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Eaglet personalities

Adult Head Detail 20090415The adult quickly roosted on the tree to the east of the nest. Hope, the older and larger eaglet, began eating, and Justice was watching. This was typical behavior for the younger brother. As a small chick, he would wait patiently while the parent first fed Hope, even turning his back during the feeding. At times, the adult would deliberately feed the smaller chick despite the incessant begging of his older sister. We said that Hope, if a human, would have been classified as a "Type A" personality, and Justice as a Type "B." Indeed Justice exhibited some of the seething resentment and frustration that some human "quiet types" suffer. 

“Chuck Wagon” for Bald Eaglets

Justice At Nest 2-20090410There is great value in observing nature rather than just reading about it. In the case of Bald Eagles, one can find conflicting information, often anecdotal, but probably valid in single instances. For example, it has been said that when the chicks are almost ready to fly, the parents begin to deprive the chick of food. The presumed survival advantage is that the fattened chick will lose weight, and thus become more proficient in free flight. It is also stated that the parent may "lure" the chick out onto branches in an effort to get it to fly. We have seen neither of these behaviors at our local Pembroke Pines, Florida nest. They climbed out on branches of their own accord. Both of the chicks fledged at approximately 11 weeks of age, just as expected. In the days preceding their departure from the nest, we saw no decrease in the number of feedings or the size or amount of prey items.

Hope and Justice reunited on nest

Two Chicks 3-20090408Hope was joined on the nest yesterday by her younger nest-mate. Hope had fledged on April 4, and Justice tested his wings two days later. Both appeared to fall to the ground and there were fears they may had been injured. In both cases, Florida Fish & Wildlife agents promptly conducted searches of the nest area, but failed to find them. The parents kept bringing food to the nest, instinctively luring the chicks back. Driven by hunger, Hope returned to the nest site after 36 hours and was on the nest April 6. That same morning, Justice went missing, but suddenly flew into the nest tree yesterday, April 8, and later in the day joined his big sister on the nest. 

Justice falls, and Hope soars (Video)

Hope Soars 20090406Yesterday, Lou Greenwell, one of the watchers of our local Bald Eagle nest, called me at around 7:40 AM to report that the younger chick, Justice, had just flown off the nest and fallen to the ground. Only two days earlier, Hope, the older eagle fledged and disappeared for 36 hours, before suddenly returning the the nest tree. Mary Lou and I joined Lou and Ed Mattis at the nest at about 8:10 AM.We were astonished to learn that Lou had videotaped the entire episode! A beautifully edited segment is posted on YouTube, and is embedded here.

Searching for Hope

Adult At Nest 20090403Sunday, April 5th has been a long and tiring day, but very rewarding. As you may know, Hope, the older of the two neighborhood Bald Eagle chicks in Pembroke Pines, Florida, suddenly left the nest at 7:30 AM yesterday, April 4th. Hope was exactly 11 weeks old, the average age that eagle chicks fledge. It was a great milestone in Hope's long journey into life as an adult. Hope's first flight was very brief, consisting of a couple of circles in front of the nest, then a dash to a nearby tree to the southwest. She was said to have crashed rather audibly into the upper branches, as if unable to purchase a grip, then dropped rapidly straight down, not to be seen again. Mary Lou and I did not see the event, having gotten to the site at about 8:00 AM, so we reconstructed it from the descriptions of eye witnesses who had arrived before sunrise to stand watch at the nest.

You know it’s a slow birding day when…

Great Egret 3-20090402Anywhere I have lived, there seem to be two lulls in the birding year. One is after nesting season, when the songbirds molt and tend to hide away, before the excitement of fall migration. The other happens around the official beginning of spring. Some of the winter visitors have departed, yet their places have not been filled by new arrivals. This morning was a good illustration. As I walked our local patch, it was nice to hear the cardinals and yellowthroats singing. A few Palm Warblers lingered, most of them of the brighter eastern subspecies.

Sibling Rivalry

#6 Hope Attacks 20090329There was an interesting interaction between the two eaglets this morning. Hope turned 10 weeks old today. Justice is 5 days younger, but appears disproportionately smaller. Hope appeared to wear herself out by flapping and jumping high into the air. Once, she climbed about 3 feet out on one of the branches that support the right side of the nest. This seemed to tire her out, as she settled down out of sight. Justice, as usual, "hunkered down" while the older chick was jumping and flapping all over the nest. Earlier, we have even seen him passively tolerate being stepped on by his big sister. Now, as soon as Hope started snoozing, Justice decided it was his turn to exercise.

A Two Moccasin Saturday

Cottonmouth 20090328This morning was overcast, breezy and pleasant. About a month ago a Black-bellied Whistling-Duck flew noisily right over my head while walking the Harbor Lakes portion of the West Miramar Environmentally Sensitive Area that I call my birding "patch." This Mexican species has spread to areas just north of Broward County (see my photo of one in western Palm County), but I was not aware of any local sightings. I believe these ducks usually are seen in flocks, so I wondered if it might be an escaped or feral specimen that are known to be seen occasionally in southernmost Florida. I returned to the area frequently, hoping to find the bird and see if there might be a flock in the area. I have not been able to find any others, but this past week did find a dozen Black-necked Stilts (they flew away before I could photograph them), and today a pair of Blue-winged Teal that also departed before I could get very close.

Watching Eagle Size and Behavior

Male Adult Head 20090325We are pretty sure that we can tell the two Bald Eagle chicks apart. The first egg was laid on December 13 and it hatched on January 17th. The second hatched about 5 days later. Early on, there was a great size difference between the two chicks. For the first three weeks they both sported coats of whitish down. Gradually the down was replaced by black feathers, The younger chick was only a day or two behind its nest-mate in losing the last bit of down, which clung to its head like a white fur skullcap. Now that both chicks have names and are aver 9 weeks old, the size discrepancy remains. Hope, the older one, also is much more active and aggressive. When a parent brings food, Hope eats first, while Justice usually sits passively on the far side of the nest. After several minutes, he will move toward the adult and beg to be fed. A couple of times his begging appeared to be ignored, while the adult actually fed on the last of a white bird (ibis or egret) that it brought in.

Eaglets Now Nine Weeks Old

SunriseMy weekend leisure time was divided between walking our local birding "patch" and observing the local Bald Eagle nest. After one of the driest winters in history, the rains finally arrived. Sunrise earlier in the week revealed a cloud bank hovering over the coastline, which later worked its way inland, and a cool front set off drenching rain each afternoon. We were up early Saturday and, before the rains came again, took our "power walk" up the unpaved road that leads to the "patch," I brought my camera, and after walking about a mile and a half I could not resist the urge to use it. Mary Lou stayed aerobic and walked home, while I took in the beauty hidden in an impoundment in the northeast portion of the West Miramr Environmentally Sensitive Area. 

Eagle Science and Middle School Students

Sepia 20090318As Bald Eagles adapt to the proximity of humans and their activities, what are the limits of their tolerance to disturbance? Certainly (we assume), there must be a limit, an end point at which they will completely avoid us. Walk up to an eagle in the wild, and when we get within a certain distance, it will first show signs of discomfort or anxiety that we might detect. Its eyebrows cannot wrinkle into "worry lines," because the bony structures of its skull give the eagle a permanent fierce frown. It may exhibit other signs of intolerance-- first by staring at us intently, then shifting its posture in preparation for flight, and perhaps by vocalizing, or even defecating to make itself lighter. Then it will fly from its perch, removing itself from the perceived threat. We could measure these behaviors in large numbers of rural and urban eagles, and perhaps note a difference between their reactions at various distances from the intruder.

Beauty Despite the Doldrums

Zebra Heliconian 20090316Fish were concentrated in the ditch that runs along the path, but I was surprised to find no long-legged wading birds feasting on them. Nor did I see the usual alligators and Cottonmouth Water Moccasins, as much as I tried. Though I have found Bobcats and Raccoons there in the past, none were to be found. Except for a few Common Yellowthroats, no warblers were around. Even the omnipresent winter Palm Warblers seemed to have flown north.In fact, this entire area of recovering Everglades seemed relatively devoid of birds. We are now stuck between the seasons, missing some of our winter visitors, and awaiting the flush of northbound migrants. My obvious alternative was to find beauty in the commonplace. 

Needed: More Eyes on the Eagles

Adult Balancing 20090317The eaglets are approaching a particularly dangerous time in their life cycle, as they exercise their wings and even attempt to briefly lift up into the air. Until they capable of free flight, they are at risk of losing their balance and falling to the ground. Their parents cannot fly through the trees to feed them, and even if they survive the fall, they face almost certain death from the foxes, bobcats and raccoons that congregate under the nest tree every night to find food scraps. For the welfare of the eagle chicks, it will be important to haveinformed eagle watchers present as much of the time as possible.

Meet Hope and Justice!

Chicks Calling 20090313Most of you know that we have asked the public to participate in selecting the names for the two Pembroke Pines eaglets, from a list prepared by students at Silver Trail Middle School. The results are in! The polls just closed, and the two most popular names were HOPE and JUSTICE. Commonly, there is one male and one female chick. Since females are usually larger, we will arbitrarily call the older and noticeably larger one "Hope," and her smaller sibling, "Justice." At about 8 weeks of age, both chicks are nearly as large as their parents.

No Parking in Front of Eagle Nest

Adult Head Detail 20090312The Florida Department of Transportation put these signs up yesterday, prohibiting parking on the entire south side of the block in front of the eagle nest. At this point, observers are still permitted, and signs ask folks not to approach any closer to the nest. Visitors can either park on the souths side of Pines Boulevard, east of 208th Avenue or west of 209th. Alternatively, there is parking on the shoulder of the north side of Pines Boulevard, across the street from the nest. Please do not park on the pavement or in the turning lanes. Use caution in crossing the street and control children. The signs face out towards the street, so many people do not even notice them. We suggest that additional signs should face the oncoming traffic.

Eagle Nest Site Receives More Protection

Eagle Fence Extension 20090310This morning, a work crew extended a temporary orange plastic barrier fence to the east and west from the chain link fence along the north boundary of the 20 acre woodland that holds the Bald Eagle nest. They continued around both corners, southward. The eastern side now is completely closed off. The westward section closes off an area that had been used by trespassers to access the nest site. This fence then continues to the south into the area of dead melaleuca trees where the eagles like to roost, discouraging foot traffic by trespassers who want to get closer for a photo. Two prominent signs, in Spanish and English, were placed at the viewing area. They do not prohibit parking, but advise observers not to enter the area in front of the nest that is marked off by traffic cones.

Chow Time For Eagle Chicks

Older Chick Begging 20090308We arrived at the nest at about 8:45 EDT, and found three other photographers and observers already there. The said the chicks had been fed at about 8:00 AM. We waited until 10:30, when one adult flew in from the rear of the nest unnoticed by the 12 or so people that were watching at the time. The adult proceeded to feed the fish to the young birds. The older eaglet, who was seven weeks old this weekend, ate first. At first, the smaller one looked on, but after its sibling had eaten several large chunks, the adult began feeding it.

Eagles, Warblers and Butterflies

Gulf Fritillary Underwing View 20090307Yesterday evening, Lynda White, EagleWatch Coordinator for Audubon of Florida, accompanied by "Paige," a 14 year old non-releasable Bald Eagle, completed a round of appearances in Broward County with a presentation at Silver Trail Middle School in Pembroke Pines. In her beautifully-illustrated talk before a large audience, Lynda reviewed the natural history of the Bald Eagle, and provided many interesting anecdotes about its life cycle. Following her presentation, members of the audience gathered around to photograph Paige and exchange eagle stories.

This Friday: Florida Audubon Presentation on Florida’s Eagles

Two Chicks 20090304Plan to attend the free presentation by Lynda White, EagleWatch Coordinator for Audubon of Florida, at 6:30 - 8:30 PM this Friday, March 6, at Silver Trail Middle School in Pembroke Pines. Lynda will be accompanied by a "Paige" an adult Bald Eagle. She will speak about eagles in Florida and the Pembroke Pines Bald Eagle nest. The program will be held in the cafetorium of the Middle School, which is located at the SE corner of NW 184th Avenue and Sheridan (18300 Sheridan Street).Refreshments will be served. Be sure to bring your children and a camera-- Paige likes to have her picture taken!

Both Eagle Chicks Faring Well

Eagle Head 20090302This afternoon, one of the adults carried in a White Ibis and simply threw it into the nest with the two chicks. It watched for a while, then set out tearing at the flesh and feeding the young. Note white feathers from the ibis stuck on the adult's face. The younger and smaller eaglet is on the right. It appeared quite vigorous. While the adult was still feeding the eaglets, the second adult flew in with a large fish. It appeared a bit hostile at first, as if wanting the job to itself. Then both adults resumed feeding the chicks.

Observations By Volunteer Eagle Nest Watchers

Eagle Wings 20090118One parent was roosting on the melaleucas to the west when I got there. There were about 15 people at that end, and another 20 or so at the nest site. All were enthusiastic and well-behaved. No one walked inside the pylons, and no one brought pets. The adult then flew away to the south, and only about 5 or 10 minutes later (about 1:30 PM) an adult came in with prey. It looked like a long thin creature-- I thought too fat for a snake, and too skinny and long to be a tilapia. Some said it was a snake and others thought maybe an iguana. It was probably too long to be one of the sirens that the herons like to catch. The adult seemed to just drop it into the nest, and the chicks were not visible as (if) they fed. then a little later it reached down into the nest.. The smaller chick was still on the left side, behind the adult. The adult flew off after about 20 minutes. Both chicks then popped up and the larger one did a lot of wing flapping.

