Wednesday, December 31, 2008

End-of-year memories

Yes, as a matter of fact I DID start this post on New Year's Eve and didn't finish and publish it 'til today so I back-dated it. Why do you ask?

It's been a topsy-turvy year for this birder. I've had some great highs--birding in Cape May with the Flock and meeting new Flockers Lynne and Katdoc, birding the marsh with Susan and Laura, seeing some great lifers like my first wood duck (finally)--and some crushing lows. All in all, it's been a year of evolution, of spreading my wings and taking risks.

For this last post of 2008, I went through my archives and found some moments that I thought you might enjoy reliving with me:

January--birding and observing the locals in the Big Valley of Central Pennsylvania

February--in an especially lucky convergence, a raptor lands right outside the window at work AND I have my camera with me

March--an April post covering my March 30th marsh birding trip with visitors Susan Gets Native and Laura from New Jersey, including an episode of CSI: Bird Dorks

April--in which I discover a new place to bird that yields some great sights

May--a tie between this big birding day afield and the next big birding day on the marsh, both featuring a lot of photos

June--my first-ever owl heard in the wild!

July--we all go camping and fishing, featuring lots of photos including a pretty decent one of an Eastern Towhee

August--in a non-bird-related post, we meet Dr. Matty McMatterson, best friend and confidante of the beginning birder, the Watson to my Holmes (only I'm not addicted to drugs)

September--I get my first-ever photos of an accommodating bald eagle

October--my crazy-ass trip to Cape May to meet the Flock during the Autumn Migration weekend

November--in which the vegetarian beginning birder ponders the Thanksgiving turkey tradition

December--the beginning birder finds out she's going to need a field guide for Western birds. . .

It's been a long year, and a long winter (and it's only just started!), but 2009 promises to be a much warmer and more bird-filled year. Not to mention the fact that we're getting a new president! I wonder if Barack Obama is a birder? I bet Michelle Obama likes birds. She's probably cool like that.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

David Attenborough's The Life of Birds

If you haven't seen at least a few parts of David Attenborough's BBC series The Life of Birds, you're really missing something. I realize this series is years old, but you may have missed it.

Through the magic of Netflix, I've been slowly watching the DVDs of the series. So far I've seen the first two discs, which included chapters like "Fishing for a Living," "The Meat Eaters," "The Mastery of Flight," and my favorite so far, "Signals and Songs." Attenborough's fact-filled narration alone is brilliant and insightful, to say nothing of the endearingly hilarious sound of his accented voice saying, "THE Life... of Buhds." LOVE IT. I love him!

He is always sure to identify every bird he shows us (though not necessarily by specific type; for instance, he'll talk about "grebes in North America" without telling us that they're Western Grebes. But this is an anal-retentive birder's complaint). He travels through tropical rainforests in his cute little jungle khaki outfits and roams the icy coasts in sturdy outerwear, sits on the windy tundra getting his hair blown all over the place, gets attacked by a VERY territorial bird who knocks him over at one point, feeds bunches of hummers with a hand-held feeder, lies on a darkened beach watching shorebirds eat--you name it. For an older guy, he's in great shape and he hikes and climbs and crouches with the dexterity (and dirt-under-his-fingernails abandon) of a much younger man. He's like a hipper and soothing-voiced version of Marlin Perkins of Wild Kingdom fame (though I have to credit Perkins and of course Jim Fowler for kindling my absolutely psychotic love of nature and nature shows).

The birds themselves are spectacular: the lyrebird that can mimic a camera shutter sound complete with motordrive, the cock-of-the-rock and its spectacular plumage, sunbitterns and their crazy wings-out threat display, fieldfares who dive-bomb a raven and try to cover him with their poop (which could ground him and get him killed, BTW) to get him to leave their area. Attenborough covers the evolution of birds, mating, raising young, flight, eating, behavior--in short, everything you want to know about birds in general as well as specifics about a huge number of birds the world over.

If you haven't seen this series, WATCH IT. Especially if you've always dreamed of going to Peru or Costa Rica or Africa but couldn't afford it.

WARNING: the following is only for extreme bird-nerds and avian-kooks like me; You know who you are. I have to confess that I've been watching the episodes while holding my Birds of the World and both my eastern and my brand-new western Peterson's field guides; each time Attenborough mentions a new bird, I look it up, figure out specifically what type it is, note its geographical range, and read more details about it. (I warned you.)

Best yet, I checked it out on Amazon and it's only $34! Add to cart, baby. Add! to! cart!

I leave you with a completely unrelated photo: I saw these beautiful clouds while I was out this afternoon and couldn't resist. They almost look like lenticular clouds that form over mountaintops.

Note: More New River potential lifers posts coming up. Been kinda distracted of late, and my mind's just not fully on the birds.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Cool clouds on a sunny day

The temperature warmed up yesterday to a balmy 45 degrees, though it's a little cooler today. I didn't go birding, but I did find some cool clouds:
A fine example of melting butter clouds. In this next photo, I'm hoping you can see that it kinda looked like a bunch of little scoops of clouds, little swirls. My phone's camera didn't do too good a job of capturing it, but try to use your imagination and click for huger:

On this same road today at lunchtime, I saw a pretty red female American Kestrel. I loves me some kestrels.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Birdday, Mary!

