Texas Birding Classic. The team was co-sponsored by the generous folks at Eagle Optics and Bird Watcher's Digest.

It was The Groovy-billed Anis and we came in second place in the GTBC Big Sit category. We did however win the prizes for having the most fun and the most-ossumest team shirts.

Each team shirt was a unique creation involving tie-dying, spray paint, and a stencil (thanks Claire!) of a groove-billed ani (a bird we did NOT see on the Big Sit day, by the way).

Here's a gallery of the Groovies.

Liz of the Cosmos, our spiritual leader.

Marci, our toasty hostess with the mostest.

Marci's hubby Terry our most intensely observant birder.

Nicholas who may create the first Wii birding game.

Marci's dad Manny lent the team a degree of class.

Ben Lizdas, birding maven from Eagle Optics.

Jeff Gordon spotter of most birds AND winner at Talladega Motor Speedway the following afternoon.

Bill of the Birds (who created this year's team shirts) Next stop: Project Runway!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mourning Morning

Tuesday, May 27, 2008
One morning last week I was out on the back deck trying to clip Liam's claw-like fingernails before sending him to school. As he fidgeted and I snipped and growled at him to sit still lest he lose a finger, I heard a foggily familiar bird song rise up out of the tangled mess of chlorophyll that is our old orchard.


No. It can't be!

But it was! A mourning warbler!

Liam's remaining fingernails were given a cursory clip, leaving them looking like he'd tried to stop a belt sander with just his fingertips. I was off to grab the camera, binocs, iPod, and Julie.

We beat it out to the orchard and the bird was still singing, but from deep in the woods. Mournings, being members of the dastardly warbler genus Oporornis, are natural skulkers, preferring the deepest, most impenetrable tangles from which to sing.

This bird was a migrant. The nearest breeding mourning warblers to southeastern Ohio are found in the rhododendron tangles of the West Virginia mountains. We spished to get his attention. He kept singing but did not come closer. I looked at the impressive blend of greenbriar and multiflora rose thorns, poison ivy, grape vines, and Japanese honeysuckle that was between us and the bird. Even if we DID manage to get through such a green maze, the noise of our crashing and cursing would surely scare the bird away.

We did have the iPod...

Migrant birds infrequently respond to recorded calls. Why should they? They are not yet defending any territory—they are merely passing through.

It was worth a try. The weather was warm and the sun was shining. It seemed we would not be putting undue stress on this male mourning warbler. Besides, even though I knew the song and Julie agreed with my ID by sound, it would be nice to SEE the bird both to confirm its identity and to enjoy its beauty: a dark hood (like a mourning cloak), olive back, lemon belly, and pinkish legs and bill.

I played the song on the iPod. The bird chipped and hopped into sight. Then it went back to singing and foraging in its newly visible location, offering up the occasional chip as it sashayed around the edge of the yard. It chased a common yellowthroat, perhaps just needing SOMEONE to pick on.

We got a few photos. And we enjoyed every minute of this lovely creature.

After I left for work, the mourning continued to sing and forage near the yard. Julie heard a second one a few days later.

This may very well be the only mourning warbler I see this year. And thinking back it's been at least two years since I've seen one well—the last being on my 2006 adventure to northernmost Minnesota seeking another Oporornis, the Connecticut warbler.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Giant Things of Lake Erie

Monday, May 26, 2008
I recently caught on film (with my digital camera) this rare creature which has been haunting the Lakeside area of Ohio's Lake Erie shore for the past five decades. It was vastly larger than my van, which scared me stupid, just like Ernest.

I believe this lumbering behemoth was returning to The Prehistoric Forest region after lunching at the nearby Cheesehaven.

According to my field guide this is a Goudasaurus and is made entirely of soft Dutch cheese.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Field Trip Action Shots

Friday, May 23, 2008
Here's how things typically go on field trips at birding festivals—at least how I prefer them to go on field trips that I lead...

First we look for birds scanning in all directions.

When we see a good one we celebrate.The Life Bird Wiggle.

These happy birding folk are in Mohican State Forest in northern Ohio. I've got video, too!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Twenty Years!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008
As she handed me my check stub on May 2, 2008, Ann Kerenyi, BWD's comptroller offered me her congratulations.

"For what?" I asked.

"Yesterday was your 20-year anniversary of working for Bird Watcher's Digest!"

