Tuesday, June 8, 2021

A quick post about Pat Hentgen, Major League Baseball player

As longtime readers (?) of this interblogsite know, I like to think about sports teams named after birds. Good times fun times all is well. But one angle I've never considered in all of this how the players feel about playing for a team named after a bird. 

And I still don't know that and can't really pursue it because I'm too busy and too lazy at the same time.

But if I were to talk to anyone I'd talk to Pat Hentgen, a Cy Young Award winner and three-time all-star pitcher who played between 1991 and 2004. He was a really good player and, for our purposes, has the unique status in major league baseball history as being the ONLY player to play for all three teams named after a bird (the Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles, and St. Louis Cardinals), and ONLY those teams.

Every time Pat Hentgen put on a major league uniform there was a bird on it somewhere. Pretty cool.


Tuesday, May 11, 2021

In Memory of John Beetham

John Beetham, author of the longtime bird blog Dendroica (formerly A DC Birding Blog), passed away this week, just a day or so after competing in the World Series of Birding. I can't say I knew John -- I think I met him only once, in DC back in probably early 2006 -- but he was a good online friend, a pioneering bird writer and journalist, and by all accounts a nice man.

When I moved to DC in late 2005 I had the birding itch and was stuck in an office all day at a low-pressure internship. I couldn't leave the office to bird, but I could write about birding, and so I wanted to start a blog. Blogging, and birding blogs, were sort of new at that point. There were a lot of them, mostly all unread, and, as I recall, all pretty boring. Most had some boring title like "Backyard Musings" or something and every post was like "I went out this afternoon and saw a cardinal. Here, look at this awful picture I took." But the beautiful thing was that there was possibility in a blog - you could write about whatever you wanted with no editors and no filters. Some birding blogs weren't boring.

John's A DC Birding Blog (now Dendroica) was one of them. (10,000 Birds -- still going strong -- was another.) John posted A LOT in those days -- 528 separate posts in 2006!!! -- and didn't just post birds he's identified but wrote about history and advocacy issues and ephemera. Fun stuff, interesting stuff. He also played an important role as an aggregator of information - links, news stories - which he collected into his mentromically regular Loose Feathers column. This type of aggregation was the most useful way in those days for a writer to get noticed, or for like-minded blogs to find one another. Seeing one of my crummy little posts show up in John's Loose Feathers collection was such a thrill and an honor in those early days, the first taste of recognition. Fittingly, the last post that John ever published was the 800th edition of Loose Feathers.

The first time I ever corresponded with John was when on March 1, 2006, when I told him that I was starting my own blog, titled BirdDC. I don't know why I titled my blog something so close to the title of his ... I think people just used local geography in their blogs back then? Kinda rude of me, in any case. But, at least I owned it I guess, and I wrote to John:

Hello John- I just wanted to let you know that I have recently (still working out the HTML kinks) begun a blog called birdDC (http://birdDC.blogspot.com).  It's quite similar to your site, which I like very much, and for that I apologize, but I live in DC and love birding so what can ya do.  I just thought I would give you a heads-up about cramping your style rather than having you stumble upon it. Best, Nick

John wrote back the kindest response. Instead of saying, like, "Oh, good for you" or "Nice why didn't you call it something else you hack?" he wrote:

Nick - Thanks for sending me the link. It looks like your blog is off to a good start. Don't worry about cramping my style. There is plenty of room for additional voices among bird bloggers. When I started my blog I originally patterned it after several bird bloggers that I read and liked, and then eventually developed my own voice and style.

Then he offered to connect me to a blog carnival (these were early, curated collections of blog posts hosted on a rotating blog roll) that he was managing. I mean, just the nicest guy and the kindest response. 

We supported each other and kept reading each other after that. I followed his advice and went to good birding spots. I learned about the issues from him. I "interviewed" John in 2006 as part of my very-lame-in-retrospect Birder Profile series. Maybe our biggest shared thrill was when John and I debated the question of what percentage of rare birds get found (I was on the Birdist site then), and we were directly refuted by David Sibley himself! David Sibley read our dumb little thing and thought we were so wrong he put down his paintbrush to (very kindly) join the conversation! A badge of honor.

