Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Warmth of Love

Piping Plover adult with chicks

In the brilliantly-named movie White Heat, James Cagney’s ruthless, psychotic character is driven by a vengeful fury and hatred that we almost viscerally understand as white hot


We often refer to human emotions by temperature. Sexual passion as well as anger can be called red hot, but we tend to reserve the even more extreme white hot for fury and hatred. Ironically, we also use cold and icy to refer to anger and hatred, and if our blood runs cold, to fear or loathing. Cool and tepid can refer to simple indifference or to once-intense passions that have cooled.

We almost entirely reserve the use of the word warmth for expressing love or kindness. We wouldn’t refer to a warm touch as cruel even though hands that injure tend to be pretty much the same body temperature as hands that nurture. Most of us were at least occasionally held close to a warm body as babies, and although we can’t remember that, we retain a visceral sense of nurturing warmth. The only synonyms Microsoft Word gave me when I looked up the word warm are sincere, heartfelt, deep, earnest, wholehearted, kind, and warmhearted. We know without question that a beating heart is a warm heart, at least when it beats within a warm-blooded animal, including a human being.

I couldn’t help but think of the warmth of love on June 3, when for the first time in my life I got to see baby Piping Plovers—one- or two-day old chicks scurrying about on Maine beaches. Each plover pair produces four eggs which hold wondrously still in the nest until one fine day, when they hatch into four tiny fluff balls of Brownian motion, running helter-skelter over the beach until a magnetic force draws them suddenly back to a mother or father. They crowd against that warm body to rest and warm up before running off again.

Piping Plover settling down on eggs
Both parents incubate the four eggs, which never go anywhere. 
Baby Piping Plover
Once the eggs hatch and the chicks dry off, the babies scatter every which way.
Piping Plover mother and three chicks
As the babies cool off and get tired, they gravitate back to their parents. 
Piping Plover mother and three chicks
This mother already had one chick nestled in when these two returned.
Mammal mothers, by the animal class's very definition, nurse their young. Most bird parents feed their young, but plovers don't. The precocial chicks are fully capable of finding food and eating it from the start, even as just like baby mammals and most baby birds, they rely on parental warmth until they are fully capable of maintaining their own body temperature two or three weeks after hatching.

Piping Plover chick figuring out food

Piping Plover chick figuring out food
Even as newly hatched chicks, Piping Plovers find and eat food on their own, but still need parental warmth.
June 3 was cool with a strong wind. I kept my distance, so I couldn’t appreciate everything I saw until I got home and cropped and processed my photos. When a chick first reaches a parent, the parent holds its wings out to let the tiny thing get situated, and the baby immediately nestles its head against the parent’s side. My photos show how sparse the adult’s feathering is right where the baby’s big head snuggles in, between the parent’s upper side and underwing. The bare skin there is deep red from so many blood vessels near the surface.

Piping Plover's vascular tissue where the chick nestles its head

Most birds maintain a body temperature of somewhere between 104- and 110-degrees Fahrenheit, and the lack of feathers on that vascularized tissue where the chick will rest its head ensures that there is no barrier between the mother or father’s inner heat and the exact place where the tiny chick needs it the most.  A couple of my photos show both a parent’s vascularized skin and the look of contentment on the chick nestled in there. Some people would charge that the word contentment is anthropomorphic—that we have no idea whether little plovers can feel contentment at all—but imagining that they are incapable of an elemental emotion like contentment as they snuggle into a warm parent is bizarrely anthropocentric and unscientific.

Piping Plover adult with chicks

My photos also show how the feathers on the adult’s sides droop down to help further insulate the babies.

Piping Plover adult with chicks

As two, three, or four babies burrow in, when the parent sees that any babies who want in are accounted for, he or she closes the wings and hunkers down.

Piping Plover mother and chick

The only thing more charming than seeing what looks like a four-, six-, eight-, or ten-legged plover is seeing it while the wings are still open, giving us a glimpse at one or two chicks’ faces as they snuggle in.

Piping Plover parent and chick

Piping Plover mother and chicks

Piping Plover mother and three chicks

People tend to think of love as a uniquely human emotion, but that baffles me. When a woman harms her baby due to postpartum depression, we understand that as a hormonal imbalance, but have a harder time seeing a woman’s proper nurturing behavior as hormonal and instinctive, and hardly ever realize a father’s bonding with his young is also hormonally influenced and instinctive. The gush of love that I felt as a nursing mother was part of what kept me focused on properly caring for my babies—clearly an evolutionary advantage that fostered survival of my young. Why can’t we allow that same gush of feeling within a Piping Plover parent, opening his or her wings to and sharing body warmth with plover chicks?