Dang. That's right.

It was back in May 1988 that I left a stressful but increasingly lucrative job in the advertising/PR biz in New York City to join the family business (BWD) in a newly opened Baltimore office. BWD's editor at the time, Mary Beacom Bowers, had moved to Baltimore, Maryland a few years prior and I joined her as an associate editor. We worked out of a single room in her apartment building. It was a new career direction for me and I knew nobody in Baltimore except Mary, but I was fulfilling a longtime dream to do something involving birds. And being able to work for my parents (who were in the Marietta, Ohio office) but live in Baltimore seemed like a good compromise.

The first issue in which my name appears in the masthead is the September/October 1988 issue featuring a cover painting of a great horned owl by Roger Tory Peterson. With that issue BWD was celebrating its 1oth anniversary!

BWD's September/October 1988 issue.

Looking at the other names on the masthead, I am shocked to see how many of my colleagues have died and how few remain. My mom, Elsa, now holds the title for longest tenure among all BWD employees—she's been here since Day 1 in 1978. My dad retired from BWD in 1998. Chuck Bernstein, Lola Oberman, and Pete Dunne are still contributing editors to the magazine. Peter Holt is still one of our European editors. Steve and Dave Maslowski are still contributing photographers (their father Karl died a year ago). And Helen Neuberger still works here at the BWD offices, answering the phones as well as bird questions from our subscribers.

The S/O 88 masthead page.

In January 1995, after a few years a managing editor, I became the editor of the magazine. This coming September (2008) we'll kick off our 30th anniversary.

What a long, strange trip it's been!

* # * # * # *

While thinking about my past, I stumbled upon this old photograph of a birding trip I took out West in 1985. I was eight months out of college and freshly convinced that a career as a full-time musician was not going to work out, when a friend's mom offered me some money and a return plane ticket from anywhere to drive her daughter out to Flagstaff, Arizona.

Along the way Erika and I stopped to see one of my college friends in Albuquerque, New Mexico. On a whim we went on a birding road trip down to Bosque del Apache NWR in southern NM. Someone snapped this photo of me standing along a chain-link fence near the refuge. I remember being amazed that there would be an RV park specifically aimed at bird watchers! Remember, these were the days when birding still was mostly considered a social abnormality.
BT3 (BOTB) near Bosque del Apache NWR, January 1985.

Note the field marks of the 1980s bird watcher:

Swift 7x35 binoculars suspended from a narrow, pain-inducing neck strap.
Greek fisherman's hat with Big Hair sticking out in front
Guerilla Birding Team T-shirt from the World Series of Birding (it's a little-known fact that BWD was that event's first corporate team sponsor).
Field guide pouch with National Audubon Society patch and an Peterson Western Guide inside.

Back when there was a lot more "nesting material" on the top of my head.

I dropped Erika off in Flagstaff a few days after the Bosque trip, and hitch-hiked farther west, eventually making it out to L.A. That was a memorable, formative trip and holds some great stories for another day.

Now here we are in 2008.
Birding is not only socially acceptable, it's trendy.
There are thousands of places and events and companies catering to bird watchers.
A new bird field guide comes out every 17 hours.
And I'm lucky enough to [still] be editing a magazine on a subject I'm passionate about.

Twenty years...
Time flies, man—just like a bird.

Eating Worms

Did you ever wonder if this particular species of wood warbler sings that sad-sack nursery rhyme to itself?

Nobody likes me
Everybody hates me
think I'll go eat worms

I took this picture on Saturday morning while leading the Hemlock Gorge Overlook field trip at the Ohio Ornithological Society convention at Mohican State Park. He was by far the most cooperative member of his species I'd ever encountered. And he wasn't feeling sorry for himself in the least.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A New York Day

Sunday, May 18, 2008
Somewhere near Times Square, NYC.

After enjoying the birds of Central Park for the morning, it was time to hit the streets and subways to make my various appointments. First stop was the Hearst Tower for an interview with The Daily Green an new environmental e-newsletter. Dan, the editor who interviewed me, told me a lot of interesting stuff about the tower, an example of green building. For example, much of the steel used was recycled, the glass in the walls was designed to be both passive solar and more resistant to window strikes from birds.

The Hearst Building, New York City.

Cooling water cascade inside the Hearst Building.

