24 June 2008

Another Month

I noticed a while ago that since I began birding in December of 2006, I've been lucky enough to see a life bird each month following. Some have been stellar (obviously right at the beginning was pretty good), some have been by the skin of their teeth (...). I don't believe I'm going to keep it up forever, and honestly, considering how little I've been able to get out birding the past few months, what with promotions and a new house, I figured I was about due for a no-lifer month. In fact, last weekend my only goal was to meet my Bird RDA (20 birds). It was a weekend filled with barbecues, a sudden shift in my work schedule brought me in for a half-day on Saturday, and trying to fit in everything else that belongs in a weekend around them. But I was determined. A slightly hungover Sunday morning was cloudy with a slight chance of showers. I got up nice and early, eschewed food and drink, and decided to go for it. I went to one of my favorite haunts since last year, South Cape Beach State Park in Mashpee. It's pretty much my go-to place for shorebirds. The one mile walk through shrubby dunes to a stone jetty and the mouth of Waquoit Bay is pretty reliable for season-appropriate birds: Osprey, Willet, Mute Swans (arrgh...), Red-winged Blackbirds, goldfinches, Song Sparrows--you'd have to be tying your shoes the whole time not to notice them. I've been lucky enough to see Least Terns and Sandpipers, an off-season Brant, and any number of other things there. I've never seen a Piping Plover, however, even though they nest there. Of course, since they're protected, I don't get to get too close to the nests anyway, but it would be nice for me to see one there sometime. Where was I? Bird RDA! In the first half-mile I had eighteen species handily; it was high tide, so I missed some smaller sandpipers that I would have liked to see. I knew around the three-quarter mile mark was a great patch for seeing Horned Larks and as I approached I stopped when I heard a strange song. There was a lark, as close as I'd ever been to one, not caring about me at all, just preening and singing. Nineteen. Just needed one more. Out at the mouth of the Bay, I usually hope to see my sea ducks and waterbirds. Another local birder who frequents South Cape Beach often sees American Oystercatchers, but I've only seen one here as a flyover. I was really hoping for a Common Loon. However, a huge group of summer fishermen, -women, and -children were piled onto the stones of the jetty, and I didn't really feel like going all the way to the jetty. I scanned the waters--nothing, just the Common Terns waiting for a handout from the fishermen, and I had already counted them. I turned around and started trudging back to my car, knowing that I had to be gone in a half hour before they started checking for parking stickers. At the half-mile point, two surprises: a Carolina Wren, which I had never seen or heard here before, and a House Finch, likewise a new bird for my South Cape Beach list. My Bird RDA and personal goal met I picked up the pace and a sunny disposition returned to my face. As I approached the more traveled beach path a low-flying bird wheeled around me. The white wing bar that flashed instantly registered as yet another Willet, this time blissfully silent. I dutifully raised my binoculars to follow it only to catch a glimpse of a short orange bill and a dark eye staring back at me. Eep! Could it be? I noted the area where it landed about 25 yards behind me and pulled out my Petersen to brush up on field marks. I had been burned before with an incorrect ID of a late-season plover, I didn't want it to happen again. I waited patiently, and waited, looking for a sand-colored bird against a backdrop of sand, the possibility that it was hiding behind a patch of grass or beach rose gnawing at my mind, the sound of the tow truck's winch ringing in my ears. I followed what I thought was a quick movement, and stared and stared, like it was a puzzle that I could solve simply by concentrating. And then the questions and doubts starting playing in my mind: Did I miss it? Should I put down my binoculars? It's probably somewhere else, I should put down my binoculars. But what if it's in my binoculars already and I just can't see it? Did it fly away already? I decided to put down my binoculars and in that instant noticed a shape just to the left of where I had been looking. I focused in on it, and there was the head of the Piping Plover I had been tracking, fixing an eye on me, probably wondering why, of the two of us, it was the one that was endangered. It was a good morning indeed.

10 May 2008

Robert Frost

The Oven Bird

There is a singer everyone has heard,

Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.

He says that leaves are old and that for flowers

Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.

He says the early petal-fall is past

When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers

On sunny days a moment overcast;

And comes that other fall we name the fall.