My sister Mary turns 43 today, so I thought I'd embarrass her by publishing this photo again:

That's her on the right, pointing to her dolly. This was probably a newly opened Christmas present, I'm guessing.

Mary had a series of dollies as a kid (surprisingly, I was not the dolly type). I'd give anything right now to have a scan of this one photo of all my siblings and me on an Easter day, waaaay back when. Mary and were probably 5 and 6, respectively. In a bunch of photos, Mary had her "naked baby" dolly, whom she held by the head in all the pics taken that day. In this one photo, however, you can see that someone has taken away Naked Baby and Mary's crying her little eyes out, holding out her hands to someone off-camera -- probably my mom.

Actually, Mary cried in almost all her baby and young tot pics -- it's sort-of a family joke. The rest of us were always smiling and laughing, even in the photo that was taken when I had German measles.

Mary, however, was always wailin'. She sings now, a benefit of all that lung exercise, no doubt.

Back to this photo--she had that blue sweater for YEARS. (We were both a size 6X for years too, saving my parents a lot on clothing, I'd bet.) I remember borrowing the blue sweater one day because I had to go outside to feet the kitty. I tipped the box of dry catfood to pour some out, and a little baby roach crawled out of the box and up my arm, into the sweater sleeve! I ran around screaming and flailing the box (catfood flying), trying to tear that sweater off. I can still remember it like it was yesterday. *shudder*

Anyway, happy birdday, Mary, aka Hairy Mary, aka Wolf Hand, aka Mareeeeeeeeeeeeeea!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Birding yesterday?

Compute the following:
Temp: 15°
Wind: gusting
divided by
Precip: snow

So did I go birding yesterday morning as planned?

You do the math.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

New River Wish List, Post #2: Common Raven

the not-so-Common Raven

In which I continue my series of posts potential lifers (for me, anyway) I might see in Virginia at the New River Bird and Nature Festival in April 2009. Much of the Flock will be staying the entire week of the festival; I will do only the second half of the week, arriving on Wednesday night in time for dinner, then birding Thursday through Sunday morning.

It’s likely that I’ve already seen many ravens up here in PA, but I never learned to tell them from plain old American Crows before now. I’ll frame my ID tips in terms of telling a raven from a crow.

The first ID clue is that ravens are much larger than crows, a fact that right away frightens the bejeesus out of me. I didn’t grow up with crows in South Texas; we had grackles, which are much smaller and aren’t nearly as bloodthirsty as the crows I’ve seen here. (Remember when that crow ate the starling's head?) The Common or Northern Raven is 22–27 inches from beak to tail—like a small cropdusting plane—while an American Crow is “only” 17–21 inches. Cornell describes the raven as “the largest of the songbirds.” *shudder*

Raven on top, crow on bottom (all photos shameless stolen from other sites which I am too lazy to go back and get the links for)--
The raven’s call is also distinct from that of the crow. Ravens make what Peterson calls a “croaking cr-r-ruck or prruk” or “a metallic tok” as opposed to the loud and clear "caw" of the American Crow. While I’m at it, I’ll add that a Fish Crow’s call is a “short nasal car or ca.” (Like it’s an American Crow hailing from Bah-ston?) You can hear the raven, the crow, and the fish crow at Cornell’s site.

Ravens, according to Peterson, tend not to congregate in the huge (and poopie-stinky) groups that crows do. (I suppose that’s why Edgar Allen Poe quoted but one raven telling him “Nevermore” as opposed to a whole bunch of crows screaming "caw" at him.) So I guess I won’t have much luck if I look for murders of crows and try to spot the bigger ones as ravens. Still, there are other differences.

When they are perched, ravens have what Peterson refers to as a “goiter” look on their necks, with “shaggy throat feathers” that pooch out a bit. Crows are sleeker in the neck area. Ravens also have slightly chunkier beaks than crows.

Perhaps the easiest way to tell a crow from a raven is during flight. The crow’s tail is squared across, while the raven’s is wedge-shaped. (A Fish Crow’s is also squared across.)

Again, raven on top (with distinctly curved-across tail), crow on bottom (with squared-off tail)--
Further, ravens fly in more of a hawklike manner, flapping and gliding on flat wings; crows hold their wings in a slight dihedral, almost like a turkey vulture (though not as pronounced of a “V”). Most all the crows I’ve seen pretty much flap all the time and rarely glide, but maybe they’re just all in a big hurry to go eat another starling.

I happened upon another page that discusses the differences between crows and ravens here.

Next time, we’ll look at a smaller songbird: the Blue-winged Warbler, a pair of which our host Dave Pollard guaranteed we'd see outside the Farmhouse in which much of the Flock will be staying at New River. Until then, I'm hoping to go birding this Sunday morning with Gretchen, my new birding pal Cari and her boyfriend, and perhaps Laurie--all of which (with the exception of the boyfriend) you can see and read about here on my curse-filled political bloggy.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Go west, young birder


What do this book

and this school

have to do with this birder?
Here's a hint:
That's Dr. Matthew Callahan (aka Matty McMatterson) and our friend Christine, who lives in San Francisco, who gave me the field guide pictured above because . . .

Matty got the job at Sonoma State!

He got the call yesterday, and we'll be leaving in July 2009. It's hard to believe; it all seems so far away. But sure enough, we're packing up and moving to California.

