27 February 2010

Jeff and pelicans

I've taken the liberty to link a few things where applicable and removed a few snippets for privacy and length - it is otherwise an e-mail exchange regarding the banded pelican from Santa Ana NWR. Cliffs notes version pending! (see footnotes for updates)

I got a note from USGS in the mail the other day about a pelican that my husband and I saw at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge - in googling your name and hoping for a site about your project, I found a page by "birdchick" - if you'd like to see our post about the bird and tag, here's the link.
I did link to "bird chick's" site so readers could get an idea of things, but if you have another page with information I'd be happy to add it as well.
All the best with your work!


Hi Heidi,

First of all, thanks a lot for reporting this bird to the BBL. Many people don't, so I really appreciate it when someone does.

And thanks for sending the link to your web post, as well as encouraging others who view it to also report banded birds to the BBL. And no, I don't have a web site about my banding project, but have often thought that I probably should, but am a little too busy these days. I had to chuckle about your comment about the bird not crossing the border, because there's another reason why it was lucky it didn't--pelicans get shot for food south of Texas. A fair number of the reports I get from Mexico are of birds that were shot for food, and almost all of the reports south of Mexico are that type of recovery. I've had recoveries from as far south as Guatemala and Nicaragua (as well as ringing the Gulf coast from the Yucatan Peninsula, up through Texas, then east to Florida and down to Cuba).

A little history on the Marsh Lake pelican colony: pelicans first returned as a breeding species in Minnesota after an absence of 100 years when 10 pairs were found nesting on a small island in Marsh Lake in 1968. Four years later (1972) my master's adviser, Dr. Alfred H. Grewe, Jr. (St. Cloud State University) began a banding project in the Marsh Lake colony that has continued every year since. To date, over 54,000 pelicans and numerous other species of colonial waterbirds have been banded in the Marsh Lake colony. Following Al's death in 2001, the BBL transferred his banding permit to my name, and with the help of numerous volunteers (many are former students of Al's), we kept his banding program going without missing a year. Next summer will be our tenth year of banding without him. The colony grew steadily through the 1970s, 80s, and 1990s before leveling off between 15,000-20,000 breeding pairs in the 2000s.

Although I don't have a web site about the banding project, there are a few other web resources that reference it. The first year we banded after Al's death, the St. Paul Pioneer Press did a story that can still be found on several web sites (e.g.
More recently, we were joined by a 3M scientist with a personal interest in birds. He's originally from Japan, and is also involved with a web site dedicated to helping Japanese learn how to speak English "like Americans". He posted an article about pelican banding on their web site that can be found at [link] (there is also a Japanese version posted on their site).

When I took over the pelican banding project I worked as a waterfowl research biologist for the Minnesota DNR where I oversaw the state's bird banding program (primarily ducks and geese). From there, I went to the BBL where I served as their waterfowl biologist. Currently I'm pursuing a Ph.D. with a study in the Marsh Lake colony. The long term banding data will be part of that project, but I'm also looking at diet and other physiological factors related to chick growth and condition.

Thanks again for your report and additional information. I'll be sending more color-marked pelicans south next fall (as are researchers in Idaho), so keep your eyes open for additional birds with patagial tags.




Thanks so much for the additional history and insight! I'm so sorry to hear about hunting, it seems to be out of necessity in some regions and out of boredom in others (not too long ago there was a big stir on our state birding list about a hunter killing a pelican and a birder reported it - they'd tried to hide the body, but what a waste). Would you mind if I include some of your e-mail in a post? I'd at least like to add the two links for more background, and I finally dug up the old Abilene pelican link ...I guess some of the little fellows run out of steam sooner than others! The Abilene critter wintered in ponds adjacent to the zoo, also a pretty cushy spot (the pond has a resident pelican who can fly but never did take up migration after being released from rehab).

Happy trails,



Yes, the hunting is out of necessity in some regions. If you read "Birdchick's" descriptions of the pelican colony, you can imagine that most banders are disgusted at the thought of eating a pelican (the colony really is gross, and the smell sticks with you long after you leave and [try to] clean up). But I was sent photos of the living conditions and extreme poverty where one of my pelicans was shot in Nicaragua, and it became abundantly clear to me why they would eat pelicans. My master's research involved tracking radio-tagged sandhill cranes from northwest Minnesota to the Gulf Coast of Texas (they were thought to winter in Florida like cranes in east central Minnesota) and the first radio-tagged bird to get there was also shot. Although cranes are a legal game species in Texas (they're nongame in Minnesota), this happened prior to any hunting seasons. It was found in a ditch with a pile of dead ducks, and it was also before duck season opened. I have since had recoveries of other sandhill cranes from northwest Minnesota legally harvested in east Texas.

Thanks for sending the additional web link (and yes, you can include the information I sent in a post). I consulted with Idaho F&G officials when they started their marking program a few years ago. Among other things, we coordinated marking protocols so there would be no confusion between their birds and mine (different colors and mark on opposite sides). I found it a bit ironic that in the entire state of Idaho they don't have anywhere near as many pelicans as we have at Marsh Lake alone, but the incentive of their research is that they want to reduce pelican numbers. Which is a big reason why we're looking at diet in the Marsh Lake colony. We're already culling cormorants at a variety of locations in Minnesota based on a perceived threat to the state's walleye fishery. Diet studies were required to allow the culling operations, but even though those studies have shown that cormorants don't eat walleyes, the culling continues and gets expanded to new areas every year. Some would like to see pelicans added to the list, so we'd like to have some data to address those issues, although banders know from what they see in the colony that pelicans eat crayfish, salamanders, and rough fish, not game fish, but people can't see beyond the term "fish-eating birds".

