Oct 04 2010

A Huge Honor: I Am Joining the Team at ABA!

Published by under Birding,News about me

This morning, I’m sharing some of the biggest, most exciting news of my entire life: starting November 1, I will be the new President of the American Birding Association! Kenn Kaufman broke the news here on his estimable blog. Here, too, is a pdf of a letter from ABA Board Chair Dick Ashford announcing the good news. I want to sincerely thank David Hartley at ABA and  for his efforts to pull these communications together on short notice and under personally challenging circumstances. And as for Kenn, well, my gratitude knows no bounds.

So what’s next? I’ll be moving to Colorado Springs in a little less than a month! Liz will join me there soon after.

Both of us are so excited we can hardly stand it. Not to mention reeling at the thought of how we’re going to wind up our commitments here in Delaware and embark on a new chapter of our lives in a matter of weeks.

More information will be coming out soon. For now, I hope you’ll share my excitement and enthusiasm. And I hope you’ll join or renew your membership with ABA.

Good birding to all of you!

41 responses so far

Aug 25 2010

Are Birders Really Buying 92% of Duck Stamps Sold?

My Binoculars with 2010-2011 Federal Duck Stamp

Let me start by answering my own question posed in the title of this post: are birders really buying 92% of duck stamps sold? Almost assuredly not. I hate it when people manipulate factoids to advance an agenda and I don’t want to sink to that level. But I’m willing to take a little heat for a provocative headline, because on Monday I had an experience that really got me wondering, and more than a little intrigued.

That afternoon, I went to Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge and bought a 2010–2011 Migratory Bird Hunting & Conservation Stamp, otherwise known as a Federal Duck Stamp. I’m sure the great majority of readers of this blog know all about duck stamps. They’re somewhat controversial in the birding community, principally because all the money raised by the stamp is, in many senses, “credited” to hunters, though clearly, many of those buying the stamps have no intention of hunting. In fact, some people I have a great deal of respect for as birders, conservationists, and thinkers have argued persuasively that non-hunters shouldn’t buy duck stamps, even though there’s no disputing the money goes to purchase valuable wildlife habitat.

I should also say that other people I have great respect for have been key players in campaigns to get birders and other non-extractive wildlife users to buy duck stamps, so I’ve heard good, impassioned arguments on all sides.

I do buy duck stamps, but I hasten to add that I’d be happier if there were data being collected about which user groups were buying how many stamps, simply so we could all have a clearer idea about who is truly contributing what to habitat purchase. I am emphatically neither anti-hunting nor anti-hunter. I have hunted before and happily would again, though I can’t ever see hunting constituting more than a vanishingly small percentage of how I choose to interact with birds. I consider wildlife watchers, photographers, hunters, anglers, and other groups to be natural allies, not antagonists, even if there are some areas where our opinions tend to diverge. In my view, we all want the same things: healthy populations of wildlife and plenty of places to enjoy them. But better, clearer data would benefit everyone in setting policy and more effectively raising funds for conservation.

So I was surprised and pleased that when I bought the stamp, the volunteer staffing the visitor center asked not only where I was from, but also if I intended to use the stamp for hunting. I said I was from Lewes, Delaware, and no, I did not plan to hunt. She dutifully recorded this in a logbook that was being kept behind the counter.

Well, let me tell you, a little light bulb went off in my head! I asked the volunteer if she could tell me how many stamps she had sold since they went on sale in July and how many had been bought by people identifying themselves as non-hunters. She paged through the logbook and reported, “We’ve sold 114 stamps since July, all but 9 of those to non-hunters.”

Yes, that’s right. Just over 92% were sold to non-hunters. Wow.

Of course, this is nothing like a definitive survey. Not every non-hunter is a birder. And I would guess that hunters would be much better represented at other outlets where stamps can be purchased.

But still, I couldn’t help feel just a little bit proud. And what’s really exciting to me is that this data is being collected. So, if you’re a non-hunter who buys duck stamps, why not do so at a place where they do keep track of how you intend to use your purchase? If they don’t ask, I suggest you politely ask them why they aren’t gathering this information.

82 responses so far

Aug 14 2010

It’s Almost Hawk Watch Season!

1000+ raptor day at Cape Henlopen hawk watch

From left: Sue Gruver, Forrest Rowland, Ruth Draper, Sharon Lynn, Brecon, me on the first day the Cape Henlopen Hawk Watch counted over 1,000 raptors: 29 Sep 2008

Summer. It goes so fast. I find myself taking every opportunity to eat the fresh tomatoes, corn and watermelon that are at their best now. Well, nearly every opportunity—everything in moderation, you know. It won’t be long until those transcendent, cheap, local fruits and vegetables are expensive and yucky and shipped in from far away again. But the end of summer has its compensations. Cooler weather, fewer biting bugs, and hawk watching all spring to mind as things I’m looking forward to.

