Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A geeky post

Since my manifesto is "to show the world that there's nothing wrong with being a geek" and since my 56th birthday is rapidly approaching and I needed to figure out something special about being 56--well, it's a tetrahedral number! So I guess 56 is a good age for a geek. I can live with that.

Book sighting!

You don't have to look too hard to find my book, right here on the shelves of the Nature Store at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge! Tragically, they haven't been "stickered" with the "Nominee for the Stephen T. Colbert Award for the Literary Excellence" stickers.

Western and Clark's Grebes

The current Birder's World has a great article by the splendid Kenn Kaufman about differentiating between Western and Clark's Grebes. Too bad I didn't have it when I was at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Some of the grebes were pretty straightforward, but some birds were pretty tricky. Most seemed to be Clark's. Coolest thing was seeing them come up with fish and call and deliver them to young birds. All these photos were taken from the Boardwalk.
Western sleeping
Western adult and young
The whole issue seems to bore this one--Western?
Clark's adult giving fish to immature while a Western (?) looks on.
Remember the commercials wherein various animals said, "I wanna Clark Bar!"? This bird wouldn't be interested! But it is a Clark's (I think!).

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


I'm driving home, and here at a Kansas rest stop, like a lot of Iowa rest stops, there's free Internet! It's so strange to go to a Borders bookstore or a McDonald's that advertises wireless but expects you to pay several dollars for it--definitely makes me gravitate to their competitors. I like the public spirit of providing this kind of service for travelers.

Interestingly, most of the interstate pullovers that I went by in Texas and Oklahoma were just "picnic areas" without bathrooms. I guess that's where that urine-in-a-bottle stuff that Samantha Bee reported on on The Daily Show must have originated.

I don't know how long it will take me to get home. I'll stop when I start feeling sleepy. But will be home for sure by tomorrow. Photon is homesick, and I'm tired of driving, so am deeply looking forward to this.

Roadrunner Sunning

Through the window at the conference center in Las Cruces Sunday morning. Then s/he jumped down and this one was taken through the window, too.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Bosque del Apache

Oh, my--Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge may be heaven right here on earth. I don't have the words to say how beautiful it is! I have a LOT of photos to run through. Here are a few to whet your appetite.Not the best photo, and not at Bosque del Apache--I took this one at the conference Saturday.
Pintails are inescapable at Bosque!
Oh, man--I was in Western Grebe heaven!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Las Cruces!

I love New Mexico. I wish I could spend weeks, or even months, exploring! The Environmental Education Association of New Mexico meeting has been splendid. This state has some incredible riches in terms of the people who care about the environment and connecting children with nature! I'm proud to have been the keynote speaker at this excellent event.

I haven't done much birding yet. I've seen two roadrunners, one when I was driving with a car coming up FAST behind me, and one during the brief time I left my camera in the car, so no photos yet. But I have gotten a few shots of gamboling (not gambling) Gambel's Quails. Imagine such a splendid species being a backyard bird!

Thursday, October 25, 2007


Photon and I spent the morning at Arches National Park. She wasn't allowed to hike on any trails, but she was a good sport about waiting in the car while I was gone on a couple of short hikes. It was nice and cool this morning, so it was perfect for her.
Oregon Juncoes were all over the place.
This is a cool arch! "Delicate Arch" it's called.
Doesn't this look like a hawk looking up?
White-crowned Sparrows were all over, too--this immature one was singing.
Autumn colors!

Two of the most beautiful things I saw all day weren't photographed. This morning I watched a raven flying about while the sun was still low, casting its shadow against one of the huge rock formations. And the shadow raven was dancing with the real one. I couldn't tear my eyes away--as the raven circled closer to the rock, its shadow came closer to it, and as the raven drew away, its shadow dropped lower, in an aerial minuet utterly beautiful and thrilling. It almost seemed as if the raven was aware of its shadow and how it could make it bigger and smaller, because a few times it seemed to extend its feet toward the shadow--it looked like two ravens doing their courtship skydance.

Then, this evening as I drove through New Mexico, the full moon rose above some gorgeous rocks which themselves were glowing in the final rays of the setting sun. The combination of browns and reds against an indigo sky and the lunar luminescence took my breath away.

Two sad things today--a dead Great Horned Owl on a roadside and an ugly brown cloud hanging over the distant sky. I looked at my car's GPS map and the cloud was over Denver--about 200 miles away! The richest nation in the world and we can't even clean up our own atmosphere.

Last day at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

I was at the Bear River till about noon. I was going to go birding with Betsy Beneke, but she ended up having to attend a meeting that lasted all morning. Disappointing because she's such a cool person, but what can you do? So I headed out at noon after taking more photos.

I decided to drive to wherever I happened to be between 5:30 and 6 pm. And where did that happen to be? In Moab, Utah! I mean, just a couple of miles from Arches National Park! So that's where I plan to spend part of the morning before getting back on the road.

I have the world's slowest internet connection, so I'm not going to post photos till later. But you can see the trip so far (without captions yet) here:

Photon is such a joy on this trip! It's been cool enough for her to stay in the car when I've been busy with Betsy, and she's been great about that. She's nine years old now, and when she's not busy she's napping. But when I bring her on hikes or just to get out of the car and look at scenery she's happy in her Zen-like way. She understands "motel manners," too. At home she barks two or three times when she hears strangers, just so's I know they're there. Here she makes the TINIEST "woof!" just once, and had learned to ignore people coming and going in the halls entirely. On a long drive, it's lovely to be able to put my hand over and stroke her. I can listen to NPR or whatever music I feel like listening to and she never complains or acts like she'd prefer to listen to anything else. And when we get back to our room I pull out her dishes and give her fresh water and food, and she acts like it's the world's finest meal, and like I'm the world's greatest cook and kindest person. Yep. The perfect travel companion.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

It's just as wonderful as I hoped! The birds weren't as abundant as I'd dreamed, but that's because I was on the public driving tour, and right now so are a lot of hunters--the birds aren't stupid. But I got lots of splendid looks at lots of splendid birds. Bird of the day yesterday was the magpie--collectively, they were everywhere. Bird of the day today was the Short-eared Owl who followed my car along the road to the refuge. What a thrill!

My program went reasonably well tonight. Whew. Tomorrow I get to spend part of the morning birding with the wonderful Betsy Beneke--then it's on to Las Cruces!


Well, I'm not quite at the refuge yet. I'm at the Howard Johnson motel in Brigham City, and it's still dark.

Did you know that the state of Montana, or at least the Department of Transportation supports the theory of evolution? They had lots of signs at various rest stops about dinosaur digs and how old the various fossils are. And speaking of fossils, my dear friend Jeff Pentel happens to have a chunk of fossilized dinosaur poop! I had SO much fun visiting him. He's the kind of friend who you can go 8 or 9 years without seeing and everything picks up right where we left off. He made a perfect cup of coffee--he's a real connoisseur, with far more refined sensibilities than I have, but boy it did taste great. And he made shockingly good pancakes with wild huckleberries! Imagine waking up every morning beneath beautiful mountains, with magpies stopping by for their breakfast. It was a little piece of heaven.

What a great ride I had yesterday! It was a little tricky driving through a delicate snow fall in Yellowstone, but I moseyed through. Between the high winds and the general murkiness, I didn't see a single bison, elk, moose, antelope, deer, or any other big mammals--just one squirrel ran across the road, but well far enough ahead of me that I didn't even need to slow down. The scenery was spectacular, and I think I'd be daid from the beauty if I'd actually had clear skies through Yellowstone.

Idaho is absolutely beautiful, and a great rest stop had a lovely walk through lava fields rich with sage. My dream was to see a Sage Grouse (I'd seen what looked like a dead one in eastern Montana), but instead I got a beautiful and cooperative Townsend's Solitaire.

And then I made it to Utah. Wow--I'm so excited about going to the refuge that I could pop! The sky is just starting to grow grayish bluish pink instead of black, so I'm going to get crackin'!We got to the I-94 rest stop at Theodore Roosevelt National Park just after it got light Sunday.
Gorgeous badlands, but the low light didn't do them justice.
This Sharp-tailed Grouse was curious about Photon.
Photon approves of this park!
Photon made friends with a trucker's dog--Buddy!
The sun came out in Montana.
One of Jeff Pentel's robins.
My only photo of a magpie so far--through the window, but hey--it's a magpie. I'll settle for anything.
A perfect cup of coffee.
Wish we could have spent more time here!
Idaho is beautiful!
Townsend's Solitaire at the Idaho rest stop (near mileage marker 101 on I-15)
Oh, my. Like I said, Idaho is beautiful!
So far, this is the only photo of a Utah bird I've taken. I should improve on this today!