Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Black-headed Grosbeak in Duluth

I was in Ithaca and missed the Duluth Christmas Bird Count. The group I've always been in got a really cool bird. We always stop first at the yard of my friend Pat Thomas--she has put her heart and soul into providing plants and feeders to provide sustenance for a wide variety of birds, and this year the day before the Count she discovered this wonderful bird in her yard. She let compiler Jim Lind know, and "my" group, led by my dear friend Janet Riegle found it first thing. I was delighted, but also felt frustrated that I've missed the count these past two years. This is one of the coolest birds ever seen in my area. Anyway, it stuck around through the blizzard and was there today when Janet and I went birding. What a lovely bird to see--new for the state, new for the year, and new for my photography list. I didn't want to scare it so my photos are at some distance, and not as detailed and crisp as one would want for print, but I'm happy!!!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Reward Tripled

Whooping Crane
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
According to Operation Migration's Field Journal:

Wildlife law enforcement agents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources continue their joint investigation of the shooting of Whooping crane 217*. She is the First Family matriarch, who, along with mate 211, are the only Whooping cranes in the Eastern Migratory Population who thus far have successfully reared young.

Indiana Department of Natural Resources conservation officers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agents are conducting a joint investigation into the shooting incident which took place near the town of Cayuga in central Vermillion County, Indiana. In addition to the Endangered Species Act, Whooping cranes are protected by state laws and the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

It was announced yesterday that in addition to the initial $2500 reward posted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, contributions from two organizations have tripled the reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons who shot and killed 217*.

Defenders of Wildlife, a national non-profit conservation organization, and the Indiana Turn in a Poacher or a Polluter Program have each donated $2,500 bringing the total reward monies to $7,500.

Anyone with information should call the Indiana Department of Natural Resources 24- hour hotline at: 1-800 TIP IDNR
(800-847-4367), or the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at 317-346-7016. Callers can remain anonymous.

“To kill and abandon one of 500 remaining members of species shows a lack of reverence for life and an absence of simple common sense,” said John Christian, FWS Assistant Regional Director for Migratory Birds. “It is inconceivable that someone would have such little regard for conservation.”

Monday, December 14, 2009

Today's radio program

Whooping Crane
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
(Listen here)
Death of a Uniquely Important Bird
Ever since high school physics, I’ve been fascinated with the concept of entropy. Unless you put energy into a system, it starts falling apart, and the tiniest thing can destroy something that took a long time to organize or build. That made sense in the context of my daily life—everything seemed to fall into disarray if I weren’t constantly vigilant. Entropy is, of course, far more nuanced than a girl’s messy locker, but one of my favorite aphorisms is “entropy begins at home.”

Getting any system to work takes far more time and energy than we necessarily realize. The painstaking work of reintroducing cranes to the East is an example. Back in the early 1970s, a young ornithologist named George Archibald started doing crane research in Wisconsin and, with Ron Sauey, started the International Crane Foundation. In 1975, he was entrusted with a Whooping Crane named Tex. Tex had been hatched at the San Antonio Zoo in Texas in 1967, but was raised in captivity and completely imprinted on human beings. George won her trust, and she accepted him as her mate. In Spring1976, he moved in with her and flapped his arms about doing as close an approximation of a Whooping Crane dance as a human could. She completely accepted him as a mate, and when she was receptive, he tried artificially inseminating her. In 1977, when she was ten, she laid her first egg. Sadly, it was infertile, but George Archibald kept faith. Finally, on May 3, 1982, Tex laid a fertile egg, which hatched on June first. So much work had gone into getting Tex to produce her first chick, but now the future looked much rosier. This little guy was named Gee Whiz. And then just 3 weeks later, Tex was killed by raccoons.

Cranes at the International Crane Foundation are virtually always raised by Whooping Crane pairs, and when some exception must be made, the young birds are now raised by costumed humans holding an exceptionally accurate and life-like Whooping Crane puppet which feeds and strokes the young birds and makes lifelike vocalizations in the contexts real Whooping Cranes would in communicating with their young. The decades of research that made all this possible, and the painstaking work in this past decade to first see if puppet-imprinted Sandhill Cranes could learn a migration route following an Ultralight airplane and then find their way back and lead a normal life, and then breeding enough Whooping Cranes to conduct the experiment on them, culminated in an extraordinary success in 2006, when two cranes that had followed an Ultralight to Florida in 2002 successfully nested in Wisconsin, producing the first wild Whooping Crane in the Eastern United States in over a century. Black flies have caused serious problems for the cranes in the following summers, but cranes can have a long lifespan, and this couple was our best hope of rearing more babies to eventually make this population self-sustaining.

But entropy reared its ugly head once again the weekend after Thanksgiving, when someone shot and killed this female as she and her mate rested in Indiana during their migration. The NRA is right that guns don’t kill people or Whooping Cranes—people kill them. And hunters are right that the vast majority of hunters love wildlife and really do support conservation and know what they’re seeing before they point their gun at it. But I don’t think either group fully appreciates the skepticism people like me have, after seeing time and time again what a single pull on a trigger can destroy. Right now the US Fish and Wildlife Service is offering $2500 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever committed this senseless act. I’d love to see hunters and the NRA lead this quest, putting some of their vast resources into not just catching and convicting the criminal, but also testifying at the sentencing hearing to ensure that this time, the judge gives more than just a gentle slap on the wrist to whoever slaughtered this magnificent bird on who carried so many hopes on her magnificent wings. Whether the momentary blast that destroyed so many hopes and dreams was made by accident or maliciously, attention must be paid.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Hunters and NRA should step up to the plate

Whooping Crane
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
On the NRA's program webpage, they list "crime prevention" in their "Women's Program" listings. One of the ways we prevent crimes is to track down criminals and throw the book at them, but their link leads only to ideas about arming the rest of us and training us in gun safety so we know how to safely and legally protect ourselves. Unfortunately, in the case of Whooping Cranes, lugging even a small handgun just isn't going to work. So--NRA and hunting organizations, since you have a reputation for being strong advocates of conservation and strongly opposed to illegal shooting, PLEASE step up and help the US Fish and Wildlife Service to track down whoever slaughtered Female #217. And if the shooter is caught, please send representatives to the sentencing hearing to make a strong case that legitimate hunting involves NEVER pointing a gun at anything until you know what it is, and that shooting a Whooping Crane, whether intentionally or after misidentifying it, is a crime worthy of severe penalties. I'm tired of seeing hunters who slaughter Trumpeter Swans, Whooping Cranes, and California Condors get off with a wrist slap. I have always supported hunting as a legitimate sport enjoyed by true conservationists. Please help us conserve this exquisite and critically endangered bird.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Hooray for the American Bird Conservancy

They won their lawsuit to halt a profoundly misguided program releasing feral cats in Los Angeles! Read all about it.

Friday, December 4, 2009

It's National Blue Jay Awareness Month!

Blue Jay
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
Keep track of how birds are celebrating on Twin Beaks!!

An achingly sad announcement

Whooping Crane
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
Liz Condie of Operation Migration posted the following news yesterday:
217*, mate of 211, the pair whose offspring is W601*, is dead. Because W601* was the first Whooping crane to be hatched in the wild in the U.S. in more than a century (in 2006), the threesome was dubbed the First Family. (A second chick was also hatched - W602, but was predated on the Necedah NWR in late summer of 2006.)

In a report received late yesterday, Dr. Richard Urbanek advised that the mortality was discovered on Tuesday by WCEP Tracker and ICF Tracking Field Manager, Eva Szyskoski during an aerial flight over Vermillion County, IN, a traditional migration stop for this pair.

Richard reported, that while the male was was spotted 217* was not visible. Her transmitter signal was tracked to a location a few miles away where her carcass was found by Tracking Intern Jess Thompson. Richard noted that the recovery site was not the mortality site. The carcass has gone for necropsy to the National Wildlife Heath Center in Madison, WI.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Northern Hawk Owl map

View 2009/2010 Northern Hawk Owl Map in a larger map
Mike Hendrickson is maintaining a map of all northern Hawk Owl sightings in northern Minnesota! To find it as it's updated, check out Mike's Colder by the Lake blog.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Shorebird Report

Semipalmated Plover
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
The ever-wonderful Bob Russell of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made an important post today to the MOU listserv. He writes:

I recently attended the national shorebird council meeting and Waterbird Society meeting at Cape May, New Jersey. Canadian and American shorebird biologists and land managers attended the meeting. Some findings applicable to Midwestern shorebirders are:

Piping Plover conservation in the Great Lakes is finally paying off as several pairs bred in northern Wisconsin (Apostle Islands) and in Ontario and a pair bred in northern Illinois. Red flags though continue for this population (70+ pairs) with birds lost to botulism and some killed by Merlins which are moving south as a breeding bird in the Sleeping Bear Dunes region of Michigan. Some avian and mammalian predators along the Atlantic coast now are keying in on the cages used to protect the nesting plovers, causing some rethinking on how to avoid attracting predators. Several U of MN folks (current and former students and faculty) are leading the effort in understanding this species in the Northern Great Plains and Great Lakes.

Several papers highlighted Semipalmated Sandpipers (SESA) which have severely decreased in the Bay of Fundy staging area (likely due to a dike across the upper bay that destroyed tidal flow and their chief food source) and northern South American wintering areas with heavy hunting pressure in Guyana and Surinam where the local version of "birding" is to go out with long wires on Sunday and whip them up and down into a flock of shorebirds, killing many in the process. This is not done by impoverished folks for subsistence but by teenagers and families that often arrive at the site in rather well-off SUVs, making a day of it at the beach (mudflat). Several hundred thousand shorebirds may be harvested in this manner. Aerial surveys conducted in Feb, 1982 revealed 1,957,163 shorebirds in coastal northern South America and only 403,959 in Dec, 2008 over the same area. Eastern arctic Semi Sands are longer billed than western arctic birds, substantially so in many cases, and these are the ones showing the greatest population decline. Intense surveys of western arctic Semi Sands (short-billed birds) showed steady or increasing populations. Most Midwestern migrant SESA are of the short-billed populations with
long-billed birds primarily migrating south along the Atlantic coasts.

Several Marbled Godwits (MAGO) that breed on Akimiski Island, James Bay, were fitted with satellite collars and to the surprise of everyone headed southwest (some over Duluth!) and ended up wintering on the Sea of Cortez in Sonora or Baja California, Mexico. MAGOs were also banded last winter in Georgia and most of them flew to the northern Great Plains. I don't believe those results have been published yet so I'll wait on reporting the details.

Researchers at the The Center for Conservation Biology (Virginia) have been banding whimbrels at Virginia coastal staging areas. Many of these birds were recorded flying by Toronto in late May with several flying to breeding areas in the western Hudson Bay lowlands and a couple continuing on NW to the MacKenzie delta. Give pause for reflection on these superb flyers when you see one on the rocks of Grand Marais next May. Several birds returned back to Virginia in the fall, then on to Antilles and northern South America for wintering.

There was also discussion on the effects of climate change upon shorebirds. Many breeding birds in the vicinity of Hudson Bay were thought to have failed due to the cold early summer. No Little Gulls at all were known to have fledged near Churchill. Productivity in other parts of Alaska and the western Arctic was thought to be normal. Some folks noted increased shrub production and areal coverage in the Arctic which might be affecting tundra species like American Golden-plover.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Operation Migration!

Operation Migration!
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
I've been keeping track of this year's Whooping Crane migration every morning on the Operation Migration website. But now that I'm a member, I also get their In Formation magazine. And this issue happens to have an article I wrote, about the differences (including but far beyond identification) between cranes and herons.

When people are in so much trouble economically, it's ever so essential to spend our limited charity dollars most carefully. In the past few years, OM has had increasing difficulties with weather--both during the fall migration when the birds follow the Ultralight and then in the breeding season, when the breeding pairs of these birds have been beset with problems from black flies. As far as I can tell, this ambitious project really is this amazing endangered species' best hope of establishing a wild population outside the Canada/Texas group, which lost a record number of birds this year because of bad conditions on the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge last winter. But Operation Migration is really working--after their first flight behind the Ultralight, these birds make the return journey to Wisconsin and all subsequent migrations entirely on their own, pair up, and breed as if they were wild--exactly the way it was hoped they would. A few "normal" summers again and they should be producing young regularly.

Supporting Operation Migration to ensure there will be enough birds to make a second population sustainable is a really good use of $50. You get In Formation magazine and the satisfaction of knowing you're supporting an extremely worthwhile non-profit organization.

Even if you can't afford a membership right now, check out the Operation Migration Field Journal every day to see where the cranes are and how the migration is going.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sax-Zim BIrding Festival!

