Friday, September 26, 2008


Hi. I’m Clyde and I’m a bird lister. In England we’re called Twitchers.
I’ve tried to break the addiction several times, but things like that Brown Thrasher this morning keep popping up and, well, off I go. Or even worse, like last week while vacationing in Arizona/Utah I saw two life birds. Lifers! How could I not add them to my list?
I almost broke the habit in 2007. Well-meaning friends, essentially non-listers I might note, chide me about how keeping a list of the birds I see interrupts the flow of the experience. It’s seeing, watching, learning, and getting to know the birds better that is what birding should be about.
Hmmm. I’m not looking for a date with any of these chickadees; just another notch on my binocular strap will do.
But in 2007 I upgraded my computer and the program I’ve been using for years was no longer usable. Uggg. Great time to kick the habit friends said. Let it go. Cold turkey is also something to put on your life list.
Okay, said I, I’ll give it a shot. It wasn’t easy. Secretly I surfed the Web looking for a program that might run on my Intel Mac. I found one that sorta worked, but was dreadfully (for me) tough to use. And it required an annual subscription fee.
Based on the rather flimsy excuse that I needed another computer, I ventured over to the dark side and bought a PC-based notebook. Slick little machine—and I could get some birding software …
And since I had the software for the little notebook, why not add it to the iMac since it has that capability?
I sunk deeper and deeper to where now I’m at the point of waiting for some new software to arrive since I found the previous program cumbersome. And besides, this new program has a module that allows me to keep records on my PDA, then download them to my computer! I’ll be listing away and people will think I’m trying to look like a teenager and am just texting the person standing next to me. Cool.
I realize listing has become another life-long habit—like always for the Democrat, so I needed the perfect zinger for my friends when they see me sneaking my notepad out of my jacket for no other reason than to note that Swainson’s Thrush singing in the bush. How about, “Hey, it’s like golf. If you don’t keep score yer only practicing.”

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Earthworm Migration

Do earthworms migrate? Good question. Okay, not as pressing (for some) as to whether we should reward the people who bungled us into this current financial crises with $700 billion or some lesser amount, but an important question nonetheless.
I’ll have to ask our naturalist buddy, Wendy. One takeaway lesson you always get when hiking with Wendy is to look down as much as you look up. (For more about earthworms and virtually everything else outside the four walls of you life, check out
I was minding my own, and the rest of Nature’s business this morning, hiking the Old Carriage Trail in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. I watched a scene straight out of JJ Audubon, or maybe Robert Bateman) as a family of four Pileated Woodpeckers hammered and chatted away on a backlit tree. I helped several Carolina Wrens, Blackcapped Chickadees and their associated Tuffted Titmouse friends make enough noise to wake an owl or whatever was in the bush that had them all upset. I never saw the reason for their pique. They all took off and I assume it was a snake.
After a couple miles on the trail I turned uphill and realized there was a herd (I don’t know what else to call it) of either big earthworms or small night crawlers) heading downhill. Hundreds. I bobbed and weaved and tried not to step on any of the slow movers. It was a shady spot on the trail. The ground was so dry it had cracked in spots.
Now my basic instinct as a fisher told me to grab as many of these critters as possible. Then I remembered I was a fly fisher, often a dry-fly fisher, and live-bait fishing was a thing I was suppose to disparage. But these were really nice, juicy looking worms …
I posted myself behind a tree to see if any of the birds in the forest were interested. No takers. So what in the world, at least this part of the world, were these worms doing?
Another unanswered question and one of the reasons we keep going back into the woods.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Bringing It All Back Home

Having survived the crowds last week at the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park on our Great Western Swing Scouting Trip, I decided to take a walk around my own backyard today.
In my case, the backyard is the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Thanks taxpayers. The great thing about hitting the trails in the park on a Wednesday is that there’s virtually no one else around. You get to see what a park is all about—a place for the animals, not the humans. I walked nearly two miles on the first trail before I saw two people coming the other way, deep in discussion about eating fat and why it’s good for you. I wanted to tell them to check that theory with the chickadees who were also deep in their discussion—probably about the quality of sunflower seeds this year.
Further along the trail I crossed over a stream (okay, a tiny creek) that I’ve seen many time. Only now it was crowded with fish. As a fly fisher I should be able to identify these critters. All I know is they were not trout. I think they were black-nosed dace. There were hundreds of them. I realized they were probably always there, except when there was heavy traffic on the trail.
As I neared where I planned to take a shortcut and head for home, I looked into the remnants of the Ohio-Erie canal. I realized the moss-covered bumps on the logs were really turtles. From one spot I counted 56 of various sizes from ravioli to basketball. All uniformly green with duckweed on their heads, necks and backs. For five minutes or so I discussed choosing vice presidential running mates with the turtles. You can do that sort of thing when no one else is around.
Heading up the steep slope that would lead me back to civilization, I spooked three white-tail deer that had bedded down for the day. The buck, still in velvet, was not happy. He snorted and pawed the ground, just to let me know who was boss of this patch.
Somehow the hill had gotten steeper than I remembered and during my second rest stop, Blue Jays rousted a Cooper’s Hawk that flew straight at me, eye level. It was probably my imagination, but I swear I felt the wind from its wings as it passed overhead.
There’s a reason national parks carry that designation. They all have something to offer you’ll find no place else. Ours might not have mile-deep canyons or soaring hoodoos. We have just basic peace and tranquility, especially on a Wednesday morning.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Click, Click, Click

