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Birdchick Blog

Monday, March 23, 2009

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Blog Transfer

Hello, all, NBB here. We're going to be transferring Sharon's blog over to Wordpress this weekend, so you may experience some difficulty getting to it. It should all be resolved shortly.


State Of The Birds Address

Well, yesterday started the media onslaught of the State of the Birds Report. I feel like I'm supposed to be super excited about this big report,but I find myself cautiously optimistic.

I think part of it is that every few years, you see a bunch of high profile birders and organizations get together, create a group like "Conservation Through Birding" and a couple of years later it disappears. Usually because there's so much going on, everyone is so spread out, there's not enough money, and another project comes up. So when I see a list of government and well know conservation and academic institutions comes together to release a report about bird population declines, I wonder, "How is that going to work? How will all those organizations play together?"

Here's a list of the organizations:

International Bird Conservation in the US
American Bird Conservancy
Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies
National Audubon Society
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Klamath Bird Observatory
The Nature Conservancy
US Fish and Wildlife
US Geological Survey
Partners in Flight
Partnership for Shorebird Conservation
North American Waterfowl Management Plan
Waterbird Conservation

That's a bunch of big groups, with their own projects (for the benefit of birds) but big groups can be unwieldy and hard to work with. Will this work?

Basically, birds in the US are in trouble. It's nothing new to anyone interested in birds and you can see an overview of the bird report here. I watched the fancy video, skimmed the report, noted the organizations involved (noticed Ducks Unlimited was not involved and wondered if they declined or is this a case of birders not inviting them and wanting to create their own group away from hunting--which I think is a mistake, the birder and the hunter should be friends and working together will do far more than working apart).

I went through the material asking myself, what is the point of the State of the Birds address--just trying to get the average person's attention?

But then I found the What You Can Do section.

Great Backyard Bird Count, Avian Knowledge Network, eBird, the Landbird Monitoring Network, HawkCount, Project Feederwatch, just to name a few. There are also 6 million note cards housed in a US Geological Survey cabinet with migratory records dating back to the 19th century. Using an online entry form, volunteers (you) can turn scanned cards into database entries, bringing the invaluable data into the 21st century. Anyone care to enter in two records a day or maybe do five a week?

Those are all great projects and relatively easy things that the average person can do. These are a bunch of big organizations with big projects combining their resources. Now this is pretty exciting and I'm curious to see where it goes. This is a way that anyone, any group could help with research and maybe give a clear handle on how to help some of these bird populations.

I also really like that I got press releases out the ying yang from many of the groups involved. I think it's encouraging that they are trying to harness the power of the internet to get people involved with birds they may never had heard about and get the message out.

Questions are still in my head: Can these groups really work together in the long term? Can we keep the momentum going?

We don't know until we try.

So pick a project or two and see if you can jump in and help improve the State of the Birds.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

State of the Birds

In case you missed it, here's the link to the video on and info about the state of the birds in the US.

Upcoming Events

Don't forget, tonight is Birds and Beers at Merlin's Rest at 6pm. Birds and Beers is an informal gathering of people of level of interest in birds to get together and talk some birds.

Also, I'm getting excited about the Indianapolis Digiscoping Workshop that will be held at Eagle Creek Park, Sunday, March 29. We'll start with a bird walk at 9am and afterwards do some digiscoping (that part will start at around 11:30am or when the walk is finished). Should see some great migrants.

Also, it looks like we will be moving the blog this weekend from blogger to wordpress. Yikes! Things may look weird on Saturday or Sunday but I'm hoping that the move will help with archiving posts and make it easier for people to search for older blog posts.

And any peeps going the Woodward, OK Lesser Prairie Chicken Festival? Looks I'll be at that one too. I met a someone at the San Diego festival who said her local bird club was making a special trip for it. Looks like it'll be a great time to see a cool bird.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Ghost Bird Movie

I've kind of hesitated blogging this for a few reasons. One being that whenever the ivory-billed woodpecker is mentioned in a blog post (mine or other blogs), it brings out arguments. You can't even bring it up without someone launching into some off beat augment, sometimes it isn't even about whether the bird is alive or not and I just don't like dealing with that. The other thing is that I'm kind of torn on the whole movie. I like all the people involved and I worry no matter what I blog about, someone involved is not going to like it.

However, I just got an email notice that there is a new Bird Watch Radio podcast and it features The Ghost Bird Movie. I look forward to listening to it.

So, here it goes.

