25 December 2009

Trudell & York, DHP

DHP, you ask? "Designated Holiday Photo"

Matthew York, Heidi Trudell, F.P. "Pete" & Irene, Anakin (photo by Janna York)

The above photo is from two weekends ago when my folks came up from Houston to visit. They were lacking a photo to send out with their Christmas cards, so we fixed that ;-)

Last weekend, Matt and I attempted our first Christmas Bird Count as a married couple. We're still on speaking terms, no worries! Our accomplices, Jane and Gary, were great spotters and by the middle of the afternoon we were up to 67 species. Mind you, we slept in; our group met at 8 and disbanded at 4! Quite a relaxing shift from the breakneck speed and competitive spirit of the coast.

So, courtesy of ebird, here's the final list we submitted. Documentation for a few of the critters is in the works - Common Loon, Least Flycatcher, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Gray Catbird will require notes to be submitted because they are not commonly recorded here in the winter.

Location: McLennan County, TX, US
Observation date: 12/19/09
Notes: 58 miles (2.5 hrs) by car, 2.5 miles (5 hrs) on foot. 8:30 am until 4:10 pm.
Number of species: 67

Gadwall 14
American Wigeon 4
Mallard 6
Northern Pintail 1
Green-winged Teal 4
Ring-necked Duck 2
Common Loon 1
Pied-billed Grebe 3
Neotropic Cormorant 2
Double-crested Cormorant 8
Great Blue Heron 6
Great Egret 2
Black Vulture 4
Turkey Vulture 31
Northern Harrier 1
Cooper's Hawk 1
Red-shouldered Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 4
American Kestrel 8
American Coot 8
Killdeer 2
Ring-billed Gull 460
Forster's Tern 1
Mourning Dove 12
Belted Kingfisher 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker 3
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 2
Downy Woodpecker 2
Northern Flicker 1
Least Flycatcher 1 silent empid, slight teardrop shape to the eye ring
Eastern Phoebe 4
Loggerhead Shrike 4
American Crow 26
Carolina Chickadee 3
Tufted Titmouse 2
Carolina Wren 2
Bewick's Wren 5
House Wren 2
Marsh Wren 1
Golden-crowned Kinglet 2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 11
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 2
Eastern Bluebird 22
Hermit Thrush 1
American Robin 26
Gray Catbird 1
Northern Mockingbird 5
European Starling 13
American Pipit 51
Cedar Waxwing 46
Orange-crowned Warbler 4
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) 70
Spotted Towhee 2
Chipping Sparrow 15
Field Sparrow 3 1 partially leucistic (white tail and part of primaries)
Vesper Sparrow 12
Savannah Sparrow 2
Fox Sparrow 2
Song Sparrow 9
Lincoln's Sparrow 5
White-throated Sparrow 4
Harris's Sparrow 2
White-crowned Sparrow 18
Northern Cardinal 24
meadowlark sp. 62
Brown-headed Cowbird 50
House Finch 8
American Goldfinch 6

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(http://ebird.org)

Festive Ramahannukwanzmas to all, and to all a Fröhliche Weihnachten!

21 December 2009

Spindalis reminiscing

For the second consecutive year, a new bird has been added to the list of Florida breeding species. You may remember that in 2008, a pair of Least Grebes nested at Yamato Scrub Natural Area in Palm Beach County, and two young fledged. Both parents and young eventually disappeared from the area, though a single Least Grebe was seen there this past September. In 2009 another Caribbean species, Western Spindalis, nested in the state for the first time, at the Long Pine Key picnic area in Everglades National Park. The pair was first spotted in late July by visiting birders Heidi Trudell and Matthew York. Soon thereafter, a second female was seen with the pair, and it wasn't long after that that a nest was found near the top of a slash pine. Three young hatched; the last fledged in early September, but once the male parent stopped singing, birders had difficulty finding any of the six individuals presumed to present. The presence of the second female led to speculation that this may not have been the first time that the pair has nested in the park.

...the above is the first paragraph of Brian Rapoza's "Fall 2009" update for Tropical Audubon. Looks like the annual Trudell & York contribution to North American ornithology has been taken care of. Thanks to all who helped sponsor the honeymoon! =D

12 December 2009

when birds hit windows

This blog was not intended to be about dead birds, so I've attempted to keep such material out of the spotlight. However, FLAP.org has done an amazing thing. They've put together a guide to common dead birds of Toronto. And as expected, this makes me way too happy. You can click on the previous link to see FLAP's intro page and download the pdf. It's simply amazing.

(click the image for an article regarding Toronto's window legalities from thestar.com)

For a bit of background, FLAP is the Fatal Light Awareness Program - while I generalize my interests in "birds that hit windows," FLAP calls on skyscrapers and other tall city buildings to be responsible and turn off their lights at night during migration. FLAP has led the world in a thorough monitoring and rehab program which tracks mortality and survival rates. They have picked up 40,000+ birds since 1993 in the Toronto area alone... and they're barely at a pinch point if you're looking at migration movement for the continent!

Anyway, I'm completely thrilled to see that the awareness campaign isn't painted rosy colors with upright birds (even the Sibley IMBD poster design, below, is a bit subtle).

(image via fws)

I was overjoyed when this poster came out, but people asked me what it was about - you can barely see the power lines, radio tower on top of the buildings, a bridge, wind turbine and, well, buildings.

Regardless, information is spreading and one of these days we might even consider ways to lessen our human impact before construction ever begins - to the point of not constructing things at all, and making due with what we already have. Ah, these lofty dreams of responsible humans.

Go forth, for the betterment of humanity and the planet upon which we live.