Our human DNA and biochemistry are surprisingly close to that of birds, other mammals, and even what we prefer to think of as lower animals. And as creatures all living on earth at the same time, we all have the same length of evolutionary history. We share more with Piping Plovers than many people care to admit, and it seems profoundly unscientific to believe that somehow, despite millions of years of evolution, we humans magically developed a monopoly on love and contentment unique in all the animal kingdom. Parents of many species provide a warm and comforting presence to their young, and when it comes down to it, that’s what love is all about.

Piping Plover mother and chick

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Odd Hybrid Warbler

Golden-winged Warbler hybrid with Blue-winged Warbler

On June 2, as part of the Acadia Birding Festival, I was leading a field trip in Waldo County, Maine, with the wonderful Maine birder Seth Benz when a guy came over and told Seth he’d seen a weird bird, and showed Seth his photos. It was a gorgeous warbler with almost all the features of a perfect male Golden-winged, except for a large smudge of brilliant yellow on the breast. Our group of course rushed over to see the bird in the flesh. 

Golden-winged Warbler hybrid with Blue-winged Warbler

Blue-winged Warblers bear lovely golden yellow plumage, including on their throat, and white wing bars.

Blue-winged Warbler

Golden-winged Warblers bear more whitish gray plumage except for their black throat and their golden wing bars.

Golden-winged Warbler

Both colors have black through the eye—Blue-wings in a sort of Elizabeth Taylor or Lady GaGa eyeliner thing, Golden-wings in a line that thickens behind the eye.

Blue-winged Warbler

Golden-winged Warbler

Golden-winged Warblers often hybridize with Blue-winged Warblers; the two birds may actually be two forms of the same species, differing only superficially, as do humans with different hair, eye, or skin color. The genetics of their hybrid forms have been well known for decades. When I posted photos on Facebook during my trip, my dear friend Ben Yokel reminded me of the discussion of hybrids from Richard Pough’s wonderful old field guide, Audubon Land Bird Guide, published in 1949.

Information about Blue-winged and Golden-winged Warblers and hybrids from Pough

Information about Blue-winged and Golden-winged Warblers and hybrids from Pough

Because hybridization is so common and well known, there are two named hybrid forms of crosses between Golden-winged and Blue-winged Warblers. These hybrids are depicted in both of the other older field guides—the Peterson and Golden guides—and also in all the editions of the National Geographic field guide. The hybrids are shown the Sibley guide, but their names aren't indexed and they don't show up on the Sibley app, which was the field guide we all had in the field. Even if it had been, our bird wasn't exactly like either Brewster's or Lawrence's Warblers. 

One of the goals I’d set for myself for my Big Year in 2013 was to see all the warblers depicted on a 2-page spread in the Golden Guide. That meant I had to see Brewster’s but didn’t have to worry about seeing Lawrence’s. Luckily, 2013 was one of the two years I ever saw a Brewster’s Warbler. I’ve still never seen a Lawrence’s.

Golden Guide Warblers

Lawrence’s Warbler is the rarer form, with the recessive all-yellow body and white wing bars like the Blue-winged Warbler and the recessive black throat of a Golden-wing. The more common Brewster’s Warbler carries the dominant all-grayish body and golden wing bars of the Golden-wing and the dominant non-black throat of the Blue-winged. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has an excellent online article discussing the two species' hybridization and the bigger picture in terms of conservation.

Illustration from Cornell's article about Blue-winged and Golden-winged Warbler hybridization

But the bird we saw on June 2 was not a typical hybrid—this singing adult male had the black throat and broad black eye line, and the mostly gray body with beautifully broad golden wing bars, of a pure Golden-wing, but with that brilliant yellow smudge on the breast—something neither hybrid form normally has. When I reported the bird on eBird and included photos, Louis Bevier, the eBird reviewer, emailed me saying the bird was a very rare backcross hybrid.

Golden-winged Warbler hybrid with Blue-winged Warbler

The bird was as visually arresting as it was genetically distinctive. We watched it plucking insects out of a blooming apple tree, the blossoms creating a beautiful backdrop for the stunning bird. Because I was leading a field trip, I was carrying my camera with a lighter zoom lens rather than my better but much heavier lens, which lets in much more light, but my pictures turned out fairly well.  I posted way more photos on flickr than I normally would to show every possible feature of this rare form.

Tragically, none of us looking at the bird thought to record that song. Because I was leading a field trip, I didn’t lug my good recording equipment along, and I plumb forgot about using my cell phone to do this important task. But both Seth and I watched it sing and described it out loud to each other while right there; that was the basis for my description of the song on eBird:
The song was not the typical Blue-winged or Golden-winged song; rather, it was an ascending trill, in quality exactly like the final part of the second song on the Sibley app (recorded by Lang Elliott in NY), only ascending and a bit longer than that part of the song.
Right now my Maine list doesn’t include either Blue-winged or Golden-winged Warbler—hybrids don’t show up as either on an eBird life list. But listing is only a tiny part of birding—the essence is seeing and hearing birds, and documenting such a splendid one is far more wonderful for me than just one more tick on my Maine list. He may not be on my official lists, but this beautiful little guy provided one of my most wonderful birding experiences ever.

Golden-winged Warbler hybrid with Blue-winged Warbler

Monday, June 10, 2019

Gee It's Great to Be Back Home

Piping Plover mother and chick

I spent the last three weeks driving first to the Indiana Dunes Birding Festival, then to the LL Bean–Maine Audubon Birding Festival in Freeport, Maine, and then to the Acadia Birding Festival up in and near Bar Harbor. I got home Wednesday night, and Thursday had to head to Watersmeet, Michigan, to do a program at the Ottawa National Forest Visitor Center. The only car problems I had on the whole big adventure were coming home from that. We finally made it home Thursday, and now I’m home for a few weeks. I can take time to breathe again.

So now here I am, looking over photos of my adventures, and thinking wow. As much as I love traveling to new places and also to familiar ones, and seeing birds everywhere, too many adventures in one short period of time start to melt into each other. Looking at the photos and listening to my recordings jogs my memory of fantastic moments that I’d already forgotten about as new fantastic moments kept happening. That was the problem when I did my Big Year. As intensely fun as it was, much of it is a blur in my memory, and life keeps going on, with new adventures and new photos and sound recordings taking up so much time that I’ve never had a chance to go back and review all the photos and sound recordings I made that year. I’ve also never had a chance to really process most of those memories—it was all too intense, with too many experiences within too short a time.

The photos and notes I took on this trip, and my eBird lists with precise locations for each bird, are helping me keep everything from this trip straight, but my overall preference is to do one adventure at a time. I think I need more time than a lot of people to savor an experience as well as to process my photos and sounds, before heading out for another adventure.

I’ll have a few weeks before my next trip, but most of that time will be taken up on a new book project with a looming deadline, so I’ll feel more rushed going through all these photos than I like. I got some nice photos of Prothonotary Warblers in Indiana, and some nice pictures of a young bullfrog and a poor but identifiable picture of a water snake.

Prothonotary Warbler

Young Bullfrog

Northern Water Snake

I didn’t get photos or recordings of the Worm-eating Warbler I saw at Indiana Dunes State Park, but I did buy a wonderful print by the wonderful artist Kristina Knowski. That purchase turned out to be doubly apt because I got a quick look at a completely out-of-place Worm-eating Warbler in northern Maine, too. We’ve already framed and hung up the print, which will keep both parts of this trip in my memory. 

Copyright 2019 by Kristina Knowski

After Indiana, I stopped in Michigan to see Kirtland’s Warbler—that morning was cold, drizzly, and very windy, so I didn’t see much, but did hear three distant males and got a quick glimpse of a nearby female, and got a decent recording of a Field Sparrow.

In Ohio, I took my nicest photos ever of a surprisingly cooperative Warbling Vireo. My previous shots were of a badly backlit flying bird, and I forgot to change my camera settings back from overexposing, but thanks to the miracle of Adobe Lightroom, that was fairly fixable.

Warbling Vireo

Warbling Vireo

Warbling Vireo

I also got some of my best photos ever of Wilson's and Blackpoll Warblers. 

Wilson's Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler

I visited my daughter Katie in New York City for a couple of days next. I didn’t take any photos there, but being in Katie and Michael’s cozy and familiar apartment was the next best thing to being home. Then it was on to Maine, where I recorded an out-of-place Yellow-breasted Chat, saw an extremely rare backcross between a hybrid Blue-winged and Golden-winged Warbler and a pure Golden-winged Warbler, and had a splendid time at two birding festivals.

