“Daily Sightings” A Blog

Daily Sightings: A Two-Fisted Blog

Lone trail.

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

Dogs can be lousy bird-watching companions.

I walked a trail this morning, alone. Because it was just me with no dog, I was able to go slow and use binoculars on birds I saw.

A Red-bellied Woodpecker. An out-of-season Belted Kingfisher over the unfrozen river. A Red-winged Blackbird with no red on its wings. Two kinds of nuthatches. All seen close up.

When I’d walked this same trail with my dog a while back, she set the pace, and I couldn’t stop to get my fists around binoculars.

(Two fists around binoculars…one reason behind this website’s name).

Yeah, the dog kept us moving fast, and we made noise, too. Speed and noise are the enemies of two-fisted bird watching.

Today, I was without the dog. And I had the birds.

Actually, that was small consolation. I’ve seen these birds before, and I’ve seen them a lot. I like seeing them, and want to keep seeing them on this or any trail for as long as I can.

But my dog wasn’t with me because she’s gone now.

And the thought occurred: On this winter morning, I’d rather have been with a lousy bird-watching companion.

Screw the birds. It would’ve been nice to be with the dog.

Basketball and birds.

Saturday, February 4th, 2012

Today was warm for winter. I noticed my basketball near the garage, where there’s a hoop.

Grabbed a sweatshirt, and shot some baskets. But I missed a few, due to birds.

When you aim at the basket, you look up. Sometimes a bird’s up there in the distance, and you notice it.

This breaks your concentration. You miss.

Today, while shooting a routine fifteen-footer, I saw a Turkey Vulture circling. Big, ominous, with splayed wingtips.

They’re not seen much around here this time of year, but there he was.

He was looking at me, thinking: Hmm, driveway basketball players aren’t seen much this time of year, but there he is. Maybe he’ll become dinner.

Later, when I was going in for a Derrick Rose-style spinning layup, I got a glimpse of small birds in the top branches of a tree over the garage, and missed.

No big deal. I’ve made a million layups. The birds were Cedar Waxwings, and I haven’t seen a million of them. At least not on the tree over my garage.

In the past, I’ve missed baskets because of squawking Sandhill Cranes overhead. And last summer, a Cooper’s Hawk threw my shot off.

That’s okay. I’m glad to be outside, shooting around, jumping toward the hoop, defying gravity (think Derrick Rose, again).

And watching other gravity defying things. Like birds. They get racked up on a mental list I keep each season.

And they give me an excuse when I miss.

Coyote Burnout

Saturday, January 28th, 2012

Went out to get the paper at the head of the driveway and noticed coyote tracks. Seen ‘em before. No big deal.

Then, I thought: hey, coyote tracks used to be a big deal.

When coyotes started showing up around Chicago in the 1980s, I went looking for them. These animals were the stuff of cowboy movies. And now they were here.

...stuff of cowboy movies

But over the last few years, I’ve seen plenty of coyotes. One trotted across our yard a week ago. I’ve seen them from the car.

The excitement is gone.

I guess I’ve got coyote burnout.

On a river in Alaska, we saw so many eagles that the same thing happened.

I remember the first Bald Eagle I saw in the wild. It was in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula somewhere in the woods. Hell, it’s all woods up there. That eagle was a big deal.

But on the river in Alaska, after seeing about a hundred eagles, I wanted to get into our rattling old Jeep and head back to town for a beer.

Eagle burnout. Now: coyote burnout.

Is this the way things work? What other kind of burnout lies in wait?

Woods burnout? Will I get tired of going into the wild and hanging out alone by a river? I hope not. I like doing that.

Blog burnout? Will I get tired of doing this writing, and end it?

Ah, those coyote prints got me in a weird mood. Native Americans say the coyote is a trickster, and plays with your head.

Looks like even his prints can do the same thing.

The Someplace-Else Owl

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

I keep hearing about a Snowy Owl being sighted someplace else.

I won’t head over there. Not my style. Not what I stubbornly call two-fisted birding.

Most birding I do is done alone, in my territory.

Mountain lions also have territories that they hunt in. Hunting and bird watching are different sides of the same coin.

My territory covers many square miles. I range all over it. And like any wild beast, when nobody’s looking, I’ll mark a tree.

Within these woods and fields along a river, I see many things that are possible around here. But I let sightings come to me.

