Monday, October 7, 2013

A "ramble"about departing hummingbirds in Oakland County Michigan

Yes, I know I have been absent from my blog for awhile! I have also been absent from the Michigan Birder's listserv. Other things in life demand attention, and while my wife Judy and I have been out and about birding, and have hundreds of pics to process and stories to tell, time and energy are more finite than intentions and desires. Indeed, I have SO much to say!

I copy here a note I sent tonight in response to one of my birding "heroes" Allen Chartier. On the listserv, Allen asked his annual fall question about reporting the last date of sighting a Ruby-throated Hummingbird in our area. I always love to report to Allen my first and last hummer sightings every year because he always thanks me and I know my data are being used! I have never had either the first or last sightings, but I know he really appreciates the county data! Obviously I gave him more than the desired response tonight , but Allen and the Michigan Birders listserv will understand for I am prone to ramble. I found my exercise tonight very rewarding. It was one of the first times I actually played with my eBird data rather than just entering it! WOW! What a powerful tool! I hope you like.

Begin copy:

Allen –

I saw my last hummer (aka “Kid Hummer”,  i.e., (s)he rocked!) on 9/25/2013.

This is all you needed from me. But, I just wanted to tell a story tonight, so I continue…

I still have feeders up and hope for something special as always. Gotta keep your “line in the water” to catch a fish … or a bird!!! Someday I want THE last county record, or even better, a new hummer for my life list!

It really did seem to me to be a very slow year for hummers. I remember seeing on the Michigan birders listserv that others had thought the same thing this summer. Where are the hummers? So that gives me license to explore my mind and ramble a bit (as if I needed it …)

Maybe I was too expectant. Like, I DO have out a feeder (actually this year I added another and that increased my expectancy …). I clean the feeders regularly. Hey, if I clean it, they will come! So where were they? Do they like my neighbors better than me? Must be something I was doing wrong? Worry, worry! Fret, fret! But keep on cleaning and hoping …   Gotta keep my “line in the water”. OK, I really do not take it personally, but this IS a ramble …

So tonight I entered my most recent month of data into eBird. Yes, I am always behind. I record daily in my journal, but there are so many things to do before entering eBird data. But I really wanted to answer my personal question of whether this really was a slow year at my place for hummers. So having done that, I now can go into eBird and ask questions based on my data. I still need to enter data for 2012, but I was great about data entry in 2011, so offer comparisons for that year to 2013.

I chose to look at the number of days per month in which I saw a hummer to see if they were really missing this year. Actually I had to do a small bit of mental manipulation since sometimes I record more than once/day, and I filled in from my journal for a couple of months where I have not yet recorded my data in eBird, but it was not too hard. Here are results from my deck.

Month vs.           numbers of days with at least one sighting

April                       0
May                       7
June                      15
July                        5
August                  26
Sept                       19

First sightings:  May 10 male; May 26 female
Last sighting: Sept 25

Month vs.           numbers of days with at least one sighting

April                       2
May                       11
June                      8
July                        7
Aug                        22
September         13

First sightings: April 27 male
Last sighting Sept 15

So what did I learn? At least for MY yard, they came about a week and a half earlier in 2011 and left about a week and a half earlier. Now it would be interesting to check the weather patterns and many other factors for these years…  If I add May and June together for both years, I get 22 days (2013) vs. 19 days (2011). July is a very slow month (5 vs. 7) in both years! I suspect that is when folks on the listserv missed their presence. I sure did. Probably they were busy doing the nesting thing. Then I saw a bunch of hungry hummers – mostly kids – in August and September in both years. Gotta bulk up! (I will never comprehend how such a dinky bird beating its wings too fast to even to be able to see it  - or barely even photograph it at less than super high speed - can migrate so many miles!!!)

Even without a massive sample, I judge the data from both years to be much the same! Interesting! I took my best pics in 2011 and thought it was the best year ever! It is just what we remember or imagine …

I really DID feel 2013 was a “bad year” for hummers. Too expectant? But the numbers now tell me it was about average. I guess I just never noticed patterns before! Fascinating! They are probably starving when they arrive and love my feeders. After a while, they locate local food sources (bugs?) to fill their hunger and then go off to do hummer things. Then later the kids certainly need energy for the migration.

A really cool thing is that these numbers are from my OWN data! Data speaks louder than preconceptions! If you really want to know something, you need good data! That is what the scientific approach is all about – even on a personal level!

This is why we should all enter our data  into eBird! It became personal for me to answer my own question tonight, but just imagine hundreds or thousands of reports from the same geographical area! Just imagine this being done on a global scale! So cool!!!

Gotta really think about what our local birding champion and my hero Allen Chartier does for us in southeast Michigan!!! Sometimes I tend to take it for granted. Just imagine what we would be missing without his reports! And, all his reports are upwardly compiled for a global picture of hummingbirds! That is how birders really put together a comprehensive picture! WOW!

And, gotta thank Cornell University and eBird staff for such a great tool for the rest of us! I use it for my “life list”, but really take much pride in knowing that I am contributing to a much larger cause! (Now I just gotta get the rest of my data entered …)

I record all sightings of hummers in my journal. This includes how many sightings I have during my recording time of visits to the feeders. I use tic marks to record multiple visits. I only report to eBird the highest number of identifiable birds I saw during the period. So if I saw multiple visits by an immature hummer (or many different individuals?!) during the hour or so when I was watching, I record one bird! In August, I often recorded maybe 8-10 visits during my observation time! Very busy bird(s)! I still recorded one bird on eBird! If I knew they were different birds, I would count them differently, but all kids look alike to me.

So, how would I relay the multiple visits to the community? Or should I record each one as unique?

