Friday, January 30, 2009

Snowed In

Friday, January 30, 2009
On Tuesday morning, January 27, 2009, I was in Titusville, Florida enjoying this sunrise.

By 2:25 pm that same day I was landing in Akron, Ohio, which looked like this from the air.

We picked up the kids in town, drove back out to the farm and hunkered down, the dire weather warnings ringing in our ears. The power went of about 6 am Wednesday morning, as we knew it would. We awoke to an icy winter landscape.

There would be no school Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday. This will mean the kids will be in classes until Labor Day weekend next fall. Oh well.

No electricity meant no computer, no TV, no radio, no house-wide heat, no coffeemaker, no lights in the closet, and no refrigeration. By Thursday morning we were cleaning the fridge out and putting all the food in coolers on the front porch. Spring cleaning a few months early.

Our outdoor food pantry.

I went out in the morning and ran my van long enough to charge up my laptop so I could get a bit of writing done. It felt weird not to be able to access e-mail. Then a calm settled over me. I was not going to fight it. If the cosmos did not want us to be connected to the world, we'd obey and find other ways to pass the time.

After two days without electricity, the kids gave up kvetching, too. They settled down with some new books from Christmas and seemed content. I joked with them about playing games on the Amish Wii: Actually going outside to play in the snow. We voted to go sledding. So we bundled up and headed over to our neighbor's cow pasture and sledding down the bowl-like hillside. It was awesome. But we had to be careful to steer clear of the frozen cowpie moguls which really hurt the old rumpus when you hit them.

Ice-crusted pines made our driveway impassable to anything but foot traffic.

Phoebe prepares to take the first run down the bowl.

Liam and I took the final run of the day, just before dark and I videotaped it. It's scary.

I spent an hour or so cutting pine branches off the slumping trees along the drive. I made enough of a hole though the coniferous blockade to get the 4wd Explorer out this morning. The kids insisted on coming into town with me. Once we got to BWD the ran inside and danced around Helen's desk lamp in the office foyer.

The power is still off at home. But at least we know that we can get to civilization if we need to. We may not have power restored until next week. I am unsure if I'll be disappointed to miss the Super Bowl. It might be kinda cool in a throw-back way.

Have a good, warm weekend.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Many Joys of Book Authorship

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I've never been so proud to be the author of a book as I was when I saw my friend Bart carrying a copy of The Young Birder's Guide in hands-free mode.

In the booth where it was being sold at The Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival, dozens of copies of the book were purchased by blushing female customers following Bart's appearance.

Steven King, John Grisham, Oprah, and that mom that writes lusty vampire books can just eat their collective hearts out.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Red Sky At Morning...

Monday, January 26, 2009
What was that old saying about the weather for sailors? Red sky at night, sailor's delight. Red sky at morning, sailors take warning?

I and a couple of dozen hearty souls are heading out to sea today on a pelagic trip. This is the final activity for the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival in Titusville, Florida.

It's too early for the sun to be up this morning, so I'm using a sunrise form a few days ago. The weather looks promising, so I'm not too worried about having rough seas. I'm just hoping that, if the morning sky is red, the saying won't be:

Red sky at morning, the birding is boring.

I'm excitied. This is my first pelagic trip in a long time. We don't get to do too many pelagic trips in southeaster Ohio. The only thing that could make my anticipation higher would be if it were Talk Like A Pirate Day.

Special thanks to Connie Toops for the photo advice on this sunrise photo, and to Jeff Gordon for the rain suit. Hope I don't need it.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Talking 'bout Anhingas

Saturday, January 24, 2009
Anhinga, male.

I can never remember which day in the Blog Week is supposed to be wordless. And which one is all about the sky. Is there one about the Wordless Sky, too? I'm confused.

This male anhinga was so durn purty that I just had to share him—wordlessly or not. I encountered him as he was drying his wings on a chilly morning at Viera Wetlands.

Anhingas are interesting birds. Whenever I get to see one, I am reminded of the very first one I saw on a Florida trip with my family in the early 1970s. Driving through the Everglades, we noticed all these dark birds with snake-like necks swimming in the water and perching near it with outstretched wings. What WERE these things?

We laughed when we found the bird in our Peterson guide. It was the anhinga. Back home in Pella, Iowa, we knew a family (of Dutch origin as most in Pella were) with the last name Hinga. They had a daugher named Ann.

No lie. Ann Hinga.

Last night at dinner, Robert Kirk from Princeton University Press, posed the question: How many birds are like the anhinga, which has the same name for its common name as it does for its genus and species (its two-part Latin name). In other words, the anhinga is noted in field guides thusly:

Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga)

Are there any other birds with this unusually repetitive name structure? Have I left you wordless in pondering this question? I certainly hope not.

