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A male American Goldfinch in my mother’s garden this summer,
Six years ago today, an immature Northern Goshawk found his way into our rooster house on our farm. I had just turned 10, and my brothers were 8-1/2 and 7 years old. We were feeding the chickens, and my mother went to feed the eight roosters in their separate pen (so they wouldn’t bother the hens too much).
She noticed that all of the roosters were outside in the pen, which was unusual because the four at the top of the pecking order always strutted around outdoors, while the four at the bottom of the pecking order rarely left the roosts inside their little coop, to avoid the bullies outside. But they were all outdoors that morning.
My mother looked inside the little house, only to see a hunched figure on the roosts — and when she realized it was a hawk, she quickly slammed the door closed. We went back to the house and she phoned the Fish & Wildlife office in town. They sent an officer almost immediately to take a look. The officer headed toward the coop with a net and leather gloves, and quickly and easily caught the hawk.
The officer told us it was a young Ferruginous Hawk, and since I wasn’t a “bird nerd” as I am now, I didn’t question the identification, but looking at the photos now it’s obviously an immature Northern Goshawk. As many people know, goshawks are able to maneuver through very small spaces, and our interloper probably flew between the squares of the page wire over the chicken pen but then wasn’t able to get out. To the Goshawk, at first the roosters probably looked like a pretty good meal, but upon arriving in the pen it was one inexperienced goshawk verses eight hefty roosters.
The officer was very nice and let us each hold the hawk, and after a quick lesson I got to release it. It flew off to some trees nearby, where it stayed for quite some time before taking off for good.
A very good and fun memory!
:: The parasitic Honeyguide, which lays its eggs in Little Bee-eater nests, not only stabs Little Bee-eater chicks after hatching, but also destroys its own species’ eggs in the same nest.
:: British scientists studying butterfly species have found that earlier birds might not get the worms, or caterpillars
:: Learning the secrets of the mysterious Wilson’s Phalarope
:: Two new Harpy Eagle nests discovered in the Maya Mountains of southern Belize, good news since the raptors were thought to be locally extinct since 2000, and extirpated from Mexico and most of Central America until 2005
:: The New York Times calls ebird “Crowdsourcing, for the Birds”
:: A study finds that birds pay attention to highway speed limits to protect themselves from traffic
:: Photographer Dan Kitwood documents the British Trust for Ornithology’s mission to band up to 1,000 migrating Hirundines each evening, at a nature reserve in Rye, East Sussex (Daily Mail article here for more to read)
Great posts in birding blogs this week:
:: Vote for your favourite bird butt photo over at Birds Calgary
:: The latest weekly report on fall migration monitoring at the McGill Bird Observatory in Quebec, from the MBO blog
:: Some musical entertainment courtesy of Pish and Twitch at the ABA’s Camp Avocet, from the ABA Blog
From the time I learned that Sharon “Birdchick” Stiteler was coming out with a new book earlier this year, I looked forward to getting a copy.
1001 Secrets Every Birder Should Know: Tips and Trivia For The Backyard And Beyond (Running Press, April 2013) is a great bird book that covers everything birders, especially beginning birders, need to know about birding and birds, with more than 1,001 secrets in 296 pages. As Sharon writes in her introduction,
This book is to help you enjoy birds. I want to share with you insights of bird behavior — the spark bird that drives many of us to watch them. Most people love listing all the birds that they’ve seen because at the end of the day, bird-watching is more than a hobby. It’s an activity you can enjoy no matter where you travel to on the planet. It’s a scavenger hunt, and the objects fly and sometimes change color! It’s an adventure. But there’s so much more to enjoy about birds beyond seeing a new species.
In addition to being a writer, blogger and a digisicoper, Sharon is also an avian field ecologist, has worked as a National Park Ranger, and started in the bird feeding industry (one of her earlier books is City Birds/Country Birds: How Anyone Can Attract Birds to Their Feeder). She also has a great sense of humor and is very creative (testing how waterproof scopes and binoculars are by taking a bath with them, and with one of the best birding podcasts out there). As you can see from all of her writing — online and in books — Sharon is passionate not just about birds but also about wanting as many people as possible to understand and appreciate birds. This passion, humour, and creativity, is what makes this book so good. In his introduction to the book, English ornithologist/naturalist and entertainer Bill Oddie (who a few years ago also wrote an introduction to birdwatching), writes, “I think I would go so far as to say that if I were to write a book about birds that was amusing, informative, and sometimes a bit rude, this would be it.” He says a little bit more, but you’ll have to read the book to find out what that is!
