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.
Flags and an Eagle Nest
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
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
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
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
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.
After two seasons that were marked by die-offs,
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.
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
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."
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
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
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
shoals that had been exposed. Higher water levels are a safeguard
against intrusion of salt water into the aquifer. Before we
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
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
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.
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.
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
Dicksissels at Dawn 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
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
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."
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
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.
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
protruding. It wisely faces to the north).
Spring Is So Fleeting
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
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
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
Lippold Park Scarlet
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
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
Migration in Progress
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
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
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
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.
Lake Morning Walk
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.
Arriving in South Florida
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
Burst out of Cuba
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
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
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
A Bird Killer Towers Ominously
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
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
7:00 AM. Another large flock is seen flying from Water Conservation
Area 3 (WCA-3) west of Fort Lauderdale. There is
of an expanding ring here as well, but the bulk of this flock is
progressing to the southwest, ahead of the advancing line of
“Donuts” and a Morning Walk
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
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
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
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
Poisonous Eggplant and
I think of Grandma
“Sweetheart,” I am reminded of her oilcloth kitchen
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Migrants vs. Storms
At around 9 PM last night, the Key West radar
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
The flag is waving– smaller flocks of Rosy-Finches
still visiting the feeders at Sandia Crest House. Feeders to remain up
until the end of March if bears don’t start appearing.
As winter progresses, an ever larger percentage
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
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
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
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
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
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!
Spring "Bird Log" Construction
As this winter’s rosy-finch season
winds down, our
thoughts turn to the marvelous “Bird Log” at the
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
Rosy-Finch Update: March 16
The flag is waving--flocks of Rosy-Finches are
the feeders at Sandia Crest House. The researchers
make a decision as to whether they will cancel the final banding
session at Crest House on Easter Sunday, March 23, depending
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
A birder’s definition of a "common" bird is a very fluid
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
East of the Rockies, was "uncommon," starting with the
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 :
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
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
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
Googlers) will detect a trend in the names of the family
Maximo, Maceo, and now Agramonte.
Rosy Finches: March
Don't miss seeing this local PBS documentary
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
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
& Sandia Hawk Watch
In just a few weeks Scott’s Orioles will return to Tres
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.
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.
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,
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 rosyfinch.com 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.
Rosies wait for Easter?
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
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
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?
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
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
Shark Valley Quickie
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
a 30 minute drive from our home. Although
the temperature was in the high 60s, it was cloudy, windy,
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.
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
There are only two ways for a birder to find
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
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
winter of 2004-05. I cannot help but think that the
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
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
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
RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance)
This morning I checked my e-mail and learned that
the Pennsylvania Blogger better known as BirdChaser has written a
prescription for better birding. "Most people don’t eat
vegetables, or fiber. They also don’t see enough birds. This
I’ve decided that I need my minimum Recommended Daily
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.
Dry in South Florida
Lake Okeechobee is a good indicator of our lack
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
During our visit to nearby Chapel Trail Nature Center, a
bit of restored Everglades, I was surprised to see
something very unusual-- or so I thought at the time. Next to
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
To many people, New Mexico conjures the image of
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
our small Florida lake. Once I saw one attack an Osprey that had just
caught a fish. The eagle’s larceny attempt was not
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
Our Lake Just Turned Over
This phenomenon, called "turnover," is caused by
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
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
depend upon the vegetation for food and shelter now are distributed
more evenly, and become more vulnerable to predators all the way up the
A Closer Look at Yard Birds
Maybe we become just too familiar with yard birds
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
a Best Friend
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.
This morning I was
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
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
House Sparrows, and rarely see European Starlings, so common and often
reviled in many urban areas. So, for “trash birds,”
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
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
Palo Duro Canyon State Park is quite near our Panhandle
grandchildrens’ home in Canyon, Texas. While awaiting the
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
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.
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
gels” that required special attention
A Spider Walk In
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
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
Earlier this month, I decided to leave my parsley
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.
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.
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.
Ate My Parsley?
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.
[!!#!@*##&%] Did You
Move From New Mexico To Florida?
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…
Bird Bath Photos
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.
