Sunday, May 30, 2010

It's a Gull-Darned Head Scratcher

Only they know for sure...

Here's one of those urban animal mysteries that is sure to keep you occupied for hours and hours if you let it...why the daily morning gull gathering?

I live on the typical urban mid-sized (mid-western) city of Milwaukee.  My house is also located next to a typical green-space (called a "park") carved out between several city blocks in a (mostly) quiet neighborhood.  Granted, Milwaukee is a city on a Great lake so the fact that there are gulls (not "sea" gulls people) frequently spotted anywhere in the vicinity is not news.  However such a large concentration of gulls (mostly Ring-billed gulls each morning no where near the water is a bit of a conundrum.  Each morning I would hear their plaintive cries and maniacal "laughter" through the bedroom window each day as I am getting up.  The other day (at approximately 5:30 AM) curiosity got the better of me and I decided to finally walked the 200 steps over to Enderis Park, for a better look. 

I took the camera, cause I always take the camera.  While we're on the subject; take your OWN camera just never know what you'll see.  I snapped a few images for the purposes of this blog, however who has not seen a large gathering of gulls right?  Well that crossed my mind too, but snap away I did.  The VIDEO segments are more interesting simply because there's motion and audio too.

So what did I learn from this one stint of gull observation?  Not much really...only a few more questions came to mind.  What I did see and mentally record is the following; the gulls divided themselves into two larger groups; one that seemed to prefer the combination girl's softball / kickball diamond and field and another that took the southern end of the narrow park property, basically doing a sweep of that 1/2 of the grounds, making several "adjustments" by hopping into the air, and moving back north a bit before landing - only to repeat the process.  The entire "show" took about 30 minutes from start to finish.  I paid particular attention to whether or not the Ring-bills were finding (or attempting to find) food in the grass - they were (did) not.  Instead, this morning ritual of typically sea-side avian species seemed to merely be congregating for some larger. more mysterious purpose.  They didn't all land at once, nor did they leave en mass; however the southern group did it's curious sweep and did vacate their chosen area well before the other diamond dwelling conclave.

The ultimate purpose of this morning's "flocking" behavior was lost on me; however that didn't stop me from coming up with several implausible anthropomorphic theories: Perhaps they all meet in Enderis Park each morning to decide the best route each group would take in order to cover the greatest number of unsuspecting citizenry in their chalk-slimy excrement, as they deposit what they have eaten and drank via an aerial carpet bombing campaign?  Maybe this is their birdy equivalent to "let's all meet at Starbucks"?  I guess I'd  prefer to think something a bit more pedantic;  that they enjoy slugs and that each morning as the grass is in full dew-mode, the possibility exists for the greatest number...either that or the early gull gets the worm (or leftover human picnic garbage...yechhhh)

Never the less, they come - each morning - stay for less than 45 minutes - and disappear into the morning sky...the question remains why...why indeed?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Reading of Phoebe...

Snetsinger that is...

Have you read about Phoebe?  I have.  As a matter of fact I finished the book about her life and times while in Florida on spring break.  The book I read was entitled: Life List: A Woman's Quest for the World's Most Amazing Birds by Olivia Gentile.  My friend Tammy had loaned it to me and I eagerly began reading it, interested to learn more about the woman, the myth, the legend.  Granted, this book has been reviewed by all the biggies out there, so my little response isn't really all that necessary, but I'll lay it on you anyway, in just two simple words: astonishingly sad.

I found the book a but sluggish and boomerang-esque with all its back and forth through Phoebe's life over a period of many years.  You do learn more about the ins and outs of the Leo Burnett Advertising Agency (Phoebe's father) but the frequent story rewinds are a bit too, "who cares" for my taste, to keep me riveted to the book.  As a result of that, it took me far longer to trudge through this book than it did for me to read Kenn Kaufman's Kingbird Highway.  Now that book I truly enjoyed, but back to Life List for a few more moments.