Being the live-in-the-moment person that I am, it's hard to be sad now about leaving this place and all my friends. I'm so excited at the thought of a new beginning that I can't feel sad or wistful right now. I'm sure, however, that will come once the departure nears.

In the meantime, however, I sure do have a lot of new birds to learn. It'll be "beginning to bird" all over again! Varied thrushes, weirdo chickadees, no more Eastern bluebirds -- wow.

I'll be in the land of Earl Cootie and Matty Boy, trolley cars, and fog fog fog.

I'll be twenty minutes from Bodega Bay, the setting of Hitchcock's The Birds and an incredibly beautiful coastline, judging from the photos.

I'll see John Muir's redwoods and the Pacific Ocean.

Arnold Schwarzenegger will be my governor.

oh my god...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Check it out now, funk soul brother

Frequent commenter EHunter of The Bufflehead Birder has announced a pretty cool competition for all you birders who have bird ornaments on your Yule trees. If you have a few birdy ornaments, be sure to pop over there and let her know.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

New River Wish List, Post #1: Pied-billed Grebe

And now we begin looking at potential lifers (for me, anyway) I might see in Virginia at the New River Bird and Nature Festival. First, let's look at their list from this year's fest:

Common LoonPied-billed Grebe Great EgretGreen Heron Black VultureTurkey VultureCanada GooseMute SwanWood DuckMallardBlue-winged TealLesser ScaupOspreySharp-shinned HawkCooper’s Hawk Red-shouldered HawkBroad-winged HawkRed-tailed HawkAmerican KestrelMerlin Peregrine FalconRuffed Grouse Wild TurkeyKilldeerLesser YellowlegsSolitary SandpiperSpotted SandpiperAmerican WoodcockRock DoveMourning DoveYellow-billed Cuckoo Eastern Screech Owl Great Horned OwlBarred OwlCommon NighthawkWhip-poor-willChimney SwiftRuby-throated HummingbirdBelted Kingfisher Red-headed WoodpeckerRed-bellied WoodpeckerDowney WoodpeckerHairy WoodpeckerNorthern FlickerPileated WoodpeckerEastern Wood PeeweeAcadian flycatcher Least Flycatcher Eastern Phoebe
Northern Rough-winged Swallow Bank SwallowCliff Swallow Barn Swallow Carolina ChickadeeBlack-capped ChickadeeTufted Titmouse Red-breasted Nuthatch White-breasted Nuthatch Brown CreeperCarolina WrenHouse Wren Winter WrenRuby-crowned KingletBlue-gray GnatcatcherEastern BluebirdVeery Swainson’s ThrushHermit ThrushWood ThrushAmerican RobinGray CatbirdNorthern Mockingbird Brown Thrasher European Starling Cedar Waxwing Blue-winged WarblerGolden-winged Warbler Tennessee WarblerNashville Warbler Northern Parula Yellow Warbler Chestnut-sided Warbler Magnolia Warbler Cape May WarblerBlack-throated Blue Warbler Yellow-rumped Warbler Black-throated Green Warbler Blackburnian Warbler Yellow-throated Warbler Pine WarblerPrairie Warbler Palm WarblerBay-breasted Warbler Blackpoll Warbler Cerulean Warbler Blue-headed VireoWarbling VireoPhiladelphia VireoRed-eyed Vireo Blue JayAmerican Crow
Black-and-white WarblerAmerican RedstartWorm-eating WarblerSwainson’s WarblerOvenbirdNorthern WaterthrushLouisiana WaterthrushKentucky WarblerMourning WarblerCommon YellowthroatHooded WarblerWilson’s WarblerCanada WarblerYellow-breasted ChatSummer TanagerScarlet TanagerEastern TowheeChipping SparrowField Sparrow Savannah Sparrow Grasshopper SparrowSong SparrowLincoln’s SparrowSwamp Sparrow White-throated SparrowWhite-crowned SparrowDark-eyed JuncoNorthern CardinalRose-breasted GrosbeakIndigo BuntingBobolinkRed-winged BlackbirdEastern MeadowlarkRusty BlackbirdCommon GrackleBrown-headed CowbirdOrchard OrioleBaltimore OriolePurple FinchHouse FinchPine SiskinAmerican GoldfinchHouse SparrowArctic TernMandarin DuckGreat Crested FlycatcherEastern KingbirdWhite-eyed VireoYellow-throated VireoCommon RavenPurple MartinTree Swallow

Holy mishmash, that's a lot of birds! Too many to format into a single-column list. Sorry! Anyway--you get the idea. We can pretty much expect to see everything but an emu down there!

So let's start with a water bird: the Pied-billed Grebe
Weird-looking duck, in my opinion. Not a whole lot of field marks, save that stubby little bill. Let's see what Cornell has to tell us: "A small diving bird with a chicken-like bill, the Pied-billed Grebe is common on lakes and ponds across North America. It is rarely seen flying and prefers to sink out of sight when danger threatens." Interesting. So we're likely to see this guy on the water. Good! Easier to spot with a scope.

Wait a second! "Although it swims like a duck, the Pied-billed Grebe does not have webbed feet. Instead of having a webbing connecting all the toes, each toe has lobes extending out on the sides that provide extra surface area for paddling." So it's not a duck! A quick check on the Animal Planet site for this bird tells me it is not a duck. The toes are weird-looking--but I can't find an illustration on-line.!