I’m also very happy that Forrest Rowland will be back this year as the official counter for the Cape Henlopen Hawk Watch. Up at the north end of Delaware, Cyrus Moqtaderi will also be returning to count at the Ashland Hawk Watch, so we’ll have experienced, enthusiastic counters at both sites. Should be awesome.

I look forward to seeing you up on the platforms soon. Both counts kick off on September 1 and run until November 30. In the meantime, go ahead and enjoy that extra ear of corn!

One response so far

Jul 21 2010

Brown Booby update: some cute photos + more precise coordinates

I have bit of news and some eye candy to add to the story of Delaware’s first Brown Booby, which came aboard the Thelma Dale IV on Monday, 19 July 2010 and rode the boat back into the harbor at Lewes, whereupon it was taken to Tri-State Bird Rescue.

First, some eye candy. Here’s a shot taken by Captain Rick Yakimowicz of the booby that nicely illuminates its face and underparts.

Brown Booby ©Rick Yakimowicz

Here it is accepting a Mummichog–a kilifish commonly used for bait by local anglers. Does he look happy, or what?

Brown Booby accepts Mummichog ©Rick Yakimowicz

Brown Boobies are particularly fond of Flying Fish, so perhaps this qualifies. Below, a closeup of the booby downing a Mummichog.

Brown Booby eating Mummichog ©Rick Yakimowicz

Finally, a shot of the bird surrounded by food offerings. Brown Boobies like squid, too.

Brown Booby topside ©Rick Yakimowicz

The bit of news I have is a more precise read on the location where the booby came aboard the boat. According to Captain Rick, it was at  38:52  X  75:09. Plotting that  on Google Earth, I come up with the following:

You’ll see a little green tree icon to the left and below the yellow booby pin–that’s Broadkill Beach, Delaware. Lewes, where the boat docked, is close to the yellow flag below the pin. The big finger sticking down from the upper right corner is, of course, Cape May, New Jersey.

Thanks very much to Captain Rick Yakimowicz for the information and the terrific photos.

11 responses so far

Jul 20 2010

Brown Booby in Delaware Bay

Published by under Birding,Delmarva,Slower Delaware

Whenever the display on my cell phone reads, “Frank Rohrbacher,” I have a very predictable Pavlovian response. I feel the adrenaline start to flow and I instantly throttle up to the birder equivalent of DEFCON 2. Of course, Frank will call about ordinary matters from time to time, but variable-schedule reinforcement is the most potent kind and my subconscious clearly has forged an unbreakable link: “call from Frank Rohrbacher = news of rare bird.”

This morning, that call came in around 8 AM. Frank wanted to e-mail me pictures he was nearly certain were of a booby (only birders get to write sentences like that with a straight face). “It came aboard a party fishing boat yesterday afternoon and Steve Cardano shot some pictures of it,” he intoned in a voice that has lost very little of its New England character despite years in the mid-Atlantic. “The amazing part is the darn thing rode the boat all the way back into the harbor in Lewes. Would you be able to run down there and have a look?”

By that time, the pictures had arrived in my inbox. I looked at them quickly, searching for signs that it might be a scarce but not unheard-of summer gannet. Nope. This was a booby all right. Could it possibly be a Red-footed Booby? Didn’t look like it. Less than adult sulids can be something of an identification nightmare, but I felt certain enough this was in fact a Brown.* This would make it Delaware’s first and any day your state gets a life bird is one to remember.

“Liz and I will be down there inside of twenty minutes–we’ll let you know as soon as we find anything,” I said, and I began hastily grabbing the appropriate gear for such an expedition; i.e., binoculars, scope, cameras. That’s right, cameraS.

Brown Booby (side) aboard the Thelma Dale IV photo ©Steve Cardano

Arriving at Fisherman’s Wharf in downtown Lewes, we began our search. The Thelma Dale IV was back out on the water by then, so we couldn’t inspect the boat itself. We looked all around the docks, then made our way along the Lewes and Rehoboth Canal and out to Roosevelt Inlet, scanning the pilings for any sign of this wayward tropical seabird. I also made a point of looking in the water where it was visible, as there was the grim possibility that the bird might have perished overnight.

