Sunday, December 31, 2017

Year end book review: Birding Without Borders

Even though I should have got this review out well before Christmas, I managed to get it written just in time for the New Year.

In 2015 Noah Strycker took his, by now, well-known trip around the world with the goal of seeing 5,000 birds and thereby breaking the previous record.  By the end of 2015, he had been more than successful in achieving his goal.  Birding Without Borders is the documentation of his year

Throughout 2015 I following Noah's travels via his daily blog entries sponsored by the National Audubon Society so I already knew the story and the outcome.  I did wonder how he would consolidate a whole year of constant movement through 42 countries with over 6,000 bird sightings into a book.  The answer is that he doesn't.  He selected and wrote about his highlights.

What was most interesting to me was the planning he put into his trip and the rationale he makes for the decisions he made.  For example, he connected with local birders in each country - some relatively well-known like Gunnar Engblom in Peru and others completely unknown. Noah called it his grass roots strategy.  The success of this strategy seems to have surprised even him.  

Despite what one imagines could have happened when traveling alone to unknown countries, remarkably Noah seems to have run into relatively little trouble.  He writes about one such negative experience, in Cameroon, where the only birder he could find in the country was Benji who had spent all of the money Noah had wired ahead to him (for transportation, making reservations, etc) on his personal debts.  He still needed to get through his time in Cameroon so Noah had to give Benji yet more money which he never did pay back.  If this was not bad enough, he arrived in Cameroon during the rainy season and birded the whole time in rain and mud.  Starting on page 187 in one long paragraph, he describes his Cameroon birding experience with ample detail to get the gist of his time in that country. Just brief mention of days without a shower and, in the morning, putting on the same wet and muddy clothes offers the less glamorous side of his experience.  I think he actually boarded planes wearing wet and muddy clothes.  Not all birding is fun.

Something significant and, for me, most enjoyable about Noah Strycker's writing, is his connected, yet unconnected, commentary writing.  If someone is curious about birding, what it is and why people do it, Birding Without Borders goes a long way to address that curiosity.  He also writes about characteristics of the culture of some countries he visited - like the dangers of driving in Peru or India's obsession with breaking records.

While Noah's fine writing is evident throughout his book, surprisingly writing about his bird sightings was where finding his words seemed most difficult.  There seemed to be a lot of "wows" and "amazings" that left me thinking there might be better ways to describe the experiences. But, such banal descriptions were insignificant.  As Noah approaches the end of the year, he writes about time in a way that is very insightful. He pulls things together beautifully in his final chapter, From End to End.  You can read a part of this by enlarging the photo above.

It seems that Noah selected to do this trip at the perfect time for him. He was just under 30 years old (I think), a knowledgable and compulsive birder, already an experienced traveller, a published author and not yet truly committed to anything else in life. His book is published and we now know that Noah's record was smashed the following year by a young Dutch birder. Noah alludes to this in Birding Without Borders. Yet, for me, it remains clear that Noah's record, even broken, was the more significant of the two.  I tried to follow the young Dutch birder's 2016 progress but found his communication sites inaccessible and unclear and eventually gave up.

I recommend Birding without Borders for both deep and shallow reading.  While following Noah's trip on his blog and again while reading his book, I found myself returning over and over to a single question.  Could a woman do this kind of trip with the goal of breaking the record?  While a part of me would like to see a woman take up this challenge, it comes with grave concern for the risks to her safety that such an endeavor would surely be fraught with.  I imagine there will be other men who try to break the record - to many, this is what birding is all about - but this now seems entirely unnecessary.  For both humans and birds alike the world has changed so much between 2015 to 2018.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Just in time for Christmas - Bird Song Opera

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year in 2018 for much excitement in birding.


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

November hummingbird and robins

My little hummingbird continues for its 5th day.  I took the day off today and saw him at the feeder on several occasions.  

It's cold and he should have been gone at least two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, my hummingbird had lots of company throughout the day.

Many robins visited my American hawthorne tree and began stripping it of its berries.  Most years I miss this event because I'm at work.  I leave for work with a tree full of berries and when I return home the berries are gone.  This year it happened on my day off.

They started from the top and are working their way down the tree.

Here only drinking, but the robins were also bathing in my pond as if it was a hot, sunny July day.

A photo through the glass of my back doors later in the day.  I am trying not to disturb when it's feeding.

Addendum:  On 11/02/17 left for work in the dark and returned home in the dark, however, still present on 11/03/17 and 11/04/17. 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Ruby-throated Hummingbird today

Came in with the groceries around 12:30 pm and was in my kitchen putting them away when I was shocked to see a Ruby-throated hummer at my feeder.  I knew my nectar was a week old so I quickly made up a fresh batch and, after the bird flew away from the feeder, ran out to get the feeder for a quick clean and refreshed nectar.  

I got my camera for a few blurry shots through my kitchen window as with the one above.

Then went outdoors and sat in an inconspicuous spot to wait for the bird to return.  This time it took a good long drink.  The feeder was swaying slightly with the breeze and these are all horrible shots.

Even blurry, clearly a Ruby-throated hummer on October 28th!

Addendum:  10/29/17

Ruby-throated still coming to my feeder today.  A little bit of sun helps the photo a little.