...pelican banding [is] usually in mid-June, although late springs in recent years have resulted in July banding dates. Pretty much just have to play it by ear each year and see what the chronology of the hatch is like. I also band in other Minnesota (and North and South Dakota colonies), but those are even more variable... Marsh Lake is the big banding day each year. We do 2,000 pelicans, and then we try to band 3-500 cormorants, 500 ring-billed gulls, and as many as possible of great blue herons, great egrets, black-crowned night-herons, cattle egrets, and Forster's terns. We do that in a single morning and try to be off the lake by noon. Our best year we banded over 3,300 birds in one morning.

Migration seems to be a strong, instinctive behavior in most birds. But, I know there is a small colony of nonmigratory white pelicans in east Texas, and one (or two) in Mexico. Perhaps the rehabed bird came from that stock? Although, a lot of birds do become somewhat "domesticated" after going through rehab, and that may have caused that behavior.


So much great information about where "our" pelican was from - the history of its nesting colony and the sad reality facing other pelicans. Research indicates that pelicans are not eating game fish, but people don't feel better until pelicans are culled in the name of saving game fish. This is why science needs to be taken seriously; otherwise we're wasting our own time.

FL Scrub Jay paper trail

I can't believe I didn't post this when the e-mail came in, but here's a look behind one Florida Scrub Jay (from Matt's Scrub-Jays, the Floridians post)

A few details are omitted for privacy, but this is a fascinating look at what goes on in the background! We knew the odds were good that this bird had a story - every jay at Oscar Scherer State Park is banded, but hey, why not look into it?

Here's the bird in question:

And here's the series of e-mails in chronological order:

12100 Beech Forest Road
Laurel, Maryland 20708-4037
FAX 301-497-5717
AUGUST 11, 2009

In Reply Refer To: BLL-19.2A

Dear Ms B,

The United States Geological Survey authorizes and coordinates the use of auxiliary-marking devices on all wild, migratory birds. Such devices allow researchers to identify individual or groups of birds from a distance, thus helping them in their studies of various aspects of avian biology.

Enclosed is copy of a letter reporting an auxiliary-marked bird. Our records indicate that you are using markers of this type. Because there is no way from this sighting to identify the individual bird to a specific band number, we will not be able to provide the observer with a certificate. If you believe this to be a bird you marked, it is imperative that you contact the observer with any information you have concerning your studies. If this marker is not yours, please accept our apologies and notify me. If you know of another researcher using similar markers, please indicate the name and/or permit number on the letter.

We have provided a copy of this letter to the observer, who will be anticipating your prompt response.


D B, Biologist
Bird Banding Laboratory



Email Address: h.trudell [at] gmail [dot] com
Type: color leg band w/o codes
Species: Florida Scrub Jay
Marker Color: white
Other Marker Color:
Code Color: white
Other Code Color:
Pattern of Codes: row
How Code: live bird how 29/pres cond 07
How Other:
Recovery Date Type: Exact
Exact Date: 26/07/09
Inexact Date of Recovery:
Recovery Location Descript: Oscar Scherer State Park, the "scrub jay" loop
Recovery Location: USA
Other Country:
State: Florida
County: Sarasota
Miles: 3
Direction: SE
Town: Osprey, FL
Name: H Trudell
Street 1: [street]
Street 2:
City: Waco
State: TX
Phone Number:
Fax Number:

Comment: Right leg was white band over silver/service band, left leg had no bands.


From: B, J
Sent: Tuesday, August 11, 2009 12:44 PM
To: M, K
Subject: FW: BLL-192.A: STATE OF FLORIDA - NONGAME / MS B (21980)

These are fun…..do you know this bird?


From: M, K
Sent: Tuesday, August 11, 2009 12:46 PM
To: B, J
Subject: RE: BLL-192.A: STATE OF FLORIDA - NONGAME / MS J B (21980)

Probably banded at Oscar Scherer by T H.

K M, Ph.D.
Upland Nongame Bird Lead
Wildlife Research Laboratory - FWRI
Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission


from H, T
to "H. Trudell"
cc KM, JB, RD
date Wed, Aug 12, 2009 at 11:43 AM
subject RE: Banded Florida scrub-jay

We conduct a monthly census of Florida Scrub-jays at Oscar Scherer State Park.
We have not recently had a bird identified with a White over Silver/service, and no bands on the left leg.
However, we do have a bird identified with a Flesh over Silver/service on its right leg, and no bands on its left leg.
This bird was banded at Oscar Scherer State Park on March 24, 1999, and the flesh band has faded.
The bird is currently the male breeder in its territory in the vicinity of the campground.

