Saturday, June 23, 2012

Caption Contest #22 Winner!

Saturday, June 23, 2012
Caution: objects seen in your camera are bigger than they appear.

The winning caption was submitted by our clever Canadian friend Rondeau Ric.

Though I have to admit that the judging committee liked several others, including:

Mark S. Garland: Even if the goalkeeper is down, I am not going to play a header.
Wendy Eller: After Jack and his friends climbed the beanstalk, they decided to attend a soccer game.
Richard: Let's see Chet Baker pop this one !!
John W.: A dragonfly with an all-yellow head ...and very close-set eyes. Nope, not in this field guide.

Erik: Anyone else's cell phone getting 5,000,000,000,000 bars?


Murr Brewster: Sorry. I'm not touching this caption with a ten-inch pole.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Our Two Nests!

Thursday, June 21, 2012
Here at Bird Watcher's Digest we're intently watching two different—vastly different—birds' nests. One of them has growing nestlings approaching their fledging date. The other nest is still being built.

Our soon-to-fledge nest is a red-shouldered hawk effort, complete with three age-disparate nestlings. Here's a short video clip to show how this nest looks today (Thursday, June 21).

And here is a longer clip of the second nest, which a ruby-throated hummingbird female is busy building right outside my office window at BWD.

Both of these clips were taken with my iPhone 4s camera using a Macguyver'd iPhone camera adapter and my spotting scope.

It's really nice to be able to watch this all unfolding from my workplace. A distraction that makes working inside a tad more enjoyable.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Half-cap the Goldfinch

Thursday, June 14, 2012
Look closely at this bird. Notice anything missing? This is a male American goldfinch in summer/breeding plumage. Bright yellow body, black wings and tail...

Here's a photo of a different male American goldfinch. Notice the prominent black cap? Now look again at the male above. And, when you're ready, scroll down to the third image in this post.

This is the male American goldfinch we call Half-cap. He's been around our farm for more than a year. We're not sure why he has just half a black cap. Was it some genetic abnormality? Is he half female? Was he injured on his head at some point in his life?

Whatever the reason, he seems to be otherwise normal and enjoys all the things goldfinches do—sing, chatter, visit the feeders, fly around the valley in noisy, undulating flocks.

It's always nice to see him. He's another one of our marker birds—birds with a telltale physical feature that makes them easy to spot as individuals. We've had Mr. Troyer, the male eastern bluebird with a droopy wing from a sharp-shinned hawk attack; Snowflake the leucistic dark-eyed junco, and a few others.

I'm hoping Half-cap enjoys a long, fruitful life here on our farm.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

One Shot: Tufted Puffins

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Tufted puffins in Kenai Fjords National Park, near Seward, Alaska.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Some North Dakota Birds (& Pie)

Thursday, June 7, 2012
If you've never been to North Dakota on a birding trip this post will give you a taste of just some of the birds we see. Things like Virginia rail (above) and sharp-tailed grouse (below).

Male yellow-headed blackbirds sing their retching songs from every slough.

And drake blue-winged teal forage and float on flooded fields.

Marsh wrens send their chatter-scolds across the cattails, the sound often swept away by the swift prairie wind.

A shelter belt near an old farmstead might be the home of a pair of nesting Say's phoebes.

And American bitterns are fairly easy to see among the potholes in the coteau.

Some days are gray, chilly, and wet—but that never stops us. In fact the challenging weather makes it all the more sweet when you stop for lunch at one of the small ton cafes, like the great one in Woodworth.

Where they make amazing pies for their hungry customers.

Rhubarb pie is my favorite. I can already taste it!

For more information about birding in North Dakota and the Potholes & Prairie Birding Festival, visit

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

This Birding Life Episode #37: Birding in Israel

Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Common crane.

Episode 37 of my podcast This Birding Life is now available for downloading or streaming over at Podcast Central. This episode is all about birding in Israel, with a focus on the birds and bird watching in the Hula Valley in the northeastern part of the country.

I visited Israel in November of 2011 for a week of birding and I have to say it was an amazing experience with a super-abundance of birds.

We watched birds in a variety of habitats, including fish ponds on aquaculture farms, where the fish farmers set aside certain ponds for the birds to use. The Hula Valley is like a green, water-rich oasis sitting at the top of a natural migration corridor (the Rift Valley) surrounded by desert. Millions of birds pass through the Hula in spring and fall.

We got out in the field before dawn to watch the common cranes take off to spend the day foraging in the surrounding agricultural fields. And we returned at night to watch them again. The word "spectacle" doesn't quite do the scene justice.

We also birded in remote areas along Israel's borders, where the presence of minefields keeps vast tracts of habitat wild and inhabited only by birds and beasts.

Our hotel courtyard featured several pairs of Palestine sunbird, the nearest thing Middle Eastern bird watchers can get to a hummingbird.

My article about the trip will be in the forthcoming issue of Bird Watcher's Digest, out in the next few days.

I hope you'll give this new episode of This Birding Life a listen. Remember, each podcast episode comes in both audio-only (MP3) and enhanced audio with images (M4a) versions. And they are also available for free in the Podcasts section of the iTunes store.

I'd like to thank Zeiss Sports Optics for sponsoring TBL and Podcast Central.

Until next time, happy listening!

North Dakota Dreaming

In a bit more than a week the family and I will be back in North Dakota at the Potholes & Prairie Birding Festival based in Carrington, ND. Every day out there we'll see the sky sliced by chevrons of American white pelicans.

You can find the festival HQ in Carrington by looking for the giant statue of a Native American outside The Chieftain Motor Lodge. He's waiting to give you a high five.

At the P&PBF we birders also throw our hands in the air (like we just don't care) when we celebrate seeing a life bird, like a Baird's sparrow or a Sprague's pipit.

Phoebe and Liam love coming with us on our prairie rambles. Nothing but grass and big sky. And smiles and hugs.

And a bit of music played at Ann & Ernie's place, near Pipestem Creek.

If you look carefully you can find some prairie smoke in bloom.

You can wander through and old homestead and image the lives that were lived there.

And you can watch the sun go down over the western horizon, seemingly just over yonder and a thousand miles away all at once.

The coteau region of North Dakota has called us to it for a decade now. It's a wide open place, where your mind sneaks out of your head and stretches itself in the prairie sunshine. The worries of the world seem so far away, and why not? It's the middle of nowhere, but farther along.

Hope to see you there.