I’m currently sharing a room with a click beetle. The only reason I know it’s a click beetle is because our naturalist friend, Wendy, told me about click beetles a couple years ago. Now I can impress others with my vast knowledge of insects. I thought those clicky things in the night were frogs of some sort. Not so.
Click, click, click
Now, I’ve never seen a click beetle and this one is no exception. I should look up his picture on the Web so I know what I’m dealing with here.
How he (I assume it’s a he because it’s sneaky and noisy) got into my hotel room I know not. It’s okay. He has stayed in the same spot for three days now, moving back and forth someplace in the drapery track. It’s a friendly sound. Makes me feel like I’m out of doors.
As luck would have it, I’m in Phoenix where it’s so hot you can not go outside. You live in the air conditioned bubble and bitch about the heat with other people who don’t go outside, either. So bringing in a bit of the outside is welcome.
I’ve managed to get out a do a bit of birding in the early mornings when things cooled to 90 degrees (click, click, click) and the birds head for water spots.
It’s interesting that I’m back in Arizona at the near-end of the south-bound migration. In May we were out here for the north-bound birds. I’m probably seeing the kids of the adults I saw four short months ago.
Not much action. A few Black-chinned Hummingbirds moving through have been a treat. Plenty of Verdins around, a bird we did not see in the spring.
Probably the highlight of the week has been the largest covey of Gamble’s Quail I’ve ever seen. There are easily 50 birds in this group, ranging in size from golf-balls with toothpick legs, on up to full adult. They scamper ahead of me as I walk (against the rules I proudly add) the golf cart paths at this luxury resort in Scottsdale.
They remind me of characters in silent movies that never have the smarts to get off the tracks as a train is bearing down on them. Of course, if the quail, like the guy in the silent movie, did scamper to the side and into the bushes, it would take a lot of drama out of my life.
Click, click, click.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

A Good Omen, Perfect Punctuation

We were doing our best to burn off the day. The sun was doing its part. The sky had turned more shades of yellow-red than battered left over Olympic banners. The burning question, not to be confused with burning issues, was whether we’d make it to the pond before dark? And if we did, would the birds still be there?
In this case the birds were three Wood Storks, a species more at home in the swamps of Florida than the wetlands of mid-Ohio. How did they get here? They have wings so I guess that answers the question. And they were juveniles. Put teenagers together with transportation and you’re liable to get anything.
The first good sign we had was a bird that stumped Susan and I for a few seconds. When you’ve been fortunate to bird around the globe as we have, we expect the unexpected in unsuspecting places. But near Zanesville, Ohio, an all-black crow-sized bird with bright white tail feathers gives you pause.
After a bit of lip flapping and firm knowledge that we weren’t slowing down our mission—to see the Wood Storks—we quickly realized we had just seen an American Crow with white tail feathers. It was one of those birding things that make you say, “humph.”
Driving through the wonderful habitat of decidedly rural Coshocton County, we had to stop to check out some great shorebird habitat. Sure enough, a Willet was feeding on the far side of a pond. Belted Kingfishers were diving from several trees; a House Wren popped up to see what we were doing; Cedar Waxwings were hawking bugs; and after a bit of effort we coaxed a Nashville Warbler out of the bushes.
On to the storks. As we topped a rise in the road we first spotted some humans, binoculars and scopes in hand, gazing down a slope into a small oxbow of a pond. The three storks appeared bleached white against the darkening foliage. The only thing that seemed to upset them was a possessive Great Blue Heron. Some minor squabbling ensued. The storks bought off the heron with a fish or two and the critters settled down.
As we were packing to leave, Vernon Miller, the Amish man who found the birds a week earlier happened by. He proudly told the story for the umpteenth time of how he spotted the birds, called a friend to confirm the identification, and how the friend posted the information to the Ohio Birds Listserv (
It was nearly dark when we stopped to find an errant water bottle that had rolled under the seats. Susan found the bottle and shouted look! As a birder you don’t ask where or why or what. You just point your nose in the direction of the person making the call. An adult Bald Eagle swooshed over our heads. Perfect ending to a perfect day.