Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Friday, June 27, 2008

Toothpaste more dangerous than a loaded gun?

I wish someone would ask the Supreme Court how constitutional it is to require people to take off their shoes and turn in their shampoo and toothpaste to fly.

Well, not SO many puffins...

Rats. I just got an email that the boat trips to Machias Seal Island the days I can go are filled. I'll still be going on the Audubon trip to Eastern Egg Island, which has enormous ornithological importance--it's where Steve Kress first tried out his puffin decoys to lure real, live puffins back to their historical breeding grounds. Roger Tory Peterson once worked as a naturalist on Hog Island, and now Scott Weidensaul is there, and I'll be interviewing some of the staff, so this is still a thrilling opportunity.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


I'm so excited! Next weekend (the weekend of the Fourth) I'm headed out to Maine! I'm for sure going to meet with Audubon naturalists at Hog Island and weather permitting will head out on a boat trip around Eastern Egg Rock to see Atlantic Puffins. With luck I'm also going out to Machias Seal Island, where I first saw Atlantic Puffins, to get closer photos, videos, and sound recordings. This is going to be SO fun!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Chuck and Sue

Chuck and Sue, the pair of robins nesting on my apartment building, fledged all four of their babies last week. I miss them! I'll have lots more photos and information in the coming days. These photos of Chuck holding a bug (I couldn't bother him for long because he wanted to feed #4) were taken at nice close range, from just outside my door, on Sunday morning.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

John Havlicek commercial

ON EDIT: Thanks to Sandy Varno for telling me it's now on YouTube!!

Oh, dear--it's probably because of the NBA championship, but suddenly I can't get a commercial from about 1970 out of my head. John Havlicek (I had SUCH a crush on Hondo!) was SINGING a song--his voice was great!--about a diet cola (maybe Diet Rite?) that went, "No, sir, I'm not on a diet. That's not why I buy it. 't's just got the taste that's right for me." It went on another stanza that I can't remember, and then he's in the locker room with the other Celtics and sings (with them repeating) "What a waste! (What a waste!) What a waste! (What a waste!) When it's got the greatest cola taste!"

Anyway, I never did try the cola, so it must not have been that compelling a commercial, but it sure was delightful. But it doesn't seem to be anywhere on YouTube. If you know where I can see it, let me know.

I think it's such a rooky deal that my brain is so filled with this kind of thing from 1970, but I have trouble remembering people's names and other important details of my life in 2008. Chickadees have it so much better than us. Every fall they can selectively allow brain neurons to die, presumably when the neurons are storing memories they no longer need, and they can actually replace them. I wish I could delete unnecessary files and defrag MY hard drive.

Colbert Report: Israel's new national bird

The ever effervescent and newly-uniformed BirdChick beat me to it, but a recent Colbert Report focused in on Israel's new national bird. I have other photos of Hoopoe's on my Iraq Bird Gallery. Soldiers, contractors, and civilians in Iraq send me photos of the birds they see for my gallery. Check it out!

Oscar Meyer Wiener Mobile

When Katie and I were driving through Illinois yesterday en route to Duluth, I had a strange moment of deja vu. I was driving, but Katie got this photo with her cell phone.

Not about birds but sublimely silly

This is sublimely silly. Bea Arthur as Carrie Bradshaw? Sally Struthers as Samantha?? Katherine Helmond as Miranda? Check it out! And add me to the list of people who (mistakenly) thought Abe Vigoda was dead.

Friday, June 13, 2008

A tiny little political rant

When I read Slate's news for today, I laughed out loud at this:
In a dramatic dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the decision will bring about "disastrous consequences" and "will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed." He went on to write that "the nation will live to regret what the court has done today."
I mean, really. Did he care about the "disastrous consequences" that almost certainly really did cause more Americans to be killed as a result of a 5-4 Supreme Court decision 8 years ago? Does he care that the nation has lived to regret what the court did on that black day?

Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
--Benjamin Franklin

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Roadrunners for Susan

I'm posting these in hopes that Susan sees many more, in better light. I saw them in New Mexico this past November.

Cornell slides close-out sale!

The end of an era:
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Visual Services department is having a close-out sale on bird slides. All slides are $1 each. Slide sets are 50% off. This discount applies to online orders only.

The images are great for use in PowerPoint presentations if you have a few minutes to scan the slides.

Hundreds of images are available. To see the catalog (pdf format) and order online, visit

This is your very last chance to purchase slides! Sale ends on June 25, then Visual Services will close for business. Please forward this message to any colleagues, friends, or family who may have an interest.

When I started doing public programs about birds, I bought a LOT of those slides--some are simply supurb.

Heads up! Public Library program tomorrow night

Tomorrow at 6 p.m. I'll be doing a program about "Ithaca's Splendid Spring Birds" in the Borg Warner Community Room at the Tompkins County Public Library. I promised one mother of a six-year-old to do owl calls, too. Read more about it at the Tompkins County Public Library blog.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Oh, wow!

The warm and wonderful John Riutta, the Born Again Bird Watcher, wrote a lovely review of the first BirdScope under my editorial direction. Wow!

