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Posts Tagged ‘Northern Indiana Bed and Breakfast’

 Imagine waking up to Oprah serving you breakfast in Hawaii when she retires! The TV talk show host — whose The Oprah Winfrey Show is in its last season — is renovating a 12-bedroom inn on the island of Maui to become a “low-key, rustic retreat.” Several online tabloids have announced this and unfortunately Oprah hasn’t returned any of my calls so I can not confirm the story. But you can go to this website: http://www.showbizspy.com/article/213445/oprah-winfrey-to-open-bed-and-breakfast.html or maybe you have someone on the inside who will verify the story and can share with us.

 From Showbizspy.com

 OPRAH Winfrey is reportedly planning to build her own bed and breakfast in Hawaii!

 The TV talk show host — whose The Oprah Winfrey Show is in its last season — is renovating a 12-bedroom inn on the island of Maui that will be low-key, rustic retreat.

 “Oprah’s planning on having a high-end bed and breakfast for her friends and wealthy customers who like the quiet of the Mai countryside ,” a source told American tabloid the National Enquirer.

“It will be a place for people to rest and reflect.

 “Oprah plans to personally play hostess on the ranch when she is on the island.”

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Nicknamed “wild canary”, the American Goldfinch is a prized visitor at Songbird Prairie. This little finch is welcome and common at our feeders, where it eats primarily sunflower and nyjer.   At Songbird Prairie, they also cover the salvia along our walkway to the Inn.  They love to drink and bathe in our shallow birdbaths and are attracted to the watercourse that runs through this Indiana Dunes Bed & Breakfast’s woodlands.  The American Goldfinch is a frequent visitor to our feeders and you would be assured to spot these vibrant yellow birds and hear their twittering call on your visit! 

Diet: 
In nature, the goldfinch feeds primarily during the day on seeds of grasses and trees. They may occasionally feed on insects and berries. They frequently visit backyard feeders – particularly those filled with thistle seed.

Size and Color: 
A small bird, the American Goldfinch is generally between 4″-5″. The male is a vibrant yellow in the summer and an olive color during the winter months. The female is a dull yellow-brown shade which brightens only slightly during the summer. The brightly colored plumage of the male is to impress the female during the breeding season and attract a mate.

Song: 
A long, twittering “per-chic-o-ree” or “po-ta-to chip.” The American Goldfinch is known for singing in flight, which adds to their cheerful, “wave-like” flight pattern.

Behavior:
These are active and acrobatic little finches that cling to weeds and seed socks, and sometimes mill about in large numbers at feeders or on the ground beneath them. Goldfinches fly with a bouncy, undulating pattern and often call in flight, drawing attention to themselves.

Habitat: 
The goldfinch’s main natural habitats are weedy fields and floodplains, where plants such as thistles and asters are common. They’re also found in cultivated areas, roadsides, orchards, and backyards. American Goldfinches can be found at feeders any time of year, but most abundantly during winter

Backyard Tips: 
To encourage goldfinches into your yard, plant native thistles and other composite plants, as well as native milkweed. Almost any kind of bird feeder may attract American Goldfinches, including hopper, platform, and hanging feeders, and these birds don’t mind feeders that sway in the wind. You’ll also find American Goldfinches are happy to feed on the ground below feeders, eating spilled seeds.

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Indiana Dunes is now on Facebook and has it’s many activities planned for August.  Become a fan at  www.facebook.com/indunes to join the over 2,500 current fans and stay abreast of all the happenings going on for the rest of the summer.

Dog Day Greetings from the Dunes! Awaken your spirits and fill your lungs with fresh air in the Dunes this month.  From misty morning walks through the back dunes of Trail 2, to picnics on one over 500 picnic tables in the park, to magnificent evening sunsets over Lake Michigan.   Of course, no visit to the park is complete without a trip to the park Nature Center to take in one of many diverse, educational, and fun interpretive programs also.  Take a beach break this month and join us for any of the great programs being offered.     

Here’s a quick glimpse at some of the fun and educational programs coming up this month:

 

    On Friday, August 7, Join Park Naturalist Katy for a search for Katydids… the nighttime insect!  Meet at the Campground Gate at 8pm for this evening adventure.

 

     The 3rd Annual Perseid Stargaze is approaching fast!  Saturday, August 8 at the Dunes State Park Beach Pavilion.  Special Native American sky lore and constellation talks will take place as visitors watch the annual meteor shower.  Activities begin at 8:30pm.

 

      Join us Wednesday, August 19 at 10am for a relaxing stroll through the silent forests as we enjoy the quieter trails now that the local kids are back in school!  Meet at the Nature Center.

 

        Fall birding is just around the corner!  Join us on Thursday, September 3 for some early fall birds.  We’ll be searching out the now returning warblers and vireos.  Hike meets at the Nature Center at 10am.

