Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Anything Can Happen...(and often does if you're ready)

Deer (BS Blog) reader,

We interrupt this early morning BIRDING adventure in Benton Harbor, Michigan for a very special mammalian encounter.

Shhhhhh...just watch and listen...(and learn)

A special non-birding moment...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

You Always Remember Your First(s)

Just like your first "love" - you'll always remember...

...the very first of any bird species seen first-hand; where you were, where "it" (they) were, what the weather was like, what you heard, how you felt inside, perhaps even what you were wearing...(no...then again probably not if you are male)

Each time you see a different bird for the initial time, an indelible imprint is left on your brain. For instance I can remember the first time I saw a bird that more or less defined me as a "birder." My family and I were camping in the Colorado Rockies alongside a rushing river. I went down to merely look at the water crashing through the large boulders along the banks. It had rained heavily earlier and the river had swollen, carrying large chunks of debris along with it. I was standing on the bank safely above the torrent when a small movement at water's edge caught my eye. Impossibly a small dark bird was jumping off a rock repeatedly, directly into the strong current, swimming under the water for a bit and then re-emerging for yet another unlikely session. When on the rock, in between its suicidal swimming sorties, its backside would bob up and down endlessly. I was so taken with this extraordinary animal that I researched it as soon as I could. I had just witnessed my "first" American Dipper. - Truly a memorable animal (and life-altering) moment for me.

You may think I am kidding, in that how could the memories of a first love interest compare with seeing a dumb bird for the first time. Well kidding I'm not, and "explain" it I cannot; I just "know" that it happens. Perhaps its all the senses working in harmony when discovering a new species that combine just as in that moment when you decide that he or she is "the one" to have stolen your heart for the very first time. All I can tell you is that I have spoken with many birders out there who can give you the nearly exact moment verbatim, of a personal encounter with a Scarlet Tanager, Western Bluebird, Pied-billed Grebe, or magnificently soaring Red-tailed Hawk as if they were watching a favorite rerun on TV that only they can see. Think back to the special someone in your own life and the moment of that first hand-hold, embrace or's like that people...just like that; forever burned into your head with Technicolor and Dolby. In fact, just start telling one birding enthusiast about your first whatever, and be prepared to engage in a veritable marathon down memory lane.

So get out there and open your eyes (and all your other senses) and truly "see" for a change...the "remembering" part will take care of itself. You'll thank me when those special memories of all your "firsts" come flowing back; just like a scenic Colorado River.

My "first" Common Redpoll at our Milwaukee home.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

"S" is for Summer...and "S"parrows!

Sit yourself down and stare a while...

The temperature was a warm and comfy 78 degrees with bright sunshine as I drove into the Havenwoods (Wisconsin State Forest) in the northern 1/4 of the bustling city of Milwaukee, WI. I had not been to visit in a few months and felt that since it was summer once again, that it was time to look for a few sparrows. Now sparrows mind you, are most everyone's amorphously colored and undefinable "LBBs" (Little Brown Birds), but I still enjoy the challenge each time I swing the Bushnells around to bring one into view. As a matter of fact, summertime is the one of the best times to find many of these elusive species-defying birds. American sparrows are seed-eating birds with conical bills, brown or gray in color, and many species have distinctive head patterns. There are over 64 different sparrow species types (With the word "sparrow" in their names) and 13 species specifically in North America. Originally, the word "sparrow" meant any small bird. However sparrows can even be quite fetching in their mostly muted browns, tans, and whites. (Just ask artist Ellen Granter if she thinks so...) HERE photographer, Greg Lasley has included many images that he has taken with his camera. Sparrows have worked their way into many aspects of human life; poems, songs, plays, and even sparrow-parable-istic humor!

Ahhh, but I digress...the ol' Internet is FULL of "sparrow-stuff" if you want to find it... The purpose of this here blog entry is to share with you-all what I (Professor Bird Stud) saw while in Havenwoods. Of the 37 species I counted in about 2-hours, 7 of them were sparrows; House, Tree, Field, House, Song, Chipping, and Savannah. I walked predominantly along and above the drainage stream, near the open fields filled with native Wisconsin plants and wildflowers. Someone had thoughtfully placed plywood sections on the grass at 100-yard intervals, so I sat down on one to take a load off, and to sit quietly among the taller grasses...watching. I did however notice that I was sharing my perch with a colony of ants, so I was careful to keep them at bay while I waited. I was rewarded with long views of several sparrows doing their sparrowly things. One bird in particular confounded me for many minutes as I watched it clinging to a sturdy stalk of grass. It's long legs didn't seem to fit any profile of any sparrow I had seen before. I kept thinking "Lark," but it just didn't have the markings. I finally went to the sparrow guide I keep with me and discovered that there was and impostor in the mix...a female Bobolink was what I was looking at as it "pretended" to be a sparrow there on that stalk. I took photos and a video for you to see below.

