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Florida casualties

April 27, 2010

(Note: this was a note originally published to my Facebook page. I realize that it actually fits better as a blog entry. The original date of publication is preserved here. — Eric)

My Florida trip wasn’t all sun, sand, and Shiny Cowbirds. I did actually have some losses and damage. Here’s a quick summary.

1) Sunglasses. Unconfirmed, but probably went overboard on the trip back from Dry Tortugas last Friday. One minute I had them inside the cabin of the catamaran, the next, I was outside in very blustery winds and they were gone. Probably being submerged by sand at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico now. Damn.

2) SLR Camera lens cap. Could have been somewhere in the rental car or left in the Florida City hotel room. I looked both places repeatedly but never found it. Damn again.

3) Head pillow. Definitely left in the Florida City hotel room. I brought it mostly to help pack my enormous checked bag, to secure the contents inside, which included my heavy tripod. I left it on the unmade bed when I departed, which explains how I overlooked it so easily.

4) Spotting Scope! Actually, I didn’t lose it, but I thought I almost did at Dry Tortugas. I was observing the Sooty Tern breeding colony from atop the Fort wall, when I got distracted by a pair of Indigo Buntings that landed right near my feet. I began to take pictures, but then a gust of wind picked up and nearly blew my entire scope/tripod apparatus off the Fort wall. You can imagine how my heart sank, and many expletives immediately followed. Fortunately it fell only about 7 feet and only suffered slight dents to 2 of the tripod legs. When visiting my Dad in Avon Park, his neighbor turns out to be a skilled metal worker and even managed to smooth out the dents so I could collapse the legs of the tripod back to normal again. I definitely caught a break there.

5) Lost an important button on my shorts. As long as I wear a belt it’s OK, but it does pretty much rule them out for wearing to the airport. If I have to take my belt off going through security, it might cause a ruckus.

That pretty much covers it.

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Florida Days 3 and 4

April 25, 2010

(Note: this was a note originally published to my Facebook page. I realize that it actually fits better as a blog entry. The original date of publication is preserved here. — Eric)

The Tern breeding colony on Hospital Key, Dry Tortugas, Florida

I didn’t have time to write anything for Day 3 when I got home. I was so exhausted all I could muster was a status update basically pleading for being allowed to go right to bed. That was necessary since I wanted to get up early the next morning again, although certainly not quite as early. See, I told you that I go wall-to-wall on these Florida birding outings…

Anyway, it’s too bad I wasn’t able to say anything sooner, since I was totally stoked after getting back from my Tortugas trip. It was fan-TASTIC. For all the trouble I went to, to make this ridiculous day trip happen, it was definitely worth it. I set the alarm for a little past 3 am Friday, and was out the door by ten past four. It’s 128 miles driving from Florida City to Key West, and although there was little to no traffic, it still takes 2 1/2 hours. If you’ve ever been down that way you’ll understand. I rode the “Yankee Freedom” catamaran from Key West harbor along with about 140 other people and the ride was about another 2 hours. I’d say that there were about 30 other birders on the boat, the rest being picnickers and snorkelers. Weather was fabulous with light winds and 78 degrees. You don’t see a whole lot of sea life on this trip, but you do see some, and we did see a fair number of flying fish as well as a couple surfacing sea turtles and dolphins. We also saw a few distant Brown Boobies.

We arrived at Dry Tortugas at 10:20am or so, and had a little over 4 hours to wander around. I got right to birding, and it was amazing. I mean AMAZING. It wasn’t even any kind of epic fallout day or anything, but I had never seen anything like it. First off, before you even arrive you can see the cloud of seabirds flying over the neighboring key that serves as their breeding colony. These are about 40,000 Sooty Terns, 6000 Brown Noddies, and maybe 2000 Magnificent Frigatebirds. So that was impressive. On the island itself are a few very small groves of West Indian hardwood trees, both inside and outside the fort that is the main attraction at Dry Tortugas for most non-birding visitors. These small groves were “dripping” with migrant landbirds. I’ve heard this expression “trees dripping with warblers” before, and wondered if that was just an exaggeration, and I now know that it is not. Again, my jaw was on the ground, as I wandered about and was seeing multiple warblers and other passerines moving around every tree every moment. You had to pick out which bird you wanted to look at. In about 20 minutes I had seen a dozen warbler species, and by the end of the outing I had even seen a new life bird, a SWAINSON’S WARBLER.

There were even raptors on the island, which to me is astounding – Peregrine Falcon and Merlin were moving around, and a few people caught a glimpse of a Short-eared Owl (although I missed it). All this on what is just a glorified sandbar with a few trees on it 70 miles from Key West and hundreds of miles from anyplace else that these birds could possibly survive on. In that way Tortugas is not only a birders delight but being there is a delight for the mind and the imagination.

And the pictures – holy shit did I get some kick-ass pictures. Did I mention the vireos? I have photos of Red-eyed, Blue-throated, and Black-whiskered Vireos. I have got a shot that has both Red-eyed and Black-whiskered in the *same frame*. I can’t wait to show these images. I even got 2 *killer* shots of the Swainson’s Warbler. Did I mention that I saw a freakin’ SWAINSON’S WARBLER? Oh, and I also got excellent photos of Indigo and Painted Buntings too. Forgot to mention that. I don’t usually characterize my own pictures so glowingly, but that’s how jazzed I am.

Anyway, we got back to Key West around 5:30, and I took an hour to bird Fort Zachary Taylor state park for any other interesting migrants. Didn’t see anything truly rare (like, say, a Loggerhead Kingbird or Yellow-faced Grassquit, both of which were seen there last year), but it’s still pretty cool when a casual 45 minute walk produces Gray Kingbird, Blue Grosbeak, another Painted Bunting, Indigo Bunting, Baltimore Oriole, and Ovenbird. At least it’s cool for a Colorado birder like me.

I tried for Antillean Nighthawk at the Marathon airport on Pigeon Key, but no luck. They’re supposed to be back now but apparently they’re a bit late. Oh well. I got back to the hotel after 10pm, and retired quickly.

For Day 4 (yesterday) I slept in til 5:30 the next morning, packed, and headed 20 miles back south again to Key Largo, this time for just one more bird, the resident Mangrove Cuckoo. There is some outstanding Mangrove Cuckoo habitat on Key Largo, arguably the best in all of south Florida, but good luck finding this bird. I looked for about 3 hours, played recordings (judiciously of course), but not a peep. I came across several Prairie Warblers and even a pair of migrating Bobolinks, but no cuckoos. I don’t feel too bad though, because this bird is legendary for being very difficult to find. I met a birder while there who was from Philadelphia, and on his 5th attempt of finding this bird. He was like me, armed with recordings and a camera and eager to look, but no dice. I read a report from a truly dedicated birder who has tried off and on over *30 years* to find a Mangrove Cuckoo, and still hasn’t succeeded. But the birds are definitely there, and are reported by lucky people every year. So I have a reason for heading back to South Florida again in the future.

I drove up to Avon Park/Sebring after that and am now with my Dad. We’re going to a Rays baseball game in St. Pete today, which should be great fun. I’ll be leaving the binos at home though, since the game is indoors. My understanding is that the Tropicana Dome is one of, if not THE ugliest ball park in the league, so now I’ll see for myself if that’s true.

And tomorrow I’m going birding with my old Raptor Center friend Angela Johnson, who’s going to take me onto the Air Force Bombing Range where she works and look for breeding brids there. Should be a ‘blast’!

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Florida Day 2

April 22, 2010

(Note: this was a note originally published to my Facebook page. I realize that it actually fits better as a blog entry. The original date of publication is preserved here. — Eric)

The hotel internet connection is a bit cagey tonight, so I’m typing this fast and trying to summarize as much as possible.

