Monday 30 April 2007


When I travelled through southern Ontario and Michigan in May 2005, I had my trusty old camera equipment from the 1980s with me, the monstrous and scary yet somehow pretty good Novoflex lens and an old Minolta Camera, like this one. As you can see, it did not have a winder and you had to transport the film yourself after every shot. I got pretty quick at this over the years, but that speed apparently worked hard on the camera's mechanics as I usually was only able to use them for two to three years until the film transportation system would collapse and I was forced to get a new camera.
And this is what happened during my trip through North America in May 2005, after I had found a Porcupine during a hike around Trout Lake. Here's the last picture I was able to take, and then the curtain fell completely, literally.

Back in Germany I enquired about a new X 700 but was told these were not being produced anymore and I'd have to get one second hand, best through eBay or other Internet sources.
Well, sure I could have organized myself another antique camera, after all they really weren't bad, but I decided this was a sign, a little hint by fate to push me towards digital photography.
Problem was: finances were not overly abundant after a trip to another continent and so it took me a long, long time - the longest time ever without a camera since I was 11 years old - until I received a new and - yes - digital SLR at the end of last week.
It's nothing overly fancy of course and once I have tested it enough to know what I am talking about I might write a review on this blog, but I am sure it will serve well to put more colour onto this humble blog and more belief in my future claims of Bachman's Warblers and Labrador Ducks along the Huron River.

Frankly, I had not realized just how massively outdated my equipment and thus myself had been back until 2005 and when I went to the Arb on Sunday with my wife to test the new camera (my wife also got herself a really cool point-and-shoot), I had the distinct feeling of having switched from this to this without having first obtained my PhD in Astrophysics and the latter being a big mistake.

Oh dear, how was I going to cope?

Well, I need a lot of practice, particularly preventing camera shake from not holding still enough (the Novoflex was much more heavy which meant there was little risk of your pulse messing up your image as in this light-weight equipment), but considering I had pictures like this on my blog before ...

it seems I am doing much better with this now:

This (above) was actually the first ever bird picture with the new camera, and even though the Cardinal is not sitting in a bush with snow, it is still a worthy reintroduction of the photographing Belltowerbirder to the wild.
Northern Cardinals are actually such nice and obeying photo objects that I managed a few more shots. I know these pictures are not so special, but hey, this is my new camera and these are actually pictures I took myself, not just links to other pages, so you'll have to live with it for a while! Therefore, here are the Northern Cardinals:

We spent a total of 3 hours at the Arb around noon and it was yet again rather busy - weekend - but less crowded than before with most students gone (summer break). Bird life was not so abundant due to the time of day and people around, and I was focusing with and on my camera anyway and not fully paying attention to every peep from the canopy and rustling of leaves from the forest floor (it is very difficult to handle an auto focus for the very first time in your life, I can assure you that in case you have forgotten).
Photo opportunities came in the form of the Superior Raptork (formerly called Turkey Vulture) at the beach section, and I tried to make the most of my chance and obtain a decent image.

Of course, Belltower Birding always thrives to deliver insights beyond the cool and one of the advantages of a 10 Mega pixel camera is that you can zoom in quite nicely. What follows is heavily cropped, but it allows us to age the bird. The facial skin is still clearly blackish and not fully and bright red as it should be for an adult, and the bill is still dark instead of Ivory (oh, the word) as in decent adults, so there we have it aged: a bird in its second calendar year, which will soon be celebrating its first birthday.

I have now been in Ann Arbor more than half a year and my new camera now finally allowed me to thank the city and South-East Michigan in general for the Barred and Snowy Owl, for the Black-throated Gray Warbler, the Red-shouldered Hawks, Lesser Scaups and all those other lifers and goodies. Thank you all, you're great and GO BLUE !!!

And last but not least for the first day out with a brand new camera, the warbler pics I got.

This is where the auto focus of my camera realized how unfortunate it was to have ended in the hands of a bird photographer. The camera struggled and it worked and it cursed and it wished an old nanny would have bought it to take pictures of her little doggies but no, it had to be warblers in a sea of twigs and leaves. Here are the least shameful results. I suppose I still need to make a few changes on the technical settings of the camera, but I'll work it out before the arrival of the Swainson's Warblers at the Arb, for sure. I had temporarily wondered if it was possible to publish these as proof for Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in Michigan and buy myself a nice little house in Costa Rica from the funding I'd receive, like Rancho Naturalista. But I guess I am just an honest guy, so here are some pictures of Yellow-rumped Warblers from the Arb last Sunday...

So let's go then, bring on spring migration !

Thursday 26 April 2007

News Item

It is grey and rainy outside, and so I spent all day working on my computer and finishing that recent post of mine that was so rudely interrupted by the Black-throated Gray Warbler. It has gotten a very long story, but now that it's finished, you might want to read it here.

Tuesday 24 April 2007

Update: Warbler Statistics

Well, I am back from the Arb and thought it was about time I updated my Warbler Statistics for this spring migration period:

Yellow-rumped Warbler: 26
Pine Warbler: 3
Nashville Warbler: 1
Black-throated Green Warbler: 1

Oh, shugar, sorry, a typo, did I just write Black-throated Green Warbler?
My mistake, of course it is Black-throated GRAY Warbler!

But wait ...

Isn't that a western species?


And isn't Ann Arbor in Michigan?


So, isn't it a bit unusual then to see a Black-throated Gray Warbler in Ann Arbor?

Y E S ! ! !

Can you believe it?
It was found this morning at the Arb by Roger Kuhlman who immediately alerted others through the email forum and there were constant updates and silly me didn't check his emails until 3 pm!!

I am not that much into twitching but I must say I don't think I've ever made it to the Arb that fast.
The location was described in very much detail but was in a corner of the Arb I had never been to before (almost as hard to believe as the warbler itself, right?). "Not to worry", I thought, "there will surely be a bunch of birders on the bird and all I'll have to do is to see where there is a higher than usual density of binoculars."

Well, when I got to the spot, there was no one there but me. Oh my, the Arb is popular, but it is not Point Pelee and it was a normal working day and not the weekend...
No birders.
No warblers.

So I stood there and scanned the trees for any movements.
Tufted Titmouse.

There again: Butterbutt, sorry, Yellow-rumped Warbler.

And again, more Yellow-rumpeds, a whole party of around 10 birds, a good sign!
So my optimism flooded back into me as I was joined by eventually two more birders and we were frantically, I mean calmly and with quiet concentration, scanning the trees.