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.
Peep Poses on the Road to
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
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.
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
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
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?
Did You Step On That Ant?
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
ants to stomp.
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
The field guides do not do justice to this one.
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
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
quite effective. Dogs were poisoned and shot. Their carcasses were
piled up on street corners.
(and Dead) Robins
one summer, either in 1945 or ‘46 we encountered a
“tame” robin that permitted us to approach it
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
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
them subsequently died, and the lawns of the estate were soon littered
with the carcasses of Robins.
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.
to San Isidro, or is it El Paso?
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
responsibilities as I rushed to set up my appointment for a physical
examination in Staten Island the next day.
fish gives me
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
Mobbing Behavior in
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.
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
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
Yesterday, I set
out some New
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.
- (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
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
the time he
spent in Federal Prison.
Kindness of a Stranger -
(Part 3 of 4)
We arrived at
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.
– (Part 2 of 4)
After seeing my
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.
On September 12,
2003 a vagrant
southern Mexico suddenly appeared at Bosque Redondo near Fort Sumner,
NM. It was afterwards seen by multiple observers and
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.
than building its own, it harasses other species of flycatcher until
they abandon their nests, then does some remodeling before laying its
You’ve Been Drafted - (Part 1
When I made the
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
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.
Doctor in Town
On a Sunday
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
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
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.
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
Rosy-finches). The birds usually arrive in early November and stay
until late in March.
This morning the
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
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
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
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.
Children seem to
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.
of Flamingo Flock
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
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.
Early this year
a hen sitting
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
Ninth Ward of
(Part 4 of 4)
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.
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.
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
Segregated Shelters (Part 3 of 4)
As bad as Camille
was, we were
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
Shelters (Part 2 of 4)
shelters after Camille, I found the clinical
experience to be not very dramatic. Hurricane shelter medical practice
was like busy general practice.
(Part 1 of 4)
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,
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.
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
margin and lording over a loose group of much smaller females and
younger or lesser males.
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.
relaxes the eyes. It also confers an
sense of relaxation. One caveat: our new home had to provide us with a
vista, be it mountain or cityscape.
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.
As we were
posing for a family
photo, Graciela looked up into
the sky and I naturally followed suit. “Birds!” I
corrected me: “No, Grampa, Seagulls!” Can you
identify the real birders
in this photo?
Tuck and Amos
read all the
postcards before delivering them, and my
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.
Fives to an “Awesome” Birder
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.
Earth is Flat
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
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
of the river and the curved run of the Erie railroad
windows open, we felt
a connection with the rhythms of
nature. We awoke early to the songs of Canyon Towhees and
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
Looking for the
a schedule to
keep, we planned to drive home right
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
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
we go out before
dawn looking for birds with a bunch
“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
Lou and I got word
that the rosy-finches had just
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
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
It’s Called Medical "Practice"
began the very first day after I
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
“Staff Physician,” in blue rather than the old red
Juice (Part 4 of 4)
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.
in PitchDark (Part 3 of 4)
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.
Grand Canyon: Everybody, OUT! (Part 2
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.
Reservation Adventure (Part 1 of 4)
too many people
can say they closed down the
Grand Canyon. Well, just a piece of it, but I am getting ahead of
I Am Married to a Birdwatcher!
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.
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!”),
in New Mexico, Almost
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.
Park Avenue A&P
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
or $10.02 or something crazy, like $9.87 to avoid getting back smaller
were attuned to the
smells of the woods as the seasons
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.
Work and Misconduct
about 2:00 AM one
morning, the Italian guy who worked
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
Dad passed me down his
old blue ’37 Ford V8 4-door sedan
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
Peed On the Pot Stove?
for Camel cigarettes promoted their
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.
Jobs and Toxic Waste
loved all of my paying
jobs (not counting bringing out
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
is Rescued at Sea
coming to the
States from his home in Torbay,
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
at sea on an ice floe after a sealing ship had left him and several
other men off to club and skin seals.
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
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.
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
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
Buggy Rent House
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.
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
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.
I was in front of
the cookie display, scared and
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.
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.