It was a terrific birding day today, and it started when I woke up at 4am. I spent most of the day in the Everglades, and the park didn’t disappoint. Turns out this week is “free” week at all National Parks, so get thee to a National Park before the 25th if you want to take advantage of this opportunity. Anyway, Everglades was terrific, and esepcially the Anhinga Trail at Royal Palm was just phenomenal today – lots of great species seen and heard, including White and Glossy Ibises, Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, American and Least Bitterns (I even have photos of the Least – I’ll post them later), Prothonotary Warbler, Barred Owl, and the personal highlight, Smooth-billed Ani! The birdwatching was just astounding and great fun, as the birds there seem to love mugging for the camera.

Perhaps the biggest surprise for me were the Green Herons though. They were definitely in a courtin’ mood, and were calling and displaying and were more ostentatious than I ever imagined they could be. They flew right up to me a couple times and called and preened, and I have some killer shots to show this later. I was just stunned. What a great Earth Day, to see these ordinarily shy and retiring animals strut their stuff so loud and proud, as if to remind everyone what an amazing gift life on this planet is.

I did a fair amount of driving to and fro between parts of the park, and did take the mother of all power naps this afternoon to recover. I spent 5 minutes after waking up from it, trying to remember where I was and what time of year it was. Or is. In any case, I was reminded how much Everglades stands out for me. It feels so primeval. Sure, rationally speaking every national park is primeval, but Everglades really touches on something that, say, Rocky Mountain lacks. It feels vaguely familiar, like my ancestors came from a place like that.

OK, I think I need to retire now. Oh yes. Tomorrow is Tortugas. I’m up again at 4am and driving to Key West, then getting on a boat for a 2.5 hour trip to the place. I’m hoping to see some tern breeding colonies, and who knows what else. Should be fun. I’ll let you know how it went.

-E-

Everglades sunset

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Florida Day 1

April 21, 2010

(Note: this was a note originally published to my Facebook page. I realize that it actually fits better as a blog entry. The original date of publication is preserved here. — Eric)

My Dad lives in Florida. He and his wife Judy live in a retirement community in between Avon Park and Sebring, which is about 90 miles south of Orlando. I try to visit him every year, either in the spring or fall, and when I do visit, I try to shoehorn a birding trip into it, usually in a 3 day span before I drop in. Although Florida isn’t a place I myself would ever want to move to, I always have a good time visiting, and manage to see many parts of the state I otherwise might not. I’ve also managed to run up a list of well over 200 species, just by doing these short but intense outings.

I’m back in Florida today, and this is the first time I’ve done this trip since I joined Facebook. I’m going to try to document my visit, so you can keep up with what I’m doing while I’m doing. It’s an experiment though, so bear in that mind. It might just fail. It could be a very uneven and/or boring set of notes. It can be hard to keep a good record of what happened in a day, since I tend to go wall-to-wall. For example, I didn’t get a wink of sleep last night. I stayed up all night, mostly because I needed all that time to pack and prepare for this trip. Believe me, I wanted to take a nap, and sometime around 2:30 this morning I almost gave in.

Anyway, here’s what I’m doing. This time around I’m trying to see or hear some south Florida specialties that I’ve missed on previous visits. I’ve got a list of about 10 or species that I hope to get, as well as others which I have already seen but really want photos of. Today, I made a point to check out a Red-footed Booby that has been hanging around a seabird rehab clinic for most of the past 4 months or so. It didn’t take long to find him.

Red-footed Booby, Pelican Harbor rehab center, Miami

After that I headed toward downtown and on to Key Biscayne, to visit Bill Baggs State Park, in the hopes of coming across a La Sagra’s Flycatcher that has been hanging around there since February. This flycatcher is a Caribbean rarity that only occasionally shows up in south Florida, and I was afraid that my attempt to see it would come just a few days too late. It hadn’t been reported in over a week, and sure enough I was unable to find it. However, in the couple hours I was there I did see 10 species of warblers. After this long cold winter I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to see so many.