Then I spotted this pale, small bird high up in the canopy with a black throat.
"OK", I thought to myself, "remain quiet, you don't want this to be a Black-capped Chickadee and you turned into the laugh of the town (as we say in German)."
It was partially obscured by branches and I had to wait for what felt like a week but was probably just over 5 seconds before it hopped on into plain view and really turned into the warbler!!

I quickly got the other two onto the bird and we watched it for about 15 minutes while it slowly worked its way down the tree from the canopy all the way to the shrubs around us, passing us at eye level less than 5 metres away (too close for the focus range of my binoculars) to eventually hop onto a tree trunk and act as if it was the most natural bird to be around at the Arb and as if it really didn't know what all the fuzz was about.

Gosh, it is good to see a Black-throated Gray Warbler at the Arb, but to see it so closely you can marvel at the yellow spot on its supercilium is something quite beyond good, I can assure you that.
Andreas Kanon is trying to get photos of it just now and if he or anyone else does, I'll link to them.
Meanwhile, here are a few links to images of other Black-throated Gray Warblers just for the beauty of the species and something nice to link to:

Spring migration rocks!

Here is a link to one of the pictures Andreas took yesterday.
Furthermore, I heard that this is only the 8th or so record ever for Michigan. Pretty good.

Run for cover: Spring Explosion!

This is a very long post with lots of text and only a few pictures (not even very recent ones, from early April just to spice things up a bit because otherwise no one would tackle that never ending row of text below). That's what happens when you go outside at the end of April in fabulous weather for three consecutive days: so much to blog about that you don't know where to start or if you'll ever get to the end.
And I need to hurry because Charlie of Charlie's Bird Blog fame and I are about to write a blog piece together about Waterthrush identification. And since my last two posts were somewhat identification-related, I need to provide a bit more variety along the lines of "went there, saw that" before delivering yet more about why a certain bird is what it says in the books it is.
So here goes.... the Arb!

Saturday and Sunday were immensely warm, just like summer. I am aware that all my recent blog posts started with a description of the weather and this is not a trick to reach more potential readers but a sign of just how amazed I still am at how extreme the weather is around here with no mountains or a nearby sea to keep things balanced. Anyway, the sky was bright blue, the sun was blasting away merrily and the temperatures were around 27°C. That's hot.

So my wife and I decided to visit the Arb on both days for an hour or two in the afternoon, which was such an obviously good idea that we actually were not quite alone there: around 200 others had thought the same and subsequently done the same which is to go to the Arb.

Of course there wasn't much bird life around with so many people but nevertheless (and I'll keep this short because Monday was so much better and will be described in detail below) we did manage some very nice FOS encounters (first of season, I learned that abbreviation recently and just had to use it to pretend I was cool, too) :
It was nice to see my first Barn Swallows hunting over the Huron river. The beach section also hosted my first Yellow-rumped Warbler of the season which - as I had mentioned in previous posts - was very smart by not frequenting the busy Arb itself but the trees just opposite the river. The most unexpected bird was a Blue-headed Vireo. This was also the first vireo I spotted in spring 2005 here in Michigan and those spectacles on its head that appears two or three sizes too big for the remainder of the body make for a great sight. Chipping Sparrows suddenly were everywhere and it was great to compare their trill to the song of the Pine Warbler that's still hanging around at the same spot close to the cemetery. I am actually starting to hear a difference in their songs which are very similar indeed: The Chipping Sparrow has a more whetting song reminiscent of a sewing machine whereas the trill of the Pine Warbler is more clear and pure. It seems easier for Europeans: if you are in North America and you hear the song of a River Warbler Locustella fluviatilis, you're either close to getting the rarity record of your life or you're about to learn how similar its song is to a Chipping Sparrow.
I was surprised to find a Hermit Thrush despite the many people around and a Dark-eyed Junco might be amongst the last ones I get to see until the next fall. And I got to see a Red-shouldered Hawk and started to wonder why I did not manage an encounter in May 2005. No comments on that one, please.

As I have mentioned before, the mammalian diversity was also remarkable, and besides the Chipmunks, Squirrels and Woodchucks we were treated to sights of the Common Sunbather (a few red morphs), the Dogwalking Birdflusher, a handful of Topless Machojoggers and herds of immature Woodscreamers.

The central grassy area without the weekend Common Sunbather population

On Sunday, we decided to check out a stand of evergreens next to the Dow Prairie section of the Arb to see what was happening and have a sandwich or two on the benches in front of the evergreens. Well, what was happening was that those benches were - predictably - occupied by a group of Noisy Benchresters and so we refrained from getting too close as we did not expect a very prolific bird life around them. Later in the evening, back home, I found out by checking my emails that this had been an excellent idea, seriously really brilliant, as that stand of evergreens hosted an Ovenbird on Sunday afternoon despite the presence of the Benchresters, and I mean, who'd volunteer to look at a bird that walks as if it has eaten one too many fermented berries?



Gradually the idea developed in my mind to return to the Arb on Monday afternoon and see if I couldn't relocate that Ovenbird.

And so it was, I returned to the Arb on Monday at around 1 pm for a marvellous 4-hour tour and a first taste of real spring-has-sprung bird life! And this is where blogging becomes tricky: there was so much around it is hard to think of a story to connect all those observations nicely and make it interesting and one step beyond the "seen this and that".

I therefore decided to sort the observations into different categories.

1. The Warblers and their EAS (Emotionally Allied Species)
The Arb had long been a One-species show (Pine Warbler) that had turned into a Two-species event on Saturday and this Monday delivered the natural succession in the form of a Three-species day:
On my way to the reliable Pine Warbler site I spotted my first close and really nice Yellow-rumped Warbler of the season. Many more were to follow, as a matter of fact, and I ended the day with approximately 15 Butterbutts. They are so great to have back and despite their abundance (which I am expecting any day now) their colouration is so neat that they are indeed my favourite warbler (if I am not looking at another warbler species because then the one I am looking at will instantly turn into my favourite species, until I spot the next one and then this goes on and on... but when I am not looking at a warbler, like now at my apartment, I'd say Yellow-rumpeds are my favourites. Well, now that I think of it, Prothonotaries are pretty nice as well and .... aaargh, stop!!).
Anyway, I was mentioning the third species above - and remember, this was before the Black-throated Gray Miracle - and I actually almost missed it because the Arb was full of Kinglets that day, which I'll describe later, and I had completely forgotten just how tiny this warbler is, so when a tiny bundle of feathers jumped out of a bush and flew into a nearby tree, I almost completely neglected it. Well, almost completely! But not completely completely, and so this "kinglet" was soon turned into my first-of-season Nashville Warbler! And of course I also re-found and re-looked at the trusty old faithful Pine Warbler, making it a three-species day. Well, hopes were high to get that Ovenbird as well and there were a few reports of Palm Warblers but I had run out of warbler luck and this was all for the day. Of course, now in retrospective I know my warbler luck was just taking a deep breath for a perfect delivery the next day, which back then I didn't know, innocent little me.
Pity about the Palm Warbler though. I'd really like to see the Eastern subspecies which is omnipresent on so many East coast blogs now and I figure the earlier I see a Palm the better my chances are it will be an Eastern, but hey, after such a high dose of Western, a bit from the East might just push things back into place? We'll see ... or not.

One of the two areas that are good for Pine Warblers

What about those "emotionally allied species"? Well, these are the species I always somehow - emotionally as the rational part of me knows it is wrong to do so - group right into the warblers: the Vireos.
Come on, they are similar looking and they occur together and what would a 25-species-warbler-day at Pelee be without 5 species of vireos as well?
Right you are: still excellent!
But not really complete, so here are a few words on the vireo(s): there was only one species, but that one is a really cool one and was represented with a few individuals, and I have mentioned it above already, so you know why it rocks and if you don't you can look it up again: the Blue-headed Vireo.
And for those who are happy they've made it this far through the text and don't want to go back or even remember what they've just read, here's a link to pretty pictures of the species and then you'll know what I am talking about.

2. Kinglet Mystery solved!
That day of the Arb finally brought with it the moment of revelation, the truth unveiled itself before me in the form of Ruby-crowned Kinglets that were everywhere, and not a single Golden-crowned was around, not one.
Now, that made me think and even though this mostly leads to nowhere near sanity, I came up with an interesting theory that might be worth considering in more detail.

You probably think there's two species in North America, right? Like it says in the field guides, the Golden-crowned and the Ruby-crowned Kinglet.
I'll tell you something, this is a lie! There actually is only one species of kinglet in North America, and here's why.

Remarkable that we are mostly seeing only one of the species, sometimes with singles of the other species within a large group, but you never come across a large kinglet group which has a 50:50 distribution? The reason for that is rather obvious once the thought is perceived and it makes you wonder why it took humanity so long to unmask this one of mother nature's mysteries.
You see, they are both the same species, the "Golden-crowned" is actually its winter plumage (which is why we see it so early in spring) whereas the "Ruby-crowned" is its summer plumage (which is why we see it later). And the North American kinglet is the only bird species in the world that actually changes from winter to summer plumage within a few hours over night. And because no one is looking at kinglets during the night, we have never noticed it. All we notice is that we see nothing but the one "species" and then suddenly the next morning brings sightings of only the other one. Due to a lack of nutrition or other obvious reasons, some kinglets show a late moult which is why we sometimes see single individuals of the one "species" within groups of the other "species". But of course they also moult a few days later and so the time zone of "overlap" which had us thinking they are two separate species instead of one is quite limited.
It is that simple!
Now, what do we name the new "united" kinglet? Wintergolden-Summerruby-crowned Kinglet?
Yes, I like that, sound good to me.

3. High Five
It's quite a flat joke but I still couldn't resist to call a day with 5 raptors a "high five" day. Five isn't all that much but it was nice nevertheless. First up, plenty of Turkey Vultures and still not a single flap of a wing, just cool cruising, superior Raptorks (a new classification system for New World Vultures, introduced here for the first time at yours truly, Belltower birding).
And of course, the Bell Tower Peregrine Falcons were around, not at the Arb, so again I am stretching things quite a bit just to make blogging a bit more fun, but seeing them on the way to the Arb counts as well.
The Buteo haws were good that day. The resident pair of Red-tailed Hawks threw a big party that afternoon and had invited all the American Crows of the neighbourhood. While one of the hawks had apparently gone to fetch more beer, the other one entertained its guests with a lot of aerial dancing (often with three or more crows at the same time, the old Casanova) and it seems it is a good story teller, too because the crows were really cheering the hawk on when it sat in a tree and was calling for minutes without even taking a breath.
The other two species were a Red-shouldered Hawk again over Dow Prairie, and while I was still contemplating about telling it apart from a Broad-winged Hawk, a Broad-winged Hawk - the first of the season for me - came circling right above me as if to demonstrate how simple it is and how stupid of me to even doubt it was easy.

4. Secrets seen
Maybe the best bird of the day was not a warbler. I know, I am taking risks here, but I did see two (!) Brown Thrashers which was great because a) this was very unexpected b) one of them sat still in a bush for a long time very close to me and that's not so usual c) it is a neat bird as can be seen here and d) this is a really cool name for a bird: Thrasher, a bad ass name for a bad ass bird!
Like sparrows and Catharus thrushes, the Thrasher is a secretive bird that takes skill in other birder's cases and copious amounts of luck in my case to see and I am always happy to chance upon a bird and see it well. The same goes for the Eastern Towhee I saw, even though they either like me more than do the Brown Thrashers or are less secretive. Either way, they are nice to see, too.

5. Battle of the Drummers
Well, 5-woodpecker-species days at the Arb are not so unusual nowadays and this day was only a 4-species day, so where is the big deal?
Ever watched Tom & Jerry?
I did - still do on occasion which is besides the point - and now I know that these things, this chasing each other around stuff, really happens out in nature: I have now seen what it's like when 3 Downy Woodpeckers chase off a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker which itself drives a Common Flicker off the tree while avoiding the Downy attacks and this whole flurry of 5 dog fighting birds lures 2 Red-bellied Woodpeckers in to join the party, and this all went on for what was a minute or so, relatively long!
This is why birding is better than fishing: more action!

6. The Huron Delivers
After crossing Dow Prairie (with the Red-shouldered Hawk) I decided to walk back to the Beach section of the Arb along the Huron, which is only a couple of Hundred metres. The reason for doing so, apart from getting to see even more birds, was to check if I could locate a pair of Wood Ducks. Scanning though my copy of the Sibley guide, I recently noticed that his painting shows the male Wood Duck to have bright yellow flanks and I found that strange as I didn't recall the duck being that bright. I therefore wanted to check and see for myself what was going on.
There is a small rather dependable stretch of Huron just opposite Dow Prairie and sure enough, I had barely lifted my binoculars and started to scan the opposite bank of the river when I spotted a pair of Wood Ducks without bright yellow flanks, as can be seen here. But then suddenly, there was a flash of yellow - well rather orange - at the edge of my field of view, and turning the binoculars a bit further to the left, I was able to identify the orange stripes as being the legs of a Green Heron, another first-of-season and not such a shabby species in general. In the olden times when I was still a young and wild birdwatcher I surely would have been happy about this double pack and gone on, but with years of experience, I knew that there was still more, so I turned my binoculars a further 10 metres along the banks and voilĂ , a Belted Kingfisher.
Cool Beans!
Did I stop there? Or did I scan some more?
Well, as I said, years of experiences blah blah and I just knew this time that it was enough. So I stopped checking the banks of the Huron but looked up instead, and voilĂ  again:
Northern Rough-winged Swallows, the first this season.
I might have mentioned it before somewhere, not sure, but I say it again anyway: I like the Huron River, I really do.

7. The Rest of the Best
I try to make at least this section short, but there were quite a few more nice birds, like a fly-over Killdeer, a nice and close group of Blue Jays, Tufted Titmice and Brown Creepers, the first Carolina Wren in a long, long time, many Hermit Thrushes which would be yet another story as they are more reddish now than they were in winter and I think the winter birds are of a more westerly origin but cannot support this in any way which is why I only mention it here briefly, and finally the White-throated Sparrows are back in good numbers.

8. Evening Treat
I went to a downtown restaurant with my wife that evening and returning home around sunset, I heard this strange but familiar trill high up and there they were, the Chimney Swifts, two of them to bring this great birding day and excessively long post to a glorious and deserving end.
It's been good, really good.

Monday 23 April 2007

Mute Swan Ageing

Corey over at Lovely,Dark and Deep has an interesting picture here of an immature swan and he - not the swan - isn't entirely sure about the bird's specific identity.

Sure enough, it looks very much like a Mute Swan but some things about the bird's bill structure and colouration do appear a bit strange.
I am not going to make an attempt at saying here what it is by just having seen one picture of the bird but I thought it might be useful to put up some pictures of Mute Swans I took at the end of February 2006 in Stralsund on the German Baltic coast.

The first two pictures are of a bird in its second calendar year. The plumage is still largely grey brown and looks dirty. The same goes for the bill which looks dirty pink, as if it was rubbed in coal dust.

Note the very pointed tail which is a unique feature of the Mute Swan and often much better suited to distinguish between immature birds of the different species than bill colouration.

Next up is a picture of two adults with one third calendar year bird on the right and a cropped version showing only the head of the immature (and a Mallard). You can distinguish it from adult birds by its paler colouration which still is more pink than orange (as it should be for an adult bird). The plumage is completely white as in adults but some show a few single brownish feathers here and there.

And here finally a nice and crisp adult with a bright orange bill.

Common maybe, but pretty nice as well.

Friday 20 April 2007

Not So Solitary After All?

A lot has been said before and one must hurry to get things online before boredom strikes but that publication on DNA-based research into North American cryptic species really is remarkable and very inspiring.
One of the most surprising findings - at least in my opinion, heck, I always knew there was no such thing as a "Cinnamon Teal" - was that the two forms of the Solitary Sandpiper probably require being regarded as separate species. So far so good and nothing new anymore.
But what might strike us more than that is the fact that the vast majority of birdwatchers will very likely have to remove the Solitary Sandpiper from their life list, me included, because I am sure not many will have ever tackled the subspecific identification of the "species".


Let us be honest: as long as we don't know how to differentiate between the two species most of us won't have an armchair tick but indeed one species less on our list!
Surely I have seen it on a number of occasions in May 2005, actually I encountered a total of 8 birds on three occasions and they most probably (mostly) belonged to the nominate subspecies, but can I be sure? Do I know anything about the occurrence of the north-western subspecies in southern Ontario or Michigan?


Even if it is unlikely, all could have possibly been western birds. And who knows, even if one has seen a multitude of Solitaries in California, they may all have been Eastern nominate birds. We just cannot know.

Oh, disgusting, a lack of knowledge! Ew, we can't have that and better get prepared for this spring's Solitary Sandpiper migration.
I recently ventured out into the world wide web and my local bookstore (Why buy them when you can look things up there and the store's just across the street?) to get informed. And if you are interested in putting the Solitary Sandpiper back on your life list where it belongs, you might want to read on a little more...

Names, Geography and Status
There are two forms, very likely separate species, as I have written before:

Tringa (solitaria) solitaria - from now on Eastern
Breeds in the south from central British Columbia all the way to Labrador.
This is the common form migrating through the East.

Tringa (solitaria) cinnamomea - from now on Western
Breeds to the North of solitaria, from Hudson Bay all the way to Alaska.
This is the common form migrating through the West. "Common" however needs to be put into context: the population of this western form is estimated at comprising only around 4,000 birds, making it one of the rarest North American shorebird forms, and it is in decline.
Now, that's scary. If however we take into account that the population of both forms put together is only around 25,000 birds (although the quality of the estimates is said to be poor), then roughly 1 out of 5 Solitaries is a Western and if they were equally distributed during migration, I'd have likely seen 1.28 Western and 6.72 Eastern birds - statistically. Well, "It's my list" but I am reluctant to put both forms on my life list, honestly. The trick for me is to not update my list until I have found both forms in southern Michigan this spring and then it won't matter, so now to the ...

Who am I to write about their identification?
Exactly: nobody!
I have only seen 8 birds ever and didn't even know back then there are two subspecies. What follows therefore is no authoritative essay on their identification, it is based on no expertise at all, it is only based on looking at as many images as I could find and trying to spot the differences. If you know better / more / whatever or want to contribute pictures, please leave a comment which I may use to improve these very humble lines! Highly appreciated.

Images I used
Here is a list of the images I was able to find on the Internet. Those bird images from the West Coast were attributed by me to show Western Solitary Sandpipers, those from East of the Rockies to be of Eastern Solitary Sandpipers.
That of course is something - yet again - which I do not know (most birds photographed in the West could also be Eastern birds while a few in the East could be Western), but hey, I had to try and sort things out somehow!

Western Solitary - spring
California April, Oregon April, British Columbia May (breeding Eastern?), Alaska Breeding Season, Washington May (use the "previous" and "next" buttons to see more pics of the bird), Alaska June, Alaska Breeding Season

Western Solitary - fall/autumn
California September, California August (both may indeed be Eastern)

Eastern Solitary - spring
Ohio May, Minnesota May, Ohio May, Ohio May, Ohio April, Kentucky April, New Jersey May

Eastern solitary - fall/autumn
Virginia July, Virginia September, Indiana August, Indiana October, Ohio July, Ohio July, Ohio September, New York September, New Jersey October, New Jersey August, Ohio July

In Between (central States, probably Eastern)
Utah August, Colorado April

Unknown Date and/or Place (probably mostly Eastern with one likely Western)
Link, link, link, link, link, link, link, link, link, link, link

Gathering these links was a lot of rather boring work, so please take a minute to appreciate it.

