I think they’re going for Double Rainbow guy…but rather than sounding high on shrooms it sounds a bit more like dirty phone calls I’ve received.
The LA Times had a jaw dropping headline: Companies Won’t Face Charges In Condor Deaths…but how accurate is the reporting?
Eye-rolling bird watching article (at least for me).
It has been a crazy two weeks. An example:
My new book was a prize in a tattoo contest at a bird festival…said no person ever until Biggest Week in Birding 2013. Above is Paul Riss from Punk Rock Big Year and Rue Mapp from Outdoor Afro who were among the five judges. When Kim Kaufman asked if I would be part of the tattoo contest, I wasn’t sure if she meant as a participant since I have a couple of tattoos, but she meant as a judge.
I happily agreed and then I wondered how many entries there would be…we had 11 which is 10 more than I expected.
This one surprised me–the logo for Black Swamp Bird Observatory. That’s one heck of an organization that can inspire such loyalty from it’s employees.
There were the expected tattoo birds, like a peacock tattoo so large that we could not see the whole thing without the contest suddenly being rated R. But still quality bird work.
There were charming ones like a scarlet tanager with the song title, “Don’t Stop Believing.”
There were really beautiful and artistic ones like this Cape May warbler which had been a nemesis bird and she had it applied to her side after finally getting one at Biggest Week in 2012.
There was a Roger Tory Peterson art tattoo. This kestrel and peregrine falcon are from his cover of the Peterson Guide to Hawks.
One contestant went the extra mile and hand a tattoo of crossbill feet designed by field guide author Kenn Kaufman who was even on hand to explain how accurate the bird feet were…lol, she brought in a ringer!
Then the tattoos got serious. There are multiple birds on here like a drongo and above that you can see a black vulture and turkey vulture head. I thought that we had our overall grand prize winner here…
Until this guy took off his shirt. He had bird tattoos all over (even a raven that was about to chomp his nipple which I can’t believe I didn’t get a shot of. But look at the flying pileated woodpecker/ivory-billed woodpecker tattoos. Wow. On his left shoulder, you can see a double-crested cormorant–who gets a cormorant as a tattoo? This guy, because it was his spark bird. He had more like herons and a few storks flying on his back but he wowed us the most and won the overall contest and a pair of Eagle Optics binoculars.
This was posted on the Biggest Week Facebook page, the judges and that winners. I think the contest was a bigger hit than any of us anticipated and word on the street is that there will be another one next year. Get your ink on now. I’ve already had two people tell me what they are going to get tattooed on for next year. As they say when you get inked: go big or go home…or maybe just go birding.
So a couple of seeks ago we had some snow in April in Minnesota and people freaked out about birds. Yeah, I know I live in Minnesota and we get a ton of snow, but snow in April is brutal even for us. But people worried because we had a ton of robins in our area, some were birds that spent the winter and were ready to head north and couldn’t. Others were birds just arriving on territory and aggressive to the birds still here. Everybody was bitter and prone to fights because that’s what happens when there’s a spring snow.
I wasn’t too worried because birds like robins are tough, robust birds. They can take a snow storm.
Last week we have a few 70 degree days and it was beautiful. Most of the snow melted. Migration progressed. I saw tree swallows and chimney swifts and relaxed that they had survived a crazy spring migration…then 15 inches hit the southeastern part of the state yesterday and more today. Now I am worried. Crazy images are showing up on Facebook like this one from Greg Munson:
Here’s the description with the photo, “Greg, Munson, Quarry Hill Nature Center naturalist in Rochester. The mother goose has been sitting on her 9 eggs for 2 weeks and she wasn’t about to let a little snow interrupt her task.”
I linked to it on the Birdchick Facebook page and people were wowed and concerned. Someone suggested clearing the snow off of her. That’s a risky idea–number one a goose on the nest is dangerous to you. Number two, she most likely would flush, exposing the eggs to snow and would she come back in time to keep them warm enough to hatch.
This morning there’s an email from Greg that reads, “The goose is still surviving in the snow and it appears water may have even gone down an inch overnight. Hard telling what the melt will do to pond levels, probably starting tomorrow. ”
We’ll have to wait and see if the eggs hatch.
Though we had no snow in Minneapolis yesterday (different story today), it was too cold for insects. We had a yellow-rumped warbler fallout in my neighborhood.
Yellow-rumps were everywhere! They covered the streets and the sidewalks gleaning any sort of food they could. Peter Nichols posted this photo of yellow-rumps covering his feeder. And this video of a yellow-rumped warbler feeding frenzy:
I know some of these birds can take it, but I do worry about the purple martins and the chimney swifts who have to wait it out under cover and not eat until any flying insects finally come out. Will we lose some of those birds? No doubt? Can their overall population take that loss? Usually, yes. But birds face so many challenges: habitat loss, cats, cellphone towers, windows. It’s a vexing winter for sure.
