Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Things I'm Looking Forward To

Tuesday, August 30, 2011
The Den of Blogniquity at MBS
This fall's Midwest Birding Symposium has given me tons of reasons to be excited, but one of them is our line-up of official bloggers. These men and women have already been writing about the MBS prior to the event, but during the weekend they will spend part of their time in the Den of Blogniquity. What is the Den of Blogniquity, well, it's like a giant comfy bloggers' cave with all the comforts of home, including WiFi and a large projection screen streaming all the updates from our band of bloggers and other MBS attendees. This is going to be pretty cool!

Oh, and you can join the bloggers inside the Den of Blogniquity, or you can stand outside the large windows of Wesley Lodge (location of the DOB) and watch them through the safety glass—like some rare species at the zoo.

West Virginia Fall Birding Weekend
My pals who run the New River Birding Festival have put together a fall birding event that's smaller and more personalized than their May gathering (which is an annual favorite of mine). I'm one of the leaders for this weekend, which is limited to 12 people. West Virginia is always beautiful, but we'll spend much of our time searching for migrant raptors in the sky and looking for migrant warblers in the fall foliage. Details are here. Nothing but fun.

The Big Sit!
Late on the night of Saturday, October 8, I'll be racing back north from the New River to my farm in southeastern Ohio for our annual Big Sit on Sunday, October 9! The Big Sit has been called many things, including "the world's most sedentary birding event", and "a tailgate party for bird watchers." A big mess of our birding pals (and even some folks who don't know it yet that they are birders) will come by the farm and join us in the Indigo Hill birding tower for The Big Sit. Basically we stay in the tower for as much of 24 hours as we can stand and have fun watching birds—trying to rack up a big list. Many comestibles are consumed and there is much jocularity in the crisp autumn air.

You can have your own Big Sit. Here's a link for the inside dope on The Big Sit! (which is a registered trademark of the New Haven Bird Club, in case you were wondering).

The NEW Young Birder's Guide to Birds of North America
My next book, due out early next spring (late March/early April), is actually an expanded version of a previous book. The Young Birder's Guide to Birds of North America has 100+ western bird species incorporated into the 200+ species that the original Young Birder's Guide to Birds of Eastern North America had. The result is a book that (I hope) will turn young people on to the beauty, joy, and utter ossumness of birds. This is the book I wish I'd had when I started watching birds in Iowa in the late 1960s, but I'm as thrilled as can be that it's here now and that I get to share my love of birds with others in this way.

It's going to be 320 pages of fun and it will cost just $15.95. Now, you can order it from Amazon.com et al and save a few bucks maybe. OR you can pre-order it from us at Bird Watcher's Digest and I can add a personalized autograph for the young birder in your life. To pre-order, call us at 800-879-2473 and ask for Susie.


I could keep going on and on about other things I'm revved up for, but I'd better stop now. I just saw a migrant warbler shoot by the door here at my home office, reminding me that it's time to get outside for some bird watching.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Vinyl Siding for Prairie Chickens

Monday, August 29, 2011
Did the title of this post make you wonder for a moment? I hope so. Sounds pretty weird, doesn't it? But it's true. Let me explain.

Out on the wide-open expanses of the Oklahoma prairie (and in a few nearby states) the lesser prairie chicken is holding onto its existence, barely. But the species' population is a fraction of what it once was. Prairie chickens were once so abundant that they fed pioneer families for entire seasons. Market hunters shot them until the hunters' arms were too sore to shoot anymore. And over the last two centuries, the species has decline significantly from hunting pressure, but more recently as a result of habitat loss and habitat alteration.

Native short-grass prairie is the specific habitat that the lesser prairie chicken prefers. Plow it up for wheat or soybeans or any other crop and the chickens have to go elsewhere. When trees naturally seed and grow up tall enough to cast a shadow, the chickens, feeling the trees might be ideal for a perching or hiding predator, go elsewhere. Plop down an oil derrick or a line of wind turbines—same result: move along LPCs.

All of these factors have contributed to the decline of this very special prairie species. But lurking just above ground level was another culprit in the lesser prairie chicken's decimation: barbed wire. Researchers in the field had discovered what farm hands and ranchers had known for a long time: prairie chickens often fly just above ground level, and because they often fly in to lekking grounds well before daylight, this flying style made them especially prone to colliding with barbed wire fence. The fence is essentially invisible in low light: rusty wire against sere-brown grass.

That's where the vinyl siding comes in. Field researchers looking for a way to reduce fence-chicken collisions landed on a seemingly ingenious solution. Small, three-to-four-inch sections of vinyl siding, with its interlocking channels, snapped perfectly into place on strands of barbed wire. The white hunks of hard vinyl fluttered slightly in the prairie wind, but held fast to the wire. Unlike pieces of white flagging, the vinyl siding lasted through the intense hot and cold and high winds of the Oklahoma seasons. Best, though, they made the wire fence strands visible to flying lesser prairie chickens, even in low light conditions.

