Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Mississippi Big Day Attempt -- Monday April 24


I lived for a brief time in the big weird state of Mississippi. It's an incredible place, wilder and more beautiful than most people would believe. I loved birding there, spending most of my time among the overgrown catfish ponds of the northwest Delta region, but also exploring deep forests, muggy bayous, and the marshy coast.

After I left, some of my friends and I started a small organization called Delta Wind Birds, which works with duck hunting outfits and catfish farmers in the Delta to manage some of their lands for migratory shorebirds. Millions of shorebirds fly up the Mississippi River each spring and fall, and because the river no longer floods like it used to, stopover habitat for these birds is rare. Delta Wind Birds (or DWB), helps pay farmers and duck hunters to draw down water on certain ponds to the proper depth for shorebirds, providing food and fuel to thousands of birds.

DWB's annual fundraiser is a Big Day attempt, trying to break the record of 175 species set in 1989. The team just missed in 2015, hitting 170. Last year conditions didn't pan out and they ended at 167.

This year, they asked me to join them. Work be damned, I'm gonna go.

It looks like this Monday, April 24th with have pretty good conditions for the attempt. (NOTE: No guarantee of the day until it happens, it could be Sunday, it could be Tuesday.) I'm flying to New Orleans on Saturday and meeting the team -- Jason Hoeksema, JR Rigby, and Hal Mitchell -- in Jackson, MS. We'll scout on Sunday and then get out there at 12:01 AM on Monday morning listening for rails and looking for owls.


This is going to be fun as heck, but we're also trying to raise money to save shorebirds.

We are going to be doing our best to livestream and/or live tweet the whole day, so PLEASE follow along on my twitter (@thebirdist) and on the Delta Wind Birds Facebook page.


Thanks, and wish me luck!


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Cool Snowy Egret Behavior in Florida

I was down on the west coast of Florida for work a couple weeks ago and had time before my flight on Saturday to sneak out to the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. It's famous, and so I wanted to check it out.

I had a goddamn blast. It was such a nice departure from the March birding blues here in DC to see tons of warblers, sandhill cranes, crested caracara and a whole bunch of up-close wading birds. March is the height of the dry season, and a lot of the deeper water at Corkscrew -- and all the birds that wade in that water -- were concentrated in just a few pools. Lots of species in close proximity: white ibis, wood stork, roseate spoonbill, and herons and egrets of all kinds.

I was particularly impressed with some Snowy Egret feeding behavior I had never seen before. The Snowies I'm used to fish with what I consider a pretty standard hunt-and-strike heron technique, which includes everything from just standing and waiting for a fish to actively hunting around using those cool yellow feet as stirrers or lures.

But a group of Snowies around one pond were feeding from the wing, flying low across the surface, dragging their toes into the water, and picking up fish that hopped out in front of them. I'd never seen anything like it. Here's are a couple videos (if you listen with sound don't mind all the shutter snaps, there were a lot of photographers on the boardwalk with me):

Cool, right? I had a blast there.

A quick stop later on in Naples for some sought-after Snowy and Wilson's Plover showed my something else I'd never really appreciated before: how well-camouflaged these birds are. I had seen lots of bird reports from this particular beach but didn't seen any birds at all until I stopped at an area sort of scattered with shells and sticks on other debris. "This looks like a perfect place for some birds to hide themselves," I thought. And I was right. There were a whole bunch of each species. Check out these pics to see how well they blended in. The top photo shows the area, and all of the birds are somewhere in there, Where's Waldo? style.

All of those images have two birds in them, can you find 'em?

Southwest Florida birding is the best, man.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Arizona Mexican Food and an Essay about Tacos

Hi friends.

I was honored to be asked to contribute an essay to Good Birders Still Don't Wear White, a sequel to the popular book by birders about birding. We were asked to write about something we love about birding, and so naturally I wrote about tacos.

The book is about to be released, and features a ton of probably-awesome essays from famous birders and also me. Go pre-order the book here!

