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.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Possible GRAY KINGBIRD in Northern Indiana/FIRST STATE RECORD!!!!!

Apparently there may be a GRAY KINGBIRD in LaPorte County near Kingsbury in Northern Indiana. So check out the Indiana birding list for further information.

UPDATE: Ken Brock just posted (see below) that the Gray Kingbird is confirmed, a first state record for Indiana!!!!!!!!

The bird perched on a transmission wire along the west side, and immediately adjacent to, U.S. 35 about a quarter mile south of the Kankakee River. It is at the intersection of LaPorte C.R. 1100 south and U.S. 35. It was still present at 3:05 Chicago time.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

North American vagrants in the Azores/amazing MASSIVE fallout in Canada

Check out the amazing number of North American vagrants that have been found in the Azores recently. Tons of Chimney Swifts, swallows, and shorebirds.

At about the same time, there was a massive fallout of migrants in Nova Scotia , including many Chimney Swifts, Tree, Barn, Bank, Cave, Northern Rough-winged, and Cliff Swallows, Purple Martins, Royal, Caspian, Forster's, Common, Sandwich, and "Cayenne" Terns, Black Skimmer, American Avocet, Magnificent Frigatebird, Common Nighthawk, Snowy and Cattle Egret, Summer and Scarlet Tanagers, Dickcissel, Philly Vireo, Black-throated Blue Warbler, and thousands of other migrants, including hundreds of Yellow-billed Cuckoos.

Geographically-challenged readers are reminded that Nova Scotia is in freakin' CANADA, and all other readers are reminded that it is now freakin' NOVEMBER!!!! Apparently ol' Wilma took a big chunk out of a couple of days of migration and swept many of those birds up all the way to Canada. And Cayenne Tern? You gotta be kidding me.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Prior Night Parrot Sighting

Here is a brief excerpt from the article describing the 1990 discovery of a Night Parrot specimen in Australia. Click here for the entire article.

Yet many discoveries in science depend on chance rather than a predetermined course of action. Many apparent observations have been incidental to the activities at the time. Stockmen working at night are among the most frequent non-ornithologists glimpsing the bird. And, in the 1970s, about 20 scattered but unsubstantiated reports of Night Parrots were made by amateur bird watchers while preparing surveys for the RAOU's The atlas of Australian birds. Our rediscovery of the Night Parrot in October 1990, confirmed by a specimen, was the outcome of a serendipitous sequence of events.

The Australian Museum had planned an extensive trip through northern Australia, where Walter Boles, ornithologist at the Museum, and Ross Sadlier, one of the Museum's herpetologists, would work on birds and reptiles respectively. Walter invited Wayne Longmore, an Associate of the Australian Museum, currently employed at the Queensland Museum, and Max Thompson, Professor of Biology at Southwestern College, Kansas (USA), to join the trip.
Heading out in two Australian Museum vehicles, our trip took us from Sydney to Broome, Western Australia, through the Kimberley, and into the Top End of the Northern Territory. Ross returned to Sydney midway through the trip.

After six weeks, we started our return through western Queensland. Rather than taking a direct route back, we headed south from Mt Isa along the Diamantina Developmental Road (Highway 83). On 17 October 1990, 36 kilometres north of Boulia, we stopped at the side of the road to look at some Australian Pratincoles (Stiltia isabella). When the birds flew and landed down the road behind the vehicles, Max turned one vehicle around to follow them for a better look. Wayne and Walter remained parked on the side of the road in the other vehicle so as to reduce the disturbance to the birds. After obtaining a suitable look, Max returned, pulling up and parking behind the first vehicle.
Walter got out and walked back to speak to Max through the window of the passenger's door. After speaking, he turned away from the vehicle and happened to look down. There, next to his foot on the roadside, was the carcass of a Night Parrot. He picked it up and handed it through the vehicle window to Wayne, then returned to tell Max what he had found. The discovery was made without overt demonstrations of excitement, tempered no doubt by a combination of disbelief and another week of field work in hot, dry conditions still to come. The thrill and wonder of the find surfaced only during breaks in our other activities.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Ivory-Billed Woodpecker: Invitation to Program at the Field Museum

OK, so the scan didn't turn out that well, but below is a copy of just a part of the invitation for the IBWO presentation coming up at the Field Museum. The entire invite has a cool IBWO print, and a black cover that folds out into the print and the text I scanned below.