Friday, December 30, 2005

West Pasco CBC Scouting

I did some scouting at Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Area today for tomorrow's WPCBC. Things were very slow, the best birds were two Blue-headed Vireos. I need to dust off my vireo identification skills...don't see a lot of vireos in Chicago in December!

I also checked the Courtney Campbell Causeway (I assume this is in the Tampa CBC) and, as always, there were a ton of birds, including 45 American Oystercatchers, and tons of other shorebirds.

Tomorrow I will hopefully blog the results of the WPCBC.

Until then, how many species of shorebirds can you identify in this photo?

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Snail Kites and Limpkins.

Well, the CBC situation down here is still a bit uncertain, so after I do the West Pasco CBC on Saturday (I am headed that way tomorrow to scout) I may have to amuse myself for a few days.

I drove around a bit south of Orlando today, and ended up at Brinson Park in Kissimmee again in late afternoon. There were at least eleven Limpkins and two Snail Kites working thee area, along with thousands of American Coots and the usual Bald Eagles, Osprey, etc. The real star of the show was this Limpkin who posed cooperatively right near the parking lot. I also took a few photos of the more "common" species.

And finally, here is a barely recognizable photo of a Snail Kite:

BINAC in the Sunshine State

Well, I'm back in Florida, where I have just added Wood Stork as a yard bird.

I am hoping to do several CBCs down here, but some of the compilers have been a bit difficult. The West Pasco CBC ("WPCBC") is on Saturday, and I'm sure that will be lots of fun. Until then, enjoy the two photos I took from the parking lot behind the Chick-Fil-A.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

From the Field: Christmas Counting at the Little (Yellow) House on the Prairie.

I picked up John da Fisherman a bit early since I was able to leave work at about 2:30. John was apparently a bit surprised to see me, as he informed me when he got into the car that he had only had time to finish five of the six beers he had intended to drink before our journey began. Fully fortified with those five beers, John required no real food during our trip, surviving on a bag of pretzels, two Pepsis, and a couple gallons of coffee.

It was pitch-black when we arrived at the Little (Yellow) House on the Prairie at Nachusa Grasslands, located in Ogle and Lee Counties near the town of Oregon. The grasslands and the house are owned by the Nature Conservancy, and the compiler had arranged with the TNC (thank you, TNC!) for us to have use of the house for the CBC, which meant that we didn't have to make the two-hour drive from Chicago in the early morning. I think our compiler still had a bit of "birder's guilt" from the first time I did this count in about 2000.

You see, it was about 10 degrees out that year, very windy, with about a foot of snow on the ground. Walking the prairie was tough. We split into three parties. I walked a couple of miles through the snow, ice, and freezing wind, and saw very few birds. The second party did the same, and one of their members fell and seriously hurt his leg, he was out of commission for a couple of weeks and missed his other counts. The third party, lead by the compiler, started a bit after us and heard us report on the radios that we were not seeing many birds. They started their route at a farmhouse with some feeders. When they passed the house, the attractive young woman who resided there invited them in to warm up. When the first two parties found them 90 minutes later, they were "feeder watching" from a recliner in the living room, with a cup of hot cocoa in one hand, and homemade cookies in the other! Anyway, on to the count.

As usual, we started at the grasslands. I drove over to Lowden Miller State Forest to drop John off for his morning walk, but by the time we got there it was pouring rain, so we changed our plans and returned to Nachusa where the remaining parties were to walk the grasslands. The weather was better at Nachusa, and there were a couple of Harriers and a Rough-legged Hawk cruising the area. My walk was fairly uneventful, although I did find some nice birds along the creek line, including two flickers and a White-crowned Sparrow, both of which are good birds for this count.

After leaving the grasslands, I picked up John and we headed back to Lowden Miller. (Actually, John, who was assigned to do some pine trees, had decided to follow the creek, and when he saw me and started yelling he was way out of the area he was supposed to cover. If I hadn't heard him yelling, he'd probably still be walking that prairie.) On our way to Lowden Miller, we stopped to look at an odd bird that was feeding on the side of the road that turned out to be our "bird of the day." After much puzzlement we realized that it was a Vesper Sparrow, which is a great bird for any Northern Illinois CBC. Vespers are seen on CBCs in the extreme southern part of the state every now and then, but northern IL CBC records are almost unheard of.

I dropped John off for his 30 minute walk, which had been reduced to that short time period because of the weather and heavy snow pack. It was much tougher walking the forest trails than it had been walking the grasslands, probably because the snow in the open fields had melted more than the snow in the heavy forests. I next saw John about two hours later. Although he knows Lowden Miller well and birded there several times this summer, he got lost. He told me that he spent the last 45 minutes running back to the parking lot to make sure I wouldn't forget him. He told me that he was sweating so hard that the map he had in his back pocket was wet. He then pulled the map out and offered it to me as proof, but I told him it was his to keep.

I grabbed a Subway sandwich from town and we sat by the Oregon Dam on the Rock river for lunch. There were a bunch of Herring Gulls, and a couple of goodies, a Redhead and a female Bufflehead. Most of the river was frozen, so the "dam birds" would be pretty much the only waterfowl of the count.

We then headed to Lowden State Park (not to be confused with Lowden Miller) where the birding really picked up. We saw a couple of Tufted Titmice, three Red-headed Woodpeckers, and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. There were plenty of common birds around as well.

We were losing our light, so we spent the rest of the day driving farm fields, looking for larks and longspurs and blackbirds. We struck out on the field birds, but did find a small flock of Brown-headed Cowbirds, and a few more Ring-necked Pheasants.

We ended our day back at the Oregon Dam, where thousands of geese were flying in to roost, or were flying south down the river. Birds were still moving in the dark when we left at about 6:15 pm. New arrivals included 5 Common Goldeneye and a small flock of Common Mergansers. We must have missed the compiler who was supposed to meet us in the dam parking lot, so we started the long and uneventful drive back to Chicago.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Oprah kills bird!

Well, at least it took a piece out of her private jet.


Oprah's Jet Grounded After Striking Bird
Associated Press
Published December 27, 2005, 8:26 AM CST

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- Oprah Winfrey's private jet was forced to return to the city airport after its windshield was cracked in a collision with a bird, officials said. Winfrey and her boyfriend, Stedman Graham, were not hurt in the incident, which occurred around 12:30 p.m. Monday just after the GulfStream jet had taken off from Santa Barbara Municipal Airport, said Santa Barbara Fire Department spokesman John Ahlman. "This is not a totally unusual thing," Ahlman said of the cracked windshield. "We see these things pretty frequently." The plane will remain grounded until its windshield can be repaired, Ahlman said. Winfrey bought a mansion on 42 acres of land in the hills of nearby Montecito five years ago. The host of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" has won several Emmys and other awards for her work on daytime television.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas Bird Counting with John da Fisherman

Well, one down, and who knows how many to go. Our first CBC for 2005-6 is in the bank. On last Sunday, yours truly and virtually the entire BINAC team went out into the field for the 59th annual Lisle/Morton Arboretum Christmas Bird Count, which has graciously been sponsored by the Chicago Ornithological Society for many years.

The temperatures were unexpectedly cold (hovering between 5-10 degrees all day) and there were 4-6 inches of snow on the ground in most places, but we still broke the old count record with a total of 80 species. Actually, although it was a bit tough (the snow was worse than the cold because snow makes it difficult to walk fields and seldom-visited forest preserves all day), the conditions were almost perfect for maximizing our species count. The snow concentrated birds at feeders and pushed a few hard-to-find species like Horned Larks and Lapland Longspurs into the (now almost completely suburban) circle from surrounding farm fields. Eighty species is a pretty good total for a Northern Illinois count that does not include any of the Lake Michigan shoreline.

The most amazing thing, though, is that the parties in my part of the circle (Area 6--our excellent compiler, Geoff Williamson, has divided the circle into six areas, each with an area leader) found an incredible *70* species on count day. That is truly amazing when you consider that all six areas combined only found 80 species, and that as recently as the year 2000 the *entire circle* only recorded 70 species. (I just checked the Cornell web site and it states that there were 81 species recorded in 2003, but I'm pretty sure Geoff said we had broken the record, so maybe my memory is incorrect and we actually had 82 species this year...or maybe it's a "count week" issue or something.) I think the area with the second-highest total this year had 52 species or something close to that. This was pretty much our "Perfect Storm" for this CBC and I'm not sure I can picture us pulling out more than 70 species from Area 6 next year, unless the weather is really warm and we have marshes that have not yet frozen over.

The countdown dinner was, as usual, a blast, and the pizza from the Home Run Inn tasted sweeter than it ever has. Geoff has put together an incredible Powerpoint-type presentation where each party reads off their totals for each species, starting with the common birds (Code 1) and finishing with birds that are not on the checklist (Code 4 birds). There is a lot of trash-talking (well, mainly from the BINAC crew), and the countdown format does build some suspense as you're waiting to see what Code 4 birds everyone has in their pocket, and as the species count creeps up towards the record on the big screen.