Twenty-Something Questions About Bald Eagles,

Eagle Flying 20090203While standing watch at our local Bald Eagle nest in South Florida, visitors offer many questions. Thrilled to see the two adults and their two chicks at such close range, their curiosity is aroused and they ply me and other eagle watchers with questionos. Since there is a steady turnover of visitors, the same questions get asked over and over again. My attempt to limit them to a "top 20" list did not succeed, even when I combined several of the questions. Readers may contact me with more questions, which I will try to answer.

Eagle Nest Territory Now Officially “Off Limits”

Male Takes Flight 20090226Yesterday, many eagle watchers were alarmed because they only saw one eagle in the area all day, from 8:30 AM (when they were fed and it was possible that a second adult brought in the food), until late afternoon. A reporter form NBC Channel 6 appeared on scene in the early afternoon, and several people expressed their concerns about the "missing" adult, fearing it had been injured or killed. I told the reporter that it was too early to jump to such a conclusion, as the eaglets are fed much less frequently, now that they can gobble down very large chunks of prey. On the early evening news, the reporter voiced these concerns anyway. Then the second adult showed up and brought in prey at about 5:30 PM. I notified him and, to his credit, he clarified this in the late news show.

Painted Bunting: a favorite bird

Male Painted Bunting 20090225The Painted Bunting is one of the most beautiful of our North American land birds. The female is a splendid green, matched only by some parrots and the Green Jay-- except for splashes of green on some other birds, such as ducks, I can't think of any others so colored. The male is 'painted" surrealistically in bright red, blue and green. It was one of Mary Lou's most sought-after birds. She finally got a brief look at one in Corkscrew Swamp this year. This past Tuesday, we took a break from watching our local Bald Eagle Nest and spent all day birding wetlands in western Palm County. We had four "target" birds that we had seen previously, but really wanted to get better looks and perhaps photograph them: Snail Kite, Limpkin, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, and Painted Bunting.

Pembroke Pines Eagles Attract Attention

Eagle Carrying Grass 20090219Quite a few people are stopping by to look at the Bald Eagle nest and its occupants. Visitors are asked to park in the grass, several feet away from the pavement of busy Pines Boulevard. The eagles seem to be more tolerant of vehicles than humans, so observers should avoid walking towards the nest. Since the eagles can be disturbed by excessive motion, eagle watchers should observe quietly and not permit children to run about. The oldest of the two chicks (on the left in the above photo) was hatched on January 17th, making it 34 days old today.

This morning on our Florida Patch

Doe 20090216This morning was a cool 72 degrees and foggy. I set out at 7:00 am on my walk through my local "patch" of recovering Everglades. Pressed for time, I forgot my binoculars and walked pretty rapidly. A Catbird peeked out through the brush in typical fashion. After the fog lifted a brisk breeze from the northwest felt mighty chilly. It began to look like rain, so I picked up the pace. I almost overran a doe that was hiding in the high grasses just off the trail. By the time I was a mile out I really feared getting drenched, so I hurried back, not even noticing a Belted Kingfisher perched low near the edge of the canal, only about 20 feet away. Luckily, it roosted again 50 feet down the path, and I cautiously approached within about 205 feet to get this shot.

Eagles Bring Green Leaves to Nest

Eagle Carries Twig 20090113One of the adult eagles displayed an interesting behavior this morning. It swooped down over a nearby pasture and came up with some vine-like greenery, which it brought to the nest and apparently left there. I had witnessed this once before, and other eagle watchers mentioned seeing the same thing happen. Then, after the eaglets had been fed, the adult that had been brooding them flew to and Australian Pine, one of the favored roost trees, and cleaned its bill. Then, it tore off a small twig and returned to the nest, presumably with the twig, then immediately left. I did not witness that the twig (or, earlier, the vine) was actually deposited on the nest.

Eagle Nest Update

Eaglet 6-20090209There has been ongoing concern about installation, by the County School Board, of traffic signal lights that would involve excavation and construction within 200 feet of the nest, which now contains two chicks. Today, we received good news from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) that agreement has been reached with the School Board to delay construction activity near the nest. Work within 330 feet of the nest tree will be postponed until the eagle chicks have fledged, which should be some time in April.

A Wintry Week in Florida

Eagle Roosting 20090207Our local Bald Eagles seemed not to mind the cold. The chick(s) are three weeks old this weekend. Planned construction of a nearby traffic signal, which will entail excavation only about 200 feet from the nest, has not yet started. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has provided consultation to the contractor in an effort to minimize disturbance and possible nest abandonment, in the event that the Broward County School Board decides to proceed with the construction before the eaglets leave the nest. Since the Bald Eagles have been removed from the Endangered Species List, they are protected by State and Federal guidelines that recommend no unusual disturbance within 330 feet of an occupied nest. These guidelines do not have the force of law, and penalties occur only in the event that the eagles are "taken" (which means it must be proven that the construction caused them to be killed, injured, or abandon the nest).   

Sandia Crest Rosy-Finch Update

Black Rosy-Finch (Leucosticte atrata)Flocks of up to over 100 rosy-finches of all three species are visiting Sandia Crest, New Mexico. Keep an eye on the weather and road conditions before setting out on the 13 mile climb to the top. Transmitters have been placed on some birds. Check out the links in for more information.

Eagle Chick Eleven Days Old

Flamingo Gardens 3-20090126On January 26, I accompanied a group of 7th grade science students on a field trip to Flamingo Gardens, a private arboretum, preserve and wildlife rehabilitation facility in Davie, Florida. These students are studying the effects of traffic on the behaviour of the Bald Eagles nesting only about 200 feet from a busy boulevard. They designed forms, upon which they record traffic density and check off the various actions of the birds, whether one or both of the adults are present at the nest, their vocalizations, and any indications of nervousness or avoidance.

Orange Flags and an Eagle Nest
Bald Eagle 20090121I have spent a frustrating, but educational, couple of days, learning about how poorly various levels of government communicate with each other.For those who don't know, we have a Bald Eagle nest in our neighborhood, only about 215 feet from the edge of a busy boulevard. They are the first pair known to have established an active nest in Broward County since DDT was abolished in the 1970s. A row of orange utility markers signal that construction is soon to take place, only 200 feet from the nest of a Bald Eagle nest containing a newly hatched chick.

Bald Eaglets Have Hatched!

Eagle 3-20090118We visited our local Bald Eagle nest this morning. Since the first egg was laid on or about December 13, 2008, we expected it to hatch on or about yesterday, January 17, 2009. Signs that an egg has hatched might include any change in behavior. Also, after an eaglet hatches, the incubating adult must continue to incubate any remaining egg(s), while sheltering the new arrival, and do this without crushing or smothering the helpless baby. Therefore, the parent will tend to stand a bit higher in the nest.

No Need To Stray Far From Home

Prairie Warbler 20090109If you have been following my journals, you know that I do most of my birding locally. Although field trips and seeing new and exotic species is enjoyable, I have discovered that covering the West Miramar ESL (Environmentally Sensitive Land) has its own rewards. This local patch of recovering Everglades is within easy walking distance from our home, and almost every visit provides a humble surprise. This morning dawned cool and windless, promising ideal photography, if I could find suitable subjects. Sure enough, after walking the quarter mile on the gravel road, we turned into the first wooded area. To our surprise, a beautiful Blue-headed Vireo flew right up to a tree right in front of us. It disappeared almost as quickly, and I only had time to click the shutter three times. The third view was a "butt shot" as it made its exit.

Hugh Taylor Birch State Park

Green Heron In Cocoplum CroppedYesterday morning, I saw a Bobcat again, at nearly the same spot as the smaller one that I photographed the day before yesterday. I had been on a side trail, photographing gnatcatchers and walked back to the main trail. The cat was staring at me intently, and when I reached for my camera it was gone in a flash. Its bulk was about twice that of a tomcat, with longer legs. I believe it had been stalking a Common Ground-Dove, which was frozen in one spot for several seconds, only about 10 feet from where the Bobcat stood . On Sunday morning, we briefly visited Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, next to the beach in Fort Lauderdale. Despite its urban location, it is a remarkably quiet oasis of dry hammocks, mangrove thickets and lagoons.

Another Bobcat!

Bobcat 20090102This morning, we had chores to do, and I did not start my visit to our local birding "patch" until about 10:00 AM. It was not very birdy, but just about 200 yards into the path along the 198th Avenue Canal, I looked back and saw what looked like a scrawny little feral house cat. Only two days ago I had seen a much larger cat, about a half mile from that spot, and it turned out to be a Bobcat. Looking through my 10x binoculars, I could hardly make out any details, but I took three photos anyway. About 5 minutes later, the cat crossed the the road, a bit nearer. I did not bother to use the binoculars, but quickly took one more photo. Only after looking at the photos at home did I identify it as another Bobcat.

Waterthrush, Moccasins and a Bobcat

Northern Waterthrush Edited 20081229At 7:30 this morning it was clear and there was no wind, so I slathered on the sunscreen and DEET in hopes of getting some good photos. My destination was my local birding "patch," that begins on a gravel road only a block from our South Florida home, and ends about a mile into the West Miramar Environmentally Sensitive Land (ESL), a tract of recovering Everglades, formerly grazing land, that our developer had to set aside to mitigate the effects of draining and filling our subdivision. My main objective was to photograph a Grasshopper Sparrow, as I have seen three so far this month, but none provided me with a a decent photo op.

Let It Snow!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! If you live in New Mexico, or have been following the links to correspondence and live Web camera views on, you are well aware that the Sandia Mountains have received significant snowfall. The sun is expected to return over the weekend, and the lower elevations should dry out pretty quickly. The road up to Sandia Crest, though plowed, has been hazardous with icy patches and drifts of blowing snow, so please check the links to weather and road conditions and drive carefully. Good flocks of all three rosy-finch species (including both the interior and coastal races of the White-crowned) have been visiting Sandia Crest since mid- November, and there has not been a single day when observers recorded a failure to see the species at the Crest House feeders.

Watching Bird and Spider Behavior

Our neighborhood birding "patch" underwent quite a transformation overnight. It seems that one or more plant species have released innumerable wind-borne seeds. The air was full of them, and the ground was evenly covered with white fluff, which drifted like snow and coated the surface of the water in the borrow ditch that runs along the path. I found an oddly shaped and colorful little Spiny Orb Weaver spider (Gasteracantha cancriformis). It was fighting a losing battle with the seeds. Its web was loaded with them, and it worked feverishly to remove them. The spider would gather three or four seeds at a time, roll them into a loose ball, and then cut them free, to drift away with the wind. In the meantime it appeared to be repairing the holes thus created in its orb web. However, new seeds were sticking in its web much faster than the spider could remove them.

Seeking the Painted Bunting

One bird that has eluded Mary Lou has been the Painted Bunting. It is almost in the class of the Elegant Trogan, the bird that got her started in birding. We seemed to always just miss the bunting-- not only in Florida, but several times in New Jersey, Georgia and New Orleans. Although we have had goldfinches at our backyard feeder, we never attracted a Painted Bunting, probably because our property is land newly "reclaimed" (I hate that term-- ""robbed" or "stolen" is more apt) from the Everglades, covered with lawns, concrete and exotic plantings. We knew the bunting hung out at Corkscrew Swamp most of the winter, and we traveled there several times, but always with non-birding friends and relatives. We would wait at the feeders and grow ever more conscious of their impatience and of our obligation to walk the boardwalk and see the the bigger furry and feathery attractions with them.

Bird Band Cryptogram

While eating some humble pie, I made the recommendation that photographers should either shoot from the comfort of the picture windows of the Crest House, or, if they wished to brave the elements, position themselves in the vicinity of the lower feeder. There, they have an unlimited choice of sun exposure and also a few trees to provide natural perches for their subjects. Ah, but now the Good! Even before the banders started their operations this weekend, a photographer "recaptured" a Black Rosy-Finch that had been banded at Sandia Crest a little over three years ago. Ed Ruden carefully cropped and enlarged the band on one of the birds he had photographed, and reconstructed the band number. Here is the sequence of photos that he used, and the graphic he produced, a replica of the band placed on the bird by the Rio Grande Bird Research team on November 27, 2005.

Thanksgiving Weekend Palette

Friends, family and food occupied much of our time this long weekend. I did get out, briefly, to our local patch of recovering Everglades and was able to capture a couple of studies in black, gray and white. With our non-birding guests, we visited Butterfly World, in Coral Springs. It is quite a remarkable place, featuring not only butterflies from around the world, but also live demonstrations of their life cycles, and aviaries with exotic birds.

Tilapia for Dinner

We are back in Florida after an enjoyable, but all too brief, visit with our Texas grandchildren and the New Mexico rosy-finches. This Wood Stork was resting on our back lawn. This evening I was BBQ-ing a chicken on our back patio. I noticed that a Snowy Egret was foraging the lake's edge, working its way nearer to our property. I quickly retrieved the camera and waited until it was about 30 feet away. As I was photographing it, it caught a good sized tilapia. I was amazed at how the bird's gape stretched to accomodate the fish, which kept wagging its body vigorously

Rosy Finchophilia

I'm a firm believer in the value of attaining my RDA, BirdChaser’s "Recommended Daily Allowance" of 20 bird species. Even though we spend most of the year on a lake in South Florida, it sometimes takes some effort to see 20 species on our usual 2-3 mile morning walk around our subdivision. As winter approaches, even exceeding my bird RDA does not seem enough to restore my balance with nature. Now into the second third of my eighth decade of life, I am aware that a peculiar affliction has taken its hold on me. My condition was diagnosed almost 10 years ago, not by a medical doctor, but by Hart Schwarz, a respected US Forest Service biologist. For this ailment, there is temporary relief, but no cure. "Finchophilia," he proclaimed in a note to the birding community.

Mountain Bluebirds at Buffalo Lake

We flew out to visit our son and his wife and five children in the Texas Panhandle. Our grandchildren wanted to visit Buffalo Lake National Wildlife Refuge, located south of Amarillo, in Canyon, Texas. The refuge held some surprises today. Over the past 15 years, we have visited Buffalo Lake many times, but this was the first time we saw Mountain Bluebirds. A flock of about a dozen of these beautiful birds entertained us. As usual, we saw many deer, but we also saw two other furry and spiny creatures.

Rosy-Finches Have Arrived!

The flag is waving! Today we received the first report of rosy-finch sightings at Sandia Crest! Bob and Ima Hafernik of San Antonio, TX, called to say that they had confirmed sightings at the Crest House deck feeder of 6 Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches this morning from about 10AM til a bit before noon. Dave Weaver and Fran Lusso, coordinators of the feeding project, are visiting the Crest House this afternoon and will provide a follow-up report. Dave said that as far as he now knows, theirs is the first sighting for this season, although Lisa at the lunch counter told them she may have seen "one or two" yesterday. Thanks for the prompt report, Bob and Ima!!

Walking the West Miramar ESL

After some early morning fog, the skies turned blue and temperatures warmed up to the high 70s. Conditions were perfect for a walk in our local birding "patch," known as the West Miramar Environmentally Sensitive "Area" (ESA) or "Land" (ESL), depending upon whom you ask. Many Palm Warblers had arrived since last week. Common Yellowthroats and Prairie Warblers were also quite numerous. There were huge numbers of Zebra Longwing and Julia butterflies. They actually were quite a distraction!

Halloween Morning Walk

Yesterday morning there were quite a few birds on our small Florida lake. Wood Storks were back. This was one of three that walked the edges of the lake, stirring the water with its "bubble-gum pink" foot, to frighten small fish into its open bill. A large tern flew right by the patio. Its long bright red bill indicated it was a Caspian Tern. A Great Blue Heron rested on the back of one of the Canada Goose decoys that serve as floats for the intake of our neighbor's lawn irrigation system.

Anticipating Arrival of Rosy-Finches

Keep watching for this flag to start waving when the Rosy-Finches arrive at the feeders of the Crest House, in the Sandia Mountains just east of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Plan to combine your visit with a stop at Bosque del Apache NWR, site of the Festival of the Cranes November 18-23-- flocks of all three species of Rosies should be at Sandia Crest by then!

BIRDWATCHER – The Life of Roger Tory Peterson

Based upon interviews with hundreds of Roger Tory Peterson’s family, friends and associates, and supported by pertinent excerpts of his and others’ writings, Elizabeth J. Rosenthal chose an interesting approach to his biography. The result is a balanced and highly readable history of Roger’s central role in building the hobby, sport and science of birding into an essential part of the environmental movement.

He Went That-Away

Only this spring I purchased a long lens, an image-stabilized 300mm with 1.2x extender, coupled with an older Canon Rebel body. As I work through the learning curve, results are a little better, if the birds cooperate. If I anticipate photographing birds in flight, I pre-set to the landscape mode, to provide greater depth of field. Otherwise, I use a custom setting with a single central sensor. The trouble is, I seem never to have the camera properly set when there is a photo opportunity. This results in a lot of fumbling and delay. I also find myself reaching for the camera before using binoculars to identify a fleeting bird, hoping that my image will serve to pin it down.

Help Support Rosy-Finch Research

Readers of our Web suite know that the rosy-finch banding at Sandia Crest House is conducted by Rio Grande Bird Research, Inc. If you, as I, missed attending their Sandia Rosy-Finch Sponsorship Challenge "Meet the Banders" kick-off event in Albuquerque this past week, you still have the opportunity to contribute to an exciting new research project. Nancy and Steve Cox of RGB Research describe Sandia Crest as the premier location in the world to view all three species of Rosy-Finch. "It’s also the best and most important place on earth to research these birds in their winter habitat. That’s where the Rosy-Finch Banding Research Team comes in. Their work could uncover secrets of Rosy-Finch roosting habits and help bird lovers make sure these beautiful creatures are still around to delight our grandchildren."

Sedge Wren Saturday at Nelson Lake

Kane County Audubon conducted its monthly "first Saturday" morning bird walk at Dick Young/Nelson Lake Forest Preserve in Batavia, Illinois. Over the course of our pleasant four hour three mile trek around the lake, temperatures warmed from the high 30s into the high 50s. The walk produced the first Fox Sparrow and Dark-eyed Juncos of the season, though I (and some of the others who were not up with the pack leaders) must admit I missed seeing both. Somewhat unusual, an Osprey hovered over the lake. I will be seeing many more next week, when we return to Florida for the winter.

Batavia Backyard Photos

Goldfinches nest later in the season than most birds. They make use of plant down, most notably from thistles and milkweed, to construct their nests. They are also one of the few perching birds to subsist nearly entirely upon seeds. They lay their eggs when both resources are abundant. In New Mexico, I saw a Lesser Goldfinch feeding fledglings during the first week of September. The American Goldfinch nests in late June and July.

Zoo Faces

Our son and three of our five Texas Panhandle grandchildren took their first airplane ride together, leaving their Mom and two smaller sisters at home. A stretch limousine met them at the airport. During their week-long stay with us they got to know their two Illinois cousins, rode horses, trains and a boat, and visited the Navy Pier, Sears Tower, Shedd Aquarium and Brookfield Zoo, where they saw some interesting faces. Our eldest grandchild, from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, is serving in the US Army in Iraq, and he was in our thoughts and prayers.

Roger Tory Peterson Centennial

Our son expressed some concern to me about the age of one of the Presidential candidates: "He's too old-- he'll never last out his term." He didn't realize that I shared my birthday with two younger men whose names were familiar: infamous singer Michael Jackson and famous Senator John McCain! The day before my birthday marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Roger Tory Peterson, the great naturalist, artist and environmental advocate who, in 1934, wrote the landmark Field Guide to the Birds. My first Roger Tory Peterson Field Guide to the Birds was a gift from my mother, who bought it second hand for $2.75 Just a half inch thick and measuring around 1944 when I already had an avid interest in birds. I covered it carefully with brown paper and later oilcloth. It got lots of wear.

Hurri-Cane Toad

After being threatened and missed by Hurricane Gustavo and then Tropical Storm Hanna, we now have Category 4 Ike bearing down on South Florida. While inspecting and adding extra anchors to the hurricane shutters, I stirred up a Cane Toad. These toads, native to South America, can grow to over 12 inches long and weigh over 5 pounds, but this one was only about half that size. They get their name from a failed experiment. During the 1930s and 40s they were introduced into Australia and many other islands in the Pacific and Carribean in the belief that they would control insect pests in the sugar cane fields. Instead, with no natural enemies, they flourished and displaced and preyed upon native amphibians. Worse, they are extremely poisonous and caused death to predators and pets. Florida's population is traced back to an accidental release of 100 in a pet (!!?) shipment at Miami Airport in 1955.

We knew we were back in Florida when...
We knew we were back in Florida when...our arriving flight suddenly entered a thunderstorm and had to abort a landing just short of touchdown due to wind shear. To boot, its second attempt was thwarted on final approach, when the runways switched directions...our first chore at home was to open the hurricane shutters and put out BBQ and deck furniture...I found this Cuban Treefrog hiding behind the shutters...a Tricolored Heron foraged along the newly-submerged edge of our lawn...these nine ducklings greeted us...after a wild sky at sunset, squalls from Hurricane Gustav's feeder bands awakened us this morning...

Ryan Beaulieu Memorial Youth Scholarship
This week marks the third anniversary of the death of Ryan Beaulieu, the young New Mexico birder and rosy-finch researcher. His family and friends have established a scholarship in his honor, administered by the Central New Mexico Audubon Society. Cole Wolf, another expert young bird researcher, artist, and one of Ryan’s close friends, was awarded the 2008 Ryan Beaulieu Memorial Youth scholarship. The following is Cole’s report on his experience at the Maine Audubon Youth Birding Camp...

Dog Day Summer Morning at Nelson Lake
After three weeks in Illinois, I finally shook off what had been ailing me and we visited Dick Young/Nelson Lake Forest Preserve in Batavia. Since the thistle was starting to go to seed, I hoped to capture images of American Goldfinches perched on the flowers and fluffy seed heads, but was disappointed. Only a handful of goldfinches were seen, usually flying over or perched on tree limbs. Nearly all seemed to be males in bright plumage. Were the females now incubating? The birds depend upon thistle for nesting material and food for their young. Being new to Chicagoland, I do not know whether the birds are nesting on schedule, or whether thistle might be maturing a bit late and thus delaying the nesting cycle. In New Mexico, the Lesser Goldfinch often nested quite late-- I once saw one feeding nestlings about a week into September.

Grandchildren Explore Hawks Bluff Park
Weather has turned cooler, and I am getting my walking legs back. We visited Hawks Bluff Park in Batavia, Illinois, only a few doors away from our daughter's family home. The only singing birds were a couple of Indigo Buntings, some Song and Field Sparrows, a Northern Cardinal, and an Eastern Wood Pewee. The Cooper's Hawk family was much in evidence, helping to keep avian photo opportunities to a minimum during these Dog Days of summer. Our granddaughters are part of the "No Child Left Inside" movement, and the new park is a wonderful addition to their neighborhood.

Browsing a Virtual Birding Library

Forced leisure has induced me to revisit some great birding literature on the Web. Here are a few samples: One of my favorite places to browse also has some of the oldest content. LIFE HISTORIES OF FAMILIAR NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS This electronic book collection of Arthur Cleveland Bent's species biographies is selected from the hundreds that are part of a twenty-one volume series published between 1919 and 1968 by the United States Government Printing Office. I have reprints of over a dozen volumes on my bookshelf at home and really enjoy Bent's meticulous attention to detail. Sure, it is low-tech and so much more has been learned about birds in the meantime, but reading the prose is pure pleasure. The site contains a species index and an excellent search feature.

La Luz Trail
We walked up Las Luz on a delightful late spring morning. Happily, by then I had the benefit of having beefed up my quads on several earlier hikes with the group. There were about ten of us on the climb, about equally divided between men and women. It took us about four hours to the Crest, which averages less than two miles an hour, but the grade is 12% to that point. It was actually not as difficult as I had feared, but I thought about that last downhill hike. Our leader, who was a man in his early 80s, then asked who wanted to rest a while and then turn around and walk back. One woman, in her seventies, and all the other men said they did. I said, "I think I'll take the tram with the other ladies." We walked another half hour to reach the restaurant at the top of the Sandia Peak tram, had lunch, and rode down. With great foresight, I had left my car at the base parking lot.

Muscovy Survival
After two seasons that were marked by die-offs, territorial squabbling and infanticide that resulted in greatly reduced numbers of Muscovy Ducks on our lake, it appears that we are now witnessing a population boom. The drakes seem to have settled down and accepted a certain pecking order and rights over specific land areas and hens. The drakes have not shown any more unusual aggression towards the ducklings.

Ibis Parade

At once grotesque and stunningly beautiful, the ibis was venerated by the ancient Egyptians because of its association with the Nile River, the source and protector of life. A hieroglyph in the form of an ibis represented Thoth, one of the most important gods, mediator of good and evil, creator of the 365 day calendar and inventor of the hieroglyph method of writing. Florida folklore regards the ibis (mascot of the University of Miami)  as a bit more humble a hero, the last creature to take shelter before a hurricane and the first to reappear afterward. 

A Playful Shrike
Between rain showers, I noted a Loggerhead Shrike on the back patio, hopping along and carrying a dead leaf from one of our Travelers Palms. It almost seemed to be playing with it, as it positioned it like a flag and carried it about for several minutes. Since the behaviors of wild creatures usually carry some survival value, I observed the shrike more closely to see if there was some purpose. I photographed it through the patio windows, so the quality of the shots is sub-par.

FLASH: Wildlife Have Disappeared from ANWR
The Fox News story is sad indeed, as one of our own elected representatives plans to make a visit to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) this weekend, as he is skeptical that any wildlife even live in that "barren" land. House Minoriy Leader John Boehner explains the reason for his visit: "But I understand there's none there. But I'm still going to look for it. If I find any, I'll let you know."

Fall Migration– Already!
Even before the short New Mexico summer relinquishes its hold, we welcome the first signs of autumn. Around July 4th, adult male Rufous Hummingbirds arrive at our feeders, and descend into Albuquerque during the next week . The females, abandoned by their mates, are still busy tending to their nestlings up in the far Northwest. Usually, we hear the little “Rufies” before we even see them. Unlike the cheerful cricket-like chirp created by the wings of resident Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, the sound of Rufous wings suggests a monstrous, angry bumblebee.The aggressive behavior of these little golden brown visitors matches the intrusive buzz of their wings. No hummer of any species who dares feed within its sight is safe from attack.

Fire Restrictions Lifted

Trails are open! Cibola National Forest officials will end Fire Restrictions for the Sandia, Mountainair, Magdalena and Mt. Taylor Ranger Districts effective Friday, July 11th at 8 a.m. Fire danger has decreased due to moisture and higher humidity over much of the Forest. Although restrictions are lifted, visitors are reminded to be careful with their campfires and/or the use of chainsaws.