27 November 2009

Black Friday

In the true spirit of consumerism, commercialism and materialism Black Friday, Matt and I were up at the crack of mid-morning and wrangling a parking spot before breakfast. Yep, Matt was out of coffee so we hit the HEB on our way to the park. So much for 100% celebration of Buy Nothing Day

Seriously though, Anakin hadn't been to the park in a while and Matt and I certainly needed the change of pace after two weeks of hectic work. Ah, stick-chasing.

Anakin's first find was a bark clump that he carried with him while running after other sticks, and it made for some lovely photo ops. The cool, bright morning really energized the little waggler and brought out the "golden" (if not the retrieving). We all found something cool to look at among the driftwood by the lake - and we even posed with the biggest stick we could find.

There were American Snouts absolutely everywhere and flocks of Yellow-rumped Warblers (Myrtles until proven Audubon's) were flycatching after them all over the place. One stray American White Pelican flew over along with one Osprey, several Forester's Terns and Ring-billed Gulls added to the mix. As we were neither birding nor bugging, we didn't really keep track of diversity or numbers. Wrens and chickadees and cardinals were heard, but the focus was definitely on wet paws and stick carrying, chasing and exploring. Sooo many sticks. Happy puppy.

Very happy puppy.

After this year's roller coaster of events, Thanksgiving has taken on a few new meanings this year. Being thankful for family has meant, now, two families and a flock of relatives who have supported and nurtured us through some very rough times. Being thankful for friends has taken on the lighter tones of tailgating with futile hopes for Baylor. However, much of this year's consolation also came from friends... and we count ourselves most fortunate to have eliminated the CA/TX, Waco/Abilene distances that kept us from being closer in supporting each other.

Immediately in mind, of course, is Laura. Her wisdom and guidance were impeccable throughout the year that Matt and I were two time zones apart. She was as much a friend and confidant as birding companion and biologist. The Packer family has come to be very important to both of us and it is not often with dry eyes that we reminisce.

Here's one, taken by my sister, in front of the blind now named for Laura

Indeed, as much as the Packers have been friends (and quite nearly family to us), Charmaine and Collins Ganson have kept us under their wing during our frequent trips to Houston to check on my parents. Whoever coined the phrase, "friends are the family you choose," certainly knew what they were talking about.

While the aforementioned roller coaster sure had a lot of screaming free-falls, there were gracious buoys of love and adventure across the country (FL and NM come to mind) while we both tried to figure out the job market. Or lack thereof. It is easy to discount a zoo as being the coolest place to work (except when you're actually working at one), but for the first time since 2006, I'm actually getting paid to work full time with live animals. Even healthy, uninjured live ones. Ones that are in no way, shape or form subjected to manmade hazards in the wild (just in captivity). For now, Matt and I have swapped "underemployment" status and it seems to be the price we pay for actually being in the same place - and it turns out that the Abilene wind farm gig would have ended in late October, so it's not like I missed out on a hypothetical four year contract when I left. There are definitely a few more uncounted blessings there...

Whew, long post, kudos for getting this far! I hope everyone had a happy, delicious Thanksgiving and safe travels.

Very happy people.

16 November 2009

blatant promotion

The Moth and Me is now up! It's the last for 2009, and it will be a long winter until March and April when it returns...

08 November 2009

Leather-colored Bird Grasshopper

The general rule of thumb in the bird/bug world is that the more names it has, the cooler it is. Names are made from words that are generally colors, sizes, abundances, generalizations or any combination of all of the above. On occasion a reference to vocalization is made as well.

Example #1: Common Grackle. How abundant? Common. What kind of bird? Grackle (probably also a bit of a vocalization reference there).

Example #2: House Sparrow. Two words that describe a drab, abundant, small, brown sparrow.

Example #3: Blue-throated Goldentail. Heck, you don't even need to know it's a hummingbird because your brain is already swirling in a magical land of sparkles and whatever this hawk-chicken (pork-cow?) is, it's probably capable of excreting rainbows.

Brings to mind Great, Middle and Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers.

This brings us to October's yard-bug, better late than never. Leather-colored Bird Grasshopper (Schistocerca alutacea) is the common name for a grasshopper that's huge and kind of brown. It even flies a bit like a bird (Matt found it before it launched itself across the yard, where I photographed it).

This creature definitely has a subtle grace and quite a presence - it veerrryyyy sllooowwwwlllllyyyyyy tried to make an escape, by walking up the fence. Due to my inability to weed out any single image from the next three shots, I offer thumbnails.

If you had to give this one-eyed, one-horned flying purple people eater grasshopper a name, what would it be? Would you name it for the yellow stripe down its back and bright antennae? Would you even call it a grasshopper, or a spike-legged catapulter? A brownish vaulting yellow-stripe? If you don't find those names too outrageous, well, we'll keep the blog family friendly and simply refer you to the Great Thick-knee. Nope, it's not a hippo.

07 November 2009

Friday at the Wetlands

Yesterday's butterfly list wasn't too bad for a breezy day, nor was the bird list bad at all. In fact, the water was low enough that there were shorebirds among the ducks! The photos below indicate water levels and a team of birders in wader garb... whilst scanning the mud flats, we noticed an American White Pelican by itself, wings limp and head back. I ran back to the office and was graciously outfitted with waders by Nora, the site coordinator. Matt even volunteered to schlep into the mire with me to investigate the unresponsive pelican.

In the photo below (L), you can barely see a lump of pelican out on the flat. Once back on the trail, we examined the critter - no external signs of injury, nothing broken or tangled. It's a relief to see that the critter was not apparently suffering at the end, nor did we have to wrestle a stressed and injured bird out of the muck.