My party consisted of myself and three other birders, including British Steve. John da Fisherman coordinated the other half of Area 6 and had 3-4 parties in the field. John told me a great story after the count about him falling in teh snow on his naked ass but I don't think I can tell the whole story here. Every time we go to the countdown dinner John loses a few great birds his parties saw and this year was no exception. At one point, we had just finished counting and adding all of the birds John's parties had seen to the running total I had tabulated from our other parties when John pulls yet another crumpled list out of his back pocket...the whole table erupted in laughter, everyone else must have though we were crazy, but he had some good birds on that crumpled list! I'm still trying to figure out what a "Crackling Goose" is, but we got photos, so count 'em!

My personal best bird was a Gray Catbird (second one I have seen on this count in the past few years) that I had staked out the night before when I saw it fly into a bush on the edge of a robin roost at dusk on Saturday. It took a little bit of (ahem) coaxing, but he popped out of that very same bush first thing Sunday morning. I also saw another Gray Catbird, which I assume (?) was the same bird, near dusk on Sunday about 25 yards away from the morning sighting.

Friday, December 23, 2005

BINAC on the radio/Using Google Earth for CBCs

For those of you in the Chicago area, I will be on WBBM 780 talking about Christmas Bird Counts sometime this afternoon.

We have been using topographic maps, and aerial and satellite photos, for several years to prepare for our local CBCs. Google Earth has now made this technology much more accessible to the average birder, and hopefully everyone is using the Google Earth maps to plan for their counts.

One thing I didn't think of, though, was that you can actually draw your CBC circle on a Google Earth map. I haven't tried this myself, but Nuthatch has posted detailed instructions on how to do that here.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Bird flies 2,500 miles for food

Here's an incredible seabird story:

Bird Flies 2,500 Miles for Baby's Food
By MICHAEL CASEY, Associated Press Writer

BANGKOK, Thailand - Talk about a working mother. A Christmas Island frigate bird named Lydia recently made a 26-day journey of about 2,500 miles — across Indonesian volcanoes and some of Asia's busiest shipping lanes — in search of food for her baby.

The trip, tracked with a global positioning device by scientists at Christmas Island National Park, is by far the longest known nonstop journey by one of these critically endangered seabirds.

Previously, the black-and-white scavengers with distinctive pink beaks and wingspans of up to 8 feet were known only to fly a few hundred miles from their nesting sites, staying away for just a few days at a time, officials said.

"It's a real revelation," said David James, coordinator of biodiversity monitoring for Christmas Island National Park, the birds' only known breeding ground. "The thing that really surprised me is that it was a long, nonstop journey, and that she crossed overland over volcanoes," James said. "Normally, you would expect the seabirds to fly over the sea."

Lydia's trip started Oct. 18 from Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean about 310 miles south of Indonesia's capital, Jakarta, and 1,600 miles northwest of Perth, in western Australia. Leaving a baby chick in the care of her partner, Lydia headed south over open waters — probably to steal fish from other seabirds, a common habit among frigate birds.
She then circled back on Oct. 26 and flew between Indonesia's Java and Sumatra islands. From there, she headed across Borneo island on Nov. 9 before flying back over Java and returning on Nov. 18 to her nesting site, where she likely regurgitated a meal for her chick.

Though the journey was a record for a frigate bird, it falls short of the top trip among birds monitored by scientists — a 46-day round-the-world trek by a gray-headed albatross, according to Birdlife International, a Britain-based conservation group that keeps track of threatened species.

Lydia is one of the first four Christmas Island frigate birds to be fitted with a satellite tracking device. Funded by a grant from the American Bird Conservancy, the devices — metal boxes about 2.5 inches long and 1 inch wide, with an eight-inch antenna — are attached by harnesses.
They give scientists much needed data on the flight paths and feeding patterns of frigate birds. Previously, most such data came courtesy of bird watchers, who have reported frigate birds turning up mostly in Asia, but as far away as Kenya in east Africa.

Officials hope the new satellite data will help improve conservation efforts. "With only around 1,200 pairs confined to this small island in the Indian Ocean, the Christmas Island frigate bird is one of the worlds most threatened seabirds," said Ed Parnell, spokesman for Birdlife International. "This new satellite tracking data will add enormously to our knowledge of the species."

James said the distance Lydia traveled raises some serious questions about efforts to stem the decline of the birds, whose numbers have fallen by 10 percent over the past 20 years.
"We're surprised she would have spent that long away from her nest when she had a chick," he said. "That begs the question: Why does she need to go that far? It raises the suspicion that fish resources around Christmas Island are not currently adequate. That might explain the slow and gradual decline of the bird."

James and Birdlife officials said Lydia's route also raised concerns, since it covered industrial areas, mining sites and waters popular with commercial fishing fleets.

"It is tragically ironic that while Lydia nests on one the world's most remote and pristine islands, she makes her living in some of the most degraded seas on the planet," James said. "Fishing pressure is huge and marine pollution is severe."

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Eastern "Cheech" Owl

Don't know *how* I could have missed this great story, even while I was out-of-town, but I did. This is the sort of thing that sounds like an urban legend, but the news report looks legit:


Screech owl gets higher than a Georgia pine
N.Y. Times Regional News Service
December 14. 2005 6:01AM

SARASOTA - Veterinary staff members from Pelican Man's Bird Sanctuary were a little surprised when they were recently called to rescue a screech owl found perched in a Christmas tree that had been inside a house for five days. But the story got stranger still when medical staff examined the owl back at the sanctuary's hospital and noticed a sweet smoky smell coming from the bird. Staff took turns sniffing the bird and agreed. Not only did the bird smell of marijuana, it was clearly feeling the effects. ''The owl was leaning back on its backside and 'vegging' out,'' said Jeffrey Dering, the sanctuary's executive director. A blood sample confirmed the diagnosis: The owl was stoned.
The staff briefly considered giving the bird a bag of Cheetos, but decided to simply let the drug wear off. The owl was fine by the next day.
Although they don't normally name the birds they care for, sanctuary staff couldn't help but dub the owl Cheech the Screech, after the stoner played by Cheech Marin in the Cheech & Chong movies. Cheech is doing well and is scheduled to be released shortly.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

ABA Checklist Committee Will Not Remove Ivory-billed Woodpecker From The Category Of "Extinct" Until "Unequivocal Proof" Of Rediscovery Is Produced!!!

There is a very short piece on page 13 of the latest issue of "Winging It" (see, I still am an ABA Member, even if ABA Sales Sucks) by Tony White, the Chair of the ABA's Recording Standards and Ethics Committee ("ABARSEC"?), that is quite interesting.

Although the ABA's position is that anyone who thinks they have seen an Ivory-billed Woodpecker can count it, the "Checklist Committee has not changed the status of the species from Code 6 (EXTINCT) to another level that would reflect a small surviving population. The Committee is waiting for unequivocal proof that the species still exists."

Friday, December 16, 2005

Pranty and CBC Season Have Arrived!!!!!

Good news, bad news: I am back from Milwaukee, but I have to go back Sunday night to work on Monday. I did get the new Pranty today, though, so all is well.

Our first CBC will be the Lisle/COS/Morton Arboretum CBC in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. I will be doing that count myself, with a bunch of the usual suspects, and I'll post a detailed trip report when I have the time. There is the potential that we might have reports from at least three other counts by the end of the week, stay tuned for more...

Monday, December 12, 2005

What do you do when they run a highway through your CBC areas?

I am in the middle of a major work project in Milwaukee right now. I don't even have any time to check the lakefront for gulls or Snowy Owls. But I did check a few of my Christmas Bird Count areas on Saturday before I left for Brew City, and I was quite surprised to find a brand-new under construction INTERSTATE HIGHWAY running through my best sparrow field, bisecting almost my entire count area!

Now, they don't plan and build interstate highways overnight, so this one has been in the works for a long time, but I didn't think construction was going to begin until 2006 at the earliest. This road literaly wiped out 3 or 4 of my best spots, and makes several other prime areas inaccessible.

C'est la Vie, I guess.

My CBC schedule (assuming I finish my work in Milwaukee) starts in earnest this Sunday. I hope to blog all of the counts I am involved with, and still have enough time to finish my Japan trip reports, and write something about my recent Florida trip as well.

Credibility. What would you think if I said...

...something like this:
I have seen our nation deteriorate,,the intelligence level is going down, spiraling down and since the development of the world wide web it is more apparent than ever.

For the most part the internet and the public forums are inhabited by almost exclusively two types of people. Stupid and senseless 12-25 year olds that do not step outside of their homes except to smoke weed or dress like vampires and hang out in malls.

The other half are women mostly(and some men) who are grossly overweight and dissatisfied with life. They are on a barrage of medications, usually antidepressants, and are looking for some type of human connection but are so uncomfortable with their bodies and self image that they cannot leave the house.
You might think that I had gone off my rocker, huh? Would it change the way you viewed the rest of my blog? Would change your opinion of this blog? Because here I am, posting on the Internet, whining that everyone on the Internet is stupid and senseless. What if I also said:

Then there is a very small percentage of people who frequent the internet who are intelligent, who are looking for a quick way to transmit intelligent information and dip into the this sick and mentally deranged pool that is known as the worl wide web.

You decide where you fit.

Our society is crumbling quickly.
Our society's health is crumbling quickly.
Our society is becoming obese, sick, and stupid.