Florida Lawn Ornaments
As you can tell from today’s photos, we are back in South Florida after a fun month in Illinois. A Bald Eagle flew low over our patio this morning, but was gone before I could retrieve my camera.  Happily, our lake has risen several inches, covering the shoals that had been exposed. Higher water levels are a safeguard against intrusion of salt water into the aquifer. Before we left Florida early last month, we discovered the likely nesting sites of the Least Terns that had been courting and fishing on our lake. It appears to be the flat roof of an elementary school a few blocks to our northeast. We saw at least two pairs hovering over the school and calling loudly. Today we saw a youngster following after its parent, begging for a fish.

Nature Discovery at Spring Bluff Nursery
Our granddaughter attended a nature discovery program at Spring Bluff Nursery, Sugar Grove, IL. We accompanied her there today. Of course, the flowers were beautiful. The Blanketflowers reminded us of New Mexico, where they sometimes covered the fields: The children were shown a Hyalophora cecropia (Cecropia Moth) that had just emerged from its cocoon. The Cecropia is also known as the Robin Moth because of its red body and large size. With a wingspan of 5 to 6 inches, it is said to be the largest North American moth.

Summer at Hawk’s Bluff Park, Batavia, IL
Here in Chicagoland, the birds have settled into the nesting season. At Nelson Lake in Batavia, a Sedge Wren, presumably the same one that I photographed a couple of weeks back, has shifted its singing perch from the south to the north side of the grass trail that leads to the east viewing platform. For some reason, a large area has been mowed and a couple dozen trees have been planted right in part of the regenerating prairie! The purpose of adding to the (already expansive) tree cover at the expense of long grass escapes me. At any rate, the bird now has a territory that hopefully will not be disturbed during nesting season. This time I remembered to turn on the image stabilizer on my 300 mm lens, and got a much sharper image.

Bark Beetles, Three-toes and Fire
Earlier this year, New Mexico water managers expected the biggest runoff in nearly thirty years. Yet, this spring brought hot and dry winds that dessicated the forest vegetation. The Manzano Mountains just to the south of the Sandias, suffered a major fire. Dead and dying trees, and the beetles that feed upon them, are also favorable to woodpeckers. American Three-toed Woodpeckers specialize in stripping the bark of weakened trees to get at the plump beetle larvae. Three-toes were absent from the Sandias for over ten years, but a pair appeared near Sandia Crest in 2005. They have been seen intermittently every year and have produced at least one brood. Last week they were reported again by Celestyn Brozek, an expert Albuquerque birder.

Short-billed Marsh Wren
At the edge of Troy Meadows, New Jersey, in 1951, after I had been birding for about three years, I saw my first Sedge Wren. It was the 162nd species on my life list. At that time it was called the "Short-billed Marsh Wren" to distinguish it from Its longer-billed relative, which I had identified as life bird #96 during the previous year. My first "Long-billed Marsh Wren" (now simply called Marsh Wren) was in "The Meadows" along Berry's Creek and the Hackensack River, later to be distinguished as "The Meadowlands," home to the NY Giant's Stadium.

Dicksissels at Dawn and Two Lifers
Walking leisurely and enjoying the wild flowers, we reached the south loop of the trail. Here, the character of the vegetation changed somewhat. It appeared not to have been burnt or mowed as recently as the other fields. Scattered amid the tall grass were scraggled woody shrubs, about 3 or 4 feet high. Henslow's Sparrows are said to favor a certain stage of prairie succession after fire or disturbance, and our hopes rose. Sure enough, we heard the regular, two-note chirping "ch-lip!" of a Henslow's. It was quite loud-- I expected it to be barely audible-- but it was also very difficult to localize. At one point, I thought the bird was in front of me at my feet, and then realized it was behind me!

Nelson Lake Grasshopper Sparrow

We are now back at our second home in Illinois, and this morning had a chance to visit our favorite patch, Nelson Lake/Dick Young Forest Preserve, Kane County, Batavia. We were seeking the Henslow's Sparrow, Dicksissels and Bobolinks that were reported there the day before yesterday, but saw "none of the above." Cool winds and the threat of rain shortened our visit. A Grasshopper Sparrow gave us good views, reminiscent of Mary Lou's 500th life bird described last March in this post. We heard one singing quite close by, but could not find it. Then, one appeared suddenly, on the asphalt track that runs into the Preserve from the northern entrance.

Bald Eagle Nest
Early this past December, I photographed two Bald Eagles courting and copulating at our lake. Within the next 2 weeks they were seen carrying nesting materials to a wooded area near a busy intersection not far away. Despite searching the area, we were not able to find the nest until a neighbor finally located it on April 20. The observer stated: "I didn't want to linger around and draw attention to the nest but I did notice an eagle flying overhead. It was flying high and it appeared mottled like a juvenile. I really hope this property is not slated for development but I suppose it is only a matter of time."

Not a Chameleon
As a kid in the mid-1940s, I was fascinated by the idea of having a "chameleon" as a pet. My desire began when I read an enticing advertisement in a well-worn Johnson Smith Catalog. Among the ads for novelties, magic tricks, fake mustaches, midget Bibles and miracle cures, were those for two exotic pets. The first was for horned toads, "Most interesting pets-- amusement by the hour," for 25 cents each, "By Mail, Postpaid. Safe Live Delivery Guaranteed." According to the ad, "The horned toad can live for a very long time. Just how long, nobody seems to know." The second, for "Chameleons" also 25 cents each, really captured my imagination.

Night Vision
These photos were taken at a wildlife drinker by remote cameras in Coyote Canyon, south of Albuquerque on the west side of the Manzanita Mountains, a testing area for Sandia National Laboratories. They were originally e-mailed by an employee of Sandia Labs, are copyrighted by the owner and reproduced here for educational purposes. Note dates and times of the photos. This one shows not just one, but two mountain lions. My guess is that one of them is a female and the other is her year old cub, as adults avoid each other except, briefly, during the mating season, which is usually in the winter.

Mockingbirds and Muscovies
We arrived home from Illinois to Florida to find that Northern Mockingbirds were rearing three chicks in an ornamental planting just outside our front porch and next to our garage door.

This is the third year that the birds have built a nest in almost the same spot (the small opening at about 9 o’clock in the upper globe of the topiary, with a bit of straw protruding. It wisely faces to the north).

Spring Is So Fleeting
An astronomer defines spring rather precisely. In the Northern Hemisphere, spring begins with the vernal equinox, usually March 21, and ends with the summer solstice, usually June 21. In South Florida, spring, as defined by the appearance of flowers on the trees, starts creeping up around early February, and ends with the rains of June and July. Ask a birder when spring migration begins, and you will get many answers, depending on where the birder lives and her particular interests. In temperate areas, raptors begin arriving in early March. Flocks of swallows may be seen in April. When I visited the Arctic tundra during the first week of June, many shorebirds were just arriving on their nesting grounds. To me, here in Illinois, as in my childhood home of New Jersey, spring means the time of arrival of flocks of warblers.

Key West Migration Radar Sequence
From my perch here in Illinois, I thought I would check out the migration from Cuba, as west to west-southwest winds and clear skies back home in Florida suggested that there might be some action. Lacking David’s technical abilities, the best I could do was to pluck a few radar loops from sunset until bedtime. The one hour Central Time differential allowed me to peer into the early morning hours without disturbing my sleep cycle. These five consecutive loops of about an hour each, were captured at hourly intervals, beginning at about at about 9:00 PM EDT. The midnight loop is repeated with enhanced imagery to show relative headings of the flocks.

Lippold Park Scarlet Tanager
A little ways down the bike trail, at about the same spot where we saw the Cape May Warbler a couple of days ago, we heard the distinctive song of a Scarlet Tanager. To my ear it sounds like a Robin with a sore throat. Since Mary Lou started birding only a few years ago, I have shared most of her new bird sightings. I find this almost as thrilling as when I first saw the same birds, many of them in my childhood. Just as I can remember many of my first sightings, her new "finds" also stand out in my memory.

Cape May Warbler in Lippold Park

The weather forecast was very promising, so Mary Lou and I headed out early to Lippold Park, located on the east bank of the Fox River in Batavia, Illinois. We hoped to see warblers, and we were not disappointed. In addition to those pictured here, other brightly-colored birds we also saw included Chestnut-sided, Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) and Blue-winged Warblers, Yellow Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, Northern Cardinals and Baltimore Orioles. A Cape May Warbler was our most exciting find, as neither of us had ever seen a spring male. Although it is named after a place in New Jersey (where the first specimen was collected), they are actually very rarely seen there. No surprise that I missed seeing one, despite growing up in North Jersey.

Migration in Progress
Once again, the Key West radar shows a nice flight from Cuba. This one-hour loop was downloaded at about 11:30 PM this evening (Monday). In a few days some of these birds may join us in Illinois.

A New Birding Companion

A reunion with 20 members of our Illinois family this past weekend, and preparations for a Cinco de Mayo party that our daughter's family plans to host this coming Sunday have occupied much of our time. Happily, there is a new city park, only four or five doors away from their home in Batavia. It hugs the bank of Mill Creek, just a few hundred yards west of Randall Road, a busy thoroughfare. It opened a few months ago, and is a nice example of the many natural areas that are preserved by local and county governments in Illinois. Some neighbors who enjoyed fishing in Mill Creek feared that the park would disrupt the surrounding woodlands and degrade its waters. Time will tell whether these fears were warranted.

A Dumb Question About Deaf Birds
The natural world is so full of questions. Before I retired, I traveled a great deal and spent lots of time at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. One day I noticed that European Starlings were feeding nestlings, whose heads popped out of nests located in crevices located where the jetways connected to the airport terminal's walls. It seemed odd that the birds were exhibiting normal behavior in such a noise-filled environment. All the humans who worked in that area were wearing hearing protection. Yet these birds, of a species that is particularly vocal, seemed not to be suffering in the least. Surely, their sensitive ears must have been severely damaged by all those decibels.

Rosy-Finches of Sandia Crest
Back on December 7, 1999, Mary Lou and I saw our first rosy-finch up there, in the parking lot of the Crest House at 10,678 feet. Then, they were considered "rare but regular" winter visitors to the Sandia Mountains. We had previously chased after them several times after seeing reports on the Internet, but had not succeeded in finding them until that snowy day. Since they had been attracted by bread crusts thrown away by some workers, we decided to return and scatter seed. It worked, and we kept putting out seed in the parking lot, and the birds have been visiting reliably every day of every winter since then. Usually, all three species and both the Interior and Hepburns race of the Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch have been there together.

Nelson Lake Morning Walk

On our first chance to get out birding since our arrival in Illinois this past weekend, we got out early to Nelson Lake Marsh (Dick Young Forest Preserve) in Batavia, Kane County. We had not been there since last November, when we returned to Florida for the winter. We rolled our socks over our trouser legs (we heard there were ticks galore) and welcomed the temperate climate.

Warblers Arriving in South Florida
From our perch in Chicagoland we can enjoy the many reports of arriving warblers in South Florida, and hope that when we are finally able to get out in the field, they will have made it to our neighborhood. This is the Key West radar as we are turning in fot the night, which is just after midnight Florida time. At this hour, the flights from Cuba and the Keys are less dramatic than a couple of nights ago, but certainly worth watching.

Migrants Burst out of Cuba

Pretty much on schedule, the winds shifted to the southeast last night, bringing about much more favorable conditions for migrants venturing across the Florida Straits. I checked at bedtime, and found a "teaser" image. While the one-hour loop provides little but a glimpse of the big picture of neotropical migration, the fluid motion from the quick refresh rate lends a dramatic touch.

Wind and Waves
The lake is most interesting when the wind is still, when it is easy to see the bass splash to capture insects on the surface, or groups of small fish jump out of the water in unison, porpoise-like, to escape an underwater predator. The lake reveals quite a bit about the weather: wind shadows, wave intensity and direction. It signals sudden downbursts from thunderstorms and shifting winds.

Tree Tops Park
Yesterday morning, the air was crisp and cool after the passage of a second cold front the night before. As it turned out, the temperature never rose above a bone-chilling 69 degrees, a record low for April 15th. Mary Lou and I had some business to conduct in Fort Lauderdale, so we arranged our route to include a visit to Tree Tops Park in Davie. We had not been to Tree Tops Park since just after Hurricane Wilma, when we found the area closed to visitors because of many felled trees and branches.

A Bird Killer Towers Ominously
On this morning's walk, we checked on the progress of the construction of a communications tower that is going up. About a mile to our east, and about 150 feet high, it already casts its reflection on our lake, and promises to loom much higher. As birders, we have additional cause for some concern.

Loxahatchee NWR Birds on Radar
This morning, on Miami Radar, I was able to capture a better-defined ring of birds exiting the general vicinity of Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge at about  7:00 AM. Another large flock is seen flying from Water Conservation Area  3 (WCA-3)  west of Fort Lauderdale. There is suggestion of an expanding ring here as well, but the bulk of this flock is progressing to the southwest, ahead of the advancing line of thunderstorms.

Two “Donuts” and a Morning Walk
Miami Radar this morning showed two “donuts.” The first, rather small, appears NW of Fort Lauderdale in the 6:59 AM frame, and is located on or near Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in Palm County. The other, a larger and more distinct burst shows up best in the final frame and is 25 miles SW of Fort Lauderdale, in the same location as the one we captured and posted on March 31. David LaPluma (BADBIRDZ) believes these represent the departure of flocks of wading birds or blackbirds from concentrated roosts in wetlands.

Key West Migration Explosion
This one hour Key West radar loop, from about 8:45 PM this evening, looks very promising, with a VERY LARGE exodus of migrants from Cuba and the Keys. Be sure to check BADBIRDZ to see where they may be stopping for the day!

