Tag Archives: Birds

Birder Watching at Magee Marsh

Someone's lost bird list
Someone’s lost bird list
Chestnut Sided Warbler
Chestnut Sided Warbler

A year or two ago I saw a tweet by a fellow twitter birder / accessibility advocate about her trip to Magee Marsh in Ohio.  I kept it in the back of my head because we drive right by it when we travel to and from Illinois.

Then a few months ago I read The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession by Mark Obmascik (on IB’s recommendation) and later saw the film based on the book.  I was interested in the characters,  especially the Maryland-based birder, Greg Miller — the one who worked at the nuclear power plant (played by Jack Black in the movie).  I googled his name and found out he moved back to Ohio and was active in Ohio birding.  His blog talked about the “Biggest Week in American Birding” festival which was planned for May — around the time the warblers were due to fly back to Canada.

Warbler season,  if not The Biggest Week,  corresponded with our trip to Oberlin to pick up Andrew,  about an hour from Magee Marsh.  I hoped to visit Magee and perhaps add a few warblers to my life list. Then Dean decided we should visit Illinois before the kids got out of school. This week did correspond with the Biggest Week and as we’d be stopping in Oberlin for the night to visit Andrew I planned on heading to Magee Marsh on our way to Illinois.

I mentioned this to the aforementioned birder/accessibility advocate and she made plans to meet me at Magee.

Birders
Birders

I didn’t really know what to expect, but knew that I’d be seeing a lot of birders. One of the funniest parts of The Big Year was seeing a bunch of people stare through binoculars at something in a tree. I wondered if I’d see something similar at Magee Marsh. I also knew that many of the birding folks I follow on Twitter were planning on being at Magee Marsh that week. Seeing some of the tweets got me really in the mood to go birding — something I’d not really done in years, except passively. I also knew that someone I’d hoped to meet someday, Sharon Stiteler aka Birdchick, would be around.

Birders
Birders

I did see a lot of birds, some new to me, some not. I only could identify a few. If  you’ve never been birding, one thing you need to be able to do is explain where a sighting is. I failed miserably. I saw something and mistakenly announced it loud enough for other birders in the general vicinity to hear me. I then tried to describe where it was and what it looked like. No one was able to follow my directions and there was an audible annoyed sigh when I said, “It’s gone.” (I saw it later and was embarrassed to find out it was a Baltimore Oriole. I know what they look like when I see the top of one, but this was from below. The orange of its breast was muted and looked yellow to me. I thought it was some sort of flycatcher.)

Deborah and me
Deborah and me

The birds were fun to see, some so close I didn’t need binoculars, but my favorite part was the birders. There were birders of all ages. I was surprised to see a large number of Amish birders, but it stands to reason — there are a lot of Amish in that part of Ohio.

I did see “Birdchick” but was too shy to say hello. I was not quite sure it was her, but when I saw tweets she sent prior to me seeing her proved she was just in front of me at the time. Next time I’ll make sure to say hello.

I really enjoyed meeting Deborah. We’ve been twitter buddies for years and have even spoken on the phone. She’s a lot more gregarious than I and she was not afraid to ask folks what they were looking at and ask for advice on what she was looking at.

This has rekindled a desire to get out and bird more often. I might even go on bird walks with other birders. In the past I wouldn’t add a bird to my life list if I didn’t ID it myself. I figure if real birders help each other ID birds, I can too. Now I need to get my verbal birding skills in order.

Here’s Deborah’s list of what we saw:

  • Wilson’s Warbler
  • Magnolia Warbler
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • Purple Martin
  • Blackburnian Warbler
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Great Horned Owls babies on tree limbs
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Great Egret
  • American Redstart
  • Northern Parula
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Black and White Warbler
  • Gray Catbird
  • American Robin
  • Canada Geese
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Nashville Warbler
  • Chestnut-sided Warbler

The Scent of a Book

Library Scene Time MachineBefore last May, more than one person was surprised to hear that I didn’t own a Kindle or any other kind of e-reader. They knew about my love of gadgets and couldn’t imagine why I’d not bought an e-reader yet. My response was the same to all — as much as I loved technology, I liked the smell of a book better.

Everyone who owned an e-reader tried to get me on-board by telling me how light they were. How I’d be able to hold hundreds of books on it. How easy on the eye they were. I heard so many good things about e-readers that I finally researched them and ended up asking for, and receiving, a Nook Color for Mother’s Day last year. I chose the Nook Color because I’d heard it could be turned into a cheap Android tablet — in case I didn’t like the e-book aspect.

Now, a few months shy of a year later, I give you my opinion: I like the smell of a book.

I also like the feel of a book in my hands and I like the sound of the pages being turned. The other day I considered cataloging all of the books in my house with an app I downloaded on my phone. I was excited at the prospect to touch (and smell) each of my books again and either remember the time spent reading them or relish the anticipation I felt about reading them someday. Then I thought about the books I downloaded on my Nook (and the audio books on my mp3 player). I would never hold those books or smell them or hear their pages turning. Did I really read them? Do I really own them? Can I catalog them?

I recalled the library scene from the 1960’s version of The Time Machine. The Time Traveler pulls a book off a shelf only to have it crumble to dust in his hand. Later he is shown the Talking Rings. Are my e- and audio- books like the talking rings or are they nothing but binary dust motes?

Autograph of Roger Tory PetersonI have read a few books on my Nook Color. My favorite was Stephen King’s 11/22/63, but because I loved it so, I ended up with eye-strain headaches from reading it deep into the night. It was convenient to buy the book the day it came out — but it was a whim buy. I probably would have waited and asked for it for Christmas if I didn’t have the Nook.

Right now I am reading The Big Year on the Nook. (actually I am reading it on my Android phone because my husband is reading the Stephen King book on the Nook). Yesterday in The Big Year I read about Roger Tory Peterson’s account of his Big Year: Wild America and remembered finding a copy of that book in an antique store about 20 years ago. I was a novice birder but recognized one of the authors. Opening the book to check the price ($2.50) I also glanced at the title page and was astounded to see that Peterson had inscribed it with best wishes to a Lloyd Foster. Of course I bought the book. It smells delightful.

This creates another issue — how do authors autograph e-books?

Christmas Tree Bird Count

Yeah, we got snow. Lots and lots of snow, but that didn’t stop me from birding this afternoon. I saw a surprising number of rarities for this time of year and for this area — must have been the Nor’easter.

The first bird I saw was very far from home. I am not sure of the exact species, but it sure was decked out in warm weather gear. You’d think he (or she) would be toasty in the above freezing temperatures here in Bethesda without all that warm weather gear.

Penguin
Warmly dressed penguin

The second bird I spotted was a common resident here in all seasons, but most welcome in the winter after a snow when its red coloring is a vibrant contrast to the snow.

Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal

I was delighted to spot my third bird of the day. This one of my favorites and, not counting today, I’ve only seen them two other times in my life — and had to take a boat ride to do so.

Puffin
Puffin

The next bird was one I had trouble identifying because they are not found in the United States. I did see some similar species in Ireland, but even the Internet didn’t help. I think it is some sort of Tit.

Not sure -- A Blue Tit perhaps?
Some sort of Tit

The next bird is unidentifiable and nothing I’ve ever seen nor heard of. Based on its habitat I’m leaning towards albino cowbird. (and although not a bird, what IS that animal behind it?)

Not sure but better looking than the pig
Abino Cowbird

Again, another bird far from its natural setting. This one was quite shy and wouldn’t smile for the camera.

Pelican
Pelican (Possibly Brown)

The next two birds look similar to the bird near the barn, above, but have double neck rings. They may be related, but probably are not the same species. I’m thinking they are a vagrant species blown in by the winter storm from Africa — given their symbiotic relationship with the fox. I’ve seen enough nature shows to know that Africa has a lot of birds that sit on backs of bigger animals. I wonder whose heart the birds are fighting over.

Not sure -- but they have a symbiotic relationship with that fox
Vagrant Species from Africa that eats hearts of animals

The next one is very familiar to me, although I don’t see it nearly often enough. It’s without a doubt my favorite bird. This one is lacking a little color, but it has enough identifying field marks for me to know what it is.

Cedar Waxwing
Cedar Waxwing

The next bird has no identifying marks at all. It may be the same species as the one by the barn, but its bill looks a lot different. In fact this one’s bill looks more like a warbler or titmouse, but its body shape is more like a junco. I have no clue though, as to its identity.

Little Brown Bird
Little beige bird

This next one is easy.

Pheasant perhaps
Pheasant

I was shocked to find this fellow — especially after already seeing one earlier in the day. This one was dressed even more strangely than the first.

Penguin
Penguin in a Top Hat

This next one is also hard to identify. It has the crest of a Jay or Cardinal, but is pale yellow. I’m just going to guess though.

Not sure
Yellow white-capped jay

The next one was also something I’d never seen before. It looks a little like a starling.

Not sure
Iridescent golden-bellied starling

Couldn’t find the next one on the Internet either.

Not sure
Black-beaked glitter-winged turtle dove

This next one looks somewhat like a wren so I’ll take a guess.

Maybe a hummingbird?
Cactus Wren

You cannot see the crest on this one in the photo, but it’s there.

Blue Jay perhaps?
Blue Jay

I don’t know what this is, but I suspect it is a variety normally found in Europe. Maybe Gwen can help out. In the meantime I’ll name it myself.

Not sure
Red-belted zebra-backed thrush

The last bird I spotted today is one of the hardest to identify. It has no identifying marks and only the color and shape provide any clue to what it is.

Little Brown Bird
Little Brown Bird

Although I’d love to take credit for the idea behind this post, I’m going to come clean and admit that Birdchick did it last year.

Winter & Birds

I actually started this post last December but was so astonished and disappointed in my memory I didn’t finish it.

I wrote it after hearing birds sing one December morning last year and remembering the poem, below, that I used to recite aloud in our empty two-car garage.

I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December
A magical thing
And sweet to remember.

‘We are nearer to Spring
Than we were in September,’
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.

– Oliver Herford, I Heard a Bird Sing

I thought the poem was from the “Song of Solomon” and may have actually told people it was. When I looked the poem up on the World Wide Web I discovered that it was not part of the Song of Solomon after all, but by someone named Oliver Herford.

I realize, now, why I made the mistake. The book of poetry that contained I Heard a Bird Sing also held this part of the Song of Solomon:

For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;

Now I don’t feel so bad — they are both about winter and birds and in the same book.

Photo by James Jordan

A bald eagle story

Yesterday, on the way to a wrestling tournament, I looked up and saw a bald eagle soaring high above the strip malls along Norbeck Road in Montgomery County. I immediately thought it was a bald eagle by the way its wings were straight out (not in a “V” like a vulture). Any doubt diminished when I saw the flashes of white on its tail and head as it rode the wind currents.

I was excited to see this eagle, even though they are not uncommon anymore. I don’t get out to places where they are seen very often — so seeing this one pleased me — and made me remember my first bald eagles.

It must have been the late 1980’s and we were spending Thanksgiving or New Year’s Eve with my parents in their Wisconsin home. My dad was still my dad and he and I were on an errand to pick up some groceries in town. We’d just gone through the main part of Minocqua and were passing lake Minocqua. I looked over at the frozen lake and noticed ice fishermen. Then I noticed large birds flying over the fishermen and realized they were bald eagles. I let out a joyous curse word then immediately apologized for swearing in front of my dad. He laughed and pulled over so I could get a longer look at my first eagles. When we got back to the house I wrote, in large black letters on the not-yet-painted drywall “Dona saw her first bald eagle!” and the date of the siting.

Dad would often remind me of that day when we were together, but he may have forgotten about it by now. I haven’t forgotten though — it is a good memory I have of my dad.

