Thursday, December 27, 2012

The 2012 Big Sit Results!

Thursday, December 27, 2012
The Metro Munchers at their Big Sit circle in Harrison Twp, MI.

The annual tailgate party for birders known (officially) as The Big Sit! has been held each October since 1990 under the auspices of The New Haven Bird Club (the organization that holds the trademark to the name The Big Sit!). If you're not familiar with the concept of a Big Sit, this link has a good explanation. Basically Big Sit participants spend as much of 24 hours as they can stand bird watching from inside a 17-foot diameter circle in some birdy spot.

In 2012, there were 233 registered Big Sit circles worldwide, most of them in the United States and Canada. But there were also circles in Panama, Sweden, Mexico, and South Africa. The braggin' rights for highest species count among all North American Big Sit circles in 2012 goes to to The No Bullsitters who were sitting at Cape May Point State Park on the southern tip of New Jersey. They had an astounding 132 species! Wow!

There were Big Sit circles in 40 of the 50 US states, begging the question of what the heck is WRONG with the 10 states with no Big Sit? [AR, HI, KS, KY, WY, TN, RI, NM, NV, MT]. A few of these have hosted Big Sits in the past so perhaps it's just a matter of not submitting their results. Here is a list of all the registered circles for 2012. And here is a link to lots of other stats for the 2012 Big Sit.
Here at Bird Watcher's Digest we love The Big Sit so much that we've been the promoters and data keepers for it since the 2002 event. Four years prior to that the good folks at Swarovski Optik became the sponsor of The Big Sit's only annual prize: The Golden Bird Prize. The Golden Bird Prize is a $500 cash award given to the winning team to apply/donate to a conservation cause/organization/project of their choice. Here's how the winning team is selected: At their annual winter meeting, the New Haven Bird Club randomly chooses a North American bird species from among all the species recorded on all the North American Big Sits. Then all the Big Sit circles that recorded that bird species are placed into a hat and one lucky team's name is drawn as the winner of The Golden Bird Prize.

The species selected for the 2012 Golden Bird Prize was the sedge wren. From among the Big Sit circles that saw a sedge wren on the 2012 Big Sit, The Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge "Wingers" lead by Dwight Cooley, were selected as the winners of The Golden Bird Prize. 
The sedge wren was the species selected as The Golden Bird for the 2012 Big Sit.

The Wingers had a very "wrenny" Big Sit, recording four wren species among their total: house, sedge, Carolina, and marsh wren. The Wingers plan to donate the $500 prize money from Swarovski Optik to the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge Association. This association, established in 1998, is an advocate for the Wheeler NWR complex and the National Wildlife Refuge Association. In addition, they sponsor and support many conservation and education projects on the refuge.

The Wingers have held a Big Sit at Wheeler NWR in Alabama for many years.

Congratulations to Dwight Cooley and the Wingers for their winning effort at Wheeler NWR in Alabama during the 2012 Big Sit. The 2013 Big Sit will be held on the weekend of October 13, 2013. You can watch the official Big Sit web page for announcements and the opening of registration.

I'm going to write about our own 2012 Big Sit here at Indigo Hill in one of my next posts and explain how we doubled our fun, if not our list of birds. Until then, stay birdy my friends.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Podcast Episode #40: Optics Buying Advice Part 2

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

My interview with Ben Lizdas of Eagle Optics was just too meaty to include in a single podcast episode, so we broke it into two parts. And this new episode, which is number 40 in the "This Birding Life" podcast archives, contains the second half of our conversation about getting good advice when buying birding optics. Ben and the folks at Eagle Optics are super experienced in guiding customers through the buying experience.

Ben Lizdas of Eagle Optics.

In this episode we discuss some considerations for specific types of use: hawk watching, shorebird watching, warbler watching, backyard feeder watching as well as parameters for choosing the right binocs for traveling, hiking, and the proper binocs for use by young bird watchers.

 Special thanks to Zeiss Sports Optics for sponsoring "This Birding Life."

If you'd like to meet Ben Lizdas and sample the very best in birding optics for yourself, make plans to attend the Birding Optics & Gear Expo, March 23-24, 2013 at the Grange Insurance Audubon Center in Columbus, Ohio. Eagle Optics will be there along with reps from the major optics manufacturers. It will be a great opportunity to try before you buy. Registration is FREE and all registered attendees will be entered to win one of our fabbo door prizes.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Caption Contest #24

Tuesday, December 4, 2012
I'm pretty sure we've found a new product that's guaranteed to get rid of pesky artist/naturalists, but we need a caption from you that sells this new product to the unsuspecting public.

If you've got a great idea for a caption for this new product ad, share it here using the Comments window of my blog. I'll pick a winner on Friday, December 14, 2012. Thanks to Julie Zickefoose for being in the photo. I'm not sure if her face is revealing worry or relief.

Gentlepeople: start your caption engines!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Phoebe's Special Birding Adventure

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

 During our recent family sojourn in South Texas as part of the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, I was really happy to see daughter Phoebe (age 16) finally really get into bird watching. And because Phoebe was into it, her younger brother Liam (just turned 13) also got into it, though at a somewhat lower intensity level.

Both kids had exceptional birding moments during our six days in Texas, but it's Phoebe's experience that I'll relate here. Liam's we'll share another day.

Julie and I'd been working during the festival as guides and speakers and the kids came along where space was available. They went along on one of Julie's trips and helped me with the large group of young birders on Saturday morning. Then on Sunday we all got to be together on a Breakfast with the Birds trip to a local private ranch called Rio Costero. Al Batt was one of the other guides and he and Liam kept up a constant banter about going "squatchin'." (This means they were going hunting in the South Texas scrub for sasquatch.)

Birding a resaca at Rio Costero.

The ranch was amazing, the birding was engaging, and the breakfast was so good that we all ate too much. After taking the group bus back to Harlingen, our family hopped in the rental car and headed for South Padre Island. We'd promised the kids an afternoon at the beach—they'd never seen the Gulf of Mexico. Well, actually Phoebe had, as a three-year old, but that doesn't really count.

 Being at the beach was really fun. We frolicked in the surf despite a fairly strong undertow. We body-surfed and splashed and ran. The kids asked us to take photos of them leaping with joy.

It was hard to leave the beach, but time was winding down and there was another place, across the street from the beach access, that I wanted to visit: the boardwalk adjacent to the South Padre Island Convention Center. This boardwalk and the natural and human-enhanced habitat around it is a famous birding hotspot. In early spring the birding action is in the small trees between the start of the boardwalk and the convention center. I once did a Big Sit here during the Texas Birding Classic and it was crazy birdy. This being November, the best birding was out in the marsh through which the boardwalk winds.

 Immediately we began seeing and calling out bird after bird: northern pintail, green-winged and blue-winged teal, shovelers, Forster's and royal terns, tricolored heron, little blue heron, roseate spoonbill, American avocet, black-necked stilts. I was pleased at how many of these species Phoebe knew on her own. Liam was riffing on the birds' names—as newly minted teenaged boys are apt to do—and cracking himself up in the process.

Moments before Phoebe's great bird sighting.

We ran into a small flock of familiar Ohio birders who had found an American bittern, which they were kind enough to share with us. Phoebe really like this one and we began telling her some of the natural history of the species. She even recalled seeing them before on our annual trip to North Dakota.

American bittern.
 Twenty or so minutes later, as we were turning around to head back to the car, Phoebe stopped, raised her binocs and pointed, saying "What's THAT bird? Is it another bittern? It looks smaller."
Umm. YES Phoebe, that's a least bittern!

Phoebe's least bittern!

WOW! A two-bittern day! We watched the least bittern fishing for about 40 minutes. We took photos and video. And we reached our Ohio birdpals by cellphone and returned their earlier bittern favor.

Watching the least bittern.

 I can't accurately convey how happy and proud these few moments made me. We've never pushed our kids to get into birding. Sure, we've have forced them out of bed in the wee hours regularly in their lifetimes just to bring them along with us on birding trips. And we've thrust expensive optical instruments into their tiny hands and implored them to get a good look at some fabulous bird or other. But we've never forced them to become bird watchers. Now it seems the metamorphosis is happening naturally. [Which was ALL part of our evil plan from the beginning!]

Phoebe keeping the trip bird list on our Breakfast with the Birds field trip.

Phoebe is already there. It might take Liam a bit longer. It would help if we could just get one good look at a sasquatch. Now THAT would be a lifer!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Ready for Grosbeaks

Friday, November 16, 2012
"Band of Gold: Evening Grosbeaks" by Julie Zickefoose
 I've heard their calls once or twice this season, flying overhead, unseen. I've also heard the voices of bird watchers, breathless with excitement, after capturing a glimpse of these dynamic birds with the massive bills and mustard-colored plumage. Evening grosbeaks!

Yes it seems that this is an invasion year for grosbeaks and other members of the finch family, too, including pine siskins (currently EVERYwhere), purple finches, a few redpolls, and both flavors of crossbill (we still have just two crossbill species in North America as I write this, though the "splitters" are hard at work).

It's been years since we had a serious influx of evening grosbeaks here in southeastern Ohio. I remember a couple of visits to our bird feeders in the early 1990s, but that's about it. Of course many local birders—in fact many bird watchers in the Midwest recall the huge northern finch incursions during the late 1970s. The winters of 1977-78 and 1978-79 were among the coldest and snowiest in modern times. And we had colorful, feisty flocks of finches covering our feeders. I remember filling the feeders almost daily and watching hundreds of evening grosbeaks and common redpolls descending to gorge themselves. We'd started Bird Watcher's Digest in the fall of 1978 in our house, and all the bird watchers' chatter and newspaper articles about the winter finch invasion gave us great encouragement to keep the magazine going.

The male evening grosbeak from Willard Bay State Park in Utah.
The last evening grosbeak I set eyes on was a male lagging behind a small flock of his species in a riverside forest just north of Salt Lake City, Utah. I was birding there with two friends on a morning off during the Great Salt Lake Birding Festival. Seeing a gorgeous male grosbeak, singing and foraging, in green leaves was a bit of a context shift for me. You can read the full story of that birding adventure in this earlier post from this very blog.

Julie's quick snapshot of one of this year's grosbeaks in our gray birch tree.
Julie called me last Tuesday with the happy news that a small flock of grosbeaks dropped into our yard, foraged below the hopper feeder, then vanished. Even my mom reported a flyover evening grosbeak back in October. Now that people all over the region have seen evening grosbeaks, I am getting fully prepared. I know that evening grosbeaks prefer sunflower seed offered on a platform, so I built what may be the world's largest platform feeder by placing an old, weathered piece of siding across the corner of our deck railing. Crafty of me, huh? I poured a large bucket of black-oil sunflower seed onto it and stepped back. Ten seconds later a tufted titmouse dropped in for a seed.

Here's my gargantuan feeder, with my hat and a tiny tufted titmouse for size perspective. Now how could any passing evening grosbeak not notice this? I'm thinking about making some grosbeak decoys (out of French's mustard bottles) and using my iPod to play grosbeak flock calls out the window. But I'm NOT desperate. Not at all.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Happy Birthday Liam!

Thursday, November 8, 2012
With today's activities and festivities, Liam has celebrated his birthday in Texas three times. Today my blond-haired boy turns 13. We're celebrating with some morning birding, then an afternoon time-out while I give a talk at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, then some shopping for some new threads for the birthday dude, then a dinner out somewhere fun. I keep teasing Liam that we're taking him across the Mexican border for a b-day party Carlos E Queso's, which is just like Chuck E Cheese's, but more picante!

He's not buying it!

We call him many names: Po, Shoom, Broski...he puts up with all of them.
 No brother ever adored a big sister more than he adores Phoebe.

 He LOVES the costume fun of Halloween, his favorite holiday.

He is an expert at taking funny photos.

We never want him to grow up and leave home, but we know that day will come. And all too soon.

 Happy birthday, my sweet son. Thank you for coming into my life. I love you.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

BWD Digital: NOT Scary!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

It's Halloween season right now, which means there are scary things all over the place: Jack-o-lanterns, haunted houses, headless horsepeople, robo-calls about the presidential election, Old Man Jenkins from Scooby Doo...

One thing that is NOT scary, however, are the really wonderful digital options available for enjoying Bird Watcher's Digest.  


BWD is the magazine that I edit (and which my parents started in our living room in 1978). We're a magazine for folks who love reading about birds and birding. If you download the BWD App or use your e-mail address to log-in to eBWD our fabulous digital edition, flesh-eating zombies will NOT immediately surround you. I give you my word on this.


If you like reading about birds on your computer, give eBWD a try. In addition to all the great articles and columns in every issue, you'll get bird videos, sounds, audio files of authors reading their articles, and links to birdy websites all over the Internet. Just a few issues after we launched eBWD, it won a digital magazine award for being awesome. You can poke around the current issue of eBWD by visiting this link:

eBWD: The digital edition of Bird Watcher's Digest
 Here is a video that we made to help our readers get maximum enjoyment out of eBWD.


Or, if you prefer reading on your iPad, Kindle Fire, Nook, or other digital tablet/reader, then the BWD App is a better option because it's designed to take advantage of the tablet format and interface.

You can download the BWD App here in Apple's iTunes. And if you're unsure about whether or not you'll enjoy the app, please browse the many positive comments it has received since it launched in January of 2012.

Here's the current issue of BWD as it appears on an iPad (our digest size is perfect for tablet reading!). Now if YOU get (or GIVE!) an iPad or some other whiz-bang digital gizmo for the holidays, wouldn't it just be wonderful to have some engaging, entertaining content inside it? We certainly think so.

Subscribers to the printed edition of BWD get access to the digital options for FREE! All we need is your e-mail address to verify your subscription.

If you're not a current subscriber to Bird Watcher's Digest it's just $19.99 for one year/six issues. Of course you can also subscribe to just eBWD (six issues is currently $9.99) or just via the BWD App (six issues is currently $4.99). But folks these low-low prices won't last forever...

It's a well-know fact, in these scary times, that one of the ONLY ways to keep flesh-eating zombies away from yourself and your loved ones is to subscribe to Bird Watcher's Digest.

Happy Halloween, happy holidays, happy birding, and happy reading!

Monday, October 15, 2012

New TBL Podcast Episode: Optics Advice

Monday, October 15, 2012

There's a new episode of my podcast This Birding Life available over at Podcast Central. This episode is part one of an interview with Ben Lizdas, sales manager at Eagle Optics. Ben has been in the optics game for a lot of years and he and the good folks at Eagle Optics have helped thousands of bird watchers and nature enthusiasts find their perfect optics match.

Buying a binocular can be a bit like trying to swim underwater through seaweed in the dark. There are thousands of different makes and models of binoculars, so how do you choose the right one? In our interview Ben and I discuss the important considerations for the binocular-buying consumer: power, weight, size, price, close focus, warranty, and others. He shares a lot of expertise and insight—valuable stuff if you're looking to purchase binoculars in the near future.

Ben Lizdas of Eagle Optics

This Birding Life is hosted by Bird Watcher's Digest and sponsored by Carl Zeiss Sports Optics. You can listen to the MP3 version of the episode, or listen and watch the images that come along with the enhanced (M4a) version of the podcast. This and the 38 previous episodes of TBL are available at Podcast Central or via the Podcast section on iTunes.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Worm-eating Warbler: Subtle Beauty

Monday, October 8, 2012
 I've always thought that the worm-eating warbler is our most subtly beautiful wood warbler. There's something earthy and attractive about those warm tans and browns set off by an olive back. And the pink legs and feet hardly seem out of place—perhaps they are just a way of accessorizing with a bit of bright color.

 It's the head stripes, though, that really strike me as lovely: black against ochre—simple yet so refined. Look in any color-chip book for a fancy-pants line of interior paint and you'll see the colors of the worm-eating warbler. Probably all on the same page, listed as suggestions by the taste masters for the would-be home decorator. I'd like to decorate a room in these tones. But it would have to be a room that had an aura of the deep woods, for that is where this creature lives.

 On our farm the worm-eating warblers spend spring and summer in the deep shady darkness of our two wooded valleys, rarely coming to the top of the ridge where our house is. No, if we hope to see them we must go to them. Finding them is not easy. They lead lives as subtle as their plumage.

If their colors do not impress with bright hues, the song of the male is even less attention-grabbing. It is a long, dry trill that could be passed off as a cicada or a tree cricket. More commonly it is passed off as one of the sound-alike members of the avian tribe for it is confusingly similar to the chipping sparrow, the pine warbler, and even the dark-eyed junco.

I saw what I suspect will be my last worm-eating warbler of the year two weeks ago, passing through the Aunt Lolly lilac along the north wall of our house. Fall is when the woodland birds come up to the ridge top to forage, and perhaps to squint at the sun that they've hidden from during the nesting months. We call it hill topping. They call it trying to live their lives—if they call it anything at all.

And speaking of words we use to describe things, the name worm-eating is quite a misnomer. The worm-eating warbler eats caterpillars, spiders, and other small arthropods. Perhaps an early ornithologist saw a worm-eating warbler eating a slug (which they do) and thought it was a worm, and yet another warbler was inaccurately named (see palm, magnolia, Cape May, Connecticut, Nashville, and Tennessee warblers).

No matter. The worm-eating warbler, to my eye, is our most subtly beautiful warbler in North America. I'll happily take retorts and rejoinders to this statement in the comments section.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Autumn Eye Candy

Thursday, September 20, 2012
 An anvil thunderhead catches the evening sunlight.
Looking through my iPhoto library I realized that I had some very nice eye candy images. Here are a few that I collected in recent weeks.

 Macro shot of a past-its-freshness-date purple coneflower.

 Macro shot of daughter Phoebe's eye—she leaves these on every camera in the house.

White hibiscus flower—from the plant along our garage wall that the indigo buntings nested in very late in August.

Glory rays—that's what my Great Aunt Lolly called them—coming from the cloud-covered sun.

This image, taken with my iPhone 4S, looks almost like a painting. The blood moon was rising over the neighbor's pasture and the low-light gives the image a pleasingly grainy feel.

Soon the broad-winged hawks will all be well on their way to South America. I digiscoped this one from our tower using my iPhone.

Another iPhone digiscoping capture of a brown thrasher from the tower.

Streaks from the West, heralding the end of another beautiful August day at Indigo Hill. How I wish I could stay home and never miss another sunrise or sunset!