Havenwoods State Forest is chock-full of varying habitat. There are marshes, prairies, ponds, deciduous trees, pine groves, high ground and low ground areas. As such, the bird species are many and mostly segregated to their favorite habitat. I even heard a red-eyed vireo calling it's "look at me, way up high, in the tree, here I am..." song and just HAD to enter the darkened forest area just to get a better listen. (Heck, you can never SEE the darn things at this time of year with all the leaves, but just to hear one in the "big city" was to cool to pass up

I headed back to the white pickup truck after about 2-hours of sun and fun, filled out a species checklist for the Havenwoods staff, bought the patch for my vest...(yep, ever since my Sugar Camp Lions Club days, I have this "thing" for collecting patches and pins...what can I say?)...and drove back home...dreaming of Usinger's Liverwurst on an onion bun, covered in Silver Spring Beer and Brat mustard. Yum!

1910 (hidden) Train Bridge on Havenwoods north edge

PS: The Endangered Sparrow

One sparrow in particular seems to have gone missing completely; the "Dusky" Seaside Sparrow disappeared from earth as the last one in captivity died in Lake Buena Vista, FL. in 1987. The "Cape Sable" Seaside Sparrow is now highly endangered as well.

The "Imposter"
Video of Female Bobolink "sparrow imposter" (LEFT) and Savannah Sparrow (RIGHT)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Unexpected Pleasures

These are the things that make life, just that much sweeter...

Finding money in the pocket of an old pair of jeans...discovering a new shortcut to your place of work...that generic medications work just as well as the more expensive brand named ones...answering a phone call from a long lost friend...hearing an old forgotten song on the radio...finding out that dickcissels are now in your area. haven't heard of a dickcissel? Well, let me tell you a few things about this colorful, social songster if you'll allow me:

1. A proud member of the subfamily Cardinalinae of the family Fringillidae - (yeah, that's Latin... )

2. A streaky brown bird 16 cm (6.5 inches) long, with a black bib on its yellow breast, looking somewhat like a miniature meadowlark.

3. Dickcissels are seedeaters.

4. They breed in weedy fields of the central US and winter in northern South America; some stray to the Atlantic coast in winter.

5. Migratory flocks of Dickcissels assemble into larger and larger flocks gradually growing into thousands of birds. Winter roosts can number in the millions of birds.

6. The male does little other than feed himself and try to attract a mate. The female builds the nest, incubates and feeds the young.

7. The global population of this bird is 22,000,000 individuals and despite threats from crop dusters and agricultural chemicals, it does not appear to meet population decline criteria that would necessitate inclusion on the IUCN Red List.

8. The current evaluation status of the Dickcissel is Least Concern.

The Menomonee River Watershed - 91 acre (Floodwater Detention Basin) area has been in transition for the past 4 years and is just now beginning to attract a new variety of birds to its richly native-plant covered expanse. While the true intention of this expansive movement of over 2 million cubic feet of earth is to provide a place where 100-year stormwater levels can languish until slowly flowing off into the river and ultimately Lake Michigan, it is proving to be the magnetic attraction birders had hoped it to be, for a myriad of migratory species.

Back to the dickcissels...I have taken a small movie and posted it below so that you can hear the very same bird I heard on July 4th, 2009 singing his morning song. Enjoy!

Sources: Brittanica, Whatbird, MMSD

Monday, July 6, 2009

Mom's (Dad's) Day Out

Time for Babies! (again)

I was standing in the kitchen over the Fourth of July weekend just concluded and a cacophony of sound drew me to the window overlooking the feeders. Chittering, squeaking, and chipping was emanating from various small birds on the ground at the base of the feeding area. Nearby each chick were their various doting matching parents, each bending at the hip (do birds even have hips?) with a beakful of something that their eager hatchling(s) would enjoy. The immature shortened feathers bristling as the tiny proteges verily shivered with delight and excitement at the prospect of nourishment. There were Northern Cardinals, American Robins, House Finches and House Sparrows together on the ground under the hanging feeders all doing what comes naturally at this time of year. If you've not had the pleasure of witnessing this preciously choreographed and all important duty, I urge you to pause and do so. Well sir, as I witnessed the feathered conclave of interspecies breakfasting unfolding before me, I was struck by how much the scene under my window ledge reminded me of similar human interractions between new parents, their strollers, and younglings as they too gather at the park for a bit of "outside" the home time. Now, in today's human world just as in the avian it would be unfair to merely call this "Mom's Day Out" without mentioning how the male of the species has gotten his hand or wing into the act. It seems as though both parents have rightly decided the importance of rearing the children together as each has something unique to offer the "kids." Lessons are there to be taught and learned with each interraction and session, so to leave the man of the nest out of the "fun" would be a shame. Well, just as I know that human Mom's (and sometimes Dads) glowingly gush when their own precious one begins to do something for the first time, Don't you also wonder if the "gals" are sitting up in the branches and bragging about how junior just took his first hop or said her first "cheep?" Well...I do...but then that's me.