Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Pishing

Wildbird on the Fly has some video clips of Pete Dunne demonstrating pishing techniques at the recent Call of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker Celebration in Arkansas.

Pishing is a birding tool that I have not quite mastered yet. The basic pish is a sound like pshhh, meant to resemble the scolding calls of chickadees, titmice, and other small songbirds. When birds hear this, they will frequently come to investigate the source of the sound and determine if there is a real danger involved. Dunne also suggests a screech owl call and dying starling noises as alternate sounds to catch birds' attention. My best success has been with a chip note that sounds somewhat like a common yellowthroat.

A good pish will come close to sounding like a real bird. Bad or overagressive pishing may end up driving birds further into the brush.

Global Warming Cartoon

Toles is on the global warming beat again. As many of you may have heard, the Greenland ice sheet appears to be flowing faster than previously predicted, which is bad news for anyone living along the coast.

Loose Feathers #27

News and links about birds, birding, and the environment.

  • The US Fish and Wildlife Service is working on guidelines for the construction of windmills to minimize the impact on birds and other animals. Representatives of industry and conservation groups are both involved in the process.
  • Dominion Virginia Power had over 500 black vultures killed at its power plant in Dutch Gap.
  • Meanwhile, several towns in Lancaster County, PA, have poisoned a large crow population.
  • CLO has documented a pileated woodpecker with very little black pigmentation in the course of its ivory-billed woodpecker search in the Arkansas Big Woods. The search team is confident that such an individual could not be confused with an ivory-billed woodpecker based on its shape and behavior. That link is worth a visit to see the pictures of this magnificent bird.
  • Meanwhile, a birder from Virginia who has been searching a portion of the Pearl River basin claims to have seen two ivory-billed woodpeckers. Video stills and audio files along with a long narrative of his expedition are available here. Video clips are available here. While the visual documentation available at those sites does not do much for me, this birder does seem to know what he is talking about. As with the CLO sightings in Arkansas, we need to wait and see whether more definitive evidence will be forthcoming.
Blogs
  • Tony G. has resumed posting at milkriverblog after a long absence.
Carnivals

Monday, February 27, 2006

Mark of a Beaver




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Sunday, February 26, 2006

Dangerous Remains of Hurricane Katrina

As we saw after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the assurances of the EPA that the air in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn was safe turned out to be false. It looks like the same was true of similar assurances given in the wake of Hurricane Katrina last September. Toxic materials dumped by the hurricane threaten both human health and the health of a national wildlife refuge.

The NRDC report, which was obtained by The Washington Post, comes as a new internal report of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service suggests that as much as 350,000 gallons of hazardous materials are threatening the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana as a result of Hurricane Rita.

Government officials have minimized the public health threat in New Orleans, the environmental group said. Louisiana officials have said some toxic contaminants have been found only on golf courses that use pesticides containing arsenic, but the NRDC report includes maps detailing dozens of high arsenic levels taken across wide swaths of the urban area.

The main reason for the toxic mess is a massive oil spill:
The two new reports intensify a simmering debate over Katrina and Rita's environmental legacy and what was left in the soil once the waters receded. With at least 8 million gallons, Katrina produced the second-largest oil spill in U.S. history, after the 11 million-gallon Exxon Valdez tanker spill off Alaska in 1989. Unlike raw crude oil in the Alaska spill, however, the storm released more refined fuel, which evaporated, dissolved or was diluted more readily.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Global Warming Cartoon

This appeared earlier in the week, but it is still relevant.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Birds at the Beach

Last Saturday I travelled with the DC Audubon Society on its annual field trip to Ocean City, MD, and the Delaware coast. This is traditionally the start of the chapter's field trip series, which is designed to make it possible for participants to see 200 species in one year. To my knowledge, this goal has not yet been achieved, but the chapter usually comes close. The winter trip to the coast visits a series of winter waterbird locations, starting in Ocean City, MD, and going up the coast as far as Cape Henlopen, DE. The image at left shows the locations of the stops mentioned below.

I saw two life birds on this trip: white-winged scoter and razorbill. While surf scoters and black scoters are fairly common along the shore in the winter, the white-winged scoter is seen less frequently. The white-winged scoter we found at the Ocean City Inlet. The razorbill came later, at the Indian River Inlet, the second stop on the trip. By that time, the sky had turned even more gray than before, and snow flurries were falling furiously, making it difficult to use optics. Two razorbills were bobbing in the water just beyond the scoter flock in the photograph below. When I first glimpsed one, a gull landed on top of it and made it dive under water. A little later I finally got a longer look. These alcids are quite beautiful in the stark contrast between their black upperparts and white underparts.

Here is a close up of some surf scoters.

And here are some shorebirds foraging on the rocks of the jetty. There are four sanderlings and one purple sandpiper.

Shortly before we left the inlet I spotted a harlequin duck. In addition to being beautiful birds, harlequins venture this far south in very few numbers. (Our harlequin was the only one reported in Maryland or Delaware for last weekend's GBBC.) Unfortunately I could not get a good photograph of this bird, just the blurry one shown below. A surf scoter is on the left, and the harlequin duck is on the right.

For much sharper pictures of harlequin ducks, see 1000birds.

The third stop, Silver Lake in Rehobeth Beach, was covered with canvasbacks and ruddy ducks; I estimated about 500 of each, but the number could have been more or less. Among that flock were two redheads, a male and a female. Despite the poor lighting we got very good views of these birds; usually when I pick out this species I cannot see the red of the head and blue of the beak as well as I could on Saturday. At the last stop, Cape Henlopen, we had close-up views of buffleheads in full late afternoon sunlight, so that the iridescent patches on their heads shone magnificently.

Carnival links:


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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Loose Feathers #26

News and links about birds, birding, and the environment.
  • Last week the Baltimore Sun profiled Jim Peters, a 75-year-old birder who has been leading bird walks in the wetlands at Fort McHenry in Baltimore for many years.
  • One month ago a sewer line leaked effluent into the Watts Branch, a tributary of the Anacostia River that flows past Kenilworth Park. The leak has since been fixed, and the WASA is testing the rest of the line. Strangely enough, it appears that testing for health hazards has not been done.
  • Wildlife biologists at the Bureau of Land Management in Wyoming are kept in the office handling paperwork for gas drilling claims instead of monitoring wildlife in the field. As a result, the impact of the drilling boom in Wyoming is left largely unknown.
  • A case argued yesterday at the Supreme Court could have a significant impact on clean water regulations.
  • Unknown hunters killed 184 Canada geese, scaup, and buffleheads, and dumped the bodies along the side of a road in northern Delaware.
  • In Scotland, someone spray-painted a swan blue.
  • A kiwi recently hatched at the National Zoo.
  • Cheney Watch: The shotgun fiasco has now largely been drowned out by the ports-sale controversy, but there is still some coverage of the incident. The NY Times describes how quail are prepared and indicates that quail are quite a delicacy for Texas aristocrats. Coturnix worked the species ID angle a few days back (with pictures). Meanwhile, the quail spoke out at a White House press conference.
  • Orac, at his new home at ScienceBlogs, has pointed out and debunked some new scams that take advantage of the bird flu hysteria.
  • Bill of the Birds has a photo that gives definitive proof that there is a pileated woodpecker in his backyard.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Carnival of the Vanities #179

Welcome to the 179th Carnival of the Vanities! This is the forum where good bloggers share their best posts, and where we all have the opportunity to learn about blogs we have not yet visited, or to revisit blogs we have not read in some time. At its best, the Carnival of the Vanities showcases great blog writing from a variety of different subjects and across the ideological spectrum.

While you are here, please stop and take a look around. I have a list of my better posts on the left sidebar. Those should give a pretty good idea of what A DC Birding Blog is about. If you like what you see, I hope that you will come back and visit again.

Next week's edition of the Carnival of the Vanities will be hosted at The Cigar Intelligence Agency. Send entries via the carnival submission forms at Blog Carnival or Conservative Cat. Remember, submissions to this carnival should be quality posts on any topic. Hosts for future weeks are still needed. If you are interested in hosting the Carnival of the Vanities, send an email to zeuswood -at- harshlymellow -dot- com.

Finally, thanks to Zeuswood of Harshly Mellow for keeping the Carnival of the Vanities running and for letting me host this edition.

And now, on to the carnival...

Editor's Pick
The lives of women in the premodern world are frequently difficult to study since women show up in the historical record far less than men. One place they do appear is in court records. Natalie Bennett of Philobiblon analyzed such records to study The Women Burglars of the Old Bailey Online, a story of high crime in seventeenth-century England.

Editor's Pick
On Sunday, February 12, scientists and laypeople interested in natural history celebrated Charles Darwin's birthday. Many bloggers honored the occasion with posts on evolution. One such post was Mike's post at 10,000 Birds on Avians, Indonesia, and Evolution, which discusses speciation in the light of recent discoveries in Indonesia.

Editor's Pick
Stephen Littau of Fearless Philosophy for Free Minds highlights The Plight of Cory Maye. Cory Maye shot and killed a police officer during a drug-related raid on his home; Maye claimed at his trial that the police never announced the raid and that he thought they were burglars. Many organizations on the right and left are protesting his subsequent death sentence.

Editor's Pick
David Harrison of The Global Perspective presents us with a pro-Google argument in Change in China. Contra many commentators, he argues that Google's entering of the Chinese marketplace will be good for democracy and freedom of expression there, even if they enter it under restrictions.

Editor's Pick
Wayne Hurlbert at Blog Business World argues that sharing knowledge and ideas is a key to business success in Information Sharing: Helping Others Succeed.

Natural History
While robins are often cited as a sign of spring, many people do not seem to realize that robins do, in fact, overwinter through much of the United States. Nuthatch of Bootstrap Analysis fills us in on the winter range of Robins in the Snow.

Home Bird Notes explores the interaction among birding, economics, conservation, and education in an essay entitled A Little Good News. The post cites recent articles suggesting that birding - and therefore conservation - can be good for local economies and that active interest in the natural world has a measurable effect on children's education.

Cindy of Woodsong tackles the issue of how far to go in baiting animals for the purpose of nature photography in A Question of Ethics - Baiting Irruptive Owls, an issue that arose last winter when large numbers of great gray owls appeared in Minnesota. (The post includes the stated guidelines of the North American Nature Photographers Association and American Birding Association.)

See my Birds and St. Valentine's Day for musings on how romance came to be associated with an obscure Christian martyr.

Personal Stories
Batya at Shiloh Musings remembers a scary incident in a commercial airliner during the first Gulf War in El Al Security.

Suldog-O-Rama tells a Valentine's Day story about his First Kiss - in the fourth grade.

Jack's Shack of Random Thoughts wonders about the life and death of A Boy Named Mookie.

Muse of me-ander tells of her visit to the eye doctor in Baile Rochel can't remember, exactly.

Raising kids is not an experience that I have had, but I imagine it is not easy. Mom, at raising4boys.com, has plenty of experience with child-rearing, and tells us about her middle boys' chronic ear infections in Otitis Media, Ear Tubes, and a Wet Brain.

BPG of Big Picture, Small Office tells of his shock to learn that a trusted sales rep was forging documents in Full of Craft.

The Winter Olympics remind Elisson of his rides on the Ski-Cycle of Death in Winter Olympics on the Cheap (with pictures!).