It was a long story – I gave Allen what he needed on the first line – but just had to tell a story (“ramble”). I feel more satisfied and hope others enjoyed. Bottom line, it was an average year here for hummers.

---  “Dr. Bob” Setzer”.

Teach a man to fish, and without a boat, he might grab binoculars and a camera and become a birder who can “fish” everywhere …

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

2013-07-12 LSCMP: Birds and "beeps". Green Heron and Marsh Wren

What a wonderful day! Finally the humidity left (for two days anyway) and I could breathe again outdoors! It has been great sleeping with windows open in lower temps. We had to get out and were well rewarded at Lake Saint Clair Metropark (LSCMP). (This used to be called "Metro Beach").  I shot tons of great pics with my new camera outfit of a Green Heron! 

We were first clued into the fact that something might be in the area by the bridge along the approach to the Day Sail parking area by seeing a stopped car there. The car moved along as we approached. I told Judy to be sure to check it out to see what they might have seen. We saw a Green Heron (our first this year) feeding in the creek. Judy shot several pics from the car. It is handy that when we go birding that she wears her Canon SX30 around her neck in the car!

I parked nearby, and 
slowly walked with my new camera back to the creek. Actually it is a used camera I bought from a friend and great birder and photographer, but it is new to me - Canon D40 with Canon IS 300 mm lens. It was "love at at first shot"!  I love the new outfit even more now!  I bought the camera outfit right after I sold my personal "albatross" of cases of sports cards from 1989-1994. It was a stupid investment, but at least I now have something useful that came of it other than basement clutter.  It was such great timing that even before I cashed the check I saw that my birding buddy was upgrading his photo equipment and selling off his old stuff. Indeed, some things are made to happen!

So ... I crept up on the heron. It was not too spooky and allowed many pics! I shot a series with the heron stalking wild edibles (bugs?) in the shallow water.

"Come to me my lovely morsels"
It flew onto a wood platform and interacted with a turtle for awhile.

I suspect if turtles could run it would have happened right then!
I know that would have scared any digested vegetation right out of me!

Turtle: "OK. I am leaving ..." 
Heron: "Me too".
I like this pic because it shows the great wing span for a relatively short bird.
It did not fly too far and landed by another turtle.

Turtle did not need to bail out - the bird left soon

Then it flew off into a nearby dead tree and posed, and posed, and kept posing for a very long time before flying away. I took dozens of shots of the bird posing on a couple of trees.  Life is good!
Great lighting shows the subtle green on the upper wings.
I love this shot!
While shooting the Green Heron, several other birds visited the tree. I saw and shot a Northern Flicker and a Flicker kid, a Downy Woodpecker, and seven more species. My day was complete just at this tree! I think I could have sat there for hours and kept sighting and recording birds at this "bird magnet". The dearth of leaves made the tree an incredible photographic opportunity. My experience called to mind a blog post by Kim Smith narrating her experience at one tree.

I guess this was my "one tree day". It is so wonderful that the park leaves dead trees in place rather than removing them like my condo association does! They provide food and nests - besides resting perches - and offer great photographic opportunities! Here is the main tree offering photo opportunities.

I could have watched birds at this tree all day!
OK, back to the heron. Besides shooting it posing, I was lucky enough to get several great pics (my best ever) of the bird in flight! WOW! I love this camera! The better glass - and especially the image stabilization - in the lens really helps me out!

Flying Green Heron. Wow! Did I shoot that?!!!

It's ... "Rocket Bird"! Wow again!!!
Someone told me to "go take a flying leap"...
"Look - I can balance on one leg!"
Then I think he got tired of posing  and told us where to go look for Marsh Wrens!!! (Ever have a Green Heron tell you where to go?)

"OK, you got your pics! Now go check out the Marsh Wrens over there!"
Before I wander into the marsh, I want to mention that while we were shooting the heron, I noticed that the car stopped on the bridge that originally drew our attention to the heron was now parked nearby and suspected it might contain birders. I really expected them to come down and see the bird. They did not - and we were there at least 15-20 minutes. After we went to the boardwalk, I noticed a couple head down to where we were watching the birds. We later met Rick and Connie on the boardwalk, and indeed they are birders. On the boardwalk, Rick was lugging one of those huge tripod/camera/lens things that I can barely lift. 
Fellow birders Rick & Connie at LSCMP

I want to specifically mention this because I was very impressed that they did not want to intrude on our encounter with the birds we were watching! It would have been OK, but they waited until we left the area before going down to look at the birds themselves! It really meant a HUGE deal to me! In this case, we would not have minded; actually I was hoping to share "our" bird!  We had our pics already, and it would have been fun to meet them then. But, obviously their concern was memorable to me.

So often the "big lens guys" get a bad rap - and a few times I have bad-rapped them myself because a few have crowded me out when I was watching a special bird in a limited area - usually at Magee Marsh. Yuk!  Cannot you wait a minute or two? BUT, it was SO wonderful to see an expression of - geez, I fail for words because it does not happen as often as it should, and I guess words cannot adequately express what I felt? Consideration! I finally got it -  yes, that is the word!!! I cannot believe it is a word that came so hard to me! I was thinking concern and humanity. What was I trying to say? (Geez, that was weird ...! But I am rambling ...) Anyway, yes indeed, they were so considerate! OK. That might be a good summation in one word for the "Golden Rule". And, yes, I am quite a bit embarrassed that when thinking of personal interactions, I had trouble remembering something so basic! Is it me - or is it when I consider (verb choice intended ...) "society" today? 

On the other hand, I have met so many wonderful bird photographers with big lenses, I truly know the few who seem to create unsavory memories are indeed the exception! Somehow the memories stick in my mind. Yes, I know I must "flush my mental toilet" of those remnants.  Today helped reaffirm my faith. 