Unfortunately, there's not much to offer in terms of scale. This Osprey is about as close as I can get for now. (It's a collision bird from Abilene, I tried to pick the least graphic photo.) The pelican's feet more than covered my palm and the beak/head length was about from my elbow almost to fingertips.

DISCLAIMER: State and federal permits are required to handle/move/possess native bird species per the International Migratory Bird Treaty Act. I have the appropriate permits. If you're interested in "saving" a dead bird, it needs to be done through a permitted entity (most large colleges, natural history museums, etc).

Until next time, here's a lovely mystery spider:

EDIT: here's the bird portion of the post!

L. Waco Wetlands 6 Nov. 09, Ross' Goose, American Bittern and Avocet

Location: Lake Waco Wetlands
Date: 06 Nov 09
Time: 0845-1230

Notes: ROSS' GOOSE, 1, seen flying overhead for a little over 5 minutes. We'll gladly submit an RBA if needed.
Plegadis spp Ibis, 11, assumed White-faced. Water level extremely low, exposing expanses of mud; and shorebird species presence responded.
CRESTED CARACARA, 2, soared over northern portion.
Vacated the area heading north.

Full species list in order of encounter:

American White Pelican, 45
Eastern Phoebe
American Crow
Carolina Chickadee
Belted Kingfisher
Red-tailed Hawk, 2
Killdeer, many
Neotropic Cormorant, 12, pretty much all sporting breeding plumage
White-throated Sparrow
Lincoln Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Marsh Wren
Great Egret
Double-crested Cormorant
American Coot, 100's
Turkey Vulture
Pied-billed Grebe
Plegadis spp. ibis, 11
Ring-billed Gull
Great Blue Heron
Northern Cardinal
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Brown-headed Cowbird
European Startling
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Yellowthroat
American Bittern, 1
Black Vulture
Ross' Goose, 1
Greater Yellowlegs, 6
Northern Shoverler
American Avocet, 1
Northern Pintail, 50+
Lincoln Sparrow, 2
Crested Caracara, 2
Cooper's Hawk, 1 adult
Blue-winged Teal
Green-winged Teal
Long-billed Dowitcher, FOS, 24
Vesper Sparrow
American Widgeon
Tufted Titmouse
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Yellow-rumped Warblers(Myrtle), we didn't work too hard drawing out all
the small chips or we would have listed more of the usual suspects
listed in previous weeks
Blue-grey Gnatcatcher


Whew, it's definitely not summer anymore and birds are on the move! The Ross's Goose was a peculiar little fellow. We were watching an aerial tower of pelicans slooowly shifting and circling (it felt like home) when a tiny, flapping, gull-sized, black-and-white figure cut through the formation. It was lucky to be Mallard sized, with a very round head and barely a beak to speak of... hence, a Ross's Goose. A Snow Goose would have been expected, but the size and profile would have been significantly larger. In typical "good bird" fashion, the Ross's never slowed nor stopped. C'est la vie.

I'm done with this post now, I promise =)

(un)Common Buckeye

A condensed summary of yesterday's butterfly notes, per Matt:

Observers: Matthew York, Heidi Trudell
Location: Lake Waco Wetlands
Date: 06 Nov 09
Time: 0845-1230

Butterflies included:
Tawny Emperor, dark
Dun Skipper
American Snout, 100's a-migratin'
Red Admiral
Common Buckeye, one individual had a seriously trippy genetic color deviation, completely dull-red on both underside hindwings
Little Yellow
Cloudless Sulphur
Painted Lady
Sleepy Orange
Gulf Fritillary
Variegated Fritillary
Phaon Crescent
Clouded Sulphur


I shall reply to my own post...

Regarding a note on the Common Buckeye individual I researched and took this excerp:

"Many autumn individual ("dry season") Common Buckeyes show rich brick red (often described as rose-red) under hindwings"


The text above was posted (along with a bird list) to the Central Tx Audubon list, and the photos below are to be taken in context with the post. Starting, of course, with the startling Common Buckeye who impressed us so much (the bold text in the list is mine, added for emphasis).

Here's the top view of any normal Common Buckeye, which this one appears to be. Generally you also expect the wings, when folded, to continue the drab grayish coloration (sans markings). The photo on the right betrays a hint of warm rusty color underneath. Brace yourself!

Holy seasonal-variation, Batman! That thing is BRIGHT. And gorgeous. And remarkably cooperative, for a buckeye (who are notoriously skittish). Neither of us has ever, to our knowledge, encountered this morph before. Perhaps Texas isn't a prime location for fall colors, so this fallen leaf mimic is in sub-prime habitat. Regardless, we're thrilled to see such a stunning creature (not to mention, wondering how we've missed this morph in the past if they're supposedly common).

Now, for two mini-portraits - dark Tawny Emperor and Matt:

The Emperor is deceased and Matt is reflected in a window. I'm familiar with insects bumping into windows, but this coincidental location (dead butterfly in front of a highly reflective window) doesn't seem causal in the demise of the emperor. Tis a window, after all. Not a windshield.

Now for your upside-down Red Admiral of the day:

...it's always fun to see variations on normal things (melanism in Least Sandpipers, for example) but it's not always easy to document the sightings or research how common the variations are. The internet now allows folks to document partially albinistic sparrows and follow up on leucistic hummingbirds. Have you spotted any of these anomalies in your yard? Or were you startled to learn that red morph Eastern Screech Owls actually DO exist? (I was quite certain they were imaginary, like Black Rails and Henslow's Sparrows)

Let us know (or send us pictures), we'd love to hear about the critters that keep you on your toes!