But to be honest the Sibley issue illustrates perfectly the excitement of those early blogging years. Two non-experts could write about whatever popped into our heads, post it online, and have the biggest minds in birding read it and respond. There was no gate-keeping or approvals, no one to tell us what to post or what not to post, and genuine freedom to let writers develop their interests and reach viewers with minimal road blocks. Everything I've written and published is due to the freedom I had in those early bird blogging days and to the support of John Beetham and people like him (but mostly just him).

I didn't "know" John, and never birded with him, but I don't want his small but important place in birding history to be forgotten. He was a great writer and by all accounts a good person and good birder. I want to thank him for his friendship and support, and I extend my deepest sympathies to his family and friends. 

Sunday, February 21, 2021

The Blobin

 Just wanted to share that I found the chubbiest Robin, the Blobin. Here it is.

Good stuff. Oh, there was also a Redwing there, in Portland, Maine. ABA Lifer #694.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Trashfire: The 2020 Year in Review

I mean it wasn't actually all that bad from a birding perspective. I miraculously got some great trips out of the way before the pandemic hit, and then I was pretty damn lucky to be able to enjoy the birds in my backyard. 


World Species Seen: 615 (new personal record)

Countries with eBird Checklists: 4 (USA, Mexico, Ecuador, Panama [airport lol]) 

ABA Species Seen: 292 (only 7th year since 2005 under 300)

ABA Lifers: 2 (Yellow Rail and Common Cuckoo, bringing ABA total to I think 694 counting Northwestern Crow for now) 

Maine Birds Seen: 232 (most since 2010)

Maine State Birds: 12 (Bullock's Oriole, Thick-billed Murre, Western Tanager, Golden-winged Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Yellow Rail, Clark's Grebe, Say's Phoebe, Western Kingbird, Rufous Hummingbird, Tundra Swan, Rock Wren, bringing state total to 338)

Yard List: 49 year birds, 99 total yard species. 


Let's do a quick review, month by month.


I have a good crew of birding friends, and in January we took a trip up to my family's cabin near Moosehead Lake to help out with Maine's Winter Bird Atlas, and also drink a bunch. We had a blast, and the birds were cooperative. There was an abundant cone crop, and the sky was filled with White-winged Crossbills in full song, making reproductive hay while the sun shined, so to speak. We had close encounters with most everything you'd want up there in winter: Canada Jay, Boreal Chickadee, and a very confiding Black-backed Woodpecker.


In February I was invited to speak at the Laredo Birding Festival in West Texas, a huge honor and an opportunity to see some incredible birds. A great time on multiple fronts: great birds, great food, warm weather (as opposed to Maine), and a few good night's sleep away from my 2 year old (lol thanks to my lovely wife). The festival was incredibly well organized, and had great support from the city. I can't thank them enough for having me down, and I encourage anyone reading this to attend in the future.


All the shit started this month, but I tell ya, I had a good March. Three friends and I put together an insanely fun trip to Ecuador, a 8-day whirlwind up and down and Andes. I saw or heard (or was told I was seeing or hearing) 398 species, mostly all lifers. What can I say? It was incredible. We drove on insane mountain roads, relaxed over Amazonian vistas, tromped through high tundra, ate awesome food, and just had a wonderful time. It looks like I didn't do any posts on the blog about it? Weird. Too many highlights, but one (pictured below) is my 1,000th world bird, a Cinnamon Flycatcher.

Here are a few photos.


OK well things were a lot slower in April. I birded locally, and wrote this about Stevie Nicks. I saw a Prothonotary Warbler in South Portland, which was cool.


I mean, you can't beat May pandemic or no. One highlight was taking place in a bizzaro version of the World Series of Birding, which was opened to teams outside of NJ for the first time ever. A group from Maine Audubon combined to find 139 socially-distant species on a cold, blustery day. We didn't quite have the numbers to best teams in other states (migration in early May is still not ideal), but we had a blast. 

Also, hilariously, I put a call out to Twitter to see if anyone could recreate MLB logos with real birds. User @WhiskyEyeBrews managed to get a Northern Cardinal to come to her custom-made St. Louis Cardinal feeder for this photo. Unreal.