Environmental Specialist III
District 4, Florida Park Service
Department of Environmental Protection


So there you have it - an adult male bird who has been rockin' OSSP for over 10 years now! I'm glad I didn't just get a certificate, it's so much more fun to hear the details. It didn't take much sleuthing for the bander to let us know that the "flesh" band had faded to white, but that's the sort of thing that regular monitoring tells you. Not bad, for 10 years of sun bleaching in Florida.

What a handsome fellow.

(now also posted at I found a banded bird)

PSA - FREE WindowAlert clings!

Get Ready: The Birds are Coming! The Birds are Coming!

From March 1, 2010 through April 30, 2010, while supplies last, the Wisconsin Humane Society’s “WIngs” program will once again be distributing FREE WindowAlerts (8 WindowAlerts per request) with NO CHARGE for shipping and handling, to help you protect birds from collisions with windows at your home or office this spring. For more information about protecting birds from collisions with windows and to find out how to request your free WindowAlerts, visit the WIngs web site at http://www.wihumane.org/wildlife/wings/default.aspx

This offer is made possible by a grant from the Jeff Rusinow Family Foundation.

(Note: For requests for free WindowAlerts received prior to March 1st, and after April 30th, our standard $2.50 shipping and handling charge will apply.)

Please distribute this message to bird clubs, Audubon Societies and other birding and conservation organizations; feel free to post it online and in print; heck, put it on your bulletin board at work. Don't forget to request some for your home and/or office. This offer is NOT limited to Wisconsin residents only.


This is hot off the collision list press - and a topic VERY dear to my heart!

Here's the WindowAlert page - you'll notice that they're pretty much all sold in packs of 8 regardless of the shape of the "alert" cling. Shape does not matter. Clings need to go on the outside of the windows that are being hit (clean the window before applying the clings) - and you'll need enough of them on the window that a bird will not try to fly "between" them. See: the handprint rule. So your 8 free clings would nicely cover a small or medium window.

Some incentive: Bullock's Oriole (roadkill, but you get the idea).

Repeating: the point of the window cling is to have enough "objects" scattered around the window that a bird will not want to fly between them. If you have 2 clings on a door-sized pane of glass, you're likely to have birds hit around where the clings are placed.

So, with your snazzy new window clings you could prevent a bird from hitting a window. Many birds, even. And they'd go on to face all of the other challenges that life has to offer; cats, cars, wind turbines and other windows. The odds won't be good, but it will at least live to face them.

Apologies for the pessimism, now go bird-proof your windows!

For other great window fixes, check out:
Birds and Buildings
FLAP - Fatal Light Awareness Program

EDIT: I've added a follow-up post with a photo showing actual WindowAlerts - click here.

EDIT 2: The Nature Conservancy posted "Window Glass: Silent Bird Killer?" to their blog earlier this year, it has some interesting stats and suggestions. I didn't include the window angle because for most folks with windows, it simply isn't an option.

26 February 2010

Appleton to Alamo; 1,482 miles by Pelican

Last summer we shared a few posts about how reporting banded birds can be important, fun, educational and/or just plain interesting. (see posts: eagles with accessories and Camp Eagle)

A few posts back there was a photo of an American White Pelican at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. Here it is again, with a somewhat visible green tag with 398 in black. That's actually kind of important for reporting purposes.

"...a wing-tagged American White Pelican. We're waiting to hear back on that [...] but we're not holding our breath."

The Bird Banding Lab, run by USGS is where you can report bands; you need to know the kind of band and if there's no band visible because it's a live sighting, you need a plethora of information. Pretty much off the bat, you need to know the species of bird, what kind of marker, what colors are used, what numbers or codes are used, and the date & location of the sighting.

Using the information you submit, more often than not, you'll get a response within a few weeks. It may come in the form of an e-mail response from the group behind the banding of the actual bird you saw, or it could be a certificate of appreciation from USGS. (Or if it was a Black-whiskered Vireo, you're still waiting in suspense!) Come to think of it I never did post the story behind the Florida Scrub Jays that we saw.

Where was our pelican from? The highlights: "Marsh Lake"Minnesota; "was too young to fly when banded in 2009" and the band date was 07/11/09 - this information showed up in the mail yesterday on a certificate of appreciation. Oh, and a fellow named Jeff was the bander.

View Larger Map

See? The little fellow wasn't too far from our relatives in Willmar! Now, as-the-pelican-flies, it probably wasn't a full 1,482 miles but they do a lot of circling on thermals to get to where they're going. In Illinois I'd watch the pelicans flying down the Mississippi River in October and they'd be around for my Houston/Seabrook Christmas Bird Counts... then I'd see them again in the spring, heading back north. (A note about Seabrook: they're more about tourism than nature, but pelicans are prominently featured all over their city pages.)

View Larger Map

How's that for perspective? The little fellow made it all the way to the border - I don't blame him for not crossing though, it's too much of a hassle to get back into the US even with the appropriate paperwork. It's amazingly easy to get into Canada or Mexico, but the worst border grilling I've gotten was trying to get back to Buffalo, sheesh. Regardless, Santa Ana is not a bad spot to rest... even if the rest of the flock has moved on.

EDIT: Right after posting I googled Jeff Dimatteo, the fellow who is listed as the bander. There's a wonderful site about the project with some hilarious baby pictures, for those of you who might need convincing that birds are actually dinosaurs...
Banding Pelicans (hosted by birdchick)

24 February 2010

RGV wrap up

Weeks after our most recent RGV adventure, I think I'm down to the last post. All of the birding has already been covered, so this is simply a matter of highlighting our favorite B&B and visiting some friends in Kingsville.

