Birder license plates

Several shots of birder-themed license plates were shown during the great slide show put together by Jeffrey Gordon on the last day of the Midwest Birding Symposium. I managed to capture a few photos of these myself.





I started a Flickr group for bird- or birder-themed license plates. Do you have any photos you can add to the pool? Have you ever seen one of the plates featured in the group? Do you have a birdy license plate yourself (maybe in one of the above photos)? I’d love to hear about it!

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Cooper’s Shock

Warning: Graphic images of a hawk eating prey below

Our friendly neighborhood songbird terrorist has been making more frequent visits to our back yard. I’ve seen ‘our’ Cooper’s Hawk almost every day this week. One day I was filling the feeders when I stopped to examine a pile of grey feathers on the ground. I suspected Coop got one of our fat juicy little Mourning Doves and was calling back to the house to tell Arthur, when suddenly I saw a big shadow out of the corner of my eye. A Cooper’s Hawk took off from the grass path behind our fence, and I was fairly awestruck. Just moments later, as I was facing the house and talking to Arthur, he saw *another* Cooper’s Hawk take off from somewhere behind the fence. Two Coops at once?! Oh my.

Usually we can tell the hawk is around by the lack of birds at the feeders. Often we can then find Coop in the tree behind our yard, scoping for prey. Although he usually keeps a low profile, a couple of days ago we were surprised to find him perched on our large T-shaped feeder pole. On one side of the pole we keep a suet log which is favored by Downy Woodpeckers. There was Coop, king of the yard, perched on the highest pole. And there was Downy, frozen on the side of the log facing away from the hawk. Oh, how I wish I had gotten a photo of that! Coop finally took off flying to the right, and the Downy zipped around to the other side of the log in the same instant, in the blink of an eye. Here’s Coop perched on the post, without any frightened birds hiding below.


Yesterday Coop caught a House Sparrow and proceeded to eat it on one of our fence posts. This was the first time we’d actually seen the hawk eating, even though we’ve seen piles of feathers on the ground several times, indicating at least a scuffle if not an outright kill. Final warning: Graphic images & video of a hawk eating prey follow.

First there was a lot of plucking. Then came the eating. Soon a squirrel came and disturbed the hawk. First it seemed to be mantling over its prey; finally it flew off with lunch in talons.

Cooper's Hawk with prey

Cooper's Hakw eating a House Sparrow

Cooper's Hawk eating prey

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A taste of Symposium speakers

A symposium is defined as a meeting or conference for discussion of a topic, and so a main part of the Midwest Birding Symposium was the great lineup of speakers. Over Friday and Saturday I attended several keynote speeches as well as four separate, smaller break-out sessions.

Here are just some of the dynamic guest speakers in action.

Alvaro Jaramillo

Alvaro Jaramillo‘s talk was called “Bird ID Outside the Box.” As a new birder I thought this might be too ‘advanced’ for me but the description intrigued me and I’m really glad I attended. The MBS program said of Alvaro’s speech: “This workshop will aim to teach a little bit of birding voodoo and other features to concentrate on while birding.” Part of Alvaro’s thesis is that we should get all we can out of birding, and enjoy the hobby in our own way. If you don’t like listing, for example, don’t do it. You don’t have to be a lister to be a birder. Want to watch the birds in your back yard? You’re a birder, too. He also presented some really neat research being done around brain function, memory and facial recognition and suggested we can apply some of those techniques to learning bird identification. Birding voodoo indeed!

Kenn Kaufman

Kenn Kaufman spoke on “Flights Against the Sunset: Why We Need Birds.” He shared lots of reasons why we need birds (yes we do!) along with a fair dose of humor. He even impersonated a Mourning Dove at one point. Don’t believe me? See the video below!

Bill Thompson III

Bill Thompson, III introduced the keynote speakers who appeared at Hoover Auditorium, sometimes in song. He also spoke about the process of creating his book The Young Birder’s Guide to Birds of Eastern North America.

David Allen Sibley

David Allen Sibley spoke Friday night about his new book, The Sibley Guide to Trees. He also generously spent two sessions signing books for legions of fans. It was fun to see that many people brought him several books to be signed: a pristine new copy of the tree guide along with a hopelessly tattered copy of The Sibley Guide to Birds or another of his field guides.

