Sunday, November 30, 2008

Plume Zoom, answers revealed

Thanks to all of you who participated in the inaugural Plume Zoom quiz! I deem you all Darn Cool Birders just for making the effort.

Everyone got the Song Sparrow ID correct, which is awesome. The American Tree Sparrow was a little more tricky. It took me a few seasons before I was able to differentiate it from the Chipping Sparrow that one of you guessed. One way to tell the Tree Sparrow apart from the Chipping Sparrow is that the Tree Sparrow has a bi-colored bill (the top half is grey, the bottom half is yellow). Another characteristic that sets the Tree Sparrow apart from the Chipping Sparrow is breast markings: Tree Sparrow has a spot on its breast (not visible in this photo), whereas the Chipping Sparrow is clear-breasted.

Don't let my information about sparrow markings trick you into thinking that sparrow identification is easy for me. Quite the contrary. Every FeederWatch season is a lesson anew in sparrow ID. Sometimes there are as many as 4 different sparrows on the ground at once, and I'm often looking at them from up above, so seeing breast markings is sometimes a challenge, and keeping them all straight enough to count each species is even more of a challenge. Who has 1 wing bar and who has 2? Who has a spotted AND streaked breast? Who has just the spotted breast? Eye stripes? Eye rings? Pink bill? Yellow bill? AAARGHHH!

The challenge, however, is part of why I enjoy FeederWatching. It helps me to feel more engaged with the birds, and to appreciate them in their uniqueness.

By the way, there's a great guide to tricky sparrows over at the Great Backyard Bird Count site, along with other tricky bird ID guides, and great birding info in general.
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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Bird of dawn and dusk

One of the many benefits of participating in Project Feederwatch is that over time you can observe the patterns in your birds' populations and habits.

One pattern I have observed with our Northern Cardinals is that they are most populous at our feeders at dawn and dusk. They do come in during the day, especially during snowy weather, but I get my highest counts at dawn or dusk, guaranteed. I haven't yet figured out why that is... don't even have any guesses. But it is interesting.

I really enjoy the Cardinal - I think it's a striking bird. I might be slightly biased though, with the Cardinal being the state bird of Ohio and all... Here are some photos from previous FeederWatch seasons that I hope you'll enjoy.

Backlit Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal being forced to reconsider its landing by an American Tree Sparrow.

"I hate this stinkin' snow!"

Glamour Shots... yur doin' it rite!

What patterns and habits are you observing at your feeders?
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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thoughtful Thanksgiving Thursday

Inspiration can come from the strangest places. For example, I was on the other day, my favorite place to buy shoes online, when I noticed at the bottom of each page they list a "Zappos core value". I clicked on the link, and was taken to their list of top 10 principles used to make their business a better place and to better serve their customers. How cool is that? It got me to thinking, and I agree with every single principle on their list. Then I wondered: what would my own list look like? The results are below. Sorry Zappos, but some of them ring too true with me to change the wording, so I just borrowed yours.

Heather of the Hills Top 10 Core Values (for all the world to see and not necessarily in particular order):
  1. Seek out the beauty of the world - then share it with someone else
  2. Embrace Change
  3. Create Fun, and A Little Weirdness
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Personal Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  7. Give of Yourself as much as you can
  8. Do the Best you can with What you've got
  9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble
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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Plume Zoom, the inaugural post

Alright faithful readers - I apologize for being so rough on you for not participating in my last "guess where I took it" photo quiz. For one thing, I didn't give you all enough time. And maybe I made it too easy. We'll try again.

I had an idea the other day for a new thing I could add to my posts, a little thing I call Plume Zoom. For the time being it will focus on zoomed in parts of birds, and you get to try your hand at ID'ing the bird. I will apologize in advance that the quality of the zoom won't be spectacular, but I think it will do the job.

Here are our first guests on Plume Zoom:

I will mention that there's a bit of seed in the top bird's beak, just so you don't think it's a deformity or part of its beak. And these are 2 different birds.

With Thanksgiving coming up, I'm sure we'll all be busy, so I'll give you all plenty of time to make your guesses on this. Check back next week for the answer. If you get it right? Well, then you're a darn cool birder.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
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Monday, November 24, 2008

Where me and my camera went

Yesterday at the end of my post I included 3 pictures that were taken inside something. I tried to encourage some audience participation and asked people to guess where the photo was taken, but didn't get any takers (party poopers!). Oh well. I'll reveal the answer anyway. But first, a reminder of the "clue" shots I gave...

If anyone else besides my husband guessed the inside of a rotten log (but didn't bother to tell me that's what you thought.... guilt, guilt, guilt), then you would be correct. Here's the grand log, looking straight up the trunk.

And from farther back... it was a pretty tall tree, a good 10 feet at least!

This kind of looks like a ghastly face - would have made for a good Halloween shot. I stuck my camera's lense in the "mouth" to capture all the interior shots.

Here's a shot from the side. You'll notice it's being supported by a live tree.

From this view you can really get a good sense for how rotten this tree is - it looks like the woodpeckers and Mother Nature have done a pretty good number on it.

By the way, for those of you into Following, I have added the Followers widget to my sidebar. So if you'd like to start following my blog, please click on the "Follow this blog" link where it says "Cyber neighbors." I'd love to have you!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Now what do we photograph?

Sometimes I look around at the late autumn/pre-winter landscape and think how boring it looks. Drab. Monochrome. Blah. Especially on a cloudy day. Ugh.

It's days like these when I take my camera outside and search to see things in a new light. Somehow, when I have my camera with me, I see things in a way I wouldn't see them otherwise. I play around with my camera more, looking for new perspective.


Turns into this...

Sometimes there is humor to be found in the landscape.

Like where this snow remains: in a crack where the sun don't shine. ;)

Color presents itself, reminding me that not all is drab.

And I focus more on lines, and texture.

And, I get on, around, and in things.

Next post I'll show you where I was, what I was "in", to take these last 3 photos. But in the meantime, I welcome any guesses from you all!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Earth, Sky... Leaves, Snow

We've had several dustings of snow already this season, which seems a bit odd for November in Southeast Ohio. Weather's been pretty darn chilly, too. The snow we had the other day looked like little tiny styrofoam-dot pellets. Sure didn't look like any snow I've ever seen. The sky cleared up a little on Friday, making for a dramatic sunrise. I wish I could have taken pictures along my drive to work, but that would have been a little dangerous. Instead, I'll share these pictures I took in our woods before I left for work.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

My plug for the Cornell Lab

Several days ago on the Cornell Blog of Ornithology (also accessible via the Round Robin icon over in my blog roll) I learned about a video that the Lab put together about the benefits of being a member. I also received an email from the Lab telling me about the video. Take a look!

If that video wasn't moving and compelling enough for you, let me take a minute to tell you why I think you should consider becoming a member of the Lab. No, they are not paying me or asking me to do this. But I believe in their mission and want to encourage as many other folks as possible to join in, too. (And hey, I've answered my fair share of phones at public radio/TV pledge drives, so this is my internet version of that kind of activity.)

Dark-eyed Junco, female

I'll tell you about my background with the Lab. It started with Project Feederwatch, just under 4 years ago. Dave was actually the one who told me about it. He saw a story on one of the local TV stations about a woman who watched and counted birds in her yard, and submitted her bird counts to some program at Cornell University. A few quick keystrokes in Google led me to Lab's website, and I signed up to participate in Project Feederwatch right away. We already had feeders up at our house, and I was really starting to take an interest in all of the birds that were coming to visit and feed, so things just kind of fell into place.

Somewhere into my second season of Feederwatching I decided to become a full-fledged member of the Lab. I kind of compare it to becoming a member of your local public radio or television station, but instead of supporting great programming, you're supporting great science and conservation efforts!

plumage of White-Throated Sparrow

I have been associated with another bird conservation organization, but I allowed my membership with them to lapse - not because I didn't believe in what they were doing, but because I didn't feel any connection with them. I received quarterly "reports" from them in the mail, but those fell kind of flat for me - kind of like reading stockholder reports from your 401k firm... lots of boring text with only a few photos.

With the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, I feel a real connection with where my money is going. Part of that connection is due to the vast array of citizen science projects that they offer. Not only is my money encouraged, but so is my participation, and the data I supply is being cataloged and used. I am also grateful to them for featuring so many of their project participants' photos on their website and in their publications, including some of my photos, like this one.

To sum up, I support the Lab because

  • I love birds
  • I want to put my money where my mouth is for conservation
  • Project Feederwatch is awesome and fun
  • I have learned tons about birds from their website and print publications
  • I feel a connection with the Lab
  • Through citizen science projects I am forging a closer connection with and greater appreciation for the natural world
  • Did I mention I love birds?
If you feed/watch/take photos of birds and you're concerned about conservation and earth's biological diversity, consider becoming a Lab member today (or consider a gift membership for someone for the holidays!).

Also, remember it's not too late to get in on this season's Project Feederwatch. You do NOT have to a member of the Lab to participate in this program, but if you become a member you get a discount off of the Project fee (and off of any other Citizen Science project fees).

Monday, November 17, 2008

Life bird: Brown Creeper

This past weekend, while watching/counting birds for Project Feederwatch, I added a new bird to my Life List: the Brown Creeper.

[photo removed after reading Cornell's photo copyright statement, which says: "Every photograph found on All About Birds is copyrighted material and may not be downloaded, copied, archived, modified, or used for any reason, including posting on personal or other web sites, without permission of the photographer." As a photographer myself, I know I would not want anyone using my photo without permission, so I must respect their request.]
photo borrowed from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's All About Birds pages

I really wanted to get my own picture of it, but every time I grabbed the camera it would fly away.

The first thing that alerted me to this little cutie was a bird sound that I had not heard before. Over the years I've gotten pretty familiar with the vocalizations of our "standard" feeder birds (chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, cardinals, goldfinches, etc.), so I knew the sound I was hearing (a kind of high-pitched "seeeee") was not coming from one of our usual visitors. I turned toward where the sound was coming from, and it took me a few seconds to catch the movement of this very well-camouflaged bird hitching its way up a tree. At first I thought it was a wren of some sort, but as soon as I saw it move a little bit more, in a manner that reminded me of a nuthatch, I thought "Oooh, that's a creeper of some sort. Maybe a Brown Creeper?" A quick glance at my Peterson's guide confirmed my suspicions. It's really cool (and rewarding) to be able to put the pieces together like this and make the ID.

Listening is key in birding, and I continue to work on my bird "ears". They have cued me in on multiple occasions when I otherwise wouldn't have known a bird was even around. They cued me in to seeing my first Great-crested Flycatcher this summer, and they also cued me in to a huge flock of Cedar Waxwings when I was taking a walk in town at lunch today.

Now, will those Waxwings be in the same place tomorrow, to allow me to get a picture or 2? We shall see.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Birding and baking

Today was a pretty dreary day - very windy all day, drizzling off and on. What better way to spend part of the day than by doing some bird watching and some baking?

We bought some new feeders this week, and luckily the birds seem to have adapted to them pretty quickly.

The birding view from the dining room

The view with my camera pressed against the patio door

The birding view from the kitchen window - the goldfinch spot

'Tis the season for baking with pumpkin. I had a crazy idea the other day that I want to make pumpkin meringues, which is going to be a challenge. While I scanned the interwebs for inspiration with the meringues, I ran into so many other yummy-sounding pumpkin recipes. One of them was a recipe for pumpkin biscotti on Simply Recipe which sounded too good to pass up. I added a scant cup of Craisins and a scant cup of some of the hickory nuts that we coaxed out of their shells.

While the biscotti bake for the first round, time to take a bird break

alternate view from the kitchen window

Emmet says "Hey, what smells good in there?"

After the loafs cooled enough for me to handle, it was time to cut them.

Ah, the finished product! Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go enjoy one of these with a nice cup of sweet coconut Thai Chai.