Wednesday, May 22, 2013

If Ornithology Doesn’t Work For You ...

FDR's bird collection tucked into a corner was tougher to find than a Kirtland's Warbler.

You never know what act of fate starts a child down a career path. Sunday we learned a fascinating ornithological fact about our 32nd president. Susan and I made a stop at Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s home at Hyde Park, New York, on our way to the east coast. It was another of the National Park properties we often said, “Someday we gotta stop and see ...” Today was the day.
The tour of FDR’s home is something not to be missed. Amidst the collection of FDR’s sailboat prints and other navy memorabilia, tucked back in a corner that none of the other people on the tour noticed, was a cupboard filled with bird specimens.
We identified about 50 species in the cupboard, then asked the tour guide about the birds.
The park ranger told us, when FDR was about eight years old he began to collect and taxidermy birds. He emulated many of the things his cousin, Teddy Roosevelt, 26 years his senior, did. FDR was an avid collector, obtaining most of his species on home property, Springwood, at Hyde Park. FDR’s interest in ornithology continued until the boy was about 12 years old. A series of illnesses led doctors to the knowledge that the arsenic used to preserve bird skins back in the day, was the cause of FDR’s health problems.
The house at Springwood holds about one-fifth of FDR’s prepared 
specimens, the remainders of the collection are in the Natural History Museum in New York City.
And since the ornithology thing wasn’t working out for him, FDR had to choose another career path and the rest, as they say, is history.
(Full disclosure: Thanks to Susan for the loan of the camera, computer, jump drive and patience required to produce this blog. No animals were harmed in its production.)

As up close as we were allowed to view. No flash, please!

Friday, May 03, 2013

The Golden Daze of Spring Migration

 Flock of American Golden-plovers in various stages of molt.

Although it threatens my status as a curmudgeon, I too-often say there are no bad days for birding; some are just better than others. And then there are the days that are pure gold.
Spring migration seems to be off to a slow-to-moderate pace here in northeast Ohio, compared with some years that feel like spring has passed before you can get your binoculars up to your eyes. This year Susan and I, joined by birding buddy Karin, opted for an early start, hoping to catch the first waves of warblers and others as they passed through Magee Marsh on their way to the Arctic tundra.

Blackburnian Warblers have that strange way of looking at you that makes you think ...

After several slow days, the pace of species and numbers of birds picked up. In the distant future, May 1 will be one of those days we’ll swap lies about with other birders when they start in with, “Ya shoulda been here when …” It was a golden day.
It was the kind of day that keeps birders coming back, year after year, just like the birds. Of the many highlights, I think top-of-the-list award goes to the relatively cooperative Golden-winged Warbler, first spotted by Karin and Susan. This species is such a rare find (for us at least) that we all figured it has been maybe 15 years since we last saw one. True to form, I had put the camera away for the day and we were going to bird a small patch of trees just to top off the day. Top off the day we did. I even surprised myself at how quickly I could get back to the car and get a few shots of the tree-top visitor.

Golden-winged Warbler

Earlier in the day we had tracked down an elusive flock of American Golden-plovers. This species is not unknown in this area, however, several birds in this bunch had molted into breeding plumage, a form we rarely get to see. In the late afternoon sun there was no doubt about identification.
Even earlier, as the sun was first making an appearance, when birds tend to feed on insects near the ground, we had perfect looks at another bird that sports a lot of gold—the Palm Warbler.

Palm Warbler

Right. Some days are just better than others. We had a week of those days and it ain’t over, yet.