Monday, June 30, 2008

Flying Home

Monday, June 30, 2008
An American avocet flying slowing in front of our bus at Bear River NWR. It had a nest nearby and was trying to distract us.

Today we are flying home to Ohio at long last. It's been a wonderful week here at Snowbird Resort in Utah, but we're ready to be home.

Lots to share once I have more time to collect my thoughts and images. For now, it's time to schlep stuff to the airport shuttle. Still hoping to see some mountain goats in the Wasatch Mountains on the way to the Salt Lake City airport so I'm not packing my binocs just yet.

Goodbye June.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Snowbird Creatures

Thursday, June 26, 2008
We are up at almost 8,000 feet in the Wasatch Mountains above Salt Lake City, Utah, at the American Birding Association conference. There are creatures strange and wonderful here.

Steller's jays swipe food bits from the hotel balconies.

Cassin's finches show their long-nosed profiles fluttering near the bird feeders at the Snowbird Resort.

Pine siskins are everywhere!

The name yellow-bellied marmot sounds like a scathing put-down but these chunky mammals care not a whit.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Harbor Island Adventure

Tuesday, June 24, 2008
I'm coming to you from the Wasatch Mountains in Utah with a mini photo documentary about an afternoon spent last week on a barely inhabited island in the Gulf of Maine on the outer fringe of Muscongus Bay.

We'd been out on a morning boat trip out to Eastern Egg Rock (more about this soon) and were hungry for lunch, so we put ashore on Harbor Island, a privately owned island with just one house on it. The owners were not there but Maine Audubon has permission to land and picnic and hike there. One steadfast rule: no skipping stones from the beach. This seems simple enough to abide by—until you see the stones on the beach. THEY ARE THE WORLD'S MOST PERFECT SKIPPING STONES. And I've got to tell you it was hard to resist. But we did. The owners want the beach to remain pristine.

After devouring our lunches, we enjoyed our choice of activities for the next three hours: overland to a blueberry heath, around the outside of the island, or a hike-free option of sitting on the beach (and not skipping stones). I helped lead a group around the outside of the island.

Here are some images from the afternoon. Sorry no great bird pix to share, but some nice people pix.

The house on Harbor Island near our landing spot.

The trusty Puffin V was our cruise ship.

Eric and Sue rowed us all ashore, 9 at a time, in classic Maine dories.

Three-fourths of my family went on the next to last dory. Phoebe did not like the tippiness factor.

Two dories passing in the bay at Harbor Island.

Once ashore, Sue gave us our afternoon options and paired us up with two buddies each to ensure there would be No Birder Left Behind.

Hiking around the rocky fringe of Harbor Island.

BOTB with lobster buoy sculpture.

We found the nest of a gull: probably a great-black-backed gull.

Phoebe and her dad went wading in the cold water until their feet went numb.

Jared scanning the water for guillemots.

Alan and Carol relaxing together after the hike.

Julie Z. and Liam played in the sand.

Liam performed a comedy routine with seaweed.

Apr├ęs hike nappers on the beach.

Eric rested after the hike, too.

Soon it was time to head back out to the Puffin V.

The Thompson/Zick family was on the last dory off the island. Soon we were headed back to Hog Island.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Puffin During Take-off

Friday, June 20, 2008
This series of images was taken from a boat that was circumnavigating Eastern Egg Rock. You might know this small island's name because it is where the Atlantic puffin reintroduction project was started. The re-intro was a success, needless to say.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Thursday, June 19, 2008
Phoebe looking at a phoebe.

Hey! I was on NPR's All Things Considered today in a story about kids and birds by Melissa Block. I took Melissa and her family birding at Huntley Meadows in northern Virginia on Memorial Day weekend. What fun!

I listened to the piece on the radio with about 25 other people as we sat in the dining room of the Hog Island Audubon Camp in Maine. It was surreal to hear my voice coming out of the radio right next to all of those familiar NPR voices.

After the piece aired, we finished dinner and then we walked over to The Fish House where I gave a talk about The Young Birder's Guide to the folks here at Hog Island.

If you missed the story's airing, you can listen to it here.

What a day....

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Hog Island Butterbutt

Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Male yellow-rumped warbler.

The sun came out for a few hours this afternoon on Hog Island and the birds went crazy. This male yellow-rumped warbler was particularly cooperative perching in the dawn redwood that was planted in the main camp yard.

He made sure we knew why his nickname is "butterbutt."

Sorry to be so brief, but we're birding from dawn to dark and eating like, well, hogs.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Back to Hog Island

Tuesday, June 17, 2008
View of Hog Island from the mainland.

We spent most of the past two days making our way to Hog Island Audubon Camp in Maine where Zick and I will be instructors for the next week during the "Joy of Birding" course. Most of this travel time was passed NOT traveling, but sitting in the Jet Blue terminal of JFK airport in New York. But let's not go there. No, really.

Instead of flying to Portland, Maine, we re-directed ourselves to Boston, Massachusetts, and drove north to The Land of the Lobster with some new friends, Eric and Dena. Our luggage magically, was waiting for us at the Portland airport, as was our ride to The Hog, a white van driven by our charming friend Heather (a Hog Island staffer). We got the midnight skiff ride across the harbor from Eric and Seth and crashed out in our cabin at about 1 am.

It was raining last night and still is this morning. And it promises to continue all week, though there is a "possible chance of sun" on Thursday. So, instead, Ill show you some pix from last year.

This is the view you get walking out to our cabin. Nice! I keep expecting to see mermaids and forest sprites out of the corner of my eye.

Common eider.

Common eiders live up to their name here on the coast of Maine. They are big, tanky sea ducks with a long sloping bill. Their colors are much more impressive than I've captured here.

