Wednesday, May 30, 2012

With Help Like This …

A Black-capped Chickadee inspects Susan's work

This morning was one of those times when working in the usual solitude of my desk didn’t seem to fit the reality of the day. Since I have a plethora of electronic toys (iPhone, iPad, iPod, iMac, iBook, iBroke as the saying goes) I opted to work outside on the deck, knowing that a distraction or two might come along, but willing to pay the price.
Susan was busy doing the gardening stuff that never seems to get finished, along with cleaning and making some much-needed repairs to several of the bird feeders. In a word: It was so bucolic it was almost nauseous.
She had no sooner left for a birding adventure, leaving the repairs-in-progress for later, when a helper showed up. A family of Black-capped Chickadees decided this morning was a great time to introduce the kids to human-provided treats—and show the kids how to distract a human from what ever task is at hand.
The first adult hopped down to the table top and inspected the work on the feeder, so far. In true monkey see, monkey do fashion, the youngsters followed suit. One of the fledglings, Braveheart I called him, wanted to see the human up close. He inspected me while I fumbled with my iPad to get a photo. I’m not sure what the bird learned about me from the close encounter of the feathered kind. I, however, learned that as a camera, the iPad makes a pretty good writing instrument.
The chickadee circus lasted about an hour and was a welcome distraction.

And little Braveheart inspects me

Monday, May 28, 2012


A distant Scarlet Tanager

Multitasking is one of those new words that entered our hard heads via hard drives. It’s earliest and simplest definition, “running a number of programs simultaneously,” wasn’t much of a leap from what my dad called, biting off more than you can chew.
So it was yesterday morning, one of those glorious Sunday mornings when all of the have-to-do things are pushed to the end of the have-to-wait line. Seventy degrees, quiet. The church crowd was still dreaming dreams of what they’d soon have to ask forgiveness for. It was time for a moment of discovery. My blinding flash of the obvious was that a person, no matter how talented he might think he is, cannot successfully look for a Scarlet Tanager, read the Sunday paper, photograph Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and eat a piece of strawberry-rhubarb pie all at the same time. Hey, I’m multitasking, I told the Chipmunk who had his eye on my pie.
Someplace along the way, feeling lucky to get out of bed each morning, I’ve come to the realization that I have more important things to accomplish than I might have time for. Multitasking is the only way to go. My mantra has become: Better to burn out than rust out. Or, maybe it’s: Monkey see, monkey do. Whatever.
The newspaper loomed as the greatest physical task. Summing up Sunday’s stories of criminals and politicians—the best money can buy—on balance it appears more of us get robbed by a fountain pen than a gun, as Bob Dylan has noted.
The Scarlet Tanager continued to stay just far enough away so that I can’t count him as a yard bird—yet. The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds cooperatively worked our three feeders and paid little attention to me or my attempts to stop the action of their wings. I’m sure I heard one male say, “You call that a flash? This is a flash!”

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

And the strawberry-rhubarb pie? Hard to imagine, that with two of us in the house, there was still any left within 12 hours from when Susan removed it from the oven.
So, what’s left to do? I can’t coax that Scarlet Tanager to come any closer, I slowed the action of the hummingbird’s wings, the newspaper—as song writer John Gorka says, “It’s best to take a little at a time; too much and you’re not portable; too little and you’ll be making happy rhymes.”
That leaves me the pie. I’m sure Susan won’t notice …

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Friday, May 25, 2012

When Two Rights Produce A Really Right

Widow Skimmer (I think)

