Sunday, October 28, 2007

Here We Are Now, Entertain Us

If you've read Ron Pittaway's Winter Finch forecast (posted here, with comments by Matt Young), you know we're expecting a good flight of several irruptive species. In the past couple weeks there have been lots of reports on the local listserve about Pine Siskins, Purple Finches, Red Crossbills, and Evening Grosbeaks in the area, especially at bird feeders.

We finally put out our feeders this weekend. It's a bit of a balancing act on our hill: you want to put them out to see the birds, but you don't want to feed a bear. That happened to us last spring, to the detriment of our feeding station. All of the feeders were fine, but the structure to hang them on was beyond repair. I did build a new one soon after it was torn down, but this spring/summer we only fed the hummingbirds. Hopefully we're off the bear's feeding route.

Not wanting to miss out on all of the finch action we hung them up last weekend. The first bird came within an hour: a Cooper's Hawk, who perhaps remembered bombing through our yard repeatedly last winter.

Soon after it left we had the usual yard suspects, and lots of them. The flurry of activity included more than 20 Black-capped Chickadees, at least six Tufted Titmice, two each of Red- and White-breasted Nuthatches, a handful of Dark-eyed (Slate-colored) Juncos, and a thistle feeder full of American Goldfinches. Purple Finches are typically around, and this weekend one female arrived, along with seven House Finches (which I haven't seen on our hill in ages).

Female Purple FinchFemale Purple Finch. © Mike Powers 2003

But the show stopper was this female Evening Grosbeak, who arrived Saturday afternoon and spent a good 20 minutes gobbling down what it could.

Female Evening GrosbeakFemale Evening Grosbeak, picking through a
mix of seeds for the sunflowers.
© Mike Powers 2007

We haven't seen her since yesterday, hopefully she'll be back with some of her buddies. I love watching these guys, not just because they've become such a rarity at feeders out east. Of course, they can eat you out of house and home, but I figure if you're going to feed the birds you can't complain when they accept your invitation.

Pine SiskinPine Siskins have visited our feeders in earlier
years, will they come again this year?
© Mike Powers 2002

We've got the thistle all set, can't wait to see if we can attract some siskins (which are around now), and redpolls (which aren't really expected until December or January).

Post title credit: Smells Like Teen Spirit (1991), Nirvana

Monday, October 22, 2007

Wanting What You Have

Things, as always, are crazy-busy, and I have some half-dozen half-written blog posts I will eventually publish online. Which road was paved with good intentions? I always forget.

Anyway, during my commute to work last week I pulled over to grab a shot of the fall colors in the southern tier of New York. It's not supposed to be a "good year" for leaf peeping, but as the saying goes, it's not about having what you want, it's wanting what you have. And I'll take scenery like this any day. Yes, the only good thing about my commute to work, which mostly transverses farmland and scenery like this: the blissful chance to shed the work day as I near home.

Post title credit: Soak Up the Sun (2002), Sheryl Crow

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

By Any Other Name

I'm always inspired and often humbled by the creativity of poets, song writers, essayists, novelists, and writers in general. Whether they create people, situations, events, and locations out of thin air, or simply re-tell a familiar story in a captivating way, I'm always impressed how combining words, the right words, can teach, share experiences, entertain, or all three.

The titles are works of art unto themselves. Imparting a concept or idea in one or a few words is a huge challenge, one that we average mortals typically fail. But a real word smith comes up with the exactly right combination.

When scanning bookshelves, CDs or records (remember records?) and movie listings, it's the titles that have multiple interpretations, not-so-obvious meanings, or specific-but-little-known references that grab me. Now, when surfing through the satellite radio, I find I either stop on bands that I already know or bands that have names that are intriguing . Maybe I'm more in awe of marketing teams rather than the artists themselves.

Regardless, whether I stay on that station depends on the music, but the name gets their sound in my head.

