Apparently people think birders are as creepy as clowns.
Apparently people think birders are as creepy as clowns.
This podcast is brought you by WildSide Nature Tours. Come with me to an ancient land to watching thousands of migratory birds like common cranes, storks, spoonbills and red kites. We'll also look for Palestine sunbird, jungle cat and white-throated kingfisher on my Raptor Bonanza Tour in Israel in November--history, culture and birds all combine for the birding trip of a lifetime. Israel is one of the most unique countries you can visit for birds, it's a major flyway for European and Asian birds as they head south into Africa.
This podcast is also brought to you by Holbrook Travel. Would you like to get away to Central America and hone your smartphone digiscoping technique on toucans, parrots and dazzling hummingbirds? Join me in Belize next March.
Some duck stamp artists are not happy about a proposed change to the stamp art.
This is the most badass red-tailed hawk you will see this year.
I've kind of transitioned in the last year or so to do less surveys and more writing and giving programs. I love bird survey work, but it's taxing physically both on your body and your time. Basing each week on airports and storms is less exciting as I get older. Spending times in airports over 30 weeks in a year makes it hard to connect with friends. Sure, there is social media, but that's not the same as being there for, "Hey, I had a bad day, can we grab a drink tonight or breakfast tomorrow?"
A common question I get from friends who knew about my shift in careers is, "Do you miss the travel?"
No, partially because I will never stop traveling. I'm just more selective about the types of travel I will do now. That's not to say that there won't be things I miss. I love point counts and I think that's why I'm drawn to big sits (if you're going to be around the Twin Cities, my park is hosting one on April 30) or simply working my patch over by my house. You have an idea of what will be there but it really takes just staying in one spot over and over to get the big picture.
Also, just sitting in one spot gives birds and animals a chance to get used to you and in some cases, come over and check out you out. And some of my best birding moments have been on bird surveys.
I've always had a fondness for roadrunners since I was kid. It may have been because there was a cartoon roadrunner on tv or that my grandparents lived in New Mexico and it was their state bird. I even had a carved roadrunner that played "Kind of the Road" when you wound it up. As a kid I remember thinking that if there were Smurfs in the desert southwest, I bet they'd tame roadrunners and ride them.
When my family took a road trip out in New Mexico, my parents would periodically say from the front seat of the car, "Oh, there goes a roadrunner." Being the youngest sitting in the middle seat in back and being super short, I never got to see them. I thought this incredibly unfair since I would be the one most interested in seeing one. I never really got a great look at a roadrunner as a kid. We stopped someplace for a bathroom break and one ran away from us, but nothing like the quality time one can get with a cardinal.
Throughout the years when I've been in range of roadrunners, I've had flashes while driving or watched one scurry in backyards, but just not time to hang out with a roadrunner and really get some great shots. With some birds, I lament as they stay out of reach, but I also realize that at some point I'll get an opportunity, I just need to be patient and wait.
I finally had my roadrunner moment last summer.
One morning I started my first survey spot, unwrapped my gas station taco and pressed start on my stopwatch to start my point counts. Dickcissels were waking up all around me and then I heard a familiar cooing. It was the coo of a greater roadrunner...and it sounded like it was ten feet away. I froze and scanned to my left where there was a tangle of mesquite.
Sure enough, about fifteen feet away was a greater roadrunner singing away. It was not bothered by me at all. The bird was so close I could only get head shots. After a few minutes, I stepped back away to see if I could get a full body shot.
As I watched the roadrunner sing I thought back to when I was in third grade. My parents moved me to a Catholic school mid-year. It was the first day and our teacher was discussing the desert. She asked the class if we could name animals that didn't need a lot of water so they could live in dry climates. I raised my hand and answered roadrunner. She smiled and said, "No, those only exist in Cartoon Land."
She immediately moved on to another student but I couldn't believe she didn't know about roadrunners. The next morning before school I gathered up my National Geographic Field Guide with the roadrunner page bookmarked, my Wonder of Birds book that had a cool series of roadrunner pictures of the adults killing a lizard and feeding it to their chicks, my collection of state bird stamps that included the stamp for New Mexico that had a roadrunner on it, and a tourist brochure for New Mexico that had a picture of a roadrunner on it. I waited until lunchtime and went to the teacher's lounge--it was a different world then, the teacher's lounge door was open so you could see your teachers smoking and if you needed to, you could come in and ask a question. I went in with all of my birding paraphernalia and up to my new third grade teacher who was talking to the Sister Elizabeth the fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Stahl the social studies teacher and the principal Mr. Greer.
"Hi Mrs. Meyers," I said, "I just wanted to let you know that roadrunners do live in real life and they're the state bird of New Mexico." I opened my books and showed the pictures. "I can see why you might be confused, they're not blue like in Bugs Bunny, they're really brown and sometimes people call them the chaparral cock."
Mrs. Meyers nodded, said she had things to do and left the lounge. I was not her favorite student after that. But it turned out ok, the fourth grade teacher was a nun with a stern reputation. She was also a birder and Sister Elizabeth and I got along just fine when I hit fourth grade. She even gave me a Forebush/May book on the final day of fourth grade.
Anyway, here's a little video that I got of the roadrunner. You might need headphones to hear the call. iPhones don't have the best microphones and the soft call of a roadrunner is going to be overpowered by dickcissels singing away.
If you were unemployed for a few months, which job would you take:
Did I ever tell you about that time I went camping and birding in Sweden?
Probably not in the blog. This is another in a series of adventures that happened in the last few years that has made it in some of my keynotes or conversations over libations at Birds and Beers, but never made it here.