Odd Golden-winged Warbler hybrid

Odd Golden-winged Warbler hybrid

And I saved the very best for last— For many years I’ve yearned to see Piping Plover chicks. When my friend Laurie Gilman from Maine Audubon got the word that some had hatched near Freeport while I was up in Acadia, I of course stuck around an extra day and charged down to see them on June 3, the day I’d originally planned to start the drive home. That day was so intensely enjoyable that it squelched all my other memories until I went back through other photos after I got home.

Russ and I used to take trips with the kids once every year or two, and the details of those stick with me ever so much better than so many memories of so many destinations in such a short time. All in all, in addition to my Piping Plovers, I saw over 200 species on this trip—way too many to absorb all of it in three short weeks.

My career and my commitment to understanding and sharing information about birds and how to protect them require travel. My hybrid car averaged almost 60 miles per gallon on this trip, and I did my best to save energy, not use plastics, and do everything else possible to save energy and not produce waste or pollution on the trip. Now I'm home for a while. I'm ever so glad to be here, but also ever so glad I got to go to so many splendid places. Understanding the big world and all the wonders of each place, and all the wonderful people in each place, makes me that much more committed to protecting the world's environment, and the birds and people we share it with. 

Piping Plover mother and chick

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Hunkering Down

IMG_7323.jpg

I’m sitting in a little room at a lodging called Spinney’s in Phippsburg, Maine, drinking hot tea and going back and forth between writing this and looking out the window. I stayed in this exact same room last year and was thrilled to get it again. Tragically for me, this is still the off-season when Spinney's Restaurant is open only on weekends, so I have to forego their wonderful food, but the room is plenty good enough. I arrived just as the rain started, and it’s been pouring for the past 7 hours.

It’s 43 degrees out there, with just enough wind to make this a bone-chilling day even without the rain, so I’m glad to be indoors. If I had to be stuck anywhere during a steady downpour, Spinney’s is perfect. It’s sandwiched between Popham Beach State Park and the Fort Popham State Historical Site, and the birding out the windows has been wonderful. 

I don’t think I’ve ever in my life seen so many Ospreys concentrated in one spot, with as many as eight at one time cruising and hovering over the water in clear view (well, as clear a view as one can have through the rain). A Great Blue Heron has been standing on a rock at the shore this whole time. As many as 15 cormorants were swimming together in a fairly tight group, perhaps fishing cooperatively or maybe just commiserating about the weather. Several pairs of Common Eiders have also been swimming and hunting in the open water. They were calling for a while, though from a big enough distance that the rainfall overpowered my sound recording. 

When I arrived, the tide was out and a flock of shorebirds was gathered in the inlet right outside my window, including Black-bellied Plovers, Ruddy Turnstones, Willets, and Short-billed Dowitchers. I was thinking of this as a nice flock, but then I saw a female Black-bellied Plover very un-nicely attack a Ruddy Turnstone, grabbing its wing and tail hard—the poor turnstone had trouble escaping. The Birds of North America states that Black-bellied Plovers sometimes show aggressive behavior toward Ruddy Turnstones, but the turnstone seemed to be minding his own business until the plover charged and grabbed him. My photos out the window are unfortunately blurred, but at least document this interesting interaction. 

Black-bellied Plover attacking Ruddy Turnstone

Quite a few terns were hunting over the water as the tide started coming in. Most were Commons, but I picked out at least three Arctics and, because one good tern deserves another, a Roseate Tern, too. By then my window was too covered with raindrops for photography.

A catbird sang close enough for me to hear it through the closed window, but the weather must have gotten to him because he sang for less than a minute. A Song Sparrow was less easily daunted—he sang for long stretches for the first three hours. All in all, without leaving this room, I’ve seen 21 species, which isn’t at all bad for being stuck indoors in the pouring rain. 

If the weather prognosticators are right, the rain will end about sunrise. I’ll load up my car, check out, and head straight to Popham Beach to spend a few hours with Piping Plovers before I drive up to Mount Desert Island for the Acadia birding festival. I had a great time with Piping Plovers just yesterday, when Maine Audubon’s Laurie Gilman took me to Laudholm Farm, home of the Wells Reserve.

