My New Book


Win A Swarovski Scope

Guess what, gang?

Once again, I have partnered up with Swarovski Optik North America to give away a spotting scope.  And this time we are producing a short eight episode web series with birding and digiscoping tips with me and my buddy Clay Taylor. Now for the contest part: the birds in each episode are a clue to the overall series theme. If you correctly guess the theme, you will be entered into a drawing for a Swarovski STM spotting scope!

The series will debut this spring, we are still filming some of it. You do not have to be a top notch birder but it helps if you know birds.

Birdchick Podcast #163: Peace Doves Attacked, Amazing Snowy Owl Stories

Really cool birds in flight video. Artist Dentist Hlynsky creates visual trails that illustrate the path of each moving bird in a flock.  Really cool stuff!

White doves that were released by children standing alongside Pope Francis as a peace gesture have been attacked by hood crows and yellow-legged gulls. National Geographic has a good explanation of it…yes, the crows and gulls were trying to eat the doves. 

Kansas Secretary of State, Kris Kobach has a bill that makes it a felony for any federal agency to intervene on behalf of the greater or lesser prairie chickens.

Cool new app from Cornell Lab of Ornithology identifies common bird for newbies…AND IT’S FREE!

When you have time please read some of the cool research going down with Project Snowstorm!

An old Onion article on the David Sibley Guide.

And not an onion story…city tries to regulate what type of bird feeders you have.



Obligatory Snowy Owl Post

Hey! Have you checked out Project Snowstorm or contributed to it? You should donate because your money allows researchers to study an owl irruption in a way we’ve never been able to before–in real time rather than spending the next two years trying to figure out what happened, why it happened and if the owls survived. I gave $25, can you do the same? How about $10 or more? But if you can’t donate, check out what they are learning…like maybe these owls aren’t all starving to death and that some are even hunting ducks over open water at night! Amazeballs!

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If you live in the eastern half of North America…it’s kind of your duty to post about snowy owls this winter. So many people are finding them and so many non and casual birders are seeing them, it’s reminding me of the great gray owl irruption of 2004/2005…which means my blog will be 10 years old in September of this year. Wow. How did ten years happen that fast? So many adventures and changes. And I wonder who is the next “Birdchick” that is out there with a fire in her belly with a ton of bird stuff to share. She (or he for that matter) doesn’t have to be “Birdchick” but I do wonder who is like I was 10 years ago seeing how people share birding information and thinking, “I could do this in a completely different way (and maybe even a better way),” and will soon get their message out there for the delight or chagrin of the world? For every movement there is an anti movement or as we like to say at Chez Stiteler, “For every Mame is an Auntie Mame.” And I’m totally cool with being the Mame in this situation and gladly await the Auntie Mame.

But back to snowy owls! They are all over the frickin’ place. They are within a 30 minute drive of my apartment to the northwest and to the southeast. All one really needs to do is either use eBird or the BirdsEye app on their phone to see where people are seeing them.

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Based on eBird and Facebook (and the many photos people are posting on that social media site) there is currently a fairly reliable snowy owl on 180th street and Hogan in Dakota County, Minnesota. I headed down after doing some work on Winter Trails Day to test out a new digiscoping adapter on my iPhone 5s (can’t talk about the particulars yet). It was far easier finding the owls than I thought, I just drove around to the known spots and pulled over where ever I saw cars on the sides of the farm roads. The above bird has been perching here regularly no matter how close people get to it.  I alas, cannot get close to a snowy because my scope and camera set up have too much zoom! From that particular setting here is what I got with the Nikon V1 and my Swarovski scope:

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I could barely get the whole bird in the frame! With the Nikon V1, you get great photos but it really zooms in. I’ve noticed before that it’s field of view is quite narrow.  When a bird is close like this, I find my iPhone 5s works much better for digiscoping.  Here’s the same bird in the same spot but with my iPhone:

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Better field of view.