(I do the same when hanging with humans. At a party, I get a drink and settle into one spot. People come and go, the ones I want to talk to.)

So, yeah, I see birds on my turf and on my terms.

You don’t need rarities to enjoy birding. But I get somewhat rare ones, sometimes.

“See ya. Someplace else.”

Ospreys and Pileated Woodpeckers, distant Bald Eagles. A Lazuli Bunting. Yellow-headed Blackbirds.

Shrinking groups of Bobolinks. Uncommon Summer Tanagers, an American Bittern. Whooping Cranes overhead.

But I’ve never seen a Snowy Owl.

My territory’s big enough. Let the owl come here, if it wants to get seen.

I’m not going to read about one on a beach near a nuclear plant in the next county, and drive to it.

I’d like to meet one of these owls this winter.

But, so far, the bird’s always turning up someplace else.

Well, it’s a someplace-else owl. And we’re not on each other’s life list yet.

Too easy.

Friday, January 20th, 2012

It’s freezing, and I’ve been buying cakes of fat.

I don’t mind the cold. There’s thick air in every breath, so you feel good. But cakes of fat?

They’re for the birds. We put these cakes in little holders, and hang them in front of our windows. Birds are so frozen and hungry, they leave the wild and come close.

For people, congealed fat can be bad news. But for birds it’s money in the bank. So we buy cakes of it, encrusted with seeds and bits of fruit.

We’re surprised at how many birds it draws, and how many different kinds.

What’s also surprising is that I don’t feel this is real bird watching.

Fish in a barrel

Yeah, it’s good to give the birds a hand when it’s freezing. But spotting birds at a feeder isn’t birding; it’s shooting fish in a barrel.

Today there was a big Red-bellied Woodpecker on the other side of the glass. Lured with fat and seeds.

Also, countless American Goldfinches in sparrow-like winter plumage, Dark-eyed Juncos, Cardinals, Black-capped Chickadees, White and Red-breasted Nuthatches, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers. A single lost Mourning Dove.

My yard’s become something like a zoo. (If you see a gorilla in a zoo, you don’t feel like you saw a gorilla. You feel bummed.)

If I want to do some real bird watching, I’ll put on a coat, boots, a stupid-looking hat, and get my freezing butt into the woods somewhere.

There won’t be many birds. But if I see a Red-bellied Woodpecker, it’ll mean something.

Cycles.

Friday, January 13th, 2012

A big, tough guy is guiding us through swamps in the Everglades. He points out some White Ibises, but they’re not white.

“That’s because they’re juveniles,” he says.

Juvenile White Ibis

This is correct. He had no way of knowing that we already knew that, because, c’mon, it’s not the kind of thing most people know.

Most people don’t know an Ibis from their elbow. And they’d call it a stork anyway.

The word “juvenile” sounded funny coming from this tattooed bruiser. But he had it right.

This brought up thoughts of life cycles. We’re all just walking life-cycles. Ibises. People. Anything that can have a biography.

(Biographies are fascinating books, yet can be downers, too. This is because you know the demise of the subject before he or she knows it).

Anyway…

Yeah, we’re all walking life cycles. Babies get born, kids grow up, young turns old, old turns really old.

Mature White Ibis

Hell, it’s good to get away from these sobering realities.

One great way to do this is to lose yourself for a while in a wild place.

Like the Everglades. But then, there’s this guy talking about juvenile Ibises.

You start thinking about how they’ll become mature soon enough, with mature plumage.

They’ll hook up with hot Ibises of the opposite sex, make more juvenile Ibises, then fade into the sunset.

The juveniles we just saw will start the cycle all over again, and it’ll keep going.

On the garbage can near the trailhead, there’s a sign that says, “please recycle.” Ibises got the message. We all got that message.

Two for one.

Monday, January 9th, 2012

Been away from the keyboard for a while. Some time has passed since our last Daily Sighting post. Let’s make up for that. Here are two…

Cold-blooded.

Went to the Everglades for birds, alligators and adventure. Our small airboat slid over swamp water and saw-grass, past jungled islands that had Black Vultures in treetops.

Bears and panthers stayed hidden, but we saw Tricolored Herons, Glossy Ibises, Snowy Egrets, a Snail Kite and cold Anhingas. Yeah, cold. The morning was sunny, but temperatures were in the fifties.