Whoa, sounds like I've really gone off the deep end, huh? What the hell am I talking about? Maybe I would continue my rant against fish breeders (seriously) and against society in general:


They only need to supply fish and pet retailers with animals that look colorful and die,,and when they die they give these retarded fat overmedicated people the drama in their life that they feed on,,,it makes most people happy when their pets die,,,so they can go on line and reach out to their forum "friends' and cry and get sympathy.

Just look at all of the ~hugs~ that get thrown around,,,how sick.

I am done with fish, with fish people, with forums,,,,,,,I mean,,how many times can you try to answer the forum post,,,",,my fish has ich,,what do I do?"

How many fucking times has this been answered???????
How many people want to listen to an intelligent answer that will solve the problem? One or two?
The rest do not want an answer,,they want the problem to persist so they will lose the fish and they can complain and cry and take more anti deprresants so they feel needed by an invisible community of losers.


OK, you're still with me so far? I've been acting pretty strangely, huh? One last thing: What if I got tired of ranting against all of the "mentally deranged" people on the "worl wide web" (sic) and decided to start a web site claiming that I had seen not just one but two Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in Florida? And what if I got people all over the world to link to my IBWO site, and talk about my IBWO sightings?

Would my credibility be gone? Or was it, as the Eagles said, already gone?

Friday, December 09, 2005

An old bird joke.

Things are crazy right now, with work and CBCs, so updates will be scarce for a week or so. But we will have some new content.. Until then, here is an old bird joke about a parrot:

The Parrot

A young man named John received a parrot as a gift. The parrot had a bad attitude and an even worse vocabulary. Every word out of the bird's mouth was rude, obnoxious and laced with profanity. John tried and tried to change the bird's attitude by consistently saying only polite words, playing soft music and anything else he could think of to "clean up" the bird's vocabulary.

Finally, John was fed up and he yelled at the parrot. The parrot yelled back. John shook the parrot and the parrot got angrier and even ruder. John, in desperation, threw up his hand, grabbed the bird and put him in the freezer. For a few minutes the parrot squawked and kicked and screamed. Then suddenly there was total quiet. Not a peep was heard for over a minute. Fearing that he'd hurt the parrot, John quickly opened the door to the freezer.

The parrot calmly stepped out onto John's outstretched arms and said "I believe I may have offended you with my rude language and actions. I'm sincerely remorseful for my inappropriate transgressions and I fully intend to do everything I can to correct my rude and unforgivable behavior." John was stunned at the change in the bird's attitude. As he was about to ask the parrot what had made such a dramatic change in his behavior, the bird continued,"May I ask what the turkey did?"

Thursday, December 08, 2005

S(no)wy Owling at Northerly Island (Clear Channel Still Sucks!!!)

Way back when, in one of the very first posts to this blog, we mentioned the "temporary" 10,000 seat concert arena that had been built by Clear Channel at Northerly Island. (Northerly Island is a former airport, located on the lakefront right in the middle of downtown Chicago. It has been designated as a nature preserve by the Mayor, and currently has the distinction of being probably the only nature preserve in the entire world that includes a "temporary" 10,000 seat outdoor concert arena.) I like to mention Clear Channel every now and then, because there is a Clear Channel Gnome sitting in a cubicle in San Antonio that spends part of his day, every day, searching for blogs that mention the words "Clear Channel." Just doing my part to keep gnomes employed.

Anyway, back in that early post I commented that " is amazing how many people, and how much equipment, it takes to run even a relatively small "temporary" concert venue. The acres of asphalt and steel seem pretty permanent to me, but if CC and the Park District say this venue is "temporary," well then I guess it must be true." So it has been interesting for me to bird there over the last few months, anxiously awaiting the moment when the "temporary" 10,000 seat concert venue would be taken down for the winter. Guess what? It's still there! The steel girders, the seating area, the bleachers, the concrete, the asphalt, the office and bathroom trailers, the shipping containers, all still there. It looks like a very cheap (and very cold) trailer park, the perfect sight along Chicago's beautiful lakefront. Once again, the "conservation community" in the Chicago area has been played for the fools they are. They bought it hook, line, and sinker.

Of course, Clear Channel made some token efforts to pretend that the thing would actually be taken down, but what they did was laughable. For example, the concrete where the bleachers were built is still there, the steel structure forming the bleachers is still there, but they took down the boards that people actually sat on. I guess they thought that people wouldn't notice the massive steel skeleton they left behind.

Oh well, the reason I went to Northerly Island tonight was to check for Snowy Owls. Several Snowies have been reported in Southern Wisconsin or Northern Illinois over the past week or two, and before the airport was destroyed, Northerly Island used to be one of the best places in the Midwest to find Snowy Owls. Unfortunately, I didn't see any Snowies (Snowys?) tonight, which got me thinking. I haven't seen a Snowy in Chicago for several years, I think the last one I saw was the bird that showed up right around Halloween a few years ago at Montrose and showed well for a couple of weeks. Another recent sightings was a yard bird, a Snowy that I saw (from the top floor of my building) being harassed by a Peregrine on the Chicago Avenue breakwater. I have to travel to Milwaukee for work next week, starting this Saturday, so maybe I will get a chance to see one in Wisconsin.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Record-breaking Day

Yesterday was a record-breaking day for BINAC, we broke our prior record (by four) for the most pages views in a single day, and this was *without* any spambot attacks, and without any significant traffic from links at other sites. Yesterday was also a top-five day for unique visitors.

The Statcounter we use only keeps specific demographic information on visitors for the last 1,000 hits, but you can see the historical numbers all the way back to the first post on July 17. In the last 1,000 hits, we have had visitors from 36 different states, the top ten states from which we have had visitors are, in order, North Carolina, Minnesota, California, Michigan, Illinois, Texas, Florida, Colorado, Wisconsin, and Washington. In the last 1,000 hits, we have had visitors from 23 different countries, the top ten countries are the U.S.A., U.K., Canada, Australia, Netherlands, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Finland, and Japan.

The most popular pages that have not been linked anywhere are the posts on the Imperial Woodpecker and the Night Parrot. The site that sends us the most traffic, by far, is Tom Nelson's IBWO skeptic site. The number of referrals we get from Tom's site exceeds even the traffic we get from the regular I and the Bird blogging carnival, a link from Tom's site usually exceeds the I and the Bird traffic by a multiple of three or four.

The five most popular search terms are "Night Parrot", followed by three variations on "Imperial Woodpecker", followed by two variations of "Azores." The most inexplicable search term was "woods 7500 backhoe attachment located in ohio," but who can forget "australian bushmen masturbation", "federal goverment holiday schedule 2005", and my favorite, "i know we all thought they were extinct but, i swear, i just saw a whole flock of ornithologist".

ABA Sales Still Sucks!

OK, since a lot of people have asked about it, here is part of an article from the July/August issue of the ABA newsletter, Winging It, that describes the changes at ABA Sales (please excuse the weird formatting in this post):

By the end of this summer 2005, the ABA will have embarked on a new working
relationship with Common Ground Distributors, a large and well-established enterprise
founded in 1985 with broad experience in the natural history field and specific knowledge of
the needs and preferences of the birding community.

We anticipate a seamless transition into this new collaboration, particularly as our talented and dedicated Director of ABA Sales, Terry O’Nele, will be moving over to the staff of Common Ground.

These are big changes and exciting ones, and every one of them will be positive for the ABA and
the membership. There will be lower prices on many items and a wider selection of product
choices for you. A new and more user-friendly website will be available for those who choose to
shop online.

Just as importantly, of course, there are many things that will not change. ABA
members will continue to receive outstanding service from customer service representatives,
and many items will be available at special member discounts. Telephone orders
will still be accepted by helpful, knowledgeable staff members at 800/634-7736. Complete, informative product catalogues will continue to appear in your mailbox, and you will still be able to shop in our birding store at ABA conventions.
The way that was written, doesn't it sound like they were *expecting* problems? BTW, the "new" ABA online store, which the web site says would appear "around Thanksgiving," has yet to materialize. But hey, that's not a major issue, who buys gifts "around Thanksgiving" anyway?
The excerpt above was written by Steve Runnels, the (former?) CEO/President of the ABA. The ABA website states that they are now taking applications for the position of President/Chief Executive Officer, so Runnels must have left???? If anyone has the scoop on this, please let me know; I couldn't find a press release or anything on the ABA website, and an extensive Google search came up empty as well. I think it might have been mentioned in the latest issue of Winging It, but I don't have that issue handy.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Report from the Field Museum Ivory-billed Woodpecker Presentation

I'm no Tom Nelson (then again, who is?), but a couple of people (not just Tom) have asked me to report on the IBWO presentation at the Field Museum on Wednesday so here goes:

Basically, there was no "new" news, and the presentation was similar to what has been reported from the other presentations.

There was a very large crowd on hand, someone said there were 600 tickets sold. I think that estimate may be a bit high, but there certainly were several hundred people there. The largest (Simpson) Theatre at the Field was nearly full. At $20/$25 a head, that's more than $12,000 from this single presentation.

This was definitely *not* your typical birding crowd. Let me say that the Nature Conservancy had some *fine* women working at the event. People were dressed very well, many wearing suits and sipping on the free wine. No whiskey or bourbon, so I just stuck with a Sprite. I got the impression that most of these people were Field Museum or Nature Conservancy donor-types. There was a decent number of birders present, but not as many as expected. I did have a very interesting conversation with a couple of birders who were discussing their idea to start an online pornography business. Maybe that's why I missed the Burrowing Owl conversation. Priorities, priorities.