The great thing about being a birder in an active birding community like Cleveland is that in May you can count on at least two things: When you are most busy, deeply involved in some gotta-get-done project, a rare bird will show up; and second, that your phone will start ringing shortly thereafter.
Such was our morning. I heard Susan’s mobile start chirping and covered my ears. The call was from birding buddy extraordinaire, Bill Osborne. He was looking at a Lawrence’s Warbler in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park! When a rarity shows up in your backyard you really have no choice.
Lawrence’s Warbler is so rare that its name does not even appear on the American Birding Association’s list. Well, that’s not exactly true. The bird is really a hybrid phenotype offspring of a Blue-winged Warbler and a Golden-winged Warbler. Even if you’re not a birder you can close your eyes and imagine what the offspring of two birds with those descriptive names might look like. And you’d be right.
This stunning bird carries characteristics of both its parents and most often the song of the Blue-winged Warbler. The Lawrence’s is the less-frequently seen hybrid of the pair; the Brewster’s is more common, and in my estimation, less colorful.
Does it count as a lifer? Yes and no. In our heart of hearts it does; for the records it does not. I’ll leave the genetics and cross-generation stuff to the experts. For me the bird is going to carry the number 602 on the North American life list, and damn the torpedoes.
Bill’s directions to the spot near Goose Feather Pond were right on the money. If retirement does not work out for him I suggest he get a job as the voice in one of those GPS gadgets we display on the dash of our cars.
We were on the spot in a matter of minutes—love it when these things show up close to home—and listening to the bird’s song. It took a bit of hunting in the deep foliage, but Susan and I both had good looks at the bird; its black mask and throat patch, bright yellow forehead and crown, and breast and belly also bright yellow. From the nape down its back the bird is some color shade between olive and greyish blue. The bold white wing bars on this bird looked a bit yellowish to me. Unfortunately, photography was out of the question. The foliage was dense, the bird fast and the camera guy slow. We gave the bird a solid 45 minutes to have its portrait made, but it had other things on its mind.
Since I was psychologically loaded to shoot anything with wings, I had to settle for a few dragonflies. I’ll have to leave the identification to my Odonata-watcher friends.

You tell me ...

Friday, May 18, 2012

Birding By The Numbers

Baltimore Oriole--Proof that you are what you eat

Susan and I are catching our breath after the Biggest Week in American Birding. Actually it was the second biggest week since we were otherwise busy the first week. We attended with long-time birding buddies Pat and Karin, and new-found birding buddies Helen and Bill from California. The Biggest Week thing is becoming a generic term for spring bird migration through northwest Ohio, but is actually an event sponsored by Black Swamp Bird Observatory and several other organizations. It’s such a big week that it often takes 9 or 10 days to get through.
As anticipated, the birds put on their usual spectacular show, in greater or lesser abundance, depending on one’s memory of previous years. I’m of a mind to not make comparisons of how many Blackpoll Warblers, for example, we saw this year compared with last. Although there did seem to be more of this long-distant migrant this year …
We made our annual check of the parking lot to see how many out-of-staters showed up and tallied 25 non-Ohio license plates, ranging from Maine to California. One couple we chatted with skewed the data a bit. Tom and Bev were from Alaska, but driving a rental car with Louisiana plates. I couldn’t help but think of all the birders who rush off to Alaska, yet here’s a pair from Alaska rushing to northwest Ohio.

Orchard Oriole--Always a welcome, if irregular visitor

The birds are certainly the big show during the Big Week. Depending on your generation, expressing amazement at colorful species like Baltimore Oriole, any of the wood warblers or secretive birds like American Woodcock, varies, but seems to have the same meaning. For example, while watching a group of birders ranging in age from whatever’s above Golden Ager through early Tween, sight an elusive American Woodcock, their initial responses were: Oh my goodness, oh my god and OMG!
Only if you’re a birder can you enjoy the humor posted on the hot line by Ben Warner when he alerted everyone to a spectacular “nine species pie fallout” at Blackberry Corners—the popular place to eat in northwest Ohio. I heard that they baked about 130 pies during the Big Week, rhubarb is the only one I can attest to.
And, while there were many special birds on the move through the area, the highlight species for me was the trio of White-faced Ibis that mysteriously showed up May 16. This is a bird so rare in Ohio that if it appears on a checklist at all, its occurrence is usually designated with an X, which translates as: So rare you stand a better chance of seeing an extinct Passenger Pigeon. But there they were, three of them. We went looking for these birds about 12 hours after they were first reported. No luck. It was obviously one of those nano miracles that happen in birding.
It was not a life-bird for either Susan or me since they’re rather common in Florida or out west. But if it’s in Ohio … well, you have to chase it. As we were leaving the Metzger Marsh area where it was reported, Susan at the wheel, me riding with the Nikon shotgun, she said, “Look! There! Over the treeline. Three dark shapes!” I was bumping my head against the windshield trying to see what she was talking about when she said, “No! Behind us!” I didn’t realize she was looking in the rearview mirror, pointing with both hands, while we were cruising down a narrow road with death lurking on either side.
She made a spectacular three-point turn without having to check for oncoming or following traffic. Within about 5 seconds the three knock-out gorgeous birds, shimmering in the sun, bright enough to make any rainbow fade in comparison, drifted down right in front of us.
Three White-faced Ibis. As often happens with these rare visitors, they seemed to pay no attention to the commotion they created. I wondered why all the “Ooooos” and “Aaahhhs” didn’t scare them away.

White-faced Ibis