Archive for Recent Sightings


Happy Birthday, Fontenelle Forest

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It’s one of my favorite places on earth. I learned to bird there, and I go back every spring — and whenever else I can — to catch up with the birds and the trees and the people I have been so fond of so long.

Rick at Fontenelle Forest

Fontenelle Forest was officially dedicated one hundred years ago this afternoon, when three thousand people gathered to celebrate this precious chunk of woodland just south of the largest city on the northern Great Plains.

The program began — perhaps inevitably — with a performance of Grieg’s “Morgenstimmung.” A certain Miss Hazel Silver then offered a piece less familiar to us (or at least to me) now, “The Hermit Thrush,” by F.S. Converse and Arvia MacKaye.

It seemed to be a voice of love/ That always had loved me… / My wandering love, lost yet forever heard.

Then came the afternoon’s prime attraction, a performance of Percy MacKaye’s “Sanctuary” with an epilogue specially composed for the occasion. MacKaye’s masque may have been short on dramatic tension, but its conservation message could not have been clearer — or more appropriate to the day.

 A compact, then… that when we go/ Forth from these gracious trees/ Into the world, we go as witnesses/ Before the men who make our country’s laws,/ And by our witness show/ In burning words/ The meaning of these sylvan mysteries:/ Freedom and sanctuary for the birds!

Those words still burn, and Fontenelle Forest, if it remains in hands wise enough to privilege conservation of a scarce resource over entertainment and spectacle, will keep its sylvan mysteries for another century to come.

Fontenelle forest

Categories : Nebraska
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Lonely at the Top

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These trees at the edge of Brookdale Park‘s sparrow patch are usually filled with European starlings. These past few mornings now, however, there’s been just one lonesome bird perched high in the bare twigs.


She must have offended the others somehow.

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Dark Trails, Bright Birds

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Screenshot 2015-08-21 12.00.52

Today marks the 150th birthday of George Kruck Cherrie, an Iowa boy who grew up to become “prince of tropical American bird collectors.”

But he worked inside, too. In 1891, when he was 26 years old, Cherrie discovered and described a new species of tanager in the collections of the Costa Rica National Museum. The six specimens –which seem to be no longer in San José — had been collected a few years earlier by none other than José C. Zeledón.

Screenshot 2015-08-21 12.30.15

Cherrie’s new tanager has had its taxonomic ups and downs, but Ramphocelus costaricensis is once again recognized as a full species distinct from the Passerini’s. And once again we call Cherrie’s tanager the Cherrie’s tanager.

R. costaricensis is well worthy to hold a place of honor among the song birds,

as worthy as the species’ discoverer is of his own place of honor among American collectors and ornithologists.

Categories : Famous Birders, Iowa
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A Painted Redstart Takes a Dip

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Even at 7000 feet, it was warm last week in Arizona. If you want to see how a painted redstart deals with the heat, click on the photo.

Painted redstart, Arizona, August

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Bizarre Blackbird Behavior

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The wildlife watching declines once you leave the state highways for the interstates, but it’s still easy enough to pick out the big showy things, from pronghorn to grackles.

Day before yesterday, as we were crossing southern Minnesota on Interstate 90, I spied a white-tailed deer standing in the ditch.

No big deal, as long as it stays off the road. But I did a 70-mph double-take when I realized that there was a male red-winged blackbird perched on the animal. The bird was reaching forward as if to take something from the deer’s back.

It’s not unusual to see cowbirds riding the eponymous livestock, but I can’t remember having seen red-wings on a wild ungulate. Have you?

Categories : Recent Sightings
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