Sunday, June 17, 2018

Still Alive!

Hi friends! Lots been happening here, just not a lot of it for this ol 2002-lookin-ass blog. (I should probably overhaul this, right? It's been years. I know people don't really do blogs even anymore but I don't want to get rid of it, but don't really know what would look better. Suggestions welcome.)

I had some plans this spring for some original blog content (!) but just couldn't get it together in time. Maybe next spring.

I had a baby in March! That's going great, but taking up a lot of time, as you can probably imagine. He came birding with me a bunch of times in May, which was a blast. Here's a pic of him peacefully hanging out with me at Theodore Roosevelt Island during a super-heavy migration morning.

And here we are at Constitution Gardens on the Mall getting up close with some Canada Geese.

I've still been writing, too, just not as frequently as I once was. It's hard with a little baby and a busy day job! Here are a few links.

I've written a couple more pieces for National Parks Magazine, one about Sooty Terns at Dry Tortugas National Park (one of my all-time favorite places), and the other about birding on Civil War battlefield parks.

And a couple of new articles on

I've also been birding, but not as much as in previous years. A baby will do that to you. No new ABA birds yet this year, but four new District of Columbia birds: a Golden-winged Warbler (what a stunner!) in Rock Creek Park, a good look at a Virginia Warbler at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and an overdue Alder Flycatcher at the same spot, and then a trio of Least Terns just today on the Potomac. The city was enthralled for a week or so by a strangely confiding Northern Bobwhite in a yard up above Georgetown until it came out a week later that the bird had been raised from an egg by some neighbors. Fun to get a good look, of course!

Enjoy! Will hopefully get some good stuff up here soon.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Swans and Robots

Do you think the words "swan" and "robots" have ever been used in the same sentence before? I can't imagine in what context. Well, there's a first time for everything: I've published two recent articles, one on swans and another on robots, for, and wanted to share them here.

First, with incredible custom artwork by Lilli Carre, is a very silly piece I wrote about the modifications I'd have if I were a birding cyborg robot.

Next, with an image from Lynn Long / Audubon Photography Awards, is a piece encouraging birders to seek out wild swans -- not domesticated pond floaties.


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Renaming Birds By Their Anagrams

I've written a lot about renaming birds. I've tried to give some birds their dignity back by changing their embarrassing comparative names. I've suggested some new people to name birds after. I've probably done other things I can't remember. Now, I'm doing something else.

We know there are a lot of birds with names that are...less than optimal. The Red-bellied Woodpecker barely has a red belly. The least evident part of the Orange-crowned Warbler is its crown. House Wren is just a flat-out boring name.

But how do you pick new names? Is Boring Greenish Warbler really any better than Orange-crowned? Who the hell do I think I am?

Maybe I'll let the current names do the work for me. Here are a bunch of new names for badly named birds (and then birds with good names just because they're fun). Thanks to the Internet Anagram Server for the heavy lifting. Enjoy.

  • Red-bellied Woodpecker -- Credible Deplored Woke (topical!)
  • Ring-necked Duck = Crick-kneed Dung (improvement?)
  • Western Tanager = A Stranger Tween (prequel to the Netflix show)
  • Hooded Warbler = Roadbed Howler (great blues musician name)
  • Rock Ptarmigan = Croaking Tramp (lol)
  • Whooping Crane = Powering Nacho (new Taco Bell menu item)
  • Elf Owl = Fellow (aw)
  • House Wren = Nowhere Us (Radiohead track)
  • Dickcissel = Dick Slices (can't stop giggling)
  • Spotted Towhee = Tweeted Photos (brand integration!)
  • Orchard Oriole = Hairdo Recolor (hey that's a thing, right?)
  • Phainopepla = Papa Pinhole (I think this was a ska band I listened to in the 90s)
  • American Robin = Macaroni Brine (gross) and Airborne Manic (fits)
  • Tree Swallow = Wallet Worse (I know how you feel)
  • Oak Titmouse = A Muskie Toot (haha yeah that's the good stuff)
  • Purple Martin = Praline Trump (topical...?) and Terrapin Lump (the UMD bench)
  • Boreal Owl = Oral Below ( :-| )
  • Rock Pigeon = Precooking (not funny but a single word) and Cooing Perk (accurate!)
  • Sandwich Tern = Wind Snatcher (accurate...?)
  • Red Knot = Dork Net (aka bird twitter)
  • Osprey = Roe Spy (I mean, they're after fish)
  • Least Bittern = Titan Trembles (great sci-fi novel)
  • Reddish Egret = Dished Regret (badass)
  • Snail Kite = Saintlike (yes)
  • Spruce Grouse = Pug Resources (one-stop dog shop)
  • Piping Plover = Propping Evil (diabolical!)
  • Marbled Godwit = Girdled Wombat (a great bar in Melbourne)
  • Lesser Nighthawk = Lengthwise Shark (science)
  • Horned Grebe = Boner Hedger (haha out with a bang)
 Thank you for your time.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Birding Santa Detective