Happy weekend to all.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Coot Overload

Thursday, January 22, 2009

When one travels to Florida, one might reasonably expect to encounter large numbers of old coots. As someone who has already gotten mailed membership offers from the AARP (at 46, I can already smell the Ben Gay aroma of 50) I wonder about the millions of people who retire to warm, sunny Florida.

I can see why—there are amazing natural spectacles to behold among the birds and beasts, and there are great discounts at Denny's. There is a Denny's on every third corner.

The largest group of coots I have encountered on this trip was on the Black Point Wildlife Drive at Merritt Island NWR. It was a cold, windy afternoon and the coots were gathered together in large, swimming clusters. They seemed to be bathing, but why would they want to do this together? Were they clustered for protection from predators? It could be—there were several bald eagles around, looking for grub in all the right places. Was it to help reduce the chilling effect of the wind? Did it have a social function? Many birds begin their courtship before migration itself begins.

Or was it just because this was fun? It felt good to be mixing it up, splashing, wheeling, and grunting with 400 of your fellow coots?

I'd be interested in your hypotheses, theories, and answers.

Or maybe it was because there was a super discount on an all-you-care-to-eat buffet, just for old coots.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Poem of the Great Blue

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Oh my little fish swim near
in the cool shade of the mangrove clump
there's nothing here for you to fear
swim closer, little sugar lump

These long pale legs and plumes you see
are just another mangrove tree

swim through these roots and swish your tail
your slippery form I shall impale

and turn you back from whence you came
thus Nature plays its endless game.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It's a New Day

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

At long last.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Caption Contest #3 Winners!

Monday, January 19, 2009
I have chosen a handful of excellent (IMHO) runners-up and a winner. I share them here with you, but I am happy to hear your rebuttals, rejoinders, praise and admonitions for these selections.

Just remember, here at Bill of the Birds EVERYONE is a winner.

Always carry a flask of whiskey in case of snakebite...and furthermore always carry a snake.—Kyle (no blog link listed on profile).


...and once its in the tube, you can massage it to get the oil out.


"Take me in oh tender woman
Take me in, for heaven's sake
Take me in oh tender BOTB," sighed the snake—by Rondeau Ric

"Let my people go, Pharoah, or so help me, I will throw this staff on the ground and you aren't gonna believe what will happen next!"—Eric (no blog link listed on profile).

After being released from the ER, Bill shaved the 'stache, sold the leather jacket, threw out the expired milk, and said good bye to "Rebel Bill" once and for all.—Dubs of Piffle

...don't tell me...let me guess...—Sylvia (no blog link listed on profile).

Thanks for playing to one and all! Shall we play this game some more?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Florida Louisiana Heron

Saturday, January 17, 2009

When I was a kid, this bird was called the Louisiana heron. And dinosaurs walked the Earth.
Now it's the tricolored heron. And the dinosaurs, except for me (and a few of my friends), are gone.
I am in Florida for a spell, digging the bird scene, working the room, pressing the flesh, watching out for mouse ears, driving 35 mph in the fast lane 'cause that's how they roll here in the Sunshine State.

I hope you are warm and toasty wherever YOU are.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Caption Contest #3: The Back Story

Thursday, January 15, 2009
Timber rattlesnake.

Last fall I was invited to speak at a wildlife diversity meeting sponsored by the Ohio Division of Wildlife at Shawnee State Forest in southern Ohio. One of our field trips involved going out with a rattlesnake expert who tracked timber rattlesnakes using radio telemetry. He had captured several rattlers and was fitting them with tiny tracking devices and releasing them. Before the snakes were set free, anyone who was interested got to hold one. The snakes were safely ensconced headfirst in a clear plastic tube. If you held the tail, they could not go forward through the tube, nor could they back out of the tube. It's about the safest way you could ever hold a venomous snake.

Venomous snakes give me the willies. It took every ounce of fortitude/turpitude/attitude/rectitude/stupitude to grasp the snake's tail and the tube and hold it for a few minutes. But I got-r-dun.

Thus, thanks to Shutterbug Science Chimp, we have a photo of me in a trancelike state, holding the snake tube.

Have at it, blogzillas. Please continue to post your captions here. The winner will be chosen on Monday, January 19. A fabulous prize will ensue.

Your caption here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Caption Contest #3

Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Your caption here.

Yes, that is a timber rattlesnake I am holding, halfway stuck into a tube. Yes, my eyes are closed. Yes, I have a mustache in this photo. I'll explain more tomorrow. For now, send in your clever captions, blogzillas. A fabulous prize to the winner!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

More Winter

Tuesday, January 13, 2009
A wise man wearing mukluks once told me:
When the Adélie penguin comes out of its igloo and is immediately covered in wet snow it means that you are due for six more months of winter. It also means that you need more seal meat and whale blubber. And you're probably out of Funyuns, too.

Words to live by.

Monday, January 12, 2009

My First Bird of 2009

Monday, January 12, 2009

It took some doing, getting a "choice" initial bird of 2009.

First I had to make sure, as I rose out of bed on New Year's Day, that I did not look out the window. That's hard for a bird watcher to do. It goes against our very nature.

Then I had to find my blindfold—a brown handkerchief with birds printed on it, a gift from a friend on a birding trip to Peru. I thought this well-traveled doo-rag might help my Good Bird Karma on the first day of a new year. Blindfold in place, I slowly made my way up the stairs to the kitchen. I shouted for Phoebe to help me make my coffee and to locate my personal bird finder, Julie Zickefoose.

While the coffee brewed I sat down at the kitchen table to wait for my birding year to commence. Phoebe laughed when I told her what was up—she understands the depths of my obsession. Liam thought it was cool and asked us to blindfold him, too. That would have to wait.

Waiting but not in vain. Do I look happy to be blind folded? Photo by Julie Z.

Julie entered the kitchen, got me my coffee, grabbed her binocs and started calling out birds.

The conversation (if you can call it that) went like this:

Julie: "My first bird was a cardinal. I suppose that's too common for you, huh?"
Me: "Yep. Nice but booooring!"
Julie: "Junco?"
Me: "Mmmm. That's OK, but I'd prefer..."
Julie: "Robin!"
Me: "That's a good one!"
Julie: "Let me get it in the scope for...DANG it just flew!"
Me: "Bummer."

This went on. We adjourned to the birding tower, me still blind folded. The hypothesis behind the move was that the height would give us (or at least Julie) better visual command of the farm, thus increasing our chances of finding something I'd accept. The pressure increased.

And the bird sightings continued:
Mourning dove (no), starling (no way!), house sparrow (no #$@&^% way!), Carolina chickadee, tufted titmouse, downy woodpecker, song sparrow, white-breasted nuthatch... all turned down my Mr. Picky Pants of the Birds.

An hour passed. Julie started mumbling comments under her breath. I was holding out for something special. Like the irregularly appearing sapsucker who'd been at the feeder, or a fly-by pileated, the sharpie we'd been seeing... something slightly more interesting than an everyday feeder bird.

Julie: "White-throated sparrow?"
Me: "YES! That's a good one!"
Julie: "OK it's in the scope. No, wait! OK! No. Ok! Hurry, while it's still there!"

I removed my blindfold but kept my eyes shut until I felt the familiar sensation of rubber eyecup hitting my glasses, pressing them back against my nose. I opened my right eye and there it was, a beautiful tan-striped-morph white-throated sparrow! Species #1 for 2009.

White-throated sparrow (tan-striped morph) photo by Drew Weber. Thanks Drew!

Me: "Awesome! Thanks!"
Julie: "Remind me never to do this again, OK"
Me: "And now for my SECOND bird..."

Happy camper: A good first bird of 2009! Photo by Julie Z.

Happy Birdy New Year to everyone!

I think I'll keep a year list this year! But I'm getting rid of the blindfold.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Thinking About Summer

Saturday, January 10, 2009

I'd like to
call back Summertime
and have her stay
for just another
month or so

—Tom Rush
Urge for Going

Friday, January 9, 2009

More 2008 Eye Candy

Friday, January 9, 2009
Clouds of feeding Wilson's phalaropes at Antelope Island State Park in Utah.

Here, in no particular order, are images for another installment of Eye Candy of 2008. I think I've even got one more set in the archives here, but it's a bit hard to sort out since I lost a laptop hard drive about a month ago, and a lot of images went with it. Many were backed up, and I certainly got some back in the recovery process.

Anyway, I am still looking back over the year just passed, and remembering some wonderful bird encounters as I ogle these images. I hope you like them too.

Tussling bald eagles over the Platte River in Nebraska in March. Immatures can be SO immature.

Fox sparrow at Indigo Hill in late spring.

Yellow-bellied sapsucker at Indigo Hill in October.

Trio of dickcissels on South Padre Island, Texas in March.

Marbled godwit near Pipestem Creek in North Dakota in June.

Male yellow-rumped warbler on Hog Island in Maine in June.

Molty American robin, Hog Island, Maine, June.