Alamo Inn is essentially our home-away-from-home when we're in the RGV. Owner Keith Hackland and Office Cat Gordon are gracious hosts for birders and non-birders alike, offering incredibly comfortable and unique lodging on a quiet corner in Alamo. It's the closest lodging to Santa Ana NWR as well, so when I was an intern at SANWR, it's where my folks stayed. My folks had a wonderful suite - Matt and I generally aim for the smallest room because we'd stay forever otherwise. If we were any more comfortable there, we'd never make it out for the birding! You see the dilemma.

View Larger Map

Google maps indicates that Alamo Inn not just a B&B, it also has an "outdoor store" - just about anything a birder could need if luggage was lost or destroyed. There's a variety of optics, outerwear, reference materials, you name it. We're always a bit sad to leave, but on the bright side, we've got about 40 more years to make our annual winter pilgrimage to the RGV before we're too feeble... hopefully Keith's operation will still be thriving with a new set of folks at that time!

Anyway, our drive back north was highlighted with a visit to Texas A&M's Kingsville Serpentarium - we caught up with some long lost friends and learned about the venom research and how different parts of toxins can be isolated and used for medical purposes.

You might recognize those baby spoons: they're baby spoons. They're also wrapped with a thin layer of a plastic wrap type substance. They're labeled and sitting on ice because they've been used for "milking" a Coral Snake. (L) D tube-feeds a Coral Snake.

See? Tube-feeding a Coral Snake. And being watched by a rattler.

Examine the photo below. That's at D's house. Think about it.

For a close-up of one of the residents of that room:

It boggles the mind to think of how certain researchers live and breathe their work - it follows them home (dead birds in my dorm freezer comes to mind), but it's just a part of life. And every line of work is different. You know, I think I'd draw the line at venomous snakes in my bathroom. Dead birds and rehab birds are fair game, though.

Lest I leave you with nightmares from this post, here's Happy Puppy (for lack of a better name), the little fellow who serves as welcoming committee for the Beeville Northern Wheatear:

18 February 2010

what is cochineal?

Cochineal is a small, fluffy, white scale insect that inhabits prickly pear cactus. And it is notoriously hard to research on the internet. That said, there's an absolutely amazing post at Bug Girl's Blog. Here are some snippets...

So much misinformation is being published right now about Cochineal, I thought a post that explains what it is, how it’s made, why it’s relatively harmless, and why I support labeling but oppose a ban, might be useful.

Cochineal supports subsistence farmers in poor parts of the world. This insect is an important cash crop! From an NPR story about cochineal:

“Even though a full pound of cochineal sells for just $1.30, harvesting the bug earns enough money to feed and clothe a whole family in the impoverished highlands region of Peru. An estimated 40,000 Peruvian families depend on harvesting the bugs — which belong to a class of scale insects — to make a living.”

By not rejecting cochineal in your food or makeup, you get to not only support farmers raising their tiny pink cash-cows, you can connect with the rich history of this pigment.

Now, go forth and read the whole NPR story and definitely read the whole post on Bug Girl's Blog. You owe it to yourself!

Full disclosure: I'm posting this in hopes that it will help Bug Girl's information reach more people who search for Cochineal.

Originally uploaded by Carolina Gonzalez

Here's the caption from the Cochineal photo above:

This is the cochineal we wildharvested a week ago in the Anaga mountains, cleaned and ready for the oven – I was going to make a cake, so I wanted to use the after-baking heat of the oven to dry it – talk about saving energy! Cochineal makes one of the most ancient fiber dyes in history, carmine, and it has been a huge tradition in the Canary Islands for many centuries, as nopales are one of the most common cacti here. The insect is collected from the nopales after its reproductive stage with big wooden spoons, cleaned (they grow a white “foam” around them to protect the egg lays) and dried, both with oven heat and later by the action of the sun. Once completely dry, it is powdered and simply added to water, as it is water soluble. Once we start the dyeing experiments I’ll talk more about this process – and don’t worry vegetarians, this insect is collected dead :)

Doesn't seem so bad at all! ...and look where else it's found:
Sobe Tsunami Orange Creme

15 February 2010

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge

Back in early February of 2006, Matt and I met at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. We've posted about it before but this post comes with a few surprises. So here's "that was then" from January of 2009:

I won't make you wait - the big surprise for this trip was that the trails are now marked. Not just somewhat vaguely depicted. Nope, they're actually well represented. In fact, the new sign at the trail head was just an indication of what was to come.

Look at the beauty of that map. I mean, you can see Mexico from here! Er, actually, you can see the trails... and bridges... and parking lot... it's unheard of! The old map had some squiggly lines and that was about it. But if you're looking closely at the map above, you'll notice that nowhere on the list of trails does it say anything about "C-trail" ...and that my friends is why we, here at seetrail, had a moment of silence. Sure, change can be a good thing. That map will probably save dozens of tourists from getting lost and dehydrated in hot weather. But "C-trail" as we knew it, the generically labeled trail of "where Matt and Heidi met" is no more. So "C-trail" now lives on as a pun in our title. And it's finally actually labeled for something more realistic: the lakes that it meanders through.