Piping Plover

Piping Plover

I’d also been hoping for Saltmarsh Sparrow, which I had no luck with, but the plovers more than made up for it. As cooperative as they were for photos, they were overall pretty quiet, and I badly want some sound recordings, so I’m hopeful that the rain will end as it’s supposed to, the wind won’t be too bad, and the plovers will be cooperatively noisy. Whether or not any of that happens, I’ve sure had a lovely day hunkered down at Spinney’s.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Yellow-breasted Chat!

Yellow-breasted Chat

I’m in Maine right now. Friday night I was the keynote speaker at the LL Bean/Maine Audubon Birding Festival and have been helping with field trips for that, and next weekend I’ll be helping with field trips at the Acadia Birding Festival. I’ve run into quite a few people who come to both festivals, taking the opportunity while they’re in Maine to see as many birds as possible. The only birding I’d done in southern Maine before this has been at Popham Beach State Park, which I haven’t visited so far this time, but I’ve already added 19 species to my Maine list without spending time on the coast yet.

Except for the coast, which is populated with puffins, razorbills, and other ocean species, Maine seems a lot like northern Minnesota, and shares a lot of our birdlife. So I never expect to see anything out of the ordinary inland. But on Friday morning when I was birding with Laurie Gilman of Maine Audubon, we came upon something unexpected in a little birding spot in Freeport: a Yellow-breasted Chat, singing away. 

I saw lots of chats during my Big Year, mostly in Delaware where they belong—their population is densest in the Southeast, most especially in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, and they range north to Pennsylvania across to south-central Wisconsin; they also breed throughout the American West where they find suitable scrubby habitat. 

Individuals sometimes overshoot during migration, and that’s presumably what happened to this guy. The habitat looked good, and as long as he was in Maine, I guess he figured he’d stake out a piece of property. I doubt if any males were anywhere near to dispute his claim. If a female overshot her own migration route and was anywhere near, this guy’s singing would certainly have been a welcome sound, but as far as we could tell, he was the only chat anywhere around. When I first heard him, I didn’t even realize what he was—he didn’t sound like a catbird, thrasher, or mockingbird, and I was mainly considering what I thought were likely suspects. I recorded him without knowing who he was until suddenly he flew from one perch to another and I got a brief but clear look. 

Many birders feel offended when they submit a bird list and an eBird reviewer asks for documentation. But in order to keep accurate records of rare birds, it’s important to ensure that those birds really were what the birder thought they were. This weekend a Kirtland’s Warbler was reported in Duluth by John Richardson. In eBird, he noted:
Brief but good looks by the beach house. Decent sized Warbler. First thought was female MAWA, but the bobbing tail was very distinctive warranting further investigation. Noticeable feature included the two thin white wing bars, thin black streaking on the sides. When it flew there was a uniform dark from head to tail. No yellow on the rump eliminating MAWA. Also, the only white on the tail was restricted to the outer tail feathers at the end. MAWA should have had white in the mid-section of the tail. Eye ring was broken with white at the top and bottom of the eye. 
That account gave every one of the salient identifying characteristics of Kirtland’s Warbler and clearly eliminated the possibility that it could have been the species most easily confused with it. I'm really sad that I was out of town to miss such a great bird. My Yellow-breasted Chat was not nearly as much an outlier here in southern Maine as the Kirtland’s Warbler was in Duluth, but it still required documentation. I was lucky—not only did I get a clear look, but my recording of the unmistakable song was compelling proof. 

Until 2017, the Yellow-breasted Chat belonged to the same family as Kirtland’s—Parulidae, or the Wood Warbler family, but taxonomists were never comfortable about that. It’s much larger than warblers, its song is far more robust and filled with mimicry, its beak is heavier, and its natural history different. The problem is that the chat shares even fewer characteristics with any other family, either. So in 2017, ornithologists placed it in its very own family, created just for it, Icteriidae. They’ve yet to tease out how the species came to be, much as I’ve yet to figure out what my chat was doing in Freeport, Maine. But bird mysteries are fun to think about, and whatever the answers, we’ve got beautiful Yellow-breasted Chats and their funky songs to fill us with as much wonder as questions.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Spring Update

White-winged Dove
I photographed this White-winged Dove in Kissimmee Lakeshore Park in Florida last month. One was hanging out in Two Harbors this week!

