Birder's Eye View

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Passing the time

This world is but a canvas to our imagination.
- Henry David Thoreau

While much of the country is experiencing extreme temperatures, my little corner of the world is no exception.

With daily temperatures in the 90s-feels-like-110, I am left with little motivation to even attempt birding. Just stepping outside my front door, I am slammed into a wall of thick, hot, humid air. Yuck.

I can't complain though. Living in Florida my whole life, I know the nature of summer here. While most living things go into hibernation during the winter up north, I've always thought of it as the opposite down here. The trees may be green and lively, but everything else seems to hunker down quietly out of sight for the duration of the season.

To pass the time until the rains decide to return and cool down the stifling heat, I decided to paint a new picture the other day. It didn't come out exactly the way I wanted it (never does!), but it's acceptable.

Until next time,

Happy birding!

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Book Review: Field Book of Wild Birds & their Music

I've been reading a lot this summer, so I've decided to periodically post reviews of some of the bird/nature books I've read so far.

Field Book of Wild Birds and their Music
F. Schuyler Mathews

I first came across this little gem in my college library last fall. I had just finished a big research project and was completely dead beat, when it randomly occurred to me to see what kinds of bird books were in the library’s collection.

I found the typical field guides, studies, reference books, and then a little black leather-bound diminutive tome tucked in the middle. It was an original 1904 copy of F. Schuyler Mathews’ Field Book of Wild Birds and their Music.

It immediately captured my attention. The grayscale watercolor paintings stood out, but not so much as the musical notation written for the song of almost every species in the field guide. While such musically annotated birdsong books are fairly common today, in research I discovered that Mathews’ guide was one of the first of its kind.

As a pianist of 11 years, there was no way I could pass up a book that combined two of my favorite pastimes – birding and music. I checked it out, and ran to the music practice rooms to try my hand at some of the “songs.”

Most of the musical notation in the book is little more than one or two lines, but the notes are surprisingly accurate considering the time period in which they were written. As this was published back before the age of fancy recording equipment, the author transcribed the songs of all 127 species in the book by ear.

This isn’t the kind of thing I could read cover to cover, but I find it useful as a reference. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m terrible at identifying birds by sound, and since getting my own (newer!) copy of this guide I’ve been able to make the fundamental connection between music and birding.

I would rate Field Book of Wild Birds and their Music a 7/10. Although very dated, it’s a unique find and one of interest to any musically-inclined birder.

Until next time,

Happy birding!

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Geocaching: a modern day treasure hunt

So, seeing as it's been over a week since my last post, and I haven't been birding lately, I've decided to go a tiny bit off topic for today. Just a little.

Let's talk geocaching! I've mentioned it once before, but this time I'm dedicating an entire post to unabashed ravings about this totally fun, modern day, wordwide treasure hunting game.

How it works: First and foremost, geocaching requires a handheld GPS navigation device. Most people are familiar with these -- using satellite signals, the GPS can pinpoint your location anywhere on earth. Plug in geographical coordinates, and you can follow the GPS to your destination. In the case of geocaching, this usually involves hiking a trail (or mountain climbing, spelunking, SCUBA diving, or swimming) to find a box with a log book and various items inside.

How it's played: Using the website, you can find geocaches in your area. Caches are listed by distance, and rated in terms of difficulty and terrain. There are also clues, and historical and geographical information provided for each cache, which can help in identifying landmarks and understanding the area. Once you have all this information, it's time to hit the trail.

Most geocaches are in nature parks, although we once found one in a grocery store parking lot! As you hike along, your GPS will tell you the direction and distance of the cache coordinates. When you get within 20 or so feet of your target, start searching. If you figured out the clues, you'll probably know whether to look high or low, what it might look like, etc. Caches can be anything from a tiny film canister, to an ammo box (pictured above), to a tupperware container.

How we do it: My family and I have been geocaching since 2004 (way before I turned into an obsessed birder!). Since then, we've taken to looking for geocaches almost anywhere we're traveling. We've found a "microcache" hidden in a street sign, a megacache off-trail in a cypress swamp, and many regular caches hidden both locally and out of state.

Sometimes we don't find the geocache for which we're searching. Once, we got lost off trail in the dead of a hot, summer afternoon without water or our normal hiking supplies, and had a run-in with a coral snake. It certainly left everyone shaken up a bit. Other times, we've crawled around in palmettos, searched up and down trees, under rocks, behind shrubs, and never found the geocache. It happens, and it's a good reminder that failure is ALWAYS an option. :-)

More often than not though, we find the caches. It's always exciting to find a box hidden in the woods, open it up, and see what's inside. As a rule, we fill out the log book (basically just a note pad that geocachers sign to say "Found it!") and exchange items. Caches are filled with useless trinkets, small supplies (flashlights, first-aid kits, etc), or themed items (one we found was full of books!).

How about that! Geocaching is obviously a lot of fun, and it has something for everyone. Young families can do it, old families can do it, it can be done alone, or with friends; it can be easy, or it can be a great (and sometimes dangerous) challenge.

I can't end this post without saying: Safety first. If this has inspired you to try geocaching, go prepared. Always take a backpack with water, food, a compass, a cell phone for emergencies, and of course items to exchange in the cache.

Until next time,

Happy geocaching and birding!

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Friday, June 5, 2009

Homosassa Spring Afternoon

Yesterday afternoon, my Mom, sister, and I decided to stop in Homosassa Springs State Park on our way home from visiting relatives. Although typically an active tourist destination in the winter, we found the park to be mostly devoid of sightseers on this hot, muggy afteroon, much to our pleasure.

We hiked the trail coming in (part of the Great FL Birding Trail), but because of the time of day and the variable weather conditions passing through, I found little more than common Cardinals, Parulas and Titmice.

The main portion of the park is mostly a wildlife rehabilitation area. Fenced-in habitats house birds of prey, wildcats, key deer, aligators, black bears, foxes, otters, and a hippopotamus (for some reason.)

The kestrels were one of my favorites for the day. There was a kestrel chick sitting on top of its shelter, cocking its head this way and that, looking all too cute.

The park also had a small collection of owls -- a Barred Owl, pictured above, Great Horned Owl, Eastern Screech Owls, and a Barn Owl. Although I can't technically add these to my year list, it's always fun to get a close look at captive birds since it helps in identifying them out in the wild.

Woodstorks are common around here, but it's not every day you can get close enough to reach out and touch one (not that I would -- do you see the size of that beak??).

If only I could count captive birds! I still have yet to see a Whooping Crane in the wild, but I did get an interesting close-up of this one in the park.

Another bird I'm dying to see -- a Crested Caracara. This one was running around in a habitat with three other species of hawk.

As we left the wildlife area and walked along the actual Homosassa River, Wood Ducks snoozed in the hot afternoon and preened their feathers contentedly out over the water.

Enormous manatees floated only a few feet off the trail. The water was so clear, too, that you could see every little detail on these elephant-like creatures. As long as I've lived in FL, I never get tired of these guys.
Inside a little nature center, there was an interesting display of bird skulls. The Roseate Spoonbill is my favorite!

Another cool feature at Homosassa is their underwater observatory out in the river. Normally jam packed in the winter, there was absolutely no one there when we went. This ginormous manatee was swimming cirlces around it, doing lazy barrel rolls as it cruised about under the crystal-clear water.

All in all, I didn't technically get any new birds for the day, but I had a wonderful time. We basically got the whole park to ourselves, saw some pretty amazing animals, and had an all-around fantastic afternoon.

Until next time,

Happy birding!