I do take some comfort in the yellow-rumped warblers and their sassy attitude. So cute, so fierce, they almost look as though they defy winter and all it’s obstacles. Here’s hoping it ends soon without the appearance of White Walkers.
So. Much. News.
Non Birding Bill and I are about to head to Biggest Week in Birding, will we run into you? We’ll both be there the first weekend and just me the second. If you see us on the boardwalk, please say “hi.”
CRAZY migration fallout happened in Texas at South Padre Island. The above is not a weird shaggy vine on a painted palm tree…those are all chimney swifts. Here’s another photo. Check out this photo of a hoard of dickcissel and a lone indigo bunting or this one of orioles.
The Jr Duck Stamp was just a mess this year. From the Associated Press having to print a correction to the prize being revoked from the 6 year old.
Cool photo gallery of hummingbird nests. You must look.
A TED talk on duck homosexual necrophilia. I know, right?
The house where Alfred Hitchcock wrote “The Birds” is up for sale.
For those in the Twin Cities area next week, we are having a book launch for my newest book 1001 Secrets Every Birder Should Know on May 7 from 7 pm – 8:30 pm. And I’m super excited because it will be at Glam Doll Donuts!
These ladies make super tasty donuts! From the Showgirl (maple icing and bacon), the Calendar Girl (salted caramel and chocolate) to the Bombshell (my favorite, spicy Mexican chocolate and cayenne pecans and the surprisingly savory Girl Next Door (provolone and muenster) they will wow you with donutty flavor. Don’t worry, they have regular donuts too.
But I’m happy to celebrate the release of my book and show off an awesome new donut place in my neighborhood. I’ll be happy to answer any crazy bird question that you have. The book has been getting some great attention so far, even from All Things Considered!
We’ll have some books on hand to sell, but if you already bought one and would like it signed, feel free to bring it. You can also bring copies of other books too if you have them (Disapproving Rabbits and City Birds/Country Birds).
I’ll also be doing a signing at Biggest Week in Birding if anyone is going to be there in Ohio at Black Swamp Bird Observatory on Saturday, May 11 from 1pm – 2pm (with Kenn Kaufman and The Stokes). I have to say how weird that is to be in that position. Was it really only 10 years ago I was working in a wild bird store, selling their books and now I’m signing books along next to them…how did I get here?
I hope you can come…if for no other reason than to share a donut with me. Maybe afterwards we’ll raid one of the many bars on that street for an impromptu Birds and Beers?
While in the Rio Grande Valley, my friend Marci asked if there were any birds I needed. I don’t really have any lifers to get there but I said, “I’d like some quality time with a caracara.”
She smiled slyly and said, “I think I know a way to do that.”
I’ve seen crested caracaras in Texas and Florida, but generally as they fly by or perch momentarily. I’ve had opportunity to get ok photos of them at Laguna Atascosa but not on a great, sunny day.
Marci hooked me up with a place called Martin Ranch also known as Martin Refuge on their website. I blogged a little about about this place on 10,000 Birds, it’s a ranch specifically set up for photographers. They have water features to bring migrant songbirds, seed feeders and meat feeders. I know baiting is an issue for people and there’s a forum to discuss at on my post at 10,000 Birds, this post is more to show all the different birds that came in during my session at a photography blind. I don’t really see this meat feeding station as being too different from a seed or suet feeder, only instead of seed, mealworms and beef liver fat the birds are offered taxidermy leftovers, roadkill and chicken parts from the grocery store.
For a fee, you can visit this ranch and set yourself up in their photo blinds. There are different blinds at different angles so you can sit some place with the sun behind you throughout the day.
There are comfy lawn chairs set up inside the blind and curtains to hide your movement from the birds. Our blind easily held three people but a fourth could have been added. All would have had plenty of space to photograph birds.
I have a digiscoping set up and this place is primarily used by traditional sorts of photographers. I was able to get photos, but the birds were often too close with my set up to get full body shots with my Nikon V1 and Swarovski ATX scope and I didn’t really have the option to switch lenses. But I got some great shots of the birds and a chance to see things like the somewhat gross looking crop bulge that pops out of their feathers after eating.
But getting head shots of crested caracaras was just fine and dandy with me! And at the end of the day, I’m a wildlife watcher first and photographer second, it was so fun to just have a session to watch gratuitous caracara action, listen to there gutteral calls, chase each other and just chowing down–it was amazeballs!
My iPhone 4s has a wider field of view with the scope than my camera, so I was able to get some full body shots with that. I love this bird, it looks like it has a “little captain in him.” Another fun thing that we got to see were some of the facial skin changes. When a crested caracara is not stressed, it has colorful facial skin, note the above reddish faced adult.