Swan wallpaper

I've been trying to figure out the best way to organize all my photos, and when I came across these Trumpeter Swan pictures suddenly wanted one for my computer's "wallpaper." Just in case you might, if you click on either of these you'll get a 2000-pixel enlargement, compressed a bit for the purpose but still pretty huge.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Richard Pough

I am in the process of writing a couple of reviews of new field guides, and wanted to look up Richard Pough, who wrote my beloved Audubon Land Bird Guide and Audubon Water Bird Guide. So I did a Google search, and at the top was a New York Times obituary--he died four years ago this month.

Richard Pough was one of the founders, and the first president, of The Nature Conservancy. The New York Times obituary says:
Through his long career, which included stints at the National Audubon Society and the American Museum of Natural History, Mr. Pough (pronounced poe) also wrote a series of Audubon guides on birds; helped to get a law banning the sale of wild-bird feathers; became one of the first to warn of the dangers of DDT; established several important preservation groups; and inadvertently established the house finch population of the eastern United States.
How was he connected with establishing the House Finch in the East?

Mr. Pough's efforts on behalf of a less exotic wild bird had unforeseen and wide-ranging consequences.

Noticing a Macy's advertisement offering ''California linnets,'' he went to Macy's and recognized the birds as house finches, natives of the West Coast protected by federal law. He again alerted federal agents, who began shutting down dealers who supplied the birds to Macy's and pet stores. But agents could not act quickly enough; some dealers, hoping to avoid fines, simply opened their windows and shooed the birds out. By 1941, the birds had spread across Long Island and today inhabits areas from Mississippi to Canada.

I was particularly fond of my Audubon bird guides because they focused on so much more interesting information than the Golden and Peterson guides. As the New York Times noted:

While Mr. Pough was protecting birds, he was also writing about them. His Audubon Bird Guide was published in 1946. Unlike the Audubon field guides by Roger Tory Peterson, which bird-watchers use to identify birds in the wild, Mr. Pough's guide provided information about behavior and arguments supporting species protection.

It's been a while since I thought about Richard Pough. But he led a life worth emulating. I particularly liked this:

On his 94th birthday, Mr. Pough told The New York Times about his first experience as a preservation advocate, when, at age 18, he set out to save the largest Indian mounds in the Mississippi Valley from being plundered by souvenir hunters. Taking an Illinois legislator to the site, he extracted a promise to save the mounds, but faced the obvious question: ''What's in it for you?''

''I said, 'Nothing,' '' Mr. Pough recalled. ''But it taught me a lesson I never forgot. There was never going to be anything in it for me in any civic activity I undertook, a principle I have adhered to all my life.''

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Hooray for Red Wings...

whatever game they play.

A couple of photos for no good reason

I just love this photo! It reminds me of the hilarious scene in Airplane! when the stewardess starts singing an insipid folk song while all the passengers and the crew lean toward the aisle to listen, and everyone's smiling, completely ignoring the sick little girl flailing about after her IV was knocked out by the stewardess's guitar.
I took this one in St. Louis in February--I was birding with my excellent birding buddy Susan, and we came upon several Trumpter Swans, with one family VERY close!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Improving the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's website

Do you use "All About Birds" to get information about birds? Do you go to the Lab of Ornithology's website for other information about birds? We're trying to improve the website to make it a richer, more accessible source of authoritative information for you. Several people at the Lab are working hard to figure out what would make our website most helpful. Hugh Powell, our new science writer, writes:
Dear Lab members/birders/citizen scientists/nestwatchers:

We are embarking on a major redesign of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's website, and we're looking for guidance from the experts - the site's everyday users. We invite you to take part on our new blog:, where we'll float ideas, preview features as we develop them, and most importantly, ask you what you think. The blog is now live, so please check in on us, and come back often.

From the American Bird Conservancy

The Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act is the only source of federal funding dedicated specifically to bird conservation throughout the Americas.It is an extremely effective matching grants program that coordinates and funds the conservation of Neotropical migratory birds and their habitats in the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean. It has a proven track record of reversing habitat loss and degradation, and of advancing innovative management and habitat restoration strategies. This Act is now up for reauthorization in Congress, and thanks to a bipartisan bill, cosponsored by Reps Kind (D-WI) and Gilchrest (R-MD), funding could be dramatically increased from the current $6 million to $20 million. All grants made by this Act must be matched by other funds at a ratio of 3:1, meaning every one tax-payer dollar from the Act leverages three from private sources. Overall, the program could leverage some $60 million in additional funding for bird conservation!
You can make a difference! Help us pass this bill by taking action now. Using our automated action center, you can quickly and easily send a message to your Representative asking them to support this bill.

Biting the Bullet

After ranting about speeding cars, and after writing a whole book about how important it is for us to modify our lives whenever possible to make the world a better place for humans and birds, I couldn't help but feel guilty for my own commute to work. I drive 6.5 miles each way every day, and even though I drive a hybrid, these short trips reduce the car's mileage. I brought my bike back from Duluth on this last trip, but Ithaca's hills are WAY too steep for me at this point--I'm not in great shape right now, and the hills are daunting even for real bikers.

