Thursday, November 30, 2006

I And The Bird #37

It was a great holiday. Maggy was here to help me cook the Thanksgiving meal "that couldn't be beat." Friends joined us for dinner. It was a beautiful day.

Many cultures have harvest festival traditions. In the United States the tradition has drifted away from thoughts of the harvest. We use the day to take time to reflect on the many things we’re thankful for.

As I began to hear from birders around the world I realized that people who love birds are great people to share Thanksgiving with.

I'm especially thankful for conservationist heros working to make the world safe for the birds we love.

My own hero is George Archibald who has led the incredible, successful effort to save Whooping Cranes from threat of extinction.

Bill Eley highlights the work of the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory and asks How important is this habitat?

I also want to honor the work of Dr. Arthur Allen, his collegues and students. An example of their work is described by George Sutton in his book Birds in the Wilderness.

Birders give special thanks for the addition of each life list bird.

Kay at Don't Mess with Taxes gives Thanks for a Different Bird.

Mike was thankful for the mild Thanksgiving weather that he and the birds were enjoying. Still reaching for 10,000 birds, Mike added the Northern Shrike to his list.

John, from A DC Birding Blog was in New Jersey for the holiday where he also added the Northern Shrike to his life list.

Tho' Ben Cruachan didn't find the elusive Painted Snipe, his trip led to a surprise addition to his life list.

Likewise, Leigh's missed her intended target: the first recorded Ross's Gull in California but still garnered two lifers.

For lots of us there's a favorite bird or place or birdsong or photo opportunity to be thankful for.

From Snails Eye View A wonderful bird is the pelican

Trevor's Birding shares Great Birding Moment #18

Kevin at Natural Visions has gorgeous pictures of Vermilion Flycatchers at Whitewater Draw

Amy from Wildbird on the Fly has a great day at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival

Roger at Words and Pictures got a glimpse of Urban Goldcrests apparently amused by the nearby installation of the city's Christmas tree.

Clare at The House and other Actic musings reports a Falcon Attack

Patrick at the Hawk Owl's Nest appreciates the humor in The Onion's satirical bird stories.

Lillian Stokes got great pictures of a Forked Tail Flycatcher in New Hampshire.

Don't forget the profound lessons that come with many birding experiences.

Karen at Rurality got a close look at the plumage of a Virginia Rail, tho' not by the preferred method.

At Find the River Paul grapples with "to help or not to help" a Bird in the Hand .

John at Birds Etcetera looks closely at Redefining Extinction

Rob, the Birdchaser shares a lesson we should all take to heart: To Bird, or Not to Bird.

Nuthatch at Bootstrap Analysis got an unexpected lesson in Peregrines' cuckoo tastes.

At the end of the day we’ll all be saying thanks for the memories.

Cindy's memories of The Gentle Snowflake Band are recent.

Jayne at Journey Through Grace shares Memories from when she was a novice birder.

Pam at Tortoise Trail remembers bird songs in Taiwan from long before she was interested in birds at all.

I thank everyone for sharing their stories with me. It's been an honor.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Three Degrees of Separation

I know someone who knew someone who sketched this Ivory-bill woodpecker from life. My friend Bill Dilger, retired Cornell biologist, recently shared his copy of George Sutton's book, Birds in the Wilderness, with me. The book is inscribed: "To my friend Bill Dilger in celebration of his twenty-third, the most important, birthday of his life." It was 1946. After years in the Army in Burma and India, Bill was back in school at Cornell. To help pay his way through school, Bill worked with Sutton in the vertebrate collection. A large collection of mostly unlabeled bird skins had been donated by a hobbyist and they were fully occupied identifying and labeling them. Over the years of their friendship, Bill learned a great deal about drawing and painting.