Finding nothing, we got in touch with Steve Cardano. He offered to call the boat’s captain, but not until 10:30, when they would be in place for the morning’s fishing. We continued looking around, talking to the woman who sells tickets for fishing and sightseeing trips, and waiting. Steve called back and said that after the boat docked on Monday, one of the crew who knew of someone with a connection to a local marine mammal rescue group had captured the bird–apparently with no difficulty–and taken it to their facility, which is just down the road from the docks.

We raced down to the marine mammal place, MERR. It turned out that our information wasn’t completely accurate. The bird had been boxed and transported, but to Tri-State Bird Rescue in Newark, Delaware, at the north end of the state. Many of you will know Tri-State from their work in the Gulf of Mexico during the current Deepwater Horizon disaster; they’ve long been a leader in salvaging oiled birds and do lots of good work all around.

Whoever answered the phone at Tri-State told Suzanne, the director of MERR, that they had received a gannet from Lewes that had come ashore aboard a fishing boat and were caring for it. Suzanne told the rehabber that she had been shown photos of the bird by an expert in bird identification and that the bird looked awfully good for Brown Booby, but was firmly told that, no, it was a gannet. A professor had looked at the photos and said so. Oh well.**

Now that the search for the bird is over, there are of course a few lingering questions. From a bird records standpoint, it’s important to know where the bird came aboard the boat. The e-mail I have from Steve says, “30 degrees 51 min. N and 75 degrees 10 min. W. or approximately 8 miles north of Lewes, DE in the Delaware Bay.” There’s a little bit of confusion here, because that latitude doesn’t cross Delaware Bay. It’s closer to Cumberland Island, Georgia, just north of the Florida line. So I’m thinking it’s likely 38 degrees 51 min. N. That would be somewhere not too far offshore from Broadkill Beach, Delaware. 3.43 miles NE of the May, 2008 Wood Sandpiper, as I measure it. That looks more like 6 miles north of Lewes to me, so I’m still a little unsure. In any event, when I get more detailed information on the location I’ll be sure to spread the word.

I’ll leave any discussion of ship-assisted vagrancy to others. I’ve always been of the opinion that if a bird isn’t somehow restrained, intentionally or unintentionally, it matters little whether it hitched a ride on an aircraft carrier or a coconut.

Another issue that’s been raised is whether the bird belongs in rehab or not. I can’t say. Steve’s opinion was that it wasn’t emaciated (he lightly touched it in the chest, which it tolerated). But it did remain aboard the boat and didn’t make any move to evade capture, so perhaps it was starving or otherwise in distress. The folks at Tri-State will be in a much better position to judge. Again, I’ll pass on any word.

Finally, I don’t know anything about when and where the bird will be released, if it survives. Earlier this year, a rehabbed Red-footed Booby made headlines by hanging around shore in South Florida for quite a while.

All in all, a fascinating record. And another yet another reason I’ll always jump–in the best way–when my phone reads, “Frank Rohrbacher.”

*Peter Pyle comments, after being sent the photo by Mary Gustafson: “Brown, no problem. Red-foots have red feet at all ages out of the nest and a black bill as a juv that becomes pinkish and bluish within the first year, never slate like this. I can also just see the breast cut-off, never found in Red-footed. Many things eliminate Masked. So juvenile Brown.”

**According to birder-photographer extraordinaire Kim Steininger, who volunteers with Tri-State, they are now comfortable with the identification of Brown Booby.

6 responses so far

Jun 08 2010

Horseshoe Crab Spawning with Host Our Coast & Yours Truly

NB: For the best video experience, I highly recommend hitting “play,” then clicking on the 360p button that appears in the lower right of the video player and choosing 480p instead. Also click the adjacent box with the four outward pointing arrows to go full screen. At the end, just hit the same box, which will now have an X, to get your screen back, or hit the escape key.

Liz and I spent Memorial Day afternoon at Slaughter Beach, DE, with Errol Webber, Jr. and Erik Yount of Host Our Coast, as well as our friends Carrie & Ella Samis, and Jim Rapp. We were all there to witness the horseshoe crab spawning and attendant bird and terrapin feeding and were not disappointed. Though the vast majority of the northbound shorebirds had already departed for points north, we had a great couple of hours enjoying one of our region’s weirdest yet most enchanting spectacles.

I wound up being the interviewee, which was fun, though I wish there had been room for others to appear on camera with Errol as well (there was a lot of talent and enthusiasm in that group, but alas, time is always short). I’m always a little queasy about seeing myself onscreen, but I have to admit, Errol and Erik did a nice job of editing things and I think I came off looking pretty good. See what you think.