My kind and loving wife let me take a couple nights off away from the kiddo so I made a solo trip to the mountains of western Maine to try to snag a long-overdue state bird, the Mourning Warbler. Ebird directed me to a new spot for me, Quill Hill, and it was just a total paradise. I nailed Mourning Warbler quickly (why are these only digiscope pics? Did I now bring my camera?), and saw a bunch of other good birds. The next day I hiked Sugarloaf Mountain and had some amazing, close Bicknell's Thrush encounters. A great break.


Word quietly got around to Maine birders that there was a Yellow Rail at a remote marsh in far eastern Maine. This is an exciting bird, one of those birds that I really didn't know when I'd ever get. I couldn't pass up the opportunity, so my pal Ian and I (we were sort of in the bubble together and the virus was at a low point then, still we took many precautions), threw a canoe on my car we drive into the night up to Washington County. We got there in the pitch black, and launched our canoe into what we discovered was dead low tide -- we had to drag the boat through like two-hundred yards of unexpected mud before we hit the river. We finally launched, and paddled down the windy river through complete silence. Soon we began to hear a slight clicking in the night, like a reporter at a typewriter in the middle of the marsh. Unmistakable Yellow Rail. We got close to where the bird was without ever getting onto shore -- the bird is surprisingly loud -- and then paddled back through pure starry darkness back to our car. What an experience. 


August was pretty quiet. One highlight was rolling up to a socially-distanced friend's house outdoor hang at dusk and bearing witness to a flock of at least 300 migrating Common Nighthawks. It was unbelievable. Also, I saw some shorebirds at one point. Also, I saw the crazy Clark's Grebe that showed up in central Maine, but it was too far away for pictures.


The clear highlight was a (safe and distanced) friends trip to Monhegan Island for some migration birding. God damn is that a wonderful place. I also spotted the Say's Phoebe just a few miles from my house. Good times.


It's been an incredible winter for irruptive finches, and it started in October with a flood of Pine Siskins at my feeders. A side effect of the pandemic was that I was able to spend a lot more time birding in my yard (did I write about this already?) and I added a ton of birds to my yard list. Other highlights included ticking Rufous Hummingbird and Western Kingbirds for the state, and photoing an obliging Sora.


On Election Day, which turned out eventually to elect a good man instead of a raving egomaniac, Doug and I were FORCED to make a quick trip to Rhode Island to chase a Common Cuckoo. Common Cuckoo! Never thought I'd see that bird in the U.S. A fun, highly successful chase. At one point the bird flew directly at me and perched just above my head (photo of my by Doug).  Also saw my state Tundra Swans, which were boring.


Another amazing record in Maine, a Rock Wren, was a delightful surprise and gave great looks in Perkins' Cove, where it has persisted into 2021. Also enjoyed shooting some nice Pine Grosbeaks that hung out in my little yard. Nice way to end a garbage hell fart year. Thanks for sticking with me.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Rock Wren in Ogunquit, Maine

A woman named Diana Onacki was eating at the Jackie's Too restaurant at Perkin's Cove, on the coast of Maine near Ogunquit, when she saw a little brown bird on the rocks outside. She snapped a photo and posted it to the Maine Birds Facebook group, identifying it was a late-but-otherwise-not-Earth-shattering House Wren.

Well, it weren't no House Wren, but an in-fact-Earth-shattering-to-certain-people Rock Wren, just the second ever record for Maine. A good bird.

The bird has been reliable since the of November but my schedule hasn't. I went down last week with only about an hour to go before dark and used that hour up wandering aimlessly among the boulders like a moron, with nothing to show for it. I finally had an opportunity to go again this afternoon, and was rewarded handsomely. 

I re-found the bird about fifteen anxious minutes after I arrived, and watched it for about half an hour as it boinked up and down amongst the boulders after little flies. 

[Quick note here: If you are someone who is showing up to try to find a bird, please actually look for the bird. Birders are so frustrating sometimes. Both times when I arrived looking for the Rock Wren there were other birders or photographers just standing there, I guess waiting for the bird to show up in their laps. You gotta look! Look around! Today, after searching the far end of the beach, I returned to the parking lot and asked one of the photographers standing if she knew when the bird was last seen. "It was last seen about an hour ago, going around the back of the restaurant." "Oh, did you look back there?" I asked. "No," she said. Well, I went out behind the restaurant and there it was, just hanging out. Unbelievable.]