I found myself standing next to Gene Sparling, who was wearing a green suit. British Steve commented that Sparling looked a bit like a Leprechaun. I wholeheartedly agree, and believe that the special powers possessed by Leprechauns could explain a lot of strange things that have happened in Arkansas with the IBWO.

Before the presentation, Dave Willard, Curator of Birds at the Field, had a bunch of specimens available for people to examine, including Pileated and Ivory-billed woodpeckers, he also brought out a number of other extinct or near-extinct species, like Carolina Parakeet and Passenger Pigeon. There has been a lot of talk about how the Arkansas observers were sure they saw IBWOs because of the huge size of the birds they saw, so I though it was interesting for Dave to compare the size of two specimens, as seen in this photo (note the encased Auk in the background!):
I know its not a great photo, but they're pretty similar in size, huh? Here's another photo that illustrates the point even better:

OK, I know what you're thinking: that can't be right. Here are two reasons why the two birds in the photo look so similar in size. First, the specimens were prepared by two different people, and the appearance of skins and stuffed birds can vary greatly depending on how they are prepared. The PIWO in the photo might have gotten a little extra stuffing from the preparer. Second, Dave stated that the Pileated pictured is a "northern" Pileated, which is much larger than the race of "southern" Pileateds that would most likely be found in Arkansas. Still, I think these photos illustrate a valid point to be made: the largest Pileateds can be nearly as large as the average Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

The presentation itself was opened by John McCarter, the President of the Field Museum. Nobody here cares who he is or what he said, so I didn't even take a photo. He did read from an original Audubon journal that is in the Field's library, which was pretty cool.

Fitz was up next. His presentation was pretty straightforward, nothing that hasn't already been said. I was a bit surprised when, at the beginning of his talk, he used hypothetical terms to describe the existence of the IBWO. He used phrases like "might possibly" and "may still exist." But for the remainder of the presentation he dropped the hypothetical language. Fitz emphasized that this was a "conservation" and not a "birding" story, but of course that hasn't stopped Cornell from asking dozens of birders to help them search for a bird that they've spent millions of dollars on and have been trying to find for almost two years.

Fitz did mention that they have identified six potential nest holes, not sure if this new info or not. You'd think they might cut one of those roost holes down to check the groove marks and see if there was any DNA evidence inside...but I can't be the only person who has thought of that, can I?

Of course, he also played the Luneau video on the big screen. It does look better in person than on the computer, but not *that* much better. I think I would describe myself as a "skeptical believer." I think all of the evidence points to an IBWO living in Arkansas, but the evidence is flimsy as hell. If I was a 60% believer before the presentation, I am maybe at 63% after the presentation. One interesting thing was the total lack of emotion or movement from the Luneaus in the boat when the bird flies by. If I had thought I'd just seen an IBWO, I'd be jumping up and down and probably end up in the water. One detail that is much clearer on the blown-up video is the white on the bird's back, which I could never clearly see on the computer or even on television. It does look like the bird starts its flight from a tree, but I'm still not buying the "pixels on a tree" argument that Cornell claims shows a perched IBWO.

The sound evidence was also played, nothing new there, Fitz said they don't know for sure what the noises are but that there are clusters of them. He also talked about the "wingbeat calculation," and stated that the baseline for IBWO wingbeats was taken from a sonogram made of brief film clip of a flying IBWO that was filmed in the Singer tract in the 1930's.

Gene Sparling also spoke for a bit. He was sitting in the audience, but when Fitz introduced him, he magically appeared onstage! To be serious for just a second, I thought that Gene was by far the most credible and effective speaker of the night. His general theme was something like "I'm proof of how ordinary people can have a positive effect," and his story was much more compelling than having some TNC suit from Arkansas ask for $12 million.

Next up was Scott Simon, some TNC suit from Arkansas who asked for $12 million. Or something like that. I took this opportunity to take a bathroom break and grab some IBWO bookmarks out in the lobby.

That was pretty much it, there was no question-and-answer session. No mention, of course, of any abnormal Pileateds. A bit of a letdown, I suppose, but still a nice presentation.

Really, though, I got the feeling that the whole event was more about raising money than talking about the IBWO. I guess that's to be expected, to a point, but it also shows what is really at stake if they don't find a nest or roost hole this season in Arkansas.

Even if the IBWO does exist in Arkansas, if Cornell does not definitively document a pair or a nest hole during the upcoming field season, will Cornell's efforts be considered a failure? How can habitat be preserved if you don't even know what habitat a bird prefers? What if Elvis was only a wandering bird, and the only remaining breeding IBWOs are located miles away in Louisiana and Mississippi, on private property that needs to be protected right now? What if the money being spent in Arkansas could be better spent acquiring land in other places? That's why nailing down a definitive sighting, and a nest or roost hole, is so critically important. Tom Nelson and others have criticized Cornell's findings by using the assumption that IBWOs have not recently lived in Arkansas. I think that the whole identification debate tends to obscure an even more important issue: Assuming that the IBWO does currently exist in the southern U.S., has Cornell adopted the right strategy to find the bird and foster its existence? That is the debate that should be occurring right now.

P.S. They never caught the carjacker but they did recover a weapon in the parking garage across the street from my place.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

ABA Sales Sucks

Time for a quick rant: The ABA Sales Department now officially sucks. I used to order all of my birding books from them, even if I could find the books a bit cheaper at Amazon, as a show of support for the birding community. No more. Their service has steadily declined since the Sales Department was outsourced. Another failure of the corporatized ABA.

I ordered a book a few weeks ago and it took them weeks to fulfill the order; by the time I got the book, I had already completed my trip! I know that things are sometimes out-of-stock, but they always used to tell you when something would take a long time.

Now, I'm trying to order Bill Pranty's revised Florida guide; ABA Sales says it should have been released in the spring, but they still only have the old version (which was out of stock anyway) listed. Turns out the book has been out for a few weeks now, and the ABA apparently has it in stock, they just haven't bothered to update the web site. Oh yeah, the minimum shipping charge is $7.25 for a book costing over $15, so if the new Pranty guide costs $21 (and who knows how much it costs since they still haven't listed it) you're paying almost $30 (with taxes and shipping) for a $21 book. SUCKS!

I will go to Amazon or Buteo Books for all of my future birding books, unless the ABA is the only place that sells the item I'm looking for.

ABA Sales: The Ticketmaster of Birding

Rare Bird Prediction Tool/Burrowing Owl in Illinois

A Burrowing Owl has apparently been hanging around in Southern Illinois for at least a week or two; the birding community at large was only made aware of its presence a few days ago. (Yes, I'm wondering who saw it over the last week or two and didn't tell anyone about it-- bastards!)

Anyway, this got me thinking about how to predict when a rare bird will arrive, and I've come up with an equation that has a high probability of correctly predicting when the next rare vagrant will arrive in Illinois.

First, make a list of all of the hypothetical species that *could* be seen in Illinois. Next, identify the rarest 1% of the birds on that list. After you have done that, pick out the five most interesting/"showy" birds from that 1%.

Finally, get a calendar, and mark my next trip out of town on that calendar. One of the five birds on the list you made will show up on the first day of my next trip. Reliability is guaranteed. You can call this the "BINACgoneagain Effect," which is similar to the Patagonia Effect, but much meaner. I tend to repel rare birds, so when I leave town, others invariably find them. See Hermit Warbler (Morton Arboretum) and Wood Stork (Palos area).

Burrowing Owl is on my top-5 "Most Wanted" list for Illinois (with Black Skimmer, Northern Hawk Owl, Great Gray Owl, and Evening Grosbeak), so I was not surprised when the news of its confirmation arrived just as I was getting onto a plane bound for Florida.

I had a plan worked out where I would hop on a flight to St. Louis, rent a car, drive to the Burrowing Owl site north of Carbondale, then drive back to Chicago. I let the predicted 4 inches of snow and low temperatures in Chicago, contrasted with the 75 degree temperature in Tampa today, talk me out of this plan. I guess the bird was not refound today so I'm glad I didn't change my plans.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


As I was coming back from the Ivory-billed Woodpecker presentation, there was apparently an attempted carjacking with shots fired in front of my building. I didn't see it, but it must have happened just as I arrived back home. One of the suspects may have fled into the parking garage across the street, and about 40 police officers, armed with machine guns and dogs, are currently searching the garage.

I also saw a Brown Thrasher downtown for the second day in a row.

Imperial Woodpecker Search Comes Up Empty

Based on reports sent recently to the Mexico birding list, several searchers have been unsuccessful in relocating the Imperial Woodpecker that was reported from near Copper Canyon a few weeks ago. This sighting will probably forever remain a mystery, but at least someone was able to quickly check it out to try for confirmation.

Ivory-billed Woodpecker Presentation

I am back in the States and busy as usual, at work and at home.

Tonight I hope to attend the Ivory-billed Woodpecker at the Field Museum, hopefully we will have a chance to ask some questions after the presentations. (Suggestions are welcome.)

I will try to finish my Japan trip reports over the weekend, along with more on the BINAC Christmas Bird Count schedule, and perhaps a report from Florida on Monday.