Believe it or not, this trip was work related but I still look back on this trip and wonder...did that really happen? We were based at Kolarbyn Ecolodge which literally bills itself as "Sweden's most primitive hotel." But even though it's primitive, it's still beautiful and your experience is more relaxing than you'd think. It's about a two hour drive northwest of Stockholm.
Imagine if some designers from IKEA went out into the Swedish wilderness and designed very tasteful, elegant and minimalist huts with trees, dirt and mosses--you'd have Kolarbyn. The camp specializes in giving you a complete outdoor and survival experience. They were a bit baffled by birders. They expect their guests to be ready for hikes--which birders are but when they hear good birds, they are going to plant ourselves to observe and identify. Even experienced bird trip leaders know that guiding birders is like guiding cats. They walked us past an area that had nesting a family of black-throated divers (aka Arctic loon in North American field guides) and we planted to enjoy not only the view of the birds but the sounds as well. But I think they gradually got the hang of birders.
The food was wonderful. Sometimes a chef cooked for us and there were times when we helped prepare the meal. One of the experiences you can have at Kolarbyn is learning to identify edible foods in the Swedish mountains. During our trip in September, blueberries and lingonberries were plentiful and a handy snacks. There were also a variety of edible mushrooms which tasted great sauteed in butter over the campfire.
My first morning when I joined the camp for some coffee, the owner of Kolarbyn offered me some caviar from a tube. I soon learned that I could get meat and cheese from a tube as well. You really haven't lived until you have had reindeer meat squeezed out like toothpaste onto toast heated over a campfire. As I marveled over this strange food, they asked me what food I would have in Minnesota that they might find weird in Sweden. "Lutefisk," I said without thinking--it's the grossest thing people eat here. Fish soaked in lye with the consistency of Jell-O is enough to weird most people out. But I forgot where I was and the Swedes looked at me in astonishment and said that they loved lutefisk. Of course.
Now typically on these sorts of trips, the end of the day is capped off by a large meal and a few drinks. Our first night we sat down to an early dinner. The plan was to go out on a moose and wolf safari in the dark. The beverages were presented in the form of juice and non-alcoholic beer. Everyone looked confused and asked where the real booze was hiding. Our safari host smiled and said, "We have learned that if we don't give you alcohol you are much quieter and we have a better chance of finding wolf and moose."
More than one of us lamented that we hadn't hit the duty free shop at the airport before arriving to the camp.
The moose safari did not disappoint--we saw several. Moose are kind of a confusing thing in Europe. Over there, they call moose "elk." What we call elk in North America, they call "wapiti." We have had a steep decline in the moose population in my home state of Minnesota so it was a real treat to see so many. One of the moose we saw had a fresh injury on its nose, like a chunk had been bitten out of it--perhaps by wolves. Actually, I can understand why Minnesota had so many Swedes settle here. The landscape is very similar--as is the wildlife. Not only did we see moose but we had divers (loons) and wolves.
We saw lots of evidence of wolves--especially their poop. We staked out a spot on a trail to one of their dens in the hopes of one or two passing by. Though we didn't see the wolves, we did have some capercaillie settling into a roost tree near by--those things are so huge, their bodies cracking branches sounded more like Big Foot was coming through the forest than grouse. We never did see wolves on this trip, but we did hear them howl. I've seen wolves in Minnesota and Israel (though that one looked more like a coyote) but getting to hear a pack howl on one of our nighttime safaris was one of the coolest non-birding things I have ever part of--and worth a bit of sobriety. Sitting in utter darkness and in such a remote area of the Swedish wilderness under innumerable stars on a carpet of spongy mosses and a pack of wolves starts howling...I get goosebumps now remembering.
Speaking of sounds, get a load of this video:
One night they brought in a woman named Christina Holmström who does "kulning" which is a method of calling in livestock from the mountains. On our final night they allowed us to cut loose and have some wine around the fire. As we were sipping and toasting, this song started echoing off of the lake. Her evening song was just has haunting as the wolves howling. By the way, Kolarbyn also has a floating sauna on this lake which I highly recommend using, if you get too hot simply jump in to cool off or sit on the dock marveling the stars or northern lights.
After camping we headed back towards to Stockholm but did a bit of wetlands birding along the way. I was excited because we met up with Daniel Green of Bird Safaris Sweden who I have met before on my travels in Israel and south Texas. A great birder who is a great guide for Sweden or anywhere else you'd wish to travel around the world.
I was excited for this spot because it was chock full of barnacle geese. This is a glassy looking goose that I've always wanted to see. Thanks to television, they're also known as the "base jumping goose."
But there were all sorts of waterfowl and shorebirds here including lesser white-fronted goose (which my pictures are terrible and are not here). It was a great trip and between the food and the birds, I think Europe is one of my all time favorite birding destinations outside of the United States.
More birds below:
This flamingo report popped in the news just after I left Florida. Also...I don't think this person knows what a "money shot" is.
Guys, guys, guys! The Dutch police are training eagles to attack drones.
Valley Meadows. #nsfw
Do you know a birder between 16 - 20? Apply for this scholarship.
You may have heard that we have an ivory gull in Minnesota...it cause some drama. I made up a post of some of my favorite memes and gifs as well as memes made during the ivory gull saga to sum up what an emotional turmoil these gulls have caused.
Some guys defending poachers who were convicted of arson of covering their crimes have taken over Malheur NWR and birders are supposed to take it back. Anonybirders.
Birding Star Wars shirts for birders who are protesting the new Star Wars movie.