My reason for being in Oklahoma was to deliver a keynote talk to the Lesser Prairie Chicken Festival in Woodward, Oklahoma. This festival offers the expected field trips to temporary viewing blinds set up adjacent to known display leks so attendees can see the chickens in action. Since the LPC was a life bird for me, I was excited to make the trip to Woodward. But the festival also offers something that I found to be even more meaningful—a chance to do something to actually help the lesser prairie chicken: by placing strips of vinyl siding on barbed wire fences in habitat adjacent to known lesser prairie chicken habitat.

One of the prairie chicken experts I got to meet in Oklahoma was Dr. Dwayne Elmore (above). He knew the location of most of the active LPC leks in the area.

We met a guy from the Oklahoma Department of Natural Resources who selected a section of fence for us to mark. He demonstrated how to mark the fence for the chickens, pointed to several large burlap sacks of cut-up vinyl siding, then pointed to a long stretch of as yet unmarked barbed-wire (locals call it "bobwire") fence.

We set to work.
The idea was to stagger the siding pieces every two feet or so on the top two strands of wire. This seems to be the most effective use of this collision deterrent, since it's right at the height at which LPCs do much of their flying at dawn and dusk.

Here's a piece of vinyl siding snapped into place. The channels in the siding are just the right size to snap down over a strand of wire, between the barbs/bobs.

As you can see, the white siding pieces present a visual image that's easy to notice.

After the fence was marked and we ran out of siding pieces, we felt a real sense of accomplishment. Here's hoping the fence-marking program results in greatly lower mortality from fence strikes, which could in turn mean more chickens dancing on the prairie.

I've got at least a couple more posts in mind about this wonderful part of the world and the great birds and people there. I'll try to get back for a BOTB visit to the big wide open of Oklahoma sometime soon.

Friday, August 26, 2011

New Podcast Episode!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hey kids! Episode 32 of my podcast, "This Birding Life" is now available for your listening/viewing pleasure over at Podcast Central and in the iTunes store's podcast section (search under Hobbies). This episode is called "Trekking for the Philippine Eagle" and it's an account of an adventure I had while in The Philippines back in March of 2009.

Here's a photo by famous bird photographer David Tipling of the same Philippines eagle you'll hear about in the podcast. And the image below is another one of Dave's. It's a shot of me crossing one of the last rivers on our way back down the mountain on the day after our eagle trek.

I hope you enjoy this new episode. According to our website statistics, our podcast episodes are downloaded many thousands of times each month, so it seems that "This Birding Life" has an audience. If that audience includes you, let us know what you think. Please feel free to add some comments about TBL to this post.

Until next time, I'll see you out there with the birds!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Reflection Time

Friday, August 19, 2011
We've had a nice stretch of beautiful sunsets recently. The good ones call us out onto the back deck, which faces west, to ogle and sigh. The truly wonderful sunsets send us sprinting up the tower stairs two-at-a-time, wanting not to miss a single second of color as the sun's fading light plays across the clouds.

While up in the tower for a tower-worthy sunset a short time ago, we found a new way to enjoy the spectacle. The top rails on our tower are made of cedar and the years of weathering have made them cup slightly. This cupped shape retains water (and further ages the wood, peels off the paint, etc).

Phoebe noticed that the water that pools on the rails catches the sky color quite nicely, and she called it to our attention. So we spent a happy hour trying to capture this interesting reflection with our cameras. Here are the results:

It used to drive me nuts to see that water pooled on the rails. In fact there's a squeegee stowed in the tower cabinet to push the water off. Now I find the reflections to be a perfect excuse not to do this small maintenance chore.

I guess what I'm taking away from this reflection time is that the only thing that beats a good sunset is....more sunset!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Times of the Signs

Wednesday, August 17, 2011
I encountered this sign outside a fire station in a small Caribbean country. Talk about a buzzkill. Most everyone I know would be in violation of this dress code. However, now that I think of it, most birders would be completely in compliance, which is troubling.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Listening to the Predawn Morse Code

Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Red-eyed vireo.

The leaves may still be green, and the insects in full voice. The bluebirds are still feeding nestlings, the meadow is still dotted with blooming wildflowers, and the kids have yet to head back to school, but the seasons are changing.

I was up very early this morning—before light—and when I stepped outside, the still morning darkness was broken ever so slightly by the Morse code of migrant birds overhead, whispering their contact calls to their fellow travelers.
Nashville warbler.

I'm sure there were thrushes, and some sparrows, perhaps a vireo or two. And I'm positive I heard a warbler. I wish I knew these small, little-heard vocalizations better.

Dawn arrived yet none of the passerines dropped into our trees. So the mystery lingers. But tomorrow is another day with another dawn. And I plan to be up and out and listening expectantly in the darkness.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Caption Contest #19 Winner!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

"Birding the Grassland" is brought to you in part by Sure deodorant and antiperspirant - wetness protection for men and women. When you are celebrating that life bird, never let the other birders see you sweat.

Our winner is Robert over at Birding is Fun! Congrats Robert!

It was really hard for our judges to pick just one winner. So we went with the one that gave us the biggest initial laugh.

Other strong entries:

Kate said...Oh Baird's Sparrow Gods, we beseech you. May you provide us with many close looks and breeding displays!