30 October 2009

sapsucker, meet "c-trail"

We met at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in February of 2006. I'd jumped at the chance to kill time in the Rio Grande Valley while waiting for my transcripts to get sorted out (they never did), so I was a bird walk/canoe trip minion at Matt's weekend haunt.

In January of 2006, a wayward Red-naped Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus nuchalis) turned up at SANWR's "Pintail Lakes" near "C-trail." The winter range in Texas is pretty much the El Paso area, so the bird was quite unexpected. It wasn't until the 5th or 6th of February that I was able to hit the trails and see it, so Matt and I can place our meeting sometime shortly after that, but before Feb 25th, when it was last reported (thanks to Mary Gustafson for the sleuthing!)

Here's a link to a decent refuge map. On the map, you can see that the rightmost highlighted trail is "C-trail" and to the right of the "Pintail Lakes" label is an uncolored circle... that circle is the body of water along which the Red-naped Sapsucker was being seen. It, of course, was on the east side of the pond and the viewers were stuck on the path on the west side, just to the north of the official "C-trail" route.

Ever since early 2008 I've been looking through boxes in Houston, unsuccessfully, for a photo of the bird that brought us together. Jim, one of the refuge volunteers, had printed out a photo for me and autographed it upon request. It only resurfaced about a week into October when I dug up a box that had a lot of paperwork from college and it was tucked in with a few other photos from friends (one of whom is now my regional e-bird editor! *waves at Chris*)

...there it is. The "wayward sapsucker" that collided these lives. I should dig up a photo of the birders who went to Nick's wedding, since that was the group that caused the second bumping-into and ultimately led to exchange of phone numbers. There might even be a photo of a certain Green Violet-ear or soggy Heidi from Colorado Bend State Park to add to the mix.

For now, however, The Wayward Sapsucker portrait should suffice.


Matt has gotten me distracted by bugguide.net on occasion - here's a snippet of what can happen when people contribute to citizen science.

When we were in Kerrville at the end of September, we found and photographed a large, green caterpillar on the house where we stayed. Unable to come up with an ID on our own, Matt submitted the image to bugguide, where some helpful folks narrowed the ID.

Drab Prominent Moth (Misogada unicolor) caterpillar

...check out the link above - it has fake antennae/eye stalks on its rear end! Pretty snazzy, eh? So if a bird/bug aims for what it thinks is the head, it's only a bit off the rump that goes missing. Kind of like the hairstreak butterflies and swallowtails as well - better to lose a showy wing extension than your head! If the critter is thought to be a slug, with the fake eye stalks, it's still doing pretty well... but a green slug mimic? Pretty crazy.

Here's an adult Drab Prominent Moth from bugguide:

Another of Matt's previous caterpillars, a Hemileuca is also in the bugguide archives, but it is a far fancier creature and looks like quite the formidable opponent!

It's interesting to see how the internet is making ID a rapid, paperless process. Photos and human opinions are now outweighing wordy descriptions and otherwise scarce (as well as incomplete) resources. Yet we still have so far to go.

"There's A Hair In My Dirt"

Oh, Gary. Yesterday's mail included There's A Hair In My Dirt! A Worm's Story by Gary Larson. It came via Paperbackswap.com, which rocks my little world.

This is an absolute gem that must be read without a beverage, lest it be laughed out the nose. Laughing any beverage out of one's nose can be remarkably painful. Here's the wiki summary:
There's a Hair in My Dirt!: A Worm's Story is a short illustrated story of a worm who feels his life is insignificant. The main plot is told by the young worm's father and follows a beautiful maiden named Harriet, who takes a stroll across a woodland trail encountering different aspects of the natural world. She admires it, but knows little about the land around her, and that eventually leads to her downfall.

...so, yes, go forth and procure a copy to read the best bedtime story ever!

24 October 2009

how to get rid of grackles

How do I get rid of grackles?
How does a city get rid of grackles?

Is it legal to shoot grackles?
Not in the United States, unless you are approved for depredation permits.

Wait, what's the actual underlying question here?
Why are grackles even a problem to begin with?

Abilene, Waco, Houston, Austin, this post is for you. Cities with "too many grackles" in general - this post is for you.

Back on Oct. 9, this column by Gary Clark showed up in the Houston Chronicle. Yesterday's HouChron gem of blog wisdom was more of a cry for help. Tis a response, of course, to yesterday's snippet of "Trained falcon fails to rid downtown Houston of grackles." Ya think? There is no miracle cure, folks.

Shall we look at what makes grackles a problem?
Power line roosts (along streets, near parking lots)
Parking lot trees (leading to car-poop)

Basically, human-induced perching options along human infrastructures leads to human inconvenience (health threat potential as well as aesthetic nuisance) about human personal transportation options. Wait, wait. Mass transit doesn't sit around all day getting pooped on. Carpool and only one person's car gets pooped on. Cut back on the number of power lines and you cut down the available perching space. Those little trees in the parking lots? Pretty feeble human attempts to appease the sun baked parking lot curse.

The overlying theme? Humans. You can blame Great-tailed Grackles (Quiscalus mexicanus) for a lot of things, but it ultimately all boils down to homo sapiens. Take the Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater), for example. You wipe out the bison, you fence in the prairies, you disrupt a pattern of natural rhythms... and then suddenly Brown-headed Cowbirds become an overwhelming pressure on certain other songbirds - a pressure that didn't exist when their overall patterns mirrored the bison.

Right, so we were discussing the grackles. Grackles will follow in the footsteps of humans as long as we keep creating awesome habitat for them. Only when we modify our surroundings will it impact them. Older neighborhoods in Houston that are packed with huge oaks and diversely landscaped properties don't have the grackle problem. Yet a block away, the strip malls are laden with epic proportions of feathered scapegoats. Think about it. Plan for a different impact. "Open" urban plan designs that call for mowed grass or parking lots with scarce vegetation may not be the answer for everything. Nature had a pretty nice landscape worked out before we went and urbanized it - grackles had a nice niche in the world as well, before we vilified them.