One chapter of Birds in the Wilderness is devoted to Kints -- Ivory-bill woodpeckers. In the Tinsaw valley of Louisiana, in 1935, Sutton and Dr. Arthur Allen were introduced to a local attorney, Mr. Spencer, who offered to put them in touch with friends who would help them find the Ivory-bills. Sutton writes:
"We were amazed to learn that mammalogists consider wolves more common in this section of Louisiana than in any other part of the United States. Wild Turkeys were abundant. White-tailed deer thronged the swamplands. I was still in some doubt, however, about the Ivory-bills. Fearing that Mr. Spencer might, in his eagerness to help us, be confusing the Ivory-bill with the Pileated, which is also a large and showy woodpecker, I said, "Mr. Spencer, you're sure the bird
you're telling us about isn't the big Pileated Woodpecker, the bird the Florida Crackers call the 'Lord God Almighty'?"

"Man alive!" answered Mr. Spencer hotly, "These birds I'm tellin' you all about is Kints! Why, the Pileated Woodpecker's just a little bird about as big as that" -- he indicated with his fingers an object a few inches long -- "and a Kint's as big as that!" He moved his arms generously apart, fisherman fashion, and glared at me. "Why, man, I've known Kints all my life. My pappy showed 'em to me when I was just a kid. I see 'em every fall when I go deer huntin' down aroun' my place on the Tinsaw. They're big birds, I tell you, big and black and white; and they fly through the woods like Pintail Ducks!"

This colorful discourse left no doubt in our minds that Mr. Spencer's 'Kints' were genuine Ivory-bills.

After three days of wading through the swamps Sutton and his companions found a pair of Ivory-bills and their nest!
"The whole experience was like a dream. There we sat in the wild swamp, miles and miles from any highway, with two Ivory-billed Woodpeckers so close to us that we could see their eyes, their long toes, even their strongly curved claws with our binoculars. The male bird sighted me, called more rapidly, and then, instead of flying off in alarm, swung to a tree above me, looked at me first with one eye then with the other, and stationed himself not more than than thirty feet away. What a splendid creature he was! He called loudly, preened himself, shook out his plumage, rapped defiantly, then hitched down the trunk to look at me more closely. As I beheld his scarlet crest and white shoulder straps I felt that I had never seen a more strikingly handsome bird. His crest was gorgeous. But somehow what struck me most was the rich whiteness of his beak and the staring whiteness of his eye."

Sutton returned the next day and sketched for hours. "The mosquitoes were not bothersome." Dr. Allen took photographs and plotted how to get their unwieldy sound-recording equipment to this remote location.

"We had found our Ivory-bills and made drawings of them. Mr. Spencer's 'Kints' were no longer a new and funny word; they were an experience, an achievement, a memory."

Cross posted at Whorled Leaves

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Long Time...

Good grief. It's been so long since I've written here, I feel like I'm starting from scratch. With apologies to my regular readers, let me introduce myself. Or at least my cats.

Clockwise from top left: Magda, the grey tiger who has a major seniority claim; Murphy the new SPCA cat; Tang, the old SPCA cat who really belongs to Maggy.

With toddlers, this would be called "parallel play" - doing the same thing side by side but not speaking to each other.

Murphy (who was Winston last week) watched Tang and learned to drink from the goldfish tub.

He's also learning to make himself perfectly comfortable every place he goes. This is the chair I'm trying to teach him not to scratch. It's a log house for heaven sake. He can scratch almost anywhere. Why does he have to choose the most expensive upholstery?

I wouldn't normally allow cats on a dining table. This is more like a writing table. I guess I can share, 'though it is an antique cutwork embroidered cloth centerpiece.

But I may have to draw the line at getting into the refrigerator every time I open it. For this I blame the person who fed him turkey in front of the open refrigerator. You know who you are.

All this talk of cats belies my sincere love for birds. I've been enjoying reviewing the submissions for I And The Bird #37 due out on Thursday. Eighteen articles so far. Today's the last chance to get yours in.

Friday, November 10, 2006

I And The Bird #36

The beautiful IATB #36 is up at Words and Pictures. Roger leads with a spectacular picture of a gray heron from the Netherlands. He continues with links to posts about birders' pursuit of life list birds from Brian at The Natural Stone and Otis at Another Place. There are tales of bird squabbles from Mike at 10,000 Birds and Ridger at The Greenbelt. Seth at Cup O'Books writes about the nearby Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. Sharon at Birding in Maine supports legislation protecting shorebird habitat. Pam at Tortoise Trail has great pictures of the Cooper's Hawk hanging out around her feeders, giving new meaning to the concept of "bird feeder." And much, much more...