If you haven’t been following Host Our Coast, it’s well worth your time. This year especially, as Errol and Erik are manifestly talented young filmmakers. Errol, in fact, was cinematographer for this year’s Oscar -winning Best Documentary Short Film, Music by Prudence. Pretty cool, huh?

For more information about horseshoe crabs, check out ERDG’s horseshoecrab.org site.

7 responses so far

May 11 2010

Swainson’s Warbler: King of the Rhodos

One of the highlights of my year is guiding at the New River Birding & Nature Festival near Fayetteville in southern West Virgina. I love the mountains there, the forests, the birds, the wildflowers, the camaraderie, the opportunities for learning and discovery. The people who organize it, those who work it, and those who attend it are just wonderful and include a large number number of dear friends.

This year’s event, for me, was the best ever, largely due to Liz’s being able to attend after an eleventh hour cancellation by a group at her work. She and I wound up spending a couple of days after the festival birding, photographing, relaxing, adventuring, and just generally having a ball.

Topping the list of great moments was the audience I was granted with a Swainson’s Warbler the Monday after the festival concluded. I went out prospecting for this famously hard-to-see species on a dreary morning with intermittent rain. Along a secondary road near Babcock State Park I found a patch of rhododendron where at least two Swainson’s were singing strongly. One of those was uncooperative, but the second provided me with one of the more thrilling avian encounters I’ve ever had.

IMG_1584 - Version 2

In most of its breeding range, Swainson’s Warbler is a bird of wet woods, canebrakes, swamps, and river bottoms. But in the southern Appalachians, there is a population of Swainson’s that is closely tied to rhododendron thickets. Rhododendrons, for most, conjure up images of horticultural beauty and gentility, as their flowers are familiar garden centerpieces.


This, I believe (and by all means, please correct my botany if it’s wrong, as it frequently is), is Rhododendron catawbiense an early-blooming relative of Rhododendron maximum, the West Virginia state flower. R. maximum cloaks the rocky banks of creeks with a dense blanket of dark green.


It’s pretty, certainly, but it is also thick.


So thick in fact, that it has a gloomy, almost foreboding aspect at times. I’m sure one would quickly learn to dread rhododendrons, were one to have to traverse or clear any significant amount of them.


No wonder Swainson’s Warblers and humans rarely meet.

Swainson's Warbler with rhododendron leaf, WV

Though my meeting with this bird lasted only a few minutes, time seemed to slow and stretch. I’ve seen the species a generous handful of times, but I have never seen it so well. I was struck by its subtle color and the way its railroad spike of a bill blended with its flat crown to give it an anvil-headed look. I marveled at its long pink toes, its big black eyes, and of course, by its ringing, rolling, liquid voice.


That voice, and this bird, are in many ways, a personification (birdification?) of the rhododendrons. Superbly adapted to the niche these shrubs provide, the warbler is as at home here as a clownfish in a coral reef, a giraffe in an acacia thicket, or a flea on the back of a dog. The key, apparently, is a tangled understory but a relatively open forest floor, where these warblers spend most of their time foraging with a unique, shuffling gate.

Swainson's Warbler singing, WV

Once the breeding season is over, Swainson’s Warblers take up residence in similarly dense understory in forests of the West Indies and nearby portions of the Yucatán and Honduras. They especially favor the Blue Mountains of Jamaica, a suitably exotic winter residence. But everywhere, throughout their lives, Swainson’s are birds that earn the designation, “seldom seen.” Our time with them is measured in seconds, not in hours.

Swainson's Warbler profile portrait, WV

The bird soon returned to his tangled lair and I to my less claustrophobic habitat. I noticed that I was out of breath–I don’t think I’d inhaled or exhaled very often while the bird was around–and trembling just a little with the excitement of seeing a very special ghost. I’ll always be grateful for the chance to have gotten to know this mysterious and wonderful creature just a little bit better.

23 responses so far

Apr 12 2010

Where to find (and friend) me these days

I’ve joked that Facebook has eaten both my blog and my Twitter stream and you know, it’s hardly a joke. In contrast to this dear old blog, which I’ve really enjoyed, but also wrestled with, I find that I post regularly and often on Facebook. Of course, the posts tend to be shorter and often breezier, but I think that’s mostly a good thing.

While I certainly intend to keep putting up blog posts when I have something that fits better here than elsewhere, if you’re interested in keeping up with what I’m doing, for now, Facebook is where I am. There’s a badge at the upper left of the page that you can click to find my personal Facebook profile and send me a friend request.

There’s also a badge where you can become a fan of Peterson Field Guides and I would appreciate it very much if you would do that. At the moment, the PFG fan page is, well, it’s me. But only in that I’m responsible for posting content there and serving as moderator. Like all things social media, it is meant to encourage interaction. And in only a week and a half, we’re already seeing a great response, with fans sharing their own photos and experiences.