"Is that a muddy shoe?" Why, yes it is. Not as muddy as it ended up, but showing good progress. Last year we shared a muddy walk on "C-trail" so it seemed appropriate for the weather to cooperate. Misty, overcast, muddy. Again. At least it's not intermittently raining, like the last bird walk I recall sharing from 2006. The lovely photo next to the muddy shoe is a wing-tagged American White Pelican. We're waiting to hear back on that* (still no news from our honeymoon Black-whiskered Vireo) but we're not holding our breath.

This is now; the first week of February, 2010. AND THERE'S A SIGN! (You have no idea how awesome it is for there to be signage.) Anyway, the photo is not really at the spot where we met (forgive us, the segment of trail is 1/4 mile so it's hard to know for sure), but at least it's in front of the pond that housed the tree that hosted the sapsucker... it's turning into a book!
There was a young couple who met at a refuge that had a trail that harbored a bench that was across from a pond that housed the tree that hosted the sapsucker who startled the birders who called the RBA who alerted the folks who birded the state who... started a vicious cycle of bad poetry?

For early orders on that dramatic essay for children of all ages, drop us an e-mail. I'll even draw some stick-figures of us and the sapsucker with four different colors of crayon to serve as illustrations ;-)

PSA - Water

This is brave new territory for See Trail; Matt and I tend to post about birds and bugs hoping that conservation is adequately addressed. It's hard to save a species when it has no habitat, but it's also important that we're just plain practical in our daily routine.

So here's our first Public Service Announcement - Water

Brain food from GOOD Magazine & Whole Foods:

Water conservation is a beautiful thing. We all know that leaving the water on while brushing teeth is a waste... but it's not often that we look at our food choices for water conservation ideas. As a former vegetarian of five years, I can attest to the difficulty of going veggie in Texas. But simply promoting vegetarian options at a restaurant by ordering something without meat is making a statement; and it supports the demand for fresh, flavorful options that aren't all peanut butter & jelly sandwiches.

Anyway, the above video made me a little bit braver in promoting the following video, which I finally found a translation for:

Since most Americans take one shower a day* (I'm stereotyping without citations here), there's one flush saved per day. That's only a few gallons. One of the comments posted for the video was this, from CraniumOnEmpty:
Brazilians take a lot of showers because of the heat and humidity. It would be hard to get through the day without taking at least two. Granted most showers are very quick so they don't use as much water as the toilet would. Since they are in the shower already, might as well take a leak and conserve a little water.

A simple, elegant solution. I'm still waiting for most residential areas to embrace gray water reuse, but that seems incredibly unlikely, given the stigma that hand-rinsing water is suddenly tarnished and not even the front lawn deserves such impure fare. Given that this is Texas, I'm pretty sure the lawn wouldn't care.

Thanks for braving the videos, we'll return you to your regularly scheduled blog program eventually!

12 February 2010

RGV food highlights

The Rio Grande Valley is home to some remarkably good eats. If you're inclined to feed birds, you need only slice an orange or grapefruit in half and firmly wedge it somewhere. Seed is always an option as well. Apparently there is a regional conundrum: the grape jelly trick that folks "up North" use for orioles doesn't work down here. Of course, there's always the excessive supplement of Bird Crack: peanut butter, lard and cornmeal. It works everywhere and should only be used as a cold weather supplement. That link is to Julie Zickefoose's blog, it's a follow-up on bluebirds getting gout because of too much Bird Crack. It's too high in protein and fat and natural, non-human offerings are obviously what they evolved for... so only when the bug supply takes a hit should it be offered at all.

Salineno doesn't follow those rules. I'm not sure what the long term implications are, but for quite a few years (decades?) now, there has been a constant supply of all things feeder related between November 1 and at least the end of March.

So Salineno gets the "Tub o' Lard Award" (it was the mix, not just lard!)

The Orange-crowned Warbler above accepted it on behalf of Salineno.

Moving on past Salineno to Alamo... we discovered a bakery. And what a bakery. El Manjar sticks with pan dulce during the week and offers lunch fare on weekends. Nope, there are no pictures of the actual food, we made sure of that (but look at their door). It's so incredibly hard to find a good Mexican bakery outside of the RGV. Being the good siblings we are, we even brought home a box of snackies for our Waco family. Mmm, empanadas.

Here's the map - it's just north of Santa Ana NWR by a few miles!
(hours are 6 am until at least 7 pm on weekdays)

View Larger Map

(Heh, I'm apparently the first person to review it: since birders need more voice in the valley, where better than on a food review?)

Aside from our repeat trips to the bakery, we stopped at an old favorite, The Republic Of The Rio Grande for some photogenic food to celebrate our whirlwind birding success.

In the background you see a Mediterranean pizza, sporting sun dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts. In the foreground you see a citrus spinach salad (locally grown orange and grapefruit wedges) with seasoned pita and a vinaigrette dressing that was amazing.

Under the plates, you may have noticed some drawings. We split the Tecate, so the only explanation for the quality of illustration is that I'm dangerous with crayons.