Lang Elliott

Lang Elliott has been recording natural sounds for over 20 years. He shared a great collection of bird calls, songs and hoots during his presentation.

Wayne R Petersen

Wayne R. Petersen spoke about inland shorebirds. This was an information-packed talk featuring slides with lots of shorebird ID tips, trivia, photos and data.

Jane Alexander

Actress Jane Alexander spoke on “Birding On and Off the Movie Set.” She shared a series of amusing anecdotes on the birding adventures she’s had while traveling the world, acting in movies, television shows and stage performances.

Al Batt

Al Batt‘s program was titled “Snippets from a Life Gone to the Birds.” He had an auditorium of birders laughing in the aisles with his tales of growing up in a big family on a farm, birding with children as an adult, squirrel troubles and more. Apparently a bat or two makes its home in the Hoover Auditorium of Lakeside and one made a rather dramatic flight across the top of the stage during Al’s talk. It was two Batts for the price of one.

Jim Berry

Jim Berry was the final speaker on Sunday morning, giving a program called “Roger Tory Peterson: Yesterday and Today.” This included two older videos of Peterson which were very interesting.

Unfortunately I didn’t manage to take any photos of two other speakers I saw during the MBS. Mike Bergin of 10,000 Birds spoke on bird blogging. He shared 80+ of the best bird blogs (I was very excited to get a shout-out). Author Scott Weidensaul gave a presentation called “Of a Feather: A (Brief) History of American Birding.” This was very entertaining, especially considering I had just read the book.

Finally, here’s a video montage of Bill Thompson III, Kenn Kaufman, Jane Alexander and Al Batt.

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Skywatch at Marblehead Lighthouse

Friday morning during the Midwest Birding Symposium, we visited one of locations mentioned on the MBS program’s list of local birding hotspots: Marblehead Lighthouse State Park. We arrived before dawn and first watched the sun rise over Lake Erie.

SUNRISE at Marblehead Lighthouse State Park

SUNRISE at Marblehead Lighthouse State Park

SUNRISE at Marblehead Lighthouse State Park

The 9 acre park is home to the oldest lighthouse in continuous operation on any of the Great Lakes. Marblehead Lighthouse dates from 1822; the park became Ohio’s 73rd state park in 1998.

Unfortunately the park was not too birdy that morning, although we did see this Red-bellied Woodpecker and got one lifer (Carolina Wren).

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Before we left, I remembered to take a photo of the lighthouse itself. The sunrise at this lovely little park marked the start of another gorgeous day at the Midwest Birding Symposium.

Marblehead Lighthouse

Visit Skywatch Friday to see other stories of the sky from around the world.

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My visitors came from *where* in September?!

Here are some of the more interesting search terms that brought visitors to this site during September. You can see previous editions of this monthly post here.

There were lots of unusual searches for t-shirts & tops last month: 3 ad bird t shirt; spoon hoodie; hard core tank top; i live in oklahoma t-shirt; you hoodie; identify bird silhouettes t-shirt; spoon shirt beefy; and proud hawaiian tank tops. I don’t know what some of these mean, but these type of searches are often a good source of inspiration for designing new t-shirts for birdwatchers.

A few other apparel searches came up: owl sweatpants and womens panties penguin. Happily, one of those is already available in my shop.

At first I thought the search for hat bird house was another apparel search, but the person was probably actually looking for this funny novelty bird house.

Another oddball product search was child mountable binoculars. It would be handy to bring a young sherpa with you when birding, I guess.

I always find a lot of searches for terms related to Magnificent Frigatebird, but the term magnificent frigid bird was a first last month.

My favorite questions for last month were what birds hang upside down to feed? and what’s the difference between hummingbirds and penguins and how to carry a bird id guidebook? I really like that last question because I’m going to post a review of my birding bag very soon, so stay tuned dear searcher!

My old friend foto butts made another appearance. *sniff*

And finally someone searched for stuffed barred owl toy, which does not seem to exist anywhere. That’s too bad; the Barred Owl is my favorite owl and I think it would make a great stuffed animal. Have you ever seen a Barred Owl toy?

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Emerging Monarch

Along with several of their resident raptors, the wildlife rehabilitators at Back to the Wild brought along some rescued, permanent resident snakes, turtles and frogs to the Midwest Birding Symposium. There was also a display with Monarch caterpillars, chrysalises and butterflies, representing various stages in the amazing life cycle of the Monarch. Several of the butterflies were tagged, and we learned about the process of monitoring Monarchs as they migrate south.

The neatest thing here was that several of the chrysalises were very dark, meaning the butterflies were nearly ready to emerge. I was very excited to be there to witness a Monarch coming out. I just missed it on the video, but you can see this is a very fresh little butterfly.

Before – just breaking out!

Fresh lady Monarch!

I don’t believe I have ever seen this before, and I was totally amazed. Have you ever seen a butterfly emerge from a chrysalis?

While at the BTTW display, we met a couple from California who asked if we could take their photo by some of the birds. They then returned the favor and captured the only photo of the both of us taken at the Midwest Birding Symposium!

Arthur, a Red-tailed Hawk, and me

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Gorgeous visitors at MBS

One of my favorite things at the Midwest Birding Symposium were the visiting raptors from Back to the Wild.

BACK TO THE WILD® is a volunteer, non-profit wildlife rehabilitation and nature education center located in northwest Ohio. Its primary mission is to rehabilitate and ultimately release into their natural habitat, injured, orphaned and displaced wildlife.

I loved looking at these beautiful birds. They are all permanent residents at BTTW due to injuries which would prevent them from surviving in the wild. Aren’t they gorgeous?

Long-eared Owl
Long-eared Owl

Long-eared Owl
Long-eared Owl

Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk

Peregrine Falcon
Peregrine Falcon

American Kestrel
American Kestrel

Great Horned Owl
Great Horned Owl

Saw-whet Owl
Saw-whet Owl

Saw-whet Owl
Saw-whet Owl

I was talking with one of the volunteers at the Back to the Wild stand and I learned that they do not name their birds. They do a lot of programs with children and decided not to name the birds so that the children wouldn’t get the idea that the birds are pets. I totally understand that reasoning, but I wonder if it isn’t very unhandy to have unnamed birds. How can you talk about them with someone else? You have to call them something, like “the blind eagle” or “the long-eared with the broken wing,” right? I know they give names to the birds at Barnswallow. If you work with education birds or at a rehab facility, do you name your birds? (Susan?) Why or why not?

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl

Barred Owl
Barred Owl

Barred Owl
Barred Owl

Adopting a bird or purchasing a walkway paver are just two of the ways you can help Back to the Wild with their important work. Here are some more ways to help.

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Banding demonstration @ BSBO

In addition to the great speakers and the interesting workshops, other special activities were offered to attendees of the Midwest Birding Symposium. On Saturday morning we went to one of these, a songbird banding demonstration at Black Swamp Bird Observatory.

A good variety of birds were captured in the mist nets, and we got to see lots of birds in the hand.

Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal female with wispy crest

See the orange feathers on the Ovenbird’s head?

American Robin in the hand
American Robin

One neat thing was to see a House Wren and a Winter Wren side by side. Do you know which is which?

Two wrens
(ʇɥbıɹ ǝɥʇ uo sı uǝɹʍ ɹǝʇuıʍ ǝɥʇ)

Another cool thing was to see how they weigh the birds. At the MAPS banding station at Rollins Savanna, the birds are weighed by hanging the bird, still in the bag, on a hanging scale. At BSBO the birds were placed into a cone and then weighed in a cup standing on a scale.

Brown Thrasher being weighed
Brown Thrashed being weighed

At one point several different thrush species were being banded, and we were shown three of the birds up close to see distinguishing markings that are difficult to spot in the field.

Learning about a Wood Thrush by examining its tail feathers

The best part of this demonstration, for me, was releasing a bird. I was minding my own business, taking photos of birds in the hand, when suddenly Dana Bollin was standing next to me, instructing me to hold my fingers just so – in order to take a bird to be released. Well, it all happened very fast and I don’t even remember which thrush it was, but it was pretty awesome.

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Three strikes

If you’ve read other blogs from attendees of the Midwest Birding Symposium, you already know that a Kirtland’s Warbler was spotted at East Harbor State Park on Friday, and ended up being seen by a good many of the attendees. This was a life bird for many, and it would have been for us, too, if we hadn’t missed it. If you’re not sure why this was such a spectacular sighting, read Laura’s blog post here.

When Bill Thompson came to the stage after Jim McCormac’s talk, Birding Ohio’s Lake Erie Shore, he barely got out the words “There’s a Kirtland’s Warbler at East Harbor State Park” before people started trotting out to their cars. We hesitated, and then I fumbled when writing down directions which Bill kindly repeated a couple of times. I didn’t have to worry about finding the park though – there was a steady stream of traffic flowing from Lakeside to East Harbor. Where else was there to go, after that announcement?

“Follow trail to next marker for last sighting of Kirtland’s Warbler”

We followed the signs to a clump of about 20 birders clogging the trail. When we arrived, we learned that the bird had not been seen for the last 10 or so minutes. I overheard someone talking on the phone. He said that he was standing with “150 or so of my birding friends.”

Waiting for Kirtland's Warbler

I thought this was a funny bit of hyperbole, but didn’t think much about it until we walked further down the trail a few minutes later. Ah, there was everyone. There were groups of birders everywhere I turned. Far down the path, off the path in the bushes to the left, off the path under the trees to the right. I had thought 150 was an exaggeration, but it may have actually been conservative.

Waiting for Kirtland's Warbler

Waiting for Kirtland's Warbler

Waiting for Kirtland's Warbler

We searched for about 40 minutes before heading back to Lakeside to have lunch. During the afternoon’s first program, Arthur learned that the warbler had been seen once more. Again, foolishly, we hesitated, and again we arrived just minutes after the last sighting of the bird. All was not lost though, as this proved to be the one time I got to meet, extremely briefly, both Sharon (aka Birdchick) and John (aka Born Again Birdwatcher).

Favorite Tree
Checking the warbler’s favorite tree Saturday morning

We tried again for the Kirtland’s Warbler first thing Saturday morning, but the bird was not seen again after Friday afternoon, so that was our strike three. But the chase is part of the fun, and I don’t regret a moment of our search. We’ll see a Kirtland’s, some day.

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Glen Chilton, Duck P.I.

The Curse of the Labrador Duck

Today we attended a lecture given at the Field Museum in Chicago by noted ornithologist Glen Chilton, who was speaking on his new book, The Curse of the Labrador Duck: My Obsessive Quest to the Edge of Extinction. Chilton has spent the last 10 years or so, on and off, chasing down the last remaining museum pieces, study skins and eggs of this duck that went extinct in the 1870’s. During his extremely entertaining lecture, he explained how he came to take on the project and shared a few of the adventures he had along the way to finding the 50-some birds and handful of remaining eggs that reside in museums (and other places) around the world.

Labrador Ducks
The Field Museum’s pair of Labrador Ducks

At the beginning of his talk, Dr. Chilton praised the Field Museum as one of the top 5 natural history museums in the world. Also among his top 5 is our old favorite, Naturalis, in our former hometown of Leiden (the mention of Leiden elicited a quiet “woo hoo” from your blogger). After the lecture Dr. Chilton signed his book and when it came our turn we mentioned our former time in Leiden. He again praised Naturalis and told us a bit more about the two Labrador Ducks that are in the museum’s possession.

Labrador Duck trading card
Circa 1970 trading card featuring the Labrador Duck

Chilton is pretty sure he tracked down all of the remaining examples of the Labrador Duck still in existence. He’s so sure that he’s offering a $10,000 reward for anyone that can produce a duck he didn’t manage to find (restrictions, of course, apply).

Reward for Labrador Duck
Reward for ‘new’ Labrador Duck

Dr. Chilton will be making more appearances for his book in the coming weeks, in Seattle, Denver and Portland (Portland Audubon Society), before returning to Australia. I highly recommend his lively and interesting lecture. I’ve read the first few chapters of the book and will post a review when I’m done (so far, thumbs up).

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