He says the highway dust is over all.

The bird would cease and be as other birds

But that he knows in singing not to sing.

The question that he frames in all but words

Is what to make of a diminished thing.

A Promise Is a Promise

Someone kindly reminded me that I hadn't yet posted pictures from our trip to Florida. Actually, it was just an anonymous comment someone left saying "You're a loser," but let's turn that frown upside-down: I had completely forgotten about my promise of actual photos (i.e. not lifted from an open website)! The following photos are instead courtesy of my bro-in-law Joe. Enjoy.

A White Ibis, just chillin'.

Joe's firm built this building, luckily it's near a park and beach filled with birds.

Really, I swear.

A cool photo of my beautiful wife walking the trail at Brooker Creek Preserve.

A crocodilian we noticed as we were taking photos of the WHIB.

A Common Moorhen that seems a little too used to people.

Joe Jr., the newest birder and nature-lover in the family. Note to Mr./Ms. Anonymous: Call me what you will, but don't mess with Baby Joe.

25 April 2008


My wife is a wonderful woman. She's known for some time that I've always wanted to see an owl. I mean, come on, they're such cool birds. Her friend Andy Beet visited her at the library last week brandishing a photo of an owl in a tree just behind the building. When I got home from work, we took off to go see it. It wasn't a rare bird, there weren't scads of birders lined up looking at it through their scopes. Just the two of us at sunset staring up at an owl roosting in a hole in a tree. And now that I've seen one, I can't wait to see more. Thanks sweetie!

Photos courtesy of Andy Beet

The bird I saw was a red-phase Eastern Screech-owl. So there must be two staying there this summer!

09 April 2008

Old MacDonald Had a Farm...

...and on that farm he had a Günther's Wrasse, E-O, E-O-L

The Encyclopedia of Life is up and ready for your perusal. And for the scads of qualified bird experts who read this here blog, please, please consider entering data for some birds. Since the EOL effectively calls the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole its home, it seems as though every fish species is taken care of, while everything else is sorely lacking. Nothing that can't be fixed with a monumental effort to centralize research and data and to present it in varying degrees of scientific detail. Spread the word!

22 March 2008

6-word Meme-oir

I was tagged by Ivars of Ivars' Birds to participate in the six-word memoir meme. I thought and thought about how to whittle myself down to six words. As Mark Twain said "I can give you 3o pages in two days. I need 30 days to write two pages." So, as I tend to do a lot in my life, I will paraphrase The Simpsons:

"Nature embiggens even the smallest man."

So now I get to choose five more on this meme's way to conquering the universe. In fact, I think it's high time blogospheres collided, so I'll tag my wife Kellie at Cottage Knitting and send this meme into the knitting blogworld. And how can the other birders have missed Amila at Gallicissa? Are we so afraid of his Scrabble skills that we can't ask him to describe himself in 6 words? Oh, I see. He's out of town; I'm sure he'll have thirty of these waiting for him when he gets back from his tour. Fellow newbie birder and blogger BirdingGirl of BirdingGirl needs to show everyone what it's like to bird Mass and Cape Cod-style. Dan of Nervous Birds has been making sure Ram's Head in Annapolis hasn't gone out of business since I graduated, let's see if he can string six words together after a gig! Over at Hakodate Birding, S.C.E. supplies endless pictures of everyday (to him) exotic (to me) birds. Three words for birds, three for footy, which is what I assume he talks about at the end of his posts.

Okay guys, here's the rules:

>1. Write your own six word memoir
>2. Post it on your blog and include a visual illustration if you’d like
>3. Link to the person that tagged you in your post and to this original post if possible so we can track it as it travels across the blogosphere
>4 .Tag five more blogs with links
>5. And don’t forget to leave a comment on the tagged blogs with an invitation to play!

07 March 2008

William Butler Yeats

The Wild Swans at Coole

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.

The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All's changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water,
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake's edge or pool
Delight men's eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

Mute swans, since he's Irish. Photo from Wikimedia. Is it wrong that I don't really care for Yeats?