Anyway, I found it, and it was amazing. Probably the most accommodating vagrant I've ever seen. [I dunno, maybe there were more. The Great Black Hawk was reliable, but you couldn't get that close. The Common Cuckoo a few months ago in Rhode Island was also friendly, but more so for others than for me...] It would pose up on rocks like a goddamn fashion model, showing off it's better angles but trying other positions. I might be in love? Here's the checklist, and some photos below:

Thursday, September 24, 2020

ABA Podcast, Illinois Kingfisher Mascot, Others

 Hey my dear friends what's happening. Will Blogger still be around after there's no democracy? Who knows. Better get these things up now.

I was recently a guest on the American Birding Association's This Month in Birding podcast, alongside superhost Nate Swick and with Nicole Jackson and Mo Stych. It was pretty depressing to start! Things are not great right now! But it got more fun and funnier! Click on the image below!

I also wrote a piece for National Audubon about an exciting initiative happening on the campus of the University of Illinois, which has been without a sports team mascot for over a decade since they ditched their own offensive Native American one. The new movement hopes to install the Belted Kingfisher as the new mascot! Great bird! I hope it works! I don't want to spoil the story, but I'll tell you that the vote went really well and that no one still knows what the next steps are! Exclamation points!

Sunday, August 2, 2020

The Flying Polish Hare of Google Street View

The Google Street View Birding Facebook Group is still going strong, nearly two years after its creation. It's pretty amazing. My goofy little procrastination side-project now has more than 4,300 members (most all of them much better at finding birds than I ever was), and has tracked down a simply incredible 1226 different bird species. It's a supportive and kind group of folks and I couldn't be prouder.

A line of discussion began in the group after Linda L. posted a screenshot of some caribou crossing the road in Finland - In all these miles of driving and recording by the Street View car, had it ever hit anything? Street View Roadkill? In theory you'd be able to see the entire story: a poor creature running into the road in front of the car and then left on the road out the other side. I had never seen anything, had others?

Well, yes, in fact. Group superstar Aaron Polichar recalled at least one likely incident which made the tabloid rounds in July 2019 and was brought to our attention by Oswaldo Zuniga: the sad saga of the Polish Flying Hare.

It's a sad saga because, although we can't be absolutely certain, it seems unlikely that this beautiful European Hare survived being struck by the Google Street View car and launched way, way into the air. At least it went with style. RIP.

Just as I figured, the constant recording of the Street View car allows us to reconstruct a sort of flip-book of the last incredible moments of this creature.

We're on a road called the Biala Droga, south of Krakow, Poland. The Street View car is cruising down the road -- and I do mean cruising - I wish I could mathematize the actual speed but it appears to be going much faster than I expected Street View cars to be able to travel -- and in the distance a hare appears running down another road.

First shot here.

The next click forward for the car and the hare is still coming down the road, into harm's way.

The hare has only moved a couple feet forward while the car has traveled, what, 40 feet? It's hauling, and the rabbit is right in the path. The next few panels are a little rough, because though you can't see the car itself, you can see the hare being struck.

Okay now so reversing to the back of the car, the poor animal continues to apparently bounce along near the top of the car and its camera tower. It's definitely moving upward, but it's unclear whether it's hitting anything else. That's its head facing outward in this image.

Next comes the incredible image. The hare has continued upward and is captured in what appears to be mid-leap, composed and graceful looking for all the world like its bounding to the moon.

The creature can be seen again as the Street View car continues on its path. Here, the hare is further off the road, still very high, and flailing.

The car continues and the hare keep falling. It's visible here, from further down the road, in a righted position still, what, ten feet in the air? Below the treeline and above the tree in the foreground.

Finally, it lands in the field, on its back. The grace is gone, and the sad reality of human destruction is all that's left.

It's sad, but an incredible sequence. There's no way of knowing what happened to the hare but it seems doubtful that the poor thing could have survived an impact like that, despite the hare looking fairly composed in some of the shots. Still, you never know. The Flying Polish Hare of Street View may have gotten back up, dusted itself off, and had one hell of a story to tell.

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