Check out this younger bird with the grayer face–that means it feels threatened and the skin color can change in only a few seconds. Another bird was about to take this bird’s hunk of meat.
There were at least 3 different caracaras that flew in missing their entire foot or several toes. I wonder if someone on a nearby ranch has some leg hold traps to get mammals and get these carrion eating by mistake. Again, I admire bird resilience. I’m sure this ranch’s feeding station helps the flying wounded. What was interesting to watch was one of the one-footed bird’s ability to sneak in to the flock of caracaras and steal a hunk of meat right from under a two-footed bird. I suppose it’s that sort of aggressiveness that helps a bird that just lost its foot to keep going.
I think this is my favorite shot of the day. This is one of the one-footed caracaras chowing down on some chicken and managing fairly well to grasp some meat and to eat.
Of course other species of meat eating birds came in to the feed pile. Here’s a Harris’s hawk. Only one came in and it seemed a bit on guard. The caracaras readily flew down as soon as the meat was out. The Harris’s hawk watched the scene a long time before finally landing and tucking into some chicken.
A couple of turkey vultures flew in and landed on the perching tree. They never came down. I’m not sure if it was all the caracaras that kept them at bay or the sound of camera shutters clicking madly, but they were far to wary to come in to the meat.
Black vultures, however, jumped right into the fray and even chased off a few caracaras. Very interesting considering they are so much smaller than the turkey vultures, but every species has its own style when approaching a food source.
OK, this bird didn’t come into the meet, but to the water and the seed feeder. When I first got into the photography blind and all the birds came in at once, I went into nature sensory overload and my brain went a little nuts. I didn’t know what to focus on first, the running monolog in my head was, “Caracaras, adults, juveniles, ACK, pyrrhuloxia, caracars, no turkey vulture, ack, black vulture, ack, caracaras, in perfect light, ah cool caracara sound, oh no pyrrhuloxia is back, must digiscope for big year, ack, vultures, ack ack ack, Harris’s hawk, ack, caracara, ack.”
Though I would replace all the “acks” with other four letter words one mutters when excited.
As if all of that weren’t exciting enough, Marci’s husband Terry was next to me and got super excited. I’m not sure actual words were coming out of his mouth as opposed to sounds humans make when incredibly stoked. I’ve done this and I’ve heard many a birder do it. I looked in the direction Terry’s eyes were focused on…which was right in front of the blind and saw:
A really LONG rattle snake–that thing was HUGE. We tried to alert the photographers in the blind next to us and then all the cameras went bonkers. This snake was almost as long as me, so I’m guessing it was about four and a half feet long and clearly had been feeding well. The caracaras noted it but didn’t seemed too perturbed by it. I think the snake sensed our excitement and turned around to go up the bank.
It was far too close for me to digiscope but I did manage to get a shot of its rattly tail. Wow, last August in Arizona was my first ever rattlesnake and now like a nemesis bird that I’ve finally seen, I’m seeing another right away. That’s 2 rattlesnakes in less than a year…it did make me a little nervous later on when I had to duck out of the blind to find an obliging bush to pee in…I searched a little more thoroughly before I began
Here’s a video I made of some of the action–you can even hear a little caracara calling:
Last week I was in Los Angeles, California and while there I had some whimbrels hanging out with me on the beach (incidentally, that is now bird 138 for my Digiscoping Big Year challenge to help build a Visitor Center for Sax Zim Bog).
These are always cool birds to see–gotta love that beak. But whimbrels have an incredible migration so it’s fun to not only enjoy these crazy looking birds but also imagine where this bird has been and what it may have seen.
The Center for Conservation Biology has done some amazing tracking work on these birds–we really didn’t know all that much about their migratory route and thanks to transmittors, we know these birds are tough. We’ve learned that a whimbrel flew into Hurricane Irene and survived…only to be gunned down by lax shooting laws in the Caribbean.
Now that we have an idea of how they get from their breeding ground to their wintering grounds in South America, we need to learn what route they take to get back. Looks like it’s going to be a loop, that they don’t go the same way that they came.
According to the website the birds were, “originally captured and marked on the breeding grounds along the Mackenzie River in far western Canada in June of 2012, the birds took a bold fall migration route flying 2,800 miles (4,500 kilometers) to the east coast of Canada in mid-July to stage for 2 weeks before embarking on a marathon 4,300-mile (6,900-kilometer) flight out over the open ocean to the northern coast of South America. All three birds have spent just over 7 months in the extensive tidal system of the Gulf of Maranhao before initiating their migration north.”
The whimbrels left their wintering grounds near Sao Luis, Brazil between April 9 – 13, 2013 and flew nonstop for 95 to 100 hours averaging 40 mph before reaching the Gulf of Mexico. They flew that. Non stop. Wow, maybe all the hassles I deal with in airports are not so bad. Where will these particular birds go? Straight up the continent? Or to the west coast where I saw the whimbrel in the above photo?