Of course, I’m honored that the people at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt have asked me to take on the PFG fan page. It’s an opportunity to share a lot of great content from the Peterson vaults, create my own, and to have other interested naturalists share theirs. I’m especially pleased that we’ll be covering the vast range subjects of natural history that are featured in Peterson guides, though you can expect that birds will feature most prominently. I know it will be a big opportunity for me to learn, which is wonderful.

As an example of the kind of things I’ve been doing on the PFG page, below is a video I made and posted last week. It’s just a quick sequence of calling Spring Peepers, but I think it’s nice, especially if you haven’t been out and actually watched this classic sound being produced.

You can also click here to go to the HD version of the video on Facebook itself. It’s much better looking in HD, to say the least.

So, that’s where I am these days. I don’t know if six months from now Facebook will be over and we’ll all have moved on, but at the moment–most of the time–it feels like the place to be.

But please, keep this blog on your RSS subscriptions…or check back every once in a while, if you don’t do RSS. You never know when I’ll have something that only fits here. Thanks for stopping by!

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Mar 11 2010

Pictures for Peterson 4: Purple Sandpiper

Published by under Birding

Try to conjure up an image of your favorite seaside locale. Many will think of sand and sun and summer, long stretches of lounging punctuated by a refreshing dip in a tranquil, blue ocean. Very few, I would wager, will imagine a cold day in February, clambering over jagged, seaweed-slicked boulders while crashing surf sprays all around, constantly threatening to sweep the unwary into the churning sea. But that latter scene is just the ticket for Purple Sandpipers. In fact, I bet about the only point where human and Purple Sanpiper tastes might agree is that the beach is a good place to get fresh seafood.

This is a day at the beach for Purple Sandpipers…scuttling about, trying to snatch prey from amongst the seaweed and mussel beds, always keeping an eye cocked for that next wave and knowing, with very little margin for error, which waves can be ridden out and which require winged relocation.

Here’s a Purple Sanpiper in late November, in its basic or winter plumage, during a moment of near repose, a few feet away from more treacherous feeding grounds at the water’s edge.

About the only place we have in Delaware that Purple Sandpipers like are jetties and breakwaters in or near the Atlantic Ocean. Our lovely sandy beaches leave them–figuratively–cold, as real cold seems not to register with them at all.

Above and below are shots of Indian River Inlet, the best place in Delaware to see Purple Sandpipers, beginning in mid-to-late October. Also the best spot for surfing and among our premier fishing locales.

Given that their High Arctic breeding grounds take so long to ice out, Purple Sandpipers stay with us fairly late in the Spring, often lingering into May, sometimes early June. The Purple Sandpiper I photographed for the Peterson Eastern guide was, on May 5th, 2009, just about molted into its breeding plumage, being much more spangled and spotty than the November bird above. Neither seems obviously purple, of course–that color is restricted to a dull iridescent sheen on some of the back and shoulder feathers. You’ve got to be in just the right angle and light to see it at all. One of those museum-drawer characters for which so many birds are named.

I like this shot for a couple reasons, not only the Purple caught mid-step, but also the way the foreground boulder frames it and the way the Ruddy Turnstone melds with the seaweeds into a colorful backdrop. Neither of these latter elements is visible in the book, though. Instead it functions as a head shot, sitting atop the Table of Contents on page vii. I think it works that way, too. And you can still see that raised foot, which I think is nice.

PS: You did see the sandpiper in the uppermost image, right? It’s just barely peeking over the rock at the upper right.

5 responses so far

Mar 09 2010

Pictures for Peterson 3: Prairie Warbler

No big backstory here…just a beautiful little bird, singing his heart out, an image that seems appropriate for the gorgeous early spring weather we are having today, though it will still be another month before Prairie Warblers return to our area.

The buzzy, ascending song of Prairie Warbler is the first “fancy” song I remember learning, as opposed to the songs of common yard birds. If memory serves, that would have been spring of 1977, at White Clay Creek State Park, under the tutelage of Winston Wayne. Below is a more medium-distance shot of this bird in his favored habitat of shrubby, regenerating forest, which apparently used to be referred to as prairie, thus lending the bird its name.

And here he is in some dead weeds, presenting a different aspect.

The topmost picture appears on page vi of the Eastern guide, set against an orange background. It was taken on 23 May 2009, near Georgetown, Delaware. Here’s hoping the weather is nice and the birds are singing wherever you are today.

3 responses so far

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