"...cold-blooded about danger."

We saw an alligator, too, rare on a chilly day. But, this ten-footer was cold-blooded about being cold.

We stopped. He glided nearby, looking unlike anything in a zoo, unless it was Jurassic Park.

A Purple Gallinule walked chicken-like on floating vegetation. He knows that gators are underfoot, but this bird’s cold-blooded about danger.

Hell, on that day, even wrapped up under hats, coats and scarves in the tropical Everglades, we were all cold-blooded.

Bird Shadows.

And then it got warm. While on a sunny beach, shadows zipped and rippled across the sand and over the Atlantic surf.

"A new challenge..."

One of these might’ve been made by a Ring-billed Gull, Brown Pelican, Collared Dove. Even an Osprey.

I aimed my cell-phone camera at a bird shadow, and captured most of it just in time. Didn’t get to see the bird itself, but could make a good guess about what it was.

Then an idea hit: Bird shadow-watching.

Experts already spice up birding by going naked, which means no binoculars.

Some south Florida beach lovers have a different definition, but that’s a story for another day.

And some birders identify species only by listening.

How about a new challenge? Shadow birding. Here’s that bird shadow I snapped before it flew out of sight. Know what made it?

Placid.

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

Some Mallards around here don’t fly south. They tough it out, since winter doesn’t last very long any more.

Watching them today in a half-frozen pond brought up thoughts of another season passing. That, and the unavoidable festivities of “new years.”

Last summer, we commented about birds that pay no attention to record-breaking heat because they don’t read thermometers.

They’re equally indifferent to our chronological mileposts.

Sure, changing weather patterns are unmistakable evidence of time’s flow. But the birds don’t know it’s New Year’s Eve today.

The flow of time can be a troubling thing for those who measure it.

"...placid and self contain'd"

Birds and other animals don’t bother.

They don’t take off from work. They don’t celebrate. They don’t get hung over. They just keep on keepin’ on.

More reason to admire animals for their placid acceptance of things.

This recalls words by Walt Whitman, not a favorite, but, still, bits and pieces of two-fisted thoughts from his “Leaves of Grass” come to mind…

“I think I could turn and live with animals…they’re so placid and self contain’d, I stand and look at them long and long…

They do not sweat and whine about their condition…Not one is dissatisfied, not one is respectable or unhappy over the earth…

He’s writing about birds, of course, as well as other animals.

Birds don’t look at calendars. And they don’t spend a moment wishing each other the best for the coming year. On the other hand, we can do that. So we are.

A Seasonal Moment

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

After a long winter’s hike, you’re nursing a beer in your favorite restaurant bar. You’d been out all morning looking for a Snowy Owl, but didn’t see one.

You’re no stranger to this bar, or this beer. Both are old friends. But there’s something different today. The place feels nicer. Why is that?

You gotta think about it. But first, you gotta hit the men’s room.

There’s a big guy in there who got stuck watching his kid while his wife shops in the neighborhood. He’s changing the kid’s diaper on the sink.

The atmosphere’s worse than usual in the men’s room. Plus, you can’t get at the sink.

It’s a deciding moment.

You’re pissed off because you didn’t see the Snowy Owl that many people have been talking about on the internet. Now this.

You want to give the guy a dirty look in the mirror, and say something like “cheeez!” Then leave, and slam the door.

Something stops you. Instead, you say, “Ah, the joys of fatherhood.”

You smile at the guy as he struggles. He looks up and says, “Tell me about it.” And smiles back. Now you both feel good instead of bad.

Back at the bar, it hits you. Why the place feels nicer.

It’s the lights. This restaurant bar is lit up with little holiday lights. They’re strung across the ceiling, over the bottles, around doorways.

You hate to say it—it’s not a two-fisted comment—but they’re kind of pretty. They give the place a…glow

Normally, you don’t care about things in a bar being pretty. Except for tall, blond Donna who sometimes sits with you.

No, you don’t care that they’re pretty. But you gotta wonder, why don’t they have these little lights all year ‘round?


Bird Football.

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

You’re watching NFL football. The crowd is waving rally towels.

This odd show of support has caught on. But, sorry, the towels look like hankies. Wrong for a two-fisted sport like football.

Fans should stick to painting their faces and hairy chests in team colors, stuff like that.

What does this have to do with birds?