 

 

 

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http://www.sindhtoday.net/world/73936.htm

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Purple martins make annual return to Dallas-Fort Worth

 

06:36 AM CST on Tuesday, March 3, 2009

 

By BRANDON FORMBY / The Dallas Morning News
bformby@dallasnews.com
 

Kenny Crawford’s annual guests showed up a few weeks early this year. But, as usual, the Grand Prairie man already had their rooms ready.

“I love the purple martins,” he said. “I love their song. And they’re so purple, they’re black.”

The insect-devouring songbirds – famed and at times controversial – are leaving their winter home in Brazil and returning to North Texas backyards, parks and neighborhoods. They hang out in North Texas for a few months and then gather in roosts before their return to South America in late July. And that is when their massive numbers and the massive amount of their droppings can be a nuisance.

Despite the downside, Lewisville is claiming credit as the home of the largest known purple martin roost in North Texas. City officials say Lewisville deserves the crown and they are wearing it proudly.

A shopping center near Main Street and Civic Circle in the Denton County suburb serves as the roosting area for about 50,000 purple martins each summer. The sight of so many birds, famous for acrobatic flying, draws hundreds of North Texans to the spot each year.

“They are just something amazing to watch,” Lewisville city spokesman James Kunke said. “They swoop and swirl and do the big spirals and the big curves. You’re not going to usually mistake them for other birds.”

On Thursday, city parks and leisure employees erected three purple martin houses near the Fred Herring Recreation Center. Each one contains about a dozen nesting units.

“More and more people are becoming aware of the martins in Lewisville,” city parks and leisure services director Bob Monaghan said. “So we’re trying to do more for the birds. They’re probably the most sought-after bird in America.”

And they’re about to become even more visible in Lewisville.

The city set aside more than $49,000 three years ago for a rebranding campaign to develop a new logo. Kunke said research and parallels between the bird and Lewisville residents led to a logo that prominently features the purple martin.

“A lot of people grow up here, move away and then move back to raise their kids,” he said, likening the cycle to the bird’s migration patterns.

“Lewisville residents like outdoor, environmentally friendly activities,” he added. “There’s so many connections we found with this bird. Gradually, this icon developed as a very positive image.”

FACTS ABOUT PURPLE MARTINS

Purple martins typically start showing up in North Texas in late February. They stay until about late August before heading back south for the winter.

Colorful creatures: Purple martins are known for their distinctive deep purple and blue feathers. Many people find their singing intoxicating.

Aerial artists: The birds are also famous for their speed and agility in the air. They do almost everything from mate to eat while in flight.

Diet: They’re also loved for their food choices because they feast primarily on insects.

It takes a village: While a mother and father typically raise the young, purple martin families often live in groups or colonies.

Roosts: The birds will gather in large roosts weeks before their migration back to South America. Lewisville officials estimate that a roost there usually includes 50,000 birds, though some estimate past roosts at 100,000 birds.

www.songbirdprairie.com 877-766-4273

indiana bed and breakfast

Chicago Romantic Getaway

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Ice, Snow, & Critters, Oh My!


Hi everyone,

Can you believe it’s February already? Winter began right on schedule and we haven’t seen bare ground since the snow began to fall. It’s been a very cold winter here, but maybe not as humid because I don’t seem to be feeling it as much as I normally do.

We’ve had some good sized snow storms and a couple of ice storms, as well. With the cold temperatures, the ice stayed on the trees for quite some time, keeping many of the branches at critical breaking stage.

This week, it has warmed some. The icicles are gone and some of the snow has melted.

The groundhog predicted another six weeks of winter. I expect an early spring. I’ve noticed some of the branches around here are looking a little reddish, and this weekend I spotted a weeping willow tree that was looking very yellow. A sure sign that the trees know that something is up!

Another indicator is the picture above. We have a very fat mama squirrel preparing a nest. This will be the fourth generation since I began observing this family of squirrels. With such an early start, I wouldn’t be surprised if we enjoy a second nesting in the autumn.

(You can click on the pictures to see them larger.)This is one of the babies we watched last autumn. Still that cute little turned up nose! I’m constantly grateful that we saved some of the tree during last year’s cutting of the tree. It may look unsightly, but it gives me endless hours of pleasure to watch these cute little critters.

 

Scratch, scratch
Another squirrel looks at me through the window, while I am watching the Mama work on her nest

A first time visitor to my garden. A Red-Shouldered Hawk. We have seen Red-Tailed Hawks, Merlins, Sharp-Shinned, and Cooper’s Hawks, but never a Red-Shouldered in the yard. They really don’t belong here at this time of year, but there it was, big as life!

Another even more surprising visitor – HOLY SMOKES! Is that really a Great Blue Heron down in the gorge behind my house? Yes, it really was. Not the best picture in the world, but I’ll take it! If you could see the terrain behind my house, you would be amazed that this bird was down there. It was snowing that day, so the picture is a little “murky”. The bird slid down a hill, balancing itself with its beautiful large wings, and then waded in the brook, coming close to my house, and eventually, it flew off, with a whoosh of its wings. I don’t think there are fish in the brook, but I remember the kids next door catching crawfish there.

We actually had another “first” this week, too. I have waited since 1997 to see a deer in my yard. Finally, yesterday, I saw tracks and scat, so we did have a visitor. Leave it to me to miss the deer, but catch the poop! 😉

Last weekend, I decided to try and walk on one of my favorite trails. As luck would have it, cross-country skiers had opened a nice path to walk on. The light was beautiful, casting some great shadows on the forest floor.

A little chickadee walked on the snow in front of me
And more chickadees were in the trees alongside the trail
More light and shadows

On a recent drive on a road nearby, I passed by a farm and of course had to stop for my favorite scene. 🙂

Digging in the snow. “I know that there are sunflower seeds down there SOMEWHERE!”
Tracks in the snow.

The light was a little better in this direction

Ice encrusted branches after an ice storm
Taken with flash, this one shows the ice better
A typical winter scene while on the road – no, I wasn’t driving, but you never know with me. I’ve been known to put the camera on the steering wheel. 😉

Sunset  near the Inn

A little friend watching me

Dawn outside my window

Shadows on the snow

And that’s about all I have for now. Just a combination of pictures taken over the past month.

To those who have enquired, Mom is doing better. Thank you for asking. Her health has improved somewhat. She is no longer bleeding internally, but she is still unable to walk on her own. It is looking like she may have to stay at the nursing home. I am not qualified to take care of her in the way she needs, so the options are limited. It still means hours of driving each week to visit her and do errands for her.

I hope all of you are well. I am healthy, but a little burned out, so I’m just doing what needs to be done and taking one day at a time.

Take care and I’ll see you when I can.
Big hugs to all of you.

Hybrid Mallard

Hybrid Mallard

 

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

 

Canada Goose Family

Canada Goose Family

Cardinal

Cardinal

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

Rose

Rose

 

Yellow Swamp Iris

Yellow Swamp Iris

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How Many Birds Are in Your Backyard?

bluebirds

It’s the weekend of the Great Backyard Bird Count – four days dedicated to counting as many birds as you can in your backyard. Enter your counts on our simple, free online forms, and you’ll be helping Audubon and Lab scientists see an up-to-the-minute picture of wintering bird ranges. And collecting this kind of data year after year is key to tracking long-term changes in bird numbers and distribution. It’s a great way to share in the scientific process.

Lab writer Pat Leonard sent out an e-mail with more information about the event. In case you didn’t get it, have a look at what she has to say here. Then grab your binoculars – we’ll see you at your feeders!

plWe just want to remind you that the 12th annual Great Backyard Bird Count starts Friday and runs through Monday the 16th. As you know, both the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society host this event, which has broken participation records for each of the past several years. We hope to do it again!

In 2008 we took in more than 85,700 bird checklists–compare that to the 11,700 collected in the first year of the GBBC back in 1989. The explosion in Internet use is one big reason for that growth and we’d like to harness its viral nature.

We hope you’ll forward this message to all your friends and family asking them to pass it on–who knows how many people we can reach?!

There are other great reasons for participating, in addition to the information gathered for science about the distribution of birds at this time of year:

  • We take in thousands of images each year for the photo contest and post hundreds of them in the photo gallery–these are really beautiful.
  • For the young birders, we have a kid’s page with games and quizzes to try.
  • Read the GBBC blog and leave a comment
  • Each participant is eligible to win great prizes donated by Audubon, the Lab, Wild Birds Unlimited, and Droll Yankees. (Sorry, staff is not eligible, but your friends are!)
  • You can explore sightings being reported from your state, province, or all over the continent as they come pouring in.

There seems to be quite a buzz going this year about the GBBC. The list of local GBBC events being held at parks, nature centers, zoos, aquariums, refuges and other locations is amazing–the most we’ve ever posted on the web site!

As of this morning, a Google blog search finds 22,606 hits for Great Backyard Bird Count. Here are links to just a few of them:

Birds in Your Backyard

Birding Maine

Green Daily

Birds O’ the Morning

Audubon’s Steve Kress also appeared on the Martha Stewart Show February 6 to talk about bird feeders and gave the GBBC a big plug as well. You can watch the segment here.

So it feels like something big is building and we hope you will not only help spread the word but take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count yourself! Visit www.birdcount.org.

Thank you for all you do for the birds each and every day,

The Great Backyard Bird Count team

UPDATE: As of 3:00 Friday afternoon, we’ve already had more than 1,800 checklists filed! Our combined species tally is 314, and people across the continent have counted a total of 126,343 backyard birds so far! Follow the progress all weekend here.

Go here to sign up for e-newsletters that will keep you up to date on Lab-related events and happenings.

(Image: Eastern Bluebirds by GBBC contributor Frank Ripp of Whispering Pines, North Carolina. Enter your pictures from this weekend in our photo contest.)

40-Year Study Shows Birds Feeling Climate Change Effects

purple_finch

Perhaps you’ve already heard news of a National Audubon Society report about climate change’s effects on North American birds. Audubon announced on Tuesday that some 177 species of North American birds have shifted their range northward over the last 40 years, during the same period that average January temperatures rose by 5 degrees Fahrenheit across the continent.

The Audubon scientists found the pattern in data collected by volunteer birders on yearly Christmas Bird Counts. The consistent northward shift in so many different species – among them forest birds, feeder birds, ducks, and seabirds – points to a single, powerful cause: our warming planet.

Audubon describes their findings as part of the “grim reality” of global climate change, pointing out that more local or species-specific explanations simply wouldn’t be evident in so many species or so much of the continent. But the really frightening part is that this evidence is nowhere near the first of its kind.

Back in 2002,  an article in the premier journal Nature began bluntly: “There is now ample evidence of recent climate change, from polar terrestrial to tropical marine environments.” It went on to warn that “although we are only at an early stage in the projected trends of global warming, ecological responses to recent climate change are already clearly visible.”

What kinds of changes? The authors offered a sampling: Earlier leaf-out and flowering of plants across Europe and North America, frogs breeding earlier in England, migrant birds breeding earlier in Europe and North America, northward shifts in the ranges of northern plants, treelines moving higher up mountains in Europe and New Zealand, red foxes moving north and replacing arctic foxes in parts of Canada, lowland birds moving to higher elevations in Costa Rica, northward shifts by 39 American and European butterfly species, and the appearance of warm-water species in the cold waters of California and the North Atlantic.

And that was 2002. In 2007, results very similar to the Audubon study were reported in the journals Conservation Biology and Ecology (one for birds’ summer ranges, using the Breeding Bird Survey; the other for winter ranges, from Christmas Bird Counts). And if you don’t happen to have those journals on your coffee table, you can read climate change summaries in special online reports from the World Wildlife Fund and the American Bird Conservancy.

Does all this prior evidence diminish the Audubon report at all? Of course not – but it should draw our attention back over to the 7 billion ton gorilla in the room. Seven billion tons is how much carbon we as a species are pulling out of the ground every year and putting up into the sky. It’s hard to imagine an invisible gas like carbon dioxide weighing anything, but that’s roughly like digging a three-foot-deep hole the size of Vermont and transferring all that dirt into the air. Every year.

Even as scientists toil over ever more convincing examples of climate change’s effects, we as a global society have yet to get started on changing the bad habits at the root of the problem. Climate change will continue to worsen as long as we are putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (actually, it will worsen for several decades after we stop.) The numbers are so large that it’s easy to feel swamped, but Audubon has some great suggestions for how you can help. (Number one is to support the transition to clean energy – a move that could just save our economy, too.)

But back to bird watching. If there’s anything to feel good about from this new report, it’s a reminder that your efforts as bird watchers really do count for something – particularly if you make your sightings part of a collective effort to gather data in projects like the Christmas Bird Count and the Breeding Bird Survey.

Here at the Lab of Ornithology, we specialize in the field of citizen science. We encourage you to join one of our projects – you’re sure to find one that matches your ability and interest level. Choose from projects like the once-a-year Great Backyard Bird Count (happening this weekend!), May’s International Migratory Bird Day, the all-winter-long Project FeederWatch, summer’s Project NestWatch, Celebrate Urban Birds! for the city-bound, or the 24-hour-a-day eBird project, which gathers several million bird observations each year, no matter what time or season you’re out bird watching.

The world is changing, and it’s up to bird watchers and naturalists to notice. Keep up the good work.

(Thanks to Lab scientists Wes Hochachka, Kevin McGowan, and Ben Zuckerberg for advice about this topic. Image: Purple Finch by Project FeederWatch participant Gord Belyea)

Health Update: Peanuts, Salmonella, and Backyard Birds

nuthatch_peanuts

Bird watchers across the country are concerned about the recent outbreak of Salmonella from contaminated peanut products, and we’re getting several calls and e-mails per day asking us what it means for the birds at your backyard suet and peanut feeders.

Birdchick has already begun an investigation of her own by asking suet manufacturers how safe their products are. But one of the first things she discovered was that the manufacturers themselves aren’t sure – a consequence of how deeply buried in the supply chain the outbreak is. (Update: see more of Birdchick’s findings in her latest post. Update #2, Feb 18, 2009: Birdchick reports on suet recall by Scott’s. Read the recall press release.)

So I consulted the Centers for Disease Control and Food and Drug Administration websites, and talked to a few of the Lab’s Project FeederWatch folks to give you a brief synopsis of the outbreak, offer a few basic tips to go by, and point you toward more information. Here’s what I learned:

Salmonella is a virulent disease that can afflict humans, their pets, and wild birds. Between September 2008 and January 2009, a total of 529 people in 43 states became sick because of contaminated peanut products (plus one person in Canada). So far, 116 have been hospitalized and the disease may have contributed to eight deaths, according to the CDC.

The outbreak stems from a single peanut processing company. It’s the Peanut Corporation of America, located in Blakely, Georgia. Many kinds of peanut products may be contaminated, including whole, chopped, and ground-up peanuts in addition to peanut butter. The Peanut Corporation of America supplies peanuts to many food manufacturers across the country. More than 180 brands of food may be contaminated, including items you buy at the store and dishes you order in a restaurant.

Between 2007 and 2009, the Peanut Corporation of America went ahead with several shipments of peanut products after they had tested positive for salmonella. Many products made between January 1, 2007 and the present have been recalled. Here’s a list of items that have been recalled, searchable by brand name.

Peanut butter from major manufacturers is safe. Major supermarket brands of peanut butter are safe to eat, according to the CDC. That’s because those large brands process their own peanuts, whereas other food manufacturers buy their peanuts or peanut products from a supplier.

It will be difficult to be completely sure whether purchased peanut-containing suet or seed mix is safe. The list of recalled products includes some pet foods. Unfortunately, products intended for feeding wild birds are tracked and regulated separately from human and pet foods. Without knowing in detail where a bird food manufacturer purchased its peanuts or peanut butter, there’s no way to be sure it didn’t come from a tainted source.

Keep your feeders – and your hands – clean and healthy. It’s good practice to clean your bird feeders periodically, anyway. Lots of birds perch on your bird feeders, so they’re like doorknobs during a flu outbreak. Wash your feeders with a 10% bleach solution to kill any bacteria that may be present (that’s a cup and a half of bleach mixed into a gallon of water). After handling your feeders, scrub your hands with soap and water to keep from transferring any bacteria.

Here’s Project FeederWatch leader David Bonter with advice in a bit more detail:

Salmonellosis is caused by a bacteria belonging to the genus Salmonella. It is a common cause of mortality in feeder birds, particularly siskins, goldfinches, and redpolls, but the symptoms are not always obvious. A sick bird may appear thin, fluffed up, and may have fecal material on its vent and swollen eyelids. Infected birds are often lethargic and easy to approach. Some infected birds may show no outward symptoms, but are carriers of the disease and can spread the infection to other birds.

Salmonellosis is primarily transmitted [from bird to bird] through fecal contamination of food and water. It may also be transmitted through bird-to-bird contact. Occasionally, outbreaks of the disease cause significant mortality in certain species.

Disease transmission can be reduced by 1) cleaning areas that are contaminated with the bacteria, and 2) discouraging large flocks of birds from gathering in one location.  With respect to bird feeding, we recommend the following if you live in an area experiencing a salmonellosis outbreak:

– Clean your feeders and birdbaths with water and a 10 percent bleach solution to kill the bacteria.
– Clean your bird feeding area by washing all structures holding your feeders and raking the ground surrounding the feeders.
– Do not reinstall your feeders for a few weeks (or until sick birds are no longer being reported in your area).

If you do continue to feed birds:
– Place your feeders in new locations around your yard.
– Vary your feeding locations so that birds do not concentrate in one location.
– Remove feeders that allow contact between fecal material and food (such as platform feeders).
– Clean your feeders with a bleach solution several times a week.  Be sure that feeders are dry before filling them with seed.

The Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration have much more information about salmonella. See a summary of the outbreak, the FDA’s searchable list of recalled foods, and the CDC’s background information on salmonella and its effects. There’s also a CDC podcast that explains the situation for kids, and a video on peanut do’s and don’ts from the FDA.

The bottom line: the chance of you – or the birds in your backyard – becoming sick from tainted peanut products is small, but real. It is definitely not safe to feed birds any of the human foods included in the CDC’s recall – you should throw those products away without opening them. And it’s always a good policy to keep your bird feeders clean, and to stay on the lookout for sick birds around your backyard.

Birdshare Wish List Part Two

brewers_blackbird

While I was busy last week working on the new All About Birds species profiles, the Birdshare crowd got down to brass tacks with part one of our photo wish list. The response was wonderful – our photo holdings for each of the 10 species we asked for doubled, tripled, quadrupled, or better! We started the week with zero California Towhee photos and ended with more than a dozen. Your contributions will make our new species accounts come alive with detailed photos.

I was glad to see more representation for some common, if not exactly beloved species: We had only three European Starling photos before we put them on our wish list, and now we have 30. I, for one, am glad to see them. I know starlings are unpopular birds. They’re not native, they clutter up the skies, and they chase bluebirds and Tree Swallows out of their nest boxes. So yes, they could work on their social skills. But don’t we all have at least one friend who’s a little like that? Take a look at a starling up close – or listen to them chattering from a telephone pole – and there’s plenty to admire (for examples, see photos by Birdsharers JoanGeeAZ and Sam Wilson, among others).

So I scanned down our list to see what other species our Birdshare archive is weak on. Topping the list is Brewer’s Blackbird, itself no slouch when it comes to prettying up a sidewalk. A few other surprisingly common birds made the list, too, like Hairy Woodpecker and Chipping Sparrow. I kept Rock Pigeon on the list for a second week because, despite last week’s appeal, we still have only 11 photos – of what has to be the easiest-to-photograph bird in the nation.

We’d love some photos of the heroic little Rufous Hummingbird – a unanimous choice over Black-chinned Hummingbird during a recent discussion on our Twitter feed. We’ve even got a supervillain for you: Brown-headed Cowbird. Anyone have any good shots?

Birdshare Wish List (Part Two)

Brewer’s Blackbird
Eastern Towhee
Hairy Woodpecker
Brown-headed Cowbird
Chipping Sparrow
Killdeer
California Quail
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Rufous Hummingbird
Common Raven
Rock Pigeon

Thanks once more to all 401 of you Birdsharers out there. See you next week!

Don’t know what Birdshare is? Read a description here – then grab your camera and head on over!

Image: My personal best when it comes to Brewer’s Blackbird wildlife photos. Can you help?

Calling Birdsharers: We’ve Got a Wish List (Part One)

mountain_chickadee1Since we started Birdshare in late July it’s taken on a life of its own. We now have nearly 350 members and more than 4,300 photos, with more streaming in every day.

Birdshare members sometimes ask if we’re looking for any species in particular. And now, as we start to put together new species account pages for All About Birds, that answer is an emphatic (and grateful) yes – see our Top 10 Most Wanted list below.

Our new wireframe design calls for a much greater emphasis on photographs than the current All About Birds species guide. Having more and better photographs means you’ll be better able to identify birds and compare different plumages. The only catch, of course, is that means we need lots of pictures.

So I’ve checked Birdshare to see how many photos we have of the birds on my species account to-do list, which is made up of 100 of the most common birds across the country. The results are pretty encouraging – 93 Red-tailed Hawk photos and counting, 64 cardinal shots, and a dozen more common species represented in 40 or more photos – nice work, Birdsharers!

Our list does have some surprising gaps, though – so please check your photo archives for any of these species:

Top Ten Most Wanted Birds on Birdshare:

1. California Towhee
2. Mountain Chickadee
3. European Starling
4. Common Grackle
5. Rock Pigeon
6. Chestnut-backed Chickadee
7. Gray Catbird
8. Spotted Towhee
9. Purple Finch
10. House Wren

This is just Part One of our Most Wanted List – we’ll roll out the next installment in a week or so. As always, thanks for Birdsharing, and enjoy your photography! The rest of us certainly do.

(Don’t know what Birdshare is? Read a description here – then grab your camera and head on over! Image: Mountain Chickadee by Robinsegg.)

Autumn Living Bird Now Online!

scrub_jay1

If you’re looking for a good read, head over to livingbird.org, where you can now read the entire Autumn issue of Living Bird magazine for free. In this issue we take you to central Florida’s gnarled scrublands, where genetic analyses have recently revealed just how tenaciously the Florida Scrub-Jay inhabits its diminishing habitat.

Tour the vast Tejon Ranch wilderness, where a landmark conservation deal has set aside some 400 square miles of pristine Southern California landscape containing Spotted Owls and California Condors. And follow Marie Read’s heartfelt remembrance of the gifted wildlife photographer Tom Vezo, who passed away suddenly in 2008, leaving a life’s work packed with photographs both breathtaking and serene.

Mel White suggests the days of endless gas-fueled road trips may be drawing to a close, and Jack Connor pauses to appreciate the way birding plugs us in to rhythms that city-bound members of society often miss. We’ve also got reviews of books, DVDs, and a great little birding spot nestled in bustling South Florida. Pete Dunne notices a subtle change in birding’s public image, and artist John Schmitt catches some California Thrashers having a territory dispute.

Lab members should be receiving their Winter 2009 copies of Living Bird any day now. I’ve said it before, but I’ll just mention again for new readers how important – and easy – it is to join the Lab. We’re a nonprofit organization that’s financially independent from Cornell University. Memberships, along with research grants and donations, form a major part of the funding that we depend upon to keep going. Thanks to everyone who supports us – and enjoy the new issue.

(Image: Tim Gallagher)

Sneak Peek: New All About Birds “Wireframes”

Click for full-size view of entire wireframe

Click for full-size view of entire wireframe

Happy 2009! Here at Sapsucker Woods, we’re starting the new year deep in thought about our redesigned All About Birds website, set to debut in the spring. Here’s a little something called a “wireframe” to give you an idea of what we’re cooking. We’d love to know what you think.

For anyone not fluent in web lingo, a wireframe is a schematic of a page that’s used to focus on organization and layout, before we spend time designing pleasing colors, graphics, and fonts. (It’s sort of the same idea as drawing up a dinner party seating chart before choosing details like tablecloths, flower arrangements, and flatware.)

So, bear in mind that the final product will look a bit nicer than this wireframe. A few examples:

  • we will be using more colors than just gray
  • we will be using more fonts than just Myriad Pro
  • the blank “placeholder” boxes will contain pretty graphics (including Birdshare photos)
  • the buttons and tabs will actually work

The wireframe we’re showing you here is one page in the All About Birds online bird guide, which is redesign priority No. 1. These species profiles get a huge portion of our site’s traffic, so we know it’s critical we get them right. We want to make them more comprehensive, use more pictures, sound, and video, and give you more help in identifying and learning about the species.

Now, here’s lead web designer Alex to walk you through some of the features of the wireframe:

acThe first thing you’ll notice is that we’re adding an identification section to help you figure out if you’re looking at the right bird. We’re taking a slightly different approach from a typical field guide that focuses on field marks straightaway. We start by briefly covering four keys of identification – size/shape, color, behavior, and habitat – to help you make sure you’re in the right ballpark. Then when you look at field marks they serve as a way to fine tune your identification.

We’ll also provide photos of similar species so you may compare them against the species you’re currently looking at. The working version of the page will let you click on the photos to zoom in to a larger version and then flip through other photos. Clicking on a similar-species photo will place enlarged versions of the primary species and similar-species photos side by side for easier comparison.

The “Life History,” “Sounds,” and “Video” tabs above the ID section will display cool facts, species details, and multimedia players for you to learn more about the species. We’re finishing up those wireframes, too, but we haven’t posted them yet for fear of overwhelming you.

Please have a look at the large version and let us know if we’ve got it, what might be missing, and any other thoughts you may have. If you’d like to see wireframes for the rest of the species account tabs, just let us know and we’ll post them. Have fun!

The Ones that Got Away

nate_mic

In Nate Senner’s last post about his work with Hudsonian Godwits in Chile, he winds up with an unexpected problem that came disguised as a stroke of good luck. Read on to hear him explain how he and the shorebird research team solved it.

nate_sennerSometimes there are just too many birds

Can you have too much of a good thing?  When you’re banding birds you can.  I remember one cold morning in Denali National Park, Alaska. Unexpectedly, a huge push of migrating Wilson’s Warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets had come through, with seemingly dozens of birds in each net on every check. Since it was cold, we had to untangle the birds and get them banded as quickly as possible to ensure they didn’t lose too much weight or freeze to death.  So my two colleagues and I ran around and around our set of 12 nets like madmen (and women) the whole day.  By the time we closed our nets that afternoon we were all exhausted and wondering why we ever wished for days with lots of birds.

The same thing can happen in cannon netting.  Because our goal is to keep captured birds for as short a time as possible – hopefully never longer than a few hours – on some big catches we sometimes end up with so many birds that we have to immediately release some before we can even put a band on their legs. This is always heartbreaking, especially because the first thing they teach you in “How To Be a Scientist 101” is never to throw away data. Better safe than sorry though.

On our last day on Chiloé with a full crew, we had an even more unusual problem: we had so many birds that we couldn’t even catch them. That’s right, they were just sitting there, all in front of the net, but we couldn’t catch them.

We had decided to return to Bahía Pullao for one last shot at a “big catch.” We had caught about 50 birds there the day before, but we thought we could get many more if we moved the net to the edge of a tidal creek on the other side of the bay.

We set up there the next day and sure enough, as the tide began to rise, birds piled in front of our net. First 500, and then as the tide rose even higher, 800 birds – mostly godwits – nearly standing on top of each other, crammed in between the tide line and our net.  This was just too good to be true, we thought.

But then, before pulling the trigger, we thought a bit more. With the water just barely eight yards below our net, many birds would be pushed into the water as the net launched over them. And with so many birds, there was nowhere for the cannon projectiles to fall without harming some of the birds. All things considered, we felt there was too high a chance that birds would get injured. Very reluctantly, we decided to wait for the tide to crest and begin to recede, hopefully allowing the birds to spread back out a bit and giving us a more manageable catch.

The godwits had other ideas though. Shortly after high tide came and went, so did the godwits. In one mass they picked up and took off for other parts of the bay, leaving behind only a few stragglers aligned perfectly around the perimeter of the capture area.  No amount of twinkling or bobbing polystyrene foam could get those birds back into the catch area. Maybe God felt we had already caught enough birds. Maybe the godwits were just playing a joke on us. Whatever the reason, we could do nothing but dejectedly pack up the nets and head back to Castro, to be consoled by some seafood and a couple of bottles of wine.

The next day, Larry Niles and his crew flew back to the U.S., carrying their nets and cannons with them. The rest of us spread across the island, looking for some of our newly banded birds. My group found three in the northwest corner of the island at Bahía Quetalmahue, about 100 miles from where we had banded them. Jim Johnson of U.S. Fish and Wildlife and his crew stayed on in Castro for another week to check up on the birds at Bahías Pullao and Chullec and to make sure that all is ready permit-wise for our return next year.