Thank You.

Possible Ways of Telling Them Apart

General impression - the "Gestalt"
Judging from the images, Western is a more slender bird with proportions reminiscent of a Lesser Yellowlegs (vaguely) whereas Eastern is a more chubby thing to watch and doesn't manage to conjure any resemblance to a Lesser Yellowlegs. The following might be of limited use to American birders, but from a Eurasian perspective, Western is more like Wood Sandpiper whereas Eastern is reminiscent of Green Sandpiper.
Furthermore, the bill of Western appears to be relatively longer and slightly more down curved, although this might also only be an impression and maybe not true when looking at absolute measurements.

Bill and Leg Colouration
Again, this is only an impression I have looking at the photographs and this is particularly difficult to judge, but it appears the legs of Western are brighter yellow than those of Eastern which shows a bit of a greenish shade to the legs.
Furthermore, the bill of Western appears to be quite prominently bi-coloured, with a pale basal two-thirds and a black distal third. This is also the case in Eastern, but the border between the two is apparently not as clearly defined as in Western and it seems to be a gradual change from pale to dark.

In general, Western is a paler brown bird whereas Eastern is rather dark, appearing almost blackish when standing in the shade. This of course will be very difficult to assess on solitary Solitaries (guess you've been waiting for this to come up?) or birds in bright sunlight.
The tertials are often quite worn but when seen clearly seem to provide one of the two most stable and useful clues: both show a string of white spots along the edge of each tertial, but these spots are flat and rather rectangular in Western and look like the teeth of a saw (is that the correct English term for it, sawtooth?) in Eastern.
Another apparently very useful feature is the patterning of the lores: Western shows a very uniformly patterned, greyish head with a darker cap. Eastern however shows a blackish lore, connecting the eye to the bill, and a prominent white stripe above it and - less clearly defined - also below.

It seems that these features are valid - if indeed they are valid at all - for all age classes of both forms and can be used both in spring and fall / autumn.

What to look for - a short summary
So, when you are confronted with a Solitary Sandpiper and you actually care to find out which form it is you're looking at, focus on the following:

Proportions: slim and long or chubby and short
Bill length and form: long and drooping or not-so-long and more straight
Bare part colouration: bright yellow(ish) with a clearly bi-coloured bill or less bright and more uniform
Colouration of the lores: uniformly patterned like the rest of the head or with black-and-white stripes
Pattern of the tertials: row of rectangular, slim lines along the edge or triangular "saw teeth"

That's as far as I'll venture and I will leave the rest to the experts. Surely there are other and possibly more secure ways of telling them apart, maybe voice or primary/wing projection or whatever. But that's not for me to write about, that's best left to those with field experience and first-hand knowledge.

But for the time being, that's what I will go for here in Michigan this spring, so

bring on the Solitaries!

A Few Things...

While I am busy preparing a longish post for this blog about the Wagtails I'd get to see along the German Baltic coast if I were there now instead of Michigan, I thought it would be the right time to post a few things about Ann Arbor, while I am here and not at the Baltic coast.

Does this make sense? I don't know, it did when I started thinking about what to post today.

First up, the Ann Arbor Peregrine Falcons returned to the Burton Memorial Tower in downtown Ann Arbor a while ago. This is very handy as my blog is named after that Tower mostly because of the falcons and as there is an interesting link here which provides nice and up-to-date information about the falcons. I'll add the link to my side bar soon, need to update the link-part of this blog anyway after that big IatB fest.

Next, while May is approaching fast and with it - as is to be hoped - the wood warblers and other passerine goodies, I thought it appropriate to provide an insight into one of the places about which there'll be a lot of blogging here soon, the fabulous Arb. One of the best migration hot spots in this part of Michigan, it had long deserved its own blog, and thanks to Wrenaissance (thanks!), I know now not only that there is a blog but also where to find it, which is here.

And finally, here is a recent picture of a Canada Goose from Gallup Park that took a cool swim on the Wild Side:

Thanks to everyone for all the great contributions to and comments on "I and the Bird #47: It's all about the Bird"!

It's been a huge and great party!!

Wednesday 18 April 2007

I and the Bird # 47 - It's all about the Bird

Yes, it is that time of the year again and another round of "I and the Bird" has come, the 47th to be precise, and today's edition is about what rocks our blogs, the "Bird" behind the "I and the".

With so many birders watching and writing about the bird, it was time to give this whole citizen science project a solid foundation and take a first step towards establishing a monograph on the bird species which is the object of our blogging. Patrick of The Hawk Owl's Nest therefore got in contact with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The full report of Patrick's first meeting with the Cornell staff, where he represented our blogging community and discussed the possibilities of a cooperation with the lab, can be found here. One of the most exciting results of the conference (he's obviously excellent at negotiating, this Hawk Owl's Patrick) was to define the aim of such a common and shared project, which is to eventually incorporate the knowledge about this as yet largely unknown bird species gathered on our blogs into the fine Cornell's bird guide.

I am therefore more than pleased to present a summary of the most recent scientific blog results here at Bell Tower Birding. This summary is not only intended to show how far we've gone already but to also highlight deficits in our bird blogging which might be mended either in future editions of "I and the Bird" or in the course of each blog's own advances into the wonderful world of birds and birding.

Common Name and Taxonomy
The most widely used common name of this little known bird species which we will start to characterize here is "Blog Bird". As a result of its wide distribution and evolving into many subspecies and morphs, there are a multitude of alternative names which can be learned by reading the following blog citations. However, as mentioned before, the name "Blog Bird" is in wide use and appears to reflect its many facets in a neutral and summarizing way, which is why I will use this common name here within this presentation.
Its taxonomy is still fiercely debated and there are no results fit to be presented here. It was at a time incorporated into the Ciconiiformes simply on the basis that all bird species whose taxonomy was somewhat confusing were placed there.
Even though the high diversity of heron forms within the Blog Bird complex was shown by Beakspeak, the Big Bird Blog during his research in Florida, the inclusion of the Blog Bird into the Ciconiiformes is not fully accepted yet and needs further investigation.

What we can state at this point however is its scientific name, on which there is complete agreement:
The Blog Bird is known to Science as Iandthe bergini, in honour of Mike Bergin who first discovered it and promoted a wider interest in its biology and conservation.