Now, go forth and admire the super adaptable creatures who have exploited human-made loopholes. After all, we're an awful lot like them.

23 October 2009

importance of the cartoon

We're quite aware that satire plays an important role in media. When it highlights human impact and causes us to think about our role in the environment, and at a very basic level, it borders on genius.

Melissa Packer correctly assumed that this Calvin and Hobbes cartoon would make my day. It is sheer brilliance. It is also something that looks like it fell right off of the VHEMT (Voluntary Human Extinction Movement) website.

Matt commented that trophy bucks aren't the entire population, the doe population should be well represented as well. Easier to shoot a lot of deer than to reintroduce cougars, wolves, coyotes, etc. right?

Back to the impact of cartoons.
One of the most influential cartoons of my youth was also a Calvin and Hobbes bit: it involves a dead bird, of course. Calvin's outlook is inquisitive and very insightful when it comes to human behavior and impacts and overall sense of the world. Somehow grown ups just don't get it. We've not learned.

Edit: the Calvin & Hobbes image link for the dead bird isn't working anymore, so until I can find a new link, here's the text from wiki -

Calvin: Look, a dead bird!
Hobbes: It must've hit a window.
Calvin: Isn't it beautiful? It's so delicate. Sighhh... once it's too late, you appreciate what a miracle life is. You realize that nature is ruthless and our existence is very fragile, temporary, and precious. But to go on with your daily affairs, you can't really think about that...which is probably why everyone takes the world for granted and why we act so thoughtlessly. It's very confusing. I suppose it will all make sense when we grow up.
Hobbes: No doubt.

So the irony of it all is that we go around shooting deer in the name of keeping their populations healthy, while our own population staggers under problems related to indulgence (greed as much as food). We discount the worth of our light-boned masters of flight and pass over dead birds with a blind eye and cling to status quo.

On the bright side, we can chuckle at other forms of demise instead (all from NOTFUNNY Cartoons):
gullible sheep

There are far too many awesome cartoons out there (NOTFUNNY is the English equivalent of NICHTLUSTIG, for all of you German speakers), but few have quite the significance of the first two shared. That said, Gary Larson's "The Far Side" has the lifeblood of ornithology, entomology, herpetology and sociology coursing through its panels. Now there's even a set of books, beyond "There's a Hair in my Dirt" (all of the aforementioned publications are on our wish list).

How do cartoons impact you? Any favorites? How have they changed who you are or how you see the world?

22 October 2009

Revisiting Old Photos and Writings: Entry 2, Sooty Tern

**I worked and lived on a 30-acre islet within the French Frigate Shoals Atoll, ~700 nautical miles NW of O'ahu. Thirty acres...
I lived with open ocean, pelagic species of seabirds. They did not live with me; again, I with them. With so much life, breeding colonies of noddies, frigatebirds, terns, boobies, etc., there is always a Balance; death. On the greater whole of the Balance, death is easily understood. However, for single individuals; particularly the one's you have come to know, It is unfair in Its fairness.

Within my routine on the islet, after work I would usually go to workout in an old, small warehouse. Individual birds amongst the several thousands are noticed to be where they usually are at a particular time of day. You begin to know them.

There was one juvenile Sooty Tern I came to know. It's standing spot was one I could see while exercising in the warehouse. I was there in the fall and winter months, so most of the Sooty Terns had left. Tern I. was named after these guys because there are ten's of thousands or more that breed in the summer on this emergent 30 acres of coral rock. Every foot of real estate is occupied by Sooty Terns. When I arrived there where still several adults, loud, bold, and unafraid..

Over time there where fewer and fewer; but still, this juvi was standing in the same place it always stood. peep-peep-peep-peep-peep'ing at any adult fly over. I would see it every day, same place. It never moved, only pivoting....then it only stood. Over time it's peep'ing quieted and slowed down. Then any vocalization stopped. No longer pivoting, it simply stood facing the wind as all life does on the 30-acres. Then, on some particular day, I had noticed it wasn't even facing the wind. Just standing. Finally, taking far longer than I had expected (the kid really seemed as if it had something it wanted to live for...something in it's present life.. some..Thing), it no longer stood.

When you get to know thousands of birds every moment of every day; you then certainly get to know particular individuals. This was a moving example of such an individual. One afternoon I just had to get something out of my head, out of my heart. On paper..**

wait until


I am a Sooty Tern.

This spring and summer there were

Over sixty-thousand of us on the island.

It’s like that every year, the elders tell us.

So many adults flying like a tern should;

Fast, free, you should see us!

You should see us when we are able to fly!

I can’t wait when I grow up and can fly.

Fly like a Sooty Tern!

I, with all my adult and young tern friends

took up every space of this island.

They even named the island after us.

Tern Island.

For Sooty Terns, that’s what I am.

I can’t wait until I can fly!

When summer grew late, lots of my terns began to leave.

That’s okay. I’m told that’s when some of us

begin to leave.

Lots of the young have left the nest and can fly

so they begin to go out to sea.

Lots of young have left the nest like I have.

I can’t wait until I can fly.

Some young terns are later to hatch than others.

We are still attended by our adults.

They fly out and back, bringing us food.

Fish and squid.

I can’t wait until I can fly.

There are many of us Sooties around,

even into late summer.

I remember being so excited when my close friend learned to fly.

He urged me to come with him.

It wasn’t my time. I’m still on the ground.