Prairie Warbler
American Redstart
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Northern Parula
Cape May Warbler (only the 2nd time I’ve ever seen one)
Northern Waterthrush
Palm Warbler
Common Yellowthroat

There were also Eastern Towhees, Northern Cardinals, Barn Swallows, Royal Terns, and a single White Ibis cavorting about. I have pictures of some of these birds, but I now realize it would take too long for me to post them in this note. I’ll get a gallery of them up when I have a bit more time to process them.

Other species I saw today which gladdened me immensely were Black Vulture, Fish Crow, Magnificent Frigatebird, Brown Pelican, a Merlin, and even the Boat-tailed Grackle.

Anyway, tomorrow I’m off to Everglades National Park. I’m specifically in search of Black Rail, Seaside Sparrow (Cape Sable form), Barred Owl, Smooth-billed Ani, and Shiny Cowbird. If I have time and inclination in the afternoon, I’ll drive back up to southern Miami and look for Red-whiskered Bulbuls and Spot-breasted Orioles. In the evening I’m going to go back into the park and look for Chuck-will’s-widows at dusk.

Friday I’m going to Key West and doing a Dry Tortugas day trip. I’ll tell you more about that tomorrow night.

Saturday I’m going to make a concerted effort at long last to find a Mangrove Cuckoo.

But before any of that can happen, I really really need to get some sleep. Good night.

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The Cornell course: unleashing the inner nerd

January 31, 2010

After three years of hemming and hawing over whether I would get something out of it, I finally caved and decided to enroll in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s home study course. This is the course where you basically read the entire Handbook of Bird Biology, cover to cover, and take open-book written exams on it after each chapter and send them in to be graded and discussed by the course staff. You can take the course as fast or as slowly as you like, and when you’re finished they’ll send you a certificate of completion. There’s no automatic college credit given for completion, although with some finagling and persuasive argument you may be able to bargain some credit from an institution.

The Handbook of Bird Biology is big textbook. The creators seemed to know that, and to make the book slightly less intimidating they don’t even number the pages in typical fashion. The pages are numbered separately in each chapter, so the reader can’t just thumb to the back and say “Good grief, this book is a thousand pages!” or whatever it is. Subtle, but oddly effective.

The book is also quite expensive. To enroll in the course with the book is about $300, but if you already have your own copy it’s only $200. The book retails for a little over a $100, but I’ve borrowed mine from the CSU library for 3 years now, and I just renew it electronically every month. No one else at CSU seems to want to check it out, so this system works for me.

Bridled Titmouse (Baeolophus wollweberi)

Bridled Titmouse (Baeolophus wollweberi), Madera Canyon, Arizona © 2008 Eric DeFonso

I’m also “augmenting” my taking of the course by creating my own syllabus where I do supplementary reads to the chapters in the Handbook, in other ornithology text books or on web sites. I’m an information packrat, and I have the Gill as well as the Proctor & Lynch textbooks on ornithology, and I’ve planned out which chapters to read in those books along with the chapters in the Handbook to improve my contextual understanding of the topics covered. Another highly detailed resource I’ll be using is the Ritchisong ornithology syllabus from Eastern Kentucky University. I’ve found that I learn things really well this way, when I can see the same information but presented in different ways or formats. I think it’s called synthesis. It makes for more work for me I suppose, but my goal is to learn the stuff in and out, and well, if this is what it takes for me to get the most out of it, that’s what I’ll do. It’s fun for me anyway, so I don’t really mind.

So what changed my mind to make me want to take this course in the first place? Well, you may have read about my recent decision to take the Macaulay Library Workshop on Recording this June, from an earlier post. This decision is obviously related to that. I’m really going to take the plunge, and I mean plunge headlong into ornithology. I have another announcement in the coming weeks about things I’m going to do soon that will really put all this into perspective.