04 March 2008


Well, we just got back from a long weekend in Florida visiting the wife's family, including our new nephew Baby Joe. My brother-in-law and his wife were very kind in taking us out to a few local parks to let me do some birding and to get Baby Joe into nature. I've mentioned before how great Florida can be for the beginning birder. It's pretty dang good for the slightly more experienced birder as well. Here's the breakdown:

Life Birds: 14

Wild Turkey
Eared Grebe
Red-shouldered Hawk
Short-tailed Hawk
Common Moorhen
Caspian Tern
Royal Tern
Common Ground-dove
Pileated Woodpecker
Loggerhead Shrike
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Hermit Thrush
Prairie Warbler
Palm Warbler

Florida Life Birds (excluding above): 22

Ring-necked Duck
Lesser Scaup
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
American Coot
American Oystercatcher
Ring-billed Gull
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Carolina Chickadee
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Pine Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Goldfinch

And, hey, how about year birds (excluding above): 11

Double-crested Cormorant
Great Egret
Cattle Egret
White Ibis
Black Vulture
Sandhill Crane
Laughing Gull
Fish Crow
Northern Parula

Pics to follow! None of them mine!

21 February 2008

Not an Excuse, but a Reason

No posts in a while because we've been looking for a house, and our offer was just accepted on the one above. Still in Falmouth, which is great. The previous owner had at least four bird feeders, so I'm hoping it's a birdy yard! I've only gotten out birding a few times since the last post, hopefully I can post a recap, but on most of my days off I was either house-hunting or it was raining raining raining.

P.S. I honestly wasn't looking for a house with feeders, that was just a happy accident! I really had to turn off the birder in me whenever we were looking at houses. It was easy enough since our buyer agent's office was surprisingly birdy, so in the walk from the car to the office I'd rattle off four or five birds real quick and that would last me a few hours. Birding isn't a hobby it's an addiction!

08 February 2008

Camera Test Drive

Last weekend I borrowed my parents' Canon Digital Rebel w/ 300mm lens with image stabilization on my usual trip to Siders Pond. Here's what popped up:

The resident American Coot

Preenin' Red-breasted Merganser

I was really excited to use a lens with image stabilization since New England winters prohibit my old method of bare-handed point-and-shooting, what with the shivering. But I wasn't so impressed. All of these shots were maxed out at 300mm, and still required a lot of cropping and touch-up for birds that seemed much closer and clearer. I'm not sure if a digiscoping setup would improve on the distance (I imagine it would) or if the image quality would suffer by using a P&S with a scope (I'm not sure it would). So I think I'd like to try that at some point as a contrast. While the Rebel certainly beats out digibinning, which for me seems to have about a 1% keeper output, and seemed to work great on close-up birds in the brush, if I were to spend an hour or so at a stationary birding spot, I think I would opt with a scope setup. For walks along narrow paths, the Rebel's lighter weight and maneuverability coupled with its fantastic close-up images would make it the preferred camera setup. Jeez, for someone who has neither, I sure have a lot of opinions about both options.

I'll pose a question now: If you carry a lot of stuff in the field with you, how do you carry it? My previous binoculars were truly "pocket" bins; my new Swarovski's--not so much (but they will always be soooo much better). Walking around with a digital SLR with a 300mm lens got to be a little awkward. I suppose most people would carry around a tripod for their camera, or if they planned to be on the move the whole time, simply to use the camera as their binoculars maybe. Advice? Commiserations?

Common Goldeneye giving me the evil eye. The crap in the way is a bush of some sort.

01 February 2008

Book Review

Birds of Massachusetts
by Stan Tekiela

On this, my first bird-book review, I thought I might point out how tough it must be to write a field guide. Think back to your first field guide (mine was Peterson's Birds of Eastern and Central North America Fifth Edition) and all of the different variables it offered. What did you like and dislike? How large of a geographical area did it cover? Did it contain plate illustrations or photos? How much information did it contain for each species? How big was the book? And, perhaps one of the biggest editorial decisions the author and his editor had to make, how was it arranged? All of these might affect the way you approach birding as you sort out what information you need to ID birds in the field.