From left: Matt, Heidi, Amazon Kingfisher (upside down), Rose-throated Becard (thinking about Jiff peanut butter), Belted Kingfisher, Crimson-collared Grosbeak (upside down), Roadside Hawk, Ringed Kingfisher. Green Kingfisher is above the green crayon, also upside down. The female seedeater didn't show up well because she's the color of the paper.

It's really too bad that we didn't get any photos of the Crimson-collared Grosbeak, nor "documentation" photos of the Roadside... I think the Texas Bird Records Committee would kill me if I submitted those sketches though!

check your windows

Yesterday, the following post showed up on Texbirds:

> Subject: [texbirds] Squirrel Eats Bird
> A friend of mine had a bird strike his window yesterday morning.
> Immediately a squirrel that was nearby ran over and picked up the dead
> bird and went up in a tree and proceeded to completely eat the bird.
> The friend got this shot of the event. He did not know what type of bird
> it was and is hard to say for sure from the picture. Interesting though.
> Mike Bloodsworth
> Tyler
> http://mikeintyler.smugmug.com/Nature/Most-Recent/Squirrel-Eats-Bird/7863

...so I responded, and figured perhaps documenting it here would be helpful as well. Because most of us don't live in caves, it's something we should think about. And if you didn't click the link above, you really need to. Poor little passerine.


I guess this means it's time for my seasonal reminder:

Check your windows!

Winter, spring and fall are more likely* to have window killed birds, but all summer you might still have birds attacking their reflections. Dead birds can be donated to local educational institutions in most cases, or if it's an Amazon Kingfisher that hit your window, Dr. Arnold already called first dibs. That said, there are plenty of first county records that show up as a result of window strikes (Scarlet Tanager in Abilene/Taylor Co, so I hear), and sometimes they confirm breeding (juv. American Robin in Abi/Taylor Co).

* St. Louis area being my sample size, <4% of annual collisions were May-July (but their migration starts earlier, too)

Hummingbirds were extremely prone to hitting windows with my sample (25 hummers of ~200 birds, not including half a dozen more hummers that died in rehab). And yes, there were at least 2 known Ruby-throats eaten by squirrels during the project and quite a few mangled carcasses suggested that the occasional campus fox/raccoon/small child got to them before I did. I just hope they were already dead first.

Of course, the preferable option is to prevent window strikes:

EDIT: here's the ABC window pdf!

And if you can't stop them, join them:
TCWC - http://wfscnet.tamu.edu/tcwc/tcwc.htm

10 February 2010


This is not the "if it's yellow, let it mellow" post. This is for anyone who intends to live on this planet: DO NOT FLUSH MEDICATIONS.

[find a bio-hazard disposal option - your doctor or dentist can help]

"Long-term exposure to low levels of antibiotics might result in the evolution of, or selection for, drug-resistant microbes and bacteria."
Donflushdrugs.org is a bit vague there, but if you want a bit more of an intimidating read, check out this article. Basically flushing meds just means that the diluted stuff comes right back out of your tap. And we're not sure what that means in the long run, but it really doesn't seem like a good thing.

I've searched all the fun terms: unused prescription, how to get rid of prescription drugs, can I flush medications, etc.

Obviously the last one was a bit of a lure for this post; by the time I searched that, I'd tried returning the stuff to the pharmacy. And for those of you who know me well enough to know that I've taken 2 Dramamine tablets to go on a pelagic, you're probably confused. When the wisdom teeth came out, it was very strongly insisted that I fill the prescription even if I didn't use it. That said, I had an unopened generic Vicodin type prescription within easy reach of myself and in-laws and small children and a puppy. So I wanted them gone.

Here's what the pharmacy said: sorry, we can't take them back because we have to keep records of what goes out and there's no allowance for anything to come back. And we have no means of disposal for it, since the suppliers won't take unused portions back.

Here's what the pharmacy suggested:
Mix with kitty litter or coffee grounds and throw away (still leaches)
Flush it ...oh HELL no. No flushing!
Ask the dentist

Knowing the amount of @#$%^&* that ends up in our watersheds because of drains in parking lots, I didn't want to risk throwing away. Nor did I want to flush the stuff. And since I have no black market connections nor friends with impending surgeries nor local "med drives" (they seem to be illegal in Texas) to donate unexpired meds to those who can't afford them... well, I'm glad the dentist called me back.

When I called to ask whether or not the dentist could dispose of my meds, the answer came back 6 hrs later with "sure, we have a bio hazard container!"

Yes, if you flush your meds, you're flushing BIO-HAZARDS. Yay. And we all know that water treatment plants are good at making water not-brown, but we also have occasional boil notices (boiling doesn't remove meds, fyi), and we also know that certain municipalities *coughallofTexas* can hardly get the smell of upstream dairies out... Anyway, if you think bottled water gets you off the hook for meds in your water, a huge chunk of bottled water is tap regardless!

Whew, this wasn't meant to be a rant, just a note to say that burning the stuff would have been fun, and I'm sure the bio hazards get incinerated at some point. There's probably some fun off-gassing and whatnot, but at least I know it's not oozing around a landfill somewhere. Nor in my pasta boiling water.

So, the bottom line? DO NOT FLUSH MEDICATIONS. Amphibians - and the rest of us - will thank you for it.