I digressed ...

We left the heron and walked out on the new boardwalk for the first time. Wow, what a difference in Santa Rosa Marsh from a few years ago. Back then the marsh was so engulfed by Phragmites that we could hardly see into it! Duck hunters had forged a couple of trails into it, but we never had desire to slosh our way very far and missed all of the good birds reported by some birders.

A few years ago (really not more than 3 years I think ...), the Metro Park system did a controlled burn of several critical areas around the park including the marsh to eliminate the invasive Phragmites. I think they may also have applied a herbicide beforehand. Whatever, it really worked! What a huge difference! And, then, just this year, they built a boardwalk through part of the marsh. They were still working on it, and the approach from the Day Sail parking lot, but it is open. What a gift to less adventurous birders like Judy and I! 

As we walked along the boardwalk, I kept hearing unfamiliar songs. What is that bird? At some point a guy with binocs passed us, and I asked if he knew 
the song. Marsh Wren. Thanks!

Marsh Wren!!! This is one of the most "secretive" birds of all according to bird books! They were very abundant (maybe a dozen?) and singing everywhere along the new boardwalk on Santa Rosa Marsh at LSCMP. Many times I saw movement and heard singing about 3 feet away (!) but could never see the birds. They are right at my feet and I cannot see them in the vegetation. Fascinating, yet frustrating!

Rick and Connie joined us on the boardwalk. They had driven quite a way and had been on the boardwalk before that day. We really enjoyed talking with them and hearing of their experiences at LSCMP as well as Kensington Metro Park. Good company! We watched for the wrens together.

Marsh Wren
Marsh Wren
Finally a wren popped up long enough for pics! "Lifer pics"!!! Judy Setzer and I agreed that these birds are far harder to shoot than the spooky Kingfishers (we now have lots of Kingfisher pics ...). It is amazing how birds get thru the marsh vegetation! I guess the face-first thing works to their advantage with pointy beaks/bills leading the way!!! We humans have to start with our arms together leading the way to get the same effect... SO COOL to get this pic!!! And, (s)he is still singing in the pic - unconcerned about our presence!

WOW! What a day! At almost any point after shooting the heron we could have gone home completely satisfied.

Judy and I went to find some shade and chose a picnic table under trees by the parking lot. Some guy was laying out wires on the ground on a grassy mound. What is he doing? Then we noticed a large antenna in the center of the wires. Curiouser and curiouser. Fascinating. Another guy hauled a wagon to a table in the shade under the trees. OK, I was reviewing my pics and cooling off, so it was fun just wondering what would occur. It did not look like a regular picnic.

It turned out that Walt and John are members of the Utica Shelby Emergency Communication Society (USECA). It is an amateur radio club (ham radios). We spoke to them quite awhile and watched as Walt used Morse Code to communicate with people in other states. What fun! It had been years since I was exposed to Morse Code. Walt and John said if we were interested we should join them at a picnic on Sunday at Stoney Creek Metro Park on Sunday. 

Walt "Morse Code" in the shade at LSCMP.
You can see the antenna in the upper left.
Since I am just now finishing my blog post, I can relay we did so. Despite the heat (90 degrees) and growing humidity, we were very happy we dropped by to meet other members of the club. When we got to Stoney, they had three stations on the air. Walt was sending messages in Morse Code. Walt is a keypad wizard - beep, beeeep, beep - dots and dashes. As he listened to replies, he wrote down the message on a pad of paper. One of the members said Walt can send 30 to 40 words per minute using just the dots and dashes of the code.  Just like at LSCMP, to me it is just "beeping". He uses a pad to write down the messages as he hears the dots and dashes, and then has complete sentences. Well, actually, semi-complete. Because of the medium, the code guys use abbreviations for common words. Hey! The use of weird abbreviations in "texting" these days (because young people now want more immediacy and, I suspect in some cases, do not know how to spell anyway) goes back way before World War II! The ham radio guys got it first to speed along communications! For example, after entering their call sign to tell they are on the air, they start with "CQ" (i.e., "seek you"). It is the equivalent of saying: "Is anyone listening and want to talk?"

You might wonder why - with a global internet and cell phones - anyone would want to do the ham thing except for fun. Check out the name of the group - about emergency communications. Now think about 9/11 or the massive power outage a couple of years ago - or floods or hurricanes or anything that takes out the power grid and use of any cell towers with it! These guys are ready! The network of hams made a big difference on 9/11! 

On Sunday, we also saw one station using voice, and another with the ham rig hooked up to the internet with a special sound card. And all of this was happening with small portable antennas and being run on battery power from a local park!!! These hams do it all of the time - just to hone their skills and stay prepared. 

Fascinating! Darn! As if I needed anything new to grab my attention ... But what is life about except continual learning? Keeps me going!

Some USECA members meet outdoors at the Metro Parks frequently, and they accepted my desire to join their Facebook group, so I am sure Judy and I will combine birding with learning more about this great group! 

"Birds and Beeps"! Great day!!!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Flashing Flickers and more


Judy and I went to Stoney Creek Metro Park (Inwood Rd. area above the park proper) to see if the Bald Eagle kid had fledged yet. She - the eagle kid - (banders identified her as a a female) was still on the nest and moving around and flapping quite a bit. Another birder - Joan Bonin - said she visited at least once every day to try to catch the day of first flight and expected it would happen very soon. The nest was quite far away and pics are less than desired, but we had reasonable views with binoculars.

From the parking lot, we had good views of the cell tower where the ospreys are raising their brood. Joan told us that she saw two fuzzy heads of the chicks a couple of times. We saw both adults and I did get a few pics of the adults that I might add later.