In spirit of my epicurean topic, I wanted to update you, good reader, on the near-border delicacies I recently experienced on a birding trip to southeast Arizona. I'll tell you about the birds some other time (we ran the table on some great rarities) and instead focus on that even more elusive target for this Mainer: a good taco.  Here's what I had, with grades.

Mango Taco Truck in the Houston Airport

I had a super early morning flight from DC with a layover in Houston. I hadn't eaten anything all day and was rushing to my flight but stopped at this little stand for a chorizo-and-potato (I asked for it without egg) burrito, which was DELICIOUS. I know it's an airport and all, but this thing hit the spot. Chorizo done right is unbeatable. Grade: A.

Filiberto's in Arizona City, AZ

We were super hungry after dashing around Phoenix getting the rental car arranged and then picking up some Rosy-faced Lovebirds. We pulled into Arizona City on our way south to Tucson and snagged some burritos at Filiberto's, which is apparently a chain in the area. They were delicious. The biggest difference in good Mexican food that the crap I'm used to out East is fresh tortillas. Warm and floury and a little stretchy, fresh tortillas make all the difference, and these burritos were perfect. Grade: A

Taqueria Juanitos in Tucson, AZ

Another winner, this time in downtown Tucson. Delicious carne adasa, as I recall. We also loved the sign, which features the mascot of the restaurant, whom we named Mr. TacoFace FaucetPenis.

I mean seriously what is going on down there?

Whatever, it was great. Grade: A.

El Charro Tucson in Tucson, AZ

We went one night to this fancier, sit-down place. It's apparently the oldest family-operated Mexican restaurant in the United States, so props to that. They're famous for their carne seca dish, which is beef that's dried on the roof of the restaurant (in summer, at least). We had that, and it was not very good. I gotta be honest. It tasted like beef jerky tacos. Not my favorite. Grade: C.

Adolfo's Taco Shop in Willcox, AZ

Got some food here after a cold, windy couple hours of birding at Lake Cochise. We weren't quite sure what it was, but this place was our favorite food of the whole trip. Great tortillas, perfect burritos. Plus, this painting was on the wall, which I couldn't look away from.

He's looking right into my soul! Grade: A+

El Zarape in Nogales, AZ

We needed to eat so badly after our impromptu all-day 12 mile hike down California Gulch for the Nutting's Flycatcher. This place was listed as the best Mexican food in Nogales. It was just OK, I think. Grade: B+

Nico's Mexican Food in Tucson, AZ

Some final breakfast burritos on our way out of Tucson. These were delicious, but tough to eat as the driver. I should have pulled over. Either way, a great final meal. Until next time, border towns! Grade: A-

Tuesday, January 3, 2017


Sometimes on Twitter I enjoy compiling meaningless rankings of U.S. bird species. It fun nonsense, and it riles people up. I wanted to try to compile these tweets in one place, and so here we are.

Um OK I guess it's only four times I've done it? I thought it was more. Whelp, you'll know what to look forward to in 2017!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

All the Bird Stuff I Got for Christmas

Once your relatives know you're a birder, you'll be getting tons of birds stuff every Christmas. It's great, mostly, and who am I to complain about anything anyway I'm getting free things from loved ones and everything's great. But still, one can only have so many bird calendars, you know? Like, one per year. 

Thankfully, my loved ones have great taste and a classy touch. Let me share with you the great bird-y things I got this year.

Let's start with my mom, who gave me a bunch of little goodies.

Some pretty postcards and a magnet. Nice.

A Charley Harper bird mobile! I will hang this above my bed maybe because I am a grown man.

A cute little birding journal that I can, like, write my notes in. Being completely honest, I will never use this because I am not 90 years old and it's not 1971, but it's a very nice little book and deserves to be filled with pretty memories and sightings.

Thanks, mom! You're great and beautiful and good at giving presents. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Let's Take A Look At This 1982 Playboy Ad About Bird Feet

I was at my buddy's house over Thanksgiving and he had this Playboy from 1982 sitting on his counter and I started leafing through it, as one does.

I found, immediately and before I got to any of the other stuff, this ad for Converse shoes. It's amazing. It's all totally wrong, and an embarrassment, but it's amazing. Let's take a closer look.

Let's start at the top. Here's what Converse thinks the foot of an American Flamingo looks like:

It's, uh. It's not what the foot of an American Flamingo looks like. It looks like this:

So, yeah, flamingo feet are actually webbed. Simple mistake! Maybe the artist just ran out of pink color pencil. Let's see what's next.

These actually look pretty good! What's up! It should be Ring-billed Gull, though. Small things. Moving on.

I mean, sort of an odd choice, considering that this bird and these feet are like smaller than any of there other bird's feet on here. The sizing is way off, is what I'm saying. Plus, again, and I hate to harp on this, but it's Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

"The Golden Crested, Green Footed Larry Bird." Oh man, so great. Remember Larry Bird? I hope you do. He is the man, and is probably the most beloved player in Boston Celtics history. He was three years in the league at this point and had just started to kick ass. Look at this guy.

Golden-crested indeed! Last thing:

This is just a completely incorrect, insane statement. Birds aren't readily identified by their feet. They just aren't. There are some birds whose feet are extremely helpful for identification, like Semipalmated and Ringed Plovers, but c'mon no one is looking at the feet first. No one is "readily" identifying birds by their feet. Plus, these idiots got the feet wrong! How can they say that you can identify birds by their feet when even the artists can't even get the feet right?! And another thing! Who is identifying basketball players by their feet? They wear jerseys with their names on them for goodness' sake!

OK bye.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

I Am the Very Model of a Modern Twitching Birdwatcher

There's a famous song in Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance called "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General." It's sung with gusto by a stuffy military man who's well-educated and seems to know everything about everything ... except the military.

I thought the message of the song would be a good fit for birding, where we all know someone with a life list a mile long but no clue about ornithology. (I might be one of them!)

So, I've updated the lyrics for your enjoyment. Here's the Gilbert and Sullivan version to refresh your memory on the pattern, it's pretty specific:

I am the very model of a modern twitching birdwatcher,
I’ve checked off every species between Monterrey and Labrador,
I’ve driven thirteen hours for an out-of-season Whip-poor-Will,
I skipped Thanksgiving dinner for a third-state-record Ivory Gull;
My days are spent in landfills and my nights straining for flight chip notes,
I’ve had my share of leeches and have plenty tick bite anecdotes,
About the lump/split process I am teaming with a lot o’ news,
With very strong opinions on the splitting of the Common/Mews!
I’ve ticked off every Ammodram from Saltmarsh through to Grasshopper;
I’ve spent more time in rice fields than a workaholic sharecropper;
I’ve checked off every species between Monterrey and Labrador,
I am the very model of a modern twitching birdwatcher.

I zip across the country in a birder-style Whack-a-Mole;
I’ve ticked the Social Flycatcher and Oriental Pratincole;
I’ve seen a Smew on Attu and a Thick-knee on the Rio Grande,
My Mecca is in Portal and Tortugas is the holy lands;
I’ve seen all of the warblers — Fan-tailed, Dusky, and Pallas’s Leaf;
No heron has eluded me from Chinese Pond to Western Reef;
I’ll push down all your mothers for a bird I have not seen afore;
Saw a Spoon-billed on the Pribilofs and saved a trip to Singapore!
I keep a separate checklist for each county, block and avenue,
I eBird every bird I eat, each turkey leg and cordon bleu;
In short, for every species between Monterrey and Labrador,
I am the very model of a modern twitching birdwatcher.

In fact, when I know what is meant “tibital” and “scapular”,
When I can learn the difference between hummingbird and jacamar,
When, alone, I can distinguish between jaegers and the canaries;
And I know what is meant when one says “molting of the primaries”,
When I can speak with knowledge of the lengths of supercilia —
When I split the aves from the order crocodilia —
In short, when I’ve a smattering of basic ornithology —
You’ll say no better birdwatcher has ever lifted bins as he.
My avian understanding, though I’m wealthy and unquenchable;
Is limited to rarities, thus rather one-dimensional.
But still, for every species between Monterrey and Labrador,
I am the very model of a modern twitching birdwatcher!

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