I got a gift bag for Christmas that had an image of Santa birding. It's maybe the coolest thing I've ever seen. I put it up on twitter (@thebirdist) and tried to figure out just where Santa was pictured, given the species present. Here's how it went down:

Great work, all.

Despite some Google reverse image searching and just general Googling, I wasn't able to track down the illustrator or anything else about the image. If you know, please tell.


Some quick work from readers has revealed that this image is "Bird Watching Santa" by a popular artist named Tom Newsom. Here's the image from his site, which apparently was reversed on the bag I got.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Glorious Birder

Good job, Twitter

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Top Fives of Australia

Hi friends. I'm back from Australia aka the Land Down Under aka Oz aka Th'underside aka Koalaville aka The Big Apple. Had a damn good time and saw some damn good birds.

202 species, in fact. All self-found and identified (which means lots of misidentifications, probably). Do you want to hear about them? What's that? You're sitting at a computer and have no way of answering? Well, looks like I've got you, then. You're just gonna have to sit there and look at these words and pictures.

As I sometimes (Florida) do (Texas) when I have a lot of info to share but remember that I'm lazy, I'll be presenting my trip as a set of Top Fives. Let's get down under.

Top Five Reptiles

5. uhh okay honestly I don't think we saw five. Sorry to start slow here. There are a ton of reptiles in Australia, but we weren't really looking for them and only saw what we could, during the day.

4. Snake tails. I saw just one snake the whole time, the small yellow tail of one creeping off into the leaf litter on Long Island in the Whitsundays. No idea what it was. Liz saw another tail in Mossman. This is boring I shouldn't have started with reptiles.

3. Little guys. We saw, like, a couple skinks and little fellers scampering around. Here's one, which I believe is a Northern Red-throated Skink (Carlia rubrigularis)

2. Crocodiles. Australia is famous for its crocodiles, and rightfully so. They're huge and scary and eat people a lot more frequently than is comfortable. It was interesting, between giant saltwater crocodiles and deadly summertime jellyfish collectively called "marine stingers," the perfect white sand beaches from Cairns north are completely devoid of swimmers and surfers. It's eerie, but it's better to stay dry than to be eaten up by a bloody great crocodile. 

The crocs were huge but...crocodiles are boring. They're boring. They just sit there or swim lazily around. I didn't see them feed on anything, which would have been amazing, so these lizards are just at #2. The top photo here is a male swimming in the Daintree River. He's huge, and could easily kill a human. The bottom photo is a smaller female, also on the Daintree.

1. Goanna. Yeaaahhh this guy was intense. I was talking a stroll alone down a path on Long Island, a little eco-resort we stayed at on the Whitsundays, when this massive lizard slowly crossed the path in front of me. I swear it was five feet long, a frigging Komodo dragon. People down there see monitor lizards, called Goannas, all the time but it was new to me, and intense. It didn't look threatening at all, but I didn't push my luck. It was so close and in the leaves that I couldn't really get a good picture, sorry.

Top Five Meals

5. I cooked little beef burritos on the back of our camper van one night in Kakadu. They were mediocre, but it always tastes better when you cook for yourself.

in my Australian Nick hat

4. Silky Oaks Lodge. This eco-lodge in Mossman was the fanciest and nicest place we stayed at. Our room was fantastic, and the dinner was pretty good too. I had fish, I think.