Last seen on 10/29 around 6:00 pm.

10/30/17:  Still present this evening from 6:35 - 6:42 pm.  Too dusky for photos.

10/31/17:  Still present late afternoon from 4:15 pm - 4:20 pm.  Photos below for documentation only.  They were taken through the back door windows.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Belle Isle

Another beautiful day last Sunday on Belle.  It had been cold through the night and the morning was cold so I thought there might be a few migrants around.  Again, there was another run or walk going on, but it was not at all intrusive to what I was doing.

The first thing I saw nearly took my breath away.  Trotting down the path was this coyote (Canis latrans).  We saw each other at the exact same time and we both stopped dead in our tracks.  We were possibly 20 feet apart.  It did not seem at all alarmed.  I wasn't exactly sure what I should be doing.  It took a few of slow steps toward me.  It was then that I began to whistle and slap my side, all while trying to snap a couple of photos.

Finally it turned into the woods, but still did not go far.  It looked at me, as if waiting patiently, as I took the photos above and below.

It's easy to see what a beautiful creature it is.  I didn't notice any mange and it seemed well-fed.  It appeared to be a youngster.  In the enlarged version of the photo above, a mosquito is at the base of its right ear.

While watching and waiting, it would occasionally look up as in the photo above.  I couldn't see what was distracting it.

A guy on a bike came by.  When he saw what I was taking photos of, he stopped and took out his iPhone.  I walked away then to leave the coyote alone and hoped it had enjoyed our chance meeting as much as I did.

In the past I have seen red foxes in two different sightings that were well-apart.  This is the first coyote I have seen on Belle Isle and I recalled a PBS Nature show about urban coyotes.  They can live among us but we will never know except for the odd and infrequent chance sightings like mine.  While driving to and from work I go through some rural areas of Detroit where I'll bet there are coyote families.  It's no surprise they are on Belle Isle.  One night they just walked across the bridge and found the island to their liking.

I did consider not posting this secondary to concern about the our state's management of Belle Isle as a state park.  It's no secret that we do not live in the most environmentally progressive, enlightened or knowledgable state in the country.  I'll leave it at that.

Eastern chipmunk (genus Tamias)

I was super happy to see two Winter Wrens (Troglodytes hiemalis).

There were still plenty of Gray catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis) around and they seemed to be moving in family groups.

An American Crow flew out of the tree in the photo below as it was being descended upon by huge numbers of starlings.

Though not seen in the photo above I did see a few mini-murmurations over the large meadow and the river.  It's hard to estimate the starling numbers - trying to be sensible, perhaps 5,000, but the number could also have been 10,000.

I think this is the first wholly bear (Pyrrharctia isabella), Isabella tiger moth, I have seen this season.

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) - the first I've seen in awhile.

Migrating Monarch (Danaus plexippus) nectaring on red clover.  I love Kenn Kaufman's and Jim Brock's description of the Monarch in Butterflies of North America, 2003.  "The most famous butterfly in North American, perhaps in the world."  That's powerful; and right in our own backyards.  As long as the weather is nice we'll be seeing them.

Here's an op-ed from the NYT that may interest some:  Meddling with Monarchs from 10/05/17.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Water, water, water - especially when it's dry

I have a tiny urban backyard.  But I have landscaped it with as many native species as possible and, in 2013, added a pondless waterfall. This week is half over but work has bought me face-to-face with an emotional roller coaster.  Last evening I arrived home from work and put out the sprinkler.  Then I took a 2-1/2 mile walk around the neighborhood - as much for my head as for my body.  I followed this with dinner on my patio table and the latest book I'm reading.  By now the sprinkler had been on for about 40 minutes.  

It has been so dry this summer and the dryness has been exacerbated by the unseasonably hot weather of the past two weeks.  Everything in my yard looks shriveled.

Soon the inveterate bathers, our American robins, began to arrive.  At first 2, then 6, then 9, then 12 and then more.  They were followed by house sparrows - about 10 in all - who seem to enjoy water as much as robins. Shortly after this a single Northern Flicker took up drilling the water-softened soil at the end of my yard.  A Blue Jay flew in.  Two Downy Woodpeckers checked out the scene.  A White-breasted Nuthatch called from the large silver maple tree and a Red-bellied Woodpecker was drilling away in the same tree.

All this time I didn't have my camera.  I thought that going into the house to fetch it would disturb the ambiance of what I was watching.

Then this juvenile Cedar Waxwing flew to my leafless spicebush.  But the real shocker came when a female Scarlet Tanager flew to my driveway landing not further than ten feet from where I was sitting and began bathing in the driveway puddles.

Finally, I couldn't stand it anymore and went in for my camera. Unfortunately, I was too late for a Scarlet tanager photo.

These Cedar Waxwings were bathing on the wet leaves of my shriveled dogwood (Cornis florida).

Finally, an opportunity for fairly clear shots of the Northern Flicker as it worked its way around around the soft ground in the rear of my yard.

This brief respite with my yard birds did as much to help my head as my earlier walk.  The weather has turned cooler today and the chance for this visitation will probably not present itself again.  Autumn has arrived.