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.