In the giant lobby there was a water cascade coming down the center wall. This, Dan explained, was rain water collected from the roof and it was moved through the building to offer both cooling and added humidity. Cool idea.
Sirius Radio offices in midtown Manhattan.

After The Daily Green and a lunch at The Algonquin Hotel, I bolted over to The Avenue of the Americas for a radio interview on The Martha Stewart Living Today show. Sirius Radio is the broadcaster of the show, which is produced at their offices on the 40th floor. Inside the office doors the walls are covered with Plexiglas and the Plexiglas is covered with autographs and graffiti from the various famous folks who've been on one of the Sirius Radio programs. I did not want to be a gherkin and stand at the wall looking for artists I knew. So I sat across the room and scanned the walls with my binoculars. This might have been worse. The hipsters sitting and hanging around the office stared at me pretty hard. Oh well. Sometimes you just gotta be a gherkin.
The Sirius autograph wall had some great bands on it, including Bell XI and A Fine Frenzy.

The interview went well. Host Mario Bosquez is a pro who knows that enthusiasm beats all, so he fed me underhand questions that I could easily crush. It was fun. We took listener calls from all over the U.S. mostly with bird questions which I did my best to answer.

Best question: "I'm in Wisconsin and I've got a bird at my feeder that's black and white with a pink throat."
The throat part almost fooled me. It was a rose-breasted grosbeak.

BOTB and Mario Bosquez, host of the Living Today Show on the Martha Stewart Radio channel on Sirius.

After my "Martha" interview I headed downtown for a meeting with a fellow blogger, The Grrl Scientist who blogs at Scientist Interrupted. We met at the NY office of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, publishers of The Young Birder's Guide. Walking in the door, it was a thrill to see my book there on the "brag" shelf with some other recent books from HMH. Not sure if they removed it after I left, still it was neat to see it there—a tiny window on Nature amidst all the novels and narratives.

The YBG on parade inside the Houghton Mifflin (NOT Dunder Mifflin) Harcourt offices on Park Avenue South.

Indiana Jones sat in on my meeting with The Grrl Scientist.

Time had gotten away from me. I was way downtown and needed to get on up to Midtown to clean up in time for the swanky dinner I was invited to that night. There needed to be a shower in there somewhere, too. So I hopped on the 7 train at 14th Street then took the S-shuttle from Grand Central to Times Square and hoofed it back to my hotel.

Me in my monkey suit, ready to take on Gotham.

It being rush hour there was no way I'd make good time in a taxi trying to go crosstown. So the hoofing continued from W 44th and 6th to E 52 and Park. Destination: The Four Seasons. Ever try NOT sweating while walking briskly on a warm evening wearing fancy clothes. We it's dang impossible. I made it to my dinner (graciously thrown by a publisher I've written for in the past) and had a fine old time. The food was sublime and the company compelling.
The first course at The Four Seasons.

The walk home from the dinner was cooler and more relaxing. I ended the day having a beer with my pal Sean who now lives in NYC and bikes everywhere he goes (brave soul). We compared notes on our respective NYC experiences (I lived in the city in the late 1980s) and we agreed that it was not the place in which to live forever, but it was fun to visit. Of course there was plenty of evidence that, through the powers of Botox, plenty of people were TRYING to live forever. Not us. We had a toast and said our goodbyes. Sean pedaled off into the New York night and I padded upstairs to my small yet expensive room, the hotel employees each wishing me a good night, which it was.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Skyscrapers and Everything

Friday, May 16, 2008
Dashing back to Ohio from NYC today for the OOS conference at Mohican State Park.

Here are some snaps from the first part of the Trip to Gotham. Crashing now, must be up and at 'em at 5 a.m.

Manhattan skyline viewed from the plane on approach to LaGuardia.

Thursday morning, 7 am. The view of Belvedere Castle in Central Park.

The peak of spring migration brings out the birders in force. It was a great and birdy day.

New birding pal, fellow editor and guitar player Luke Dempsey, author of the forthcoming birding book A Supremely Bad Idea.

Pale Male (the blurry dot atop the antenna) even came out to say hello.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Wild Morel Hunters

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

It's been a brilliant morel season on our farm. I went out about 10 days ago determined to find morels after about eight years of missing them during their brief springtime appearance. I walked for three hours along the sides of our two valleys seeing not a single sign of this highly prized mushroom.

