30 December 2010

Resist Temptation

Gentle reminder, dear birders.

National Parks are no 'pishing' zones.
They are also no 'playback' zones.

This applies to State Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, Wildlife Management Areas, areas that are birded, ANY area that has endangered species, and at any time of year that birds could be nesting. It's in the better interest of the bird to avoid undue stress, activity, etc.

While iThings and eGadgets and crazyphones might be required for surviving the urban jungle, avoid temptation. Leave the devices off, or in your car while out birding. Use headphones if you want to double check a call you've heard. Don't know what you saw? Wait, look harder, or walk away. Don't know what you heard? Look for the source; not all recordings will cover all vocalizations.


This topic came up due to recent discussions at a CBC, and it highlights the technology gap that many birders have never experienced. Birders who have never birded without the technological crutch would have a very different experience without it. I have never used playback; Matt and I never even carry equipment capable of it. We go through a mental checklist of whether or not it's worth it for the bird and situation before 'pishing' - birds may go unseen, but it's better for the bird. The welfare of the creature is of utmost importance, our sighting/documentation is not even on the radar. For CBCs, in some situations, it may be worth it 'for the count' to get a better look at a bird. Still, all of the above checks and balances apply.

Learn calls. Leave the gear at home.

Our backgrounds are in conservation; perhaps this makes us more aware, but perhaps it also shows that bird-ing does not give birds the respect that is due.

29 December 2010

Heidi & Matt's First Annual Blog-card

Dear Family and Friends,

This year has been One of Those Years. Cards are a nice idea, e-cards even nicer... but with so many folks to contact and no happy medium: we present our blogged update. Maybe we'll be the beginning of a trend that will become cliche! Who knows? At least this way we can link you to anything you might have missed! And you can read more about anything you're interested in - and skip over the rest.

Our last somewhat-annual e-mail update probably included getting married, having some receptions, a honeymoon with the first Western Spindalis nesting record for North America, fetching rings in Santa Fe, and other things like jobs and stuff.

This year's update is somewhat similar:
It started in January, involving me leaving a job, Matt losing a ring (it was a sacrifice to the Laredo banks of the Rio Grande for the Amazon Kingfisher), a nice variety of birds added to our shared life list - really good birds - and sending out tons of job applications.

In February and March, we were building snow dogs in the front yard then gathering four generations on my side of the family. We also celebrated our first anniversary, and got lots of appreciative honks on our way to San Antonio for the Baylor Women's Basketball Final Four games.

By April we had taken adorable photos of Anakin in bluebonnets, got certified to clean oiled wildlife the week of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, and had waited to hear back after interviews.

May brought a trip to NW Missouri to visit Matt's grandparents because we'd missed Thanksgiving, our first shared trip to the Trans-Pecos region, a growing fondness for the Marfa lights and some darn nifty wildlife *cough*

I'm not sure where June went. It must have happened because I donated my hair in June. Most of it must have been sorting photos from the Trans-Pecos adventures in May and packing for our impending sense of employment (see Aplomado Falcon Hack Site Attendant post). Our consolation for losing June? There are a metric sh*t ton (tonne?) of photos from our summer Aplomado gig.

July: First there were the boxes of falcons and then there were faces of falcons... and more fond of long walks at sunset and we started to grow fond of the region. Then we found a place to rent. Much of September was spent fixing it up and moving from Waco to Marathon. House repairs being on-going, of course.

As of October 1st, we're both working at the Marathon Motel & RV Park (mostly grounds & housekeeping, respectively) and have been blogging overtime at our new blog: Big Bend - Texas Nature, a work in progress.

We did spend Thanksgiving in Missouri this year with our niece and nephew (and the rest of Matt's side of the family, too)... and that pretty much catches us up to the current saga of a Tufted Flycatcher that is stirring up interest in the area.

Whew. If you're still awake, congratulations! We're looking forward to settling in 'out here' where the pace of life is relaxed and the NPR station gives traffic reports in single digits... and there are only two radio stations. Pretty nice.

19 December 2010

Groove-billed Ani. Sometimes it just finds you.

Well, often times it just finds you. Sure there are moments we go hunting for a particular species. However, for much of our time the birds just find us. We "had" this species or we "had" that species.

Did we HAVE it?
Or did the bird happen to travel to a particular place at a particular time only to show itself to an interested Homo sapien sapien. Then... sneakbackinthebrush.


After getting off work at 4pm today, I opened the truck driver-side door and put one foot down on the ground. A thrashing sound emanated from perhaps 8-feet to my left.

I look. Nothing. Nada.
Thrashing sound in the leaf-litter again, this time as I am looking. Niet.




Cue the Metallica track. No, one from before they cut their hair and got soft.

Here was THE(?) fall/winter Groove-billed Ani (GBAN) of the Marathon Basin. Foraging. Often tilting its head, looking up, stretching its neck to see.

This bird was first viewed at the Marathon Motel back on 10 October. It was 2 weeks until viewed again, on the 23rd and 24th of that month, still on motel grounds.

November, nada.

It returned to our view, once again on motel grounds, on December 2nd. The bird landed in a sumac not 6 feet from me.

Now, on December 18th, after returning home from a full day's work....

Folks. So very often, its not US. Its up to the birds. I didn't find this ani. I was stepping out of my truck and it decided to forage in some vegetation openings no more than 10 ft from me. I didn't "have" it.

Anyways, this bird was skulking and often thrashing and crashing around leaf-litter between cane cholla, sotol, and yucca.

It would uncover, attack, and forage on slow-moving cold-ish invertebrates.

Walking mid-sotol-story on blades, turning its head to focus on any potential prey item.

For the first time in a long time for me, this single GBAN looked and behaved MUCH like its Family Cuculidae cousin the Greater Roadrunner.

About an hour later it sat, preened, and sunned itself between a yucca and a patch of "cow tongue" prickly-pear.

It then flew southward just across the street.

So people, I would as well I suppose, come out and ask "Where's the ani?".
Depends, really. It was here a month ago. Two weeks ago. Yesterday?

Come on out here and enjoy the birds. I do.

Some always show themselves. Some more than others.

After all, it's up to the birds.
We just have to be out there.

17 December 2010

making a house a home

Our little household has grown by leaps and bounds. Leafs and grounds? Hm. There are an awful lot of coffee grounds out back... Anyway, the bedroom seems to be at its final stage in evolution: it has been painted, there are curtains, there is a bed. And the living room has turned into a nursery. NO! Not that kind of nursery!

A dead basil plant sits next to the south window to show neighbors how in denial I am about it being dead... but next to it there are sprigs of 'showy flameflower' (did you read that as 'flamethrower' the first time?) and up in the corner, a spider plant. Below the spider plant is my eccentric aloe, who is always in 'time out' because it likes the shade in the dark corner and it won't get run over by the puppy there.

(Prior to space heater and piles of plants - but aloe is still in time out. You'll note that a thrift store sleeping bag is now Anakin's living room bed. Happy puppy!)

The shared wall has a book shelf that hosts a photo of our West Coast kin, along with pothos spp crawly plants that will take over the entire room eventually. They're sacreligiously arranged in bottles that used to house Don Julio tequila, Arrogant Bastard Ale, an Irish whiskey of sorts Patron, and some other novel brews. These are the perks of living in a town with diverse taste in alcohol. In an old thrift store teapot, two sprigs of 'time out aloe' are taking root. Apologies for poor photo quality.

The one somewhat-useful table in the living room keeps the big barrister cabinet thing from attacking us (it wants to fall down if you look at it too long). The table hosts a jalapeno plant, wandering jew, and some funky off-brand of parsley until the weather warms up. The table also provides nighttime housing for some of our patio plants... we've got frogfruit (that's not transplanting very well at all), some native forbs (same story as frogfruit), some clusters of candelilla (can-deh-lee-ya), and quite a few Harvard agave pups. So many agave pups... Our secondary table-thing is the roosting place of a 'Texas bird of paradise' plant and a purple prickly pear, so no surface is immune! Maybe in the spring, the living room table will be useful for things like meals - but for now we enjoy the plants more than we feel inconvenienced.

As for the daily rotation of porch plants, our super-awesome neighbor across the street procured some sprigs of Mormon tea and gopher plant(??) for us as well, hopefully we'll glean enough knowledge by osmosis to keep the rest of the plants alive! It does feel strange, taking hummingbird feeders and plants in at night and then worrying over them when we do leave them out and the temp is below 40... guess it's just the 'new plant' jitters.

And here's the porch now: after "401 North Senate Street" was interpreted by one shipper of a package, our PO box has competition. Anything that can't ship to a PO box can go to 401... not Senate Street. Those fancy numbers? Are classic blue tape, of course!

PS - Anyone who noticed the yellow mop bucket in the corner of that photo: 10 points! It's our new laundry wringer. To save my frozen fingers and crazy strong biceps, of course.

13 December 2010

Schrödinger's Quail

This morning at about 9:30 I got a phone call from a dear friend and fellow birder. He reported a deceased Montezuma Quail at the Lawrence E. Wood picnic area in the Davis Mountains. I was *thrilled* because I thought that meant that he had picked it up for me. Alas. He was already in Balmorhea and the bird was still on the side of the road!

In a hasty scramble, Matt and I attempted to notify birders in Alpine and Fort Davis and anyone who might possibly still be in the area after chasing the Tufted Flycatcher - and we came up empty handed. We knew that the bird was dead. But was it still there? Had it been hit again? What state was it in; smashed or still fresh? We summoned the powers of Sul Ross and The Nature Conservancy in the form of voice mail, e-mail and feeble telepathy. By 11:30 I was able to sneak away from work; we'd not been able to check e-mail since our initial plea, but it was worth the risk to discover whether or not 'Schrödinger's Quail' was still on the side of the road for me.

Best case scenario:
Dead Montezuma Quail would be in the shade on the side of the road.

Plausible Situation A:
Dead Montezuma Quail would be picked up by someone else.

Plausible Situation B:
Dead, smashed Montezuma Quail would be on the side of the road.

Plausible Situation C:
Dead Montezuma Quail would be unable to be located.

Clearly with A & C, there's room for interpretation. A phone or e-mail not to be received for a long time, a scavenger traipsing off with a prize...

So for the longest 90 minute drive, the Montezuma Quail was in a simultaneous state of being there and not-being-there; I just needed to open the proverbial box and look.

1: It is there!

2: The facial pattern indicates that the bird is male.

3: The poofy crown concealed a few pin feathers.

4: Disney's version of "Sleeping Beauty" got nothin' on this guy.

5: Big, scratchy, kicky claws. All the better to dig at roots with.

6: I spy something molting. The gap in primary feathers has a new one growing in.

Post to be elaborated upon once we've walked the dog and had dinner and... you get the idea =)

FAQ #1
Q: Aren't you worried about catching something?
A: No. As with windows and wind turbines, cars tend to hit birds that are healthy enough to cross roads. If the bird was a carrier of [West Nile, Avian Influenza, etc] I'd still probably have to lick it (for fecal/saliva contamination) and that's just not how I operate.

Edit: the slightly more stuffy version of this post is over at that other blog that steals all of our attention these days.

04 December 2010

World Parrot Count - Jan. 1, 2011

I'm passing this along for friend and fellow parrots-out-of-native-range enthusiast, Roelant Jonker. He has been tracking feral parrots in The Netherlands for quite a few years now and this new project will help gauge populations of parrots out of their ranges. For folks in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey and quite a few other states, this is a great opportunity to help out!

Our nearest Monk Parakeet colony is Andrews, TX where this photo was taken:

(by Laura Packer, Nov. 2007)


You are cordially invited to join the "World Parrot Count". We, Roelant Jonker and Michael Braun of the "extra-tropical department" of the Parrot Researchers Group of the International Ornithological Union (IOU), would like to initiate the first global parrot census this January in order to get much needed scientific data about parrots living in cities around the globe. This count is intended to become an annual event.

For furth...er information please visit the following website: http://www.cml.leiden.edu/parrot.html

If you have any questions please contact us via the following E-mail address: parrotcount/at/cityparrots.org

Please feel free to forward this message to everybody who could be interested. We would like to create a global parrot community of professional researchers, field ornithologists as well as amateur naturalist that will enable us to measure the development of native and non-native parrots living in cities.

See you at the roost!

All best,

Roelant Jonker (Leiden University, The Netherlands)
Michael Braun (Heidelberg University, Germany)