So last night I went to visit a local man who is going to set me up with an electric assist bike. It's going to cost about $1300--a LOT of money!--but the physical and environmental benefits will augment the amount I save on gas. I got to test it out, and wow! It was like riding any other bike, only when I wanted a power boost, I pulled a little lever on the handlebars and didn't need to pedal so hard to get up a hill. It's extremely quiet--I bet I could hear a Le Conte's Sparrow singing from 40 or 50 yards away with the motor going. Well, if it wasn't too windy. So I'll see way more birds on my rides to and from work.

I can't wait till it comes! I'll post photos as soon as it's here.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

And life goes on...

Photon and I just got back from our afternoon walk, and guess what was singing right where the stream reaches the marsh? A male Yellow-throated Vireo. Whether the singing bird today is MY bird, and the one who died yesterday was one from an adjoining territory or a "floater" waiting in the wings for an available territory, or the singing bird today was a floater who jumped into the first available territory, I'll never know. Nature is resiliant, and it takes more than one car collision to take out a neighborhood's breeding birds. But we get SO complacent, trusting that Nature will produce an endless supply of birds. How could people possibly kill the most abundant landbird on earth? Inconceivable! At least, up until the last Passenger Pigeons died out.

Another reason why I love Google

In my last post, I made mention of #60 in 101 Ways to Help Birds. I knew that one way was "Drive at the slowest speed that is safe, courteous, and convenient." But I couldn't remember which numbered "way" it was, and I don't happen to have any copies here in Ithaca--I keep giving them away, which is why I'm never going to be rich. But I did want to know the number and that's where Google's Book Search came in handy. I looked up my book here, and in the Preview tab, found pretty much the entire book.

I would love to be rich enough to buy an electric-assist bicycle to help me on my daily 6 1/2-mile commute to work (it's darned hilly here!) , and maybe to travel to a few more places in the world seeing birds. But even more, I really do want people to learn what took me three years of research to write, so I'll be almost as happy if you read the entire content of my book via Google as I'd be if you actually buy the book. I'd rather be rich in birds, and confident of their future, than rich in my pocketbook any day.

Slow down, dammit!

Yesterday when I took Photon for our late afternoon walk down to the marsh and back, we came upon yet another dead bird. So far since I moved here, I've picked up one freshly-dead chickadee and found, smashed, one Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Mourning Dove, and American Robin on this stretch alone, and crows are so common in my neck of the woods that I bet most birds are picked up by them before I find them. Now this--my poor Yellow-throated Vireo, who was usually singing when we walked past the spot where the stream hits the marsh. These little birds weigh only 17-18 grams (just over half an ounce), and drivers seem so oblivious here that I bet the one who killed this bird didn't even notice.

The speed limit on Ellis Hollow Road is 45 miles per hour, which is way too fast for a narrow, winding, hilly road with lots of houses and apartments along it, some quite close to the road, and no sidewalks and, in most places, no shoulder. And the road slices through quality habitat--forested wetlands. Because it's so hilly, a bird taking off from mid- or upper-canopy on one side of the road can be at windshield height at the other.

Right now the estimate is that cars kill 60 million birds a year, and based on my little sample, over five months on a single quarter-mile stretch (1/2 a "lane-mile") of what adds up to 8 million lane-miles of highway in the U.S., I would bet cars kill even more than that. When I picked up this poor Yellow-throated Vireo, in the prime of his life, a bird that flew all the way down to Central or South America and returned at least once, and probably at least twice, and who was in the middle of a nesting season, I was shaking with sorrow and outrage. I mean, this is a bird I knew--one who was singing every time I walked past, from the same spot. I watched him and his mate in a couple of quick but romantic chases a few weeks ago. Nest-building can begin within hours of pair formation in this species, so I'd bet, based on my observations, that this male was busy feeding nestlings by now. If the female can't raise them all herself, she doesn't get another shot--renesting is extremely rare in Yellow-throated Vireos.

Everyone is griping about the cost of gasoline now, but it's as if Americans have a complete disconnect between how much they pay at the pump and how fast they drive. Slowing down measurably improves mileage--even on highways, most cars would do their best mileage-wise going in the lower 40s, and efficiency drops really fast above 60. (That's why Richard Nixon, of all people, lowered the speed limit to 55 on interstate highways during the oil crisis of the 70s.) My car's optimum speed seems to be 42 miles per hour--that's when I average better than 60 mpg. But some of the cars on Ellis Hollow exceed the limit by at least 10 mph--essentially going 55 on a residential street! When we drive fast, we put birds at risk plus we squander natural resources which hurts us and birds both. As #60 of my 101 Ways to Help Birds says, "Drive at the slowest speed that is safe, courteous, and convenient."

But that "courteous" is the sticking point. I'm getting sick and tired of cars barreling up behind me and flashing their lights when I'm already at or close to the speed limit, expecting me to speed up to accommodate them. Is it any fairer for the slow drivers to have to accommodate the fast ones than the reverse? In America, bullies prevail and then get royally pissed if the meek grow the least bit insistent about doing things our way. Well, I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore.