Friday, July 17, 2015

Hermit Thrush Hallucination

Friday, July 17, 2015

This morning, while walking out to the Birdmobile with the backpack-briefcase slung over my shoulder, coffee and toast in one hand, and three-ring binder of song lyrics in the other hand, I noticed the distinctive tchup call of a hermit thrush. It was calling consistently from, I guessed, the ash tree behind the garage. This is a call I know very well—one I've heard often in the 20-plus years of living on this old ridge-top farm. But there was a problem with the timing of this call. Or, more accurately, a problem with the timing of a hermit thrush being here in southeastern Ohio in mid-July.

Hermit thrushes are not supposed to be here in mid-summer. They are with us from late fall through spring, but they leave us to nest elsewhere—mostly to the north—in the cooler, more conifer-rich forests of Canada or the mountain forests of Pennsylvania and New York. According to the Ohio Breeding Bird Atlas, hermits do nest in Ohio in a few places where there are hemlocks and more northerly-feeling habitat. Nesting records have been confirmed in the Hocking Hills region and in northeast Ohio, in Ashtabula County.

As I was walking through the front yard, hearing the tchup, the improbability of this bird being here was dawning on me. "It's July 15. Why is there a hermit thrush calling in our yard?" I stopped to listen more carefully. Getting eyes on this bird would be confirmation of an out-of-season record. The sound stopped. I listened for a minute but no more tchup-ing. So I started walking once more out to the birdmobile and the sound started again. I stopped to try to get a fix on the sound. The sound stopped too. I wondered if I was so close to the bird that my stopping was scaring it. I took two more steps and heard a single tchup. Weird.

Then for some reason my brain came back online. I took a few steps while looking down and realized the tchup sound was being generated by the inseams of my jeans rubbing together down at ankle level. The sound may have been bouncing off the garage wall to my immediate left, creating the thrushy aural illusion I was hearing.

I pulled the legs of my jeans up to check for hermit thrushes. No luck.

The rest of the walk to the van consisted of me shaking my head, snickering, and calling myself some rather perjorative names.

Birding friends have told me I have good ears. I know I have a fairly rich imagination. Perhaps a little too much on both counts.

That's my hermit thrush hallucination. Take care, and I'll hear you out there with the birds.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

New Podcast Episode: Birding Uganda Part 1

Tuesday, July 14, 2015
Uganda's national bird the grey-crowned crane.

The latest episode of my "This Birding Life" podcast is now available for listening over at Podcast Central as well as in the iTunes Podcasts section. The episode is titled "Birding in Uganda Part 1" and the material covers the initial few days of my wonderful trip to this East African country last November.

Uganda conjures up many associations for people—both good and bad. The country is trying very diligently to overcome a past filled with upheaval, political and military violence, disease, and social persecution. Its rich natural resources (especially minerals and oil) have garnered immense attention from multinational corporations. This combined with the growth in Uganda's human population are just two factors that are putting increasing pressure on wildlife and wildlife conservation within the country. Uganda is one of the few places in Africa where mountain gorillas and chimpanzees are protected and can be observed readily by ecotourists.

The vast national parks in Uganda and the abundant wildlife that thrives in them, including elephants, giraffes, water buffalo, and all manner of antelope relatives and a variety of primates, all combine to make this land-locked nation a premier destination for wildlife watcher. Oh, and Uganda's bird list is nearly 1,100 species, so birding is a rapidly growing source of tourism revenue.

Our trio, at the start of our trip, standing outside the Uganda Wildlife Authority headquarters. From R to L: Dominic Mitchell, Tim Appleton, BT3.
I was invited by the Uganda Tourism Board and the Uganda Wildlife Authority to visit their country last November. Also on the trip were two colleagues from England, Tim Appleton, MBE, co-founder of the British Birdwatching Fair and Dominic Mitchell, founder and publisher of BirdWatch magazine, a leading U.K. birding periodical. Both of these gents are extremely well-traveled, are top-notch birders and naturalists, and are just plain fun to be around.

 The day after our arrival in Kampala, Uganda, we met with tourism and wildlife authorities, then we got in a spot of birding before attending the opening ceremonies of Uganda's Bird Birding Week.

Attendees at the opening ceremonies for Uganda's Birding Week.
 As you'll hear in this episode of the podcast, the opening ceremonies contained a lot of speeches by tourism and wildlife authorities and government representatives as well as words from two of Uganda's leading birders, Herbert Byaruhanga and Johnnie Kamugisha. Each speaker began his or her speech by thanking and welcoming all the organizations and dignitaries. I've edited the content quite a bit in the podcast to give you an idea of what was being said without sharing every word spoken. One thing became clear to me on this first full day: Ugandan's are very proud of their country.

Uganda has done a lot to encourage young birders and female birders.
Another thing that I found to be immensely impressive was the amount of effort, funding, and attention paid to encouraging young birders, women birders, and to training and certifying birding and wildlife guides. Everywhere we went in the country we met young birders, guides in training, and people in general interested in making careers in the wildlife tourism industry.

Long-crested eagle.
 The day after the opening ceremonies, we drove northwest across Uganda to Murchison Falls National Park, where we were slated to participate in Uganda's national Big Birding Day. The drive took us all day for a number of reasons. First of all, getting out of Kampala was a traffic challenge.

Secondly, the roads in Uganda are a bit of a mixed bag—some fine and passable, others quite challenging. And finally, because we kept seeing birds and animals that made us shout for our driver to stop!

Our rugged safari vehicles got us all across western and southern Uganda.

Hippos watching our boat as we crossed the Nile.
 At sundown, we reached the mighty Nile River, across which lay Paraa Lodge, our home for the next two nights, and our base for the Big Day. We enjoyed a lovely meal that evening and, in the podcast, you'll hear the music and singing of a group from the local village who come to the lodge to welcome guests.

The musical group from the nearby village at Paraa Lodge.

Our Big Day guides were very talented birders and naturalists.
I'll let you learn how we did on our Big Day by listening to the podcast. Suffice to say we had an awesome time. It's definitely the most lifers I've ever found on a Big Day. And also the most mammals.

I hope you enjoy "Birding in Uganda: Part 1" which is episode 51 of the "This Birding Life" podcast.

If you'd like to meet Herbert and some of his fellow Ugandan birders, please plan to come to the American Birding Expo, October 2 to 4, 2015 in Columbus, Ohio. Uganda is an Expo sponsor and will have representatives there to share more about birding and wildlife watching in their country.