Economy and Finance
Anyone looking to buy a house right now - especially in urban centers like Washington, DC - knows that prices are sky-high. Dan Melson of Searchlight Crusade looks at the causes of this in Fear and Greed, or How Did The Housing Bubble Get So Big?.

The Hip and Zen Pen proposes a social experiment in which a corporation's "conscience" - in terms of pay equity, providing health insurance, and commitment to fair trade - is made a part of its public statement to make it easier for clients and consumers to adjust investments and spending habits according to a company's behavior. Read Interesting Articles on Doing Business and Doing Good for more.

One factor affecting the home realty business is the introduction of new websites that put more information into the hands of consumers. David Porter of Pacesetter Mortgage Blog argues that this is a good thing in Are Realtors Going to Become Extinct?

Centrerion believes that Trade Deficits and Surpluses Are Ridiculous and Outdated as means to measure overall economic health. Americans had better hope this is correct.

What makes for a good marriage? Free Money Finance notes a survey indicating Good Money Skills More Important Than Sex. (Of course, faithfulness and honesty rate more highly that either of them.)

Nickel wants to know more about your money habits, and offers the first in a series of polls to that effect: Money Poll #1: Budgeting.

Culture
Sophistpundit examines Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point and offers Gladwell's "laws" as deserving of further study in The Starting Point.

Josh Cohen of Multiple Mentality gives us his take on a proposed airship in Sacrificing Luxury for Economy. If the Airbus A380 is any precedent, any future airships are likely to be packed full of seats, and not have the luxurious interiors featured in advertisements.

Medicine
Doug at Below the Beltway argues that society needs to pay more attention to the threat of ovarian cancer in It's About Time.

Blogging
The DesertLight Journal discusses the recent attention to the blogosphere's "long tail" - the many blogs that never reach a significant audience - in What's Next - Aid to Dependent Bloggers?

The Doctor asks "How Do You Use Your Blogroll?" and discusses the difference between people with a short blogroll and people with a long one.

The skwib asks "What is the right amoung of blogging?" and General Kang answers.

Fiction
Joshua of Quibbles and Bits tells the fairy tale of A Dragon's Tear.

How-to
Grill Maestro instructs us on Checking Doneness by Touch Method, a method used for cooking steaks in restaurants.

Sick of high medical bills? Blueprint for Financial Prosperity offers three steps to make sure you are not being overcharged by hospitals or other providers in Fight Big Businesses: Hospital Billing Errors or Insurance Claims.

Steve Pavlina advises his readers to stop making Feeble Excuses, such as not having time or money, and take the steps they need to reach their desired goals.

Kirby on Finance uses game theory to answer the question, Should I Put the Toilet Seat Down?

The Headmistress of The Common Room - a homeschooling blog - expresses her love of reading and asks Are You Reading Effectively?

Jack Yoest asks Who Are You and Why Should I Care? in discussing the role of personal relationships in referrals.

Current Events
Jack Kluth of The People's Republic of Seabrook hesitates about the trend toward hybrid vehicles in I'm Still Afraid It's Going To Have All The Power Of A Riding Lawnmower.

Dick Cheney has been the subject of much discussion and parody since his hunting accident two weeks ago. MadKane joins the fray with a song parody called "Faking Contrition" (set to "Waltzing Matilda").

Brian J. Noggle reports: Eureka, Missouri, Eminent Domains Neighboring Town.

Iraq and the Middle East
Mensa Barbie informs us of positive Accomplishments in Iraq under U.S. occupation, especially the rebuilding of water supply infrastructure that had deteriorated under Saddam Hussein's regime.

Barak of IRIS Blog questions the accuracy of a recent announcement by Israel's Prime Minister Olmert that Israel would cease payments to the Palestinian Authority in the wake of Hamas's victory. See Hamas: "We'll nuke you" Israel: "We'll keep paying you"

Dodgeblogium asks "Why the 'new' accusations of abuse?" and ascribes sinister motives to the release of a video showing abuse of Iraqi teenagers by coalition soldiers and new photographs of the horrors at Abu Ghraib.

Bob at Either Orr blames militant Muslims for the outbreak of violence regarding the Danish cartoons in A Clash of Visions.

In This Idiocy is Itching for a Fisking, LeatherPenguin takes apart a column written by Jehan Sadat (wife of the late Anwar Sadat) calling for a ban on religiously offensive cartoons.

Obi-Wan of Forward Biased appears to call for an American attack on Iran in "Something Wicked This Way Comes." (No mention, though, of how this will be achieved under current circumstances.)

ChrisCam complains about the recent U.N. report on the treatment of prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Pot Calls Kettle Black, Kettle Punches Pot. (Warning: Includes graphic images.)

Politics
The relative powers of our three main branches of government has been a matter of controversy from the day the Constitution was signed. Coyote Blog complains that all three branches are currently violating the Separation of Powers - and not doing anything to check the other two.

Barry Welford of BPWrap argues that the internet is a fundamentally different form of communication from the older forms of newspapers and television in Human Nature Abhors a Vacuum; politicians ignore this to their peril. (Totally unrelated note: the title reminds me of an old Mother Goose and Grimm cartoon.)

TMH's Bacon Bits complains about strikes by government employees in Public Servants Indeed and calls for severe treatment of striking unions.

The Right Place imagines liberal outrage (or perhaps media reaction?) in Long Feared "Bush Purge" Now Underway.

Guy at The Cigar Intelligence Agency uses Two Cartoons to say there is a difference between political cartoons about the military thirty years ago and the ones today. Do you agree? Visit the link to find out.

The Radical Libertarian argues that there is no basis for bans on smoking in public places in The Assault Against Smoking.

Chanik Hocker reviews Natan Sharansky's The Case for Democracy and applies it to current U.S. policy in Book Review: The Case for Democracy.