I can’t wait until I can fly.

It’s October now.

All my friends are gone.

I told them I would meet them when I could.

I can’t wait until I can fly.

I hear an adult once in awhile.

What am I supposed to do?

Nobody hears me.

All my adults have been gone for awhile.

I can’t wait until I can fly.

I don’t hear many chirp-chirp-chirp’s

from young Sooties anymore.

I don’t chirp because I can’t anymore.

My adults, and my voice, have left me.

I can’t wait until I can fly.

I really came up looking good.

All my chick down is gone.

All my feathers have grown in,

even though juvenile colors and pattern.

I should be able to fly pretty soon.

I can’t wait until I can fly.

When I was just a downy chick

I was told of my good fortune.

Other creatures jealously thought

how lucky to have been born a bird.

Other birds spoke of our good luck.

I can’t wait until I can fly.

I can still only stand and walk.

Wobbly now, the former.

Barely, on some days, the latter.

I am so lonely.

So hungry.

I can’t wait until I can fly.



Cruel to be born of this world, see its potential

and not be able to live it.

Even worse than cruel, to have been born a bird.

Not just a bird, a tern, a tern of the open ocean.

I can’t even move anymore.

Certainly not off this patch of dirt.



Why then?


Would have rather been born a moth.

A moth only lives a couple of weeks.

BUT he flies, and lives a full moth life on this earth.

I am so hungry I’ve forgotten.

So tired I’ve forgotten.

So lonely I’ve forgotten.

The only wonder I now have is if I’ll finish out the week, oh, and what happens next.

I hope it’s something. This time was too cruel and unfair.


Why am I here!!?

Could it be for the one who

is currently writing about me?


I can’t wait…


I …


f l y

-Matthew W. York, 7 Oct 2007, Tern I., FFS Atoll, NW Island Chain, HI

**By the way, it is alright for biologist to turn into poet, into non-scientific writer, into many things, verdad? No one is truly "one" thing. At least nobody only has potential to "be" one thing. We are complex, thinking beings. We should then allow ourselves to be so. We are not, and have never been, of an "ONLY "with" or ONLY "against"'-type mind, imaginative, and thinking-capacity species.**

20 October 2009

Revisiting old Photos & Writing : Entry 1 : northern pacific Albatross

No Name


They surf the waves
if a human on a surfboard
rides the incredible swell
just touching the water
Albatross rides
just not touching
needing no board

The Ocean's elders
They were not made for the open Ocean.
the open Ocean was made for them.
how can it not be so?

one only need witness the glide
and only once

everything else out here is a bird
a respectful occupation
Albatross, though,
Albatross is an even higher level

one only need witness the glide
and only once

a mediator?
to whom from whom
a messenger?
to what from what

It may be none, any, or all these things,
may be more

It's basic..
It is a bearer
of one thesis

a reminder
a teacher

what ever It may be,
it is clear
it says with no words at all...

Stop acting like it

one only need witness the glide
and only once

call me what you will


-©M. W. York 10.28.07, French Frigate Shoals Atoll, NW Island Chain, HI

17 October 2009

blatant promotion

The Moth and Me #7 is now up!

13 October 2009

A couple of links...

I happened across this story today:

Mile long trail of Manatee poop forces beach closure

Seems fair.
Karma Police...

This next article offers some amazing photos to chew on:

The 15 most toxic places to live

05 October 2009

Birds of Britain

While I relish my last day of unemployment, let me share a gem of wisdom from the Look Around You series. Birds of Britain is not characteristic of their other films, but it is certainly no less amusing. I encourage watching all of their films at least once for the sake of it, and Birds of Britain on a regular basis, just because it's that awesome.

There's so much puzzling hilarity that you almost wish that a "backskipper" weren't strictly British fiction. Put down your beverages and enjoy!

01 October 2009

October already?

Time flies. I had even drafted a few posts that didn't make the final cut... so now I'll just leave a quick note about just how important bats are. In the last two years, I picked up more than my fair share of dead bats under wind turbines - never a Gray Bat (Myotis grisescens), because they're not in the area - but here's an awesome link for Endangered Ugly Things that highlights sensitive cave creatures and their ecosystems.

Here's one of my sad little friends, a Hoary Bat:

Your discussion questions for the Endangered Ugly Things article:
* Why does a bat-poop eating* blind cave fish matter to you?
* Perhaps, why does it NOT matter to you?
* Have we become so species-centric that our insulated bubbles that keep the rest of the world out have become the only things we care for?
* Why have nature in the back yard when you can see better footage of it on cable shows?

The fish don't directly eat bat poop, but for our purposes, it's a compelling question. Also, think about the species-specific feather mites and lice that endangered or extinct birds have... or had. They're gone, too.

EDIT: This post has been getting a ton of hits lately with no comments, many hits from the UK - is there a wind farm being planned or something? Surely the tags of "poop" and "wind farm" aren't responsible for all of the traffic! Let me know if there's anything relevant that I need to address!

Also food for thought: if mold was never investigated for penicillin, where would we be today? Hence, it's in our best interest to not wipe out species... we just never know, do we?

28 September 2009

the quiet things

This month was full of quiet things. There's a certain realization after months of unemployment that something needs to change, but shy of hiring yourself, there aren't a lot of options. We've been feeling the pinch. Perhaps more in the head than the wallet - the idle time has been nice, but it occasionally borders on stir crazy. Thankfully, change is in progress.