I was in a sort of Zenlike trance, listening to the burble of the stream below, the sweet notes of newly arrived woodland warblers, revisiting parts of the farm I've not seen in months or even years. No morels? No worries. It would not spoil a nice walk in the spring woods.

Then it hit me: old orchards—morels often grow really well in old orchards. We'd had the requisite rainfall followed by warm days. I changed course toward the ancient apple orchard along the east-west ridge west of our house.

There, beneath the skeleton of a dead Golden Delicious apple tree I found a huge, slightly old morel. Then another. I ran to gather up Julie and the kids to share my discovery. We feasted on morels and homegrown asparagus that night.

The next day I took Liam out with me to look for more 'shrooms. As I suspected, he was an excellent morel hunter. Once we found a single morel, he could easily find the others that so often grow nearby. He was WAY into it. A pound of morels later we headed back to the house, like the happy, lucky hunters that we were. I was so pleased to be in the woods with my sweet son.

Here are some images of our successful hunt.
Liam's hand curling around his first-ever morel—one he found all on his own.

If there were a morel catalog, Liam could be its cover model.

His sense of smell is his most highly developed sense. Liam smells everything.

And sometimes the smelling goes too far. Liam always makes us laugh. Yes we wash the morels before cooking and eating..



While bird watching along a rural West Virginia road last week I came across this disturbing scene. It was a male red-winged blackbird impaled on a barbed wire fence. I found this to be both fascinating and disturbing.

I've been thinking about this bird ever since. Did it accidentally fly into the fence wire during a territorial chase with another male? Was it being pursued by an accipiter? Or is this perhaps the largest ever recorded victim of a loggerhead shrike?

Shrikes of both North American species often impale their food items on thorns and barbed-wire fences. There are several possible explanations for this. One is that the shrikes' songbird-like feet are too weak to grip the prey item while the hawk-like bill rips it apart. A second theory is that this is a shrike's way of saving the food item for later consumption. Yet another theory holds that males use these impaled prey items as a means of impressing the ladies.

Loggerhead shrikes are extremely rare breeders in West Virginia. As elsewhere they are vanishing from their former breeding range in the state. No one really knows why.

Some friends and I went back to the scene of the crime the following day. The male blackbird was still there—seemingly untouched from the day before. We scanned the surrounding meadows, trees, and fence lines for any sign of a shrike but received no joy from our searching.

This disturbing scene will remain a mystery it seems. And I cannot seem to get it out of my head. Perhaps it was an omen of things to come—good or bad, who knows? I just know I felt sorry for this individual red-winged blackbird. What a way to go...

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Scenes from New River

Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Dear Readers:

I am still laboring to fill the pages of this new (temporary I hope) home of BOTB all the while living in the transient state known as Bizzyville. I got home last night from the chilly rain-soaked hills of West Virginia. I head out tomorrow for the human-made mountains and canyons of New York City.
I'll be doing a few media thingys in NYC. If you've got Sirius Satellite Radio, tune in to channel 112 for The Martha Stewart Living Today radio show on Thursday, May 15 at 2 pm to hear the host, Mario Bosquez, interview me about The Young Birder's Guide.

To prepare my brain for The Big Apple, I am meditating on my time in the Appalachians with good birds and good friends. Here's a final visual sampling from The New River Birding Festival:
Bucolic farm scene from Glade Creek Road.

Event host Geoff Heeter feeds The Wild McCormac breakfast before a field trip.

Wild pink azalea growing in swampy woods near Fayetteville.

A beaver swamp near Fayetteville where Paul Shaw and I tramped around looking for prothonotary warblers. No prothos, tho.

Leaping Canada warbler.

This blue-winged warbler sang a perfect golden-winged warbler song. Clearly he's a GWWA trapped inside the body of a BWWA.

Father flicker guarding the nest hole. No sign of the sneaky mother flicker.

Festival co-host Geoff Heeter, squire of Opossum Creek Retreat.

Festival attendee Marcy models the latest in birding rainwear.

The birding on the field trip to Muddlety was done in the fog and rain.

We saw no camera but we weren't going to litter anyway. In fact, we picked up trash.

Red eft loving the rainy weather much more than the birds and birders were.

Steve McCarthy, stalwart member of The Whipple Bird Club, and field trip leader at New River put Chet Baker to sleep with his petting.