Northern Hawk Owl
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
Hey--don't forget the Sax-Zim Birding Festival in Meadowlands, MN, from February 12-14, 2010. There's no better way to celebrate Valentine's Day than taking the person you love to see the birds that you love. February is when Great Horned Owls in this neck of the woods are feeling romantic, too.

This year a lot of Northern Hawk-Owls are already being seen in northern Minnesota, so the festival is probably going to be VERY successful!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Newly arrived!

Laura's new book
Originally uploaded by jjg976
One of my friends posted this on her flickr site! Hey--I'd love it if anyone who has it would take a photo of themselves holding it!!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Hunting Essay

Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
I wrote this in 1999, when my local grocery store, Loop SuperValu, still existed and Mourning Doves weren't yet legal game birds in Minnesota. It's somehow been "found" and picked up on a couple of hunting websites this fall. My favorite said, "I clicked the link thinking, oh great, so pansy, liberal, diatribe about protecting her poor, precious, defenseless birds... but was pleasantly surprised by her candid, forthright thoughts on our beloved passion." I still don't know what I really think about hunting.

About Hunting - Laura Erickson

I hate death. I hate that people I love have died. I hate that animals I love have died. I hate that everyone I know will one day be dead. I hate that animal life takes its energy from death. The extinguished lives that sustain animals are sometimes plant, sometimes animal, and sometimes both, but the bottom line is always death. On this planet, even the most exquisite orchids take root in the foul putrescence of decay. The only animals that don't sap energy from dead bodies are parasites who sap energy from living ones, often killing them in the process.

The reason I hate death so much is that I love life so much. And herein lies the contradiction. I love the gentle goldfinch who lives almost entirely on seeds. From the perspective of the animal kingdom, this vegan lifestyle seems blameless. But from the perspective of the plant kingdom, the goldfinch is a ruthless abortionist untimely ripping tiny embryos from their flowery womb, denying them their birthright, ensuring that they will never feel the sun's life-sustaining rays. I love the soft-spoken nighthawk and bluebird, though tiny insects consider both to be vicious serial killers.

Every creature on this planet exists at the expense of others. Turkey vultures and carrion beetles and many maggots politely wait for animals to die of other causes before they partake of their bodies, but most animals are too vulnerable to disease organisms to risk scavenging except on fresh roadkills. Most meat-eaters do their own killing. A few steal fresh carcasses, or chunks of them, from predators, and many humans and ants appoint farmers and butchers from within our ranks to do our dirty work, but no matter what our station in life, from aphids to peregrine falcons, earthworms to human beings, the price of sustaining a body on this lovely planet is to leach the energy from other bodies, be they cauliflower or cattle.

I'm a scavenger. I limit my killing to mosquitoes and wood ticks--every other unwelcome visitor to my house or my skin, from spiders to deer mice, gets shooed away or tenderly taken outdoors and released. I understand the fact of death and derive my physical being from it, but it's too sad for me to look directly at it.

For me, predators are the most magnificently tragic heroes in earth's living drama. Of all the creatures on earth, they are the ones who face death with eyes wide open, killing with claw and teeth or talon and beak to maintain their life force. They don't celebrate death, they thrive on it until they succumb to it. They didn't choose their fate, and they don't shrink from it. Hawks and owls grab their vital vittles at high velocity, plunging talons into a still-beating heart and tasting blood before it even slows its course through veins and arteries, risking the probability that their quarry will fight back. They grab life with grace and gusto and guts, and seemingly take pleasure from outwitting, out-lasting, and out-fighting their prey. During migration, merlins and sharp-shinned hawks even dive-bomb enormous eagles and red-tails, playfully reducing grim life-and-death struggles into a game.

We humans can't remove ourselves from death, but we do our best to harness the risks of life. I pick up my chicken carcasses at Loop SuperValu, where they are fresh and guaranteed not to fight back. My brother hunts waterfowl, pheasants, and big game. But he isn't much more at risk in the vast Dakota back country where he spends weeks each autumn than I am in a busy Superior Street parking lot. Ironically, the two greatest dangers my brother faces while hunting are from his own heart seizing up or from other human hunters. He has a comfortable truck with a topper that shelters him from the elements, and he stands a safe distance from his quarry when he fires his shotgun. No way would, or indeed could, he bring down a deer with his teeth and nails, risking a kick in the spleen or to the skull. If he were quick enough and smart enough to grab a wild wood duck with his bare hands, I'm not sure he'd have the heart to break its neck. That gun holds him at a safe distance emotionally as well as physically.

At the end of the day, whether he's bagged his limit or come up dry, my brother stops at a grocery store or restaurant for dinner. He's hardly hunting to sustain his own life. Dead ducks are too messy to deal with at a campsite so he pops them in a cooler to deal with later, and he wouldn't dream of eating a deer until a butcher converted it into tasty sausages and parasite-free steaks. Since he doesn't particularly like venison, he gives most away, sometimes keeping the head to hang up as a wall ornament. His house is decorated with stuffed duck carcasses, too--a nuisance for his wife to dust, but beautiful in a Norman Bates kind of way. Unlike Norman Bates, my brother is not psychotic, nor is he fascinated with death and decay. He's simply a hunter--hardly a natural predator with his state-of-the-art weapons and clothing, but somehow responding to an urge as natural and as deep in his bones as the hunting urge of a hawk or owl. Can I claim moral superiority as a scavenger and quasi-vegetarian? Nope. We're simply two different kinds of creatures with different approaches to the life-and-death struggle that is demanded of every life on earth. We're all in this together.

Federal and state governments regulate hunting both to ensure that vulnerable wildlife populations will thrive for future generations and to protect species that hold unique and special places in our collective hearts and imaginations. That is the compelling reason why Minnesota and Wisconsin currently prohibit hunting of birds of prey, sandhill cranes, mourning doves, hummingbirds, songbirds, etc. Even with these safeguards I will never hunt, just as I'll never chop off a chicken's head. It's not in my nature. But I don't begrudge my brother the thrill and joy he takes from pretending he's a natural predator, as long as he limits his hunting to legal game species, treats their bodies with respect, and consumes or uses their bodies to support his own well-being. His desire to hunt is based on emotions as powerful and deeply-felt as my desire to avoid hunting, and I can hardly deny him the same thrills and pleasures I accept and even affirm in a peregrine falcon.

Are hunters capable of compassion? When food is scarce, a mother hawk or owl will sit by placidly as her bigger young kill and eat the smallest. Life or death are the alternatives, and the tiniest body may well provide the nourishment her larger ones need to stave off their own deaths. Yet that same mother, in the face of her own hunger, feeds and preens her tiniest, weakest babies with a tenderness that mirrors the gentlest, most nurturing human mother's.

In a well-documented case in 1922, a screech owl who twice lost her own brood in a single season adopted a nestful of baby flickers, and even tried to feed them pieces of a bird. She frequently incubated them, gently sharing her vital warmth with creatures that would normally be her prey. This ruthless predator allowed their real parents to care for them too, unmolested and without harassment. What, if anything, passed through her mind? Perhaps the same thing that would pass through my brother's mind if he suddenly found himself eye-to-eye with an orphaned fawn. I know my brother. I know that this SWAT-trained former Vietnam soldier, who has probably killed more deer than I've seen in my life, would bottle-feed a fawn with the same tenderness that I would, nurturing it until it was capable of living on its own, and then he would release it in a refuge where it could live out its days safe from hunting. A contradiction? Of course. That's life.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Plastic?! Yuck.

This is distressing. Plastic always eventually ends up somewhere--and too often works its way into the ocean. See more distressing photos of deal albatross chicks filled with crap (for some reason their parents sometimes screw up and feed them really bad things!) here.

Friday, October 16, 2009

SOME of the Whooping Cranes are on their way!

Operation Migration!
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
Operation Migration finally had good weather today, and all this year's cohort of Whooping Cranes got off the ground, but the inexperienced young birds didn't quite get with the program. One Ultralight led three birds to their first stop. The rest came down here and there at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. Find out what's happening with them at Operation Migration's Field Journal. WATCH what's happening via the Crane Cam. Watching the flight via the cam this morning was splendid!

And please support Operation Migration. It's expensive teaching these young birds the ropes, but it's our only chance of establishing a second wild, migratory population. The Whooping Cranes that breed up in Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada and winter at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas lost birds this past year to horrible conditions at Aransas last winter which reduced the blue crab population they depend on. I don't even want to think what a devastating late hurricane or a bad drought could do to them. Remember, it's not good to put all one's eggs in one basket--especially when those eggs are the last birds of a badly endangered species.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Help the cranes!

Whooping Crane
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
Operation Migration is getting ready for a new migration of a pretty large flock of young cranes. They've had more setbacks than usual the past two years, and the wild Whooping Crane flock that migrates from Texas to northern Canada every year is having real problems Please support them in any way you can. Check out Operation Migration's Field Journal today, with lots of important information from Tom Stehn about the wild Whoopers.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Hooray for the New York Times!

Give birds a break! Lock up the cat.


Did you ever wonder how parents can possibly forget one of their children at an Interstate rest stop? That's how horrifyingly negligent I feel! I got my spanking new copy of The Bird Watching Answer Book, which is supposed to be "Everything You Need to Know to Enjoy Birds in Your Backyard and Beyond." I've been writing a lot about genuinely bird-friendly coffee lately, and how the Smithsonian's seal is the ONLY way, unless you yourself have checked out the coffee plantations where your coffee came from or absolutely trust your supplier, that you can be 100 percent certain that every one of your coffee beans was grown on an organic shade coffee plantation with enough structure to the canopy and understory plants to ensure that the plantation is supporting a good assortment of birds. This is an issue I care so much about that I made it the very first in my 101 Ways to Help Birds.

Anyway, I opened the index in my new book to refresh my memory about what I wrote about it, and OH NO!!! It isn't in there! I FORGOT to include one of the easiest ways we individuals can make a huge difference for birds!!! I have no idea how it got overlooked in this book, except that maybe my files about questions from people really don't include a question about shade-grown coffee. Oh, dear. Anyway, this instantly goes on my list of things to include in a second edition if it sells well enough to have a second edition.

But now my brain couldn't stop thinking OH MY GOSH--WHAT ELSE DID I FORGET????? And I instantly came to the other shockingly easy and inexpensive way that we should ALL be helping birds--by buying a Duck Stamp. Oh, my God. Paul Baicich will never forgive me. This was inexcusable. Again, I honestly thought I'd written about both things, and have no idea how they didn't make it into the book when they should have been the first two questions in the conservation chapter.

So--now I'm worried. What other beloved children of mine have I forgotten? If anyone notices any other egregious omissions, please let me know! I'll be keeping a running tab so the next edition can be more complete.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Bird Watching Answer Book

I'm holding it in my own two hands for the first time today! I got the photo taken in my apartment complex office.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Hooray for Birds & Beans!

Finally--a place specializing in the real thing--Certified Bird Friendly coffee!! Check out Birds & Beans.

There are only two officially certified coffees--the Smithsonian's Bird Friendly, and the Rainforest Alliance. Unfortunately, coffee sold with the Rainforest Alliance doesn't need to be 100 percent certified, so a significant part of one of their blends isn't necessarily grown to the high standards that the Smithsonian Institution requires for their certification. And other coffees, even if they have a lovely bird on the package, aren't necessarily grown using the best practices for birds. "Shade-grown" can refer to a monoculture of canopy trees with no bromeliads and virtually no diversity. If you can't find genuine, certified Bird Friendly coffee in your neck of the woods, you can order it directly from Birds & Beans. That's what I'm going to be doing from now on.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Clean air and water AND a great economy do go hand in hand.

Forbes ranks Switzerland as the cleanest country in the world. And guess which country has the most competitive economy as judged by the World Economic Forum? Good old Switzerland! Sweden is also very highly ranked on both fronts.

Feral Cats

Audubon magazine has a superb article about the feral cat "Trap, Neuter, Release" programs that are subsidizing feral cats, making them last longer as bird killers without reducing their numbers ANYWHERE. It's a great article which I strongly recommend.

My personal cat, Kasey, came from one of those ridiculous TNR programs--I took her in because I couldn't bear to watch her killing birds. She's very happy indoors. Those cats that cannot adapt to indoor life should be caged or humanely euthanized. Period.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Hawk Ridge Weekend--and I'll be there on Friday!!