Spring Snowfall on the Sandias
It takes about 55 to 60 minutes to drive the 40 miles from the Albuquerque airport to Sandia Crest. Half is on I-40 at 65-70 mph; about 6 miles on NM 14 at 35 mph or so, and the last 13 miles is on the Crest Road, which takes about 25 minutes under good weather conditions.
Visitors to Albuquerque planning to see the rosy-finches sometimes confuse Sandia Peak with Sandia Crest.

Rosy-Finch Epilogue
Update on the Rosy-Finches of Sandia Crest, New Mexico.  The flag has stopped waving. Although individuals or a few finches have been seen since April 4th, there have been no appreciable flocks. One Black Rosy-Finch was coming in for seed on April 8.  Feeders and sighting logs were removed April 9th.

Poisonous Eggplant and “Sweetheart”
When I think of Grandma “Sweetheart,” I am reminded of her oilcloth kitchen table and her shelves stocked with Mason jars full of homemade jelly, relishes, vegetables and other preserves. There was a grape arbor out back with a bird house for “Jenny Wren” atop it, and her backyard had neat rows of tomatoes, eggplants, corn, peas, beans, lettuce, radishes and squash. There were also clumps of rhubarb and horseradish, a big sour cherry tree and two peach trees. All of it fit on their 1/3 acre plot.

Fear and the Fence
Fear again rules in the Rio Grande Valley. Many of you birders have visited this marvelous place, where the populations and delicate ecosystems of Mexico and Norteamérica merge, where cows, deer and rabbits from both sides of the river casually sip the waters of Rio Bravo. This past week, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced that, under legal mandate and as authorized by waivers that bypass federal environmental reviews, he will push forward to complete 370 miles of fence, and "thousand of acres along the Rio Grande will be ceded to the Mexican side of the fence."

Fern Forest Nature Center
Yesterday, we briefly visited Fern Forest Nature Center in Pompano Beach. The Center includes over 250 acres of Hardwood Hammock, Maple Cypress Wetland, Prairie area, and a Slash Pine - Cabbage Palm habitat. There are several miles of trails, including about a mile of boardwalks and an observation platform.

Rosy-Finches Still Flocking
We took the flag down a bit too soon– It should still be waving, as it signals that flocks of rosy-finches, though much smaller, were still visiting the feeders at the Crest House on April 2. As Fran Lusso and Dave Weaver report, they will keep the feeders up another week and again try to pinpoint the date that flocks depart. As in past years, we can expect a few stragglers to persist even longer.

New Bird Species Discovered on New Mexico Mountain
On this winter’s last day of banding rosy-finches at Sandia Crest, the team trapped a bird that had features of several different species. It was finch-like, but definitely not a rosy-finch, although it flocked together with them. It had a distinctive two-syllable call, sounding somewhat like a Killdeer. The banders took numerous photos and even blood and feather samples for DNA analysis, then released it back into the wild

Migration Radar “Donut” Echo
Most remarkable was something that looked like an expanding donut, with its center about 25 miles southwest of Fort Lauderdale. It exploded outward and westward from the northeastern corner of the Everglades Water Conservation Area (WCA-3) impoundment that is west of Okeechobee Highway (US-27) and south of Aliigator Alley (I-75). This is what the “donut” looked like:

Pembroke Pines wetland walk
This morning, on our way to return a movie to the library, we stopped for a walk in a very pretty park (Anderson Dream Park) in Pembroke Pines. Not too active for birds, though we flushed a Brown Thrasher that allowed us a very poor portrait, and a Common Moorhen, who hogged the lens.

Photos of Late-Season Rosy-Finches
Jim kindly permitted me to display several of his photos here. His birds are lined up almost as in a field guide, to permit ready comparison of plumage features. They all appear to be adult males, which makes identification easier. Early in the winter, some hatch-year birds and females can be more difficult to separate, as the gray crowns may not be as distinct and the black may not be as deep as now. Note, that as breeding season approaches, the bills of most turn from bright yellow and become darker, almost black. He certainly is right about all the bands

Sharing the Table: Commensalism
The behaviors of the herons and mergansers were related in some meaningful way. They were engaged in commensalism, meaning that the herons were deriving a benefit from the activity of the mergansers, without causing the latter any harm.It made more sense and was more efficient in terms of energy expenditure for the herons to simply wait until the ducks resumed their fishing forays along the edges of the lake.

Long Key Natural Area
We made our first visit to the newly opened Long Key Natural Area. It is a beautifully restored hammock-like old sand bar that used to rise above the Everglades, located just west of Flamingo Gardens, north of Griffin Road on Flamingo, in Davie, FL. There are now handicap-accessible trails, a beautifully restored pond, and extensive equestrian trails

New Yard Bird
This morning it was barely light when I noticed a splash on the lake. When my eyes focused on the disturbance, about 100 yards out, I noted unusual silhouettes. The scope confirmed my bino view. There were 5 Red-breasted Mergansers out there, making them the 62nd species I have seen on our property since we moved to South Florida in 2004. Not too shabby. It beats the 48 species I counted in our suburban Dallas yard, but will not match the 120 species as I logged in our New Mexico back yard

Radar Drama: Migrants vs. Storms
At around 9 PM last night, the Key West radar showed what looked like northbound migrants beginning to leave the north coast of Cuba as well as the western Keys. By 2 AM this morning, the radar appears to show large numbers of birds crossing the Keys. By 4:00 am the eastern leading edge of the flock reached Miami-Dade County, but about 2/3 of the flock was over open waters, as another weather system approached from the west. These birds appeared to be on a collision course with the storms.

Easter Rosies and Banding
Update on the Rosy-Finches of Sandia Crest, New Mexico.  The flag is waving– smaller flocks of  Rosy-Finches are still visiting the feeders at Sandia Crest House. Feeders to remain up until the end of March if bears don’t start appearing.

Saturation Banding
As winter progresses, an ever larger percentage of captured birds already has been banded. Having so many banded birds can bother some photographers, who are looking for a “saleable image, ” as they say. They view bands as detracting from the image of wildness. It leads some photographers to try to find rosy-finches elsewhere. One good place is the Taos Ski Valley, where the Kandahar Condomiums are very birder-friendly and the view of the feeders is wonderful. However, it seems that the Sandia Crest birds are now “contaminating” those up in Taos!

Rosy Finches: March 19 Update
Fran and Dave reported: “Although the banding was sparse this past Sunday, the Crest House staff saw a flock of about 150 yesterday so we think there are still numbers of birds up there."  Back here in Florida, the Bald Eagle that we had not seen since since mid-January flew over our lake yesterday morning carrying some type of smaller prey. It was heading in the direction of the location where Bald Eagles had been seen carrying nesting materials in December. Perhaps they did nest and this one was bringing food either to its mate or nestlings. I photographed the one here as it flew low over our patio just before Christmas, 2007.

Migration From Cuba Tonight
There has not been much evidence of migration on the radar for the past three nights.Winds have been from the north, and today we have had very  heavy easterly winds. Later in the day I noted that the circulation off the coast of Cuba was shifting from the southeast, towards the northwest, perhaps providing a ride across the Florida Straits for migrants piling up in Cuba. This evening I checked the Key West radar at about 10:15 PM and saw this good flight out of Cuba. The biomass of these birds is impressive!

Capulin Spring "Bird Log" Construction
As this winter’s rosy-finch season winds down, our thoughts turn to the marvelous “Bird Log” at the Capulin Spring Picnic Area, located at 8,840 feet elevation, at the 8.1 mile mark just above the base of the ski run, on the way up to Sandia Crest. Beginning with spring migration, and continuing through the breeding season and into the fall, until deep snow forces closure of the access road, this peaceful spot is THE place to relax and let the birds come to you.

Rosy-Finch Update: March 16
The flag is waving--flocks of Rosy-Finches are still visiting the feeders at Sandia Crest House.  The  researchers will make a decision as to whether they will cancel the final banding session at Crest House on Easter Sunday, March 23,  depending upon reports from Gene and also other birders as to whether the birds continue to be present in any numbers. The average departure date for flocks is March 27th, and flocks have persisted beyond that date in 5 of the past 8 winters that we have been keeping records.

Beauty in the Commonplace
A birder’s definition of a "common" bird is a very fluid concept. As a small kid, it seemed that every new bird that I was able to match up with its picture in Chester A. Reid’s little book, Land Birds East of the Rockies,  was "uncommon," starting with the discovery that my grandmother’s "chippies" actually had a name: English Sparrow! At eight years old, I dutifully defaced each "new" bird by overwriting Reid’s image of it with penciled block letters : "SEEN."

Backyard Signs of Spring
From my boyhood days up East, I remember how spring came on with a great flourish. It seemed that everything happened all at once, heralded by the cries of spring peepers and the smell of skunk cabbage and the swelling of the pussy-willow buds. Early May in New Jersey meant a burst of color and the arrival of the warblers, even before many of the trees had begun to leaf out.  Here in South Florida, spring begins to sneak in around mid-February, when the mangos and apricots start to bloom.

Heron and Comorant Antics
A Double-crested Cormorant was busy just off our patio yesterday morning. It was being followed around the perimeter of the lake by a three herons: A Tricolored, a Little Blue, and a Snowy Egret. They were feeding on small fish that the cormorant was probably scattering about as it dived. As I have seen happen several times before, the Snowy Egret actually flew out to where the cormorant was working underwater and, on the wing, appeared to skim small fish from the surface of the water.

Tibetan Mastiff Puppy
This is the hopeful beginning of a happy sequel to the story of Maceo, the big Doby/Lab mix whose loss was felt so deeply by our two Illinois granddaughters. Now they have a new family member, one of a rare breed, a Tibetan Mastiff named Agramonte (officially, Washani’s Calixto Garcia y Agramonte). Students of history (and Googlers) will detect a trend in the names of the family dogs– Maximo, Maceo, and now Agramonte.

Rosy Finches: March 9 Update
Don't miss seeing this local PBS documentary about the Sandias that includes a segment on the rosy-finches, on line now. Click on this thumbnail to get it started. The eight chapters of this film document a project for a one-night spectacular light show, but also delve into the cultural, geologic and natural history of the mountain. If you are pressed for time, go directly to Chapter Three, which describes the ecology of the Sandias, and features the rosy-finch banding project near the end. There are great views of the birds taken at the Crest House, at the feeders and in the hand, not to mention wonderful photography that makes me really miss my mountain home!

Cuba to Florida Radar
Yesterday we had a fairly strong front come down from the north, but it stalled and retreated as a warm front. The winds shifted to steady southerlies, the rain stopped and the skies began to clear. I thought this might create good conditions for north-bound migrants, so, before retiring, I checked the Key West radar. This is what I saw, a little before 10 PM.

"Nature Deficit Disorder"

Will the real bird watchers please look up! Recently, there have been interesting Birdchat threads on "Fledgling birders" and "Engaging young birders," and "Why the lack of young ones?" They included some excellent links worth exploring, If you, as have Mary Lou and I, been engaged in educating youngsters in the wonders of nature and the particular thrills of observing wild things, you have shared in their excitement as they watched a cicada emerge from its larval shell, a predatory wasp capture a caterpillar, or a hummingbird feed its fragile chicks.

Tres Pistolas & Sandia Hawk Watch
In just a few weeks Scott’s Orioles will return to Tres Pistolas, one of the best in the Albuquerque area for this species. My digiscoped photo of a male bringing food to its young is not very hi-res. Its nest is only a couple of feet above ground in a scrubby Gray Oak. Vegetation reflects the arid nature of the canyon floor. Nearby, Hawk Watch International has been counting raptors in the Sandia Mountains every spring since 1985. Their banding project  commenced in 1990. Up to 18 raptor species have been observed over the years, with spring counts in the range of 4,000 to 6,500 individuals. Their spring count usually begins in late February and finishes up in early May.

Rosy-Finches of New Mexico: Mar 2 Update
Today was cold, windy and snowy atop Sandia Crest, but the banding team captured 194 rosy-finches, of which 176 were repeats and 18 were newly banded. So far this winter, they have newly banded 445 Rosies and recaptured 573. The sixth Brown-capped Rosy-Finch from the winter of 2004-05 has been recaptured, and 5 of today’s Black Rosy-Finches were from the winter before last (2005-06).

Help Stop the Killing of Protected Raptors
I  just received this Audubon Alert, which deserves your immediate attention. Please respond by clicking the link below, to express your personal concerns to your elected US Representative: "Last spring, citizens across the country were appalled to learn that thousands of protected raptors such as Cooper’s Hawks, Peregrine Falcons, and Red-tailed Hawks had been killed in Oregon, California and Texas... [P]igeon enthusiasts have been routinely killing raptors in an attempt to protect their roller pigeons..."

How Many Rosy-Finches?

As each winter season progresses, the percentage of recapture of same-season banded rosy-finches at Sandia Crest increases. An isolated population of birds could be compared to an unknown number of beans in a jar that could be shaken up uniformly. If we mark a known number of the beans as "banded," we then may withdraw a random handful, count the total and the percentage that are "banded," and extrapolate to determine the total number of beans in the jar. The larger the sample we examine, the greater our certainty about the total number of beans in the jar. Simple?

Rosy-Finches of New Mexico: Feb 24 Update

Regular visitors to this blog may notice that now I am including regular updates on the status of rosy-finch viewings at Sandia Crest, New Mexico. Updates will continue until the last flocks depart. Then the flag here and on will stop waving, and we will just have to wait until late October or early November for it to flutter in celebration of their return.

Will the Rosies wait for Easter?
This time of year we are frequently asked whether the rosy-finches will still be there when the enquirer is planning a visit to family in the Albuquerque area at Easter time. The answer differs from year to year. On average, the median date for Easter is April 7. Easter may fall anywhere between March 22 and April 25, inclusive, but, believe it or not, the most likely date is April 19. This year, Easter falls on Sunday, March 23. Such an extremely early date means that birders will have a good chance of seeing at least one of the three species at the Sandia Crest House feeders this Easter.

The Moon and Migration

The ancients had numerous theories about where birds spent their time after they disappeared in the fall and returned each spring. The moon figures prominently in both one of the oldest theories and in our present understanding of migration. They hibernated, hiding away in a torpid state, or, as some maintained, underwater or in the mud of marshes.  Aristotle believed they transmuted back and forth between other species that were present only in the winter. Another belief was that they spent their winters on the moon.

Rosy Finches of New Mexico: Feb 21 Update
Earlier, I noted that Gil Bachmann, General Manager of the popular Kandahar Condominiums in Taos Ski Valley, is also a birder, though quite a busy one during snow and ski season. He sent me several very nice photos that capture the thrill of seeing hundreds of rosy-finches crowd into his feeders. Gil extends a kind invitation to any hardy birders that may wish to view the birds privately, but asks that you call him to give advance notice.

Rosy-Finches of New Mexico: Feb 19 Update

We time-shifted with our DVR and watched last week’s PBS Nature special on the Red Knots and the Horseshoe Crabs of Delaware Bay. There is a striking parallel between the Red Knots and the rosy-finches, as both species exist on the edge of survival. While the knots are in a more precarious situation, both spend relatively little time on their arctic and alpine breeding grounds, and both face formidable hazards during migration and on their wintering grounds. Both may be adversely affected by climate change.

Are Phalaropes Properly Sexed?
Wild Muscovy Ducks, found as far north as the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, are all black with conspicuous white wing patches. The feral populations in my neighborhood are mostly black with white head and neck, and variable amounts of white on the breast and other parts of the body. A few are nearly white. They have more or less extensive bare red patches on their faces. In males, the red skin is swollen into “caruncles” that sometimes protrude like globular turkey wattles or chicken combs. So far, I have seen only two pure white Muscovies, and both were drakes. This led me to the unscientific conclusion that the pure white color must be a sex-linked recessive, based upon my knowledge of human chromosomes...

Shark Valley Quickie
Both Mary Lou and I have been fighting a cold, and we woke up Sunday morning not feeling much ambition. Nevertheless, since I have recently been barely meeting my 20-Bird RDA (BirdChaser’s Recommended Daily Allowance) and was much in need of a nutritional fix, I talked Mary Lou into accompanying me. We briefly visited the Shark Valley Visitors Center, one of the five in  Everglades National Park.  It is only a little more than a 30 minute drive from our home. Although the temperature  was in the high 60s, it was cloudy, windy, and we were  uncomfortably chilly in our tee shirts. This kept the smaller birds under cover and difficult to see. It also demonstrated how we have changed our definition of "cold weather" since moving to Florida from the mountains of New Mexico.

Staying Connected
Avid birders who often report rare sightings acquire their skills and amass huge trip and life lists not only by being where the birds are, but also being there when the birds are. There is that important dimension of the amount of time one spends in the field. Some of the most treasured memories of my childhood were the Saturday mornings when my father took me "down the river" (which to us meant the Passaic River floodplain in Rutherford, just as New Jersey folks say "down the shore" when they mean the Atlantic Ocean beaches). We would follow rabbit tracks in the snow and catch garter snakes and red salamanders in that marvelous place, now entirely "reclaimed" as houses and condos...  Just being there imparted such a great feeling of freedom from and yet, connection, to the world around me. 

Lazy Birding
There are only two ways for a birder to find birds: either get out and chase them or let them come to you. If you feel lazy, you can take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, February 15-18, 2008, or the Bird Watchers Digest Big Sit in October. I can usually meet my 20-Bird RDA (BirdChaser’s Recommended Daily Allowance) while just sitting on the back patio. The birds I expect to see so easily fall into these three categories:

Ryan and the Winter of 2004-05
This Sunday, the banders recaptured a rosy-finch from the winter of 2004-05.  I cannot help but think that the Brown-capped Rosy-Finch that was recaptured from the winter of 2004-2005 may have been banded by the late Ryan Beaulieu, and, as was his habit, he kissed it before it lofted from his hand. I recalled Ryan’s expression that so aptly described his (and our) favorite bird family: "I love their color and their behavior," he said. "Their pink is like no other pink you’ve ever seen. And I love how they come down in this huge, swirling flock and just the whole living-on-top of the mountain thing."

Marco Island Boating
We have had a wonderful week-long visit from our Chicagoland grandchildren and their parents. Yesterday we capped off their visit with a boating excursion in the waters around Marco Island, Florida. After we cleared the dock at The Isles of Capri Marina, we headed for some fishing in one of the the small bays behind the Gulf of Mexico barrier islands.  The children were on the lookout for dolphins.

Bird RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance)
This morning I checked my e-mail and learned that Rob Fergus, the Pennsylvania Blogger better known as BirdChaser has written a prescription for better birding. "Most people don’t eat enough vegetables, or fiber. They also don’t see enough birds. This year I’ve decided that I need my minimum Recommended Daily Allowance of Birds. For me, and for most folks in the Lower 48, a good Bird RDA is probably 20 species." Our backyard lake is a natural magnet for birds, so I figured I could easily exceed his recommended RDA.

So Dry in South Florida
Lake Okeechobee is a good indicator of our lack of rainfall. Lake levels have been falling for the past two years and have reached record lows. Our little lake is down nearly four feet. We are restricted to watering lawns only once a week. A few days before Christmas, this beautiful sunrise over our backyard lake seemed to promise some relief, outlining the anvil heads along the ocean front. The showers never ventured onto land. The lake was still. The lack of aeration from rain and wind drove the fish to the surface, gulping for air.

A Frugivorous Efflorescence?

During our visit to nearby Chapel Trail Nature Center, a peaceful bit of restored Everglades,  I was surprised to see something  very unusual-- or so I thought at the time. Next to the boardwalk, a vine with yellow flowers was winding its way through the branches of a tree that had red berries. One of the flowers on that same vine looked as if it had gobbled up some of the berries and was engulfing and absorbing them! Its petals were swollen and turning orange, perhaps from the red color of the juice of the hapless berries it had engorged. A vegetarian plant? Wow! I had never heard of such a thing. Of course, I snapped a few photos for posterity. Was this an incident new to science, and never to be seen again?

Rosy-Finches Flock to Sandia Crest
To many people, New Mexico conjures the image of arid brown landscapes and year-round sunny skies, a dry, almost sub-tropical paradise.In fact, the topography of New Mexico produces an amazing variety of climates and microclimates. Mile-high Albuquerque is arid and mostly a desert-like grassland, just north of the true Chihuahuan Desert, but it experiences one or two blizzards every year. Total annual snowfall in Albuquerque averages 9.6 inches, and total precipitation is about 9 inches.

Local Bald Eagle
In prior years, we occasionally saw Bald Eagles flying over our small Florida lake. Once I saw one attack an Osprey that had just caught a fish. The eagle’s larceny attempt was not successful. However, this year the eagles have paid us several visits (see Double Eagle and The Eagle Has Landed). There is now evidence that they may be breeding within a few miles of us. At least twice, adult Bald Eagles have been observed carrying sticks to a possible nest site. So far, none of my neighbors has seen the actual nest. This morning, during a feeding frenzy that attracted about 5 Ospreys, a couple dozen Ring-billed Gulls, Double-crested Cormorants and several heron species, an eagle suddenly appeared. It flew directly overhead, only about 20 feet high.

Our Lake Just Turned Over
This phenomenon, called "turnover," is caused by the mixing of the lake’s cool and warm layers. I think there were rather subtle turnovers around Thanksgiving the past two years, when cool evenings and gentle fall rain lowered the temperature of the normally warm water near the lake’s surface. As it cools, the density of the upper layer becomes greater than that of the warm water underneath. At some point, the density reaches a critical level and the cool water sinks downward, displacing the warm water that now floats upward, carrying with it the green stuff from the lake bed.  The fish that depend upon the vegetation for food and shelter now are distributed more evenly, and become more vulnerable to predators all the way up the food chain.

A Closer Look at Yard Birds
Maybe we become just too familiar with yard birds to appreciate some of their interesting and unique characteristics. The long-legged waders that are so common on our Florida lake are a case in point. At first glance they all seem alike, except for size, shape and color, as they appear along the lake shore and go about the business of finding their meals. I’m noticing two right now, at both size extremes of the heron clan, the Green and the Great Blue Herons. Both are standing there, motionless, staring at the water, ready to strike at the first fish that crosses their paths. Both seem to have favorite fishing holes.

Losing a Best Friend
Maceo, a Chocolate Lab/Doberman mix, was old and failing. After several surgeries and courses of chemotherapy for his extensive mast cell tumors, it was time for him to be sedated and spend his final days with the children. He was there before they came into the family, and he welcomed and protected them. Our granddaughters and Maceo were best pals. Now it was their turn to care for him.

Double Eagle

This morning I was processing my e-mail backlog when I heard the distinctive cry of a Bald Eagle. One has been hanging around our small lake for several days now. I was surprised to see two eagles on a rooftop diagonally across the lake from our home, about 200 - 250 yards away. I ran for the camera and took a few pictures, then sat down on the patio to watch them. They called to each other periodically, and then the male bird flew up above the female and mounted her..

Trash Birds: Ibis and Swamphen
On garbage days, the birds usually get there before the collectors. Invariably, one or more of our neighbors will put some of their wet garbage into a flimsy plastic supermarket bag, making it easy for the Muscovy Ducks, Boat-tailed Grackles and White Ibis to scatter the contents in their search for nutritious morsels. We don’t have House Sparrows, and rarely see European Starlings, so common and often reviled in many urban areas. So, for “trash birds,” we have to settle for the alien Muscovies and the native grackles and ibis. This one was walking on our front lawn yesterday morning.

The Eagle Has Landed
We walked to the supermarket this morning, and on the way back we saw an adult Bald Eagle sitting on a roof, about a quarter of a mile east of our home. We hurried home and I immediately ran to get my camera and drove to the location where the eagle was perched. During the winter it is not unusual for us to see Bald Eagles flying over our lake. Once I saw one attack an Osprey, in an attempt to rob it of a large fish it had just caught. However, they never landed, at least within view, so this promised to be a photo opportunity.

Puddle Ducks, Geese and Coot
I captured these images in a small lake near Baptist-Saint Anthony Hospital in Amarillo, where we took the grandchildren to feed the waterfowl. Also photographed a Black-crowned Night-Heron at close range, but auto-focused on the nearer branches!

Palo Duro Canyon Cochineal Walk
Palo Duro Canyon State Park is quite near our Panhandle grandchildrens’ home in Canyon, Texas. While awaiting the arrival of their sister (our eighth grandchild, who will join two brothers and two sisters, respectively 12, 10, 6 and 2 years old), we trekked with the older three along a creek in the canyon under a warm November sun.

Future of the Rosy Finch Capitol
As we await the annual arrival of the flocks of rosy-finches at the feeders arrayed around the picture windows of the Sandia Crest House, our anticipation is tempered by some anxiety, for this Gift House and Restaurant  is likely to undergo a change of ownership.

Goodbye, Butterfly
We departed the Fort Lauderdale airport for Chicago with our undeclared cargo of four Black Swallowtail Butterfly larvae safely encased in a plastic bag with a generous bunch of fresh parsley. We were uncertain as to whether Homeland Security might regard them as “liquids or gels” that required special attention

A Spider Walk In Tekawitha Woods
We decided to spend most of this summer at our condo up north in Chicagoland, away from the heat and hurricanes of South Florida. Well, there have been no hurricanes here, but so far the Sunshine State has also been spared. As for heat, we met or exceeded the highs back home for much of early August. There have been a few delightful mornings, just right for birding and nature photography. Last week, we took two of our granddaughters to a place with a very catchy name, Tekawitha Woods, a Kane County Forest Preserve.

The Capulin Spring "Bird Log"
There is a special place at 8600 feet elevation in the Sandia Mountains just east of Albuquerque. I took this photo one morning in early May of 2003. Sunlight dappled through the leaves of the large Rocky Mountain Maples that thrived in the moist runoff of Capulin Spring. Water from the spring flowed through a pipe and was diverted into a trough formed by an ancient hollow log. Water is scarce in the mountains, and the “Bird Log,” as it is called, attracts most of the creatures that call the mountain their home. One needs only find a comfortable place to sit and simply wait for the birds to come in to drink and bathe.

Bungee Jumping Nieta

Yes, it's the same little girl whose portrait captured so many hearts, and she is just as crazy about birds as when we she found that sparrow in the tree last year, but now, at three years of age, she is flying with the birds! She went bungee jumping at the Kane C

Black Swallowtail Butterfly Metamorphosis
Earlier this month, I decided to leave my parsley plant to the mercy of the Black Swallowtail caterpillars that were devouring it at an alarming rate. The early larval stages (termed instars) molt several times, changing their appearance more or less dramatically between molts. The earliest instars are dark and have a white saddle, making them look very much like bird droppings.

Muscovy Mortality
Yesterday morning I found a freshly dead adult White Ibis on our lawn, at the side of the lake. I did not think too much of it. However, a little later, diagonally across the lake, I saw a large group of Black Vultures congregating around the carcass of a freshly dead Muscovy duck.

Backyard Heron Trifecta

The rains have already brought our lake levels up to normal and sunfish are tending their circular nests along the shore. This one’s dark gill extensions and the black spot at the base of its dorsal fin tentatively identify it as a Bluegill.

Who Ate My Parsley?
This afternoon, I noticed that more than half my parsley plant seemed to have been cropped off quite neatly. I immediately suspected Old Whitey, the Muscovy Alpha drake who defeated Whitewing to expand his territory into part of our back yard. He looked guilty, as he had been hanging around the herb garden all day. On closer inspection, several brightly colored caterpillars were evident.

Why in [!!#!@*##&%] Did You Move From New Mexico To Florida?
It is usually without the expletive, but this is a common question, often from other Floridians. Why give up the land of Enchantment for the Sunshine State? Why leave the mountains and blue skies behind? Why trade dust storms for hurricanes, cactus and deserts for St. Augustine lawns? Mountain Lions for alligators, rosy-finches for Palm Warblers, Gore-Tex and Timberlands for T-shirts and flip-flops, swamp coolers for air conditioning, juniper pollen for mold spores and ragweed, four seasons for only two, and so on…

More Bird Bath Photos
When I collected my New Mexico "Bathing Beauty" gallery I neglected to include a couple of special photos. These two, of the Williamson's Sapsucker, bring out the stunning beauty of this little woodpecker. He usually visited the water so briefly and infrequently that he was gone before I could set up my cumbersome digiscope. One day he delayed his departure just long enough to provide me with a couple of views that show different aspects of his plumage.

Bathing Beauties

Laura (Somewhere in NJ) recently mentioned in her Blog that one bathing bird often attracts others. She inspired me to rummage through my photos of bathing birds. How I miss our ponds in the front and back of our New Mexico home! They were one of the few sources of drinking water at 7000 feet in the Sandia Mountains, so they provided me with many photo opportunities. However, most of the opportunities did not result in photos.

A Peep Poses on the Road to Nowhere
One of the ‘peeps” had a particularly warm brown back. It kept to the shore, as if afraid to get its feet wet. Thanks to what I had learned from the Guide, these two clues were enough for me to tentatively identify it as a Least Sandpiper, but I wanted to clinch the diagnosis by seeing its leg color, which should have been yellowish instead of black as in its similar relatives. Luckily, it struck a perfect pose, thrusting one pale leg out for all to see. I captured it with my Digital Rebel.

Short Sad Saga of a Texas Horny Toad

Before bedtime I prepared a habitat for my new pet, a large glass bowl with sand and a rock. First thing in the morning, anxious to make the animal feel that it had returned to sunny Texas, I placed its enclosure out in the center of our back lawn, away from any un-desert-ly shade. He seemed happy and became quite active. The neighborhood kids were duly impressed, watching it bask in the noonday sun. I went into the house for lunch, then hurried back to see Tex.

Oystercatcher Beach Drama
The birds became agitated and performed distraction displays, a response that suggested that the children were invading their nesting territory. I walked over to the location, and by using the same “reverse psychology” that has helped me locate Killdeer nests (moving in a direction opposite to where the birds tried to lead me), I quickly found a single egg in a scooped depression in the middle of the beach just above the high tide mark.

New Boss Duck but No Babies

This spring, the third we have spent here in South Florida, we have so far seen no Muscovy Duck chicks on our 10 acre lake. Usually, by now there would be between 3-10 broods in various stages of growth. During March and April I found four nests on ours and neighboring properties with eggs that failed to hatch. One nest just off our patio contained 14 eggs and the hen incubated them for well over a month before abandoning them, all intact.Could this be due to the instability of the social order that was caused by the loss of El Presidente?

Why Did You Step On That Ant?
As a kid I remember my grandmother telling me that if I stepped on an ant it would make it rain. On my way to school, not wanting to be caught in a downpour, I would usually go out of my way to keep from squashing them on the sidewalk. Sometimes when I got tired of long hot summer days I longed for the excitement of a thunderstorm and the nice clean smell that came with the first raindrops. Then I’d go looking for ants to stomp.

500 Bird Milestone
Mary Lou only started birding in 1999, and yesterday she recorded her 500th bird species in North America. Sure, I have seen Grasshopper Sparrows before, little flat-headed, short-tailed waifs singing weakly and quickly dropping for cover or running mouse-like through the grass. Never have I seen such a beautiful sparrow as Mary Lou’s #500. The field guides do not do justice to this one.

Mad Dogs
Attempts to immunize pet dogs were not successful in Juárez. Dogs ran all over the neighborhoods, but were not regarded as “owned” by anyone, even though they might live under the front steps and have the run of their houses and dooryards. With financial backing from the Pan American Health Organization, Juárez then mounted a campaign to eliminate stray dogs. It was quite effective. Dogs were poisoned and shot. Their carcasses were piled up on street corners.

Tame (and Dead) Robins
Early one summer, either in 1945 or ‘46 we encountered a “tame” robin that permitted us to approach it closely and even pick him up. At first, thinking that it had grown so accustomed to seeing us that it recognized us as friendly creatures, we did not realize that the bird was seriously impaired. Soon more “tame” Robins began to appear, along with others that were obviously ill and in distress. Corky and I took some of the sick birds home and attempted to nurse them back to health by keeping them warm and forcing them to drink water. I even tried using some of my baby brother’s vitamin drops in hopes of finding a cure. Every one of them subsequently died, and the lawns of the estate were soon littered with the carcasses of Robins. 

Hatching a Plot
Ok, I’ll confess. The statute of limitations for a Federal crime has passed (unless I am charged with murder). When I was about 9 or 10, I found a Killdeer nest right in the middle of the gravel parking lot between Clare’s Market and Rogers Garage on Union Avenue in Rutherford. It was easy find, as both parents led me right to it in a reverse sort of way.

Off to San Isidro, or is it El Paso?
The clock was ticking. My days as a civilian were numbered. When I learned of Max’s past that morning after my Washington adventure it was February 2, 1966. Only 7 weekdays remained before my induction date on Monday, February 14th.  My partner took on most of my patient care responsibilities as I rushed to set up my appointment for a physical examination in Staten Island the next day.

Exotic fish gives me a sore thumb
The fish broke water several times while I was bringing it in, and this apparently attracted a Great Blue Heron that came within 15 yards of me, perhaps anticipating a meal. I have seen Great Blues, Little Blues and Tricolored Herons, as well as Great and Snowy Egrets follow cormorants and Anhingas as they fished near the shore, probably for the same reason.

Mobbing Behavior in Rosy-finches
While leading interpretive walks at Rio Grande Nature Center in Albuquerque I learned to always follow the crows. If the crows were in a frenzied flock and calling wildly, we would approach and take notice of the direction in which their bills were pointing. If the bills tended to converge on a certain spot, there we would almost surely find a large bird of prey. Usually it was a Great Horned Owl, but a couple of times it was a Red-tailed Hawk, and one winter, a Bald Eagle.

Pater Noster

My fondest memories of childhood were not those of solitary pursuits. Not having someone there to share an otherwise awesome event seems to take the edge off the experience. Maybe it’s because I simply want to say, “Hey, look at that!” and feel the satisfaction of having another appreciate and later reiterate the experience. Frequently, it works the other way. So many times I might have missed what another pointed out or interpreted.

Green Aliens

Yesterday, I set out some New Guinea Impatiens to fill the space in our planters created when I removed the tomato plants. Shortly afterwards, a three-foot long Green Iguana appeared on our patio. These exotic reptiles, native to Latin America but descendants of released pets, are quite common in our parks and in established neighborhoods that have large trees.

Hitchhiker's Identity Revealed - (Part 4 of 4)

I flew back, and the next morning after making rounds I recounted the prior day’s events with other medical staff members in the hospital coffee shop. One of those present was an Internist, who immediately recognized my Max as one of his long term patients. He said Max was a lawyer, and quite an accomplished one.  He asked if Max told me about the time he spent in Federal Prison.

The Kindness of a Stranger - (Part 3 of 4)

We arrived at Newark Airport in plenty of time to assure that the letter would be collected and delivered the next morning according to plan. On the way home, I expressed my gratitude. Max stated gravely and rather formally that I had been most kind to him and this was the least he could do in return. He went on to say that he had been personally enriched after he extended his hand to strangers in need, and he seemed to be saying that now it was my turn to benefit because of my kindness to him.

An Unusual Hitchhiker – (Part 2 of 4)
After seeing my morning office patients, I headed back to the hospital. It had snowed overnight and the streets were freshly plowed.  As I drove along Ridgewood Avenue in Glen Ridge, I encountered an unusual hitchhiker. He was a nicely dressed man in suit and tie and black overcoat, standing in the plowed part of the roadway in dress shoes, quite out of place. I stopped and asked if I could help him. He asked if I would be so kind as to drive him a couple of miles to Bloomfield Avenue, where he might catch a bus to the tubes in Hoboken that would take him to New York for a business appointment. Seems that his car was in the shop and the only cab in town was someplace far away.

Piratic Flycatcher (Legatus leucophaius)
On September 12, 2003 a vagrant from southern Mexico suddenly appeared at Bosque Redondo near Fort Sumner, NM.  It was afterwards seen by multiple observers and identified as a Piratic Flycatcher, distinguished from the larger Variegated Flycatcher by its small bill, nearly unstreaked back and less extensive rufous areas on its tail. I was lucky to take several photos, posted here. It gets its name from the manner in which it nests.  Rather than building its own, it harasses other species of flycatcher until they abandon their nests, then does some remodeling before laying its own eggs.

“Greetings,” You’ve Been Drafted - (Part 1 of 4)
When I made the decision to enter private practice right out of internship, it was with the expectation that I would be drafted into military service, probably within a year. Actually, it was 3 ˝ years later, in the dead of the New Jersey winter, when I received the telegram. It began with the word “GREETINGS,” as if it were a belated Christmas card. It informed me that I must report to Fort Dix in 14 days to be inducted into the US Army, unless I received a commission as an officer before that date.

Rookie Doctor in Town
On a Sunday afternoon while watching football on TV I received a call from a very desperate-sounding new patient, an elderly woman who gave me an address on Upper Mountain Avenue, where most houses stood far back on multi-acre plots. She screamed “My sister has cancer and she is bleeding to death!”  I told her to call an ambulance and I would meet her in the hospital emergency room. She refused, saying her sister wanted to die at home. I could not change her mind, so I grabbed my black bag and jumped into my car.

House Calls
Most house calls were simply performed as a convenience for elderly patients and anxious mothers. Others were warranted because a child had a rash and fever that might be signs of a contagious illness. The worse the weather, the more numerous the house calls. The ethic of our medical community seemed to be that a doctor should not allow a sick patient to go outside on a cold night or in the rain or snow.

Rosy-finch Fluctuations
The Brown-capped Rosy-finch has been honored with its very own US postage stamp, but so far it has not come to New Mexico for the celebration. Three species of rosy-finch visit the feeders at Sandia Crest, at 10,678 feet the highest point on the Sandia Mountains east of Albuquerque: Black, Brown-capped and Gray-crowned (including two distinguishable races of the latter species, the Interior and the Coastal, or Hepburn’s Gray-Crowned Rosy-finches). The birds usually arrive in early November and stay until late in March.

Osprey Sunrise

This morning the surface of our lake was as smooth as glass. The sun, still unseen behind the coastal cloud banks, created an ever-changing panoply of colors.  As I sipped coffee and watched the sunrise from our back patio I reflected that this was the kind of weather that makes Florida such a winter delight. Suddenly an Osprey flew directly overhead, toward the center of the lake. It rose higher and wheeled as if ready to plunge. Instead, it parachuted down and then dropped suddenly from only about 10 feet high. Surprisingly, it almost submerged, and then flopped up to the surface, seeming unable to rise.

The Goshawk and the Bear
In May, 1994 Mary Lou and I were walking in the Sandia Mountains when we encountered a pair of large hawks about 30 feet up in a Ponderosa Pine. They were facing each other on a large horizontal limb and calling loudly. We identified them as Northern Goshawks. One, in brown immature or juvenal plumage, had a dead Steller’s Jay in its talons, and the other, in sleek gray adult garb, was flapping its wings and appeared to be begging to be fed. Nearby, about 40 feet up near the trunk of a tall Douglas Fir, we found a large stick nest that had some fresh green branches in it. We presumed it to be the Goshawk nest.

Birders Start Young
Children seem to be wired to pay special notice to non-human creatures. Puppies and big furry things are usually favored. Kids' sense of wonder can be cultivated rather easily, to extend to tiny bugs and, especially, birds. Birds are easy to notice because of their activity and variety in size, color and shape. Even city kids can open a window to the natural world as they observe the pigeons and sparrows.

Origin of Flamingo Flock

Flamingos once roamed extensively over South Florida, but in recent years the only reliable sightings were of a flock at the southern tip of the peninsula at Snake Bight. This flock’s origins are uncertain. They may have flown in from one of the islands in the Caribbean and decided to stay. Interestingly, the Snake Bight flock was not seen at that location for about a year following Dennis.

Fishing for Eagles and Flamingos
More often than not I fail to set the hook firmly, and my fish are able to eject the lure by jumping high and shaking furiously. Fishing and birding, while not mutually exclusive, are not entirely compatible pursuits. Many birds are attracted to the lake, so they are a source of distraction. However, if I had not been fishing I would have missed some great views of birds.

More Killer Ducks
Early this year I found a hen sitting on 14 eggs under the Cocoplum hedge next to our back patio. Each time she left the nest she covered the eggs completely with down plucked from her breast, then camouflaged the nest with dried leaves. All 14 eggs subsequently hatched (photo), but her brood declined dramatically, day by day.

Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans (Part 4 of 4)
One of my memorable experiences was on Friday, April 5, 1968, the day after Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. I had to park quite a distance from the shotgun frame house that served as our Lower Ninth Ward free clinic. Parked cars had already taken up both sides of the shell road for more than a block. People were out on their front porches. Usually, we exchanged cheerful waves to the sounds of jazz music as I trudged along with my white coat and little black bag. That evening there was silence. There seemed to be agony oozing out of the houses, and it was so hard just to look up.