I’ve been out of town for over a week, so my only experience with Duluth’s recent snow and cold has been vicarious, when I talk to Russ every night and via news on social media. Today it’s sunny and just warm enough to be perfect in New York City, so I feel bad hearing about frigid conditions in Duluth. I've been getting emails about unusual birds showing up at bird feeders, like Todd writing about an Indigo Bunting in Duluth “The cold, strong wind seems to have him grounded and chilled today.” I’ve seen lots of photos of hummingbirds, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and warblers against a snowy background. I’m sad that I’m not around to see what shows up in my own yard and that I can’t be there to make sure my backyard birds are getting nutritious fare when the weather is leaving both resident and migrant birds so stressed. A pair of chickadees is nesting in Russ’s old cherry tree—the decrepit, dead tree we were planning to chop down this spring until I noticed the chickadees—now I’m worried that the young will fledge before I get home June 8th. 

Such cool birds are making me feel like I’m missing out. Rarities always show up during spring migration, but the weather is certainly contributing. I missed this year's usual yet thrilling influx of Bonaparte’s Gulls and Red-throated Loons. It’s not at all unusual to see a Whimbrel or two on the ball field or beach on Park Point, but on the 21st, a full 79 were there.

Whimbrel
I photographed this Whimbrel on Park Point's ball field on June 14, 2011. Might one show up after I get home June 7?
Whimbrel
These ghostly Whimbrels were on the Park Point beach on May 30, 2013.
My friend Don Kienholz had a Black-throated Blue Warbler visiting his jelly feeders. I’ve only seen this species at a feeder once in my life—that was in Cuba at the feeding station where I saw my lifer Bee Hummingbird. It would be fascinating to learn if the ones that use jelly feeders in Cuba are more likely to notice them up here.

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Cape May Warblers were also visiting feeders this week—I’ve had them in my own yard coming to jelly and to oranges, only during cold days in May, so I don’t see this every year.

Cape May Warbler
I photographed these Cape May Warblers during a cold May in 2004. 
This week a rare Summer Tanager turned up north of town. Even more exceptional, a Yellow-throated Warbler turned up in Duluth—some nest in southernmost Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota, but that’s as far north as this Southeastern species should ever be.

Yellow-throated Warbler
Here's a Yellow-throated Warbler where it belongs, in Spanish moss near Savannah, Georgia. 
The Pink-sided form of the Dark-eyed Junco, which belongs in the Rocky Mountains, showed up in northern Wisconsin Monday, and a gorgeous Audubon’s Warbler—that’s the western form of the Yellow-rumped Warbler—turned up on one of the Chequamegon Bay Birding Festival field trips Saturday.

Tuesday, the day I left, a Hooded Oriole, a bird from the extreme Southwest, turned up in Sanborn, Wisconsin. It would, of course, have been new for my Wisconsin list.

Hooded Oriole
This is the only Hooded Oriole I've ever photographed, near Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, where they belong.
On Sunday, a Painted Bunting turned up in South Range, Wisconsin. I actually saw one in Tomahawk back in 1982, and another in Douglas County in 1983, both long before I was photographing birds. I’d have sure jumped in my car and gone to South Range to see another!

Painted Bunting
I photographed this Painted Bunting in Florida. How I'd love to photograph one closer to home!
A White-winged Dove turned up and stuck around in Two Harbors for over a week. I got several nice photos of one in Kissimmee, Florida this spring, but would never ever have expected one in Lake County, Minnesota. When I started birding, even Florida White-winged Doves would have been unheard of. They were once fairly restricted to desert thickets, specializing on saguaro cactus seeds. Now they’ve become common in cities and towns across the southern U.S., and seem to be expanding northward as well. I don’t know if they’ll compete with Mourning Doves—I hope not, because they’re shockingly colorful and lovely, so I’d just as soon welcome their natural expansion rather than worrying about what they’re doing to our long-time native birds.

White-winged Dove

My extended road trip involves three birding festivals—the one last weekend in the Indiana Dunes, and one this coming weekend in Freeport, Maine, sponsored by LL Bean and Maine Audubon.

Photo by Laurie Gilman

Then I'll be helping with field trips at the Acadia Birding Festival in northern Maine the following weekend. On the way home on June, I’ll also be a speaker for the Thursday Evening Program series at the Ottawa National Forest Visitor Center in Watersmeet, MI, on June 6th. Then I'll get home June 7. By then, the wintery weather should be over and all those vagrant birds should be back where they belong. I'm sorry I'm missing it.