I'm in Duluth until early Saturday. Yesterday was my first day in town so naturally I headed for Hawk Ridge. Russ and I walked around and saw the new overlook perch for the counters (it's way up high with a wonderful view!!). Karl Bardon, the counter, was up there staring into the blue sky--it was a slowish day and we were there at the tail end, but two kestrels came by nice and low. I got to meet Aldo Contreras, a counter visiting from Veracruz, too. Debbie Waters, the Naturalist, was up there, and Erik Bruhnke was serving as count interpreter. That was what I used to do most at Hawk Ridge, though informally. It's lovely to see that now it's a regular and valued job. Erik does absolutely wonderful work--he's a fountain of knowledge and he bubbles over with enthusiasm. His love for birds is contagious.

Hawk Ridge has evolved over recent years to be truly in a new Golden Age. I'll be there several times this week. And I was thrilled to discover that they're celebrating "Hawk Weekend" this coming weekend! So I'll get to be there Friday to hear Carrol Henderson's talk. Carrol has been the Minnesota DNR Nongame Wildlife Program supervisor since 1977, and is author of several great books including what I consider to be THE best book ever written about bird feeding, Wild About Birds: The DNR Bird-Feeding Guide. He'll be talking about his new book, "Birds in Flight: the Art and Science of How Birds Fly." I can't wait to see him, and all my other Duluth friends, again!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Photon meets the Atlantic Ocean

Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
I'd never let Photon run on a beach like this if there were shorebirds about. The next day in the same spot there were Semipalmated Plovers, but by then her 11-year-old muscles were pretty tired so she didn't mind the leash. I posted a whole set of her on flickr:

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A wee bit of hyperbole

Well, calling it a "wee bit" of hyperbole is committing the opposite sin, but check it out.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Check out the Cornell Blog of Ornithology!

Caren Cooper from the Lab of Ornithology attended the AOU meeting and wrote about the presentations regarding bird collisions. Windows are an enormous problem--they kill about a BILLION birds every year in the United States! Read about the meeting sessions here.

What fun! Paw Talk!

Tufted Titmouse
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
I was interviewed for an article in the website Paw Talk this weekend, and it's up today. I love when pet owners are introduced to wild birds. Although wild birds cannot legally be kept as pets,and although birds don't have "paws," people pre-disposed to love animals (like me with my cat and my dog) are very welcome in the birding community. You can read the interview here.

Friday, August 7, 2009


Rooks are as smart as Archimedes--they, too, understand displacement.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Active babies!

Great Blue Heron
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
What fun! They're starting to "fly" from branch to branch. This is the farthest any of them have ventured. So far.

Thse and more photos here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

My four handsome babies

I have had more fun than I think I've ever had before watching these baby herons growing up. I put a bunch of photos of them, from the start of nesting through yesterday, into a Flickr set here:

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Natural born killer

Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
This beautiful cat is a natural born killer, but as a domesticated animal it is decidedly NOT a natural predator. What natural predator would kill two shrews just for fun, leaving the carcasses when the tiny mammals stopped "playing" along?

This morning when I was walking Photon we came upon the first dead shrew and I wondered what had killed it. Shrews apparently taste horrible, and normal predators, after tasting one, stop wasting time with them. The question was answered when we came upon this cat with the second shrew in its mouth. When it saw Photon, it dropped the shrew and skulked into the woods, too late for the little mammal. I could tell exactly where the cat was in the understory by following the sounds of the many anxious parent birds giving alarm calls.

Shrew #1 killed by cat
Shrew #2 killed by cat

There are so many nestlings and flightless fledglings right now--I get a stomachache every time I see a cat slinking about outdoors. Someone recently asked me whether their cat was in danger from Barn Owls that were calling and seeming to "scold" the cat every night. I feel so angry when people pretend their cat is a natural predator but don't want to subject it to the same harsh realities that genuinely natural predators face. And in the case of the Barn Owls--they're hardly big enough to mess with most cats. That group was clearly a family with probably more than one owlet. Their chicks were far more at danger from the cat than the cat was from the owls.

I love cats. But they belong indoors. Period.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Common Redpoll
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
My grandpa died 39 years ago, on Father's Day, 1970. He was one of the formative people in my life who get credit for whatever good I may do, and there are still times when I ache with longing for him. This is hardly the first time I've linked to this story, but since it's Father's Day, I'm reposting it, the one tribute I've written about him, "Grandpa's Canaries."

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Great Blue Heron and fish

I have been having a LOT of fun with Annie, my new camera. We took this photo at lunch yesterday at the lab. Amazing to realize that this poor little fish is right now nourishing not just one heron but three or four others. That's how many babies are in the nest. Three for sure, and maybe four! I'll be trying to get more photos from the nest tomorrow.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

"MY" baby!

The Great Blue Herons nesting in Sapsucker Woods this year have been so wonderful to watch that the window in the staff lounge has become something of a Laura magnet. We could tell that at least one egg hatched Friday or over the weekend, because we could watch the adult regurgitating food, and today I finally got a glimpse of a chick!

Thursday, June 4, 2009


Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
Today's For the BIrds program:

I was home in Duluth for a few days last month, on either end of spending a week in Eagle River, Wisconsin. It coincided with the time of year when fawns are born, and as we were packing my stuff, I told Russ that more than any other thing, I was hoping to get a chance to see and photograph a newborn fawn that week. Minutes later while we loaded the car, my neighbor walked by and said there was a fawn in her backyard. We zipped over there and voila! I’ve posted a few photos of it on my flickr page, and one is up on my Twin Beaks blog.

There is something exquisitely innocent and sweet about a tiny fawn. If I hadn’t needed to get on the road, I’d have spent hours there, mesmerized by the tiny thing curled up in the lawn. As long as you keep a respectful distance, fawns are fearless. Their mother told them to stay put, so they do, trusting in cryptic coloration and a benevolent universe. And at this point, the universe is indeed benevolent for them. A great many are killed every year during hunting season, and too many are killed on highways, but the fact that their numbers remain so very high is testament to how easy their lives actually are right now. Two and a half decades ago I found my own babies even more mesmerizing than this fawn. I stared at them for hours, days, weeks, months, taking endless photos and marveling that such innocence and sweetness could exist on this planet.

Babies and fawns are alike in the way that the sight of them elicits a surge of protectiveness in most of us. We nurture both till they’re on their own, and then we complain, with as much justification as we had when we were nurturing them, that there are too many of their kind on the planet. That fawn is fed on milk that was formed within the doe’s body, fueled by native plants that become increasingly scarce as the invasive exotic weeds that deer shun grow ever more pervasive. My babies were fed on milk produced from the food I ate—vegetables grown on endless acres of farm fields that choked habitat and oozed with pesticides and fertilizers that worked their way into water supplies and up the food chain to contaminate food supplies. At the time the conservative Nixon administration banned DDT in the United States, the pesticide was not just wiping out Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons—it was contaminating mother’s milk.

Looking at the tiny fawn curled up on the lawn, waiting patiently for its mother’s warmth and nourishment, trusting implicitly in this benevolent universe, I realized that too much of a good thing is still a good thing. But it isn’t enough to feel protectiveness and warmth toward a fawn or baby—we must act on it. These helpless beings trust in adults to keep the universe benevolent—overflowing with biodiversity, clean water and air, birdsong, peaceful relationships with our neighbors, to sustain them throughout that life so filled with promise. We can’t think this through as if we ourselves were still children—we must remember the harsh realities of predation, disease, and death. Love without commitment isn’t mature love, and those of us moved to protect babies of all kinds must be mature and thoughtful—to learn what exactly are the problems these tiny beings will face, and to use our minds and hearts and labor to solve them in as humane and gentle but committed a way as is humanly possible, to make this world we share truly sustainable for all the babies among us, and for their children and their children’s children. We’re not all of us rocket scientists. But we are supposed to be the smartest species on the planet—it’s up to us to justify that trust we see in the eyes of babies and fawns.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Last week I promised my Elderhostel class I'd put together a list of links for good websites. Here they are!

*My "sets" of photos--I put the Elderhostel ones first, and then the rest organized by family. I still need to categorize all the Elderhostel ones, but at least you can see them together.

Troy's flickr photos

*Troy's Elderhostel photos from this year.

*The Cornell Lab of Ornithology's All About Birds website. Type in just about any North American bird in the search box and you'll find a lot--sounds and photos both!

*My goofy "Twin Beaks" blog.

I can't remember what other links I promised. If you think of anything else I should have here, add a comment or email me and I'll edit this post to add it.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Death of an Ovenbird

Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
On May 13, I took Photon for a very short walk at 6:10 in the morning. We headed back to our apartment at 6:15, and there on the doorstep of my apartment building was a dead Ovenbird, still warm. It had apparently come down to earth after flying hundreds of miles overnight, was skulking about in the shrubs around the building, and the porch light or hall light bewildered it and it crashed into the glass door. I live in a large apartment complex. My apartment happens to be the one next to the office, which is why there’s an outside glass door at all—none of the entries to the other buildings, and neither of the other two entries to apartments in this building—are enclosed at all. I’d been thinking how lucky I am to be in one of the handful of apartments in the entire complex that has an enclosed entry—I don’t have to go outside, even momentarily, to get my mail or go down to the basement laundry. But that poor Ovenbird paid a heavy price for such a minor convenience.

When I was in Guatemala two years ago, I spent quite a bit of time with an Ovenbird. He or she had a winter territory near the conference center I was visiting. Whenever I could break away for a few minutes, there the bird would be. It was fun watching it go about its business, not focused on nesting or feeding young but on just living day to day. That bird had flown thousands of miles to get there—perhaps it, too, had come all the way from Minnesota, but it didn’t arrive in the comfort of an airplane but after millions of wingbeats, flying entirely on its own power. While I was there, the weather was beautiful, but there were other dangers for a little Ovenbird—snakes and large lizards that could snap it up in a single bite, army ants that could envelope it as it slept, and a host of other predators. And in the tropics, Ovenbirds are still vulnerable to windows—while I was there, an Ovenbird was found dead beneath a window.

For some mysterious reason, Ovenbirds are killed at windows and glass doors in disproportionate numbers—dozens of people over the years have told me that although they hear Ovenbirds on every summer walk through the woods, the only Ovenbirds they’ve ever seen were found dead under their windows. As I held this poor dead Ovenbird, still shrinking as the last vestiges of breath passed out of its air sacs, I could feel the tragedy of a bird, a fellow traveler on this planet coming so far, working so hard, to come to such a meaningless end so near to its destination. The irony and sadness cast a pallor on the rest of the day.

Gary Larson once drew a Far Side cartoon with the caption, “When birds hit the window of vulnerability.” He drew a huge brick building with just one tiny window and a bird hitting it with a big “Bonk!” He didn’t draw it carefully enough to be identifiable, but my guess is that bird would have had to be an Ovenbird.

The fact that I could be ironically detached enough from the tragedy of this Ovenbird death to think of a Far Side cartoon bespeaks just how removed from the individual lives of other species we can be. But John Donne’s masterful meditation on the connectedness between us humans is perhaps not as all-encompassing as it should be. No man is an island, entire of itself. And mankind is not an island either, entire of itself. Any being’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in the planet’s life; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

(Today's radio program transcript. You can here the program on my podcast page--click on the title and wait patiently till it loads.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Stop! Thief!

This sucks--I just noticed that someone ripped off great swaths of text from my Owls of Harry Potter for her own blog! I'm so tired of people stealing my best lines and stuff, but this is ridiculous, and it sounds like she has a commercial site, not just a personal one. I don't have a myspace page so I can't even email her. But she took the information from my Owls of Harry Potter page, and it looks like she may have also taken things from Karla Kinstler's pages.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Some amusingly grotesque...

Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson of Archimedes downing a mouse are posted today on Twin Beaks.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Photon in a prairie-chicken blind

Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
Most dogs wouldn't last 5 minutes in a prairie-chicken blind before they barked, whined, or otherwise became nuisances. But this little dog waited patiently the whole time I was there--and I lingered an hour longer than was required! But she's not a morning dog, as you can see. I came across this photo when I was posting my Greater Prairie-Chicken photos to my Flickr photostream last night.

101 Ways to Help Birds

This is rather shameless self-promoting, but I sure wish that, with the new State of the Birds report, people would take another look at 101 Ways to Help Birds. I cover removing unnecessary fencing (the #1 cause of mortality for female prairie-chickens!!) energy conservation and how all the methods of producing electricity cause serious harms to habitat, air and water quality, etc. [well, except solar]), suggestions for making windows safer for birds, what to do when you find a bird in trouble, the best ways to solve problems with birds, etc. I was covering a lot of these topics before others seemed to even notice them--there's a part about birds and airplanes, for example, and I was researching bird impacts with windows for years before the book came out in 2006. Anyway, it really is worth a read, whether you buy it, check it out from a library, stand in the aisle or sit in a chair and read it at your favorite bookstore, or read it piece by piece in Google Books. I put my heart and soul into it, and years of research and writing, and it would be lovely if it were selling better.