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The Denver Museum collections tour, or, Dead Birds R Us

January 28, 2010
Museum trip participants

Some of our happy participants at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science

I led a field trip today for Fort Collins Audubon down to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science to take a special behind-the-scenes tour of the specimen collections with Jeff Stephenson, the zoological collections manager. We had a terrifically fun and animated group (in contrast to the rather unanimated specimens) of 11 participants most of whom carpooled down from Fort Collins, with the remainder coming from Loveland and Aurora.

I became aware of the value of specimen collections a few years ago, but only in the past several months did I figure out that having a field trip down to the museum to see one could be quite popular. And this one was – we actually had more interest in the trip than our capacity would allow, so I have to think that we could run a similar trip next year.

Anyway, a few of the highlights:

  • The museum currently contains about 864,000 total zoological specimens, of which nearly 50,000 of those are birds.
  • About 1% of all the bird specimens are on display at any time in the museum, while the rest are in storage downstairs.
  • The oldest specimens date back to about the 1870s.
  • Albert Bailey went on several expeditions to bring specimens to the museum from around the world, and the museum in general has often finagled and made  deals to secure interesting and valuable specimens from other museums and collectors.
  • The museum hopes to create a new storage facility in two floors to be built underneath the current floor, to improve temperature control and insect infestations
  • They also hope to replace many of the antiquated storage cabinets, many of which suffer from problems ranging from outgassing to not having properly “gasketed” doors.

The bird tour began with Jeff showing us the “stacks” in the main storage room, and going to the cabinet with the heaviest flying birds in the world. He showed us a couple Kori Bustard (Ardeotis kori) skins, as well as an Australian Bustard (Ardeotis australis) skin.

Jeff showing the Kori Bustard skin, with Ann looking on

The Australian Bustard, subdued

Here’s what a live Kori Bustard looks like, by the way – this is from the Denver Zoo, just next door to the museum.

Kori Bustard (Ardeotis kori)

Kori Bustard, February 2009 (© Eric DeFonso)

The American Kestrel tray

Jeff then proceeded to show us some American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) skins. This was particularly fascinating, since many of the kestrels in the tray he showed us came from decades ago, and some of them from Guatemala. In discussing the AMKE skins, Jeff explained the value having skins from any species distributed broadly in space and time, to allow researchers to have samples and hard data for birds that have different diets or other traits that are still in the process of evolving, even if they are of the same species. For that reason the museum is still interested in collecting specimens even from “common species” like American Robins and Blue Jays and the like. He encouraged us to bring down any specimen regardless of quality or species, as long as we know when and where it was collected.

It was also interesting to see how the museum has to keep track of the latest taxonomic news, by updating their specimen tags where needed. For example, he showed us a Gunnison Sage-Grouse holotype specimen that had its tag updated a couple times, by having the original genus name crossed out. Heck, I didn’t even know what a holotype was until today.

A tray-full of tanagers

Jeff then pulled out a few trays of tanagers and talked for a while about the kinds of expeditions that the Denver Museum used to run back in the day. Most if not all of these tropical tanagers were obtained during those old expeditions, and you could see that from looking at the tag data. In the first tray you can see some Bay-headed Tanagers (Tangara gyrola) on the far right, some Speckled Tanagers (Tangara guttata) in the middle row, and Saffron-crowned Tanagers (Tangara xanthocephala) just above them. After I got home to look at the photos it occurred to me that it looks like Jeff is offering hors d’oeuvres to everyone. “Try the Saffron-crowns, they’re to die for!” (Sorry, I couldn’t resist the morbid humor.)

There was also a tray of Blue-necked and Golden-hooded Tanagers. Just awesome.