Here’s another comparison with a different snowy owl that was further out in a corn field:

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This was taken through my scope with the iPhone 5s with a bird that was about 100 yards out from the road. I do like getting habitat shots of these snowy owls. It’s fun to try and figure out where they are hiding. I’m to the point now that I look for a dirty wedge of snow and that helps me find the females.

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Same bird taken at the same distance with the Nikon v1 through my spotting scope.

Oh and if you are interested in attempting to sex the snowy owls in your area, Cornell has a good page explaining it. Based on what they show, the bird on the post with the thinner barring and larger white chin patch is a male and the above bird with the thick barring is female.

Here is a short video I made showing the difference between my iPhone and my Nikon V1 of digiscoping the male snowy owl.  You can see that with either set up, you really don’t need to be close to the owl and all up in its business.

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Birdchick Podcast #162: Project Snow Storm & Listing


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Holy crap, birding has gone mainstream: it’s in the Boston Globe (on Neil Hayward breaking the North American big year record), Wall Street Journal (birders using taped calls) and USA Today (how birding is attracting “young fans” lol in their 30s and 40s).  Is 2014 the year of the BIRDER?

Project Snow Storm: the study of a snowy owl irruption in real time. Contribute either sighting or money (I did).  Also here is an interesting of a snowy owl getting caught in a truck’s grill (the owl is ok).

The controversy surrounding the “rediscovery” of the night parrot in Australia. Also a list of bird discovered in 2013.

Turkey chasing delivery guy–why I love living in Minnesota.

What it’s like to tell people you area a birder at a party.



Birding By Bike In Austria

Think I’ll spend a day with cabin fever in frigid cold temperatures remembering adventures I never got around to blogging about in 2013.

Generally, work takes me to fun places and in the last year or so, my meetings have involved some unexpected locations.


I had to go to a meeting last summer at  Seewinkel – Lake Neusiedl National Park on the Austrian/Hungary border. This area is known as the burgenland and is made up of mostly vineyards. We stayed at the delightful Hotel Post Illmitz right next to the park. The inn owner Otto was quick to offer food, wine and conversation upon our arrival.  My favorite part of the whole experience were the bikes in the hotel garage that we could take in our off hours and explore the town and park.


Illmitz is a small town, easily bike able (and walkable for that matter) down the quiet streets. The traffic is used to bike riders on the road and there is plenty of space to get through.  It was not a bad place to have a couple of all day meetings.

Biking in Austria

You can quickly find yourself on the paved trails around the park (the signs are easy to follow even if you cannot read Austrian). The trails take you through bucolic vineyards, wetlands and shallow lakes. Blinds give you high up views to watch for harriers, shorebirds and waterfowl.

Here’s a greylag goose digiscoped with my iPhone from the lookout tower. What a treat to see one of these wild and not the barnyard version I’m used to seeing in the US.  Turns out these things really can fly.

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We were there in late summer and the shallow lakes were chock full of shorebirds, here’s a wood sandpiper. Some of the lakes were dryer than usual, so a scope was handy as the birds were sometimes far out. I brought along my backpack and some bungee cord and still managed to find a way to attach my trusty scope to the bike–though some of my fellow meeting attendees were very kind to take my scope on their bikes from time to time. I didn’t take any book field guides with me but downloaded a couple of apps. I ended up relying on the kindness of Europeans on the trip to help me id birds–especially shorebirds. I recently got a copy of the Crossley ID Guide to Britain and Ireland and wished that had arrived before I left. It’s an easy to carry guide for an American in Europe for the super common birds.


Stilts never disappoint no matter what continent they are on.  This is a black-winged stilt taken from the tower.

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But this park is more an International Park rather than National Park.  If falls right along the Hungary/Austria border. We spent one morning before a meeting looking for Hungarian birds–we used cars for that. I sometimes tell Non Birding Bill that if I ever end up in some sort of vegetative state or if I’m sick in a hospital, plug in slide shows of places I’ve been and I’ll be ok. I think this is one of my favorite offices I’ve ever had. Our morning was filled with purple herons, eagles and turtle-doves.


While we were taking it all in, flocks of bee-eaters came into the trees. Many of the birds that we saw on the Hungary side we could see on the Austrian side, but hey, how often does one have the chance to do some birding in Hungary?

beeater iPhone

Here’s an up close bee-eater.

perch pike

Half the fun of the trip was the food. This is one of the reasons why I bike so much in warm weather and run 5ks in the winter–the 20 something metabolism just ain’t what it used to be and in order to keep eating in the manner in which I have become accustomed, I need to exercise (boo). I am an adventurous eater and when I was trying to decide dinner one night, one of the items translated for me on the menu was something called “pike perch.” A British companion insisted I try it, that is was a very tasty fish.  It was…but also familiar.  A quick Google search revealed that pike perch is also in the Percidae family making it a walleye–which is Minnesota’s state fish. And a tasty fish it is indeed!



Many of the places we ate served local wines (from their own vineyards), homemade schnapps, their own cured meats and homemade cheeses. We even got to eat some of the “National Park Cow.” I’m not sure if you can see the condiment tray in the back of the photo, but there was one item on there that was life changing.

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This. I spread it on some bread and felt the soft gooey very unvegetarian flavor take over my mouth. ”What is this,” I asked our Austrian server.

“Um…this is…how you say…fat. Pig fat. Um, yes…lard spread?”

Imagine the consistency of butter but with all the best flavors of pork–that was this.  I enjoyed it so much that our host ordered three more dishes of it–perhaps fearful no one else would have a chance to taste it after I fell in love with it. No worries, this was so rich that a little truly goes a long way. I immediately sent a photo to Non Birding Bill informing him that I was never returning from Austria again.

austrian vineyards
I fit one more bike ride in the following morning before I had to catch my flight in Vienna. I had to work off some of that “lard spread.” The burganland was truly beautiful but because all of the surrounding vineyards had ripening fruit…it had the full attention of the native European starlings who were hell bent on eating the ripening grapes and the growers were trying any method to get rid of them which included speakers blasting wildly barking dogs, injured starling calls and screeching goshawks. There were also periodic air cannons and single engine planes diving at flocks (and coming down well below tree level) and shooting fire crackers. It was vaguely like being in a war zone…not totally relaxing.  I’m not sure how well it worked to keep the starlings away but the pilots of the planes sure looked like they were having fun.

red-backed shrike

The birds sure seemed used to it. This is one of the many red-backed shrikes I encountered while biking around.

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A blue tit lurking in the shrubs on my bike ride.

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A great tit was mixed in with the blue tits.

Storks and spoonbills

And this was a distant photo I took of spoonbills for my digiscoping big year only to download them later to notice that one of the preening birds was a stork!

One of the more colorful warblers in Europe–a reed warbler.


And a super cute little ringed plover.

Illmitz is definitely worth putting on your travel itinerary if you find yourself heading towards the eastern end of Austria. Maybe avoid late August and early September if you want to avoid the ambient noise of bird scaring techniques.

We stayed at the Hotel Post Illmitz and they have a variety of bikes for a variety of body heights.







A Cleansing 2014 Post & Thank You.

Someone suggested that I needed to do a cleansing bird post…

Turkey Vulture

Breathe in the turkey vulture, breath out. Breathe it in once more, savor it aaaaaaand exhale.  And I remember all the reasons I love birds.

In all the craziness of the last week of 2013 I forgot that it was quite the year and mostly I have you to thank for it. My third book came out and went into a second printing–which is awesome because there’s a photo mistake in it (BLERG) and we got to fix it. So all those first editions are now collector’s items–W00t!  Thank you to everyone who bought a copy of the book!


OK, not everyone wants to breathe in a turkey vulture so let’s have a cleansing yellow-headed blackbird. Feel free to breathe this dude in.