"Best bird" was the "lifer" Yellow-breasted Chat! It is a large warbler and is rare in these parts. It is always cool when eBird asks me to comment so that my sighting can be verified! Besides knowing it had been sighted here, I was lucky enough to be assisted by a good birder - Scott Gridley. Scott and I chatted  :)  earlier so I knew he was on the lookout for the Chat. As we were leaving, we stopped to chat with another birder, and I saw Scott waving me back to the Mulberry tree where the Chat had been sighted. Thanks Scott!!! Post haste we backtracked and were able to see the bird in question. I suspect for most birders in this area it might be a "nemesis bird", but my life list (now 184 species) is so short I seem to get many great birds before I get some of the most common ones. Interesting! Anyway, we watched three Chat flights from the Mulberry to other trees and back, and I did get a great look with binoculars. Sadly no pics.

Yes, I know this was "chatty", but tried to use caps where needed. A "Chat/chat" within a "ramble"! Now that is cool - or at least I think so ... ;)


As in all birding expeditions, as Judy and I say "You never know...". So here are two sets of pics of other birds. (Finally the object of the story ...)

Sexy Feisty Flickers Fancifully Flashing Feathers (say that fast three times!):

As we were walking to the viewing area for the eagles, I spied two birds along the road. Wisely this time, I did not use binoculars first but raised my new camera. I lucked out to capture an amorous encounter! (The male is the guy on the left with the "moustache"...)

Do I have your attention?

She did seem quite interested ...!
Check out this tail!
Still interested!

How about these "pecs"!!!
Good try, but she lost interest and wandered away. Geez! How could anyone resist such a display? Maybe one brood a year is enough? Anyway, for me it was a wonderful capture!

My best ever pics of a "bug-eater"

While observing young Tree Swallows waiting for aerial parents to bring food, I saw a different bird on nearby vegetation. Here are the pics I took. I would appreciate verification of my identification of the bird as an Eastern Wood Peewee. In "the books", I see it could also be a Flycatcher - maybe a Willow Flycatcher. I think the under-tail coverts should be darker in the Peewee?

"Let's see if your new lens can find me in the weeds..."

"OK. Just in case, I will pose for you!"
(I love the clarity of the new lens!!!)

"Coming at you! Dare you to shoot me!"
(Geez! Another lucky shot! I wonder how may people ever shot one of these guys head on!)

Whatever the ID, these are my best shots ever for this set of birds. I just love my new lens! Cool!!!

So ... without rambling further right now ... I just post this addition to my blog now and await feedback.

I hope y'all have a birdy 4th of July!!! I think I had mine a couple of days early.

[BTW, this area is fairly close and is great for birding and we would visit more, but the access road is a very bumpy washboard from the local farmers' machines and the fast-paced drivers, and it shakes the heck out of our car, so we do not do it much. I just want to keep the nuts tightened ...]

Friday, June 28, 2013

I am not gone, just doing other wonderful stuff ...

WARNING! NOT about birds! (yes, I know it is a bird blog ... so just thought I would warn y'all ...) But, Hey, it is my blog so I can relay what I want!)

Birders stop now - boring!

Friends are welcome to continue...

I have not published in awhile. I already did post a few "rambles"about the Biggest Week (really the highlight of our year!!!), yet I still did not post the last one with my other pics of the week. I have been busy. Oh well ... y'all will understand ...

In addition, I intend(ed) to post rambles and pics about our very interesting late winter observations (especially the very abundant loons and Horned Grebes in SE Michigan this year! Best ever pics!) and some great local birding and local lifers after the Biggest Week, but  - like life - I just keep moving on. Oh, and yes, I need to post pics and stories of my deck birds - some new revelations! Good stuff! Fun!


Just before the Biggest Week, I sold my 1997 Jimmy to a local Streamwood resident thanks to the Streamwood sharing list. We cannot afford to keep two cars. I will certainly miss "jimmy"! I doubt my big long-handled salmon net will even fit in our Toyota. I bought the net for our annual trip to Manistee for salmon. Now our annual trip is to NW Ohio for birding at the Biggest Week. Nor will the longer one-piece fishing rods I used in bass tournaments fit in the car.  I guess I will figure it out. Anyway, one thing off my mind! Certainly the gas cost will be cheaper!

I send huge accolades to friend Gary Kozlowski who set up the Streamwood web site, e-mail list, and initiated the idea of a sharing site where residents can help each other with talents to offer!!! Gary is indeed  making Streamwood a "community"!!! One person makes a HUGE difference! Inspirational!

More recently, I sold the huge "albatross" of my sports card collection (circa 100 mixed cases!!!). I once thought that it would be my retirement. Not only did I pay the then-going prices for what I collected, but I also paid moving costs from California to Michigan - and then, storage fees! Stupid! Horrible timing! If only had I but invested in the stock market ...! But, live and learn! No regrets they say ... but I have many about this one. Fortunately I have regrets about only a few of the decisions I have made. Unfortunately all of them were costly in either money or mental sanctity!

I received less than 10% of what I spent on sports cards! Yet I was very happy that thru my Streamwood connections (thanks Gary for the contact - and Ray for not only your help moving them but also the contact!!), I met an extremely conscientious dealer that gave me a very fair price Anyone with cards, write me offline for  a great recommendation of the dealer! I actually had enough money from the sale to buy a wonderful camera package with a fantastic 300 mm Canon lens (Image-stabilized - so important to shaky me now!), a great D40 camera and other wonderful stuff. I now have fewer excuses for not taking better pics.  (Don't remind me - I will figure out excuses later ...)

Huge accolades to the Streamwood man (Ray White) who responded to my call for help on the Streamwood sharing list in moving some boxes from the basement into the garage so that the collection was accessible enough to evaluate. I do not know if anyone besides me remembers the metal puzzles of yesteryear where only one space was open and you had slide each block at a time to line up the numbers, but this was like our basement! With no open space, sliding anything was futile!

Geez! I remember when I moved this massive collection out of a basement myself - the last time was 1995 - and I was still in decent shape! Forty/fifty pounds per box. Geez! I am amazed  I even did it then! This retired cop is in great shape! It took Judy and I both to tell him that forty cases were sufficient to make it available. He still wanted to continue the "workout" he signed up for! What a man!!! Oh .. I do so fondly remember the days when I felt the same way - but that was over 20 years ago before cubicle living at the work place robbed me of any muscles, and before trying to do it myself last year put me in the hospital. Thank you, Ray!!!

Yes, I am admittedly less fit and more needy, yet I persevere with help from my friends!

Currently, I am working on photographing and cataloging rock concert posters (I always called them "hippy posters") that I picked up in San Francisco in the 1960's.  What fun! I know some of y'all are interested and will consider y'all first. Yet, it is so cool that the same guy who bought my cards is also interested! He sent me a great photo of a poster he has in his office with the Rolling Stones!

I am also working on the wonderful stuff uncovered while selling my cards. Really wonderful stuff!!! A box of letters surfaced from my father to my mother during WW-II before my birth!!! This was among my cards. I wonder what I will read ... How did my father convince Mom to marry him?

It is great that I looked at each and every box I had put in the "cards area" in the basement!!! I did not remember I even had these!!! (Yes, my parent's deaths were a traumatic time then for me ...)

In moving from California, movers had packed everything so I knew I had better watch out to see what emerged! My parents died a couple of years before we moved (otherwise I would not have moved ...) and I was executor of their estate and inherited most of their stuff. (Note - I do NOT recommend any close family member being an executor!) Not only are the letters themselves really important to review, but just seeing the old stamps on the letters are really cool! Air Mail Special Delivery stamps! (Only older people or stamp collectors will even understand this!) And ... so far, I found two telegrams (!!!)  near the top! Anyone know what a telegram is? Anyone have one? Western Union!  Oh, heck, what was Western Union?!

And (!!!) at the bottom of another box of cards, I finally found some of Mom's jewelry that I thought I had! No, not valuable in a monetary sense (she never could afford fancy stuff ...), but priceless!!!

I have been wanting to pass this to my grand-daughters (her great-grand-daughters!!!). Now I can! No wonder I never found it!

And, just tonight I looked at some photo albums that were included in a box of cards with collated sets of sports cards in binders. The movers had packed the entire book shelves - photo albums with sports card albums. Fascinating! I knew I had negatives from this period in a filing cabinet with each set of negatives denoted with a number. In the binders, I found that (as compulsive as I was ...) I had labeled each set with the same number as the negatives and even included the "crap photos" in the albums so if I ever wanted reprints I could go directly to the negatives! Damn! I was good ... and so wonderfully compulsive! It now makes sense ...

And ... (thinking about reprints from negatives) ...  I was so unimaginative about how the world of technology might change. For example I never predicted  CD's - much less mp3's.  A whole different story needs to ramble about the circa 800 vinyl albums I have!!! (It is so cool that aficionados are embracing the better sounds of vinyl!))

Well, that was back in the "old days". Now it is easier for me to scan the prints than to use the negatives. Interesting how technology has changed! Anyway, I found lots of treasures!

Tonight I will be working on scanning and posting some pics on Facebook (FB).

BTW:   I tend to use FB more these days than keeping up with my blog ... I know many of my relatives and friends do not use FB (Hey - get with the times!!!), but I just do not  have energy to individually tailor all my thoughts to specific audiences too much anymore. Sorry about that!

For  most of my birdie blog followers, I know you are already on FB, so you are keeping up me. If you read so far despite the un-bird warning, thanks my friends!

Anyway, that is my "ramble". "That's my story and I am sticking to it!"

When I am done "doing on the home front", I will get back to posting birdie exploits.

- "Dr. Bob"

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Biggest Week: Pearson Metropark and a ramble on Kenn's Coverts


I am going to start with a "ramble". The rest of the subject will be addressed shortly ...

This was our last day for attending The Biggest Week in American Birding. The trip was a bit rough for me this year, because of some stupid thing happening to my leg. Even with the steroid drugs I had been given by the doc, I learned that constant activity was only making the problem worse. The night before (yes, I pushed it too far ...), I was even concerned about safely making the 10 mile drive back to the hotel. Bad timing for my body to be acting up! Anyway, I decided then that I would not push it as far on the next day, and just head home for the two hour drive in the morning. It was a good decision - but, damn! - we even had to miss a main Kenn Kaufman workshop ("Principles and Pitfalls of Bird ID") for which we had registered.

On the other hand, Judy and I already had attended two of Kenn's workshops this week, and the first one - "Understanding what you see for better bird ID" - was based on his great book Field Guide to Advanced Birding - as also would be the one we missed. Watching his lecture then was a great revelation to me! It not only taught me about birds, but it also taught me about how I learn!!!

One quick example: Kenn talked about "coverts". These are important parts of birds. You see them in pics of birds, and the bird guide books and birders always talk about the colors and patterns of coverts. But it really made no sense to me (yes, it takes me awhile) until I heard Kenn pronounce the word. When I read "covert" in text, I always thought about "ops" as the next word. Yes, I guess I watch too many TV shows about spies and such. To me covert meant hidden or secretive. When Kenn was talking about coverts, he said COVERts - as in cover - and not the COvert thing - as in secretive - that I had in my mind. These cover and protect the bases of the flight feathers! And they are really visible. Revelation! Yes, I am sad I missed his next workshop - also based on this book - but I already have a new learning tool!