You can hear the call on the Cornell link above; it's described as "kuk-kuk-kuk, kaow, kaow, kaow, kaow, kaowk, kaowk, kawk." Check. It's on my fabulous BirdJam software on my Ericsson-Walkman phone. Sweet!

My Peterson's guide notes that the little stubby chicken-like bill is different from the longer pointy bills of the grebes; it also has no wing patches like the other grebes do. So why the differences? Why is this even called a grebe? DNA, I guess.

Peterson also notes that the breeding birds will have "a black throat patch and a ring around the thick whitish bill[s]." Good to know. Here's a photo by Jeff Foott/DCI showing both the black throat patch and the black ring about the little chicken-beak:
Seems like this bird ought to be easy to identify in the field. What looks like a smudgy brown duck could be a female mallard, for instance, unless it has the little stubby beak of the pied-billed grebe. Grebes are also smaller than the mallards, about the size of a pigeon.
That's one bird down, many more to go! If you see anything about these Wish List posts that can be improved, please let me know in the comments. I'm trying to pack as much info on here as I can, commenting on the things that stand out in my mind as ID tips.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Finally, an application I like!

I just got on Facebook about two months ago, I guess. Matty McMatterson convinced me that it wasn't just for the younguns anymore, and that I'd enjoy it. He was partly right. I have enjoyed reconnecting with old friends, seeing what current friends are up to, and so forth.

What I hate is the application. You know--the "pass a drink" or "throw a snowball" or "I nominated you as the cutest person on Facebook!" or "little fish" or whatever. I just don't have the patience for all that.

HOWEVER.... today, I saw an application that instantly caught my attention! has a bird ID quiz! And check me out:

I had to ID the following birds (one at a time, multiple choice),

I must confess that I just guessed on the Green Hermit and the Spruce Grouse, never having seen nor heard of either bird. The grouse one was fairly easy to guess, as the other choices were Willow Ptarmigan and some other smaller birds. The hummer one, however, was tough. Still--good guessing!

I figure this can be another way for me to get more practice IDing birds. If you haven't tried it, check it out!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Blackburnian orange sunset

Last night, the sunset's colors reminded me of the flaming orange on a Blackburnian warbler, my favorite warbler.

photo taken with my phone cam, while driving about 65mph. so pardon the poor quality.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The coolness to come

So the Flock -- let's see if I can remember to include everyone here --
is busy sending emails to each other, coming up with silly nicknames, and in general cluttering up the Intertubes with flockiness about the New River Birding and Nature Festival in West Virginia in April 2009. What with all the talk of overpacking, shortstacking, lipsmacking, Zickattacking, needleclacking, talkbacking, nutcracking, superstacking, and paddywhacking, we're getting ourselves all a-flutter for the excitement of the spring migration!

I've decided that I'm going to do a series of posts over the coming months highlighting the potential lifers and other birds of note we'll likely see in West Virginia. I'll try to get these going in the next few days. I want to feature a bird, show a photo of it (probably not mine, because let's face it -- my photography skills are lame), and link to a recording of its call. I'm hoping to learn more about the birds we're likely to see so that I just might be able to get some decent looks and photos of them.

Birding's "first family," if we may be said to have a birding first family, Julie Zickefoose, Bill Thompson III, their kids and Chet Baker will be there!

If we're lucky, we might even get to see the strikingly perfect hair of ace birding guide Jeff Gordon!
If you're interested in the festival, click on the link on my sidebar. There are even different registration packages for almost every budget, including "dirt-poor" like me!

Monday, December 01, 2008

New Niblet Photos!

We haven't seen the Nibble on the bloggy for a while, and last night he was posing ever so winningly:
Love that badonkadonk! He's been so relaxed and happy lately, binkying around the apartment like the king of the world.

I sometimes wonder if I should get him a companion, but I worry about them not getting along. And about how it might change his personality. And about how his self-esteem might be bruised by an eared bunny. So I probably won't get him a friend. I'll just have to give him as much lovin' as I can! But then--that's not hard. Who couldn't just love him to pieces!?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanking the bird

Turkey photo shamelessly stolen from Lynne's Hasty Brook

Tomorrow is an interesting day for a birder. Many birders are meat-eaters, and thus will eat the Thanksgiving turkey as is traditionally done in this country. However, some of us (like me) are vegetarians -- for all kinds of reasons, personal to each of us.

Some of the biggest reasons I'm a vegetarian are ecopolitical, but some are just personal preference and my own emotions. Here are a couple of my reasons for going veg:

1. the mass production of meat and meat products strains our environment in many ways. Perhaps you've heard of CAFOs, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. These are your factory farms like Tyson Chicken or your large beef producers. You can find out more about them from the EPA, the CDC, or a more politically minded organization like this one. In short, it is my belief that CAFOs are bad news. Others may disagree, and they're free to do so.

2. I love farm animals. They're furry and cute, and their little lives are just as precious to me as those of birds, rabbits, cats, dogs, and other animals. I know that I couldn't slaughter an animal for food, so why would I ask someone else to do it for me and then package it in a nice little plastic tray to assuage my conscience?