Atlantic puffin.

Hog Island was the original home of Project Puffin, the large and very successful conservation project undertaken to restore the Atlantic puffin as a breeding bird in Maine. We hope to take at least one boat trip out to Eastern Egg Rock to see the "sea toucans."

If you've never been to Hog Island, you should put it on your list—and do it before you're making the Bucket List, dude. This place is magic.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Song In My Head

Saturday, June 14, 2008

A few weeks ago I was in Maryland to give a talk to the Maryland Ornithological Society and to lead a private bird walk at Huntley Meadows County Park in Alexandria, Virginia. While there I had the massive pleasure of playing a Saturday night session with my old band, The Flat World Band. These days, TFWB is known as Smithville and the group has expanded and morphed into its own unique musical thing.

My Charm City music pals have an abiding love of all things Bob Dylan (as I write this line, It Aint Me Babe is playing over the XM Satellite Radio through the TV. That's the Bob Dharma coming through) and, thus, also for all things done by The Band. We played several Band songs that Saturday night, including The Weight, Acadian Driftwood, and I Shall Be Released. One Band song we did not play, but which has been The Song In My Head lately is Twilight.

If you don't know Twilight, you need to know it and you need to hear it. There are great versions of the song, written by Robbie Robertson and sung by Rick Danko, on various Band albums. Then there's a nice version by Shawn Colvin.

I love the way the song starts;

Over by the wildwood
hot summer night
We lay in the tall grass
'til the morning light

But the last two stanzas of lyrics of the song are the ones that have sticking power, like a brainworm, they burrow into your cerebellum and stay. Give the song a listen and you'll see what I mean.

Playing these old songs with 'my boys' was one of those moments that makes life so rich. With special thanks to Joey, Billy, Chuck, and the boys...

Don't send me no distant salutations
or silly souvenirs from far away

Don't leave me alone in the twilight

Twilight is the loneliest time of day

Don't put me in a frame upon the mantel

Fore memories turn dusty old and gray

Don't leave me alone in the twilight

Twilight is the loneliest time of day

Friday, June 13, 2008

Oh My Godwits

Friday, June 13, 2008
This marbled godwit's nest was somewhere along the roadside. S/he was kind enough to escort our van down the road a piece.

One special shorebird that breeds in North Dakota is the marbled godwit. I'm always pleased to encounter this large, chunky-yet-graceful bird with the two-toned, upcurved bill on my annual NoDak trip. Last week at the Potholes and Prairie Birding Festival I had two close encounters of the godwit kind: one near Pingree and one farther to the west, in Kidder County. Here are some images from both.

Female godwits have the longer bill of the two sexes. This is probably a male.

One of the marbled godwit's best field marks is the cinnamon in the wings. Not literally of course.

Godwits eat seasonally. In summer it's grasshoppers and insects on the prairies.
During winter they probe mudflats and sandbars for mollusks and crustaceans.

We did not venture off the road or even get out of our van. Still, the godwits cursed our souls for trespassing.

Later that week in a field full of photographers, sparrows, and longspurs, this godwit made a fly-by just to check us out.

Its nest was at least a quarter mile away. But we stood out like sore thumbs standing on the prairie, so the godwit came over for a look-see.

The marbled godwit's two-toned bill is fairly obvious even from a long distance.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Mr. Wilson's Snipe

Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Wilson's snipe near Woodworth, ND.

Did you ever get sent on a snipe hunt as a kid? You'd get handed a stick, a burlap bag and told to walk quietly through the woods because, after all, snipe are among the wariest of creatures.

If you want to go on a snipe hunt these days, I suggest heading out to the prairie potholes region of North Dakota where there's snipe aplenty. Stand by a marsh or slough in the morning and you're almost guaranteed to hear the woooo-woooo-woooo sound of winnowing snipe performing their courtship flights overhead. Snipe produce this sound by channeling the wind (as they fly) over specially adapted tail feathers. They often fly so high that you can hear but not see them performing. It's an eerie sound that confuses many a prairie sojourner.

This species was formerly called common snipe, but to separate the North American snipe from those pesky Eurasian snipe (snipes? snape?) ours is now known as the Wilson's snipe. The name Wilson is for Alexander Wilson, a Scottish ornithologist who discovered and named many North American birds during his time here between 1794 and 1813. He was a contemporary (and some would say, rival) of John James Audubon. Other birds named for Al Wilson include a plover, a warbler, a storm-petrel, and a phalarope.

But if you want to see Al W's snipe (and who wouldn't?) get thee to North Dakota, laddie.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Prairie Home Companions

Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Abandoned homestead, Kidder County, North Dakota.

North Dakota is a photogenic place. Not only are the prairies, sloughs, and roadside ditches full of birds, the landscape stretching across the horizon is dotted with old farmsteads, granaries, and farm equipment.

Old tractor skeleton near Lake Juanita, North Dakota.

There's something deeply haunting about the loneliness of an old house or barn sitting out there in the middle of a vast sea of grass, having survived decades of harsh winters and baking summers, the constant push of the prairie wind—and even outlasting the hopes, dreams, and lives of the people who built and lived in them.

I find myself standing alone, gazing at the lichen-covered wood and wondering about the people who lived there. Until a bird song nearby breaks the spell and my mind returns to the present, I am lost in the past with a tinge of heartache for all that is no longer in this very lonely, very beautiful place.

In North Dakota there is earth and there is sky and there is water. We people move across the scene like bit players on a vast stage, leaving behind some small evidence of our passing, the prairie grass waving a constant goodbye. Listen! The birds are already singing about tomorrow.