I was so excited last year when I won a copy of Kenn's book (...that he autographed to me! SO cool!!!) in a raffle at the Birding Ohio Facebook Meet and Greet during the Biggest Week!!! But, to tell the truth, reading something like "the bases of the greater coverts lie beneath the median coverts, and above these are multiple rows of lesser coverts" really was something to be passed over. And, these wonderful things are on both sides of the wings, so you get hierarchies of primary and under-wing coverts added to the description, and so on, so the terms get even more complicated. Whew! Yet, I understand now! All I really need to do is to read the words slowly as I look at the pics in his well-illustrated book.  It seems reading technical books is much harder for me to do now with my attention span decreased by age and my now-ingrained-by-media predisposition to immediate "sound bites"! It is almost amazing that I once assembled and read a massive personal library of scientific books and technical papers on seaweeds  - even when I had to buy them from antiquariaat shops in other countries! (My library and seaweed herbarium were donated to the Univ. of Washington when I entered aerospace in the early 1980's.)  Ah, those were the days!

Here (thinking about my ability to assimilate media), I drifted into thinking about Marshall McLuhan's discussion of "hot and cold media". And if you thought I "rambled", just check this review (click the highlighted URL) out!  I liked it, but it caused me to think my "rambles" are just the stuff of a beginner!   I quote one snap from McLuhan : "I tend to add and the whole thing gets out of hand."  That sort of says that someone besides myself "rambled". :)

Suffice - more on point to say - I can now read Kenn's great book with far more understanding! Great book!!! And yes, we made it home safely. It was a good decision!

I know someone is wondering: "Will Dr. Bob ever get to the subject?" OK, here it comes more about birding at Pearson MP.

We certainly did not want to leave Ohio without birding. Going back to Magee (and of course, walking and  standing and shooting pics for a few hours) and then attending Kenn's  workshop 1:00 pm would have put our departure time in mid-afternoon. I just knew the drive home would be potentially dangerous. Fortunately, we had learned of a new place during Biggest Week registration. Pearson Metro Park in Oregon, Ohio was literally down the street (like two blocks) from the Holiday Inn Express where we were staying at birder's rates. (Thank you, Holiday Inn for great hospitality and for supporting birders! We will be back many times!).

After taking pics of the "Welcome Birder's" signs along the streets of Oregon, we went to Pearson.

Lovely wife and birding companion Judy wearing her Biggest Week shirt
Pearson is a lovely Metro Park! On the drive in we saw lots of parking areas and trails to explore. Passing on these, we headed for the Nature Center. When we arrived there, we saw two BSBO vans in the parking lot. This must be the place! We did not know that Pearson was on the Biggest Week guided field trip schedule, but it sure makes sense now.

We saw one field trip returning to their van.We approached, but they were mostly done. As everyone boarded the van, one woman remained. I think maybe she had just "tagged along" as we sometimes do (Hey, it is usually OK to join a bunch of birders any time ...), and she had her own vehicle in the lot. It turns out that Mary Bennett's RV had a new license plate for our trip - Alaska!!!. Certainly the farthest traveled from the continental USA! (See my other blog about all the state plates we saw on our Ohio birding trip).  We had a delightful chat - such are birders! Mary is retired and actually lives full-time in her RV. This encounter immediately reminded us of Dawn Fine and her husband who also do this. I wrote down a Google search for "Dawn's Bloggy Blog" and gave it to her, along with the Google search for "Dr. Bob's Birds". I hope she reads our blogs and contacts Dawn and us! Mary relayed wonderful stories about being part of a group called RV Volunteers as she described her experiences and where she was headed and where she had been. Mary experiences birds and nature everywhere! Really sounded not only like fun, but what a great way to "give back" by volunteering at way-points!
Mary's Home on the Road all the way from Alaska at the Biggest Week
That would have been enough reason for our visit - some things are just made to happen! Then we walked the short distance to the Nature Center. The rest rooms were open. Good start!  That is always a concern now.

(More Ramble!) As an aside in writing this, and having mentioned rest rooms, I now am thinking about the fact that when John Steinbeck (also traveling the country in an RV) wrote his book "Travels With Charlie", I was really quite disenthralled! John (older then) left the impression on me that he had "sold out". The book had none of the qualities of "Cannery Row" and "Sweet Thursday" (or the lesser known Log from the Sea of Cortez) about Steinbeck's days as a partner and friend to the marine biologist  "Doc"  (a real person - Ed Ricketts of Monterey, California  - upon whom I had patterned my life) and had none of the angst of his other books like "The Pearl" or "Grapes of Wrath".  I mostly remember the book recorded John constantly stopping to let Charlie pee on things at special places. What happens to our angst and fervor as we age...?

Maybe I should read the book again now! Older now, I now seem to look for "comfort stations" myself. And, maybe, if I read the book again (should my diminished abilities to read a book because of the afore-mentioned conditioning allow me to do so...), just maybe I will learn that the doggie discharge stops were actually written (as opposed to photographic) "snapshots" and introductions to wonderful sites around the USA. I wonder.

Hey, I wonder how many of y'all are still reading this now? I suspect I am not alone in my struggle with the written word and our pre-conditioning by current media demanding more immediate satisfaction than a "ramble" might yield!!! Y'all deserve a prize! (Thanks for being here!)

OK, here it comes - back to subject!

So, after a pit stop, we approached the Nature Center. It was closed. But, the Window on Wildlife was open! Judy and I were amazed that such a place existed! What beauty! Fruit trees were in bloom and the feeders were active. We sat there by ourselves for quite a long time.

There was a huge expanse of windows, a length-wise shelf along  them, and lots of chairs.  There were "bleacher seats" in the back for class trips. We could just sit there and observe the feeder activity forever!
In the area where we sat, there was a long poster with photos and names of expected birds. We managed to see almost all of them in our short visit!