3. I don't buy that whole predator/prey thing. I realize it's the law of nature, and raptors have to kill songbirds to survive, etc. But I have free will. I choose not to kill anything with a face just so I can eat, especially when there are plenty of plant-based foods I can eat instead.

Anyway, those are my own personal reasons; I don't try to convince others to believe as I do, because eating is a personal decision. Still, I must confess that I think it's weird that birders would eat chickens, turkeys, or other fowl. Once again, as is common on the bloggy, my naivete is gonna show here, but when I was growing up, I guess I never connected the "duck" in a dish like Peking Duck with the little mallards, wood ducks, and canvasbacks that I love to watch through my binocs. And the geese! Poor brants and Canadas, their lonesome honks silenced, end up on people's dinner plates? How could a birder watch a songbird or a wild turkey, noting field marks and marking the bird on the lifelist, but then go eat one for dinner?

Sheesh. That's just weird to me. Still, I guess my hope is that tomorrow, when you're being thankful for life, love, family, and other such things, you'll remember to thank the little guy (or gal) on your table too. Do it for me, okay?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My favorite bird songs and calls

1. Wood thrush
2. Spotted sandpiper
3. American widgeon
4. Wild turkey
5. Virginia rail

Brought to you by the grippingly exciting Magical Typing Fingers.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Lolzing the dayz awayz

Baldies abound!
I saw another bald eagle last night near work, but I didn't have my camera with me. That's twice lately that I've seen a baldie on Rt 220 near work. Cool! Here's the first time, in case you don't recall.

"Life forward" update: Matty has an interview on December 5 at Sonoma State! He's one of five candidates being interviewed. They've asked him to stay the weekend as well so he can look around--which means they really want him! He's very excited, and so am I! I'm not out buying a field guide for western birds just yet, but this could really happen!

I was checking the weather there this morning, after coming into work in 22-degree cold:
Not bad, not bad at all! I could certainly deal with such mild winter temperatures. (Actually, I really don't mind the cold as long as it's snowing. If it's gonna be wintry and cold, bring on teh snow!) It's probably not very humid out there either. Wonder how hot it gets in the summer--any West Coasters out there?

Meanwhile, a friend of mine is suffering a bird-related problem: a mockingbird has taken up a perch right outside his bedroom window. And the mocker sings all night. Poor David looks sleepy all the time now, and he's threatened to buy a gun. When I looked aghast, he claimed it was "just to scare him!" Uh-huh. Any suggestions?

I just got invited to a winter birding trip with my atlassing friend Roana and her birding parents as well as some other people in the State College Birding Club. We'll be going to Ocean City, MD, and the Delaware area. It's not until February, so I'll be able to take some vacation days (mine for this year are all used up!) and relax, leaving Friday and returning sometime late Monday. Maybe I'll even be able to hook up with my friends Liz and Jeff Gordon in Delaware! However, I don't think I'll be driving, so it'll be a matter of where we are and when. More about this trip as it gets closer.

Meanwhile, not a lot of bird action, but we've definitely been having the cold. Here's a snowcloud snowing at sundown onto downtown State College, as seen from near my workplace in Pleasant Gap:
I took this with my phone camera from my moving car, so pardon the quality. Right at the base of the snow, you can see the lights of Beaver Stadium.

I tried to pull over for a better photo, but a bunch of cars were behind me and they didn't seem to get that flashers mean "go on by!" I didn't want someone to stop behind me and come to my window and say, "are ya broke down there, little lady?" (I HATE being called "little lady"--that's the fastest way to a swift kick in the crotch from me), so I slowed down a little, opened my window, and shot a couple of photos. Still it was a cool scene, watching the snow in the sunset. It almost looks like a huge tornado, doesn't it?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Life forward

Don't know whether I've mentioned it or not, but come August '09, I'm leaving State College. That would've been the time I left with Kat, and it's when Matty McMatterson will be leaving for his job (wherever that may be), and I feel like I should leave then--so Matty and I have decided to depart this little burg together. It'll be like a couple hire, only we're not a couple! I don't really belong in Central PA, having come here only as Kat's partner, so in the waning days of the summer of 2009, I'll be migrating to another (hopefully boreal or shoreline) habitat.

So this week, Matty got the first bite on his hook: Sonoma State in sunny California! (Hope I'm not jinxing him!) The idea of living in California is exciting -- a whole new field guide full of birds to learn! Wine Country! A year-round growing season! I've never been in that part of California, but I'm sure it's nice. Anyone have any info to offer, just in case?

Our other possibilities are also along the "edges" of the country; neither of us will live anyplace in what Matty calls "the fly-over states" in the middle. Here are the states/cities in which we might live, depending on Matty's job offers:
Atlanta, GA--interesting, but HOT
any number of places in Massachusetts--which would be lovely
San Francisco, CA--which would RAWK!
Chicago, IL--which I've heard is a great city
Buffalo and any number of other places in New York, but not in NYC--which would also be lovely
I think that covers the apps he's sent out so far. One job posting was rescinded due to budget cuts and the economy, which is scary. Still, I hope he gets a sweet job in a neat town with some good schools in it.

Right now, our plans are to pack up and move to wherever and find an apt or house where we can both fit for a while. By springtime, we'll know where we're going and whether I'll be able to continue my education (depends on schools available), so I'll apply for financial aid and apply to a school, etc.

Remember that whole forensic science thing I wanted to do? I think I've changed my mind. I would much rather do something outside and bird-/nature-involved, so I will likely get some sort of environmental resource management degree so that I can work someplace where I can restore/maintain habitats for animals and plants. I'd be Delia Gets Native!, working (probably for the government) to make sure that birds and other species are able to live well.

Or I'll stick with forensic science. Depends on the school. And who knows? Maybe there will be soooo many jobs available wherever we end up that I'll just decide to work someplace and be a townie! That's the positive "Obama = Recovery!" thinking there. Work with me.

Life sure can have its ups and downs. Things are going well right now, with the help of my wonderful friends (both here and out there on the intertubes), and work is -- well, it's work. I'm busier than ever there, which is a good thing.

Next year holds quite a few unknowns and "depends on..."s for me, but I'm strangely optimistic. And if these plans don't work out, I'm sure my parents will take me in... at least for a little while! But I'd rather not go back to Texas; it would seem like going backward in my life, you know? So while I'd love to live near my parents, we'll just have to see what happens.

I'm hoping to scrape together some savings here in time for the move, so that I'll be able to eat. Otherwise, those of you I know in the area of wherever we move, you might find you've been invaded by a little-known but rather larger-than-usual pest that doesn't eat too much, is fairly neat, and likes to watch birds.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Crazy bird dreams!

Well, I may not have gone birding lately, but the birds are still with me. Last night, I had a crazy dream in which birds were a big player:

I dreamed I was in Manhattan, and I was sitting in a little cafe. I looked up and saw, on the outer wall of the cafe, a big white cockatoo. I walked outside and somehow managed to get the cockatoo to perch on my arm. Once I did that, I suddenly realized that the bird belonged to Judy Garland, and I had to get it back to her!

Somehow I knew the general whereabouts of Judy Garland's apartment building, so I walked over there. On the way, I recruited someone to help me--a woman, someone I don't know. She was tall and blonde, though, so maybe it was just a weird version of Kat. Anyway, we went into the building and discovered we were in the lobby of a huge old-time theatre, complete with concession stands, girls in Moulin-Rouge-type outfits swinging on giant swings suspended from the ceiling, and huge staircases. We negotiated our way through this hubbub and went upstairs.

We wandered all over the place for the next few minutes of my dream, which seemed like hours in the dream. We were inside hallways, outside in parking lots, looking through hotel rooms--you name it. FINALLY, someone helped us: a huge Mafia-type guy who was getting a massage in a big room with a pool in it. He told us where to go, and we found Judy Garland!

Only when we found Judy, the bird turned into a bald eagle! Somehow it didn't claw the flesh off my arm, and I was able to hand her the raptor. After just a little prodding, she sang the chorus of "Swannee" for us right there in her doorway, and then we were off. Then I woke up.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Bird-flu? Birds flew? You decide.

Well, all my best-laid plans to go birding Sunday were dashed when I woke up with a sore throat and saw that it was kinda rainy and very cold outside. So--no birdy news there, sad to say.

I feel like I'm not even a birder anymore--I never make it out anywhere to see birds! The starlings and crows around my place are laughing at me, I just know it!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Birding posts to come!

I'm going to bird with some members of the State College Birding Club on Sunday, so I promise I'll have some real beginningtobird birding stuff to talk about soon!

In the meantime, I've taken to using the blog search tool and typing in random words like "feather" or "nibble." Try it on this or on your own blog--it's a cool way to take a trip down memory lane, bloggy style!

Friday, October 31, 2008

I'm an alien?

There were a few questions where I didn't like any of the answers, so I just picked the one that amused me the most. So am I really an alien?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Look out--it's another cross-post! Don't Stop at the Top!

I submit to you the rare cross-post between here and the angry impeachment bloggy, because I think this is an important issue. Hope you don't mind the brief political rant here at beginningtobird. Back to the birds soon, I promise!

Today I'm participating in Write to Marriage Day, a blogswarm against Proposition 8 in California. I hope any Californians out there in birdybloglandia will VOTE NO on Prop 8. Just remember--vote all the way down the ballot, because the propositions are at the bottom of the ballot.

As you all know, my own attempt at marriage didn't work out so well, but I will always support the right for two consenting adults to get married--whether I ever decide to go there again or not. "Civil unions" are merely the latest example of our country's propensity for trying to foist "separate but equal" institutions on us.

Perhaps the solution is to keep "marriages" in a religious context; if you get hitched in a church, we'll call it a marriage. If you want to be legally joined, with all the legal benefits (and drawbacks) therein, we'll call it a "civil union." Period. That would certainly uphold the idea of separation of Church and State, which is a separation I believe in.

Whatever the eventual solution to what is, in my opinion, a non-problem--I hope you'll join me in recognizing that the marriage of two people of the same sex does absolutely nothing to "weaken" the institution of marriage or any other silly right-wing talking points. I think enough straight couples weaken that institution all on their own without any help from the gay side of the aisle, thank you.

So vote no on Prop 8 -- unless you believe this:

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Cape May!

