Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Friday, March 26, 2010

Happy Robert Frost's Birthday!

Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson

Photo ops

American Robin
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
I've been trying to remember to bring my camera to work every day. I'm always trying to get the "perfect" robin shot, and the "perfect" red-wing shot, and on and on. You never know what you're going to find, even when it's 25-degrees and blustery out there.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Great Blue Heron update

Last Thursday, a Great Blue Heron appeared on last year's nest right outside our windows at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I was thrilled! This weekend I was busy, but read reports from people visiting the Lab or working there that at least one and maybe two other herons were about and there was quite a bit of squabbling. Today, a second heron kept landing on the tree and one that was sitting on or next to the nest kept chasing it off. By mid-morning, there were two on the nest.

These birds aren't banded or color marked in any way. We can't tell male from female most of the time, and have absolutely no way of verifying whether either or both birds are the same as the pair that built the nest and successfully fledged all four chicks last year. But hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul.

Last year I took photos most days during the breeding season, and went to the Lab before dark each night through the summer to see the end-of-the-day activity. This is something I will miss mightily this year, when I head back to Minnesota. But I'm glad they're getting an earlier start so I can maybe get good photos of some of the starting activities again.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Wish I were watching eagles from Duluth right now!

Bald Eagle detail
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
Yesterday 679 Bald Eagles and 30 Golden Eagles were counted by Karl Bardon from West Skyline in Duluth. Wish I were there! Hey--if you're around, this is really fun to see!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Beware the Ideas of March

Listening carefully
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
This is the script of today's radio program, available, like all my "For the Birds" programs, on iTunes:
When I was a freshman in high school, our English class read Julius Caesar, and I first encountered the portentous words, “Beware the Ides of March.” Sure enough, the next time March 15th rolled around, our family cat died, so it was a message that has stuck with me for life.
March 15 can be a very bad day for birds, falling within the month that migration can be stopped dead in its tracks with blizzards and ice storms. But those can happen any day in March. For birds, it’s not the Ides of March, it’s the Ideas of March that gets them into trouble.
The first idea of March that can be a bad one is for birds wintering in the southern states to start migrating during a balmy spell, only to be hit with bad weather. The worst victims of this bad idea are Tree Swallows and bluebirds, who sometimes arrive in the north well before the insects they need are available. Bluebirds fare a little better because they are better at finding and extracting nutrition from berries, but both birds suffer mortality. It’s heartbreaking for people to peek into a bluebird box and find one or more of these lovely little birds dead.
Another of the bad Ideas of March is to nest too early. We’ve had some warm weather in Ithaca in the past couple of weeks that has set our Canada Geese to mating and working on nests. Even geese that are quite old turn into teenagers in love in spring, and they just don’t think things through. Last year, the first geese to nest and hatch out eggs lost all their babies to the hungry snapping turtles that were first emerging right when the goslings were at their tiniest and most vulnerable. The geese who more sensibly waited until April to nest managed to raise most or all of their broods. Of course it can be argued that there are way too many Canada Geese as it is, so maybe I shouldn’t be giving them any bright ideas, but even if you know there are too many geese, there is something so innocent and sweet about a tiny baby goose that it’s hard to not feel sad when you’re watching a family of six young babies following their devoted parents everywhere, and suddenly it’s a family of four, then two , then one, and then none.
Pine Siskins and redpolls reach their highest levels of sociability and being twitterpated in March, a bad idea right when soil is warming up enough to release soil-borne bacteria that can infect wet seeds on the ground where hundreds of these birds collect and feed one another. Every spring there are salmonella outbreaks among these finches thanks to their ideas about friendly gatherings.
Of course, not all of the avian Ideas of March are bad ones. As much as we don’t want birds to arrive too early, we can’t help but celebrate the morning we hear our first robin singing away, or watch the Red-winged Blackbirds all displaying in top form atop cattails. Although the dawn chorus won’t reach its glorious peak until late May or early June, it starts kicking in in earnest in March. This month birds are bursting with ideas, and even if those ideas kick off behaviors that will end in heartache or death for some of them, the burst of daylight, occasional warm temperatures, and hormones of March are what makes the world go round.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

New York Times coffee shop article

Scarlet Tanager
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
The New York Times had an article about coffee shops in NYC, and didn't mention which carried organic or shade-grown coffee, much less certified Bird Friendly coffee. Here's the comment I posted:
Ithaca NY
March 11th, 2010
5:16 am
Some coffee beans are grown as row crops, depleting soils and loaded with fertilizers and pesticides. This is a major factor in destroying natural tropical habitat essential for tropical wildlife and also North American birds that winter in the tropics.

The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center certifies "Bird Friendly" coffee that is organic and grown in diverse natural rain forest that meets standards ensuring biodiversity. Coffee grows more slowly in shade, giving the beans a richer flavor which most coffee aficionados prefer, so buying Bird Friendly coffee is a win-win.

I love a good cup of coffee, but unless I'm desperate will drink only Bird Friendly certified coffee. I order my beans mail order from Gimme! in Ithaca or from Birds and Beans in Massachusetts (which sells ONLY Bird Friendly coffee), and will always choose a coffee shop that specifically offers Bird Friendly coffee over one that doesn't. I wish that you'd indicated which coffee shops offer Bird Friendly coffee, or at least which offered fair trade, organic, and shade-grown coffees.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Twitterpated hawk owls

Northern Hawk Owl
Originally uploaded by Laura Erickson
Oh, man--I went to the Sax-Zim Bog yesterday and it was cosmically wonderful. The weather was warmish--upper 40s I think--and sunny, and birds were really feeling their oats. There were most cooperative Northern Hawk Owls, and I also had a pair of Boreal Chickadees singing. They don't have a whistled song--this was like a softer, more musical and more sustained gargle.

It was hard leaving home this morning--both from the "boy I wish I could stay in Duluth" sense and from the "Holy crap! I have to be at the airport at FIVE A.M.?!" sense.