Purposeful Infanticide?
The tracks of coyotes are “purposeful,” meaning that they tend to go in straight lines, from this tree to the cover of that bush, to then
intersect with the tracks of a bounding mouse or vole. Wild creatures cannot afford to waste energy. In the snow of the Sandia mountains, I often noticed the difference between the “purposeful” stride of a coyote or Gray Fox, as opposed to a pet dog’s meanderings. Young coyotes (and young rabbits) appear to “waste’ much energy in play and seemingly mindless scurrying about. However, they are gaining survival skills with a long term payback.

Patterns of Illness in Two Segregated Shelters (Part 3 of 4)
As bad as Camille was, we were all thankful that it was not the “big one” that everyone talked about, the hurricane that would slosh water up into Lake Pontchartrain and force it over the levees into the East Bank of New Orleans. Of course, Hurricane Katrina was to do something very similar. The storm is estimated to have been responsible for $125 billion in damage, the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history.

Working in the Hurricane Shelters (Part 2 of 4)
Working in the hurricane shelters after Camille, I found the clinical experience to be not very dramatic. Hurricane shelter medical practice was like busy general practice.

Remembering Hurricane Camille (Part 1 of 4)
Here in South Florida, Hurricane Katrina loomed in from the Atlantic and veered southward at the last moment, sparing us major damage. Of course, Katrina went on to devastate New Orleans. Then, as Katrina approached the upper Gulf Coast, we recalled our experience with Hurricane Camille– the horror we felt on Sunday evening, August 17, 1969, a family of six crouching in our home, below sea level on the West Bank of New Orleans, hearing the windows rattle and tree limbs shatter.

The Presidential Duck
There are probably 50 to 60 Muscovies on our 10 acre lake. There is a distinct pecking order, and at the top of the hierarchy are several older and very large drakes. They defend distinct strips of shoreline, with each Alpha drake controlling about 600 to 800 feet of the lake’s margin and lording over a loose group of much smaller females and younger or lesser males.

Watching the Lake
The lake is productive of aquatic life, and each autumn around Thanksgiving there is a crop of small silvery fish that attracts a huge assembly of birds. We have seen as many as 10 Great Blue Herons, over 30 Snowy Egrets, 20 Great Egrets, 5 Wood Storks, numerous White Ibis, and an assembly of Little Blue, Tricolored and Green Herons at one time, all feasting on the fingerlings.

Staring at a distant point relaxes the eyes. It also confers an overall sense of relaxation. One caveat: our new home had to provide us with a vista, be it mountain or cityscape.

Cabin Pressure
At least once a week, Mary Lou and I led bird hikes and provided interpretation at the rosy-finch feeders on Sandia Crest, at 10,678 feet elevation. We always walked at a leisurely pace, as it was easy to get out of breath.

Early Birder
As we were posing for a family photo, Graciela looked up into the sky and I naturally followed suit. “Birds!” I exclaimed. She corrected me: “No, Grampa, Seagulls!” Can you identify the real birders in this photo?

“Schotzie,” Tuck and Amos
Amos would read all the postcards before delivering them, and my uncles would always add “Hi, Amos” to their messages. Everyone knew Amos, and he seemed to know everything about everyone. Amos would often relate the contents of a postcard as he delivered the mail, saying he would save you the trouble of reading it.

High Fives to an “Awesome” Birder

Participants on our Saturday morning bird walks at Rio Grande Nature Center ranged from seasoned birders to neophytes who were visiting Albuquerque for a convention or the Balloon Festival and were looking for a little diversion. They were of all ages, but one kid stood out. At first I did not even know Ryan’s last name, but I grew to respect his skills in finding and identifying birds.

The Earth is Flat
My childhood world was hemmed in by rivers and Ocean. My cubicle had a roof. The sky stretched out, suspended from the tip of that great oak two doors down, draped over the chimney of Howie Hinckleman’s big double house out back, and stretched across the long tile roof of Union School, across Springfield Avenue. There was no north, south, east or west. To this day I cannot remember noticing where the sun came up or where it set. Streets were laid out in a crazy webwork ordered only by the bends of the river and the curved run of the Erie railroad “shortcut” spur.

Opening Windows
With the windows open, we felt a connection with the rhythms of nature.  We awoke early to the songs of Canyon Towhees and Cassin’s Kingbirds in the pre-dawn darkness. Abetted by the two hour time differential from the East Coast, we bedded early after the evening news and thrilled if we were awakened by the yodeling of coyotes, the occasional hooting of a Great Horned Owl or the caterwaul of a mountain lion.

Looking for the Elegant Trogon
Since we had a schedule to keep, we planned to drive home right after breakfast, so my hopes were dashed and I assumed Mary Lou did not care that much about missing her “trophy” bird after all. At dinnertime, to my surprise, she said “Let’s get up early and try to get out and see the trogon before breakfast.” I quickly assented, feeling like Br’er Rabbit in the Uncle Remus tale: "Roast me, Br’er Fox,” says he, “But don’t fling me in that briar patch.”

How Mary Lou Became a Birder
Why should we go out before dawn looking for birds with a bunch of “weirdo” bird watchers? She relented, but only on condition that she could study my field guide and see if there were any birds she might enjoy viewing. As if she could just pick and choose! I happily tutored her and provided lists of the most likely sightings. She settled on only one bird that she just really wanted to see: the Elegant Trogon. I certainly agreed with her on that, as I had never seen one myself.

Will the Real Rosyfinch Please Stand Up?
Today Mary Lou and I got word that the rosy-finches had just returned to Sandia Crest, at the top of the Sandia Mountains that stand just east of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Mountain snows came early this year, perhaps hastening the arrival of these winter visitors, usually not seen until the middle of November. The news, received by us here in sunny South Florida, brings on nostalgia. We will not soon put away the memories of our many trips up the mountain to see and to feed these hardy finches that, not many years ago, were considered uncommon to rare on that same mountain.

Quest for Rare Birds
There is a thrill in seeing (or even better, being the first to locate) an unusual species. Being “first” to locate a rarity involves an element of luck. Casual birders rarely enjoy this distinction. This is not surprising, as it is the avid birders (we call some of them robo-birders, and in the UK they are called “tickers”), out often and early and far afield, who usually find the rare and unusual. As with the lottery, “If you don’t buy a ticket you cannot win.”

Why It’s Called Medical "Practice"
My private practice began the very first day after I completed internship. It felt almost the same as the day before, except that I showed up at the hospital in a suit and tie, insteady of my gringy intern whites, to meet Dr. Paul Fagan in the medical staff lounge. I also donned my crisp new long lab coat embroidered with with my name and “Staff Physician,” in blue rather than the old red thread.

Bug Juice (Part 4 of 4)
There, on horseback at about 2:00 AM on a moonless night, at the foot of the barely visible Havasu Falls, deep in the Cataract Canyon offshoot of the Grand Canyon, accompanied by a medical student and a few laypeople, we came upon a bunch of very sick kids.

Horsemanship in PitchDark (Part 3 of 4)
At first the trail was easy, but then we started down a narrow canyon, past Navajo and Supai Falls towards the campground below Havasu Falls. It was unbelievably dark. At one point as we were traversing a narrow ledge along the canyon wall, my horse stumbled a bit. That was scary enough, but he dislodged a rock that tumbled down the cliff and landed, after an ominous delay, with a splash in the river below.

Vacating Grand Canyon: Everybody, OUT! (Part 2 of 4)
Just before midnight the Forest Ranger aroused me from a sound sleep. A scout leader had arrived, quite out of breath, to report that a large number of campers had suddenly fallen ill in a campground located about two miles downstream.

Havasupai Reservation Adventure (Part 1 of 4)
Not too many people can say they closed down the Grand Canyon. Well, just a piece of it, but I am getting ahead of myself here.

Finally, I Am Married to a Birdwatcher!
As a kid, I often thought how I would like to marry a girl who loved birds. As the hormones raged and the demands of college and medical school intervened, my birding activities dropped off sharply.

Radio Days
The big radio was a wonderful gathering place. Homework had to first be completed. Then we would thrill to the adventures of Lamont Cranston and Margo Lane in “The Shadow” (“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!”),

Retirement in New Mexico, Almost
As US Forest Service volunteers, Mary Lou and I led weekly bird hikes for the public at elevations up to 10,600 feet, and also got very involved in a bird feeding project that attracted three uncommon species of rosy-finches to become regular winter visitors to Sandia Crest.

The Park Avenue A&P
We did not have scanners in those days, and the price of each item had to be keyed in individually. You had to know how to make change instantly—if the bill came to $9.62, the customer might give you $9.77 or $10.02 or something crazy, like $9.87 to avoid getting back smaller change.

Habitats and Inhabitants
We were attuned to the smells of the woods as the seasons changed. Skunk Cabbage was easy to detect in early spring. As the earth warmed we could smell the garter snakes as they came out of hibernation and began mating. Around mid-August there was a particular type of small red ant that gave off a kind of perfume as the winged adults emerged. They had a bitter-sweet taste (the front 2/3 were bitter and the rear 1/3 quite sweet). Yes, we ate some crazy things, but these ants actually smelled good enough to eat, so we tried. 

Serious Work and Misconduct
At about 2:00 AM one morning, the Italian guy who worked the spinners next to mine said “Enough! We shut off machines.” He meant business. The foreman almost cried. I noticed that he acted as if intimidated by the Italian. One by one the machines wound down, and we just sat in silence on the floor. It was a true “sit-down strike.”

Chickie the Cops!
My Dad passed me down his old blue ’37 Ford V8 4-door sedan with white sidewalls. It got 15 miles to the quart of oil, and was always followed by a great cloud of noxious blue-gray smoke. I was known as the Mosquito Exterminator. No one dared to follow me closer than a block or two behind. Since my license plate number unfortunately started with “BMV,” my buddies also called my car the “Bowel Movement Vehicle,” short for “S–t Heap.”

Who Peed On the Pot Stove?
Magazine advertisements for Camel cigarettes promoted their health benefits. Models posing as doctors with stethescopes in white coats extolled Camels’ benefits for the “T-Zone,” the area of the face that included the mouth, throat and sinuses, and claimed that some high percentage of doctors smoked Camels.

Odd Jobs and Toxic Waste
I loved all of my paying jobs (not counting bringing out the garbage and cleaning up my room, which were another matter), with one major exception that I will describe another day. The Mouse Patrol was likely my first real job, and at one cent a mouse and five cents per rat the profits accumulated slowly, only to disappear in bubble gum and Tootsie Rolls.

Pop is Rescued at Sea
Before coming to the States from his home in Torbay, Newfoundland, my maternal grandfather was a fisherman and sealer, a “Swiler” as they were called, a certain enemy of PETA, killing white baby Harp Seals for their pelts in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and off the eastern coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador in the arctic area.  In his heavy brogue, he told me of once having been lost at sea on an ice floe after a sealing ship had left him and several other men off to club and skin seals.

Chicken Killer
That evening I snuck the bow and arrows out of the house and set up outside the window of the chicken shed. I figured I could pick off the rats at a nickle a pop. Sure enough, the rats started coming out to the chickens’ watering trough in the center of the room. I took aim at a big one and let an arrow fly. Unfortunately, the small window opening interfered with the mechanics of my release, and the arrow veered off sharply to the right.

Real Estate Bargain
The volunteer firemen had conducted training in the structure the day before, knocking down doors and smashing through walls. Since my brother, Dan was a former fire chief, they knew the house. While demolishing the walls, they encountered a piece of unfinished wallboard in the attic, upon which our family had recorded significant events since the 1940s: “27 inch snow today”…  “Erie RR ran a diesel through town today”… “They just made Springfield Avenue a one-way”… “Uncle Googs died yesterday”… “Ken got hitched”… “The Chevy finally gave out”…  The firemen surprised us by displaying the wallboard at the party.

A Buggy Rent House
One fall I collected several Praying Mantis  egg cases in the back yard. I stored them in the attic and forgot all about them until the next spring, when the creatures started appearing all over the house. Seems that after hatching they prospered, finding all the bugs up in the attic to their liking.

Discovering Birds
It is hard to remember how I developed a passion for birds.  Perhaps it is the freedom that they enjoy over us earthbound creatures. Of course, their beauty, color, variety, and their accessibility make them fun to study. Listing birds is somewhat analogous to collecting stamps, satisfying some atavistic hunting instinct. The quest for new species adds adventure to any trip, no matter what the purpose, and also causes one to visit some unusual places. Swamps, landfills and sewage treatment facilities rank high on birders’ “must see” locations.

Chasing the White Arse Bird
We were rewarded immediately with great views of the bird, which was in first fall plumage. From a distance, it appeared surprisingly non-descript, a warm brown and somewhat short-tailed bird that ran upright in spurts, robin-like, across a recently mowed field, exploring the small piles of cut grass. It frequently took short flights from one hummock to another, displaying a prominent white rump and outer tail feathers.

Early Childhood Developments
There I was in front of the cookie display, scared and sobbing, the center of attention with Hugh and his butcher, Otto Fischer, and a few customers staring at me in the altogether. Mom was profusely apologetic, and I vividly remember kindly Mr. Hallam saying that I had damaged some cookies and I had to eat them. The mixed memory of fear and pleasure of that incident persists, vividly, but in isolation.

How do you set out to describe the high points of your life? Do you start with the fun, the exciting, the dangerous stuff? Was there anything unusual or interesting enough to even talk about? Does anyone else care anyway? Until a couple of years ago, Blog was not a word.


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