The female half of the table (minus Laura, who hadn't gotten there yet, and minus me who's taking the picture)--L to R: Susan Gets Native, Birdchick, Beth the Lurker who owned up to her lurkiness AND positively ID'd lifer Lynne as Hasty Brook, said Lynne of Hasty Brook, and KatDoc of Katdoc's World (all links in the sidebar).

The male half of the table, joined by Birdchick who's everywhere that birders are!--L to R: John of DC Birding Blog, Birdchick, and Jay Davis of Birdjam.

Well, my whirlwind trip to Cape May included getting lost on the way there AND on the way back, but I made it there and back again in time to have my breakfast with The Kid. More on that later; first, the birdy roundup.

I should go ahead and confess that I got ZERO pictures of birds, even though I did end up with two lifers: a black-crowned night heron (spotted by KatDoc) and a lesser yellowlegs (spotted by me, and confirmed by the Hawkwatch Platform person). Both were too far away to get decent pix of.

I did get some pictures of these lifers, however:
Lynne, doing a Lifebird Wiggle (TM BOTB) after seeing her first black vulture:Kathi, rolling up her Ohio State sleeves and preparing for what would turn out to be a Penn State victory--sorry, KatDoc!:and John from DC Birding Blog! (not John Riutta, who didn't attend--my bad)Sweet sweet birders, all of them!

I also saw a life reptile, a black/rat/something snake that no one could ID with any certainty:He was very zig-zaggy: Here are Laura from Somewhere in NJ, Jay, and Susan outside the Grand Hotel:and lest you think I only got pictures of others, here's one that someone took of me and a certain nerdy Birdchick:Wow!

So--I made it back Saturday night/Sunday morning, in the rain and the fog, getting in at about 1:30 a.m. On Sunday, I had breakfast with Em (whose pic doesn't go on the blog or it would be mobbed by her fans). We had a great time, and she thoroughly approved of my new digs and my new wheels. It was, however, a bittersweet experience for me; I loved seeing her and talking with her about how her life is going, but I was reminded of how much my life has changed in just a few short months. My sense of loss was palpable. Still, she told me I'd always be her "other mother," and it felt good to know I'd see again in her just a few weeks (Thanksgiving). And, ever the wise one, she told me that life just goes like it goes, and we can't change things once they've happened. That's one smart kid.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Today's the day for ol' Cape May!

this photo shamelessly taken by and stolen from Laura at Somewhere in NJ; this is some of us last year at the 2nd Avenue jetty in Cape May. From left to right, Susan in the water, me and Birdchick digiscoping, and Jay Davis from Birdjam looking cold and pensive as he walks down the beach

So I'm squirming in my seat at work, trying not to watch the clock as the day slowly moves on. I'm all packed up and ready to hit the road after a quick gas-up. Last night, gas was down to $2.85, though it may have gone back up for the weekend, as it often does. I sure hope not, because I'll be kicking myself if I have to pay more pennies today because I didn't feel like gassing up last night.

Such are the concerns of today's driver. When I started driving in tenth grade, gas was 79 cents a gallon. What was it was you first started driving?

Tomorrow morning, I'll be birding with Susan Gets Native, Laura H in NJ, KatDoc, Lynne from Hasty Brook, and -- thanks to my high school bud Liz Gordon--her hubby Jeff Gordon! Pretty exciting! I tell you, birding here in PA, usually on my own, is always fun. I get to walk around some of the prettiest woods Nature ever made and see and hear birdy magic all around me. It's the most exciting and yet calming thing, a paradox you fellow birders probably all understand.

But going to these festivals is such a blast; birders from everywhere come together, share their knowledge, joke and laugh and drink and eat, spot and help others spot birds of all sorts, and pretty much just have fun. There's nothing like it. This will be my second Cape May trip, and my third festival overall. I know that once I get there, I won't want to leave.
more silliness from last year, with Laura helping me take my own self-portrait for some weird reason

Meeting people whose blogs I've worshipped from afar is a real charge; birding with them is like... well, let me put it into a literary context. Let's say you've read Shakespeare's plays all your life and you just love him. One day, you find a room in a library you've never visited, and in the room, sitting at a table, is William Shakespeare himself, just hanging out and reading a book. You walk into the room, sit across from him, and talk about books, plays, movies, and what have you.

That's what birding festivals are like for me. I read these people's blogs and admire their photography skills and their birding field craft; I learn about their lives, which are all just as crazy as mine; and I realize how much alike we all are, no matter where we live or what we do. So when we get together, we're already like old friends who've travelled together and hung out at home with crazy kids and pets together, and gone out and birded together. They'll all laugh when they see themselves described in an analogy as the birding equivalents of William Shakespeare, but hey -- they're being modest, just another thing that makes them so cool.

I probably won't get to blog again until next week, so have a good weekend: see some birds, hang out with friends, and read a good book by your favorite author.

What would you write about?

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Are you thinking of writing a 50,000-word novel? Can you finish it in 30 days?

If you could (or are!), what would you write about?

P.S.--this is a rare double-post, here and at the Impeachment blog. It's not often that the worlds of backyard birding and political turmoil collide, so try to ignore the resulting sonic boom. I can't wait to compare and contrast the comments from both sites!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The loneliness of the long-distance flyer

Last year, when I was driving back home after experiencing my first Fall Migration at Cape May, I remember being overcome with sadness as I watched a flock of cormorants winging their way south over the highway. I told this story here. Prior to that moment, I had just never thought about how many birds die during the migration. Beginning to bird, indeed.
Photograph: Eric Hosking/Corbis

Well, this morning, I found this story of a migrant that reminded me of the happy fact that most birds DO make it, and they make it FAR.