So if you ever see a whimbrel, enjoy the crazy madcap design, but also keeping in mind what that bird can fly through…and how many countries it can visit.
I typically stay away from places that have the phrase “bed and breakfast” in the title. As a birder, I don’t have the schedule to truly appreciate all the extra amenities. Yeah, I’m sure you make fabulous scones but your 7:30am start time doesn’t always jive with my field trip that leaves at 5:30 am. Also, I’m sure the fellow guests are lovely, but I basically want to eat and run.
But I’ve heard of the Alamo Inn B & B and Outdoor Store and how this popular place caters specifically birders. I was intrigued. Really? A B & B for birders? How does that work?
This is for sure a birder’s bead and breakfast! All sorts of portable food is ready to go from breads, spreads (bonus points for Nutella), fruit, even portable apple sauce and chips. I was a particular fan of some of the fresh fruit–like the small sweet mangos–yum.
Besides the usual coffee and tea there all sorts of juices, almond milk, soy, yogurt, single serving humus, lunch meat and even eggs. The eggs are from the owners hens and hard boiled so you can eat them on the spot or take them with you. You are only charge for the food that you take and the prices are very reasonable.
You can even be assigned a cooler to take some of these goodies with you on the road. This is incredibly smart for birding in the Rio Grande Valley because you never know where your birding day will take you. Your stomach may tell you that it’s time to go hit Fat Daddy’s barbecue, but you may be on to some hot shorebird action at Estero Llano Grande and you don’t want to disappear and miss a single peep. You can keep the cooler with you and you can even take some frozen water bottles with you to keep your items cool and have a supply of cold water to drink later in the day. It’s genius!
The rooms have a very homey feel, so even if you are going to “crash for the night” you can crash in the comforts of home. Its the little touches of table clothes and books that are there for you to read that get you comfy. The rooms have good couches as well as beds, so if you are going out with your birding buddies, it can accomodate them as well. Don’t worry, there’s a tv and wifi so if you find that after a hard day of birding you like to unwind with a little technology, you can.
I met an amiable set of folks from California birding the valley for the first time. Two men and one woman–all friends and finding the Inn to their liking. I even found a fellow Minnesota birder and friend Alex Cruz staying at the Alamo Inn–it’s almost like that bar Cheers from the 80s tv show. All had done a bit of googling and found the Alamo Inn had rave reviews from fellow birders and their rates were comparable to the local hotels.
I had to chuckle, the Alamo Inn does have a birding store with field guides, bird finding guides, binoculars…and birding clothes. It drives me nuts, but birders love to wear their vests and if you forgot to pack your vest, you can purchase one on the spot if you need too. There are even shorts! This place has just about everything to cater to a birder visiting the valley.
The owner, Keith Hackland, is a true birder so he knows what we need and how to make our visit to the valley special. He has various check lists and directions readily available. He does offer guiding services if his schedule permits but is happy to make suggestions based on what he knows is being seen in the area recently. The inn itself is in an old historic building on the corner of old Main Street in Alamo, TX. Deceiving on the outside but snug and comfy on the inside. Keith and his family live nearby in apartments and I got the added bonus of seeing a lesser nighthawk hunting over their roof.
It’s centrally located to Harlingen and McAllen, TX. Several popular birding destinations are less than 30 minutes from the Inn, one of the closest being Sabal Palm Sanctuary. If you tire of watching all the nest cams out there, check out their live feeder cam that gets green jays. I hadn’t been to Sabal Palm for a few years and made a visit on this last trip to Texas. I forgot how much I loved the habitat of an old growth palm forest. It smelled of primeval and baked in heat. It was a bit windy on my visit which kept the mosquitos down and the warmth had a very pleasant degree.
Speaking of mosquitoes, you know they are going to be bad when you stop in to pay your entrance fee and you see an assortment of complimentary repellants set out for you to wear. The skeeters are aggressive here, don’t leave the visitor center without some coverage.
While I was visiting, Sabal Palm was hosting a rare bird, a female crimson-collared grosbeak. I got her right off the bat thanks to a group of birders staked out at the feeder watching for it. They were kind enough to point it out…one of them turned out to be a fan of the podcast and especially Non Birding Bill. Ha!
Along with the lovely trails, there’s a photo blind that excellent viewing in the morning. If sit there long enough, you’re sure to get a view of the tiny green kingfisher, one of the Rio Grande Valley specialty birds. This bird even landed right below one of the blind windows, far too close to digiscope, but what a treat to be only four feet away from it.
The boardwalks over the marshes can give you glimpses of teal, rails, herons, warblers and kiskadees. They are worth the walk (just don’t do it without repellent).
Copyright © 2013 Birdchick - All Rights Reserved
Powered by WordPress & Atahualpa