Sometimes I have moments when I ask myself, "How the heck did I end up here?" Above is one of those moments. This is a picture I took during the San Diego Bird Festival when there was a preview screening of the Ghost Bird movie. Afterwards there was a panel discussion with David Sibley (dude with the mic), Scott Crocker, the filmmaker (the dude in the middle) and a surprise appearance by Dr. Jerry Jackson (who said I could call him Jerry and who also made a surprise appearance to the screening on his 25th wedding anniversary). I found myself bleary eyed after a day of field trips and watching a documentary about the search for the ivory-bill standing in front of a crowd of people. The three other men were involved with the film, I was just involved with the search. At first I felt strange and out of place (and really wished in my fatigue that we were sitting instead of standing--at Sci Fi Convention panels, you get to sit).

When the panel started, in my sleep deprived state, I had to get a photo--how did I end up on a panel with Sibley and Jackson--weirdsville.

The movie is interesting (definitely watch for it in Netflix or better yet, try to get a showing at your bird club). Basically it chronicles the rediscovery of the ivory-billed woodpecker, the boom that happened in Brinkley, AR, the skepticism that soon followed, and then the let down in Brinkley since. It also breaks down how Sibley, Jackson and ornithologist Richard Prum came to the conclusion that the physical evidence for the ivory-billed woodpecker is not reliable and how the woodpecker's rise and fall of fame, mirrors that of Brinkley, AR. And the film brings up good questions like was money funnelled from other bird research projects to go to the ivory-billed woodpecker at the expense of other species like Kirtland's warblers?

Several things occurred to me during the film. When residents of Brinkley were interviewed and talking about changes to the town and all the merchandising that came about, audience members were laughing. I felt really bad, it seemed it was more "Oh look at those wacky southerners who don't get birds." I think had I not known some of the people personally, I would have been laughing with the the rest of the audience. Perhaps the people interviewed are laughing right along with the audience, but sitting there in the dark, I just felt weird.

It was noticeable was that Cornell Lab or Ornithology was not part of the project. The only time you saw John Fitzpatrick (head of Cornell) or Bobby Harrison and Tim Gallagher (dudes who rediscovered it) was in segments from news conferences and 60 Minutes. As mentioned earlier, Cornell declined interviews.

There was some interesting editing in the film. One that made me chuckle was towards the end. A rather colorful Brinkley resident says something to the effect that he hopes they didn't make up the sighting to get a big pile of money. As he says this, the film cuts to Fitzpatrick, Harrison, and Gallagher leaning in during a press conference and smiling. It's edited in slow motion, not unlike what you would see on a tabloid tv program.

But what struck me most, was that the ivory-billed woodpecker is really important to birders and not so much to the rest of the world. It struck me when they started talking about the skepticism on the Internet about the ivory-bill. They interviewed the guy who used to have the ivory-bill skeptic blog (which has now moved on to other topics). He said in the film that he gets as many as 300 hits a day. Now, 300 hits a day is a drop in the bucket compared to my blog. And if you compare my blog with popular mainstream blogs like Mr. Neil or Dooce or Cute Overload, well that's an even tinier drop in an even bigger bucket. The mainstream really didn't care about the ivory-billed woodpecker nearly as much as a handful of hardcore birders. It kind of weirds me out sometimes to realize that birding might not be as popular as I would like it to be.

The panel was interesting as audience members asked questions. Most noticeable was someone from Cornell who happened to be at the San Diego Bird Festival with a booth was in the audience. The film was shown as a last minute addition to the festival and I got the sense that Cornell was a little blindsided by the showing. The Cornell rep said that they felt it was unfair to say that the filmmaker couldn't get people from the Lab to participate, but Crocker said that he had interviews lined up and after speaking with a rep from the lab, all the interviews cancelled.

I could see how that would happen. When I was part of the ivory-bill search, I pretty much had to sign an agreement that any photos I took or writings about my experience on the search team would end up property of Cornell Lab. At the time, I figured it was worth it for the adventure. However, I know people who didn't go on the Cornell search because of that nasty little ownership issue. There are several agencies involved with the ivory-bill search: Cornell, The Nature Conservancy, US Fish and Wildlife--when you have that many big players involved with one species, everyone has to be extra careful, so I could see how with the lack of concrete ivory-bill proof, Cornell might want to step away from this documentary.

When the panel wrapped up, I watched in fascination as someone approached Jackson and asked if he had received the notes on their ivory-bill sighting. The person named the date (they saw it last year) right off the bridge over the Cache River. The tone seemed to suggest that the dared Jackson to disagree with their sighting. He was so smooth and so gracious in the interaction. You could tell he had experienced this moment several times before. He non committaly acknowledged the sighting and then said flat out, that with out photographic proof or him being there next to the person at the time of the sighting, it's difficult to prove. It was impressive.

So, those are my thoughts about the documentary. It's worth a look.

Although, I would really appreciate it if someone could get some shots of the Cache River or Brinkley, AR in spring or summer, I'd be curious to know what that place looks like when there are leaves on the trees.