The "astonishing" part of my two word review deals with the remarkable birding accomplishments of this uniquely driven, maniacally obsessed woman.  With her boundless financial resources and the understanding of her long-suffering (Purina-rising star) husband Dave; its no wonder Phoebe was able to see all the birds she has recorded on her life list.  Add the threat of a shortened life due to cancer, and Phoebe let 'er really snap.  She took chance after chance with both her safety and her life in pursuit of goal after goal.  Some would look at this behavior and merely applaud it, however I was torn between a "you go girl" attitude, and "what the hell were you thinking?" mindset.  The unfortunate scenarios that she gets herself into are the "sad" portion, and her final, untimely demise is truly the saddest thing about her life.  Most will wistfully say, she died doing what she loved...I logically say, she died and that's a damn shame...I blame the van operator by the way.  If there was ever a more aptly named person (who shared a bir's name) I have yet to read about them...both loners, both obsessed with flitting about in search of stuff...yep, both Phoebes indeed.

So if you want to delve deeply into (not only Phoebe Snetsinger's life) but the lives of anyone she was related to, or came into contact with, read Life List.  If you want pure unfiltered Phoebe, by Phoebe; read Birding On Borrowed Time - her posthumously published autobiography.  I plan to do that very thing; just as soon as Tammy buys it.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Birds of Gulf County Florida (part two)

Watch For Birds?...oh yeahhh, thanks for the friendly reminder Florida!

Florida is amazing on so many levels.  Bountifully beautiful weather, eternally sunny skies, no personal income tax and spectacular critters galore!  While I freely admit to being captively enamored with the all avian life forms of the state, I do take the time to notice the "other" living creatures along the beach.  No, not babes in bikinis, however they can be quite a distraction.  Reptiles and other scaly looking mammals are what I'm referring to for purposes of this blog.  With my camera always at the ready; I tend to snap pictures of damned near anything that interests me, making no apology with each click.  I've even been known to photograph my airline food.  Most likely because flying is such a treat for me and doing it so very seldom, I find it a huge blast when being afforded the opportunity.  I guess the true romantic in me is a bit of a "memory-keeper" and since memories occur when you least expect them to...well...

What do you know about armadillos?  I admit to not knowing much.  Due to this fact, I have provided for the both of us ( me-Birdstud and you- Dear Reader) a handy dandy LINK that should answer just about any questions you or I might have.  Interestingly enough however, one fact about them I found out I was correct about - they are generally nocturnal.  So imagine my surprise when out of the blue (literally) I encountered a good view of one in broad morning daylight!  Of course my propensity to be a shutter bug drove me to capture the images you see in this blog...why you ask?  The answer is always; I though it was cool.

Just like I thought it was cool to take a photo of the huge aligator sunning himself on the far bank of the pond on St. George's Island, Fl.  That's something you don't see everyday right?  That little Pied-billed grebe(pronounced like "feeb") in the foreground-right; better not nod off and wander into shore eh?

The island, an extremely narrow strip of white sand is a bustling tourist magnet for those folks who want to get away from "most" of it all, but have some creature comforts nearby.  There are plentiful tee shirt and hat shops on the island...YES so that makes it fine with me.  There are places to dine and feast on fresh bay oysters, and LOTS of bird life both on the beach and just a bit off shore even MORE.  One needs their super-duper strong Bushnell's to see them, however it is totally amazing to watch the Northern Gannets diving from way up high into the surf in search of an ocean meal.  These bad boys have very descriptive and etched facial markings, making them appear fierce.  They are basically built like little white fishing missles.  I watched them flying along the beach on several of the days in large flocks, not unlike White pelicans do.  Their gutteral calls in these larger groups can sound a bit like a pod of manatees...or at least what I imagine a pod of manatees would sound like, since I have not seen, nor heard a pod of manatees...come to think of it.

So that takes us to the end of another scintillating installment of Birdstud's Blog.  Have we all learned something?  I sure hope so...cause there's soooooo much TO learn each day, every moment of our lives if we keep our eyes and ears and heart open...remember to save those memories and to WATCH FOR BIRDS!