Discussing the identification of the Blog Bird as a species is hampered by the multitude of plumages, subspecies and morphs, as was recently shown by Journey Through Grace.

In some regions of the Blog Bird's range, some forms may be difficult to find, but once seen are a sight not easily mistaken or forgotten, as Murmuring Trees demonstrates here.

In other regions, as Charlie of Charlie's Bird Blog was able to investigate and prove for southern Africa, a radiation of Blog Bird forms lead to many similar looking morphs that make local expertise desirable when venturing out to find those Lousy Brown Jobs.

A Meadow Blogpit, of the notorious LBJ tribe

Those difficulties in sorting out rare Blog Birds from the more common forms were mostly avoided in the past by looking at Blog Birds down the barrel of a gun, as A DC Birding Blog reveals here for the District of Columbia, but this approach was luckily replaced by Digiscoping and Binoculars, or the Status section of this account would be different from what it is now...

Range and Migration
The Blog Bird is widely distributed - potentially each continent has a whole range of different morphs and forms - and shows different migratory behaviour traits depending on the breeding ranges of the different populations. As with so many other topics within Blog Bird Biology, our knowledge until now is scant at best and only comes from a limited number of sites where bird bloggers were active and these results mostly pertain to migration routes.

An interesting migration pattern along the North-Eastern Atlantic was demonstrated by Peregrine's Bird Blog during his recent studies in Ireland.

The seasonality of coastal migration was investigated by Mike of 10,000 Birds who presents his results here.

The Blog Bird migration and diversity however is not confined to the coast and was witnessed in an abundance of forms in the Missouri Region of Nebraska, as is described by Aimophila Adventures in an exciting report here.

Neither their brown (LBJ-type) patterning nor the bad weather have prevented Plummer's Hollow, Pennsylvania from keeping an eye on the sparrows and drawing conclusions about weather related phenomena in their migration, a very welcome addition to this monograph as results from former migration periods are also included and put this spring's cold snap into context: while some Blog Bird populations are right on schedule, others linger around longer. I can't help but wonder though if this latter effect was caused by the quality of the local bird feeders and not by the cold?

Search and Serendipity failed to record any weather dependency of Blog Bird migration but accomplished a remarkable inventory of roosting Blog Bird forms for Texas.

The naivety of the Bell Tower Birder regarding the Michigan weather finally allows us to check on bird occurrence in good, bad and ugly weather conditions. Or to cite Coleridge's Ancient Mariner: "He went like one that hath been soaked and is of sense forlorn: a wet but none the wiser man he rose the morrow morn."

Tom McKinney provides a much needed first impression of Blog Bird occurrence or lack thereof in Scotland here, where he braved the remoteness and the difficulties in obtaining decent provisions and furthermore ignored the nerve wrecking history of expedition failures to secured this wealth of knowledge for generations to come.

More than amazing is the progress a small team of dedicated Blog Bird Bird Bloggers is achieving in Mongolia. The team has been too busy lately in documenting spring migration to submit a single link, but the whole blog is too important to leave out in this first summary of Blog Bird biology, so a repeated visit (or permanent link) to Birding Mongolia is highly recommended.

A recent observation by Wrenaissance sheds some light on the varieties of habitats used by certain migratory populations of the Blog Bird, as can be seen here, although these pristine habitats seem to be frequented infrequently.

Comprehensive studies on Blog Bird use of different landscape elements were conducted by Ben Cruachan Blog and his detailed analysis of the different types of habitat and their respective Blog Bird forms can be found here.

An interesting insight into the parasitic and highly sophisticated feeding behaviour of certain Blog Bird morphs was recently obtained by A Snail's Eye View and published here.

A less aggressive behaviour was adapted by Blog Bird herons in Florida, as was shown by Snail's Tales. The reasons for the discrepancy between the two regions have yet to be clarified, possible hypotheses worth investigating being differences in barbecue quality or human defensive behaviour towards animal intruders.

Living the Scientific Life tells us here why these complex behavioural traits might have been necessary in Blog Bird evolution and led to the pre-adaptation and high degree of intelligence necessary to use humans as a source of food in multiple ways.

To complement our picture, Coyote Mercury demonstrated how - starting from this pre-adaptation - the precise behaviour especially regarding the parasitic traits observed in Australia might evolve. Clearly it is the concentrated occurence of food in school lunch breaks that lures the birds in and then it is only a small step from catching a fly in midair to snatching a sandwich from a juvenile offender's hand.

A less competitive way of using human food sources is shown by this American Blogging Gull

Even though these results demonstrate a change in Blog Bird behaviour as a result of co-existence with humans, Rurality clearly proved that this is not always the case and that some Blog Bird forms maintain their natural feeding behaviour even within human back yards.

John of Birds Etcetera did interesting research beyond food choice by investigating the correlation between some Blog Birds' food choice and their popularity with humans, the results of which can be found here.

John's findings were independently verified by KeesKennis, publishing the results here and presenting them at "I and the Bird" after the manuscript got rejected by CuteOverload.

Behaviour and Reproduction
As was to be expected, Blog Bird behaviour varies in accordance with the different morphs inhabiting varying habitats. The following account is therefore only a short preliminary compendium of a few selected results and does not mirror the full range of Blog Bird Behaviour and Reproduction. However, some of the results obtained so far are very promising and sure to promote a wider interest in this field of bird blogging science.

Bogbumper for example was treated to a full display of Blog Bird intraspecific aggressive behaviour during a day on the coast, but so far has not been able to verify the same behavioural schemes for the BBBB's (Bog Bumping Blog Birds).

Over at Blogaway, an interesting behaviour trait of the Blog Bird regarding conspecifics in trouble was observed and documented here but is still awaiting an explanation.

Turning to reproductive behaviour, Lord Garavin's Bird Blog reveals here just how quick this reproduction thing can happen when you're well adapted to living on the fast side of life.

A very unexpected insight into the nest choice of some Blog Bird forms and the first tough lessons in these young bird's lives can be obtained by studying WoodSong's publication here.

The Behavioral Ecology Blog shows for the first time here that sexual selection in Blog Birds is strikingly different from what one might expect and this is certainly a very intriguing finding that should spark a multitude of follow-up projects on Blog Bird wattles, crests and other inexplicably strange bird protrusions.

A short essay on Blog Bird vocalizations associated with potentially kinky mating behaviour was published here by the Bird Ecology Study Group.