08 February 2010

trip list

1,145 miles with less than 6 days of actual birding - the condensed e-bird version, from shoddy past-tense scribbles of incomplete notes and House Wren is missing. E-bird probably hates me for the way I butcher their system, but it's my slacking chase methods that got me here. And Matt only took notes for the life birds, so I don't even want to hear it! =)

Bold denotes life birds.

Date range: Feb 1, 2010 - Feb 7, 2010
Total # of Species: 102
Total # of Checklists: 16

Anzalduas County Pk (LTC 068); Bentsen-Rio Grande Val. SP WBC (Mission)(LTC 069);
Brooks County; Estero Llano Grande SP WBC (Weslaco)(LTC 054); Hidalgo County;
John's farm; McAllen; Quinta Mazatlan WBC (McAllen) (LTC 063);
Roma Bluffs WBC (LTC 077); Salineno (DeWind's Yard); San Ygnacio (LTC 087);
Santa Ana NWR (LTC 059); Weslaco Cemetery; Zacate Creek; Zapata Library

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis)
Gadwall (Anas strepera)
Mottled Duck (Anas fulvigula)
Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors)
Cinnamon Teal (Anas cyanoptera)
Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)
Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca)
Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris)
Plain Chachalaca (Ortalis vetula)
Least Grebe (Tachybaptus dominicus)
Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)
American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)
Neotropic Cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianus)
Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)
Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga)
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
Great Egret (Ardea alba)
Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)
Green Heron (Butorides virescens)
White-faced Ibis (Plegadis chihi)
Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus)
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)
White-tailed Kite (Elanus leucurus)
Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)
Harris's Hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus)
Roadside Hawk (Buteo magnirostris)
Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)
Gray Hawk (Buteo nitidus)
White-tailed Hawk (Buteo albicaudatus)
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway)
American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)
Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)
American Coot (Fulica americana)
Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)
Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus)
American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana)
Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius)
Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca)
Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes)
Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus)
Rock Pigeon (Columba livia)
Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)
White-winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica)
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)
Inca Dove (Columbina inca)
Common Ground-Dove (Columbina passerina)
White-tipped Dove (Leptotila verreauxi)
Eastern Screech-Owl (Megascops asio)
Buff-bellied Hummingbird (Amazilia yucatanensis)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)
Ruby-throated/Black-chinned Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris/alexandri)
Ringed Kingfisher (Megaceryle torquata)
Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)
Amazon Kingfisher (Chloroceryle amazona)
Green Kingfisher (Chloroceryle americana)
Golden-fronted Woodpecker (Melanerpes aurifrons)
Ladder-backed Woodpecker (Picoides scalaris)
Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans)
Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)
Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus)
Great Kiskadee (Pitangus sulphuratus)
Couch's Kingbird (Tyrannus couchii)
Tropical/Couch's Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus/couchii)
Rose-throated Becard (Pachyramphus aglaiae)
Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus)
Green Jay (Cyanocorax yncas)
Cave Swallow (Petrochelidon fulva)
Black-crested Titmouse (Baeolophus atricristatus)
Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea)
Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)
Clay-colored Thrush (Turdus grayi)
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)
Long-billed Thrasher (Toxostoma longirostre)
Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)
Orange-crowned Warbler (Vermivora celata)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Dendroica coronata)
Black-throated Green Warbler (Dendroica virens)
Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas)
White-collared Seedeater (Sporophila torqueola)
Olive Sparrow (Arremonops rufivirgatus)
Field Sparrow (Spizella pusilla)
Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis)
Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum)
Lincoln's Sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii)
Crimson-collared Grosbeak (Rhodothraupis celaeno)
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
Pyrrhuloxia (Cardinalis sinuatus)
Black-headed Grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus)
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)
Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna)
Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus)
Hooded Oriole (Icterus cucullatus)
Altamira Oriole (Icterus gularis)
Audubon's Oriole (Icterus graduacauda)
House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)

highlights without feathers

Not all of our time in the Rio Grande Valley revolved around birds. In our defense, part of the trip revolved around birders; Cheryl Longton was the Santa Ana NWR volunteer who initially tried to introduce us. As you may recall, Matt and I first met on "C-trail" (more on that later!) during the Red-naped Sapsucker. Yes, a bird can be a measure of time =)

Cheryl was my foster mother for my entire internship. Dave, her husband, was absolutely the best chef a starving student could have asked for... and quite a few of my birder friends met them as surrogate parents of mine. Cheryl and her daughter, Lorie, even adopted me for a weekend in Mexico.

Cheryl and Dave at Salineno:

During our brief stay, a white cat (upper left corner of the photo below) and a cabra roja were visitors to the property. Neither was unexpected, I remember the local goat herd from my first RGV visit in 2003. Still, it's amusing to find stray goats (reminds me of Thanksgiving in Arkansas in 2007).

Cabra roja:

You're asking why I included a sad photo of a red goat and a white cat. The cat doesn't belong, but the goat was cooperative when lured with a cup of seeds (and a rope around the neck). She was guided back up the road to join the other goats; it must have been quite a sight to see two birders luring a goat down the street.

The Santa Ana NWR internship got me hooked on Rabdotus snails. Ever since then, I've been taking photos of them in whatever county I find them in. Literature is rather lacking, so my feeble attempts at ID are sad at best. But they're "cactus snails" and SANWR had R. alternatus and R. dealbatus from what I could tell. The dark striations on the shell are apparently an indicator of subspecies... of which there are quite a few, but only two that were described in any detail. Oof!

Salineno's Rabdotus alternatus:

The entire trip, Matt had to put up with my gawking at old buildings. Generally decrepit gas stations from an earlier era. Sometimes offices or houses, also decrepit. But this fascination goes well back beyond our initial pseudo-date in Dublin, TX where we stared into a vacant building's wilting ceiling fan for nearly an hour. Near the Anzalduas County Park, we spotted a local gem.

Lovely old Anzalduas landmark:

Until next time, we're staying out of the cold, wet weather!

07 February 2010

bad photos, good birds

Here's part 2 of South Texas Birding vs. Photography, one photo per species, one-size-fits-all.

In the Rio Grande Valley Classics category, in no particular order:

Clay-colored Thrush
(Zapata - somewhat increasingly common bird in the RGV)

White-collared Seedeater
(Zapata - female; males do not exist)

Gray Hawk
(Santa Ana NWR - a gray cousin of the Red-Shouldered Hawk)

Ringed Kingfisher
(Laredo - the largest North American kingfisher)

Green Kingfisher
(Santa Ana NWR - the smallest North American kingfisher)

Plain Chachalaca
(Bentsen SP/WBC - as featured in the large, brown bird post)

Vermillion Flycatcher
(Santa Ana NWR - the reddest North American kingfisher flycatcher)

In hindsight it looks like the photos went from tolerable quality to, well, that Vermillion probably already used the provided in-flight baggie. Poor thing. It just goes to show you that low-light digi-binocular photos lead to really horrible results.

Until the next post, happy trails!

South Texas Birding vs. Photography

An earlier post promised a Gallery of Worst Photos. I'm especially pleased to announce, in addition to the Best Birds series, we can also now feature Rio Grande Valley (RGV) Classics as well. Sadly missing from the lineup is the adult male Crimson-collared Grosbeak, due to his apparent allergy of cameras (mine, at least). These photos would be sponsored by Minolta and Eagle Optics if they were any better! As it is, they're shown in a smallish format to prevent your eyes from bleeding. No need to thank me ;-)

Without further ado...

In the Best Birds category of Worst Photos Ever:

Honorable Mention -
Rose-throated Becard (Bentsen SP/WBC - a Seetrail nemesis, sporadic RGV visitor)

3rd place -
Northern Wheatear (Beeville, TX - second TX record)

2nd place -
Amazon Kingfisher (Laredo, TX - first US record)

1st place -
Roadside Hawk (Weslaco, TX - frustrating)

(Can you even find the bird in the above photos?)

The down side to all of the rarity chasing (and seeing) is not the obligation to submit documentation, so much as attaching hideous photos to document great species! Mind you, the photos posted are the best of the ones taken!

...next up will be the RGV Classics portion of Worst Photos, followed by the miscellaneous adventures of Trudell & York, Birders At Large.

06 February 2010

large, brown bird

Alternate post title: how to identify a large, brown bird with white on the tail... in south Texas, all by yourself.

This is the almost-but-not-quite-definitive post that non-birders should think about when they ask a birder to identify a bird. Specifically, this is the swath of filters that I had to sort through at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge when I was an intern.

Here's the description: "I saw a large brown bird with white on the tail."

I'm sure a flow chart would be handy for this, but here's my super html skills at work:

EDIT: anyone know how to get rid of this gap before the table? Composing it html doesn't show anything...

AnhingaHarris's HawkPlain Chachalaca
At a Feeder?NoNoYes
In a Flock?MaybeMaybeYes
On a Fence?NoMaybeMaybe

Worse yet, Crested Caracara could even be added to the chart. Oof! (Note: they do not swim, they are not chicken-like, they are hawk-like, they do not go to feeders, they may soar, they may be in pairs or more, and they may be on a fence.)

Anyway, because Flickr's Creative Commons access is awesome, here are photos of Anhinga, Harris's Hawk, Plain Chachalaca*, and for kicks, Crested Caracara.


Originally uploaded by Stig Nygaard

Harris's Hawk:

Western Harris's Hawk
Originally uploaded by chdwckvnstrsslhm

*Rufous-vented Chachalaca is a stunt double for our purposes:

Guacharaca del norte [Rufous-vented Chachalaca] (Ortalis ruficauda ruficauda)
Originally uploaded by Cristóbal Alvarado Minic

Crested Caracara:

Crested Caracara Pair With Exposed Crops
Originally uploaded by leppyone

As you can see, all of the above birds are large and brown and they all sport white/buff somewhere in the rump/tail region. Hence the challenge of sorting them out from the aforementioned description. The life history offers quite a bit of insight as to their ID; only Anhinga will be in the water catching fish. Only the Chachalaca will be at an orange feeder. Harris's Hawks and Caracaras will both hunt in packs or pairs though.

Obviously we all have to start somewhere in learning to ID critters, hopefully this handy chart will help guide large, brown bird IDs in the right direction!

Edit: Northern Harrier is another one that applies, can't believe I skipped over that rather obvious large-brown bird! Good thing most people can ID pelicans...