Carnival of the Vanities can also be found at The Truth Laid Bear's √úberCarnival.


Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Loose Feathers #25: Growth vs. Conservation Edition

News and links about birds, birding, and the environment.
  • As I have posted here before, a massive development is threatening the health of the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Plans call for 3,200 houses, a conference center, and a golf resort on a large tract of land between Egypt Road and the Little Blackwater River. A large part of this tract was supposed to be protect land, but the developers received waivers from state agencies. The project is expected to double the population of Cambridge - a town centered on the Choptank River - and bring in tourist and tax dollars. The project raises all sorts questions about how many people the Eastern Shore can realistically support economically, and how much development can be done before the health of the Chesapeake watershed is beyond hope. Aside from that, the development will almost certainly harm one of the major reasons for people to visit lower Dorchester County - the natural resources in and around Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. To register disapproval of the project, you can sign a petition asking Governor Ehrlich to intervene.
  • In Washington, DC, the Armed Forces Retirement Home near North Capitol Street and Irving Street, NW, is planning a large development for previously undeveloped acreage that had been part of its endowment. While this project does not appear to have serious environmental consequences of the sort overhanging Blackwater, it is expected to increase congestion and reduce open space.

Last Call: Carnival of the Vanities

If you would like to have a post included in tomorrow's edition of Carnival of the Vanities, please send me the link by this evening.

To submit a link visit the carnival submission form at Blog Carnival or Conservative Cat. (Both sites are a vehicle for submissions to many other carnivals as well.) If you prefer, you may email me at the address in the left sidebar.

The Carnival of the Vanities accepts posts on any subject matter, with the only stipulation being that it be an especially good post.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Presidents and Birding

Many presidents have been interested in the natural world, none more so than Theodore Roosevelt, president from 1901-1909. Despite his bad eyesight, he was known to spend free time searching for birds on the grounds of the White House. To compensate, he learned songs and calls intimately. Here is what he had to say about them:
It is hard to tell just how much of the attraction in any bird-note lies in the music itself and how much in the associations. This is what makes it so useless to try to compare the bird songs of one country with those of another. A man who is worth anything can no more be entirely impartial in speaking of the bird songs with which from his earliest childhood he has been familiar than he can be entirely impartial in speaking of his own family.
- quoted in An Exhiliration of Wings, ed. Jen Hill
For Roosevelt, birds meant more than a hobby. He was one of the first presidents to endorse the idea of conservation, and he tried to put conservation into practice. He praised the efforts of the Audubon Society, one of the first environmental organizations.
I hope that the efforts of the Audubon societies and kindred organizations will gradually make themselves felt until it becomes a point of honor not only with the American man, but with the American small boy, to shield and protect all forms of harmless wild life.
- quoted in An Exhiliration of Wings, ed. Jen Hill
Would that the current president would put more energy into environmental issues.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

GBBC: Counting Birds at the National Arboretum

Last week I pointed out this weekend's Great Backyard Bird Count and encouraged people to participate. This afternoon I put my money where my mouth is and did a few hours of counting birds at my local patch, the National Arboretum. This weekend turned out to be the coldest of the winter; I think the low today was the lowest temperature so far this year.

I started off with my best sighting of the day: two chipping sparrows in the brush near the bonsai house. While common in the summer, these sparrows move farther south during the winter. In a warm year like this one, some will winter here. One great blue heron was fishing in Heart Pond while a large flock of starlings and a few robins and blue jays foraged in the fruit trees diagonally across the intersection.

The Asian Gardens were fairly productive today. In addition to the large flocks of white-throated sparrows and dark-eyed juncos, I found a yellow-bellied sapsucker and a hermit thrush. With birds flying back and forth and in and out of bushes, getting an exact count can become difficult. My solution, today and on Christmas Bird Counts, has been to estimate the number to the nearest ten if a hundred or less of the species is present. White-throated sparrows are particularly difficult to count, both because of their cryptic coloration and because of their habit of foraging in the most tangled underbrush where eyes and binoculars cannot penetrate. I expect that most totals reported this weekend for the species will be undercounts.

I rounded the walk off with a stop near the Capitol columns. Unfortunately the red-headed woodpecker did not make an appearance (though I know it was seen yesterday). Instead I found a brown thrasher that peered with its yellow eye at me from inside a bush.


SPECIES SEEN: 34
Great Blue Heron1
Canada Goose20
Mallard10
Common Merganser3
Turkey Vulture1
Red-shouldered Hawk1
Red-tailed Hawk2
Ring-billed Gull50
Mourning Dove1
Belted Kingfisher1
Red-bellied Woodpecker6
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker1
Downy Woodpecker5
Northern Flicker1
Golden-crowned Kinglet1
Carolina Wren3
Northern Mockingbird3
Brown Thrasher1
Hermit Thrush1
American Robin20
Carolina Chickadee10
Tufted Titmouse8
White-breasted Nuthatch2
Blue Jay20
American Crow100
Fish Crow3
European Starling50
House Finch1
American Goldfinch20
Eastern Towhee1
Chipping Sparrow2
White-throated Sparrow100
Dark-eyed Junco60
Northern Cardinal12

Saturday, February 18, 2006

New Jersey Preserves More Open Space

New Jersey recently surpassed 300,000 acres of preserved open space in Wildlife Management Areas, which is the most of any state in the northeast. WMA is the designation for a tract that can be used for hunting and fishing as well as hiking, birding, and other recreational purposes. (Contrast this to wildlife refuges or parks, where hunting is not allowed.)

WMAs make up more than 44 percent of all state-owned open space, but are distinct from other preserved parcels. The object of WMAs is to preserve habitat important to native wildlife species, while also keeping those areas open to activities such as bird watching and hunting.