The BirdChick recently looked at spring vocalizations of the Blog Bird and also provides a few details on mating behaviour and pretty scary character traits of some Blog Birds here.

An unexpectedly deep insight into the vocalization of the Yellowblogger

Conservation Status
Blog Bird populations have been monitored for close to 50 seasons now and appear stable, as can be seen on the following diagram.

However, Birdman provides very remarkable and thoroughly researched evidence here of severe declines in recent history for some Blog Bird forms due to a multitude of reasons that reflect poorly on the will and effectiveness of nature conservation in western societies. Much still needs to be done.

An increase in mortality for migrating forms of the Blog Bird has been noted in connection to late cold spells in North America and are a major conservation concern, but recent research published here in The EDGE Gallery shows that conservation measures are easily possible and help avoid significant population losses during adverse weather conditions.

Cool Facts
The economic importance of some Blog Birds, especially regarding the income of small local communities through Ecotourism, was demonstrated by Corey of Lovely, Dark and Deep, who published his calculations here.

The next edition of "I and the Bird" (No. 48) will be hosted by Greg Laden and contributions should be sent to him (laden002 AT umn DOT edu) or Mike over at 10,000 Blogbirds by May 1st.

Tuesday 17 April 2007


The blogging here around the Bell Tower has slowed down recently for a number of reasons :

a) personal stuff

b) work - yes, again

c) weather

d) getting ready for I and the Bird!

So this post is a REMINDER for those few who still haven't sent in their best recent blogging piece on birds and birding to do so NOW!

The cold phase - and I mean really cold as in snow storm and wearing gloves in your apartment - seems to be largely over now and the sun is shining down from a bright blue sky.
One could actually think this might be birding weather now at the onset of heavy duty spring migration, but I suppose we are given a bit of a warm-up phase (how friendly) as it is very stormy now and not really worth trying to find passerines high up in the wuthering heights of the Arb's tree tops.

Maybe later this week, after the IatB-feast.

I did go to the Arb on Sunday for a short walk and there were a few birds around. Best species was the Pine Warbler still singing, or rather singing again, and a lone Hermit Thrush. Gosh, I know this joke is wearing thin but you just gotta combine the word "lone" with "Hermit", it's just so catchy.

Looking forward to IatB and hope to see you again then, but I still need more posts!!

And as I haven' put up a photo of a bird for a while, here's the close-up of the Chestnut-sided Warbler from the bottom of the page, taken at Ontario's Rondeau Provincial Park in May 2005...

Friday 13 April 2007

I hate shopping and so should you

I just got back from downtown and upon approaching my apartment building, an American Woodcock was flushed 10 metres in front of me from the sidewalk by another pedestrian in the middle of town!!
"Great, my first close encounter, but what on earth is it doing here?!" I thought, and then "Oh no, don't go this way, don't... too late!"

It had flown barely 15 metres until it hit one of those huge shop windows and died.

I picked it up and carried it a few metres onto a front yard close by. I am not very sentimental but if I was a Woodcock and killed in such a hostile environment, I'd like my remains to be carried somewhere where it is a bit closer to "home" than remain there on the concrete.

As if shopping wasn't already bad and boring enough, now those [Tom McKinney at his best] shops even kill off our beloved birds!!

Thursday 12 April 2007

Food for Body and Mind

Mike over at 10,000 birds is apparently and thankfully an addict to blog carnivals. Not only is he the father of the famous "I and the Bird" which will be hosted right here in the near future, nope, he will also be hosting the Carnival of the Recipes soon - so soon indeed that I hope this blog entry is not too late.

Basically Mike has therefore recently nourished me in two ways:

I am receiving many emails each day now with great blog posts to be incorporated in the forthcoming edition of "I and the Bird" here at Bell Tower Birding.
This is so great!

Thanks to all who have sent in their links up to now, to those who haven't: only a handful of days to go so go for it, and to those who haven't considered it yet:


NOW !!

But then of course Mike has also provided me with a new recipe to try out, and while I am trying to return his - and all the other's - favour with my edition of "I and the Bird" soon, I'll also write down one of my vegetarian birder's recipes.

The Filled Pancake

First, the pancake.
This is quite a random process now during which I usually mix two to three eggs (according to hunger) with an equal amount of milk and a bit of salt in a bowl and mix this gradually with flour until it is still really liquid but starting to thicken, a bit less liquid than cream.
Then I put a bit of butter in a small pan, with the heat on medium-high (not high!) and fry the pancakes, no need to describe this. I usually have a bunch of paper towels ready and quickly wipe the pan after each pancake with it, I find this tends to keep the following pancake nicer, but that might just be one of my obsessions...

Then, the filling:
- Take an onion and chop it into little bits and pieces. Do the same with a fresh tomato (of course you may peel it if you are a perfectionist).
- Quickly fry both onions and - a bit later - the tomatoes in a frying pan.
- Add some spinach, preferably whole leaves that you have cut into little bits and pieces, but you may of course also add the cut spinach you can get in the deep freeze section of your supermarket.
- Add a tiny bit (a spoonful or two) of fresh cream.
- Add some feta cheese that you have cut into little cubes and immediately turn the heat off so the feta doesn't really melt but only gets slightly soft on the outside.
- Add salt and pepper only after you've added the feta to make sure it doesn't get too salty (feta by itself is quite salty already).

At last, bring them together:

- Place the spinach mixture onto a pancake and roll it so it looks like a hotdog.
- Repeat until you run out of pancakes or spinach mixture.
- Place all your filled pancakes on an oven-proof plate and cover in cheese, in the US this will probably be cheddar but any other cheese will do as long as you like it.
- Place in oven (full blast, we only need it to melt the cheese and keep the inside warm) until the cheese is melted and slightly brown and has a nice crust.

And then eat while it's hot!

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: a Birder's Tale in three Parts

The following account of my birding adventures yesterday really started two days ago, on Tuesday, which will be part 1:

Part 1: The Good
After that long and nasty cold spell, Tuesday was a fine day with blue skies, a few scattered clouds here and there, it was rather mild again with some sunshine and a Tree Swallow. That was all pretty good from a birder's perspective, hence my presumably good idea of getting enough work done on Tuesday to have the next day's afternoon off for some serious spring birding again in this nice - and presumably improving - weather.
Well, this is where part 1, the part on the Good, ends and we move over to ...