The design of the book is very attractive (light and airy, not too dense with text) and all the photos are full-color. Sharon took most of the photos, many of which were digiscoped with her iPhone, and the rest were taken by her blog readers (disclosure: I submitted a few but none were accepted. However, some of my friend Dan Arndt’s photos were used).
This book is filled with lots of great information: bird feeding tips, travel ideas for the best birding hot spots, bird trivia, and ideas for bird jobs. At the bottom of most pages, Sharon dispels common myths about birds in a feature called “Bird Busting!” You can see the feature, and also the layout style, here,
This book is a great choice for birders to give to the almost-birders in their lives, the family and friends you know who like birds but who might like to know more about them, even if it’s just some crazy bird trivia, or how to get more birds to come to the feeders in your yard. Even non-birders might become more favorably inclined to birds after reading this book — I found one of my younger brothers (who likes to call me a “bird nerd”) reading the book and enjoying it, although he will never admit it! The book includes chapters on attracting and feeding birds, nesting and roosting (and bird houses), bird anatomy and adaptations, commonly asked questions about birds (“Why are those smaller birds attacking that hawk?”), migration, mating, how birds raise their young (including what Sharon calls some “lethal parenting methods”), and how to learn more about birding and bird watching. The back of the book also has a glossary, as well as a bibliography, a suggested reading list for different levels — Beginner, Knows more than the average bear, Hard-core maxi bird books, Articles and online resources. I think Sharon’s breezy and humorous writing voice, and the general layout of this book, make it suitable for all ages, from older kids to adults of all ages. And the book would also be a very good choice for libraries, as very a useful reference for those who are looking to learn more about birds and birding.
Birders who know more than the average birder, and even hardcore maxi types can also find useful hints, tips, and trivia here, from the first-ever (and Nobel prize-winning) case of bird necrophilia, to the 10 areas that should be on ever birder’s bucket list. I finished this book on my recent plane trip to NYC and it was great to have in my backpack, especially because I could read it in short chunks, and it was always informative and often funny. Sharon writes in the book,
I love bird-watching because there’s no right or wrong way to do it, and as long as you are’t wiping out a whole species by the way you enjoy birds, do what feels good to you. If you enjoy listing and categorizing every bird you see — that’s terrific. If you like to peek out your window and see a chickadee at your feeder — that’s great. … Just get out there and watch the birds.
Here’s a video Birdchick made about her book,
:: A Czech zoologist studied waterfowl landings for a year to determine how flocking birds avoid collisions when they touch down
:: The early bird gets the legs: an Oxford University research team found that a radical shortening of their bony tails more than 100 million years ago enabled the earliest birds to develop versatile legs that gave them an evolutionary edge.
:: When Bar-headed Geese migrate over the Himalayas, it requires 10 to 20 times more oxygen than resting
:: Song Sparrows of different ages experience climate change differently
:: The Guardian has a roundup of reviews for Mark Cocker’s latest book, Birds & People, which was published on August 1 in the UK (September 24 in the US and Canada)
Great posts in birding blogs this week:
:: From Greg at Greg Miller Birding: 2013 Impatient Birder’s Cheat Sheet to North America!
I went for a birding walk on August 7th, a few days before I left for Ontario. The day was a little cool and overcast, but that makes for good birding. Shorebird migration is in full swing here, but there aren’t any good spots for watching shorebirds within walking distance, so I decided to set my sights on the family of Pied-billed Grebes at one of the nearby sloughs.
I did see one of the grebes, but it quickly disappeared after I set up my scope, and none of the babies came into view. I did see a female Ruddy Duck with seven fairly new ducklings, along with more than 30 American Coots, six Killdeer feeding in one of the flooded fields, along with a Lesser Yellowlegs, a pair of Eastern Kingbirds, Cedar Waxwings, a flock of about 45 Red-winged Blackbirds, two Eastern Phoebes, two juvenile Eared Grebes, and 24 Blue-winged Teals as my highlights.
There were still a lot of breeding birds around, but when I return to Alberta in mid-September many of them will have left. Waterfowl migration will have started, and I hope to find some new species and get some good photos of the thousands of Snow Geese.
Some photos from my walk the other day:
I saw over 20 Clay-colored Sparrows,
A female Ruddy Duck and her seven ducklings,
A juvenile Eared Grebe (digiscoped),
There was lots of Water Smartweed growing in the ditch,
The Killdeers got quite close to me which made it easier to get good photos, but they don’t stand still for very long, so lots of my photos are blurry. Here are my best two,