My first Owl

The first owl I ever saw was in Southern California. (You do have them, Storyteller…)

My not-yet-husband had a summer job at the RAND Corp. and we got to stay in various homes of RAND employees while they were on vacation. We stayed in two Santa Monica homes — one was a condo and the other was huge and we stayed in a lovely home in the Santa Monica Mountains. Allegedly Peter Fonda was our neighbor but we never saw him.

When we were living in the house in the mountains we invited the owner of the condo to have dinner with us. As we sat on the patio, looking down at the sparkling coastline of LA a huge owl swooped down within inches of the table. I don’t know what kind it was — it was dark and we were too stunned to do anything but sit there with our mouths hanging open.

But it was memorable. Funny how some bird encounters are so memorable, while others are less so. Or maybe not funny at all.

Owl Story

A recent post on Birdchick’s blog about people mistaking a fake owl for the real thing reminded me of the time it happened to me.

I was 8 months pregnant with Clare and sound asleep one night. Suddenly, my husband, who’d been out taking a walk in the neighborhood rushed into the bedroom and woke me up to tell me an owl was perched on a neighbor’s fence.

I got up, got semi-dressed and waddled up the street and down the neighbor’s driveway only to see it was a fake owl.

It took a while to convince Dean, but when he could almost touch it, he believed me.

I was not kind about it — although I should have been. After all — he thought he had something special to show me.

Not much later, we did see a Great Eared Owl in a tree in a yard behind our house. So, it could have been the real thing. But it wasn’t.

New Yard Bird

So the other day I heard the blue jays making their jay noises. I hear them sometimes, but not enough to consider it normal, so I often check on what’s going on when they start their calling. Not long ago they alerted me to an interesting standoff between a  hawk and a couple of doves. This time, however, all I noticed were the jays in the tree. I turned to go inside when I saw a small bird in the branch closest to me. I stood still, barely breathing, and it turned full circle to let me see it’s yellow undersides, dark gray back and black necklace. I also took note of its white eyering. We stared at each other for a while, then it flew off to the other side of the yard. I flew into the house and found my Sibley’s Guide. I knew it was a warbler because of the shape and beak. I looked at the prothonotary warbler first, because I thought that is what it was, but the prothonotary warbler doesn’t have the black necklace. After browsing the guide for a while I decided I’d had a Canada warbler in my yard — although the back seemed too dull for the breeding male and even the female. They are migrating now, so I think I saw a Canada Warbler, but if you have other suggestions, let me know.

No ghosts, few birds, but lots of people

We spent the weekend camping at Point Lookout State Park in St. Mary’s County Maryland. The area is quite pretty and has an interesting, if somewhat depressing, history. Just after the battle of Gettysburg, the area was made into a POW camp for confederate soldiers. For some reason the men were pretty much left on their own, with little resources including food, water and shelter. Over 3000 died within 15 months. Because of this morbid history, many ghost stories have been circulated about this park. We saw no ghosts, however. Thank goodness!

Because this park is on a peninsula, it is a good resting place for migrant birds, and August is supposed to be the beginning of fall migration. I saw no evidence of that, however, but I didn’t really do much birding. I heard a few goldfinch flying overhead, but I don’t think they migrate. I did, however, see many ospreys. At one point I counted 7 between two trees and the sky. There was a time in my life when this would have been highly unusual, but now the osprey population has recovered around here.

We’ve gone camping with our friends and their children a number of times. They have a son Andrew’s age and a daughter Clare’s age and the boys are good friends as are the girls. However when you get them all together there is lots of whining, arguing, shrieking and talk that makes me cringe.

This trip was no different — the boys made fun of the girls and the girls complained to their parents. Sometimes the complaining and arguing drowned out the Hip Hop and Salsa music from neighboring campsites.

We were not alone in the park. Several sites were being used by a group that was using a generator to power all of their sites.  Two other sites held nine tents between them — a differnent group.

I’m not complaining — it was nice to get away, the weather was great and I enjoy the company of our friends. Next time, however, I think we should go to Cape May. And stay in a Bed & Breakfast. And leave the kids at home.