In the late 1800s, public and private conservation efforts began to bring back New Jersey's native wildlife, which was killed off or pushed out by centuries of farming and lumbering that destroyed their habitat. Hunting and fishing regulations were already well in place by 1932, when the state's Board of Fish and Game Commissioners--what is now know as the state Fish and Game Council--purchased the first WMA.

It was a 387-acre Sussex County parcel called the Walpack Tract, and at the time wildlife authorities referred to the land as "public shooting and fishing grounds."

For another 30 years, the state used fees collected from hunting and fishing licenses to preserve a total of 100,000 WMA acres. But in 1961, voter approval of the state's Green Acres program initiated a new era of land preservation, using public funds to purchase WMA property as well as other types of open space.

Green Acres celebrated its own milestone last year with the acquisition and preservation of 38,000 acres for open space. It was the largest amount preserved under the program in a single year, and included 8,000 acres designated as WMAs.

Other properties included in the WMA network in 2005 were 852 acres added to the Bear Swamp WMA in Sussex County, 1,074 acres added to the Paulinskill WMA in Sussex County and 529 acres added to the Wild Cat Ridge WMA in Morris County.

Unfortunately, sharing the same space for different uses can sometimes be a cause for conflict or resentment, especially between hunters and naturalists. But as long as this is handled properly - with clear rules that are known publicly - conflicts can be reduced.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Friday Sparrow Blogging

In honor of the Great Backyard Bird Count that begins today, I am devoting this week's Friday picture post to feeder birds. Since I live on the third floor of an apartment, I do not have a true backyard. But I do have a roof right outside my window where birds sometimes congregate, especially when I throw out some sunflower seeds.

Following the weekend snowstorm, I threw out some seeds on the roof to see what would come. As usual, I got a lot of house sparrows.


Here is one taking off.

A little while later, they were joined - and then pushed out - by a small group of European starlings.

Some more birds and other creatures at the Friday Ark.

And don't forget to send me posts for next week's Carnival of the Vanities. You can submit them here or here, or email them to me directly at the address in the left sidebar.

Also, remember that this weekend is the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

I and the Bird #17 and Carnival of the Vanities

I and the Bird #17 is now up at Wildbird on the Fly, a blog written by Amy Hooper, the editor of Wildbird Magazine. Now, I do not read Wildbird, but I do read Amy's blog, which provides a lot of birding stories and links to interesting articles. Today Amy presents us with I and the Bird as a birding festival. Go there to see a collection of great blogging about birds and birding.

Long before there was an I and the Bird, long before there was a Tangled Bank, and even before there was a Carnival of the Capitalists, there was the Carnival of the Vanities. The Carnival of the Vanities first ran in September 2002 - ancient history in blogging years - as a way to celebrate especially good blog entries. Unlike closely-focused carnivals that specialize on a particular topic, the Carnival of the Vanities has only two requirements: that a post be of high quality, and that it be recent, preferably written within the last two weeks.

I am proud to announce that A DC Birding Blog will host the Carnival of the Vanities, next Wednesday, February 22. The deadline for submitting entries is 6 pm on Tuesday. You may use the carnival submission forms at Blog Carnival or Conservative Cat. If you prefer, you may send entries to me directly, at the email address in the left sidebar. (I reserve the right to reject posts that are offensive or inappropriate.)

I would like, if possible, to have a higher-than-usual proportion of submissions related to birds and natural history for 'my' edition of the Carnival of the Vanities. So if regular readers of this blog have good, recently-written entries, please do send them to me. You can submit them to both I and the Bird and Carnival of the Vanities. Unlike the publishing world, there is no rule prohibiting submitting a link to more than one carnival.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Loose Feathers #24

News and links about birds, birding, and the environment.
  • A spill that happened while a barge was unloading oil into a storage tank has dumped about 31,000 gallons of crude oil into the Arthur Kill, a waterway between New Jersey and Staten Island, New York. This is a critical spill because the Raritan Bay, just south of where the spill occurred, is an important wintering ground for many species of waterfowl, including tens of thousands of greater scaup. The article states that the spill has been contained, but it will take some time before it is adequately cleaned up.
  • The Maryland legislature is considering a bill that would make it illegal to build within 1,000 feet of a river that flows into a national wildlife refuge. The proposed legislation is in reaction to plans for a massive development on the edge of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, a critical habitat for wintering waterfowl and nesting bald eagles.
  • A new study attempted to quantify the effect of pollution on human health. Among its conclusions was that pollution from Maryland power plants contributed to about 700 deaths each year. This should give added impetus to imposing stricter pollution controls. Environmentalism is not just about animals; it is about human health as well.

The Great Backyard Bird Count for 2006

The Great Backyard Bird Count for 2006 is coming up this weekend, February 17-20. The GBBC is one of several "citizen science" projects that are coordinated by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Like the Christmas Bird Count and mid-winter counts run by local birding clubs, the GBBC aims to establish bird population and distribution. What sets the GBBC apart is that this count provides a nationwide picture of bird populations over a single weekend, rather than the two-week period of the CBCs or the local picture of the mid-winter counts. The late February date places the GBBC at a time when most birds are on their wintering ground - after fall migration is done and before spring migration is taking off.

If you have a feeder, set aside some time during the weekend to watch what birds come, and note down the highest number you see of each species and how long you spent watching. Then go the the GBBC site and enter your totals.

If, like me, you do not have a backyard, it is still possible to participate. This year, the coordinators of the GBBC are putting an extra emphasis on counting every species present in North America during the count period. This means counting in local parks and wildlife refuges in addition to backyards. If you do this, you will have to keep track of distance or area covered in addition to time spent birding.

Anyone can participate no matter how experienced or inexperienced you may be as a birder. And you can devote as much or as little time to it as you like. Read more about how to participate here.

Wood Ducks and Mallards at the National Zoo


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Loose Feathers #23

News and links about birds, birding, and the environment.
  • The Center for Biological Diversity is suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to compel the federal agency to list the tricolored blackbird as an endangered species. Though it was once widespread, this bird has become limited to a small portion of its former range in California.
  • Comments on the proposed housing development near the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge will be accepted up until February 24. This development represents a serious threat to the health of the refuge, a critical habitat for migrating and wintering waterfowl, as well as breeding bald eagles.
  • The Christian Science Monitor covered the Superbowl of Birding in New England. The winning team recorded 86 species in the allotted twelve hours.
  • For an offbeat account of an encounter between a man and a flock of starlings, see this column from the NY Daily News.
  • Apparently Dick Cheney was hunting illegally on Saturday because he had not purchased the proper stamp for hunting upland game birds. This is a serious matter from a conservation point-of-view because funds raised through hunting stamps help to fund the acquisition and maintenance of wildlife refuges and management areas. Meanwhile, we are finally starting to get more details about what happened.

Birds and St. Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is the premier festival of romantic love in American culture. Whether you love it or hate it, celebrate it with a date or attend an anti-Valentine event, the occasion is hard to ignore.

The day is named for an early Christian martyr, who may have lived in the third century. At least three different Valentines are included in early martyrologies on the date of February 14. The Golden Legend - hardly a reliable source - has a colorful account of his martyrdom. Because of the lack of hard evidence for his life and death, St. Valentine's Day was removed from the official list of Catholic feast days during the calendar reform of 1969. (Instead, February 14 is now the feast of Cyril and Methodius, Apostles to the Slavs and inventors of the Cyrillic alphabet.)

Much speculation exists as to why the feast of an obscure saint became a holiday devoted to romance, or how specific practices arose. Several theories are described here. One legend associated with the date is that birds paired with their mates in the middle of February. This belief appears to have arisen in the Middle Ages. Geoffrey Chaucer imagined such an occasion in his Parliament of Fowles:

309 For this was on seynt Valentynes day,
310 Whan every foul cometh ther to chese his make,
311 Of every kinde, that men thenke may;
In the "parliament" that follows we can see examples of the ideas of romantic love that were becoming common in the late Middle Ages. For example, Nature commands the birds:
626 Than wol I doon hir this favour, that she
627 Shal have right him on whom hir herte is set,
628 And he hir that his herte hath on hir knet.
Very few species are actually pairing up and nesting at this time of year. Among the few that do is the bald eagle, which is again the subject of a de-listing effort. Other hawks and owls that stay on territory for the winter months may do so as well. Great horned owls are easier to find in the winter precisely because they are preparing to breed. And the ubiquitous urban rock pigeons and house sparrows breed all year round, so they may be seen pairing at this time of year as well.

In truth, the dedication of this day to love, and the association of birds with the event, probably has more to do with its place in the cycle of seasons. February is a time when people - especially in colder regions - start looking forward to the end of winter. The natural world is full of indications that spring is coming, and one of the most obvious - for those who pay attention - is that some birds start to sing again. Chaucer makes this point, by having the birds sing the following at the end of the poem:
680 `Now welcom somer, with thy sonne softe,
681 That hast this wintres weders over-shake,
682 And driven awey the longe nightes blake!

683 `Saynt Valentyn, that art ful hy on-lofte; --
684 Thus singen smale foules for thy sake --
685 Now welcom somer, with thy sonne softe,
686 That hast this wintres weders over-shake.

687 `Wel han they cause for to gladen ofte,
688 Sith ech of hem recovered hath his make;
689 Ful blisful may they singen whan they wake;
690 Now welcom somer, with thy sonne softe,
691 That hast this wintres weders over-shake,
692 And driven away the longe nightes blake.'
Happy Valentine's Day.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Fir Tree in the Snow

After the weekend snow storm I took quite a lot of photographs, both in my neighborhood and at the Arboretum. Fresh snow makes for picturesque scenes, and I wanted to take advantage of this while I had a window of opportunity. I took many pictures of the conifers at the Arboretum. Most of them turned out darker than I wanted, so I decided to see what I could do with them with digital editing in GIMP 2.0. The one below is one of the better outcomes.

To create that effect I lightened the photograph and increased the contrast, then used the "blur" and "oilify" filters. I like the effect even though it is not realistic-looking.

This is the original photograph of the fir tree.


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Loose Feathers #22

News and links about birds, birding, and the environment.
  • Blue Ridge Gazette tells us that the National Park Service is restricting access to certain areas of the New River Gorge National River in West Virginia during peregrine falcon breeding season. The restricted access is part of a program to support the species that includes active monitoring of nest sites.
  • The Washington Post covered the Howard County Bird Club's mid-winter bird count last Saturday. Their count had similar goals to the canal count that I covered here, namely to establish the local populations of wintering birds between the end of fall migration and the beginning of spring migration.
  • Recent tests suggest that the influenza infecting birds in Nigeria was indeed carried there by migratory wild birds. What this means remains to be seen, but it should not be a reason for hysteria, yet.
  • Cornell is reporting that there have been several possible encounters with ivory-billed woodpeckers, including both visual and aural observations. In one case there may have been two birds. While cause for hope, the reports so far have not been fully confirmed.
  • Quail were in the news as supporting characters when Dick Cheney shot a man in a hunting accident. The victim appears to be okay; no word on what species of quail was involved. If it was a species native to the Austin area, northern bobwhite might be most likely, but we know that Cheney likes to participate in canned hunts, so it could be any species. (Link to firedoglake via Pharyngula.) UPDATE: This Post story about the reaction to the story in Washington is accompanied by a picture of a northern bobwhite.
Carnivals

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Arboretum in the Snow

This afternoon I headed over to the National Arboretum for a bird walk. Though I had been there yesterday, I wanted to go back and see it while the snow was still fresh. I had seen the gardens with snow before, but not with fresh snow. Today the fields were beautiful; it was like a landscape transformed.