Window on Wildlife view - what a pleasant scene!

"Dr. Bob" at the poster of bird ID pics shares his view
Lovely wife Judy displays her Biggest Week shirt
and four years of annual pins from Friends of Magee Marsh on her hat!

We also saw many more birds!

Red-bellied Woodpecker in a fruit tree. Look closely to see a Downy WP behind.
Tufted Titmouse tree topper - I love the haunting mystery of this!
White-crowned Sparrow - my best shot ever of this species!
Eastern Phoebe - again my best ever shot!
We  missed the Indigo Bunting reported by others, but managed many decent pics.

Amazing time that coincided with the flowering of fruit trees! Amazing place!

As we were about to leave, a group of seniors in wheel chairs were brought in by their care-takers. It turned out they were from basically across the street at Little Sisters of the Poor. Their caretaker called the home "Little Sisters of Mercy", but I looked up the proper name: Little Sisters of the Poor. Indeed, either name is very appropriate!

(Look out - more ramble!) "Sisters of Mercy" stuck with me and reminded me of a Leonard Cohen Song from long ago.  Here is a link to his song.  Great video of an older Cohen singing a song that always resonated with me. I am not sure I ever tried to figure out the meaning, but it "resonated" in the true sense - maybe the pitch in my own vocal range? In any case it always resonated.

I now suspect the song had something to do with "Ladies of the Night", but I offer it here to also suggest the comfort one might feel from being away from Nature for a long time and then "coming home" to experience it again. Indeed, I suspect the latter is even more fulfilling and lasts far longer in our memories!  And it is not gender specific.

I offer a few lyrics to help try understand what the lovely folks we encountered might have been experiencing. It has nothing to do with other possible implications of the song, but rather with reflections on lives past. It seems fitting. And, indeed, we experienced the fact that the Sisters of Mercy brought these folks to the "Windows" was so tremendously important to them!

"Oh the sisters of mercy, they are not departed or gone. 
They were waiting for me when I thought that I just can't go on. 
And they brought me their comfort and later they brought me this song. 
Oh I hope you run into them, you who've been travelling so long.

They touched both my eyes and I touched the dew on their hem. 
If your life is a leaf that the seasons tear off and condemn 
they will bind you with love that is graceful and green as a stem. 

When I left they were sleeping, I hope you run into them soon. 
Don't turn on the lights, you can read their address by the moon.
And you won't make me jealous if I hear that they sweetened your night ..."

And, I know for many of us if we ever had been deprived by life events of opportunities to experience birds and Nature, a visit to any place to reconnect would be priceless!  This was the first time the home had made a field trip there. After this trip they will return often! It is a quick and easy and accessible way to allow their residents to "get out" and experience Nature and memories!

Aside: It was interesting the the line about "reading their address by the moon" struck another chord for me this year. As I get more birding contacts, this year has been really fascinating for me. I have seen some great photos of flying birds highlighted by a full moon in the background. And, almost daily I was receiving posts about bird migration as recorded on weather radar. Members of the the Nemesis Bird Team were official bloggers for the Biggest Week, and one member, Drew Weber, was regularly posting migration radar maps during the spring. Here is one example. This is really mind-boggling! Just imagine so many birds flying at night during migration that they constitute a large part of satellite imagery!!!

We had was SO much fun watching the home folks exclaiming about seeing common brightly-colored local birds like a Cardinal, Goldfinch or a Blue Jay!  Indeed the comfort this visit offered was very obvious!  I am sure their field trip and joy really sweetened their nights with favorable memories!!! We stuck around longer and pointed out other birds (Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, and so many more ...) as they arrived. The birds were very cooperative! And, the folks from the home really sweetened OUR day ... and many nights of our personal memories to come! I only hope we sweetened theirs! I purposely keep our memories private in our own minds and did not take pics...

No, this experience was not a scheduled part of the Biggest Week, but it is a great illustration of what you might encounter during the week. We did not get too many birdy pics in our curtailed visit this year, but we again have incredible memories and snapshots of "Life"!!!

We left fully recharged again! Life is good! Life as a birder makes it even better! And, sharing our love - priceless! We cannot wait to return to Pearson Metropark next year during the Biggest Week!!! Indeed  Magee Marsh, Ottawa NWR, and Metzger Marsh are great places where we always go, yet there are so many more places to explore in the area!!! We learned of Pearson MP and many others (all with maps) at the registration desk for The Biggest Week.

Every year we add more days and places to our stay in Ohio!

(This year was  very special because I was accepted as an official blogger! I am honored indeed!)

Monday, May 20, 2013

Biggest Week: Woodcock Babies - hours old!

"Where in the woods would Woody Woodcock cockily walk while Woody's woodcock wife Wanda watches woodcock kids on the sand spit?" (Say that fast 3 times without pausing ...)

Did you do it? OK, well maybe it wasn't the best tongue twister, but this blog illustrates one of our finest memories from the Biggest Week In American Birding.

I was a bit "down" this year in Ohio. Somehow I had screwed up my leg while early birding in Michigan. It's complicated, but suffice to say that even the steroids the doc had given me a few days before were not helping too much. But, I persevered and had a great time as usual. Hey, birding is like that! Anyway, after a few hours on the Magee Marsh boardwalk my leg was killing me. All I wanted to do was just make it to the car. Judy's pedometer later showed we had walked about 3 miles. Geez! It is just a short walk from the car  - and the boardwalk is not that long - how did the miles add up? But with people seeing great birds, it was back and forth. Interesting . No rest for a birder I guess... :) Great fun!