Last Thursday marked the beginning of a weekend: Renewable Energy Roundup weekend. Last year my duties were tending the vendor gate and serving the beer on Sunday morning. This year, with Matt in tow, I opted to take it easy with a three hour beer shift on Friday evening. Sure enough, the regular coordinators, volunteers and vendors were milling around and it felt like a somewhat long lost collection of friends. A few of my friends (3 from Abilene, one from Rolla, MO) even made it down to join in the geekfest. Honestly, it wasn't all that geeky, but it's great to have a crowd of folks interested in conservation and avoiding unsustainable status quo.

Last Thursday also marked a series of phone calls in which I was offered a position as a zoo keeper with the bird department at the City of Waco's Cameron Park Zoo. The following phone calls confirmed that the wind farm monitoring job that I left in April was losing all of its funding. In October. So instead of three to four years of monitoring, two is the end of the story. Do the world a favor and boycott big wind farms. My current definition of "big" is more than a single-digit turbine cluster of wind turbines that exceed 50' in height.

We returned from Kerrville yesterday, leaving the solitude of the river to fight I-35 traffic so I could make the two physicals scheduled for this morning. Baby steps. On the bright side, I should be learning the ropes by the end of this week.

Until next time, I'll dream of living at the mcfarthest place in the United States. Seriously.

16 September 2009

blatant promotion

The Moth and Me #6 is now up!

11 September 2009

Western Spindalis FL 2009 revisited

Edit: The RBA portion was originally posted 7/29/09 at 8:45 pm, then censored upon request for the sake of nest privacy, and is now back as the unedited RBA submission with some discussion. I cannot thank Patricia Auffhammer enough for keeping us in the loop as to the progression of events, every update has been a refreshing reminder of our sweltering mosquito adventure.

(the original super-awesome digi-bin photo)

Below is the result of your feedback form. It was submitted by Heidi Trudell & Matthew York on Wednesday, July 29, 2009 9:44 PM

01. Common Name Western Spindalis
02. Scientific Name Spindalis zena
03. Number Of Individuals: 2
04. Age: adult
05. Sex: male and female
06. Date Observed: July 28, 2009

07. Time Of Day: Noon
08. Duration Of Observation: 45 minutes
09. Sky Conditions: Bright and clear

10. Exact Location: [the birds are still around, and in a sensitive state right now - fledging - and the folks who currently have the locations posted should think long and hard about raising little ones]

11. Habitat: Pine flatwoods with mixed palmetto understory.
12. Distance From Bird: 5 meters at closest, 20 on average
13. Optical Equipment: 8x42 and 10x42 binoculars

14. Relationship of Sun/Observer/Bird: Initial observations ranged from optimal (sun at our backs while watching the birds) to poorly silhouetted.

15. Others Who Saw Bird: Matthew York
16. Others Who Independently IDed Bird: Matthew York
17. Anyone Known To Disagree: -

18. Vocalizations: Male was silent at first observation, plaintively cheeped a high, thin note - was responded to by female in similar fashion. When the pair flew off together, both chirped the single notes. After ~20 mins of observation, the male perched in the pines above the "do not enter" sign and sang a high, thin series of "weeky weeky" squeaking into buzzy notes (reminiscent of Black & White Warbler). He preened and sang intermittently for about 5 minutes.

19. Behavior: First sighting of male was at eye-level in understory edge, along the road. He then flew up into the higher branches of a pine, carrying a thin strand of vegetation. He flew deeper into the pines and returned shortly without the veg. After the male dropped into the understory, the female flew in from across the road and both flew back towards where the female had come from (both chipping throughout the interaction). A while later, the male was seen thoroughly preening and singing in upper pine branches - the female perched high in the pines across the road from the residence, also preening thoroughly. She would occasionally vanish into the understory across from the residence and tended to stay on that side of the road.

20. Description: Male - Initial impression was bold dark/white contrast on wing, reminiscent of male Rose-breasted Grosbeak. The head was a stark black & white pattern (white supercilium and malar) above a sunset "v" on the breast that extended to the nape, with white belly and pale vent contrasting with a dark tail. Overall impression was a somewhat stocky bird (grosbeak or towhee in size/posture - barely larger than nearby warblers though), with a slim beak.

Female - Overall a nondescript brown bird of similar size and shape of the male. Pale belly and vent contrasted with darker tail.

21. Species Eliminated And Why: Black-headed Grosbeak - beak was too slim, facial patterns wrong. Bananaquit - size, posture, beak and behavior didn't fit.

22. Previous Experience With This Species: None

23. Previous Experience With Similar Species: Black-headed Grosbeak - Matthew and I have lived in their range for several years, seeing all ages and plumages several times per year. Bananaquit - I spent a week with them in Grand Cayman.

24. ID'd Before Consulting Guides: Yes

25. What Influenced Your Decision: Absolute conspicuous coloration of the male, unmistakable recognition from memorizing the field guide (for Matthew, anyway). The female was guilty by association - vocalization, size and behavior.

26. Materials Submitted: http://picasaweb.google.com/seetrail/WesternSpindalisX2#

27. Observer Name: Heidi Trudell & Matthew York

End of report.

For browsing convenience, the link to seetrail's Western Spindalis album

Other blogs/posts/videos about these birds can be found...
on the ABA/Peeps blog - several details are incorrect
this TAS post by Larry Manfredi seems to have been the source for Peeps
Larry's Manfredi's site has a report with photos - several details are incorrect
and there are some videos at Wil Domke's site
here's Larry's original post, and here's the birdingonthe.net link
which is linked from the Near Georgia Report as well

Most of the confusion seems to be about what behaviors led to these birds being shrouded in secrecy. My first look at the male spindalis was this: pine needle in beak. Males don't just carry veg for fun. Matt noted that it took off for a tree-top location and vanished for a little while, hence our nest speculation began.

