Birder's Eye View

Monday, July 27, 2009

This is the West!

"How very pleasant it is to be naïve enough to be excited by things which the natives of an area take for granted."
– Phoebe Snetsinger

I'm going to be M.I.A. from the blogosphere for the next few weeks, off on a journey out west.

With any luck, I'll be seeing American dippers, Western kingbirds, gray jays, ring-necked pheasants, mountain bluebirds, prairie falcons, black-capped chickadees, and a host of other lifers. Oh the joys of traveling as a "beginner" birder!

This will be my first trip to the midwest, and I can't wait to see what it's going to be like.

Until I get back,

Happy birding!

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Book Review: Life List

Life List
By Olivia Gentile

“Right now you can get to more wild places, extraordinary habitats, and incredible birds than has ever been possible in the past, or will be possible in the future. They’re all out there somewhere – so do it in whatever style suits you – and ENJOY IT!” – Phoebe Snetsinger

Life List: A Woman’s Quest for the World’s Most Amazing Birds is the intriguing new biography of Phoebe Snetsinger, the first person in the world to see 8,000 life birds against all odds.

The book starts off slow, describing her early life as a housewife in the 1960s. Despite being a highly independent woman who had excelled in science in college, she gave in to societal pressure, got married, and raised 4 children. But when another housewife introduced her to birding one day, her life changed forever.

As this passion escalated to an obsession, Phoebe studied birds zealously, joined nature clubs, and made friends in the birding world -- something she’d had less luck at doing in her role as a housewife.

In 1981, however, she was diagnosed with cancer, and told she had a year to live. Rather than toil over her ephemeral life, Phoebe decided to travel the world and see as many birds as she could before her time was up.

Little did she know that she would live another incredible 18 years after the diagnosis. Thinking that each year could be her last, Phoebe went on birding tours for months on end, traveling everywhere from Antarctica to Madagascar, Peru to the Himalayas, often on dangerous and strenuous expeditions to some of the most remote regions of the planet.

Unfortunately, this obsession caused her to drift away from her family. Although all of her children ended up going into environmental fields of study, they felt distanced from Phoebe, and bonded more with their father.

Phoebe kept going right until the end though. Although she tried to make amends with her family, birding was her priority and she didn’t slow down.

Despite her human flaws, Phoebe’s life makes an incredible story that I’m sure someone will make into a movie sooner or later. Although it does start off slow, the vivid descriptions of Phoebe’s adventures around the world make it hard to put the book down at times.

I’d rate Life List an 8/10. It is a must-read for any birder, but could probably have been written a little better in some parts. Author Olivia Gentile uses many one-word quotes throughout the book that can get a little distracting, but not enough to take away from the extraordinary story of Phoebe Snetsinger.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

You know you live in Florida when...

Alrighty then! Whatever floats your boat... or props up your palm tree... [insert your own caption]

...You pass a flatbed carrying a palm tree propped up on an old TV sitting on a white recliner driving down the road.

Good thing I had my camera with me today. I am still perplexed.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Buteo lineatus

Buteo lineatus, the Red-shouldered Hawk. A common, but striking bird to find, especially at close range.

This one was in my yard this afternoon. It flew up into our old "climbing tree," a big sprawling camphor, and sat there preening its feathers for about a minute.

I took few pictures before it raised its tail, pooped, and then flew off out of sight. :-) That's Buteo lineatus for you, the Red-shouldered Hawk.

Happy birding!

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

A walk in the woods

"The more we are separated from nature, the unhappier we get."
- Unknown

So I finally got out to go birding again. Finally, a morning all to myself, alone, in the woods. Just me, the trees, the big sky... and the mosquitoes.

It was a partly cloudy, muggy, buggy morning, and terribly quiet. Hardly a sound came through the woods, accept for the occasional titmouse and cardinal, and a few distant cicadas and cricket frogs.

At one point, I glanced behind me while hiking, and realized there was literally a cloud of mosquitoes following me! They ebbed up and down with the rise and fall of my footsteps, floating less than a foot away.

Well, shoot, I thought, as soon as I stop, they're going to catch up! Funny thing is, that's exactly what happened. I finally stopped to get out my camera, and the cloud caught up, swarming me. I grabbed my "eco-friendly" organic cactus-juice bug spray from my backpack and misted the little devils before coating myself in the spray.

Mosquitoes don't bother me a whole lot, but they are annoying, and it is somewhat unsettling to look back and realize you're being followed by a mob at least 100-strong.

As the morning got hotter and drier, the mosquitoes eased up. I trekked down to the lake and found these soft, squishy egg shell bits on the ground by the lake. Not quite sure what they're from, but my guess would be turtle or snake.

For people don't think you can visibly see the seasons in Florida, I would challenge them to visit this park each season and reconsider. Right now in the height of summer, it boasts brilliant hues of green, yellow and blue, with long-stemmed wildflowers bobbing in the hot breeze.

In autumn the lighting changes and as the vegetation dies back, everything looks golden-orange. In winter, the landscape turns a crisp brown and you can see so deep into the forest-- my favorite season for birding. And once again in spring, all the tender greens return, the lakes fill up, and the forest is alive once more.

A pretty bridge, crossing a creek bed.

About a mile into the hike, I stopped at a pavillion to rehydrate, and got fussed at by a Carolina Wren. It sat on the wood beam, chirping at me, before flying off to a nearby tree and calling insistantly.

It didn't take me long to find the nest, tucked up in the rafters of the pavillion. It was too high up for me to see if it had chicks in it, though.

Towards the end of the hike, the sky began to get pretty dark, and I still hadn't seen many birds, even common species. My tally for the day: Little Blue heron, Mourning Dove, Cardinal, Carolina Wren, Tufted Titmouse, and an Osprey. A pretty sad list, if you ask me.

Regardless, I didn't go into the 2 mile hike with high expectations, so I wasn't too disappointed. It was a nice getaway for a couple hours, a good photo op, and a nice way to reconnect with nature. :-)
Until next time,
happy birding!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Overdue post

“A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.”
- Moslih Eddin Saadi

Look ma! A random Mallard picture!

I am long overdue for another post, but unfortunately this also reveals the fact that I haven't been out birding in over a month (oh, the horrors!). Well, okay, technically I have -- everytime I step outside or look out my window, my eyes are peeled and I always see *something*. Usually just the regular species though. Great-crested Flycatchers, Mallard ducks, Mockingbirds, Northern Parula, Carolina Wrens, Tufted Titmice, Red-shouldered Hawk, Mourning Dove, an assortment of herons, ibis and egrets, and the occasional woodpecker.

Nonetheless, I am feeling a bit of cabin fever being stuck at home these past few weeks. The sky has been dark since Monday and we have been under a constant flow of rain, thunder, and lightning. I love rainstorms, but I'm kind of ready to get outside again.

The only comfort is that in just 27 days, I'll get to spend an entire 2 weeks outdoors halfway across the country.

Our travel arrangements are in place, but beyond that we still have some planning to do. We begin in Colorado, and from there we're driving up to South Dakota. I have a couple target birds, although I try not to get my heart too set on anything (for, as we know, failure is always an option! Especially with me).

Some of the birds I'm hoping to see in particular are the American Dipper, Gray Jay, Western Kingbird, and a few different species of woodpecker and sparrow. Most likely though, almost anything I see out there will be a lifer.

Even more than seeing these new birds though, I'm looking forward to the whole experience. I can't wait to see the mountains and hills and plants and animals endemic to the area. Bufallo and wild mustang are two "life mammals" I really want to see.

Ah well, 27 more days of dreaming. And then the journey begins.

Happy birding!

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