Male Cassin's finch, Snowbird, Utah, June.

Courting western grebes, Bear River NWR, Utah, June.

California gull, Antelope Island State Park, Utah, June.

Male mountain bluebird, Hidden Peak near Snowbird in Utah, June.

Male eastern bluebird, Indigo Hill, Ohio, March.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

More Death Rocket

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Another image of the intense look on the sharpie's face as he waited for breakfast to show up.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Return of the Death Rocket

Wednesday, January 7, 2009
The sharp-shinned hawk has been visiting our feeders once every other day or so for the past few weeks. We watched him sit on our brushpile for about 20 minutes, waiting for the feeder birds to
return to the trees around the feeder. He watched them very intently. Not a single bird flew past or landed within his field of view that he did not stare holes in, wanting to chase, catch, kill, eat.

I want to do a longer post about his sit-and-wait hunting technique. But I am out of time for today. More soon, I promise.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Starting the Year Off Right

Tuesday, January 6, 2009
For the past 20 years of my birding life I've tried to start each new year off with a good bird, an exciting field trip, or at least SOME sort of birding activity. This, unfortunately, often comes into conflict with the revelry of New Year's Eve, especially in years when I am playing music for someone's party. Arriving home in the wee hours of New Year's Day, crashing hard, then waking up well after the sun's appearance has usually meant that the new year starts off with a cup of coffee at 11 am, accompanied by a bleary cardinal or two at the feeders.

I always note my first bird of the year. Last year it was an American goldfinch. I'll tell the tale of this year's first bird in a future post.

The subject of today's post is the first stop on the birding trip Julie and I took on New Year's Day with our pal Shila. We called all the members of The Whipple Bird Club to organize an impromptu field trip for January 1. The fact that it was already nearly noon on January 1 was of no concern.

The Whipple Bird Club may be the only bird club in the world with its own gang-style hand sign. From left: Shila, Steve, Bill, Julie.

Shila could make it. Steve could not. Our destination was The Wilds, a recovering strip mine about 40 minutes north of Indigo Hill. The soil there is too poor to support trees, so it remains grassland and thus attracts birds that prefer vast open spaces: northern harriers, rough-legged hawks, short-eared owls, horned larks are just some of the winter species regularly found at The Wilds.

Before we could head north, we had to head south into town to drop of kids at my folks' house and to pick up Shila. En route to Shila's abode my cell phone rang. It was Steve.

"Billy! I've got a bird here that's different. Can you help me ID it?"

Now I know enough about Steve's birding skills to realize that he would not be fooled by a female red-winged blackbird, a leucistic house sparrow, or a winter-plumaged starling.

"I think it's something good."

We high-tailed it to Steve's and this is what we saw at his thistle feeders:

How many bird species are in this photograph (above)? Two? Three?

Is this any more helpful? There's an American goldficnh (upper left), two pine siskins on the upper and lower right. And...

An adult female common redpoll!

Steve had found a common redpoll among the 30 or so pine siskins at his feeders. We waited for about 40 minutes before the redpoll showed up and when it did, Steve's the one who spotted it for us. This was a great bird to see so early in a new birding year!

From the reports I've heard this is a big pine siskin year and a big white-winged crossbill year here in Ohio. We've had siskins at the Indigo Hill feeders for a month, but no other special northern finches have visited us (evening grosbeaks, crossbills, redpolls). However Steve's bird gives us all reason to check through the feeder flocks.

I first saw common redpolls at the Thompson family feeders in Marietta, Ohio in the winter of 1978—the very same year we started Bird Watcher's Digest. They came in with some evening grosbeaks and siskins and stayed for more than a month. They all came back the following year, too—both '78 and '79 were fierce winters. Little did I know it would be 14 more years before I'd see redpolls in Ohio again. We've had two visits—both short and more than a decade ago—from common redpolls at Indigo Hill. The last one we saw here was in 1994.

So this lone female common redpoll is a special bird, seen with great birding pals, on the very first day of a new year. Here's hoping 2009 turns out to be a special, memorable birding year for all of us!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Chilly Titmouse

Monday, January 5, 2009

We've had single-digit temperatures on several recent days here in southeastern Ohio. On one such frigid morning, I took this photograph of a fluffed-up tufted titmouse, visiting the suet dough tray on the front porch.

It was so cold... (How cold WAS it?)
It was so cold, that you could actually see the bird's cleavage.

I could go on, but won't, in the fast-fading spirit of the season.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy New Year!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Here is hoping that your 2009
has nothing but rosy sunsets
(and maybe some rosy finches and roseate spoonbills, too.)