One of my favorite parts of the year was being able to give away my old spotting scope and you guys cracked me up with your terrible photo entries for my Bad Photo Scope Give Away Contest. That was the best, I can’t thank all of you enough for having the courage to share those craptastic pictures. My Inbox has never been so much fun before. Speaking of which, there will be another contest later this year…it’s going to take a few months to build this one and I still need to hammer out a couple of the details, but it should drop in spring, it will be fun and I think have a level playing field.

boreal owl

The boreal owl is no longer my nemesis bird thanks to bird guide Erik Bruhnke. And thanks to all of you who either helped promote or contributed to my Digiscoping Big Half Year, Sax Zim Bog now has a visitor center! Thank you to everyone who gave what they could either on my behalf or one of the other birders in the contest.

And speaking of my Big Half Year that turned into my Digiscoping Big Year…I have discovered that I’m a TERRIBLE lister, I don’t enjoy it. I think the album currently has 226 birds in it but looking at my last few downloads, I think I got past 250 but I should have gotten more. I mean, I had a long-tailed duck in walking distance from my apartment and I didn’t chase it. Part of the reason was work and then when the opportunity came up to go for the duck, I had a well spent afternoon with a non birding friend instead. I think I will continue to keep Flickr Albums of birds I digiscope in a year just out of curiosity to see what all I can take but getting the longest list is not the way that I enjoy birds.  NOT that there’s anything wrong with listing.

Birds and Beers is still going strong and I love hearing from all the people who have them going on their states–I love that the spirit of the idea of birders getting together and being social happens all over. I hope to hear about more in others states…and countries! Thank you to everyone out there brave enough to be the host of one of these gatherings.

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Non Birding Bill’s previews of his game show You’re Making That Up went well.  He’s still hashing it out, but thank you to everyone who came to them as he and Neil figure out what’s next. This has also been a tremendous year that so many  friends had great things happen: comedians getting writing gigs, authors getting awards, musicians getting contracts, listers breaking records–seeing my friends be successful after they’ve worked so hard makes me feel great.


And well, even though Disapproving Rabbits is closing down doesn’t mean we can’t still have a cleansing bunny over here from time to time. I’m incredibly grateful for this dude. It’s not every rabbit that will snooze on your laptop keyboard and I’m grateful to spend time with him.

Thank you all very, very much.


Calling Out Sexism

I’ve had a few people tell me that calling out sexism when it happens isn’t that easy and that I don’t know what I’m talking about. Let me show an example.

At first I didn’t want to bring this up because I think the man who wrote this on his blog thought, “Wow, Brooke and Sharon are getting a lot of attention and traffic, I bet if I write about it, I will get traffic to my website too!”

I decided I would just take a screenshot to avoid sending people to his site.  Please don’t go over and tell him he’s doing it wrong, he just wants the traffic. But I do feel I need to put my money where my mouth is:

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A guy (writing an article about how I don’t get how hard women have it when comes to getting a respectable job in birding no less) being purposely misleading about what I do for a living and being dismissive of my years of hard work and experience doing it…THAT is sexist.

I Got 99 Problems But This Lady Ain’t One


A friend took me to task for writing about someone’s Facebook post on my blog because it was a private conversation on her wall. I disagreed because Facebook is not private. Yes, I have a “private” page and a “public” page but I ultimately know that anything on my “private” wall can be made public by someone taking a screen shot and sharing it. But I think this is the difference:

Her putting her comments on her Facebook page where dozens of friends/mutual acquaintances could read it (take screen shots and send them around): passive aggressive.

Me putting it on my blog: aggressive.

My friend’s comments made me think and realize that I don’t want someone searching her name for reference purposes on Google a few years from now, find her name here and use that as a deciding point to not give her a job. My hope at the end of this post is sincere. I’m not expecting us to be like Lucille Ball and Bea Arthur in the musical Mame, but I hope that we are at least up to talking civilly.

Here’s the post and I’ve changed her name to Wilson’s Phalarope:

I had the strangest experience right before Christmas. On the very same day I had an article published about how Dolly Parton Is My Feminist Role Model on the Lifetime UK network (yep, television for women), unbeknownst to me, I was the subject of a debate on someone’s Facebook wall about what a terrible feminist I am.