I'd like to also take a moment and point out ABA's code of ethics - anyone knowing about the nest who posted more details than "the spindalis are alive at an undisclosed location" would be seriously in question, ethically. My initial flaw when reporting the birds was that I mentioned 2 birds and the location. Matt and I knew that they occurred pretty much annually in FL and didn't think much of seeing 2 of them... other than the excitement of a ridiculously exciting new life bird for both of us. My initial post on the TAS list probably should have been much more vague as to the whereabouts of the birds, but being on vacation with spotty internet access, I didn't want to return to a million new e-mails. Selfish motives. Many people graciously removed locations when they were asked - it took quite a bit of cooperation to backtrack, including removing blogs from being searchable by Google and whatnot.

Here's the first e-mail sent - it's addressed to Michael Retter, a dear friend. It follows a phone conversation in which I was somewhat confused over how many "drab" birds were present (one being scruffier than the other, I thought might have been juv, but never quite had enough looks at the second bird to conjure up any other thoughts).


Upon further review of the pictures and notes, it's probably just 2 ...whatever the plural of "Spindalis" is. What I thought might have been juv. was probably just the female again.

Matt and I drove to [the designated area] and gawked at a few Pine Warblers there for a few minutes before slowly heading out again. We had exited the [main area] and were almost to the [specific area] (on the left) when I spotted a bulky, black-and-white bird at about eye level in the undergrowth - maybe 15 meters from [a driveway]. It was just before noon - my camera is a few minutes off on the time stamp, but the bird flew up into a distinctly "curly" pine, carrying a pine needle (this is still on the left side of the road) and surfaced after a few moments (without the pine needle), allowing the first set of pictures to be taken. At this point we were only seeing the adult male. Since Matt and I were in the area for ~45 mins, I'm not clear as to what time the female showed up, it had to have been after at least 10-15 mins from the initial sighting. The male would "chip" occasionally when we were on him and at some point, a pale, drab bird flew over from the right side of the road to the left, into the low shrub where the male was - the looks at this bird were fleeting, all I saw while it was perched was a pale vent on darker tail feathers - but they flew back across to the right side of the road together and vanished mid-level. At this point there was snacking and at some point the male perched high in a pine at [a spot], above [a landmark], where he preened and sang and preened.. and preened. A bit later, Matt spotted the drab bird on the resident's side of the road, perched high and preening frequently. All of our pictures of this bird are sadly back-lit, but we were able to follow the two enough to determine that they chipped alike.

Anyway, the closest we ever saw the critters would be ~10 meters in the low shrub, ~30 meters when across the road, but roughly 20-30 mins of observation of the 45 we were aware of them.

I'm not sure of their nesting habits, but having watched nesting vireos all summer, the ridiculously frequent preening and veg carry could indicate nesting and/or incubation - my shots of the female clearly show a very fluffed belly, which was fairly typical of a female vireo when immediately off-nest.

Let me know what other details might be useful for a report, we may have a few more details that didn't make the notes. We may not have the internet though =)

All the best,


Moral of the post:

Please, go forth, bird in the summer and find stuff. But please, for the love of nest predation and stress, DO NOT post sensitive information until it has cleared with all concerned parties!

06 September 2009

SW thumbs, day 8

As mentioned in one of the earlier posts, our visit coincided with one of the busiest two weekends of the year, Indian Market. Since Matt and I were both familiar with the blankets-on-sidewalk weekend sort of market, we decided to check out this giant fest of green chili cheese bread (sorry, ate it without pictures), fashion shows (too crowded to see), and absolutely mind-boggling pottery and sculpture and jewelery and paintings. Admittedly, there was one fellow who was selected for his feather work and a photographer posed the fellow where Matt and I had been sitting.

To backtrack for a moment, since we got there really early and walked a few of the side streets before delving into the crowds, I snapped a few quiet pictures: looking up towards a courtyard, and a set of adobe-clad french doors that still managed to produce a strong reflection. I do admire adobe construction because it tends to favor glass surfaces that are not as risky for birds.

I didn't photograph the crowd (we heard French, Spanish, some British accents, etc), nor the art - I hope the 2009 video will make up for at least the art portion.

On our way back from the market, we passed another fine example of local art. The Mona Lisa on the corner of the Paseo and Bishop's Lodge:

Knowing that our last day was all too rapidly drawing to an end, Matt suggested one final visit to Randall Davey Audubon Center. This time I managed to get a less blurry photo of the tricolored bumble bee (noted by its bright orange stripe) and the crazy white bees that seem to be Xeromelecta sp (methinks). One of our familiar Waco moths - the corn earworm moth - was there as well.

tricolored bumble bee (Bombus ternarius, Xeromelecta sp(?), corn earworm moth (Helicoverpa zea)

Finally, we also cornered a non-snake herp for the trip - a shy, but photogenic Five-lined Skink. Skinks are pretty much glossy lizards, extremely fast and often only detectable by the rustling of leaf litter. This fellow was basking at RDA's amphitheater, much to our pleasant surprise.

Five-lined Skink (Eumeces fasciatus)

As promised, this post does contain more exciting creatures than humans, insects and a skink. Hardly human, but the bestest SUPERhuman: Grandma! When we got back from RDA, it was time for dinner and we got to hang out with our cousinlet's favorite superhuman in the whole wide world. Hopefully she'll forgive me for intruding on her Grandma time...

Grandma time was followed by bouncy chair time, which was full of colorful objects that spun and could not be dropped or thrown. Happy noises ensued. The rest of us were even able to eat because she was so distracted.

The evening was also full of love. And waggles. And playing catch. And so ended our NM trip...

Matt's fan club: Blue (peeler of the tennis ball) and Bobby (Grandma's puppy).