I started out near the Capitol columns. The road directly behind them that leads deeper into the Arboretum was blocked by a fallen tree. Field sparrows, dark-eyed juncos and other birds took advantage of the lack of traffic by foraging among the remains of the tree in the road; I took advantage of the lack of traffic by standing in the middle of the road and watching them. One mourning dove walking around on the road looked like it had injured its wing, but then flew off normally, so perhaps the wing was just folded awkwardly.

Snow started falling again, and the wind picked up as I walked the road leading towards Hickey Hill. All birds must have hunkered down at this point because I did not see any more for quite some time. I saw that the flowering trees I had mentioned last week were now covered with snow, and one had a snowman in front of it. The pines at the top of the hill were especially lovely. The layer of snow brought out the shapes of each tree; the individual shapes are sometimes easy to miss when the needles and trunks blend with one another.

Towards the end of my walk, I headed back towards the woods where I had tried for a red-headed woodpecker yesterday. This time I did find it, perched near the top of a bare tree. It sat out for a long time. I think this bird may have been hatched last year, because there seemed to be a bit of brown left on its head, but that may just have been the angle of the light. As I was leaving I spotted a merlin on the same perch where I saw one yesterday.

Some more pictures of the snow-covered Arboretum follow. Some of these are almost like black-and-white photographs because of the light and the contrast.


SPECIES SEEN: 28

Mallard
Turkey Vulture
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Merlin
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Carolina Wren
Northern Mockingbird
American Robin
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Blue Jay
American Crow
Fish Crow
European Starling
American Goldfinch
Field Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal


Saturday, February 11, 2006

Snow Blogging

Our first snowstorm of the year - and maybe the second of the winter - has begun, and it may dump quite a lot. The rain that had been falling for most of the day changed over to snow here between 4 and 5 pm. It is supposed to intensify overnight and end in the morning. When I was out a little earlier, the snow was coming down almost horizontally since there is a steady northeasterly wind blowing. The salt trucks have already made their rounds.

I really do not mind mild weather, but I do like to get at least some snow over the course of the winter. Otherwise it does not feel like a real winter. Maybe I should live farther north.

Update (10:30 pm): The Post is working on hyping the storm:

Winter reasserted itself over metropolitan Washington yesterday in the form of a powerful nor'easter that was forecast to yield the region's heaviest snow in three years....

The storm formed Friday over the Gulf of Mexico and swung into the deep South, bringing thunder to Alabama and Georgia and snow to the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. It was forecast to bring a total of six to 12 inches of snow to the Washington region, a bit less toward the Atlantic coast and in Western Maryland.
The coverage seems to emphasize the high end of that, but I have a hard time seeing us getting that much snow. A foot is a pretty rare event around here. And at least on my street, the snow is still barely sticking to the pavement and other hard surfaces.

Update (midnight): The snow began falling with a lot more conviction in the past hour or so. There is now a white coating on the street and even a small accumulation on the roof outside my window. Capital Weather has been revising its snowfall predictions downward throughout the evening.

Update (8 am): The Post is reporting that National Airport measured 8 inches of snow overnight, but that some areas north of the city - like Columbia, MD - received 20 inches. I see about 3 inches on the roof outside my window; that means the accumulation around here will be somewhat more than that because snow usually takes longer to stick there than on grass or even the sidewalk.

Here are some house sparrows outside my window.


Update (10:30 am)
: There is an eight-inch blanket of snow on the ground around my neighborhood. Here are some more pictures of the fresh snow.

And finally, here is a crow, to keep at least some birds in the picture.

It looks like New York City got about two feet of snow, and possibly more. The ski resort owners seem very happy about that.

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Words, Words, Words

Via Woodsong, I found a word cloud generator that you can use to make custom t-shirts. The generator will scan a blog or website and then build an image out of the most commonly-used words. It came up with this design for my blog.

To make your own, go here, click on Custom, and enter your address.

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Bluebirds at the National Arboretum

This morning dawned wet and gray. By the time I woke up the ground was already somewhat damp, and by the time I got out the door, there was some light drizzle falling. Still, I went over to the National Arboretum for my normal weekend birdwalk there.

I wanted to get a walk in there before the predicted snowstorm, since I do not know what conditions will be like tomorrow morning. (So far the conditions have been more rain, or just "wet air," than actual snow.) I also wanted to check out the tip about a red-headed woodpecker that was left on this blog last week. Well, I did not see any red-headed woodpeckers in the area mentioned, only a bunch of red-bellied woodpeckers and a northern flicker or two. I did see a merlin eating its breakfast; a picture of the merlin's silhouette is at right. The merlin was perched on a snag where I have frequently seen raptors sit early in the morning.

Near the end of my walk I spotted a bluebird fly across the road and perch on a branch in an open area. As I stopped to look at it, several more flew across and perched on various shrubs and fence posts. The birds were close enough that I could get some decent pictures of them. I must have taken more than twenty shots; a few are included with this post.


The picture above is my favorite. I did not realize I had caught the one in flight until I was cropping it on my computer.


SPECIES SEEN: 31

Canada Goose
Mallard
Common Merganser
Red-shouldered Hawk
Merlin
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Carolina Wren
Northern Mockingbird
Eastern Bluebird
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Blue Jay
American Crow
European Starling
American Goldfinch
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Eastern Towhee
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal





Friday, February 10, 2006

Friday Gull Blogging #3

It's Friday, which means it is time for another edition of Friday Gull Blogging! Some people photograph cats, some dogs, and others squid. I photograph gulls. Why? Well, since I live in a city I cannot be too picky about my photographic subjects. If I want to photograph birds, I need to take what is available to me.