Editors at two very prestigious publishing houses wanted to publish it, but in both cases the marketing departments nixed the project saying no one wants to buy books about conservation. I'd love to prove the marketing departments wrong, but so far apparently they were right.

Friday, March 20, 2009

I made Anderson Cooper's blog on CNN!

It's about chickadee brains and neuron regeneration. Check it out!

Check out Twin Beaks

Much as I love blogging, more and more I find myself thinking of how to post information as a bird might do, so I'm putting more and more information on Twin Beaks and less and less here. Some of it's funny (or not--humor is always subjective), but a lot of it is important conservation information. I'm trying very hard to make that website accessible and fun for birders of all levels, but always with a strong conservation message.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

State of the Birds

I am SO proud to work at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The teamwork that went into this report was truly inspiring, and I'm very proud of the Lab's part in it. This report, and the video, are splendid. Please check it out.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today released the first ever comprehensive report on bird populations in the United States, showing that nearly a third of the nation’s 800 bird species are endangered, threatened or in significant decline due to habitat loss, invasive species, and other threats.

At the same time, the report highlights examples, including many species of waterfowl, where habitat restoration and conservation have reversed previous declines, offering hope that it is not too late to take action to save declining populations.

“Just as they were when Rachel Carson published Silent Spring nearly 50 years ago, birds today are a bellwether of the health of land, water and ecosystems,” Salazar said. “From shorebirds in New England to warblers in Michigan to songbirds in Hawaii, we are seeing disturbing downward population trends that should set off environmental alarm bells. We must work together now to ensure we never hear the deafening silence in our forests, fields and backyards that Rachel Carson warned us about.”

The report, The U.S. State of the Birds, synthesizes data from three long-running bird censuses conducted by thousands of citizen scientists and professional biologists.

In particular, it calls attention to the crisis in Hawaii, where more birds are in danger of extinction than anywhere else in the United States. In addition, the report indicates a 40 percent decline in grassland birds over the past 40 years, a 30 percent decline in birds of aridlands, and high concern for many coastal shorebirds. Furthermore, 39 percent of species dependent on U.S. oceans have declined.

However, the report also reveals convincing evidence that birds can respond quickly and positively to conservation action. The data show dramatic increases in many wetland birds such as pelicans, herons, egrets, osprey, and ducks, a testament to numerous cooperative conservation partnerships that have resulted in protection, enhancement and management of more than 30 million wetland acres.

“These results emphasize that investment in wetlands conservation has paid huge dividends,” said Kenneth Rosenberg, director of Conservation Science at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “Now we need to invest similarly in other neglected habitats where birds are undergoing the steepest declines.”

“Habitats such as those in Hawaii are on the verge of losing entire suites of unique bird species,” said Dr. David Pashley, American Bird Conservancy’s Vice President for Conservation Programs. “In addition to habitat loss, birds also face many other man-made threats such as pesticides, predation by cats, and collisions with windows, towers and buildings. By solving these challenges we can preserve a growing economic engine – the popular pastime of birdwatching that involves millions of Americans – and improve our quality of life.”

“While some bird species are holding their own, many once common species are declining sharply in population. Habitat availability and quality is the key to hea

Surveys conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey, including the annual Breeding Bird Survey, combined with data gathered through volunteer citizen science program such as the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, show once abundant birds such as the northern bobwhite and marbled murrelet are declining significantly. The possibility of extinction also remains a cold reality for many endangered birds.

“Citizen science plays a critical role in monitoring and understanding the threats to these birds and their habitats, and only citizen involvement can help address them,” said National Audubon Society’s Bird Conservation Director, Greg Butcher. “Conservation action can only make a real difference when concerned people support the kind of vital habitat restoration and protection measures this report explores.”

Birds are beautiful, as well as economically important and a priceless part of America's natural heritage. Birds are also highly sensitive to environmental pollution and climate change, maki

The United States is home to a tremendous diversity of native birds, with more than 800 species inhabiting terrestrial, coastal, and ocean habitats, including Hawaii. Among these species, 67 are Federally-listed as endangered or threatened. In addition, more than 184 species are designated as species of conservation concern due to a small distribution, high-level of threats, or declining populations.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service coordinated creation of the new report as part of the U.S. North American Bird Conservation Initiative, which includes partners from American Bird Conservancy, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Klamath Bird Observatory, National Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Read all about it, and even download a cool PDF of the whole report, at

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Going nuts with my podcast

I know that Macs are supposed to be so wonderful, but they're so tied to their own software, and the whole system is so inflexible that it's driving me nuts. I like a lot of features about iWeb, and that's how I'd been putting my podcasts on iTunes, but when I tried to migrate my homepage over, too, since I'm now paying TWO hosts every year and really need to start saving money, iWeb erased my whole podcast. So now I'm starting from scratch--only somehow iTunes erased the description of the podcast now, and I don't know how to change it back. Oh, well. I guess I'll have to stick with my old host for another year.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Head to Twin Beaks for CSI: Ithaca!

I've been way too busy and distracted to post much here lately, but have been keeping up with Twin Beaks. If you're not already doing it, you should check "my" Twin Beaks blog--"the first blog by birds, for birds." This past weekend I got brave enough or cocky enough to add it to Fat Birder's Birding Top 500 list. It started out with a ranking over 1000, but quickly raced up the chart and is, as of this moment, up to the #213 spot.

Ryan Bakelaar just allowed me to post his posting to the Cayuga Birds listserv about the necropsy he did on the Magnificent Frigatebird that turned up in Ithaca after Hurricane Ike--it's a wee bit gruesome, especially after he sent some pretty cool but explicit parasite photos (that Gil Grissom would LOVE), but very interesting. On Twin Beaks, of course, where everything is told from the birds' point of view, this is presented as the first episode of CSI: Ithaca. Check it out!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Neotropical Birds Online

Tom Schulenberg, one of the authors of Birds of Peru, writes:
We are a long way from having a comprehensive series of natural history accounts for Neotropical birds.

But, we can change that. Working together, we might get there a whole lot faster than you might think.

The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology is pleased to announce the launch of Neotropical Birds Online ( Neotropical Birds Online is similar to the familiar Birds of North America series, but one important difference is that Neotropical Birds will be free - no subscription fees!

The scope of Neotropical Birds Online is all bird species that regularly occur in the Neotropics, from Mexico and the Caribbean south to southernmost South America. The emphasis is on species that breed within this region, but the eventual goal is to provide accounts for all species that regularly occur within this region.

Each account on Neotropical Birds Online is a separate online publication. Full credit is given to the author, or collaborating team of authors, for each species account. The online format allows authors to revise their accounts to keep pace with new research. This format also allows us to incorporate other media into the species accounts, and to link to related resources elsewhere on the web. This is a collaborative project: Neotropical Birds Online not only is for researchers, birders, and managers who are interested in birds of the neotropics, but it also will be *created* by that community of specialists.

We are launching this with only a few completed species accounts, although more will be going online very soon. But for this project to succeed, it will need support from researchers working in the neotropics. You can contribute to Neotropical Birds Online not only through authoring a species account, but also by providing photographic images, sound or video tape recordings; learn more about how to contribute

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Charred remains

It's interesting for me to keep track of the investigation of the US Airways plane that crashed into the Hudson, because after an Air National Guard F-16 crashed on takeoff in Duluth on September 18, 1992, I was the first person to identify the charred remains of two or three American Golden-Plovers that had been sucked into the single engine. In that case, a flock of birds had been on the runway on a splendid migration day. F-16s go so fast that the pilot, David Johnson, didn't know what happened--he got up in the air and the engine instantly quit. He was quick-thinking, and pointed the plane away from houses before ejecting and parachuting to safety.

A few days later, two uniformed Air National Guard crash investigators showed up at my house with the remains of the birds in plastic bags, thinking I could identify them! They'd already stumped the people up at Hawk Ridge. Fortunately, since I had rehabbed so many birds, I had a pretty good feel for feathers. These were dull brown with no wingbars--although charring could mask colors, wingbars would have been at least a bit evident--and of the smooth and waxy texture characteristic of waterbirds. (That filled me with relief--when I heard about the crash, I was scared that the plane had collided with a hawk, since the day of the crash was also the day of our biggest raptor migration that year.) The remains were significantly smaller than duck wings, and so I methodically perused the field guide and saw that the only two shorebird possibilities were Solitary Sandpiper and what was then called the Lesser Golden-Plover, and that the length of the feathers was more consistent with the plover.

A couple of hours later, the investigators came by again, this time with photos of a dozen or so dead but easily identifiable Lesser Golden-Plovers. The photos had been taken by investigators scrutinizing the area around the runway. The plane had crashed into the whole flock. Sad as the little bodies made me, it felt wonderful to have figured out the charred ones correctly.

Cool as it was to identify those remains, playing forensic ornithologist for a day, my word could hardly be the final one. All the bird evidence was sent to the Smithsonian's amazing Roxie Laybourne for verification. She was a wonderful woman--I got to meet her at an AOU meeting and she was as warm and friendly as she was knowledgeable.

Anyway, today's New York Times has a fascinating article about the Smithsonian team that identifies birds now that Roxie Laybourne has died:

Published: January 25, 2009
At the National Museum of Natural History, scientists study the remains of birds that have collided with planes, looking for clues to prevent future accidents.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Birding in the Sax-Zim Bog

Boreal Chickadee
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
I spent today birding with Mike Hendrickson in the bog. We saw a lot of really cool birds despite the awful wind, but thanks to that wind, no owls. But we did see this Boreal Chickadee, trying to get into the deer rib cages on Admiral Road, though a Hairy Woodpecker interfered with those plans. You can see a bunch of photos from the day at my flickr set:

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Today my grandpa would have been 113 years old. It's hard to believe he's been gone, physically, from this world for 38 years, because he's been very much of a spiritual presence my entire life. He wasn't particularly knowledgeable about birds, but did inspire me more than anyone else in my childhood to learn about birds. I wrote about that in Grandpa's Canaries. I haven't yet had a redpoll at my feeder this year, but I sure hope one turns up today.

If any of my children turn me into a grandmother one day, I hope I'm as nurturing, loving, and inspiring as my grandpa was for me.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Trees for Tomorrow Elderhostel

Laura Erickson
Originally uploaded by tjwalters13
I'm so pumped! I get to do the Trees for Tomorrow Elderhostel in May with Troy Walters again! This is one we've done many times together, and we always see great birds--Boreal Chickadees and Golden-winged Warblers and Black-throated Blues and much, much more--and we and our group always have a lot of fun. It runs from May 24 to May 30--we should get peak numbers of birds and song that week! Check out the rest of Troy's photostream from the 2007 Elderhostel, which was the last time I was the instructor.

Great birding spot, or the greatest birding spot?

I can't wait till Friday, January 23! I'm going to spend the day birding with my friend Mike Hendrickson. Great Gray Owls, Northern Hawk Owls, and Boreal Chickadees, here I come!!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Yay, Obama!

Tufted Titmouse
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
The inauguration invitations are printed on paper approved by the Forest Stewardship Council! Read about it here. And when you buy new wood products or non-recycled paper, make sure it's FSC Certified.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Canada Goose and plane collide

Here's sad news to start the year, from today's Duluth News-Tribune:

The National Transportation Safety Board says a bird strike caused the crash of a University of North Dakota airplane that killed two people last year, including a young Duluth man.

Twenty-year-old student Adam Ostapenko of Duluth and 22-year-old instructor Annette Klosterman of Seattle died when the twin-engine Piper Seminole crashed in a swampy area in central Minnesota on Oct. 23, 2007.

The two were on a routine training flight from St. Paul, Minn., to Grand Forks.

The NTSB's probable cause report, dated Sunday, says the airplane hit at least one Canada goose. The NTSB says the collision "caused the airplane to be uncontrollable."

NTSB says the night flight contributed to the crash because the pilots could not have seen the goose.

Twenty-year-old student Adam Ostapenko of Duluth and 22-year-old instructor Annette Klosterman of Seattle died when the twin-engine Piper Seminole crashed in a swampy area in central Minnesota on Oct. 23, 2007.

The two were on a routine training flight from St. Paul, Minn., to Grand Forks.

The NTSB's probable cause report, dated Sunday, says the airplane hit at least one Canada goose. The NTSB says the collision "caused the airplane to be uncontrollable."

NTSB says the night flight contributed to the crash because the pilots could not have seen the goose.