More tanagers from Peru

Everything was building up to the end where Jeff showed us the trays with Several extinct North American species. The first tray had the Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius), and Jeff explained for the group what led to the demise of this once outrageously abundant bird. It was a poignant reminder of what used to be, and how wasteful, stupid, and greedy some people were and how the effects of that continue to this day.

Jean and Ann looking on to the Passenger Pigeons

Passenger Pigeons, closer up

We also got to see a couple extinct subspecies. The first of them was the Dusky Seaside Sparrow of central Florida. We then saw a few Heath Hens (Tympanuchus cupido cupido), a subspecies of  Greater Prairie-Chicken that used to live on the eastern seaboard.

Heath Hens

The Carolina Parakeets (Conuropsis carolinensis) were spectacular. Like the Passenger Pigeon these birds were heavily persecuted and therefore hunted into oblivion.

Carolina Parakeets in repose

Of particular interest was seeing this specimen, gathered in 1892 in Cherokee Nation/Indian Territory, as indicated by the original tag. This location is now better known as Oklahoma. Jeff commented that there were anecdotal reports of birds quite similar to Carolina Parakeets in the Arkansas River Valley in SE Colorado around that same time – it’s plausible then that even Colorado saw at least a few of this stunningly beautiful species sometime in the 19th century, although no hard evidence exists to prove that.

I finally got to see my first Bachman’s Warbler (Vermivora bachmanii) too.

Bachman's Warbler

The "Lord God" bird - the Ivory-billed Woodpecker

At last Jeff brought out the big guns, the Campephilus woodpeckers. First was the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis), seen here. The museum does have a mounted Ivory-billed on display in one of the dioramas, I believe on the third floor. But it was very exciting to see this study skin up close. Interestingly, one of the 3 IBWOs they had in the drawer was collected from St. Louis, Missouri, although I don’t know when. Jeff also explained the origin of the previously common name for this bird, the Lord God bird.

In the tray I photographed the other remarkable Campephilus specimen, the Imperial Woodpecker (Campephilus imperialis), formerly from central Mexico. This was the largest of the genus, and the largest woodpecker in the entire world. Sadly, this species was last documented in the wild in the 1950s, and like most extinct species it suffered from extensive habitat destruction by deforestation.

The Imperial Woodpecker

A pair of mounted Huia, from New Zealand

Two more highlights were shown after this. The first was a pair of mounted Huia specimens, showing a male (right) and female (left). The Huia (Heteralocha acutirostris) was one of the three wattlebirds endemic to New Zealand, and was last documented in the wild in 1922. It too suffered from habitat loss, although the introduction of mammalian predators was also a huge factor. New Zealand has no native or natural mammal predators, and all its bird species evolved in an ecosystem without them and therefore suffered greatly as they had no natural defense or instincts against them. Note the highly dimorphic bill sizes!

The last highlight was a pair of eggs from the Aepyornis, or Elephantbird, and extinct ratite from Madagascar. The egg is slightly larger than a basketball, and belonged to a bird that stood nearly 12 feet tall.

A semifossilized egg from Aepyornis, or Elephantbird

Jeff showing us a photo of the Elephantbird posed with its egg. The egg looks small only because the Elephantbird stood nearly 12 feet high.

As Jeff led us out of the main storage hall, we made one last stop at the room where they prepare specimen skeletons using dermestid beetles. I didn’t take any pictures in here mostly because the room was small and I didn’t think the photos would really be all that illuminating. However, you can read a little more about how the beetles are used here. Jeff explained to us how it works, and we were all fascinated, although not all of us were in the room for the explanation. Consider that the room is used to strip the last remnants of flesh from the carcasses of dead animals ranging in size from small birds to ram skulls, and you can maybe imagine that it isn’t the most pleasant smelling place. Because a few of us on the trip are regular volunteers at the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program where we frequently work with things that don’t smell nice, I guess we were more accustomed to it.