Unlike many other birds, gulls - especially ring-billed gulls - are tolerant of humans approaching at relatively close range. This makes them especially easy to photograph.


Gulls' relative ease also makes it easy to watch how they behave around each other. Now the two gulls below are not doing much of anything for this picture, but they were interacting more before I took it.



Carnival Stuff

For local birders

The DC Audubon Society has postponed its Ocean City field trip from tomorrow (Saturday, February 11) to next Saturday, February 18, due to the predicted snowstorm. If you were planning to attend, please take note of the changed date.

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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Revised Template

As you can see, I have just finished some revisions to this blog's template. The main changes are a new header and an additional sidebar. The left-hand sidebar contains previous posts and links for subscribing by email or ATOM feed, while the right-hand sidebar contains links to other websites. One holdup to posting the revised template was that the right-hand sidebar was doing strange things in Internet Explorer. I think those problems are fixed now, but if not, let me know. This blog does look best when viewed in Firefox. (Not to mention that Firefox is a much better browser overall, and features lots of neat extensions.)

One reason that I revised the template was because I wanted to make my archives more accessible, in particular in a way that would highlight my best posts from the past. To that end, I went through my archives myself and pulled out several that I thought were particularly good and put them in the left sidebar under the "Representative Posts" heading. Most of these have appeared in various blog carnivals.

In addition, I added a "Destinations" list. These are my frequent birding spots around DC. The idea for this came from a Five Wells piece on implementing "categories" in Blogger with Google blogsearches. To round out the left bar I added a search box provided by blogbar. This searchbox appears to be quite powerful, and can search either this site or the internet. Unfortunately it only seems to work if you click "OK" - just hitting "Enter" will not send the command.

The right sidebar changed little except for the removal of some material to the left side. I also updated several changed links and fixed broken ones. All should work now. I also have removed several images and bits of code that were holding up page loading times. I hope that the site's performance will be improved after this. If not, I may have to remove more, though I am hesitant to do so.

Feel free to leave thoughts, complaints, etc., in the comments.

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Odd Bird Behavior

Recently someone posted a note on va-bird about some unusual bird activity that he observed and photographed at Huntley Meadows, a wildlife preserve in Fairfax County. The photographs can be found here; see especially this one, this one, this one, and this one. The fish crow shown there appears to be chasing the mallard with a stick. Why it would be doing this, I do not know. I doubt that the two are in competition for food, or that the mallard would be threatening any nest areas. Any other ideas?

False Springs

With the excitement over my sighting of the snowy owl, I never got around to posting some pictures from earlier on Sunday. What follow are from a short morning walk I took in the National Arboretum.

As Pamela noted, the last week or two have been unseasonably warm. In Washington, this has had the effect of sending many flowering trees into full bloom, at least a month before they ought to be. Below is one tree that stood out for the numbers of flowers in bloom.

There was also this tree, labelled "Firecracker" for obvious reasons.

What effect all this will have on our "normal" spectacular spring outburst of flowers, I do not know. I do expect that the peak of the cherry tree blooms will come earlier than usual this year.

The bird sightings were not too extraordinary, which was why I did not post them right away. I was glad to see that a red-breasted nuthatch was still there. I had missed seeing one for several trips in January and thought that these had all gone. The two that I heard and then saw were working the pines in the Asian Garden. I also had a gray catbird in the middle of a lively flock across the road from Heart Pond.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Loose Feathers #21

News and links about birds, birding, and the environment.

  • Even though the health of the Chesapeake Bay lags far behind standards set in an agreement among the federal government and regional state governments, Bush's proposed budget for 2007 cuts funding for the Bay's cleanup.
  • An expedition to the Foja Mountains of New Guinea turned up some newly-discovered and rediscovered bird species, including Berlepsch's six-wired bird of paradise, smokey honeyeater, golden-fronted bowerbird. The Post has a slideshow with images of the animals and their habitat.
  • Ivory-billed Update: Someone has reported seeing an ivory-billed woodpecker in the Pearl River basin in Louisiana. This is an area that has been searched as possible IBWO habitat in the past, but without a conclusive discovery. From his report: "It clearly had white patches on the trailing edge of the wings. This was easy to see since the view was from the side.... Although I focused on the wings, the head was visible in the right part of my field of view. What I saw of the head was a blur, but it appeared to be all black... The flight was nothing like a pileated." He ends by saying that his sightings were not good enough to be absolutely certain, a problem that has characterized most ivory-billed reports. But if there are IBWOs to be found, a definitive view will come eventually. (Via BirderBlog)
  • A researcher in California will be using rock pigeons bearing light-weight pollution monitoring equipment and digital cameras to monitor smog and traffic conditions around San Jose. The data will be used in her class and posted to a blog as they become available. The blog address was not included in the article, but I hope that it will be made public. (Via Science & Sarcasm)
  • Pharyngula has a post about a herbicide widely used in corn production that converts testosterone into estrogen as a side-effect. This may cause problems in humans, including infertility (in men) and cancer (in women).
  • An agreement among the Canadian government, logging interests, and environmental groups is expected to shield several million acres of forest from further destruction. This area in British Columbia holds unique and important ecosystems including part of the immense boreal forest and also temperate rain forests. Both of these are critical for many species of birds. (See also the NY Times coverage.)
For local birders...
  • This Saturday, February 11, the DC Audubon Society will make its annual field trip to Ocean City, MD, and the Delaware coast to look for winter waterfowl. Anyone interested should see the announcement for directions and contact information.
  • The report from the chapter's November fieldtrip to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is now online.
Finally, in carnival news...