I picked out Birds of Massachusetts because, well, I'm from Massachusetts and while my BoEaCNA had provided everything I knew and used up to that point, I was getting a little frustrated with its physical size, its geographical size, and its illustrations (to all Petersonites out there, don't stop reading just yet!). It was too large of a book to flip through quickly, though admittedly any book will have some degree of this; I would sometimes get hung up on studying a bird's field marks in the book only to find out the bird was found nowhere near Mass.; and those wonderful illustrations, well, sometimes the bird I was looking at just didn't look like the one in the book. All of these are limitations of being a field guide, not necessarily just the Peterson, and I took my frustration to be a sign of needing to try something new.

BoM was nearly the opposite of the Peterson in the above respects: small, much more regional, and filled with photos of birds not simply an artist's rendering. After reading it I must now say "You don't know what you've got til it's gone." Mr. Tekiela, about whom I've heard and read nothing but impressive things regarding his knowledge of nature and his talent as a naturalist, has written an excellent field guide for the just-starting-out birder. I work with a few people who love watching birds at the feeder and occasional duck-feeding park trips, but who aren't interested in pursuing birding any more than that--this is the perfect book for them. It's small enough to keep in a car or on a little table near the window. Each species is treated with a two-page spread, photo on the left, text on the right. Species are arranged by dominant color, with tabs at the top of the page to aid in rapidly flipping to the color you need to find. Sexually dimorphic species are treated to two separate entries. A map of the state shows where and when each species might be found. All of these add up to the beginning birder's first field guide: an intuitively arranged small book with large photos and individual entries for each species in a localized area. Phew!

As I keep mentioning, many qualities of field guides are double-edged swords. The color-based arrangement, as intuitive and helpful it may be to the beginning birder, is inherently problematic. Species from one family are usually mixed in with those from another that happen to have the same color, so rather than being able to compare, say, ducks over a few pages, they are spread out over the entire book. The photos, while usually helpful and always beautiful (Check out the modern-day Audubonesque Eastern Kingbird on page 202! I wish I had that kind of luck!) sometimes don't even have the relevant field marks on display (the White-crowned Sparrow, in the brown section, with a photo taken from a perspective that shows no brown--few experienced birders would get confused, but the beginning birder might). The text has standard facts for each species, but do we need to know the egg color, clutch size and fledging information. There are other books that cover this information that is often supplemental to the field observation. The most glaring error in this book, which should have been caught at some point, is this discrepancy in two species' notes:

"The male Lesser Scaup is nearly identical to the slightly larger, but less common, male Greater Scaup." (page 39) [emphasis mine]

"[The Greater Scaup] is by far more common than the Lesser Scaup..." (page 43) [emphasis mine]

Lesser Scaup (left) and Greater Scaup (right)
Which of you did I see at Siders Pond last week, based on likelihood of being in Massachusetts?

As a middling birder who is struggling with his scaup identification, these were some of the first birds I looked up and, to tell you the truth, I still don't know which bird is more common.

In the end, this little book showed me the large amount of work that goes into planning a field guide. Differences in style have a great impact on how one identifies a bird in the field, and while reader preference will largely determine which guide is used, Mr. Tekiela's Birds of Massachusetts seems to provide most of the information the novice birder would need. For the birder who already has a shelf of bird books, this one won't take the place of any of them, but it might make a good spark book for someone else!

(photos courtesy of wikimedia)

29 January 2008

An Aid to Birdstackers

I apologize in advance for what may be a very technical post. A brand-spanking new FREE listing website is now available to birders: Birdstack. Like I said, it's new, so there may be some adjusting for new users, but I'm game. It was the first time I was able to register on a site under my own name not myownname47 or something. What I like about Birdstack is its RSS feed to your lifelist (check out my sidebar--I haven't uploaded all my sightings yet, so what's on there now is not my completed lifelist), and the fact that unlike eBird it's a worldwide listing website (not that I've ever birded out of the US, but you never know...). Things I don't like about it are the fact that you can't enter multiple birds at once and its painstaking upload process. I mean, one species at a time? really? Anyways, I don't know if anyone wants or needs this information, but here are the steps that I've found to be the least complicated to transfer sightings from eBird to Birdstack. Disclaimer: I'm not sure how this will work for everyone, I use a Mac running OS 10.2.8, I think most calculators are more advanced than my computer now. I'm lucky enough to have a copy of Microsoft Excel for Mac, otherwise I'm not sure if I could do this through AppleWorks. Update: I just checked, my AppleWorks 6.2.4 won't open the spreadsheet file from eBird. Maybe newer versions do. My apologies if I seem to spell out each little step, but in the chance that someone doesn't know "Copy" and "Paste" yet, I put that in here. Everyone's gotta learn sometime, right? Okay, here we go:

1) Sign on to eBird, and click on "My eBird". On the right-hand side, click on "Manage My Observations". All your observations should come up. If you want to show all, by all means click on "Show All". A minor point, Birdstack's RSS lifelist only goes by the observation most recently entered, apparently, NOT by the date you enter on the submission. So if you want to be anal about how your lifelist appears on an RSS feed (guilty) click on "Date" in eBird until your very first observation is on the top line, and transfer all the data chronologically.

2) Most eBird observations don't take up a lot of space, but transferring each one individually takes a lot of time, so I've been transferring one-month chunks. You can use your discretion as to how many you want to transfer. Note, there is a limit on file size once we get to the Birdstack side of things, so don't go too crazy. eBird's files tend to be ~ 4kb, or at least mine are, if you want to use that as a guide. Still on "Manage My Observations"? Go to the first one and click "View or edit". Once there, click "Download report". Repeat the downloading process for as many observations as you like. You're done with the eBird end!

3) Open up one of the downloaded reports. You'll get a spreadsheet with a bunch of columns and your recognizable data. Now we have to move the data from the other downloaded observations to this one. Open up the next report and highlight the first box under "Species" should be box A2. Drag the highlight down to the last species in column A and then to the right to either column E "Observation date" or column F "Start time" if there's anything in column F. You should have a rectangle highlighted now. Hit control-C or Apple-C or go up to the Edit menu and click on "Copy". Close this report. Go to the first report (you can keep it open in the back this whole time) and click on the first empty box in column A. Hit Control-V or Apple-V or go up to the Edit menu and click on "Paste". Repeat the copy and paste steps for each other report. At the end, you should have your first report with a lot of columns, and every other report with only the first five or six columns all on one spreadsheet.

4) Now we have to manipulate the spreadsheet into something that Birdstack will recognize. Column A "Species" needs to be renamed "English name", without the quotes, though. "Number reported" becomes "Number observed". (Thanks to drewweber on the Birdstack forums, any field with an X in it is all set to be uploaded to Birdstack now.) Skip over "Location" to "Observation type" and click on the D above it. This should highlight the whole column. Go up to Edit and click on Delete. That should move the other columns over one (E becomes D, F becomes E, etc.). New column D, "Observation date", needs to be renamed "MDY date", which stands for Month-Day-Year. Again, click on the D at the top of the column, and go up to the Format menu and click Cells (this step might be different for Windows users). A little window should pop up with a menu of items to choose from, you want "Date". A new menu, will pop up, scroll to the entry that looks like 02/28/2008, or MM/DD/YYYY, and click on it. All of the dates in that column should automatically change to that format. The next column, "Start time" needs to be changed to "12-hour time". Any entries with a "N/A" in it will have to be changed so that it's blank. Click on the word "Duration" at the top of the next column and drag down to the bottommost entry, then right to last column that has anything in it, so that you get another big rectangle. Go up to Edit and then Clear the contents. The last step to prepare the spreadsheet: go to File, then Save As, and then Format "CSV" (maybe with the phrase "comma delimited"). Hit Save, quick!

?) Phew! I forgot what number I was on. Now go to Birdstack and register, if you haven't, or sign on, if you aren't. Click "Record an observation", then "import observations in bulk". Click "upload a file" and then Browse the folder for your spreadsheet from the last step, which should end in ".csv". If everything went well, after you hit Continue your screen will say "Validate file and continue". If something's still wrong, it will give you an error in red, perhaps something like "column not recognized: start time". In that case you need to open your .csv file and change whatever the problem is. Once everything's fixed (believe me, I went through this a lot: that's why I thought I might post instructions) and validated, you'll get a list of each species on the spreadsheet. Click "Save and continue". Every recognized species is now added to your Birdstack account. If you have any species it questions (European Starling, e.g., or any eBird spuhs) it will be in green and you'll have to click on it to correct it. In the case of the starling, Birdstack recognizes a different common name, the Common Starling. In the case of any spuhs ("Lesser/Greater Scaup" or "buteo sp."), Birdstack doesn't recognize them and you'll just have to delete them. And guess what? You're done!

Again, I apologize for the length of the directions. I just tried a dry run of another month's worth of data, and it only took about five minutes. Once all the observations are in you can edit the location in Birdstack or whatever else you'd like. Of course, Birdstack is changing a lot since it's the beginning, these directions will probably be obsolete in another few hours, but I hope it helps someone.

Robert Bridges

Okay, not Bird Lit, but considering that the reason I'm not birding on my day off today is because of the snow on the ground and the fact that I don't have any suitable boots (my own damn fault) this poem kind of fits. It also supports my working theory that for the first twelve hours or so a fresh snowfall is a beautiful, enjoyable thing, and then it just gets to be a pain in the ass. This poem's about the first twelve hours.

London Snow

When men were all asleep the snow came flying,
In large white flakes falling on the city brown,
Stealthily and perpetually settling and loosely lying,
Hushing the latest traffic of the drowsy town;
Deadening, muffling, stifling its murmurs failing;
Lazily and incessantly floating down and down:
Silently sifting and veiling road, roof and railing;
Hiding difference, making unevenness even,
Into angles and crevices softly drifting and sailing.
All night it fell, and when full inches seven
It lay in the depth of its uncompacted lightness
The clouds blew off from a high and frosty heaven;
And all woke earlier for the unaccustomed brightness
Of the winter dawning, the strange unheavenly glare:
The eye marvelled--marvelled at the dazzling whiteness;
The ear hearkened to the stillness of the solemn air;
No sound of wheel rumbling nor of foot falling,
And the busy morning cries came thin and spare.
Then boys I heard, as they went to school, calling,
They gathered up the crystal manna to freeze
Their tongues with tasting, their hands with snowballing;
Or rioted in a drift, plunging up to the knees;
Or peering up from under the white-mossed wonder,
'O look at the trees!' they cried, 'O look at the trees!'
With lessened load a few carts creak and blunder,
Following along the white deserted way,
A country company long dispersed asunder:
When now already the sun, in pale display
Standing by Paul's high dome, spread forth below
His sparkling beams, and awoke the stir of the day.
For now doors open, and war is waged with the snow;
And trains of sombre men, past tale of number,
Tread long brown paths, as toward their toil they go:
But even for them awhile no cares encumber
Their minds diverted; the daily word is unspoken,
The daily thoughts of labour and sorrow slumber
At the sight of the beauty that greets them, for the charm they have broken.

25 January 2008

Gerard Manley Hopkins

The Windhover

I caught this morning morning's minion, King-
dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Stirred for a bird,--the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee ten, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

(photo from wikipedia)

17 January 2008

One Down, Forty-four to Go

Yesterday I was able to visit my first Mass Audubon Sanctuary on my quest to visit all 45. I went to the Skunknett River Wildlife Sanctuary for a couple of hours. Visiting new places by myself, as I've noted and will note again, is kind of worrisome.

Allens Pond
Ashumet Holly
Blue Hills
Boston Nature Center
Broad Meadow Brook
Canoe Meadows
Cook's Canyon
Daniel Webster
Drumlin Farm
Eagle Lake
Eastern Point
Felix Neck
Flat Rock
Graves Farm
High Ledges
Ipswich River
Joppa Flats
Lake Wampanoag
Laughing Brook
Lime Kiln Farm
Lincoln Woods
Long Pasture
Marblehead Neck
Moose Hill
Nahant Thicket
Nashoba Brook
North Hill Marsh
North River
Oak Knoll
Pierpoint Meadow
Pleasant Valley
Road's End
Rutland Brook
Sampsons Island
Sesachacha Heathlands
Skunknett River
Stony Brook
Visual Arts Center and Mildred Morse Allen Wildlife Sanctuary
Wachusett Meadow
Wellfleet Bay

15 January 2008

One Part Bleach, Nine Parts Water

I have to take my feeders down and clean them: Illness has struck. I saw a female House Sparrow with what looked like an eye infection in one of her eyes. I even have to take my suet feeder down because it has seeds mixed in and some of the HOSPs will hop over and eat some occasionally. Now as far as I know, HOSPs don't get House Finch Eye Disease (Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis), but it doesn't mean they don't get other diseases. Even if it was an injury and not an illness, it's probably better to disinfect the feeders as a precaution. I wasn't able to snap off a picture of the affected bird, unfortunately, to see if anyone could say what it was she had. Oh well.

13 January 2008

A New Goal

Around this time of year, apparently, many members of the birding community try to decide what kind of Year they're going to have. Many of those decide on the Big Year, with the magic number placed at 300. As much as this past year has made me appreciate how much effort would go into attempting a Big Year (much less succeeding), and as supportive I am of the Bigby subset of Big Years, I have decided to eschew that lofty goal--at least for this year. For one, I don't think I'm qualified to safely identify 300 different bird species yet. I've had to leave a few behind this past year simply because I am inexperienced. For two, I can't seem to wash out the taste of perhaps being called by some merely a lister. My love for lists notwithstanding, a Big Year seems extraneous to me, at least while I'm still cutting my teeth: it would be pretty ballsy of me to say I'm going to see 300 species when I've only cracked 125. To add another 175 notches to my belt isn't the same as setting out to explore new places and finding another, say, 50 lifers. So my new goal, not to be accomplished in a year, is to visit all of the Mass Audubon Society Sanctuaries open to the public (there are currently 45). I ostensibly started birding to get out of the house more, and what better way than to explore different parts of my home state that have been set aside and preserved precisely for that goal? Ultimately I think I will find this a rewarding adventure, perhaps more rewarding than chasing after rarities that occasionally show up--though I'm certainly not against the occasional birdchase. I have already tried to keep a tally of the trips I've made to my hometown's conservation land, which is controlled by The 300 Committee, I might even try to make visiting those open parcels another goal of mine. While each species I've seen has given me a rush, the surprising benefit of this past year has been my growing familiarity with my community. Wish me luck!

06 January 2008

Last Year and This Year

Is there a grace period on how far into the new year you can post your previous year-end review?

Guess what I got for Christmas? Around the end of November I decided I didn't want new binoculars as a gift because the little Nikon Travelite I had worked fine. I'm glad my parents didn't listen (or hear, who knows?) because my new Swarovski set works great. I was amazed at the difference and how I had to refamiliarize myself with old birding spots simply because I could see more of them. The difference in overall clarity--especially color--is amazing, it makes quite an impact on the frequent cold gray winter New England days. My grand-uncle, who is on the board of the Mass. Audubon Society, was able to steer my folks toward the SLC 8 x 30. Thanks Uncle John!

I also received another gift Christmas morning, regretfully before I received my binoculars: a lifer! A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker right outside my parents' window! That brought my Life Total to 124, my Year Total to 120, and my Mass Life and Year Totals to 105. You can bet after I opened my binocs I just looked out the window the rest of the day trying to see the YBSA. If I had been able to see a Hairy Woodpecker, I would have had a great Picid bingo, since I got a Downy, a Northern Flicker, and a Red-bellied throughout the rest of the day. The Hairy would've been the fourth of the common ones, and the YBSA would make a more uncommon five-picid bingo. Oh well, I still had a great Christmas.

The New Year also got off to a great start. The first bird of the year was a Song Sparrow, which was good because I just assumed it would be one of the billions of House Sparrows that come to our feeder. Rather than sleep in, I thought I would quickly go to a couple of nearby spots to start off my 2008 list. I ended up with 24 species on the day and was able to expand the species lists of a few of my favorite spots. All in all a wonderful holiday season.

04 January 2008

Gerard Manley Hopkins

‘As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme’

AS kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: 5
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.

Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces; 10
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

This might be my favorite poem, despite my agnosticism and despite my reluctance to describe something as absolutely as my favorite. And even though it isn't about birds, it all starts with a kingfisher.

photo courtesy of Wikipedia
poem courtesy of Bartleby