I won't see a bar-tailed godwit in Cape May this weekend, but I know I'll see two lifers, Lynne and KatDoc, and I'll again see some of my favorite birds: Susan Gets Native, Laura H Somewhere in New Jersey, Birdchick, Patrick Belardo from the Hawk Owl's Nest (aka Mr. Thousand-Watt Smile), and John Riutta the Born Again Birdwatcher. I'll be checking these gems off on my lifelist, playing in the waves, watching some birds, and thinking about that bar-tailed godwit.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A flight with the flock

I'm doing a little fall migration of my own this Friday. I'm driving to Cape May on Friday after work (trying to get out early!) to meet up with some of The Flock! I'll finally get to meet Turkey-Vulture-fan Lynne and vet-to-the-stars Katdoc, and I'll get to see Susan and Laura again! I was hoping that Matty McMatterson would make the drive with me, but he's got some business to attend to here in town, so it'll just be me. I'll spend Friday night having pillow fights and prank-calling people with The Flock, and then after a full day of birdy nonsense, I'll drive back to PA. I've got a breakfast date with Em on Sunday morning, and I'm really looking forward to seeing her. It'll be the first time since--you know.

Anyway--getting excited! I'll finally have some good birdstuff to post about. The Bew River fest (in April 09) seems so far away right now, but this little trip will be just what some doctor somewhere ordered for me.

I needz to see some bewds!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Stayin' alive

I know it seems like I've disappeared, but I've been kinda swamped in political and journalistic pursuits (I volunteer for a local community paper, Voices of Central Pennsylvania) lately.

I'm still on the fence about whether to go to Cape May (just drive up for a day or something, just to hang out with The Flock when they're not on guided walks). But that's the first weekend Em will be in town since--you know--and we have a standing date at the Waffle Shop (a great locally owned place). So I just don't know if I'll make it.

As for birding around here, chances are pretty rare right now. There are some upcoming hawk watches, but while that last one I went on was cool--I think that was only because I'd never been to one before. Other than that, the local bird club and other birdy pals aren't planning any other field trips. I think we'll start to get some good ducks in November, but in the meantime--the bird pickins are slim.

I'll try to wander around outside soon--I'm definitely missing it.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The State of the World's Birds report

click for larger--screen capture of map in report

In case you haven't seen this, birdy pals, it's a report titled "The State of the World's Birds" done by an organization called BirdLife.

I'd never heard of this organization, but the report is fascinating (if depressing). It claims to be "a brief summary of the information available on BirdLife’s State of the world’s birds website. Using the most up-to-date analyses, it outlines why birds and biodiversity are important, what we know about the changing state of the world’s birds (STATE), why birds are declining (PRESSURE) and what can be done to improve their status (RESPONSE). It presents and lists a small sample of the case studies providing evidence for these messages and examples of BirdLife’s work. For more detailed information on these and other case studies, visit BirdLife’s State of the world’s birds website and database at"

The weird thing is this: I got to the last page, where the heading read, "BirdLife comprises more than 100 conservation organisations working together to promote sustainable living as a means to conserve biodiversity." Then there was a collection of little logos from all these countries--but no USA. I don't get it. Is this organization for real? Is it just not needed here in the USA? (as if!) Does anyone know more about BirdLife? I'm just curious. I mean, I'm not exactly up on the latest info on birds and stuff; I'm just a backyard birdwatcher who tries to go birding elsewhere whenever I can. Still--anyone ever heard of them?

Anyway--the report contains so much information, some of it simply mind-blowing. Did you know that, according to Birdview, "Human uses have been recorded for one purpose or another for 45% of the world’s nearly 10,000 bird species. Over a third of species are kept as pets and around one in seven is hunted for food. It is difficult to know how many individual birds are used, although it is estimated that between half a billion and one billion songbirds are hunted each year in Europe alone, for sport and food." HOLY CRAP. I knew that parrots and other exotic birds are huge dollars for the pet industry (hey, I watched Romancing the Stone; I know all about those parrot poachers down in South America!), but songbirds hunted "for sport and food" in Europe? Are they eating finches over there or what? Shooting warblers? What is going on over there!?

Go check it out. Let me know what you think.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

No birds, only buns

I still haven't gotten around to going anyplace to see any birds. I've only seen the crazy starlings that hang around my house in the early morning, making crazy high-pitched noises. These guys are way noisier than the starlings at the Marsh House. The chimney swifts seems to be leaving, however, which is good. One or two swifts is really cool. Six or seven? A delight. A flock of ten or more, all cheeping at the tops of their little birdy lungs all the time? Kinda annoying, actually.

So the other morning I was feeling kinda headachy and sick, so Niblet took it upon himself to give me a little TLC, in the way that kitties and doggies usually do: he slept next to me and snuggled me.

I wanted to stay with him all day long, but I had to go in to work.

I'm hoping to get a little birding in this weekend. There's a marsh right near Penn State called Millbrook Marsh that's supposed to be pretty decent, and I'm hoping this cold weather and rain will drive some shorebirds down a little.