Birdchick, Dr. Jerome Jackson, Scott Crocker, David Sibley.

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State Of The Birds Address

A bunch of boys are getting together to tell us about the state of the birds in the US:

On Thursday March 19th, 2009, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar will release the first ever U.S. State of the Birds report.

The report was developed by a partnership among the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, state government wildlife agencies and non-governmental organizations. The report documents the decline of bird populations in many habitats due to habitat loss, invasive species and other factors. At the same time, it provides heartening examples of how sustained habitat conservation and other environmental efforts can reverse the decline of many bird species.

Here's the list of participants:

Secretary Ken Salazar
John Fitzpatrick, Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Darin Schroeder, American Bird Conservancy
John Flicker, National Audubon Society
John Hoskins, North American Bird Conservation Initiative
Robert Benndick, The Nature Conservancy

Signs of Spring

The red-winged blackbirds are arriving in larger and larger flocks in Minnesota--spring. I got this photo on Monday while filming a segment with weatherman Rob Koch from KSTP. We were doing a segment on migration and I figured our best bet would be at the Minnesota Valley NWR--sure enough, there was a flock of red-wings. This female downy woodpecker hopped over to a male red-winged blackbird and the two birds stared at each other for a moment. It was almost as if they were having a conversation:

Downy: Oh hey, when did you get back in town?

Red-wing: Just arrived last night, still gotta go another 70 miles north Hinckley, any good grub around here?

Downy: Not to many insects in season yet, but the peanut suet isn't bad down at the feeders.

Red-wing: Score.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Random Trumpeter Swan

This is a trumpeter swan (that is banded, haven't heard back on the origin of the neck band yet). The bird is preening (think of it as brushing its feathers). It's rubbing its head over its preen gland on the back of its body and rubbing the oil from the gland all over the rest of its feathers to keep them waterproof.

Although, between the pooping and the crazy head rubbing, it looks kinda drunk. Needs some wacky music in the background.


St Patrick's Day Cooper's Hawk

Some fun odds and ends: my buddy Amber was on the Nebraska news. She was co-leading a trip to see the massive amount of sandhill cranes in Nebraska. The group came across a huge flock of snow geese...and a local Nebraska tv station. Click here and you can see this Minnesota girl give a sound bite on how awesome it can be to watch snow geese in Nebraska, go Amber!

In other news, here's another interesting link about business people sneaking in a little birding when they are in another town for work.

And speaking of sneaking in a little birding. Non Birding Bill and are currently at a St. Patrick's Day gig that our buds Lorraine and Paul. I picked up NBB from his place of work in down town Minneapolis and we headed on our way. While stopped at a traffic light--a Cooper's hawk flew right over the hood of our car! I could see in the rear view that it landed on a sidewalk nearby and whipped the car around.

There it was on outside a liquor store off of Washington Street near 35W! It stayed there until an unsuspecting driver pulled up to park next to it.

From the looks of things, it appeared to have taken a starling. It was a nice healthy looking adult, looked to be male based on size.

So, after our birding detour, we made it in plenty of time to the gig! What a fun St. Pat's animal sighting. Totally beats the giant dogs dyed green that I saw before I picked up NBB.

Oh, and speaking of St. Patrick's day, Hasty Brook sent me a link to the Irish Dancing Nuthatch. Enjoy.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Great Horned Owl Nesting In Planter

So, with all my crazy travels, it's been tough to keep up with all my back emails. Boy, have I missed a whopper! Thank you, so, so much to Robbyn Spratt for sending this my way! Brace yourself, are you ready for this? Okay, here it goes:

There's a great horned owl nesting in a planter in Viera, FL.

Yes, you read that correctly. Viera, FL home of one of my all time favorite birding spots, Viera Wetlands has an owl nesting in a pot! Apparently, a pair of great horned owls chose to use a planter outside of the Brevard County Commission and the eggs have hatched--there is even a LIVE owl cam. The camera does not appear to be visible at night, however, there are clips that you can watch any time, so bookmark the Brevard County Owl Cam for some on the job entertainment.

This is an awesome diversion, especially since the owls at the Valmont Owl Cam appear to be having issues.

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Common Western Birds Seen At The San Diego Bird Festival

I thought I had planned my bird festivals so well this winter. Florida and San Diego--what better places could a Minnesota girl go to in January and March? Alas, both were a bit chillier than I expected. Florida had a record setting cold snap. And well, San Diego was still really warm at 50 degrees compared to where I live, but not shorts weather. Part of it was that I did many field trips where it's expect to be chilly, like on a boat or in the mountains.