I will be hosting IATB #37. Please send me your best recent birding stories. Deadline for submissions is November 28 for the grand opening November 30.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Moving On

I'm elated over the results of the election. And I'm happy it's over for the moment and we can all talk about other things for a while.

On Monday, at Time Goes By, Ronnie posted a growing list of movies of interest to people over fifty. (She calls people over fifty "elders." I call them/us "grown-ups.") Each movie is linked to its entry on IMDB so you can easily get some information about it. Criteria for inclusion on the list are:

  • Films about being old or getting old
  • Films with elder characters that are well acted or portrayed
  • Films that may not be about aging overall, but include good scenes about or
    with elders
  • Films that add to our understanding of or celebrate what getting older is
    really like
  • A lot of my favorite movies are on this list. I'll definitely carry the list with me to the video store.

    Monday, November 06, 2006

    New Kitty

    We have a new cat from the SPCA. Doesn't he look right at home? It hasn't really been that easy. He and Tang and Magda spent a couple of days creeping around sizing each other up.

    They seemed to have it worked out. So, the next lovely sunny day, when I knew I was going to be around the kitchen most of the day, I boldly let all three of them go out. They all promptly disappeared under the porch. An hour later Tang and Magda came back without the new cat. I'm thinking, "Oh, great. They've led him into the woods Hansel and Gretel style." And I started looking for him.

    When I still couldn't find him at dusk I was pretty frantic. Shortly after dark, Belinda spied him with a flashlight, sitting calmly about a hundred feet away at the edge of the woods. I tried to circle around him so that when I got closer to him he wouldn't panic and run toward the road. But still no luck. He fled into the woods.

    We returned to the house to regroup. I couldn't think what to do. But I left the kitchen door open and fretted. I think it always helps to worry. Maybe a half hour later Belinda said, "Don't move!" Of course, I moved. But just a tiny bit - enough to see him sneaking cautiously into the kitchen. Whew. I slammed the door.

    He started whirling on the floor and purring ever so loudly and quickly ate up his supper.

    There's a longer, more harrowing story about the second time I let him out. But suffice it to say I won't be letting him out again any time soon.

    Here's one of the most special things about him. Look at those eyes.

    Maggy called him White Cat, which we shortened to WC. But when you say it out loud, of course, it isn't shorter at all. So we settled on Winston. WC - Winston Churchill. Get it?

    Sunday, November 05, 2006

    Change of Season

    The barn is clean, the chicken house is clean, half the garden is cleaned up and spread with manure for a headstart next spring. I've fed the bees and spread more than half the mulch that was delivered last month. Most of the fruit trees and shrubs are protected from deer browsing. One and a half cords of wood are in the shed (another cord to go.) Jelly and jam are in the cellar and carrots and onions are stored.

    Still I'm absolutely nowhere compared to this red squirrel. He's intent on filling up the maple sugar house with black walnuts. He's covered the woodpile, filled every stray concrete block and syrup bucket.

    He's run out of nooks and crannies and taken to simply piling them up wherever he can.

    I particularly like this batch on the roof. What made him think that would work?

    Seriously, don't ever be tempted to plant a black walnut in your yard. My yard came with them and I've adapted. But I'd never choose it.

    Besides the fact that the roots exude a hormone that's toxic to many plants that you might want to include in your landscape, every season brings it's own particular black walnut mess. In the spring I'm still cleaning up the remains of the previous year's crop. In early summer the flowers drop and cover the sidewalk and the deck. In the fall, between the underfoot giant ball bearing effect and the nuts falling overhead, it's worth your life to walk through the yard. They drop their leaves practically all in one day after the first frost and the petioles, the little stems of the compound leaves, persist throughout the winter to be cleared away in the spring. And as if you weren't tired of them already, you find them germinating everywhere a squirrel stored them and didn't come back for them.

    On the plus side, they are beautiful. And I have eaten the nuts and used the husks to dye wool yarn. I've been forced to cut a few and gotten some beautiful lumber from the logs (which is good 'cause they're terrible as firewood.)