Monday, April 29, 2013

Gone Birding

Be back mid-May.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

State Birds: What They SHOULD Be

I drove over a bridge from Maryland into Virginia today and on the big "Welcome to Virginia" sign was an image of their state bird, the Northern Cardinal - with a yellow bill.  I should have scoffed - another Birds at Large on tap! - but it hardly registered.  Everyone knows that state birds are a big damn joke.  There are a million Cardinals, a scattering a Robins, and just a general lack of thought being put into the whole thing.

States should have to put more thought into their state bird than I put into picking my socks in the morning.  "Ugh, state bird?  I dunno, what're the guys next to us doing?  Cardinal?  OK, let's do that too.  Yeah put it on all the signs.  Nah no time to research the bill color let's just go."  It's the official state bird!  Well, since all these jackanape states are too busy passing laws requiring everyone to own guns or whatever to consider what their state bird should be, I guess I'll have to do it.

1. Alabama.  Official state bird: Yellowhammer.  

Right out of the gate with this thing.  Yellowhammer?  C'mon.  I Asked Jeeves and it told me that Yellowhammer is some backwoods name for a Yellow-shafted Flicker.  Sorry, but that's dumb.  If you want a woodpecker, go for something with a little more cache, something that's at least a full species.

What it should be: Red-cockaded Woodpecker

2. Alaska. Official state bird: Willow Ptarmigan

Willow Ptarmigans are the dumbest sounding birds on earth, sorry.  They sound like rejected Star Wars aliens, angrily standing outside the Mos Eisley cantina because their ID's were rejected.  Why go with these dopes, Alaska, when you're the best state to see the most awesome falcon on earth?

What it should be: Gyrfalcon

3. Arizona.  Official state bird: Cactus Wren

Cactus Wren is like the only boring bird in the entire state.  I can't believe it.

What it should be: Red-faced Warbler

Red-faced Warbler

Friday, April 5, 2013

Where DC Commuters Can See Peregrine Falcons

Peregrine falcons are the world's fastest animal.  WORLD'S FASTEST ANIMAL.  They're amazing creatures, but I bet none of my sleep-eyed compatriots riding the early morning Metro between Pentagon and L'Enfant Plaza know that these birds can be seen almost every morning.

Between Pentagon and L'Enfant Plaza stations, the Metro goes above ground and crosses the Potomac on a bridge.  It can be a dazzling moment for groggy passengers - bursting from the dark tunnel into a city sunrise over the river.  It's good birding, too, with gulls and geese and ducks and what-have-yous.  There are also, often, Peregrine Falcons, if you know where to look.  Metro passengers looking downriver can often spot a bird sitting on the railroad trestle, usually at one of four spots: the edge of the VA side, the two edges of the middle section, and the edge of the DC side.  Here are some maps (click to enlarge):


It may not be the greatest look in the world, but the hunched posture and sleek shape of the falcon are usually clear.  Living in DC it's easy to feel completely separate from the natural world, but these falcons are a daily reminder that we're not as far away as it seems.

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