Upcoming Events and Tours

Birders birding La Crau sheep barn

Read more about my tour program at the website of Victor Emanuel Nature Tours.

sharp-tailed grouse

Ipswich Sparrow

August 5: “Sparrow Tails,” a lecture at the Southwest Wings Birding Festival.

August 6: “A Day with Rick Wright” at the Southwest Wings Birding Festival.

August 7: Bird walk and book signing at Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park.

January 9, 2007, Boyce Thompson 024

August 11-14: Museum workshops and field trips at the Southeast Arizona Birding Festival.

August 15-20: Lecture and field trips at the ABA Birding Rally, Sierra Vista.

September 21: “The Very Worst Bird Names Ever, and Why They’re Not So Bad,” a lecture for Bergen County Audubon Society.

September 30 – October 8: Birds and Art in Berlin and Brandenburg.

Berlin Siegessäule

October 24 – November 1: Birds and Art in Venice and the Po Delta.

March 11-18, 2017: Nebraska: Sandhill Cranes and Prairie Grouse.

March 20, 2017: “Discovering Brown,” a lecture for Washington Crossing Audubon Society.

Gibbon Bridge sunrise sandhill cranes

May 2-10, 2017: Birds and Art in Provence.

May 12-23, 2017: Birds and Art in Tuscany.

European bee-eaters

September 13-20, 2017: The Pine Ridge and Black Hills, a field trip with the Linnaean Society of New York.

Pine Ridge sunrise

September 29 – October 7, 2017: Birds and Art in Berlin and Brandenburg.

common crane

December 19-27, 2017: Christmas in Salzburg.

Hooded Crow and European Red Squirrel

Read more about my tour program at the website of Victor Emanuel Nature Tours.



Malheur and the Plumers

Snowy Egret

The print and online media, running out of things to say about this absurd “occupation,” have turned over the past few days to casting the confrontation as one between kooks and birders, an approach that may add a little bit of human interest but at the same time trivializes the matter: the struggle is one between armed insurrectionists and the principles of this country, not between one vaguely picturesque group of citizens and another. I for one will be happy to start reading essays and articles that frame the matter in those terms, rather than puff pieces worrying about Oregon birders’ year lists.

Meanwhile, the constant repetition of the same story of the refuge’s founding has started me wondering: was Malheur really created to protect the white herons of the desert marshes?

Kind of. Even in the late 1890s, plumers were shooting snowy egrets on Lake Malheur in horrific numbers; some claimed to have earned $500 a day from the feathers they stripped from the bird’s backs — and that in the long-ago time when a dollar was a dollar.

By 1908, though, when Roosevelt established the first wildlife reservations at Malheur, no one was shooting egrets, for their plumage or for any other reason: the birds were gone, nearly or entirely extinct in southeast Oregon. George Sizemore and Charles Fitzgerald, the first wardens appointed, were concerned instead with the water birds that persisted in the area: ducks and swans, shot “merely for the feathers, which are sold at so much per pound.”

And grebes.

Clark's grebe

It’s been virtually obliterated from birderly memory, but the plumers of the west probably wrought more havoc on western and Clark’s grebes than on any heron species. The first indictments filed against feather poachers in Burns, Oregon, cited the killing of hundreds of grebes, with one hunter responsible for a full thousand birds; one shipment, seized at the post office, contained eight hundred skins, destined for New York City to be turned into fancy capes, collars, and muffs.

Those days are over. But I can’t help thinking it’s even worse now: a hundred-odd years ago, they were stealing the resources of the land. Today, it’s the land itself.



Sowbelly Canyon

One of my favorite places and one of my favorite place names — but Sowbelly wasn’t especially Prius-friendly the other day after the snow. So we took just a quick, chilly walk into the top of the canyon before heading west.

Rick and Gellert, Sowbelly

It was quiet up there, a circumstance that only convinced me there were really great birds down lower; but it’s hard to complain about fences lined with mountain bluebirds and Brewer’s blackbirds.

A distant Pheucticus song was neatly identified when a male black-headed grosbeak flew in to investigate our presence; both species occur in spring on the Pine Ridge, and — confession time — I can’t consistently tell the songs apart, and these ears of mime don’t always pick up those chip notes at a distance.

Red-headed woodpecker

We were hoping for Lewis’s — it’s just time for that species to arrive — but had to content ourselves with the even more stunning red-headed woodpeckers; the bird is common all across Nebraska, wherever there are trees or fence posts, but it’s still a bit disconcerting to see it against a background of shortgrass prairie and buttes.

And even more disconcerting to look down the fence and see a Cassin’s kingbird.

Cassin's Kingbird

These no-longer-quite-so-southwestern tyrants breed in the upper canyon (and even farther north into Dakota, if I remember right), but I’d resigned myself to their late arrival when this one suddenly appeared. Who knows — this may have been the first of its species to make it to Nebraska this year. And it couldn’t have chosen a more beautiful place to land.


Woodcock and Gulls

woodcock skies

My Nebraska tour is off to a great start — and with a great group, which makes me look forward even more to the rest of the week.

We started yesterday afternoon with some waterfowl watching near the airport, relishing close-up views of lesser scaup and redheads. I’d been worried that the fancy gulls of the day before might be gone, but sure enough, one of the first we saw on approaching the bleak marina at Dodge Park was an adult lesser black-backed gull, squabbling with the abundant ring-billed gulls over surprisingly large but obviously tasty dead fish. The day’s first bald eagles were here, too, perched impassive over the whole scene.

After an early supper at La Mesa, we moved across to Lake Manawa, where many thousands of gulls were streaming in to roost. Another adult lesser black-backed joined the flock, and most of us caught at least glimpses of three or four Franklin’s gulls out there in the horde; I’m hoping for more and closer views of this most handsome of North American larids.

The coloring of the skies reminded us that it would soon be woodcock time. We took our places in a traditionally good spot and watched the creatures of the night emerge, among them a few white-tailed deer and what I imagine will turn out to be the tour’s first great horned owl. Promptly at eight came the first nearby buzzings, and a few minutes later half a dozen birds were peenting and skydancing all around us. Several flashed right through the group as they took off in display flight — happily, no puncture wounds from the big-nosed lovebirds.

Best of all? Standing in the evening light without a coat. Spring on the Great Plains: you can never tell!


Downtown Birds

A hundred years ago today, Joseph E. Gould of Norfolk, Virginia, was in New York City. At noon, he attended a service at Trinity Church, then birded the churchyard, “overshadowed by ‘sky-scrapers’ and flanked by surface and elevated street cars.”

Among the house sparrows he found two slate-colored juncos, a white-throated sparrow, a hermit thrush, and a brown creeper,

diligently scrambling up an old scarred and weather-beaten tombstone, peering into every crack and crevice for some tender morsel.

Sounds like autumn in the city.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons