Musings of a roaming nature nerd

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River of Birds

During a cold, sunny October two years ago, Jason and I witnessed migration as never before. Atop a rickety wooden tower, on a pine ridge, in the middle of an isthmus, at Poland’s boundary with the Baltic Sea and Russia, we spent days mesmerized by a river of birds flooding over our head. Hundreds of thousands passerines and thousands of raptors winged their way toward the Mediterranean and Africa. Completely awed, we wondered if we would ever see such an event again.

Yesterday, here in California we once again observed a river of birds in motion. Black-vented Shearwaters are a species of seabird that nests on islands south of southern California, off of Baja Mexico. Only occasionally seen from land, these pelagic birds are most often found miles out at sea. And though their migration does not follow the traditional north-south-north pattern we think of for many birds, they are indeed moving in search of food, which is the reason why many birds migrate at all.

This year an El Nino event is developing in the Pacific and one possible result of that is a massive push of anchovies toward the coasts. In the wake of the anchovies are hungry birds, dolphins and numerous other sea creatures. Observing the movement and frenzied feeding of 20,000+ Black-vented Shearwaters was incredible. And not only were the Shearwaters in motion close to shore, but dozens of other species. Elegant Terns streamed overhead, every single one with beak-fulls of anchovies. Marbled Godwits and Long-billed Curlews foraged in the surf. The early morning sea air hummed with the energy of thousands of wings, churning waves, and the feverish excitement of a few SoCal birders!

(Thanks to Brandon “Babe Lee” Miller for the scope videos)

 

The crew

The hero crew

Black-vented Shearwaters with the Coronado Islands behind

Black-vented Shearwaters with the Coronado Islands behind

Terns with anchovies

Terns with anchovies

Heermann's Gull

Heermann’s Gull

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Jolly birders!

Jolly birders!

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Snowy Plover

Snowy Plover

Hi!

Hi!

Long-billed Curlew

Long-billed Curlew

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Willets and Godwits

Willets and Godwits

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The frenzy

The frenzy

Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilt

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

The hero crew: JP, Babe Lee, A-WOL, and PJ

Happy hero crew at the end of a long day

Revisiting Bird Banding

In 2011 I posted about the process of banding birds.  I have decided to post again because it’s a fascinating and exciting process to handle birds and learn about their physiology, behavior and migration through true hands on experiences.

A few photos below show some of the birds in hand we banded this season and the two videos found provide a closer look at the process itself. This Spotted Towhee Banding video was taken at one of our MAPs (Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship) banding stations. I do not manage to explain things very well because I was kind of distracted and questioning myself too much, but at least it’s a representation of what we’re doing!

 

With an Anna's Hummingbird

With an Anna’s Hummingbird

 

Wrentit with the mist net behind.

Wrentit with the mist net behind.

 

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

 

Baby and Papa Nuttal's Woodpeckers

Baby and Papa Nuttall’s Woodpeckers

 

Hooded Oriole

Hooded Oriole

 

Bullock's Oriole

Bullock’s Oriole

 

Rufous-crowned Sparrow (and Brandon)

Rufous-crowned Sparrow (and Brandon)

 

Warbling Vireo

Warbling Vireo

 

Western Scrub Jay

Western Scrub Jay

 

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Ash-throated Flycatcher

 

Color bands on a Least Bell's Vireo

Color bands on a Least Bell’s Vireo

 

Least Bell's Vireo showing active molt in its flight feathers

Least Bell’s Vireo showing active molt in its flight feathers

 

This Nestling Banding video shows Jason handling a 6 day old, Least Bell’s Vireo chick that he’s just removed from the nest in order to put a colored and numbered band on its leg. He’s trying to work quickly so that the parents are not too upset by the absence of their baby. He places the band on the bird, weighs it and will then (after banding its siblings) take it back to the nest right away.

 

Jason with a teeny tiny nestling!

Jason with a teeny tiny nestling!

 

 

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Banded siblings (Anne, David and Brian?!)

Banded siblings (Anne, David and Brian?!)

Blog posts that should have been written


My friend Leo and I recently decided that we truly had no excuse for being such lazy bloggers and made a pact that we each had to update our respective blogs before the end of this week. Writers block, even for something as simple as a blog that perhaps 10 people read, can be debilitating, so I hope to turn my little pact with Leo into something beautiful, sciencey and a bit more consistent! Wedged in datebooks and field guides and backpacks exist little handwritten lists of topics that peak my curiosity, that I desire more knowledge of, or would like to ponder through written word someday. This may not be pretty but let’s kickstart this summer season by honoring the musings from those little lists.

 

Trekking

The natural pace at which we search for ourselves under stones, along winding trails, in the reflections cast from vernal pools, is a walking pace. We may enjoy running, we may need to sit very very still sometimes, we may crave the rush of speed that only comes from 500mph and 30,000ft, but only as we walk can we learn more of how we fit into the natural landscapes of the world. We forget our day-to-day pettiness in the face of immense beauty or terrifying violence and survival. To trek and walk and hike and saunter and explore is to discover our role in the natural history of the planet.

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Wildfire

Fire, at just the right moment burns across a landscape and detoxifies, cleanses and rejuvenates. Fire, at just the wrong moment burns across a landscape and sterilizes, destroys and extinguishes hope.

 

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Snow

As winter allows us to quiet our lives and gather our strength for spring, snow recycles and replenishes our closed, finite water system. The snow may have been long and steady in many places this past winter but as the climate changes drastically snow now becomes a most beautiful luxury; one hopefully not too soon gone the way of dinosaurs and ivory-bills and people ready to stand for a better world.

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Plants

Having always considered myself more of a naturalist than a birder (though birds certainly do take center stage in my life now-a-days), I am still ever drawn to my first love, plants. There used to be a time when taking a walk didn’t involve binoculars, it involved books about shrubs and dichotomous keys and a macro-lens for capturing images of sexy male and female parts when the plant wasn’t looking. In honor of naturalist roots…

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Autumn Mind

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During my weekend of introspective, psychoanalytic, nature reflection I also came upon these thoughts, which while more personal in one way are also an objective way to analyze my natural tendencies for sadness. First I learned to recognize that it is okay to feel sad when plans go awry and friends and family are miles away. Secondly I discovered that my mind is like autumn. While autumn brings bright color and clean air and subdued beauty, underlying the season is the inevitability and melancholy of coming cold and darkness and eerie stillness.
I now realize this is how my brain works. I am perpetually in autumn. I see and appreciate and am fascinated by the world around me but there exists a perpetual loneliness and lingering sadness. I’ve often wondered if my nature indicates a happy person battling with melancholy tendencies or a subdued person who knows to recognize joy and smile at it when it comes along. I’m not sure, but what I started to learn is how to tease apart the lingering from the circumstantial sadness. Together they are unbearable, but differentiating between them is like learning to separate the natural falling of the leaves from the actual death of a tree. Both occur naturally, just as my mind forms emotions natural to me, but one simply passes as a minor event while the other looms large, but for a distant time. My mind was full of falling leaves this weekend but through patient thought, thankfulness and the healing ability to consider the world through metaphor, the long shadows of my autumn mind hide less darkness and instead bring depth and perspective to my inner world.