Anyway, as we were heading to the car, we encountered a new friend that we met the night before at the Birding Ohio Meet and Greet - Donna Simonetti. Donna asked us if we had seen the woodcock babies. "What? No, we have not!"  So she took us across the parking lot to the sand spit on the Lake Erie side of the lot where we found several people gathered around something on the ground. Yellow tape had been placed by wildlife agents around two spots to protect the woodcocks. There was a small plot with tape protecting the shells of recently hatched eggs, and a larger plot around Momma Woodcock and her newly-hatched chicks. When I say, newly hatched, I really mean it - they were only a few hours old!!! Enroute, Donna told us a great story about her experience with this family! She told it SO well! It really set the stage for what we were to see. After she returned home, Donna posted  a fantastic video of Momma and 4 chicks. Besides showing the cute kids, it is fascinating to see how Momma walks!

Prior to this time, Judy and I had actually only seen Woodcocks a couple of times - both times at the Magee boardwalk during the Biggest Week. We had experienced the flight and songs of woodcocks locally a during spring a couple of times, but the silly things only come out when it is too dark to really see them or to take pics, so what you really get are fleeting flighting fantasies of fuzzy buzzy birds. (People always call their flight songs as "peent", but I would call it "bzeent" - it is more a buzzing thing.)

So, here is what we saw at Magee:

Ever see a woodcock egg? These are from the newly hatched chicks. Wildlife folks had the area roped off so no one would step on them. SO cool!!! Woodcock egg shells!!! That was certainly a first!

Shells from newly hatched woodcock chicks.
In the next roped off area, we saw Momma woodcock (here I call her "Wanda"). Even with birders pointing her out, it took us awhile to see her. She is "hunkered down" with her kids underneath. Here are a few views. Any one of these pics far exceeds what we had seen before!  A big-eyed, long-billed spectacular wonder of avian evolution! Woodcocks are so well camouflaged, it is hard to see them even when you know the area in which to look! Obviously these pics are zoomed and cropped.

As we watched and photographed, one new chick emerged from under her. From personal observations and stories of others, we learned this is the "problem kid". The other three kids in the bunch are quite content just being under Momma's folds.

"Where do you think you are going?" Momma said while pushing down with her bill.
(You can see where Momma was pushing his down down ...)

"I just wanna see what is there!" (You can see the impression left by her bill. She tried ...)
Well, he wandered to the other side of Momma, and then just backed up. Momma was stoic the whole time (Mothers are like that ...). She knew a warm down blanket is better than sticks and stones any day. But some kids just have to learn on their own.

"OK! I am back! Just tuck me in!"
You can see from the bitty baby  breast bump he is home! Safe and warm!
That could have ended our woodcock saga right then, but after resting my leg, Judy and I again hit the boardwalk. And, afterwards we went back to see if the woodcocks were still in the same place. No! I suspect the attention had caused Momma to try to seek a place that felt more secure. I heard some stories that upset me about over-zealous people approaching the birds too closely, but thankfully we did not experience this.

My saga continues. The same family was still in the same general area! On this - our second visit to the same family a few hours later - Momma had chosen a new site in the grass.

Momma in the grass waits for the "problem kid" to arrive.
It seems everyone had made it - there were four kids in total - except for "Woody, Jr"! I think in his explorations he had missed the message about changing homes. Now he seems worried! He is about twenty feet away - miles away in longer-legged human terms!

"Momma! Where are you?"
"Oh heck! Here I am -no bigger than a leaf - lost forever!"
"Momma! Is that you? I am coming!"
Here is a pic of the lost kid. Can you see him?
Same pic - enlarged. Now you see his widdle-bitty Woody, Jr. birdie wings trying to help him navigate over obstacles. 
OK, stop right now and go back to the pic before the last! Can you see Woody, Jr.? These birds have wonderful camo! It is only thru binoculars or digital photography and amazing luck (!) that we can ever see them!!!

Another pic of dinky wings of a hours-old woodcock. Heck, you cannot fit everything in ashell!

Well Momma was waiting just like before. Can you see her?

Momma waits for Woody, Jr. - the "problem kid"
Momma is always watching! And somehow - I have no idea how! - she is broadcasting her location  and Woody, Jr. hears it.  All the while she hears his plaintive cries.

"I am here! Please come home!" 
Yes, indeed, this ramble has been quite anthropomorphic! But, it is the blogger in me writing this, and not the scientist! And, I think it makes it more fun. But really many questions remain as the scientist kicks in.

I know of at least three separate incidents of woodcock Mommas and chicks on that sand spit this week! Two separate ones on the same day, and another on Wednesday, two days later. Possibly more.

Why would the woodcocks choose to go onto the sand spit away from the forest in which they live to lay and hatch eggs???  Better warmth from the sand? Escape from chick predators? Escape from moisture on the floor of the marsh?

Were the birds on a nest on the sand spit all along and no one saw them, or did they just lay when the eggs were about to hatch ("drop and run")? Weird! Like, how long do woodcocks sit on their eggs? With all the pros (birders and wildlife officials) around the area then, how could they be overlooked? Any info appreciated!

I think they all returned to the forest by the boardwalk within the same day the eggs hatched. So, what is their story??? I am sure someone in the area has asked these same questions before  so please share possibilities with me! It is driving me even crazier!

And, has anyone recorded vocalizations between Momma woodcock and kids? I know for sure that with the distance and obstacles in the way, they could not have ever seen each other! How did Woody Jr. find Momma? I know that mammals (from my sea lion care-taking days and human experiences) are exactly tuned to very specific "parent/kid frequencies" and can distinguish personal sounds amid any clutter!

Oh, always so many questions! But, I'll close now.

Fascinating! A "lifer experience"!!! You never know what will provide lasting memories (as I say it - what will "flap your wings") when you go to the Biggest Week in American Birding!!!

- "Dr. Bob"