3. Opera Bar, Sydney Opera House. We had just a few hours total in Sydney, and decided to head down to the Opera House because, I mean, it's the most beautiful building I've ever seen. It really lived up to all the hype. We ate at the lively self-order restaurant bar along the lower deck of the structure, fighting off Silver Gulls and our own giddiness.

2. Breakfast at Cassowary House. We spent two nights at this little eco-lodge in the rainforest near Cairns. The accommodations were fairly bare-bones, but the atmosphere was amazing. Southern Cassowaries visited the front porch of the main house both mornings. I watched a Victoria's Riflebird -- a type of bird-of-paradise -- practice its display both mornings from my little balcony. We paid a little extra for breakfasts each morning and we were so glad we did. It was unfussy fare, just fruit, bread, yogurt, etc., but it was incredibly tasty and heightened by cassowaries, Spotted Catbirds, Musky Rat Kangaroos and other birds all around us. Great mornings.

Liz shooting a male cassowary and babies
1. The Balcony, in Townsville, QLD. This place was awesome. I got black bread and chorizo for brunch, and Liz got eggs benedict. Was the best food we had.

Top Five Bird Calls

202. Sulphur-crested Cockatoo.
It was awesome to have Sulphur-crested Cockatoo around. Incredible. They're stunning, almost caricatures of the idea of a tropical bird. One morning in the Whitsundays while I was drinking coffee from a hammock (!) one landed about three feet from me and just sat for five minutes. It was incredible.

Unfortunately, they sound like screaming hell-beasts. Just an awful, deep, grating nightmare of a call, made even worse because it shocks you out of a coconut-scented tropical bliss. Listen:

5. Wompoo Fruit-dove. A pleasant sort of wobbly croak I heard a couple mornings in the rainforest.

4. Willie-wagtail. These were maybe my favorite birds of the entire trip. Imagine an Eastern Phoebe that's starker black-and-white instead of dusky gray, and instead of cutely pumping its tail it adorably shakes its little booty back and forth. They're delightful, and their squeaky little call is delightful too.

Willie-wagtail in Pine Creek 
3. Double-eyed Fig Parrot. I am terrible with bird sounds, but was proud of myself for connecting the metallic "tink!" I kept hearing to this snazzy little green bullet. It's a proud moment when you begin to recognize a species just by ear, and this was my first in Oz.

2. Black Butcherbird. This bird's set of monkey-like hoots epitomized the sound of the jungle for me, but not quite as much as...

1. Eastern Whipbird. Oh man. I think David Attenborough used this call in the background of some of his Life of Birds shows, or some of the BBC shows. I never knew what it was (and am now wondering if the song was improperly used in non-Australian jungles), so I was overjoyed to hear it throughout the Cairns area. Such a cool "boooooooooooWHIP!" song, louder than expected and pretty startling when they're close.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Prep for Australia

My wife and I are headed to Australia for a vacation in just over a week now and I'm frigging pumped. I haven't birded out of the country since 2006 when I went to Ecuador with a couple of non-birding friends. I didn't see very many species on that trip, but also put no real effort in.

This is going to be different (don't tell my wife). I am going to see a ton of insane Australian birds, from improbable sounding families (shrike-thrush? emu-wren?? duck-parrot??? [last one not real]). I can't wait. We're spending a few days in the Cairns area in and around the Daintree rainforest, then a couple days down in the Whitsunday Islands, then a few days cruising around the Top End near Darwin and Kakadu NP.

Holy crap, I've got a lot of preparation to do.

Other than a walk or two with people at the Cassowary House near Cairns, where we're staying for two nights, I won't have anyone guiding me or showing me around. I prefer birding this way (I think), but it means it's all on me to make IDs.

I'm studying hard. Some friends at Princeton University Press sent me two stunning field guides to check out that are my nightly textbooks.

The first is the brand new Australian Bird Guide, by Peter Menkhorst and a crew of other authors. This thing is a stunner, fully illustrated with every bird seemingly ever touched a talon on Australian soil. This'll be the guide I bring with me in the field.

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