Anyone who loves birds and the outdoors knows that you will find yourself entrenched in battles: battles to save habitat, battles to prevent extinction, battles to keep wind farms out of major migratory corridors, the list goes on and on. So, it’s downright depressing when you find yourself in a war with a woman you barely know because you disagreed with her point. And right smack before Christmas—cause there isn’t enough to do around the holidays.

We talked about a blog post by Wilson’s Phalarope published on the ABA’s website about discrimination against women in birding. I didn’t agree with it, but still felt it was a worthwhile article to share and hoped people who weren’t aware of it would read it and maybe generate some discussions elsewhere. She had tried to interview me for the article but I found the questions leading. She asked me why there aren’t more women in the “upper echelon” of birding and the only thing I could think of was all the powerful women I knew of (some of whom who helped pave the way for me): Lillian Stokes, Laura Erickson, Julie Zickefoose, Sophie Webb, Marie Reed—just to name a few (that doesn’t include women who run birding festivals, have edited magazines or lead tours). Wilson’s Phalarope then asked about records committees and I felt that there was some agenda going on and an answer I supposed to give and well, since I don’t care about listing or think of it as the upper echelon, I wondered if the bigger issue was the women don’t care about that end of birding.

Bill and I talked about it on the podcast. I hoped it would generate more conversation, that people would read the article and didn’t think any more about it.

I got a phone call from a friend who alerted me to a discussion the day before Christmas Eve. I found the conversation on Wilson’s Phalarope’s wall with several comments deep already and was immediately overwhelmed, it had been going on for awhile and there were spinoff discussions. I wasn’t sure I wanted to read it all, so I scanned specifically for Wilson’s Phalarope’s comments and these were the first two I saw:

“Cause Birdchick is obviously a creation, and a cynical one at that. She plays into some very nasty stereotypes,” and  “if nobody can tell where the personality ends and the person begins, maybe it’s time to ditch the personality.”

I was incredibly disappointed and knew there was no point in reading any more. This wasn’t a discussion about ideas, this was a discussion about me personally.  If there’s anything I’ve learned in writing for over 10 years it’s this:

When someone starts critiquing your body, personality or my private life– that says far more about that person than it does about you or your work. It’s disappointing. It’s sad. It’s divisive. It doesn’t help birds or conservation and it certainly doesn’t help equality.

The Real Birdchick

A postcard my mom sent me…I think this is what she thinks my day to day life is like. Perhaps this is the real Birdchick?

I started to reply to the thread and deleted it (almost forgot my 24 hour rule, don’t post for 24 hours when angry). For the record, I haven’t read any of the rest of the thread or anyone else’s comments that contributed to it, though several people have offered to send me screen shots. I don’t need to know.

I closed my laptop and thought with amusement about my article on Lifetime and asked myself, “What would Dolly Parton do right now?”

Well, she’d write a song, put on one of her spangled dresses and high heels, and say something funny.

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So, I put on a Dolly-esque outfit, grabbed some bourbon and decided to cook my way through four batches of cookies (since I can’t write songs). If I was going to be bothered about something, at least cookies for family and friends would be the result.

Don’t get me wrong, I love for people to disagree with me. I learn the most that way. Things I believed and understood 10 years ago are different that what I know and feel today because of it. I hope 10 years from now, I know even more and have opinions changed. I hope to grow.

A classic disagreement might be the Duck Stamp. I think birders should purchase it and that if more did, we’d have a better shot of taking the stamp over as our own and turning it into a better conservation tool. Mike Bergin of 10,000 Birds disagrees with me. He’s morally opposed to hunting and cannot in good conscience purchase a Duck Stamp or endorse it. And we’ve disagreed about it publicly. Mike even felt we went too far on the podcast when Non Birding Bill said that “he was whining” and we issued an apology over some of our terminology when he pointed it out. Do Mike and I avoid each other? No. Any birding event that has Mike on it is a pleasure. We embrace, we inquire about each other’s families, we may even discuss the Duck Stamp issue some more over a beer after a meal but it doesn’t interfere with what I think of him as being a terrific person who has contributed a lot to promoting birding on the Internet.

Disagreement on an issue does not have to get personal and ugly.  Here are some examples of what I think have been very reasonable things said to me by both men and women either online or in person critiquing what I do:

“Your photo on page x is misidentified”

“Why do you not hire an editor for your blog posts?”

“I think you missed my point in this article, here is something that happened to me and contradicts what you said…” followed by explanation.

“I don’t like your writing style.”

“You misunderstood what I said…” followed by an explanation.

“What you said made me a uncomfortable, here’s why…”

“Why do you think you are funny?”

One of the above was an edited quote that I got from Courtney Love (who knew she would be on the reasonable end of things).

Below are edited comments that I’ve had flung at me over the years (sadly more than once and not just from men). These are examples of unreasonable critiques:

“You only get hired because of your cleavage.”

“You only get attention because you flirt.”

“I don’t like what you wrote, someone needs to teach you a lesson and one day when I see you, I will be that person.”

“You’re not sleeping with (name redacted)? I thought that’s how you got that contract.”

“Well I guess if I can get a company to publish my book, I can be an expert too. Who the hell do you think you are? You need to shut up.”

“Maybe it’s time to ditch the personality.”

These are personal attacks and not worth listening to and again, these comments say far more about the people who say them than they do about me.

No one is forcing people to read, listen or watch what I do. When I don’t like someone’s style, I tend to not look at their website, read their articles, I don’t listen to their podcasts and I certainly don’t friend them on Facebook. I avoid them—it’s great! They can do their thing, I can do mine, and the world keeps spinning.

So, Wilson’s Phalarope, I hope if I run into you in person we can have a reasonable conversation. I hope it can be done without accusations of moral character. I am who I am. You are who you are. I’m not a creation, and I’m willing to bet you aren’t either. What you see or hear of me online is what you get. Though in real life there is a lot more profanity.

For the record, I do know about feminism and if I had to pinpoint myself would say that I’m a “third wave feminist” but if you aren’t into the whole wave thing, that’s cool, just call me a “gender equality advocate.”

And from one writer to another, it’s ok to disagree on a point and still chat amicably about other things. If you have written something that someone disagrees with and shares it publicly, you have written something worthwhile.

You could totally tell me, “I think you are dismissive about the discrimination women feel because they do not have the strong personality you do. Let me explain why…” You could send that in an email (sharon at Birdchick dot com), write this on your own website or say to me in person. Heck you could even have a podcast–I wish there were more birding ones out there. I will listen with interest. I can’t say we will agree, but I will listen. What bird festivals will you be at in 2014? Wanna have coffee or a drink? I’m buyin.

Anyway, please stop making enemies of people who have no wish to be one. Let’s work together. Birds will benefit, the next generation of young male and female birders will benefit from seeing us reasonably disagree online rather than turning this into a you vs me thing and criticizing who I am as a person. We all come from life with different perspectives, different tools, different ideas, different experiences and we will accomplish far more working together, rather than tearing each other down. How can women get past discrimination if we are busy making personal attacks about each other and not a discussion of ideas?

I hope 2014 is amazing for you. I hope you publish more articles I can disagree with and maybe even learn something. I hope you and I can both see the day when a woman being hired or published in the birding industry is not a headline because of her gender. I hope we can each be ourselves and appreaciate our differences.

I wish you love, success and good things.

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Birdchick Podcast #161: Owls and Resolutions

Here is the horrific bird house NBB and I were talking about:



*shiver* and Ew!

Zombie bird feeder.

Here are the links we talked about:

Snowy owl nest.

Compilation of the best snowy owl pics so far this winter.

Some crazy guy in Iowa (who thinks owls have paws) started a blog on feeding them.

Goldeneye x hooded merganser hybrid.



Birdchick Podcast #160 Snowy Owls and Backpedaling

We talked about scare crows, snowy owls, what you should really be concerned about with wind turbines going up on Lake Erie and oh cool this contest from Celebrate Urban birds…you have until January 15, 2014 to enter.