Blogs are no exception, and I often find myself surfing through a variety of nature-oriented blogs just to learn what the title means. I'm a sucker for a good blog name, just like a good title for a novel, album, movie, or band. Of course, the content and style keeps readers returning, just like the band with an attention-grabbing name better have the music to hold your attention.

Some blog titles are straight-forward and direct, much like the musicians who are known well enough that their name alone captures attention. These titles use the strategy hit upon by musicians like Eric Clapton, Paul Simon, Ryan Adams, Ella Fitzgerald, and a bazillion others. No catchy name needed, their reputation tells you what to expect. Bill Schmoker's Birding Blog will obviously attract folks who know either Bill, his photos, or his birding exploits. Those who don’t yet know Bill just need a recommendation (here's mine: check him out, you’ll like him). Ditto with Mike's Digiscoping and Birding Blog, Laura’s Birding Blog, Bill of the Birds, Julie Zickafoose, and a host of others.

Birdwise, these track names such as Black-throated Blue Warbler, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Yellow-legged Gull, and Red-bellied Woodpecker. And just like these birds, there is plenty of room for the unexpected: female Ruby-throats and Black-throated Blues don't match their names very well, if at all.

Some titles hint at what you're going to find on the other end of that hyperlink: A DC Birding Blog, Biological Ramblings, Conservation Conversations, The Birdchaser. There is a real talent to coming up with a title that conveys a clear intention in a stylish and catchy way, and you know what you're going to find: posts focused on birding in the District of Columbia*, the natural world, conservation issues, and chasing birds (rarities and others), respectively. In my current, not so thought out classification system, these names are akin to band names like The Beatles, Smashing Pumpkins, Led Zeppelin, and the Grateful Dead.

And in the birding world? Maybe Black-tailed Godwit or Red-legged Kittiwake. "I get black-tailed and red-legged, but what's a godwit and a kittiwake?" asks the uninitiated.

Then there are those that make you think a bit more. You might get an inkling of what lies in wait, but what do the names actually mean? What do you think of these?
  • 10,000 Birds – is that the author’s species list? Or maybe the number of blackbirds in a nearby winter roost (that’d be pretty low, but estimates are estimates)?
  • BellTower Birding – bird lists collected by someone who works in a cathedral’s bell tower (does anyone actually work in a bell tower anymore?)?
  • The Drinking Bird – blogging about novelty toys, or are they called “scientifically-inspired apparatuses” (if I’m going to have to call a comic book a “graphic novel” . . . )?
  • Born Again Bird Watcher – hardcore Christian birding, which apparently would be different than hardcore secular birding (curiouser and curiouser, there are so many ways to enjoy birds these days)?
  • Rigor Vitae: Life Unyielding - I don't know where to start on this one. My first thought was rigor mortis, but that's because I watch too many CSI-type shows.
  • George Bristow's Secret Freezer - OK, I have got to stop watching CSI, that leaves a very disturbing image in my head.

And that's just a sample. Please note that all of my knee-jerk interpretations are dead wrong (try a link, you'll see, and they're all worth reading).

Like band and bird names, some of these I eventually understood, others I haven't the slightest clue. Some I have meditated on and I have come up with my own ideas, author intent be damned. But, to all of you, whether singled out here or not, thank you for leaving the room for interpretation, and challenging me and others to deduce your intentions. For fun, I'll leave it to you to come up with band and/or bird names that fit this category.

Obviously, I’m leaving out dozens, if not hundreds of blogs that deal with birds, and hundreds, if not thousands of blogs that deal with nature, the environment, and conservation. These are only a few and I encourage you to check them out – they’re all found in my blog roll to the right. You will find entertaining, informative, well-written essays, often with the author's own art work (photos, sketches, paintings, what have you).

By the way, my current favorite blog name: Burning Silo. If that were a band, I’d stop and listen.

* A DC Birding Blog
left the nation's capital behind, now operating from New Jersey. Goes to show that in the blogosphere, the three necessities are not location, location, location, but content, content, content**.

** A sure-fire winner: one of those "contents" should be "pictures," at least in my humble preference.
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