Also, if anyone out there has any further interesting information on the Night Parrot or the Imperial Woodpecker, please send it to me.

Scott Weidensaul on Avian Flu

Here is a great opinion piece from the New York Times written by BINAC's favorite bird author, Scott Weidensaul, on avian flu:


WITH a wary eye on the clouds, I hurried through a few last outdoor chores at my old farmhouse before the rain and snow arrived. But even in my haste, one faint sound stopped me - braying whoops high overhead, the telltale knell of autumn's final retreat. All but hidden in the clouds, a flock of tundra swans was riding the storm front, aiming for the sheltered coves of the Chesapeake more than 100 miles to the south.

Here in eastern Pennsylvania, the migratory web binds up threads that originate far beyond these gentle hills. Peregrine falcons born in Greenland chase ducks that hatched in Manitoba. Long-billed dowitchers from the Northwest Territories leapfrog to the mid-Atlantic states, while blackpoll warblers from across Canada funnel through on their way to Amazonia.

But that hemispheric dance, that most compelling of all natural phenomena, now carries darker undertones. As the deadly H5N1 strain of avian flu marches across the Old World, those of us who marvel at migratory birds wonder whether - or perhaps simply when - one of them will carry the disease to this hemisphere.

The virulent form of the flu has not yet been found in the Western Hemisphere, but some Americans are still panicking. Birders on the Internet trade anecdotes of people refusing to hang their sunflower-seed feeders, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology had to issue a press release saying, in effect, it's still safe to go bird-watching. When a domestic duck in British Columbia was found last week to be infected with a mild and widespread form of bird flu, the United States responded by imposing an interim ban on all poultry imports from that province.

Overreaction? Of course. But as I cock an ear to the swans, I feel some unease mixed with my awe. These swans have come so very far, some perhaps flying from Alaska or even Siberia. And Alaska is H5N1's logical entry point into the Western Hemisphere. While we have understandably focused on the danger to humans, the flu's impact on North American birds could be disastrous.

Last summer, I spent a week on the flat, waterlogged tundra at Old Chevak, an abandoned Cup'ik Eskimo village in Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge, not far from the Bering Sea. The birdlife was astonishing in both its diversity and abundance; hiking across the spongy landscape in hip boots, I rarely walked more than a few yards without flushing a nesting duck, loon, swan, shorebird, sparrow or tern. They come here from regions as far-flung as the Philippines, Amazonia, New Zealand, tropical Africa and Tierra del Fuego. That includes places where the deadly flu has already been found - like Java, where the slender songbird known as the yellow wagtail winters, or Vietnam and China, whose coastlines are important staging grounds for migrant shorebirds.

If and when the virulent flu enters Alaska in the bodies of Asian migratory birds and spreads among the breeding population, it will then be carried heaven knows where. While the large-scale risk to humans is still theoretical, H5N1 has already proven deadly to many species of wild birds. In May, a single outbreak in China killed up to a tenth of the world's bar-headed geese, and last month a United Nations task force identified three dozen species of rare Eurasian birds at particular risk from the flu. Here in North America, where emerging diseases like West Nile virus are already exacting a heavy toll on some birds, the damage from this new pathogen could be even greater.

The task force also correctly noted that we shouldn't scapegoat migratory birds for a problem of our own making. H5N1 is a product of intensive poultry production, especially in regions like Southeast Asia with scanty farm hygiene and large live-bird markets, which create a hothouse environment for influenza viruses and a transmission route to people. The biggest risk to this country comes not from a bird crossing the Bering Strait, but from an infected human boarding a jet.

Will that realization stop officials and the public here from eventually making the kind of counterproductive demands we've already heard in Asia, for the mass culling of migratory birds or the destruction of wetlands and other habitats? Or will it draw attention to measures that cut to the root cause of this problem, like better monitoring and oversight of global poultry production, and curbing the worldwide (and often illegal) trade in wild birds, a step the European Union has already taken?

As the sound of the swans faded, I could only hope - for the sake of the birds, and ourselves - that we choose the latter course.

Scott Weidensaul is the author, most recently, of "Return to Wild America."

Sunday, November 27, 2005

More proof of abnormal Pileated Woodpeckers.

I will try to be Tom Nelson for a day. Here is a message from a good Friend of BINAC (aka FOBINAC) who I'll just call British Steve. The sighting was in Illinois, but still, Cornell and the other defenders of the alleged Arkansas Ivory-billed Woodpecker sightings can't honestly claim that there aren't Pileateds with some funky extra white (beige? what's that all about) on the back:

Most interesting was excellent views of a pair ofPileated Woodpeckers, the female however was leucistic and lacked any black pigment, instead where the black should have been it was replaced by a light biege. Smart looking bird indeed!
Since British Steve didn't have his camera with him, I'm guessing the bird he saw was actually an Ivory-billed, you know how they hate cameras!!! The second bird was probably just an abnormal IBWO.

Name That Gull.

Another long and (unfortunately) unproductive day. I have to pack tonight (almost midnight on Sunday here in Tokyo...hey, did the Bears win yet???) so a full account of today's birding will have to wait until I get home.

Until then, check out the cool gull I saw today. I'll send some free Chicago area birding stuff (maybe the birding trail pamphlet) to the first person who can id this gull. (Note: Charlie Moores is excluded--it would be too easy for him!)

Saturday, November 26, 2005

From the Field: Birding Tokyo and the Tama River

Well, surprisingly, I woke up before the alarm this morning and got out of bed at about 7:30. I am more tired but less sore than I was yesterday, if that makes any sense.

My goal was to bird the Tama River today, and I must say: Mission accomplished.
I ended up with about 25 species, although it seemed like more than that at the time!

I wanted to get out of central Tokyo, so I followed the directions to the Tama River site described on page 163 of Jane Washburn Robinson's A Birder's Guide to Japan, which was published in 1987. I hopped onto the Keio Line (like the big department store, not the KeiyoLine) at the Shinjuku Station and took the "Special Express" train to the Seisekisakuragaoka Station. (I think "Seisekisakuragaoka" is more than one word, but Washburn wrote it as one word, and frankly, I don't really care.) The "Special Express" cost about three bucks each way and got me there in about 25 minutees. The "Semi Special Express" is much slower, making as many as two more stops that the "Special Express," so save the extra five minutes for birding and take the Special Express. (The Local does make quite a few more stops.) It is amazing how many suited Japanese businessmen were on the 8:20 am train on a Saturday morning...the train was standing-room only. I think that Japan's national past-time is not baseball but is actually sleeping. I looked around the train car today and every single person sitting down was fast asleep. Yesterday I saw a guy fall asleep while he was standing up, and when we stopped at the next station, he tipped right over and knocked another sleeping guy over -- Japanese Human Dominoes!

The location I birded today is not the same spot on the Tama River that is mentioned in some of the other reports floating around on the Internet. Same river, different spot. The train crosses the river just before it pulls into the station, but it is not obvious how to get to the river when you exit the station. As long as you know the orientation of the train tracks to the river, you'll be ok. The tracks run perpendicular to the river, so if you come straight out of the station and do a 180 degree turn as soon as you get out of the station, the tracks will be on your right. There are a bunch of stores and restaurants here, just keep the tracks on your right and begin walking towards the river. Eventually you will hit some fences when you're almost at the river and you'll have to go to the left; don't panic, you can cut through one of the fenced parking lots to the river levee, or keep walking a bit more and you can cut over on an official path.

You can walk along the levee path or along the rocky edge of the river. I would focus on the river itself. Washburn suggests walking downriver, which is what I did. However, the area just a bit upriver, towards the "fancy" bridge, was loaded with White-backed Wagtails, so walk upriver a bit before you head downriver. Flocks of Great Cormorants were streaming downriver as I began my walk. I also spotted a few sharp Japanese Wagtails. They were mostly on the rocks in the river bed, but at least one was hanging out with the other wagtails on the grass lawns in the park-like area just upriver from where I started. Just downriver from the railroad bridge I spotted a Common Sandpiper (wagging its tail just like our Spotted Sandpiper) and a Little Ringed Plover.

Washburn suggests walking downriver under the first two bridges (ie the train bridge and then an auto bridge) until you get to a tributary of the river. This is a much longer walk than it seems, and sometimes I felt like I was walking more than birding. However, there were birds scattered about the whole length of the walk. When you reach the tributary, turn around and head back. Washburn says the area where the tributary branches off is a great spot, and in fact there is a bird hide there and I ran into a bunch of local birders, so the spot must hold some pretty decent birds. It was just like a birding group in the States...a bunch of middle-aged to older men who stood around talking to their expensive optics, every once in a while everyone would look at something, when that excitement subsided they resumed their discussion. Some of the locals were even wearing white gloves, so this was some *classy* birding.

(Blogger spellcheck just tanked the rest of this post, so here is my shortened re-write. Pain in the ass.)

Just before the tributary, I spotted my first Bull-headed Shrike. Right across from the hide was a pair of noisy Azure-winged Magpies. Also in that area (on the main river) were Little Grebes, Great, Intermediate, and Little Egrets, and Grey Herons. I also spotted a few Carrion Crows. I did miss one of my most-wanted birds, Common Kingfisher, even though the damn sign says they're present all year round!

The last bird of the day was also a new one for me. On the way back into town, I decided to check out the tall high-tension electric wires, since in the States starlings love those really big towers. Sure enough, there were a couple of Grey Starlings hanging out on and around the tower. Another new bird , even if it is a starling.

The only ducks were on the far side of the river and were inaccessible to me, but I could identify at least a few as Eurasian Wigeon.

On the way back to my hotel I said hello to Japan's patron saint of Christmas, Father Sanders.

Apologies for the typos, but it has been a long day, maybe I'll fix them manually later. Might do a bit more birding tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Friday, November 25, 2005

From the Field: Birding Tokyo at the Ueno Zoo and Shinobazu Pond

After a quick but tasty lunch at McDonald's (I know, I know, but it's cheap and fast, and I was really hungry!) I headed to the Ueno Park area. This seems to be a bit far from most of the tourist spots, but was near a very interesting area with lots of stalls selling foods and all sorts of goods. I took the Hibiya Line subway and got off at the Ueno station, this was a bit confusing, but if I had just followed the trees I would have found the park quickly.

There is a zoo in the Ueno Park area, but the main attraction is the collection of little ponds where people feed the ducks and gulls. Make sure you check all of the ponds if you have the time. For any experienced European or Asian birder, this might not be an important stop, but it was was nice for me to see, up close and personal, a few species that I do not see very often. And a good photo opportunity, too, as most of the birds are tame, and sometimes need to be chased away. It is pretty cool to see Pintails and Shovelers handing out on park benches. Anyway, the ducks that I saw were Pintail (lots), Eurasian Wigeon, Tufted Duck (lots), Pochard, Northern Shoveler, and Mallard. Also the usual Pigeons, Tree Sparrows, and Black-headed Gulls. There were a few Black-tailed Gulls, one with a silver leg band, the partial number was 881 (or 188, the band might have been outside down), if anyone knows where to report Asian bands please let me know). I looked through the fence into the part of the ponds that were in the zoo and saw a Little Egret and the Great Cormorant colony. There were a couple of larger gulls that might have been something else but I couldn't get on them in time to make a positive identification. Here are my cheater tame duck photos:

From the Field: Birding Tokyo at the Meiji Jingu Shrine

Well, everyone told me I was crazy to try to "do" Tokyo in a long weekend, but I've done it. I haven't even spent a full day here yet, but I have seen more than I can ever describe. I paid for it, though: every part of my body aches, especially my feet. I usually walk 2-3 miles every day back in Chicago, in all kinds of weather, but I just killed myself today...The walking, the subway steps, I am completely exhausted, but it was all worth it. Let's start with the birding.

I began the day at perhaps the most well-known birthing spot in central Tokyo, the Meiji Shrine. The Shrine, one of the most revered spots in all of Japan, is conveniently located near Snoopy Town. (I did not make that up. Remember, this is Japan.) I took the JR Yamanote line to Harajuku station, when you leave the station, if you're facing Snoopy Town, turn right and then right. It's pretty easy to find, there aren't many open space in Japan, so if you see a whole bunch of trees, that's probably the nearest park.

Most of the reports on the Meiji Shrine as a birding spot have been spot-on. (The Shrine and gardens are also pretty neat as a general tourist attraction.) Most of the reports say to bird the Meiji Jingu Inner Garden as soon as it opens. Today the Inner Garden opened at 9:00 am sharp. The birding was decent--there were, as others have noted, Jungle Crows all over, and the Brown-eared Bulbuls were making quite a racket, although I never managed to see them very well.

I purposely got a late start, but still arrived before 9:00, so I birded outside the Inner Garden for a bit. (Some reports call this the Outer Garden, but I think that technically the Outer Garden is in a totally different location.) I also saw Rufous Turtle Doves and a Great Tit. In a little clearing near the bathrooms near the Inner Garden entrance that is closest to the Shrine itself I also spotted a Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker. Four new ticks and I'm not even in the Inner Garden yet! (Note: I was unable to obtain any of the Japanese field guides prior to my trip, so I ended up using the excellent "A Field Guide to the Birds of Korea," which is a Peterson-style guide that has range maps that include Japan.)

The entrance fee for the Inner Garden was 500 yen, I think. Once inside the garden I headed directly towards the pond and the Iris Garden, hoping for Mandarin Duck. No Mandarins, but *bingo* a pair of Spot-billed Ducks!!! Now, I know those aren't unusual birds in this part of the world, but I have really wanted to see them, ever since someone in the Chicago area reported a Spot-billed Duck when I was tending to the Chicago RBA. Turned out to be a Mallard that was missing part of its bill, but I got a nice tour of a northwest Indiana sewage plant, there's more to that story but I'll save it for another day.

The only other bird I saw in the Inner Garden was a stunner: Red-flanked Bluetail. Kinda like a cross between a Swainson's Thrush and a Bluebird. The bird, a female or immature male (wish I woulda seen an adult male) was perched on a sign on the path that goes right between the lake and the Iris Garden, just when you cross over between those two areas. I saw a few more Great Tits and there were a couple of skulkers that I could not id, but that was it for the Inner Garden. I decided to try the pond near the Treasure House for Mandarin Duck, and I was rewarded with about a dozen birds spread out along the far shore. More Spot-billed Ducks, too, along with a few Mallard. What a killer bird the Mandarin is, similar to our Wood Duck.

The best little spot I found was a bit to the (left/west?) of the Treasure House area. There is a nice wooded area near a large garbage bin, some sheds, and a bunch of junk. Typical birding spot, but there was a nice mixed flock that contained Varied Tits, Great Tits, Japanese White-eye, and Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker. There were also a bunch of Tree Sparrows hanging around. Here is a crappy picture of a Varied Tit:

I may head back to Meiji Jingu on Monday. This site is pretty accessible if you find yourself anywhere in the center of Tokyo. The birding was a bit slow, but still enjoyable, I stopped between 10:30 and 11:00. As the other reports have noted, the area can get pretty crowded. Lots of schoolkids in their matching hats.

I only saw one bird in the Inner Garden that I didn't see elsewhere, but that one bird was a stunner, the Bluetail. However, I would still recommend that you visitors bird the Inner Garden. The habitat is pretty much the same inside and outside of the garden; some people say that the smaller number of people who pay to go inside the Inner Garden makes the birding there better. That is probably true, but the best part about the Inner Garden is that it has nice paths going through the woods, where outside the Inner Garden you have to walk on wide roads (that often are crowded with people.) My advice to a visiting birder would be to get to the Shrine area as early as you can and bird the Treasure House pond to get the Mandarin Ducks, maybe try the area by the garbage bin and sheds, then bird the paths near some of the bathrooms near the Inner Garden. Go into the Inner Garden when it opens, spend an hour or two there, and you'll have a nice morning of birding.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Sayonara, turkeys!

There's nothing I like more than a two-hour bus ride from the airport, especially after a 13-hour flight. Although, to be fair, I'm the one who delayed the flight by at least 20 minutes by scaring the guy who was scared of flying off of the plane...well, he jumped off on his own, but neither I nor the flight attendants really encouraged him to stay. (Hey, you shouldn't board a plane for a 13-hour flight if you are mentally incapable of flying!) The customs and immigration procedures at Tokyo Narita airport were a breeze, I was on the bus to the hotel less than 45 minutes after landing, and I am ready to begin my Thanksgiving holiday.

I've already had my Thanksgiving turkey dinner, cranberry sauce and all, while most people back home in the States were still sleeping. My plan was to get up eary tomorrow and bird one of the nearby shrines/parks, but after about 24 hours without sleep, that may be a bit unrealistic. All I have seen so far are crows that I assume are Jungle Crows. Hopefully I will pick up a few new species tomorrow. I have four different birding excursions planned, but two of those are to the same place, so missing one morning's worth of birding won't hurt my schedule too much.

And Japan is a very different place, I'm sure I'll have more to say about that after I get some sleep.

Until then, here are a few photos above ) of Alaska I took from the plane, and one shot of the Hard Rock Tokyo:

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Gone Birdin'!!!!

Well, this ought to be interesting. I have ditched work, packed my bags, and all that is left for me to do is dodge the throngs of holiday travellers (and a few snowflakes) on my way to the airport. In a few hours, I will be caged up inside a Boeing 777 which will (hopefully) deposit me, after a very long flight, in the land of Jungle Crows, Azure-winged Magpies, and Mandarin Ducks. Wonder if I'll find any turkey to eat tomorrow...

Stay tuned!!!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Feds Slaughter Monk Parakeets in Connecticut

Well, I wasn't sure if I should write about this or not, but there seems to be a lot of interest in it, so I'll just explain the situation and let you decide for yourselves.

Apparently, the USDA, in conjunction with the local utility company, has started killing wild Monk Parakeets in Connecticut. Monks have a tendency to build their huge stick nests on or near power transformers, some have speculated that they do this to keep warm. This tendency has caused numerous fires across the country where Monks nest. Here in Chicago, which has a very large population of wild Monks, the local poweer company, Com Ed, has periodically removed nests that it deems to be dangerous. However, ComEd has never, to my knowledge, ever actually killed any parakeets, and I am unaware of any other utility in the country that has ever condoned or sanctioned the outright killing of these birds.

These parakeets are much-loved in the Chicago area, and it is rumored that the late Mayor Harold Washington prevented their nests from being destroyed when he was mayor. My parents have about two dozen Monks that regularly visit their yard, and they love them to death. However, these birds are invasive exotics, so while I certainly do not condone killing them, I'm not sure we should be encouraging them, etiher.

Anyway, you all can decide for yourselves. The best place to find further information on this story is at

Monday, November 21, 2005

A Brief Update...

I have been busy and therefore a bit slow with the blogging lately, I have a few more ideas that I would like to get posted but I'm not sure that will happen before Turkey Day.

One reason I have been so busy is that I just bought a ticket to do a last-minute birding trip over Thanskgiving. Actually, it's only a half-birding trip; Because I can't really justify the time or the expense of where I'm going based on the relativelty small number of species I will see, I'll throw in some shopping and some general sightseeing. My hope is that I will get in four half-days (ie mornings) of birding, which should give me about 60 new species.

Where am I going? Well, you'll have to check back here to find out.

I like to keep people in suspense. In fact, I am the originator of the famed "mystery field trip," where I have all of the participants meet at a central location and don't tell them beforehand where we're going birding for the day. It was actually pretty cool, the participants have to trust that you know what you're doing, and that the place you're taking them to will be new and exciting for them, someplace they might not know very well but would want to bird again once they've been there.

Here are a few hints about where I'm going...I have never been there before (I have not been to either the specific location or the region), the location does not have a good recent English field guide, and almost all of the landbirds I see there will be new for me.

Could be exciting...stay tuned!

Friday, November 18, 2005

BINAC on the radio.

I just did a short piece on Sandhill Crane migration for WBBM NewsRadio 780 that will probably be aired later today. Hopefully I didn't make any major errors!

When I do these interviews, I usually don't have any idea what we'll be talking about, so sometimes I don't explain things in the absolute best manner possible. (I think one time I actually said that some vagrants ended up far outside their normal range because they are "messed up in the head"!!!!!)

Anyway, as a whole, every time one of these stories gets aired it raises the public consciousness about birds, and that's always a good thing, especially in an urban area like Chicago, where many people are completely unaware of the natural world around them.

Monday, November 14, 2005

The race to confirm the Imperial Woodpecker sighting!!

Well, it seems that no one knows what to think about the reported Imperial Woodpecker sighting near Copper Canyon that was mentioned on this site a few days ago. No one (that I know of) has been able to speak to the original observers since the initial posting to the Mexico birding list, but we have located some contact info for them, which is now in the hands of some of the folks who are planning to travel down to Mexico.

This could turn out to be a very interesting story; of course, it is likely that no one else will see the reported woodpecker, whatever species it may have been. However, the Internet has made this reported sighting available to the general public very quickly, which will allow for a "rapid-response" to the site of the reported sighting. Even ten years ago, a sighting such as this would have taken months to be published to the general (birding) public. Now the information has been disseminated, and the opportunity is there for someone to make history if they can get a photo of this bird.

The question remains, was the bird sighted really an Imperial Woodpecker, and if so, is the bird still there? Hopefully we will receive more information on this situation soon...

Sunday, November 13, 2005

From the Field: Midwest Cave Swallow Invasion Continues!!!!

There has been a significant Cave Swallow migration in the past few days, with multiple birds being seen in Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. But none in Illinois. So, armed with that knowledge -- and the prospect of 40 mph+ winds from the south/southwest -- I decided to stick close to the lakefront today. Since the Bears game shut down Northerly Island, I decided to do a lakewatch from Navy Pier instead. I chose Navy Pier because it offered some shelter (as described below), because it juts out into Lake Michigan more than a mile, and because there are large colonies of Barn and Cliff Swallows there in the summer, so I figured the spot must have some sort of intrinsic appeal to Cave-type swallows.

It was, let's say, a little bit windy. Anyone who watched the Bears game today saw basically the same conditions I had at Navy Pier. With north/northeast winds, lakewatching at Navy Pier can be brutal. However, since today's winds were out of the W/SW, I was able to use the buildings on the Pier to shelter myself from the wind. So, despite winds gusting up to 50-60 mph, it was actually pretty comfortable sitting down on the benches at the far east end of the Pier.

I watched the lake for about 4-5 hours, taking breaks to go inside, refuel at the Billy Goat, run away from a couple of homeless guys, and take photos for a few tourists. I had to walk (parking is veeeery expensive at Navy Pier) so I did not bring my scope. I should know better than to do a lakewatch without a scope--that was a big mistake!!!!

I saw a total of eights birds pass between the end of the Pier and the distant breakwater -- one unidentified passerine and seven swallows. A few Canada Geese flew by at the breakwater, while some larger flocks of ducks were migrating on the far side of the breakwater, perhaps 1.5 miles away.

I spotted the first pair of swallows at about 11:10 am. They were travelling south, very low and close to the surface of the lake. As I scanned to the right, I also noticed a third swallow in front of the pair. There birds appeared to be short and stocky swallows, with relatively squared-off tails. I couldn't get much color off of them at all, although I did detect a hint of "lightness" on the front of one of the birds. The birds overall appeared to be dark, and I was mainly getting a "side" view of them. They were flying like, well, swallows, and they clearly were not Barn Swallows. They headed off to the south and were quickly out of view. The birds were about 3/4 of the way out to the breakwater, which I guess would be as far as 150-200 yards away????

At about 11:53 I was watching a Wendella tour boat head east out onto the lake past the southeast corner of the Pier. As I scanned towards the back end of the boat, I notice four swallows that appeared to be trailing the boat. There were some little things "flitting" around near the boat which may have been some sort of insects. At this point the swallows were flying east behind the boat, which then turned to the north; the swallows circled around a bit before heading off to the south. I don't think I missed these birds pass in front of me, I think they either came down the lakefront behind me (ie flew over the Pier) or possibly came out to the lakefront via the Chicago River, which enters the lake just south of Navy Pier.

I got a bit better look at these swallows, although they were still too far out for me to be able to get much color on the underside. They did circle around a couple of times before they took off. I am pretty comfortable in saying that the tails were completely square, and based on the tail shape, size, and overall jizz, I feel confident that these were either Cave of Cliff Swallows. Given what we know about Cave and Cliff Swallows, it is likely that all seven birds were in fact Cave Swallows.

Interestingly, there were no swallows of any kind sighted at Miller Beach in Indiana today. Any swallows flying south from Navy Pier that stayed close to the shore would likely pass by Miller Beach, where there are almost always a couple of excellent birders doing a lakewatch. They saw nearly two dozen Cave Swallows along the Indiana lakefront on Saturday. The birds I saw could have stayed along the Chicago portion of the lakefront, headed inland, or passed Miller Beach when no birder was present. (I think they may have ended the lakewatch at 11:00 today, I will try to confirm ths with Ken Brock.)

Wisconsin birders today sighted as many as 20 Cave-type swallows at a sewage treatment plant near Milwaukee, these birds were apparently still present at dusk.

Will those swallows head south tomorrow? Where did the seven swallows I saw today go? If Cave-type swallows are feeing at a sewage plant in Milwaukee, could they be doing the same in the Calumet area? Where could these swallows be feeding or roosting along the Chicago lakefront? There are many Barn/Cliff Swallow nests along the central Chicago lakefront, right around Navy Pier, so there would be plenty of roost locations for any passing swallows.

I am surprised that I have not yet heard from any Illinois birders that were out along the lakefront today at Evanston/Northwestern, Gilson Park, or Illinois Beach State Park.

There have been Cave Swallows sighted in Illinois before, but I don't think any of them have been properly documented (ie photographed). Someone please correct me if I am wrong. There may be up to two dozen Cave Swallows along the western shore of Lake Michigan at this very moment, and we need to try to find some documentable birds in Illinois!!!!!!!!!!

Yo habla Espanol, BINAC???

For reasons unknown to me, someone from Colombia Googled this site recently. They also translated it into Spanish, check it out: Birding is NOT A Crime in Spanish!!!!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Back issues of North American Birds available online.

Apparently, some back issues of North American Birds are available, free of charge, online:

They only have a couple of issues, but still, that's pretty cool.

I don't know who or what "zinkle" is/are, but I hope they continue to post NAB articles.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

From the Field: Christmas Bird Count Scouting in the Palos Area

The weather has been great in Chicago over the last few weeks, which has greatly assisted us in our Christmas Bird Count (CBC) scouting. The CBC that I have done for almost the last 10 years is the Lisle/Morton Arboretum CBC, which for many years has been sponsored by the Chicago Ornithological Society (COS). The compiler has divided the count circle into six different areas, with each area having essentially a team leader. Our merry little crew of insane birders has been tasked with birding Area 6 for the past couple of years; Area 6 includes a good chucnk of the forest preserves in the Palos area, a couple of old quarry lakes, the I&M Canal, the Des Plaines River, some marshes and sloughs, as well as some highly suburban areas. As the CBC season progresses, we'll keep you informed about some of the tricks we use to ensure a high species count.

Right now we're concerned with two environmental conditions that could greatly influence our species totals: abnormally high temperatures, combined with a long drought. Since most small bodies of water freeze up by the time of our count, we rely on flowing water (ie the Des Plaines River) and the deep quarry ponds to hold a few waterfowl species into December. In extremely cold seasons, almost all of the water in the circle freezes up, leaving the quarries and the Des Plaines River as the only areas with waterfowl. Last year, an extreme cold snap even froze the quarries and the river to a certain extent, but we still managed.

This year, the drought has completely dried up almost all of the smaller ponds, marshes, and sloughs. This means that many of our "duck spots" are bone dry, but as we lose waterfowl habitat, we gain sparrow habitat, and the edges of these sloughs have receded so much that they can be walked, for the first time in the 10 years or so that I have been birding in this area. And the warm temperatures mean that there are some great mud flats, and those mud flats are holding large numbers of Killdeer well into November. (It is extremely rare for a Killdeer to be in our count circle for the CBC, and I don't think we have ever had one in Area 6). However, these low water levels also mean that even a mild freeze will quickly freeze over any sloughs that still have water in them.

It is in this context that the BINAC core team (hey, only 9,990 birds to go!) went a-scouting last weekend, October 29, 2005. We had a modest 43 species, but our goal when scouting is not to maximize species counts or numbers, but to learn where the pockets of birds are hanging out.

Our first early-morning stop was at Bergman Slough, where the first bird I saw was a Northern Harrier. We started to walk the scrubby areas west of the slough, and stumbled upon a large (about 1500 birds) blackbird congregation, mainly Common Grackles, with a few Red-winged Blackbirds thrown in. We almost *never* get Common Grackle in Area 6 (or in rest of the circle, for that matter), so if these birds stick around, it would be quite the find. There was just a huge amount of activity in this scrubby area, an area which, in recent years, we have not always even covered on count day. There were tons of Blue Jays, at least 10 Eastern Bluebirds, along with White-crowned and Swamp Sparrows, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and a Golden-crowned Kinglet. The slough still had some water, and we found a Killder, plus Gadwall, Wood Ducks, Black Ducks, and Green-winged Teal. Probably the best bird of the day was a very elusive sparrow that we felt was likely a Vesper Sparrow. Hopefully this sparrow will stick around for a few more weeks.

We continued on to find a Rusty Blackbird, Red-headed Woodpecker, and more warblers and Blue Jays in a dried-up marsh near the Cap Sauers preserve. I must say that I expect Blue Jay numbers to be large this year, they seem to have really rebounded from a recent decline.

We walked the Will-Cook Road mudflats, and saw a few ducks, at least 15 Killdeer, and more Yellow-rumped Warblers.

The Mt. Vernon Cemetery was dead, so we headed to the John J. Duffy Preserve, where we found more Bluebirds and Grackles, along with a bunch of American Coots, more Gadwall, Woodies and GW Teal, with a couple of American Wigeon and Northern Shovelers thrown in for good measure.

After a quick lunch break, we headed out to a veeeeery long walk into uncharted territory along the Des Plaines River. We call this area "Goose Lake" because some old maps give this name to the largest pond that is in this area; the preserve as a whole really has no name, and is split between Cook and Will Counties. Nobody ever birds this area because it is hard to get to, no one knows where it is, and it is a long walk if you don't know a few short-cuts. We basically walk along the power line right-of-way; in some years when water levels are high, you have to cross an area between Goose Lake and the river that we call the "rocky point" and some winters the water level is about chest-deep, making the area beyond completely inaccessible. (Someone has recently cut a dirt road dwon from the bluffs into this area, just past the rocky point, possibly in preparation for the I-355 highway extenstion that is planend for this area.)

Anyway, to make a long story short, one of the Will County forest preserve gates was locked, so we ended up trying a new trail, getting lost, and retracing our steps for about a four-mile round trip. Our payoff for this was a decent selection of ducks, and more Rusty Blackbirds, but not much else.

After we split up, I checked the Worth Quarry, which is on the edge of Palos but not in the count circle. Nobody -- and I mean nobody -- checks this place, despite the fact that is has hosted some rarities in the past. I don't think it is even mentioned in any of the Chicago or Illinois birding guides, and I can count on one hand the number of birders who even know how to access this location. Anyway, there was a Mute Swan and a couple of Mallard there, along with an impressive total of 30 Killdeer. My count for the entire day was 49 Killdeer, which is an amazing number for Palos in late October. Warm weather + drought = late shorebird habitat.

My final stop was at Lake Katherine, where I viewed the semi-resident Trumpeter Swan, 6 Mute Swans, a couple of Coots, and not much else.

It was a long and full day of birding, and we learned a lot that will help us in our CBC scouting over the next few weeks. Who knows what the rest of November will bring...

Imperial Woodpecker Rediscovered??????

So, the Night Parrot has been rediscovered (supposedly), the Ivory-billed woodpecker has been rediscovered (allegedly), and now there is a recent (second-hand) report, posted to the Mexico birding list, of a sighting of the Imperial Woodpecker!!!! What in the world is going on? Can a "rediscovery" of the Eskimo Curlew be far behind???? Check it out:

Ron and Sarojam Makau are bird-watching friends of mine. They are avidbird watchers, who live (part-time) near Cabo Pulmo, BCS. They are both professors at UC Riverside in the Biology Dept. They just got back from the Copper Canyon trip. They had somefantastic news ... they are sure, absolutly sure, that the saw an Imperial Woodpecker (!) near Divisadero on the north rim of Copper Canyon.
I questioned them closely, but they were sure, based on the description in Peterson. Howell says that the bird is extinct and last sighting in 1956. Peterson says very rare but not extinct. They swear that they saw the female that has a very unusal reverse crest. They both are experienced birders and are biology professors at UC Riverside.
They have birded all over the world and are really good birders. I belive their sighting. They saw the bird about 30 ft up a pine tree, clinging to the trunk. They were about 50 to 60 feet away, with good light. They observed the bird for about 2 minutes, during that time the bird turned her head and the crest was seen at several angles, definitaly matched thedrawing in Peterson for the female. The bird flew off with slow heavywingbeats (descriped as Raven-like flight). No sounds were heard.
The sighting was about 0700 on the trail near the big hotel on the canyon rim. If they aren't mistaken (and I don't think they are) I'm going tos pend several days birding that area. Wow, to get a photo of a bird that is listed as extinct. I haven't been following reports, but have there been any othersightings of this bird? After Thanksgiving I'm crossing to the mainland and spending a week or so in that area trying to get a photo verification. I know that this is an unconfirmed and second-hand report, but I personaly know the reporters and belive their sighting. Any comments from the group?
It will be interesting to see the response to this sighting!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Found money/Birding Olive Park

I love "found money." You know, that extra $20 you find in your pokect, or in a hidden corner of your wallet; $20 that you didn't think you had, and now you don't know what to do with it. The only thing I like better than "found money" (well, one of the only things) is "found birding." You're stuck in the house, or at work, or with the family, and all of a sudden you unexpectedly get the chance to get out and go birding. Found birding.

Today I woke up in Nashville to commence on my long-planned business trip, only to discover that the matter had essentially resolved itself, and rather favorably, I might add. Lawyers and magicians are the only two classes of people (almost wrote "asses"-Freudian slip!) who can make an entire week disappear with a snap of their fingers. So I resolved a few lingering issues and had a nice barbecue lunch at Jack's on Broadway and planned my race to the airport. I also wandered through a couple of "evergreened" plazas in downtown Nashville and was surprised to find a Carolina Wren, but not so surprised to find a small flock of White-throated Sparrows. What is it with White-throated Sparrows and urban landscaped migrant traps? This is exactly the same kind of stuff I find them in during migration in Chicago, and they try to breed in those sort of areas, too. I know it's the same thing in NY and Toronto, during migration, at least.

Anyway, I hopped onto my flight and got back to Chicago with just a wee bit of light left, hence I had an hour or so of "found birding." I though about heading to Northerly Island, but that would have wasted some of my light, so I just walked over to Olive Park instead.

There were a few birds around, the usual suspects for this time of year: 18 Dark-eyed Juncos, 25 White-throated Sparrows, 1 Hermit Thrush, 1 American Robin, and 3 Song Sparrows. Birding will start to get really slow here and at NI until spring, unless a big flock of diving ducks or a Snowy Owl show up. So I usually head off to the burbs and start doing CBC scouting, which is how I'll spend most of my local birding time until early 2006.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Stranded in Music City U.S.A.

Well, we have temporarily relocated the BINAC home office to Nashville, Tennessee. Nashville is a great city, especially the downtown area with all of the honky-tonks, bars, and restaurants.

They have some decent open space right downtown along the banks of the Cumberland River, but no birds...unless you count Rock Dove, House Sparrow, and one Mallard. I did get lucky and saw a Cooper's Hawk chasing the local flock of pigeons around for a bit, but other than that, nothing.

It's a shame to waste such a beautiful day non-birding, but c'est la vie. Should have brought my camera, I did have a bit of time to walk around, but oh well.

I will be here for most/all of the upcoming week, but hopefully I will have a bit of time to post a few thoughts, or maybe catch up on some old trip reports. I did speak with John the Fisherman yesterday about some CBC stuff, and we are gearing up for the Chicago-area CBCs. We will also hopefully have a few reports later in the year from some of the top counts in the country, including West Pasco in Florida.