Recently, we got an email from a birdwatcher who does heavy construction work in Florida. He said he saw Roseate Spoonbills down there. We thought: That’s a score, buddy.

Then an idea hit. Bird football.

Here’s how it works. Get into the woods. In your mind, it’s first down. You’ve got sixty seconds to spot a bird. If you don’t, it’s second down.

When you see something, you mentally move the ball. Your yardage is determined by how common the bird is. A Dark-eyed Junco is worth, say, five yards.

Now it’s second and five. See a Loggerhead Shrike, and he’s good for seven yards. First down.

Titmouse. Three points!

Then you see a Goshawk. That’s your rare hail Mary. Nice going: forty yards. You’re in the red zone now, scoring territory. You see a Cardinal there. That’s fitting, but pretty ordinary. He’s worth just five yards.

Are those towel wavers in the stands still at it? Instead, think of long-legged cheerleaders jumping on the sidelines.

You see a Tufted Titmouse. Cool. That bird always means a field goal. You’re up three zip.

Later, you step into a thorn bush, and get covered with burrs. Interception. Lose the ball. But when they punt, you run it back.

How far? Depends. If you see a Pileated Woodpecker, touchdown. You’re Devin Hester. Spike the ball.

On the trail out, House Finches get you only a few yards, and the clock runs down. That’s okay. You’re up ten nothing, a shut-out.

Cheerleaders are jumping, and fans are cheering. Nobody’s waving rally towels, though. The commissioner of bird football doesn’t believe in ‘em.

Rain.

Friday, December 16th, 2011

It’s raining. I think about walking in the woods anyway.

I wouldn’t do it just to spot birds, although wet birds are there to be seen. It’s just that tramping around in the wild gets to be a daily routine, and you like to keep it going.

Reminds me of a book by Chris Offutt. He’s a hill guy from Appalachia who got educated and writes like a hill guy who’s educated. I’m thinking about his thoughtful memoir, “The Same River Twice.”

Offutt wrote it while spending time near a wooded river. Every day, rain or shine, he’d hike there, sit, and think about his past, his future, his pregnant wife. His family, his writing, the wild things around him, everything.

That daily wilderness fix can become a habit. Like booze. Rain won’t always keep you away. We’ve seen joggers in the rain, right? Jog junkies.

Going to a river in the woods is the same thing. And if you’re interested in birds, you’ll see them. Like ducks. Hell, it’s their kind of weather.

Even on a rainy day in December, you can find Wood Ducks, Blue-winged Teals and the common Mallards that’ll stay through winter. Canada Geese, too. They’ve become ordinary in the pavement world, but they’re respectable in the wild.

If you scan the branches with patience, you see birds waiting out the storm, sometimes shaking themselves like wet dogs. Once, I watched a soggy Blue Jay. He blinked as water hit his face and looked back at me, no questions asked.

It’s raining now. Maybe I should get out there. Might see something better than a wet jay. Not sure what that would be. I’ll think about that, if I go into the woods.

Cold

Saturday, December 10th, 2011

The woods are cold. My breath is fog. It’s a good time of year in here. Trees are bare, so you can see into them.

I notice the cold birds. Titmice. Crows, Blue Jays, three kinds of woodpeckers, two kinds of nuthatches.

Winter goldfinches. Pale Canadian Robins who come down for the winter. Juncos. House Finches although they don’t live in houses.

From a distance a coyote watches with a steady gaze. I’m meat on the hoof, if he could figure out how to get it.

So he watches me as I watch birds.

I rarely see the rarities that I hear about on the internet. Snowy Owls and insane hummingbirds that didn’t migrate.

I’m thinking this…then I’m on my back.

I’d been walking. Now I’m looking at the sky. I remember no fall. I heard an “oof,” and figure it came from me.

Turns out there was ice under the snow. The moment when my boots slipped was so quick, it didn’t register.

Bam. I was on my back.

If I’d fallen onto one of the pointed branches that are sticking out of the dead trees all over the ground, I’d have been punctured.

The woods wouldn’t have cared. Like I said, they’re cold.

Glad nobody saw the fall. Kind of embarrassing.

Then I think: the coyote saw. Probably raised an eyebrow and licked his lips. I got up. Maybe another day, he’ll get lucky.

Meanwhile, I kept walking. Saw the same cold birds I’d been seeing. Nothing rare or unusual. Maybe like the coyote, on another day I’ll get lucky.

Jailbird watching.

Monday, December 5th, 2011

Been hearing about the lady with the finger in our last post.

Not so much in comments that show up here. But in comments that don’t show up here. And from friends.

There’s something about defiant anger. What does this have to do with bird watching? We’ll get to that. First, think about that gesture and why people are drawn to it…

In Spike Lee’s 2002 film, “25th Hour” people were drawn to a very popular 2-fisted, 5-minute scene about giving the bird. It’s on Youtube, if you’re interested.

In it, Edward Norton’s soon-to-be-jailbird character goes into a men’s room and sees an insult scrawled on the wall. He takes it personally, as we all do.

Then he gives it back in a politically incorrect, cathartic rant by writer David Benioff that Shakespeare would envy. Norton flips the bird to everybody, group by group. His monologue is anger unleashed.

What does this have to do with bird watching?

Okay. Here’s something 2-fisted birdwatchers know: when you’re angry, insulted, frustrated, rather than flip the bird like Norton did, call it a day and walk through the woods. When you reach a river, sit.

Soon the wild quietness will make whatever’s bugging you less important. You’ll see a Great Blue Heron, even in winter. A Belted Kingfisher, a few Wood Ducks, Red-bellied Woodpeckers. Maybe an Osprey. Pine Grosbeak. Or deer. Mink. Muskrats.

Doesn’t matter. Now you’re thinking about the wildlife you’re seeing. And how come that heron hasn’t flown south. You’re taking a breath. You’re letting the anger go down the river.

Flipping the bird to someone, or everyone, works. But going to a river by yourself does the same job.

Hey, here’s an idea: do both. Flip off the world, then go sit by a river. Gotta be good for your peace of mind. Bring a couple of beers along, and it’ll be perfect.

What kind of bird was flipped?

Monday, November 28th, 2011

A two-fisted birdwatcher keeps fingers wrapped around binoculars, unavailable for rude gestures. Besides, when slogging through wild places, the need doesn’t arise.

But in the rude world of people, things do arise. Like middle fingers. During a traffic misunderstanding, a driver flipped me the bird. Got me mad, but also got me thinking.

I thought: what kind of bird?

This expression, “flipping the bird,” is common. The word “bird” must be in it for a reason.

After Googling around for a while, you discover that the gesture itself has a long history. It means fuck you, of course, and goes back to Roman times. It’s pretty universal, and has long been accompanied by the word “bird.”

Trouble is, while the gesture’s kind of obvious, there’s nothing obvious about why the word “bird” got involved. And there’s nothing credible that identifies what kind of bird’s getting flipped.

Recently, a Russian news anchorwoman flipped the bird during a live broadcast when doing a story about the USA.

This was talked about in world media. Again, the word “bird” was associated with this universal gesture. Again, if you’re a birder, you gotta wonder: “what kind?”

The Cardinal in the Angry Birds game, with his dark, V-shaped, mean-looking eyebrows makes a good candidate. And this is a digital game.

He’ll have to do, until more information can be found. It’s worth looking for more information, because we’re interested in identifying birds. And a lot of them are getting flipped. Some in our direction.

The lady shown below is not doing that to you. Don’t take offense. And she’s not that Russian newsreader, either. She’s just here to make a point.

Coot.

Friday, November 11th, 2011

I saw some American Coots.

Near Lake Michigan on a raw November day, they were freezing their butts. They’ll soon drift south. But today, they were cold coots.

The words, “cold coot,” got me thinking about the words, “old coot.” And this got me wondering how old these cold coots might be.

Cold Coot

I went to a bunch of websites that had information about the life spans of birds. Details are surprisingly sketchy.

According to a Stanford University report, the oldest American Coot studied by researchers made it to 22. But that’s pretty abnormal.

The general belief among ornithologists about coot age is that these birds are lucky to make it to 9.

So if you see a 9-year old coot, you can call him an old coot.

Like in: “Hey, you old coot, watch out for that Red-tailed Hawk, or you’ll never get south.”

I mention this because on another day I saw a hollowed-out coot carcass under a tree where a Red-tailed Hawk perched. The hawk was belching and picking coot feathers out of his beak.

Science tells us that most wild birds are lucky to survive for just a couple of years. Some guy in England maintains that Robins live to be 1 or 2, max.

Larger birds live longer than small ones. Here are some longevity records: Great Blue Heron, 23. Mallard, 26. Downy Woodpecker, 11. American Robin, 14. Northern Cardinal 15. House Sparrow 13

But they’re records, equivalent to saying a human lived to 120 by eating yogurt every day.

According to information gathered after Googling around on this subject, it seems the average life span for most wild birds is in the one to five year range.

In any case, the coot I saw was probably not very old. Just cold. That, however, doesn’t mean there wasn’t an old coot in the neighborhood, watching it.

Sticking points.

Monday, November 7th, 2011

       

 A guy walks in the woods and gets burrs stuck to his legs. He winds up making millions because of it…

 ~ ~ ~

I wait all year for hard, cold weather when the woods and riverbanks can be bug-free. I went bushwhacking where I’d have been covered with mosquitoes in summer, but today it was okay.

Except I got cockleburs on my pants. And some smaller, meaner burrs that I don’t know by name. They’re all hard to pull off and can draw blood if you do it fast.

But bushwhacking is worth it.

After wading through knee-deep brush and burrs near the river I saw an American Woodcock. He didn’t fly, just waddled off.

Down by the river I saw a Belted Kingfisher working the water. He’ll stay until the river ices.

And I saw beaver sign: wood chips around gnawed trees. Made me think about A.B. Guthrie’s, “The Big Sky,” a great novel about beaver-trapping mountain men who went west during the 1840s.

About a hundred years later, in 1948, burrs interested the hiker and inventor, George de Mestral.

Intrigued because it was difficult to pull the damn things off his clothes, he studied them under a microscope.

Hooks and loops. Hmm. George then invented Velcro, and became rich.

On the way out of the woods I saw cold-weather robins, common now that our winters have become tentative. I saw titmice, nuthatches, juncos. The woodcock was the only eyebrow raiser.

No matter, it’s always good to get into the woods, away from human things. Especially now, when you can bushwhack. Although, there is the problem of nature’s Velcro to deal with: burrs.

I’m going to have a sticky time getting these little pricks off my clothes.

Boone Day

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

It’s Daniel Boone’s birthday.

He once said: “I undertook a tour through the country…and the diversity of nature I met with expelled every gloomy thought.”

Okay, forget the fancy “diversity of nature.”  Doesn’t sound like the Boone we know.

But yeah, walking in the woods does “expel every gloomy thought.”

That, and you might see something. Like the White-breasted Nuthatch I saw today.

Or a Red-breasted Nuthatch, a red-breasted Robin, a Bay-breasted Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak or Yellow-breasted Chat.

Maybe you’ll see beaver sign along the river, chips of white wood around a gnawed tree. I did. Or a fast mink caught unaware during daylight.

How about a rumored Illinois mountain lion. Deer staring at you, unafraid. Sometimes, a coyote looking over his shoulder.

See, you’re not gloomy right now, just thinking about all this. Especially ‘cause you’re still thinking about those breasts. Right?

Boone more famously said: “I’ve never been lost, but I admit to being bewildered once for three days.”

Corny backwoods humor. Cut the guy some slack; it’s been over 200 years.

But I think about this quote when lost in summer undergrowth. Or in a winter whiteout.

I’ve been lost in swamp reeds too high to see over. Even lost in a tame forest within the sound of a road.

Boone never was lost, just bewildered. I’ve been both. And I’ve got him beat in the bewilderment department.

For me, it’s been more than “three days.” Try a lifetime.

This could make a guy gloomy. Which is why I go into the country to “expel every gloomy thought.”

Even if you get lost, you can see Pileated Woodpeckers in Michigan’s U.P., Gray-headed Juncos in the Rockies, Scarlet and Summer Tanagers along the Des Plaines River’s vast forest preserves.

It’s worth it. Getting lost, and being bewildered.

Here’s to November 2nd. Birthday of a two-fisted birdwatcher.

Mountain Lions & Ivory-billed Woodpeckers.

Monday, October 24th, 2011

Sometimes I get lost in the woods. Not literally. Hell, you walk a mile in any direction and there’s a suburban road. I mean lost in thought.

Yesterday, I thought of James P. McMullen’s book, “Cry of the Panther.” This is because my wife clipped an item from the Chicago Sun Times about a mountain lion in the nearby suburb of Lake Forest.

McMullen, a 2-fisted ex-soldier lost himself in the Everglades purposely until he could find a panther, and peace of mind.

If a panther—or mountain lion—could be in my neck of the woods, why not an Ivory-billed Woodpecker? Both species are believed extinct around here. Both like large tracts of wilderness. And both had sparked rumors.

There have been believable reports of Ivory-bills in Arkansas. Our latest mountain lion report was believable, too, because it wasn’t the first. In 2008, a big male was gunned down in Chicago on its way to Lincoln Park Zoo, drawn by the scent of females.

As I hung around, lost in the woods, there were things to see…

Cedar Waxwings filled a tree. A Northern Flicker took off, flashing a white rump, like deer do when they run away. Goldfinches lost color, renouncing sex for the year. Juncos were jumpy, ready for winter. Late, lost warblers were inscrutable. Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers were antsy.

Almost got a ticket...

Almost got a ticket…

Just because I didn’t see an Ivory-bill or lion didn’t mean they weren’t there.

In the 1977 film, “Close Encounters…” nerve gas made birds drop from trees like rain. If you’d looked in those trees earlier, you’d have said no birds were in them.

See, you never see all that’s there.

If extinct midwestern lions are in town, why couldn’t extinct Ivory-bills be here along with their Pileated Woodpecker cousins? I know the Pileateds are around. Almost got a ticket chasing one.

Standing in deep leaves and dim yellow light, I was thinking all this. Didn’t see an Ivory-billed Woodpecker or a mountain lion. But I’m thinking they saw me.

Mug shot.

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

The movie, “The Big Year,” generated a big year’s worth of pent-up interest among birders.

Now it’s out. And our coffee cup is in it, logo and all. Thanks Hollywood camera guy; we appreciate it.

The scene in which our mug is seen lasts only seconds, so it’ll be missed by most people.

But birders, who are used to spotting things quickly, are seeing it. We’ve heard from a few who said “way to go,” and some who wondered how the mug made it onto Jack Black’s night table.

It started when we went to see Steve Martin’s banjo concert on a summer night more than a big year ago.

Between songs, he said he was leaving for Canada to shoot a movie about bird watching.

Everyone laughed. The old stereotype dies hard, in spite of what we’ve been trying to say around here.

I mentioned Martin’s movie to a friend in PR, and she saw a possible tie-in between two-fisted bird watching and the athletic hijinks of a big year.

As a freebie favor, she called the movie people. They were straight-away interested in our cup for “set dressing.” They asked for some other logo items, too, like T-shirts.

We had no illusions about any of these things making an on-screen appearance, and didn’t really give a damn. On the other hand, we liked the book that the movie was based on, and admired the guys who did that big year.

One of them, Sandy, comments here from time to time, and that’s an honor. We also like Steve Martin’s banjo playing. So we sent the stuff off.

Our mug got a bit of face time, but most people won’t see it. What they will see, though, is a pretty good movie.

“Mean Zoo.”

Friday, October 7th, 2011

Went to the zoo with some little kids.

To amuse them during the car ride I told them a story. It was called “Mean Zoo.”

I said: hey kids, imagine a zoo. If kids are bad they get put in the cage with lions.

The kids stopped fidgeting. They liked this. They wanted it to get even meaner.

I said: then mean zookeepers make the bad kids have a poo fight with the monkeys. If the kids lose, they have to clean it all up.

The kids hooted. Our drive to the zoo was bearable because they were distracted.

When we got there, I found myself in the ape house looking at a gorilla.

He was up against the glass. They don’t have bars any more, just glass. I was inches from this gorilla.

I looked at the thick salt & pepper hairs on this guy’s head. I looked in his eyes. They said he didn’t care about me.

He didn’t care about much.

I think he’d been driven insane years ago in his small room, this animal that had evolved to move in forests. A small stench-filled room.

With me looking in his hopeless eyes.

Mean zoo, I thought.

What does this have to do with birds and bird watching? I have two answers.

One: there were birds in enclosures at the mean zoo, too. They were meant to fly, but couldn’t. That was pretty mean.

Two: Not everything on this website is about birds. Not everything on this website is two-fisted, either.

The gorilla was a two-fisted wrecking machine, but he wasn’t wrecking anything, no matter how big his fists were.

Not in the mean zoo.