Thursday, March 29, 2012

On the Road This Spring/Summer

Thursday, March 29, 2012
On my birding trips, everybody gets to do the Life Bird Wiggle.

After taking some time off between book projects I'll be back on the road this spring and summer hitting several new birding/nature events as well as some old favorites. I'm really ready to do some field birding. I really, truly enjoy guiding people and showing them birds.

Here's a list of where I'll be and what birds one might see at each event. I hope to see you out there with the birds!

Santee Birding & Nature Festival
Santee, South Carolina.
April 26-29, 2012

This will be my first time at this event deep in the heart of the range of the painted bunting (and Bachman's sparrow, red-cockaded woodpecker, Wilson's plover). Much of this event is held on and around the Santee National Wildlife Refuge. I'm leading a bird walk, giving the Friday keynote, and playing some music during the social hour on Saturday.

Male cerulean warbler at the New River Birding & Nature Festival.

New River Birding & Nature Festival
Fayetteville, West Virginia
April 30-May 5, 2012
This down-home bird fest is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, in the mountains along the New River in south-central West Virginia. It is famous for warblers, including golden-winged, cerulean, and Swainson's warbler, but the spectacular vistas, amazing wildflowers, and Mountaineer hospitality also contribute to bringing back many repeat attendees each year. I'm leading a different field trip each day and The Rain Crows are playing a show on the final night in The Meadows lodge at the charming Opossum Creek Retreat, where the event is centered.

Wine & Warblers
Grange Insurance Audubon Center, Columbus, Ohio
Wednesday, May 9, 2012
I originally thought this was a birding-by-ear event called Whining Warblers, but I was happily wrong. The title says it all: There will be wine. There will be warblers. The setting is the amazing "green" GIAC building in downtown Columbus and, given the early May date, there will be loads of warblers and other migrants streaming through the trees along the Scioto River. Did I mention there will be wine? Julie Zickefoose and I will be leading a bird walk or two, after the wine, which should be interesting.

Kenai Birding Festival
May 17-20, 2012
Kenai, Alaska
We're really looking forward to heading to Alaska in May for this relatively new birding event on the Kenai Peninsula. The bird life there is going to be refreshingly different from what we will have been seeing during spring migration in the Midwest—and I'm hoping for a couple of lifers (Aleutian tern and spruce grouse—a jinx bird for me!) We'll be doing bird walks (including a float trip!), evening talks, and some music. Best of all, this event is totally free and open to the public!

Canton Audubon 50th Anniversary Dinner

Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Canton, Ohio
Julie Zickefoose is the keynote speaker for this celebratory event for one of Ohio's oldest Audubon chapters. But after she's done yakkin' we'll be playing some music for everyone.

A prairie pothole near Carrington, ND.

Potholes & Prairie Birding Festival
June 13-17, 2012
Carrington, North Dakota
Sooner or later you've got to go to the northern Great Plains to see some of the specialty sparrows that live there (Baird's, Nelson's, and LeConte's sparrows top the list). Why not do it this year during this charming, intimate event? The birds are enough to draw people to Carrington, ND for this event, but once you get there, the breathtaking prairie landscape and the small town hospitality will enthrall you. Highlights include the Pipits & Pie tours where we head out in the pre-dawn to find Spargue's pipit, then celebrate with lunch in a small-town cafe featuring homemade pie (I recommend the strawberry-rhubarb!). Oh and there will be music, too! Here's a photo gallery from last year's event.

Sunset at Hog Island.

Hog Island Audubon Camp "Joy of Birding"
June 24-29, 2012
Hog Island, Maine
Hog Island is legendary for many reasons: famed naturalists such as Roger Tory Peterson and Allan and Helen Cruickshank taught there for many years; and it's the home of Project Puffin, one of North America's most successful species reintroduction/preservation efforts (restoring the Atlantic puffin to its historic nesting sites off the Maine coast). Julie and I and the kids will be there the last full week of June immersing ourselves in the splendor of the Maine summer.

Monday, March 26, 2012

New Binoculars for a Young Birder!

Monday, March 26, 2012

What might inspire a young birder as much as placing a live bird in their hands? [That's my daughter Phoebe with a baby bluebird in her hands.]

Placing a brand new, high-quality binocular in their hands would probably be on top of the list.

When I think about the optics I used for the first 10 years of my bird watching, it gives me a headache (or brings back unpleasant memories of the headaches my old binocs gave me.) I've said this many times before, we are living in The Golden Age of Birding!

Think about it:
  • You can buy excellent starter binoculars for about $100.
  • You can walk into any bookstore anywhere in North American and buy a field guide to the birds (or mammals, butterflies, moths, reptiles, etc).
  • You can get bird seed and a feeder at any number of retail stores in your town.
  • You can listen to any bird song in North America on your ever-present cellphone.
  • You can get up-to-the-second info on bird sightings on the same device.
  • You can brag INSTANTLY to all your birding friends about the Bachman's sparrow at your bird bath, via social media.
I remember the first time I look at a bird through a pair of really nice binoculars. And I also am regularly reminded about the power of good optics when I loan out my extra binocs to young bird watchers on the dozens of trips I lead each year. Hearing the gasp and "WOW!" when they get a really good look at a bird—well it's a special moment because it might just be opening their eyes to a whole new world.

That's what happened to me. And if you remember the moment you sparked on birds and birding, maybe you want to help someone else enjoy that same experience.

Our friends at Leica Sport Optics have joined up with us at Bird Watcher's Digest to find a worthy young bird watcher in the United States to whom Leica will be giving a new pair of Trinovid binoculars. If you read our magazine you know that this model is a top-rated binocular, so it's no small thing to give away. It's NOT a $100 starter binocular. That's why we're calling this giveaway Leica's Great Leap Forward for a Young Birder. We think it could provide that very thing for a deserving young person who is interested in birds.

If you know a young birder who would really benefit from some new (and really nice) binoculars, won't you consider nominating them?

The winner and five runners up will also receive an autographed copy of my new book The Young Birder's Guide to Birds of North America.

Thank you!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Caption Contest #21 WINNER!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012
The Rain Crows rehearse for their upcoming gig at the nudist camp,
singing with a bear behind

Congrats to Amy Girten for the winning entry!

Choosing a winner for these caption contests is always tough—there are so many clever entries! This time was even tougher.

First runner-up:
Alan Pulley said...That's Bill Thompson singing background, for those that may not recognize him without his shirt.

And honorable mentions to:
BloggerBeyond My Garden said...Listen to the Rain Crows. It's worth coming out of hibernation.

Erik said...His name must be Pooh, he's trying to pick up the honeys.

Erik also said...Which one looks slower? Which one looks slower?

cyberthrush said...Dang, ripped off again... thought I paid to see The Barenaked Ladies perform and only realized after arriving that the ticket said "The Bearnaked Ladies."

Northern Goshawker said...With the Grateful Dead no longer touring, the dancing bears have been looking for a good summer jam band and found one in the Rain Crows. Here, Cubby is chillin’ to Cotton Candy Sky.

I could easily pick a winner at random—you all are some funny folks!

I hope you enjoy these little side-trips to goofyland. I know I do! Thanks for playing everyone!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Caption Contest #21

Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Yes, kids, it's time once again for another Bill of the Birds Caption Contest. Use the comment interface of this blog to submit your clever caption for the photo above and, if your entry is selected as the winner, you will receive a fabulous prize: a collector's edition copy of the ultra-rare, best-selling bird book Bird Watching For Dummies autographed by the author (if we can find him and get him sobered up enough to make his mark).

Back story: This photo shows Julie Zickefoose (left) and Wendy Eller (in blue jacket) performing a Rain Crows' song during my recent milestone birthday celebration. Backing the gals were members of The Realbillies (not shown) from Athens, Ohio. There was a stuffed black bear in the corner of the stage area and a friend took this photograph with my camera. I think the image opens up a world of caption possibilities and I cannot wait to see what y'all come up with!

Deadline is Tuesday March 20, 2012. Now start bruin up some funny captions!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

My Best Birthday Bird

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Today is my birthday. And it's not just any birfday. It's my 50th. Funny I don't FEEL 50, and I'm not even sure how the time flew past so dang fast. But here I am, teetering on the brink of my second half-century.

I've spent quite a few of my recent birthdays in some far-flung birdy place: several in Guatemala, one in the Philippines. This year I'm happily staying at home on the farm in southeast Ohio (though there is some planned merry-making in the offing). In thinking about my best birthday bird ever, there is one that jumps to mind: the bat falcon I got to add to my life list in Guatemala on March 3, 2008. You can read my account of this experience in this post and this post.

My 2008 bat falcon in Flores, Guatemala. My best birthday bird ever.

The funny thing about that bat falcon sighting was that bat falcons are not that difficult to find in Guatemala, yet I'd been skunked on seeing one over the course of multiple visits to that exceedingly birdy country. I'd seen the much rarer orange-breasted falcon several times, but no bat falcon. Thanks to my buddy Jeff Bouton for spotting that 2008 bat falcon for me. It was starting to get both weird and a bit embarassing not to have seen this common falcon.

If you're still reading, and you can't wait to learn more about my odd birthday obsessions, you can read about my favorite birthday food (my mom's cherry-custard pie) in this post from 2009.

I guess the bat falcon could be replaced at the top of the birthday birds list. But it would take something like a whooping crane flying over the farm, being chased by a gryfalcon, which was being buzzed by a Xantus' hummingbird. Now THAT's a birthday birding experience!

March 3, 2008. Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Hey! What's That Big White Bird?

Friday, March 2, 2012
While guiding a field trip of bird photographers last weekend at Goose Pond Fish & Wildlife Area near Linton, IN, we had a special treat. We enjoyed a "Hey! What's that BIG WHITE BIRD?" moment.

Amid the thousands of migrating sandhill cranes were a few whooping cranes! During the weekend we saw 16 whooping cranes total—a significant percentage of the world population of this critically endangered bird. (There are about 600 whooping cranes total counting both wild and captive birds).

We were very careful to give the whooping cranes plenty of space. And they rewarded us with wonderful looks, if slightly distant. But that's what spotting scopes are for, right?

We watched the whoopers foraging in the wetlands.

We saw them in flight, and on Sunday, we even saw a few of them engage in some courtship dancing, which I'd never seen before in this species. To see this many whooping cranes in one place in one day, outside of their wintering areas in Texas and Florida, is really notable.

As the final field trip wound down on Sunday, we had one more BIG WHITE BIRD surprise. While watching northern harriers, rough-legged hawks, red-tailed hawks, and a young bald eagle coursing and soaring over a wet meadow, one of our group called out a flock of large white birds approaching us from the north.

It was a flock of 16 American white pelicans, newly arrived from the points farther south. The spring's first sighting at Goose Pond. And a great way to end the weekend, with the promise of spring's coming.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Birding Goose Pond, Indiana

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Those of us who have been watching birds for a few decades have witnessed the steady decline of many of our birds and the ravenous consumption of natural habitat by the expansion of our human population. It can be mighty depressing.

And this is why, when we witness the opposite happening with birds and their precious habitat, it's not only uplifting, it gives us hope that we CAN be good stewards of the planet and the birds we love so much. Here's an example of if you preserve it/restore it the birds (and birders) will come.
The sky above Goose Pond was constantly filled with birds. These are sandhill cranes, mostly.

Last weekend I was a guest instructor at a nature photography/birding workshop offered by Roberts Camera of Indianapolis and held at the Goose Pond Fish & Wildlife Area near Linton, Indiana. Goose pond is a glacial basin that, for years, was drained and pumped so it could be farmed. In 2005 the owner of the land—which totaled about 7,500 acres—sold the land to the state of Indiana's Department of Natural Resources.

The DNR, with the help of a variety of conservation partners, began restoring the area to a more natural wetland habitat. Almost immediately birds started showing up, including thousands of sandhill cranes. The people of Linton/Greene County, IN noticed and started a nature festival focused on Goose Pond, called Marsh Madness, which is being held on March 3, 2012. The habitat has only been restored and open for less than a decade, yet it's attracting loads of visitors for birding, fishing, hunting, boating, and other outdoor pursuits.

Our event was a week prior to the actual festival, but the birding was fabulous—50 species of birds were found easily during the four separate sessions we ran on Saturday and Sunday. Photographer David FitzSimmons and a team of experts from Roberts Camera handled the photography sessions while I held down the birding outings. Most of the attendees were photographers first, and some were even experiencing bird watching for the first time, which was great. I love nothing more than putting the spotting scope (in this case a totally sweet loaner 65mm Leica spotting scope from Jeff Bouton at Leica Sport Optics) and hearing someone's breath literally leave their body in a gasp when they see the magnified image. We had a lot of those moments at Goose Pond.

One of the gasp moments at Goose Pond was a zoomed-up scope view of this bald eagle's nest.

And the photographers had great success, too. We had two groups afield, one birding, one photographing, in the morning with attendees switching for the afternoon session. David FitzSimmons, total pro that he is, dispensed advice and tips for the workshop attendees both during the indoor sessions and in the field. He'd arranged for Sigma lenses to be available as loaners and Jody, Nick, and Mary Jane from Roberts, along with Jan, a rep from Manfrotto/Gitzo, made sure everyone had all the gear their needed to have a great time taking photos.

The next time Roberts Camera will hold its Marsh Madness Photography/Birding Workshop is in spring 2013. If you're interested in getting better at taking bird photos, I'd suggest checking it out.

Next post: "Hey! What's that big white bird?"