Kelly Hendrix said...Bill and friends trying to lure in a rare bird by doing a fancy mating display to the song "YMCA".

Erik (perennial contender) said...The "airing of the pits" made the next 7 hours in the van more bearable.

CrystalsCozyKitchen said...How the bird got the gun to hold up the birdwatchers, we may never know.

Thanks to all who played! Robert, you can pick up your winner's loot at The Midwest Birding Symposium in one month!

Until next time!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Ten Reasons to Attend the Midwest Birding Symposium!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Look at your calendar right now and check the third weekend in September, 2011. Specifically, look at September 15 through 18. How's it look? Clear? Then grab a pen (not a pencil) and write the following in LARGE BLOCK LETTERS over those dates: MIDWEST BIRDING SYMPOSIUM.

Here are ten reason why you really need to attend this year's MBS.

10. The MBS only happens every other year, so it's always freshy-fresh, never stale.

9. We work really hard to make sure that it's The World's Friendliest Birding Event—everyone is welcome, even non-birders! Beginners, especially, are encouraged to come.

8. We love making connections between bird watchers. Since the 2009 MBS more than 275 marriages have happened as a result of the event. [Not really, but that sounds impressive doesn't it?] Seriously though, everyone makes new friends at the MBS. We guarantee it! If you attend and leave without making at least one new friend, we'll refund your money (please see Reason #1 below).

7. We've arranged for another appearance by a Kirtland's warbler. You can see a photo of the Kirtland's that joined us in 2009 here. If the Kirtland's does not make the scene, we've got an Eskimo curlew flock on speed dial.

6. Our list of speakers is bodacious. Al Batt (one of Saturday evening's keynote speakers) will make you laugh until you cry/snort/beg for mercy/race to the restroom.

5. Three words: Sunset Boat Cruise! Plus other exciting extra activities.

4. Our Birder's Marketplace features more than 60 vendors, selling everything a bird watcher could possibly want. And then some.

3. Our Conservation Raffle will raise funds for bird habitat acquisition and other worthy conservation causes. The Ohio Ornithological Society has promised to match this funding, up to $10,000! Wow! Items in the raffle include high-end optics, an iPad, birding festival passes, and [yes, it's true!] an autographed photo of actress/activist/birder Betty White!

2. Being on Lake Erie, on the charming grounds of Lakeside in September is incredibly beautiful —just like being in Tuscany, but with better birding and no language barrier.

1. It only costs $100 to attend the Midwest Birding Symposium. Your last speeding ticket or dinner out was more expensive and less enjoyable. Don't fight the urge. Come join us!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Favorite Moments in Birding

Thursday, August 4, 2011
Waiting (in vain) for the Cebu flowerpecker. That's Tim Appleton third from the left.

A note from BOTB: With this post, I'm starting a new category of blog posts here on Bill of the Birds, called "Favorite Moments in Birding" most of which, like this one, will have little to do with actual birding.

A year ago in March I was part of a familiarization trip for birding tour leaders and media to the Philippines. One of our most interesting stops was on the island of Cebu where we attempted to see the Cebu flowerpecker and incredibly rare endemic bird species. [You can hear my podcast about this species and conservation efforts on its behalf at this link.]

We did not see the flowerpecker, but on our walk back to the bus, we passed a small open area where kids from the local village were playing basketball. I asked them for the ball and they let me shoot a few hoops with them. Then one of the older kids asked me if I could dunk. I could tell that this basket was somewhat lower than regulation so I gave it a shot and dunked the ball. Then I did it again, with a bit more flair.

One of the leaders of our trip was my friend Tim Appleton, MBE, co-founder and organizer of the British Birdwatching Fair, the world's largest gathering of bird people, products, and stuff on the planet. Tim is not one to let a macho challenge pass untaken. So he, too, tried to dunk. Sadly, Tim failed miserably because, as we all know, the British play soccer (they call it football) a sport which develops the legs and feet in both strength and coordination, but which leaves the upper body—especially the arms—unused and dangling, like the useless upper arm appendages on a T-Rex.

Seeing that he could not dunk himself, Tim decided to try to prevent me from dunking, leaping up in an attempt at a block. This was like an ad for Bad Idea Jeans. Here's a photo (taken by another wonderful Brit birder, David Tipling) of me posterizing Lord Tim in front of the awestruck village kids.

When we were done, one of the smaller kids approached me to ask is my name was Shaquille O'Neal. I answered "That's right, young squire, but you can call me Shaq!"

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Caption Contest #19

Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Pull out the lobe of your brain in which clever quips are created, shake it awake, and send us your most funniest caption for the photo above. In case it matters to you and your creative process, the above image was taken in June near Chase Lake NWR in North Dakota. That's all I'm permitted to share due to several restraining orders.

If your funnyhaha caption is chosen as the winner, you will receive a set of the forthcoming Birder's bumper stickers from the BWD Nature Shop. That's a $15 value, people.

Please use the comments window below to enter. A winner will be chosen on Tuesday, August 9, so get your entry in by midnight on August 8, 2011. Good luck!