All in all, a truly fascinating excursion. The rest of the trip was spent perusing the displays in the museum, having lunch in the food court (watching the dermestid beetles made us all hungry), or taking in an IMAX show or the special Genghis Khan exhibit. Thanks to Jeff Stephenson for offering the tour and his many entertaining and illuminating stories and explanations of what goes on behind the scenes at the museum!

Update (1/28/10, 11:10am): I can’t believe I totally forgot to mention that at the end of the tour, I gave Jeff a new museum specimen. Denise B of Loveland had called me a few weeks before the tour and said that although she was unable to take the tour herself, she had a dead Swainson’s Thrush in her freezer, and wanted to donate it to the Museum. It had collided with her patio door last October. She dropped it off one day and I kept it until the field trip, where I was able to donate it then in a very timely and instructive way for our field trip participants. All I needed was a reasonably approximate date of collection and location.

The museum is always interested in specimens like this, so keep that in mind the next time you come across one. It doesn’t matter how common the species is, it’s still useful. And even if it isn’t in the best appearance or shape, they can still use it as a skeleton or tissue sample. So if you can overcome any personal revulsion at seeing dead birds, please consider doing something like this if the opportunity arises.

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Macaulay Recording Workshop

January 22, 2010

Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush, at Cabañas Valle Campanas, Santa Elena, Costa Rica. © Eric DeFonso

A few weeks ago Nathan Pieplow explained on his excellent blog Earbirding how he got into recording bird songs. In his post he also put out a call to arms as it were to his readers to go out and get more involved in recording as a means of making real contributions to the science of ornithology, and a couple weeks later he provided a short, off-the-cuff sample of the myriad of topics and areas of research that are still essentially wide open to study.

I took the posting very seriously, and almost personally. If you know me you know that I’ve been immersing myself the past few years in bird song, studying it continuously and spending more than just a few dollars on CDs and a few hours organizing my iTunes library to do my own systematic study of bird vocalizations. And I definitely have contemplated getting into recording. Every time I did though I tended to dismiss it however, thinking that people like Nathan and Andrew Spencer and the dozens of other regular contributors to xeno-canto.org basically have the situation covered, and that I’m just a little too late to the game to contribute all that much. I’d enjoy it as a personal pastime, sure, but I wasn’t sure I could rationalize the initial expenditure on recording gear, and then later the other time and money expenditure on ‘support infrastructure’ needed to do justice to the pursuit. Think of it this way — when you buy a nice new digital camera, say a Canon Digital Rebel XTi, you are effectively buying more than just the camera itself. You are also buying into batteries, memory cards, a laptop, a storage system, maybe a website subscription for posting your photos, basically all the things such a camera needs if you are going to use it on a regular basis. I just figured that going into sound recording would entail a similar approach, and although that itself doesn’t scare me, it seemed like that wasn’t something I should distract myself with right now as I am trying to finish my ongoing book project.

Well, I finally changed my mind, and have since reserved a spot in this year’s Macaulay Library Recording Workshop out in the northern Sierra Nevada’s in June. I didn’t come to the decision easily, but I figured that it’s an excellent deal, and if I ever do want to get into recording on a larger scale, I shouldn’t just assume that this workshop will be around forever, at least not with this level of accessibility and affordability. Also, I’ve been toying with the idea of going back to graduate school (again), this time in something ornithological; if I ever do that, I’m definitely going to do something with bird vocalizations, ethology and field work. It’d be silly for me to pass up this opportunity to get some hands-on training and explanation from experts. Greg Budney helps teach the class, and he’s a celebrity in the admittedly small circle of bird sound people.

Thanks Nathan for your encouraging words on your blog, and showing someone like me the way. I’m really excited about this class!

(By the way, this photo is me with my ancient Sony cassette recorder, which I used only to make verbal notes of sounds that I was hearing in the Monteverde cloud forest in Costa Rica. I’m all aglow because I had just heard, then seen, my lifer Resplendent Quetzal.)