We cannot call our campaign anything other than a success though. We caught 204 godwits, 66 Whimbrels, and one Red Knot, and, because of decisions like the one that we made at Bahía Pullao, we released all of them as healthy as when we first caught them. We placed a satellite transmitter on a Whimbrel (maps will be posted on the Internet shortly, stay tuned) and resighted hundreds of birds that we had banded in the past couple of years and that have already made multiple 9,000-mile trips back and forth to the Arctic, each time returning to this same island.

We met with school children from around Chiloé, made the front page of the local paper, and told our story to readers like you.  Undoubtedly the disappointment of this last day will soon fade and we’ll get to work analyzing our data and raising awareness about shorebird conservation. And, with any luck, we’ll be back on Chiloé again next winter to search for our birds, continue to help our Chilean colleagues – and maybe even place satellite transmitters on some Hudsonian Godwits. Until then, ¡Hasta luego y buena suerte! (That’s “See you later, and good luck.”)

(Image: Nate relaxes near Santiago, Chile by trying to get some audio recordings of Black Rails for the Macaulay Library’s archives. Photo by Thomas B. Johnson.)

Thanks to everyone for reading; we’ll check back in with Nate this summer during fieldwork in Canada.

Adventures in Spanish

Comparing godwit molt patterns during banding. In Chile, godwits depend on the same tidal flats as commercial seaweed collectors. Photo by Thomas B. Johnson

Comparing godwit molt patterns during banding. In Chile, godwits depend on the same tidal flats as commercial seaweed collectors. Photo by Thomas B. Johnson

Nate Senner is back from his godwit research in Chile, but this week he’s finishing up his reports with two final tales. In today’s post, he describes some familiar conservation issues on beautiful, remote Chiloé Island – and shares a laugh with a group of Chilean fifth-graders.

nate_senner“You Are a Lomo!
One of the reasons we come back to Chiloé every year – besides the birds of course – is to support our Chilean colleagues in their efforts to conserve the coastal ecosystems of the island. While Chiloé looks beautiful and pastoral, and is far less developed than the Chilean mainland, it is rapidly changing in its own right. Even in the four short years since I first came to the island, much has happened. The aquaculture industry, focused mainly on farmed salmon, mussels, and oysters, has taken over most of the bays around the island. Salmon-processing plants line many of the roads near Castro and Quellon. While the industries bring jobs, many fear that they also bring changes to the intertidal habitats that may adversely affect the functioning of the ecosystem, although this has yet to be fully documented.

One industry – seaweed production and collection on the island’s mudflats – has a direct effect on shorebirds. Though it sounds like an odd way to make a living, seaweed collection sustains the immense international appetite for algae extracts that are used as additives and softeners in everything from medicine to ice cream. Hundreds of people, along with their trucks and dogs, comb the intertidal areas that godwits and whimbrels rely on to feed. And in the island’s wider society, Chileans are no different from people in the U.S. and the whole world over. They often have yet to learn about the ecosystems surrounding them and their importance for birds, dolphins, otters, and fish.

Leading the charge for conservation on Chiloé is Jorge Valenzuela, who works for the local nonprofit CECPAN (the Center for Study and Conservation of Natural Heritage), and recently started the Chiloé Bird Observatory in his “spare” time. He and Luis Espinosa Gallegos, a longtime local schoolteacher and biologist, are our main contacts and invaluable resources in our navigation of the Chilean bureaucracy.

During this trip, Jorge organized a full itinerary for us. He organized local news and TV reporters to cover our first day catching birds (see Twinkling the Whimbrels).  More exciting for me was our time with a local school group during one of our last godwit captures. The small group of fifth-graders was initially quite shy around us. But after Jorge’s presentation about godwit and Whimbrel migration and a quick tutorial on how to properly measure and band shorebirds, they grew wide-eyed when we gave each kid a chance to hold and release a godwit after we were done banding the birds. After each had had a turn handling a couple of birds, the students started to open up and talk with those of us who could speak Spanish.

Speaking Spanish didn’t necessarily mean we understood each other though.  One excitable student’s outbursts led our colleague Bob Christensen, a freelance conservationist from Alaska and all-around handyman, to remark (just as the hubbub of conversation was dying down), “¡Tu estás un lomo!” We all turned to look at him, wondering “¿Un lomo?” Bob had meant to say, “You’re hamming it up.” But what he actually had said was “You’re a thin slice of meat.” Luckily, after a brief pause, everyone broke into laughter and Jorge tried to explain the situation in more articulate Spanish.

Beyond helping us avoid language mix-ups, Jorge’s efforts have gone a long way toward making our expeditions to Chiloé a success and hopefully ensuring that we, and the shorebirds, can continue to return to Chiloé each year. Within the coming year, we at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology plan to do our own part, releasing a documentary that our multimedia department has put together that focuses on Chiloé and the mystery surrounding the migration of Hudsonian Godwits. Hopefully the piece will be a start towards educating the broader public not only about godwits and Chiloé, but about shorebird conservation in general. Stay tuned!

www.songbirdprairie.com

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