Part 2: The Bad
Wednesday saw the return of the Bad, with a thick and heavy Snow Storm beating down upon us from grey and depressing skies. Oh, of course it was also cold again.
That's how easily a good idea can turn bad.
You see, when I was young and in my early birding years, I used to say that only three things could possibly prevent me from birding or rather cause me to interrupt a birding day:
feeling cold, feeling hungry or having to go to the Zoo urgently (or somewhere that sounds very similar).
Of course those were the young and reckless days. Today, with time and experiences, I'll have to redefine that. What can keep me today from birding is unconsciousness caused by severe injury.
So did that weather prevent me from birding, could a little snow storm keep me inside?
No way, and that's how the bad part ends and we get to...

Part 3: The Ugly
What started out as a walk through snow flakes rushing past in the strong wind turned into sleet halfway to the Arb and due to the wind speeding the ice crystals up considerably it felt like a myriad of pinpricks on your face. This changed again upon reaching the Arb, though for the better or worse I don't know: it started to rain rather heavily and continued to do so until my return to the apartment three hours later when my jacked had soaked in so much water it was about three times its usual weight.
That was pretty ugly I must say.
Well, if I was a meteorologist then this last sentence would mark the end of a rather depressing post on yesterday's weather. Luckily I am not, I am the birder and so here's the bonus part, the brilliancy of the bird life encountered!

And no more comments on the weather, I promise!

Bonus Part: The Birds
Any day that starts with a Peregrine perched on a Bell Tower is bound to be a good day, even if that Peregrine is crouching close to the wall to avoid the downpour of what was then still snow.
But when you reach the Arb a few minutes later and the first three birds you encounter (apart from hearing a Northern Cardinal sing) are two Fox Sparrows and a Hermit Thrush, you know you're in for a birding feast. Of course there was no sign of the Pine Warblers at their former haunts, sure enough they weren't stupid enough to remain here and be turned into Pain Warblers, but upon reaching the central meadow I could distinctly hear the chattering of a large flock of American Robins. Another good sign.
Scanning through the scattered Robins I found three Common Flickers and a bunch of Dark-eyed Juncos with a single Song Sparrow amongst them. I eventually climbed the small hill again that was so good for woodpeckers lately and yet again, there were 2 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers, a few Downy Woodpeckers and a Common Flicker as well as a Tufted Titmouse, Golden-crowned Kinglets, White-breasted Nuthatches and the first Brown Creeper of the day.
My usual walk along Rhododendron Glen produced the usual lack of Eastern Screech Owls but just before I came to the "Beach" area of the Arb, I was almost run over by a party of approximately 30 Golden-crowned Kinglets and at least 5 Brown Creepers.
Brown Creepers frustrate me. Judging by the Sibley guide and my limited impression on their vocal and plumage variation (some call like our European Tree Creepers while I wouldn't even attribute the calls of others to anything but Kinglets), they are bound to represent several species, but as long as nothing is published, there's nothing we can do about it, and whenever I see a Creeper, I have this annoying thought of Creeper spec. spec. spec. in the back of my mind that almost spoils my whole observation.
Anyway, with a few reports on the local email forum and the Kinglets being often at eye-level, I had decided that this was going to be the day of my first Ruby-crowned Kinglet for this year.
Apparently the Ruby-crowneds thought in a different direction as I couldn't find one amongst the Golden-crowneds, but a) those supercilia were difficult to see on all those dripping wet kinglet's heads, so I at least had an impression of what my first Ruby-crowned of the year will look like and I b) remember how much I struggled in May 2005 to find Golden-crowneds amongst the Ruby-crowneds, so I am relaxed.
Knowing it is about time I got back to reporting birds I actually saw and not felt like seeing (California Condor being another one of the latter category), I'll move on to the Dow Prairie section of the Arb where I was treated to yet another Hermit Thrush encounter, this time intriguingly associated with yet another Song Sparrow. Sadly there was no sign of the American Tree Sparrows that had been hanging around there all winter and I presume they left for good (or bad, judging by the weather and if they really moved on North).
My initial plan had been to return home by then but I somehow was drawn on to Gallup Park by all the recent reports of Common Loons on every puddle of Michigan. And so I just went on and on along the Huron, bypassing an Eastern Phoebe and 2 White-throated Sparrows on my way until I reached the open waters of Gallup Park.
Sometimes birding is an amazing experience. I specifically went to Gallup Park to try and see a Common Loon, knowing I was really pushing my luck quite close to the edge, and the first waterbird I see at Geddes Pond (which is the Eastern section of Gallup Park) was ... drum roll ...
a Common Loon in full breeding plumage! What a sight and, hey, what a foresight!

That's pretty hard to believe, don't you think?
And you're right:
Actually I just lied. The first waterbirds I saw upon reaching Gallup Park were Canada Geese, Mute Swans and Mallards, but they are always the first waterbirds you see when approaching any body of water in North America and even though ignoring them is not nice, it makes for more exciting blogging, so I hope I am being forgiven. Oh, and the Pied-billed Grebe next to it looked incredibly tiny, which really it isn't but it goes to show just how huge those Common Loons are.

I mentioned before in another post that next to Geddes Pond behind a rail way line lies South Pond which is a good place to be when you're a member of the waterfowl society. Yet again, this proved to be true and I was treated to sights of three Bufflehead, a gang of Common Mergansers, a few Gadwalls and - the stars - a pair of Northern Shovelers.

And this was it, I had reached the last spot of my bird excursion and headed back the way I came for home.

The return was more monotonous as I didn't stop to look at or for birds, but there was one encounter I still want to tell you about. I know I promised earlier to not write about the weather anymore, but this is all within birding context, so it should be OK:
The rain was still pouring down hard and the wind was howling and the last thing I expected - apart from a Kakapo crossing my path - was to see a Raptor in this kind of weather. But there I clearly misunderestimated them as I was suddenly taken aback by the appearance of no less than 9 Turkey Vultures.
That's part of the reason I am so fond of Turkey Vultures. They are really bad ass tough guys who won't give a toss about anything and just fly whenever and wherever they please. Gosh, I doubt they even need an atmosphere to fly and if life on earth was brought here by extraterrestrial influences, it wasn't comets that carried it, it was Turkey Vultures travelling through from outer space. They are the first to fly in the morning, the last you see flying around in the evening and I am sure they actually seek and maneuver Tornadoes to gain height quickly during their migration. And it doesn't matter what kind of weather you will see them flying through, even if there is no wind or thermal whatsoever, complete stillness of the air, they will still fly on and on without a single wing beat. This is the ultimate Raptor, the bird extraordinaire and ... what do you mean, they aren't classified as raptors?

What, Storks?


Did I ever tell you just how fond I am of Storks in particular?
Well, OK, maybe that's another story.