Friday, January 29, 2010

I'm Going Bowling [Fun & Games]

Friday morning, as this is posted to the Whole Wide World, I'll be on my way to Massachusetts. After driving east for six hours, interstate after interstate, I'll reach the outskirts of Boston where I'll meet up with five guys I've never met. We will then commence to bowl.

I should clarify that I don't mean the ancient sport of kings. No, my casual use of "bowling" is the more active but less known world of competitive birding, in this case a challenge known as the Superbowl of Birding.

A few weeks ago the Massachusetts-based author of Picus Blog sent me an out-of-the-blue email asking if I would be interested in participating in the event, joining the team of bird-blogging birders, the Bloggerhead Kingbirds. The chance of spending twelve hours of non-stop birding along the New England coast in late January was too good to pass up, especially the chance to meet face-to-face five guys I've grown to like and respect through their writing and photography. Since nothing was brewing on the home front or on the work schedule, I happily accepted.

Technically the contest doesn't start until 5:00 AM Saturday morning, but really it all gets underway when we all arrive on Friday. Team-captain Christopher has been pounding the beaches, fields, asphalt, and thickets over the past couple of weeks. Once we're all together it'll be last minute preparations, reviewing the route, determining how to maximize our chances of nailing down all expected species and hopefully crossing paths with unexpected species . . . you know, the usual.

At least, I assume some of that takes place, along with just having fun and seeing some great winter birds. We'll be scouring fields for Snowy Owls and Rough-legged Hawks, the ocean for Razorbills and murres, any body of water for Iceland, Glaucous, and rarer gulls, crossing our fingers for a few winter finches that are essentially absent from the region this year, as well as tallying the common species.

So, who am I spending the weekend with? Five bloggers you should know, if you don't already:
I know there are a lot of folks who wish they could be in my shoes for the weekend. I am flattered to have been asked, and I'm sure you can tell I'm looking forward to the experience. I'll be reporting back here following the Big Day, stay tuned. And don't miss out on their unique perspectives and interpretations, either!


Friday, January 22, 2010

Introducing PicidPics [Awesomeness!]

I could spend hours listing all of the fantastic resources available on the Interwebs, but for the moment I want to introduce a new member that is sure to appeal to birders, photographers, and nature-lovers everywhere.

From Martjan Lammertink:

We like to point you to our newly launched website, PicidPics.

With PicidPics we aim to present quality photos of woodpeckers, wrynecks and piculets from around the world. Available photos include striking species as Wryneck, Greater Flameback, White-backed Woodpecker, Black Woodpecker, Helmeted Woodpecker, Magellanic Woodpecker, Cream-backed Woodpecker, Grey-and-Buff Woodpecker, and Great Slaty Woodpecker.

At PicidPics we also present pictures of woodpecker researchers in action in the field. This allows viewers to see researchers whose names may be familiar from publications, and to see the environments these researchers work in. Research pictures may also act as a resource of ideas for tree climbing techniques and woodpecker capturing techniques to other researchers.

Lastly, at PicidPics we present pictures of secondary users of woodpecker cavities, to illustrate the ecological role of woodpeckers as cavity providers.

Photos on PicidPics are available for use in presentations or conservation and education publications free of charge, and for magazines and books against a fee. Please ask for permission before any use.

Over time we will be adding more photos to PicidPics from our archives as well as fresh material, so please stop by regularly to look for updates.


Martjan Lammertink & Julio Pérez Cañestro


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Canine Genotypes and Phenotypes [Who Are You?]

Forgive the digression, here's something new and different from my usual fodder, something completely non-bird related. I'd like you to meet Barron and, if you care to venture a guess, drop a comment on what breed, or breeds, he represents.

Barron has been my best and most-consistent birding buddy since I met him in 1995. One July morning, while visiting the northwest Arkansas farm where my nest boxes were filled with bluebird families, a stray dog accompanied me on my loop. That was the first of thousands "walkies" we've shared.

From Barron Photos

And on every single walk where we meet someone on a trail or on the street we're greeted with, "Hey, is that a . . . ?" I always give the lame, "He's a Heinz 57, some mix of I-don't-know-what" answer. Through the years I've kept a mental tally of what strangers on the street guess so I have a breed-by-majority answer. But that doesn't really count, does it?

Shortly after I adopted Barron announcements started coming out about progress in the Human Genome Project, an undertaking to identify the genes in human DNA and determine all of its chemical base pairs. I longed for a Doggie Genome Project so I could find out who his parents were. Until then, his true genetic identity would remain unknown.

From Barron Photos

I can tell you this. In addition to rugged canine good looks, he qualifies as overly friendly and garners his unfair share of attention. Men, women, kids, other dogs, he's never met a stranger, and they all flock to him. He has a quality that encourages everyone he meets to unconsciously stroke his soft, thick coat. In turn, he's a bit aloof, not really caring about the attention (although I bet he secretly loves it).

He's the most gentle dog I've ever encountered. Oh, he bares his teeth on occasion, but only when the cat is too close to his food while he's eating. He's gotten a bit more forward "asking" for popcorn when we're sitting on the couch in his old age, but he's always been extremely patient and tolerant with kids.

From Barron Photos

He's a faithful companion, rarely straying more than 30 yards from where I would stop and sort through a warbler flock or scope a distant raft of waterfowl. Instead of meandering on his way, or pointedly taking off, he'd sit and patiently wait, eyes locked on me as I trotted back and forth trying to see that tree-top warbler, or as I stood motionless counting Aythya ducks. Then, when I caught up to him, he'd saunter a few yards ahead, periodically checking to see if I was keeping up. That never changed, other than adding new family members to the list of those in his charge.

From Barron Photos

He's slower now, going on 15 years old, but we still go on our daily loops around the yard. He's quit chasing the deer and squirrels, he's lost most of his hearing. His always too-straight hind legs give him problems when he gets up and lays down. He's been on arthritis meds since he was a puppy, hip dysplasia was a concern from those first months.

From Barron Photos

Recently, on our regularly-scheduled vet visits, we had blood drawn and sent off to a doggie DNA lab. The results should be on their way, and a 15 year old mystery may have a resolution. But before I open the envelope, I'd love to hear your thoughts, based on these images and the behavioral descriptions.

What do you think, who are his parents?


Friday, January 15, 2010

Longest Living Birds Are . . . [Extra, Extra!]

A study just published in the Journal of Zoology finds that the longest lived birds are large, social, vegetarian, and live on islands.

Large, social, vegetarian, island-dwelling birds live longer than other birds, reports a new Cornell study that examined the relationships between evolution and life spans in birds.

Some of the longest-living birds include flamingos, parrots, petrels and shearwaters, all of which can live 30 years and more, while many perching birds, grebes and woodpeckers have the shortest life spans of under 10 years, the researchers found.

So, what is it about island dwelling, body size, diet, and behavior that allows a longer life span?

. . . bigger birds have fewer predators; herbivorous birds avoid risks that carnivorous birds may face, such as getting hurt or picking up parasites and pathogens when attacking prey, and compared to carnivores, may find food more readily available; social species can mob and warn of predators, and may find safety or may hide in numbers; and island breeders face fewer predators, pathogens and parasites.

For more: read the press release, or the abstract and full text (note: abstract free, full text requires a subscription).

Meanwhile, I'm going to contemplate a move to the Caribbean.


Friday, January 8, 2010

What Was I Saying? [And I'm Back]


Oh, good, some of you are still here.

Yeah, so I accidentally took a month off from publishing anything new here. That doesn't mean I wasn't working behind the scenes - I was, I swear! I fully anticipated that by now I'd be in a place where I could start chatting about birds again, passing along entertaining stories from our outdoor escapades, waxing philosophical about ornithology, conservation, and the state of the world, all illustrated with my growing library of photos.

On my calendar I set a target date of 31 December. And by simply changing two digits, swapping "09" for "10," I bought myself a year extension!

All that's to say, I am still alive. My hands can still type and my mind is still processing events into tales of humor, horror, and a few other genres. Our internet connection is paid in full. Here's a partial glimpse of what I'm planning to use this space for in the near future:

  • get back to writing about our major birding trips, including Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago, Chincoteague Island, Arkansas, and probably a couple of others.
  • get back to writing about local birding trips.
  • letting you all in on recent activity from the homefront, the workfront, and the birding/nature-watching front.
  • continue uploading "The Citizen's Guide to Migratory Bird Conservation," but in a more convenient, easier to use format.
  • show off much more of what my camera's sensor has been capturing over the past year.

And there's probably some other stuff, too. In the meantime, let this "fit for Skywatch Friday" image distract you.

Castara BayCastara Bay, Tobago, 09 October 2009.

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