While on the woodpecker trip for the San Diego Bird Festival in the mountains we looked through my scope, we could see the top of the mountain was covered in frost. Glad we weren't going to the top. It was pleasantly chilly enough where we were. I have to say, I had some of the best field trip grub ever at this festival. The best part was all the Laughing Cow Babybel Cheese. Nothing like enjoying great birds in the mountain and eating cheese.

I'm so excited! I found another photo of a Brewer's blackbird that I forgot I took in my iPhoto stash. He's so pretty, shining in all his iridescent glory of the full sun. This bird was part of a flock hanging out at a picnic area. I got to feed them as I tossed bits of my sandwich to the flock. Ah, one person's trash bird is another birder's treasure.

Another bird I was excited to spend time with was the western bluebird. We get tons of eastern bluebirds where I live and westerns are different because their rufous coloration extends to their backs. Eastern bluebirds just have the sky blue down their backs. I was happy to find a male western bluebird that wouldn't turn around and just show me his back.

Check out this super cute dark-eyed junco (the western version sometimes known as Oregon junco). They were flitting around all over the ground and this one paused to get a sip from a small puddle of water. It's the same species as the dark-eyed junco I see here, just a different color. Dark-eyed juncos used to be divided into five different species, a few years ago, this would have been a countable bird, but now the five are lumped into one. I wonder how long until they are divided again?

There were some common birds for me that others on the field trip where excited to see, like this male purple finch. He's beautiful, but he was a lifer for several people on my field trip. And we had to work to see this dude. I'm used to peering out at the feeders at Mr. Neil's and there they are. This one was singing at the top of a tree and it took some time to find the right angle for folks to see him. I giggled at working so hard for a feeder bird. He was singing his territory song, and I managed to get a video of him singing:

Such a pretty song and it's lovely to hear territory song after a long winter.

Anna's hummingbirds were all over the place and we found a female who appeared to be incubating eggs on a nest. She must be well habituated to humans. This nest was at about my eye level in a bush. The bush was in the corner of a "V" where two well travelled paths intersected and people walked by unaware as we watched.

We saw quite a few red-tailed hawks. Many were grabbing thermals and starting to do pair bonding activities. In Minnesota, these guys are setting up territory now. Females should be laying eggs soon. The red-tails in San Diego looked like they were on about the same schedules.

We did see some mammals out on the trip. This was a ground squirrel watching the birders as we were watching the birds. Something about his posture made it look like he was plotting our demise.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Woodpecker Field Trip At San Diego Bird Festival

Don't forget that this Thursday at 6pm at Merlin's Rest is a Birds and Beers (Birds and Beers is an informal gathering of birders to sit down, have a beverage, and talk some birds). If you are remotely interested in birds, from the hardcore lister to the backyard birder to someone who saw a bird once, this group is for you.

I was really excited to do the Woodpecker Field Trip at the San Diego Bird Festival. I was hoping to see some new species like white-headed woodpecker or Lewis's woodpecker. I got skunked on both but had a fabulous time--that's the way it crumbles, cookie-wise when birding. Ah well, another bird for another day. I did have a great time with all of the acorn woodpeckers and several other species.

We had a great moment with a western variety of northern flicker (this is a red-shafted variety). Where I live, we get the yellow-shafted version of this species. The red-shafted version of the northern flicker is different, the shafts of wing feathers are red and the males have a red moustache and not a black moustache. Note the above male. Now, here is a photo of the yellow-shafted that I'm used to. See the difference?

We had paused for a break in the trail and could hear this bird in the distance. We played its call once and it flew in and immediately flew in and started to drum on the trunk to announce territory. I got a video of it:

What amazes me most is how little movement the flicker appears to be making and still manages to create quite a sound. The birds look for a good, resonant tree but still the sound is remarkable.

We had a spectacular time, the view was beautiful up in the mountains surrounded by burnt trees. One of the field trip leaders was Steve Shunk head of Paradise Birding. He's got a woodpecker festival going this June in Oregon and says that he could easily get me white-headed woodpecker there...was that his plan? Maybe he was keeping the white-headeds away on this trip, so I'd have to go to Oregon in June? Doubtful, since I've never met a man so gung-ho on woodpeckers...ever. Seriously, this guy needs to be seen to be believed. I have never seen a grown man get so excited over seeing a downy woodpecker, as Steve Shunk.

I did get one new woodpecker species and that was a Nuttall's woodpecker. This is such a cool woodpecker at least the one I was was watching. She was gleaning insects off of the leaves. They do peck like other woodpeckers, but some do go for the bugs crawling on the foliage. I got a video of her foraging. In the background, you'll hear Steve talking about a sapsucker, he's not talking about the Nuttall's--you can hear his excitement (that's the same excitement he would have for a downy woodpecker), he was on the trail of an odd looking sapsucker:

Did you hear Steve's excitement?

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