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Welcome to Random Avian Flights of Thought (RAFT)

RAFT is a wondering and wandering blog,er, I mean online journal revolving around my now 5-year obsession, er, I mean daily hobby of birding be it in my adopted hometown of Churintzio, Michoacan or wherever I take flight or bus to pursue those avian gifts of nature.

To give you a brief sampling of the kinds of random entries that may be included in RAFT, please see below:

1.Bird Quotes (More than you may imagine)
"I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven." - Emily Dickinson

2. Birding Trips
You won't believe what quetzals, trogons, motmots and parrots I saw in Panama...!
For that, though, you will have to wait until March, 2014 when I return from that trip 11 day trip.

3.Ten Reasons why I prefer Porro Binoculars to Roof Binoculars.

4. Birding Pet Peeves of the Human Kind

5. Bird Poetry (I will try to spare you the pain of reading my own, but I can't guarantee that)
"So I lost him. But I shall always see
In my mind
The warm, yellow sun, and the ether free;
The vista’s sky, and the white cloud trailing,
Trailing behind,—
And below the young earth’s summer-green arbors,
And on high the eagle, —sailing, sailing
Into far skies and unknown harbors."
E.E. Cummings- The Eagle

Bird Trivia By the Dozens
Por Ejemplo, what is the world's smallest hummingbird?

6. Daily Birding Highlights (if not full lists of birds that I saw that day)
"Wow, I was blessed today as I saw the first seasonal occurrences of both a little blue heron and a black phoebe."

7. The Five Birds That I Would Most Not Want to Encounter in a Dark Alley

8. My Favorite City Birds (Rock Pigeons need not apply)

9. Bird "Information" That I Have Problems With
Why in the world would one ever consider putting their scope in a wagon to be bumped, er, I mean pulled along with?

10. Favorite Bird Forums

11. Nine and a Half Reasons Not to Become a Birder

12. Birds I May Have Been in Past Lifetimes

13. If birds could speak, what would they say about humans?

Well, by now, I hope that you can see that RAFT is going to be dedicated to everything bird-wise from the ridiculous to the sublime, with side trips to the whimsical and fanciful.

Fly, er, I mean drop by RAFT often, but please remember that this is a free information and entertainment thread, so please don't look a gift bird in the beak.

My mentee, Edwardd1 will also be a prime contributor to RAFT.
Thanks, LanceB.
________
Les


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You have probably heard or even used the expression “if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck, it must be a duck."

For my sometimes frequent (if it's "not too hot,too humid, too windy, too muddy, too buggy or too smokey") birding companion, my Mexican born, U.S. raised and university educated wife, Maria, who while eschewing the use of binoculars still has uncannily remarkable vision. Yet, for some reason, be it cultural or attributable to some aspect of her being a Cosmic Goddess, she has one major blind spot when it comes to identifying birds.

You see, while birding at one of our local water spots, "Cemetery Pond" or "Double Garbage Lake." whether she views a common moorhen, an American coot, a least grebe or a pied-billed grebe, Maria most predictably (and no matter how many times I have corrected her) to my normally good-natured yet head-shaking bewildered exasperation will call out "duck, duck." Thus, for Maria that old duck adage can be reduced simply to "if it swims in the pond, it must be a duck."

For whatever reasons, for Maria differentiating between different types of swimming, aquatic or diving birds is not as easy as "duck soup."

Alas, I wonder if a migrating American white pelican ventured into "Cemetery Pond" for a brief repast, would Maria upon espying it call
out "gigantic duck, duck!"
________
Les

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Great thread! I think this will be fun. A quote:

"No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings."

~William Blake


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Thanks Debbie for the soaring quote as every time I go birding,which is twice daily this time of year, my spirits soar.

Lately I have been birding in and around "Cemetery Pond" as that riparian area has not only the pond with a marshy habitat but has nearby agricultural fields, primarily corn, millet and agave, and a grove that are home not only to many resident birds but also many migrants.

In the last few days, I have had some excellent "good looks."

Seven of my most recent GOOD LOOKS:

1. Orioles, Orioles, Orioles!
In Churintzio, we are fortunate to have streak-backed orioles as residents. However, starting in mid-December they are not only joined by an influx of many more members of their same species, other species of orioles join them. Thus, I have had my first sightings of two species whose males colors are in striking contrast to the brilliant orange of the streak-backed, the black and yellow black-vented oriole and the black and maroon orchard oriole.

2. Baby American Coots
Ducks,er, I mean American coots abound in the pond, most of the time the majority of them hidden in the high marshy grasses. Yesterday, I saw three baby coots swimming with their parents. If I had seen the young ones by themselves I would never had identified them as coots as their appearance is so different than their elders, particularly their beaks which are reddish while their parents' are white.

3. Vermilion Flycatchers Galore
A resident, the "vermies" are pretty much a daily sighting. However, this time of year when the pond and its environs are quite buggy, in an hour or so, I am having between 6-10 viewings of different individuals, including the gorgeous bright red males with black "masks" along with the more muted colored females and juveniles. With their different colors, as they like the orioles are highly sexually dimorphic, it's like seeing three different species!

4. Finally a black phoebe in the area!
In the five years that I have been birding, I have never seen a black phoebe in the pond area. Then, about a week ago, for three consecutive days, I saw near a path about 75 yards from the pond on I kid you not the same tree about an hour before the sun sets.
Then, three days ago I lucked out and saw that same phoebe on a post at the pond; He would stay on the post for a while then quickly head to the nearby grasses protruding from the water to catch some insects and then return to his post perch over and over again. Thus, I now know where to look in the AM and PM for that long awaited visitor. That whose colors are a contrasting black and white is a delight to behold!

5. Barn Swallows beyond Galore!
Due to the aforementioned insects, including many species of dragonflies, up to three hundred barn swallows are residing at the pond, using the electrical wires above the pond as their primary perching site. Particularly in the late afternoon, when the insects are most abundant, the swallows put on quite a remarkable aerobatic "show" as if they are not nabbing their prey at the pond's marshy island of 8-foot high grasses, they are skimming the surface of the water to grab their insect meals.

6. Mixed species returning to "Oriole Tree."
On the aforementioned path, there is a tall and broad tree that I call "Oriole Tree" because a couple of years ago I witnessed at least 30 orioles (mostly streak-backed but also one or two back-vented and Bullock's) perched on it at one time in the late afternoon. Yet, it is "home: to many other families of birds. Two afternoons ago, at the same time I saw perched on it a social flycatcher, numerous Western kingbirds, a male and female streak-backed oriole, a few male and female house finch, a solitary violet-crowned hummingbird and more than a dozen male and female lesser goldfinch. Quite the light show!

7. Bathing birds au natural
On the road next to the pond, there is a large puddle. Especially around 6pm, I have been seeing loads of birds taking a bath prior to retiring for the evening. Far and away most numerous of these bathers are lesser goldfinch but oftentimes communally they have been joined by other songbirds like blue grosbeaks, house finch and house sparrows. I better enjoy those bathing views when I can because with rainy season pretty much ended , soon that puddle will be no more.

How the heck did all my sightings of my adored "frolicking" cuckoos, groove-billed anis, not make the above list??? Or my first sighting of a little blue heron or...???

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You certainly have quite a variety of birds in your area to keep you well entertained.

Blue grosbeaks are beautiful but they unfortunately do not venture into my neck of the woods. That is a bird I would love to see, as I am fascinated by any bird dressed in bright blue. Once in a blue moon I may catch a glimpse of a bluebird around here. The best I get if I want to see blue is the noisy blue jay, which is a very common resident.

Here is a quote that mentions the jay:

“The moment a little boy is concerned with which is a jay and which is a sparrow, he can no longer see the birds or hear them sing.”

~Eric Berne


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Mincing, wanton blue-bird,
Grimace at the hoofs of passing men.
You alone can lose yourself
Within a sky, and rob it of its blue!

From "Advice to a Bluebird" by Maxwell Bodenheim

Blue grosbeaks are very common here, in a special sort of way. It's only the male that exhibits a spectacularly brilliant royal blue in much of its body. The females would much more aptly be called "brown-grey grosbeaks" as most have no or little blue coloring. Often perched readily visible high atop smallish trees or on nopal cactus, the males belt out their lovely songs.

On a more unfortunate note, I often see blue grosbeaks in tiny cages being sold in the market in Zamora as they are highly valued for their singing ability; most that are sold are fated to a horrible nameless existence in tiny cages with probably an inadequate diet and little or no interaction with their "owners" who have them only for their entertainment value.

As for jays, I really wish that our area had some, the closest to them being here are not-so-common common ravens. When I go to the "birders paradise" of San Blas, Nayarit next week, I hope to see and hear, hear, hear the raucous endemic to northwestern Mexico gorgeously crested and tailed black-throated magpie jays who at around 27" I believe are the largest of the jays plus seeing and hearing purplish-backed jays and San Blas jays who are endemic to northwestern Mexico and western Mexico respectively.

Ah, paradise for me is seeing any of the above mentioned jays attacking in flocks fruiting trees like fig for its fruit. The coffee plantations of Tecuitata, hear, er, I mean here I come!!!

Leave it to Emily Dickinson, she of numerous poems about birds, to capture the essence of jays- below is the first and last verse of her poem "The Blue Jay- No brigadier throughout the year."

No brigadier throughout the year
So civic as the jay.
A neighbor and a warrior too,
With shrill felicity

His character a tonic,
His future a dispute;
Unfair an immortality
That leaves this neighbor out.

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How sad that blue grosbeaks are caged and sold where you are. I used to have caged birds and I don't care do it again now that they have all passed on. Even though I provided large cages for them, I do believe that it is the intent of the universe for birds to fly free. Too many don't provide caged birds with proper care.

I always liked this quote from the movie, Shawshank Redemption:

"Some birds are not meant to be caged, that's all. Their feathers are too bright, their songs too sweet and wild. So you let them go, or when you open the cage to feed them they somehow fly out past you. And the part of you that knows it was wrong to imprison them in the first place rejoices, but still, the place where you live is that much more drab and empty for their departure."


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Thanks Debbie for your perspective on the controversial issue of keeping birds in captivity versus being in their natural state.

I currently am being kept and trained by a menagerie of nine most sentient birds, all of whom I consider to be "rescued."

Below you will find the introduction and conclusion for the article that I wrote on BellaOnline's Mexico site, "Streak-Backed Orioles a Lovely Mostly Mexican Bird," which pretty much sums up my feeling about birds (and by extension all sentient beings) held in captivity.

"Every two weeks when I go from my home in Churintzio,Michoacan to Zamora, I often see streak-backed orioles. Yet, rather than being thrilled to view them as these gorgeous and behaviorally fascinating birds are one of my local favorites, I am quite saddened and dismayed. Rather than being in their natural habitat, they are “for sale” in Zamora’s expansive open-marketplace being pedaled and peddled by pajareros/roving bird sellers as they are “displayed” in tiny cages. Unlike the active, vibrant and healthy songbirds that I almost daily see in nature, those held in barbaric captivity appear relatively lethargic, unkempt and frail-looking and somehow, although they really aren’t, seem close-up to me to be smaller than their definitely ought-to-be out-in-nature relatives."

"So, I hope you can see why I prefer by an exponentially compelling factor, and so should you, to view those gorgeous streak-backed orioles out in nature rather than in some cage. Even though conservation-wise, they are of “least concern” as their population is abundant, THERE OUGHT TO BE A LAW! Alas, you see, unfortunately there is not as in Mexico it is legal to sell all species of songbirds as mascotas/“pets.” Que lastima”/what a pity!"

"Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy... but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."- Harper Lee in To Kill a Mockinbird
Perhaps Harper Lee could have said "that's why it should be a capital crime to cage a mockingbird!"

“You can cage the singer but not the song.”- Harry Belafonte

“Much talking is the cause of danger. Silence is the means of avoiding misfortune. The talkative parrot is shut up in a cage. Other birds, without speech, fly freely about.”- Saskya Pandita

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Every year that have been observing birds in Churintzio, a wondrous event occurs. As was mentioned the other day, large amounts of barn swallows were congregating by "Cemetery Pond" and gorging upon insects. Two days ago, I noticed that except for a few stragglers, all of the barn swallows have left the area, migrating elsewhere despite the fact that their primary food source will remain abundant here. That migration, like all migrations, is wondrous enough.

Yet, what makes it even more wondrous is that on the same day that the barn swallows "disappear," they are replaced in somewhat smaller numbers, by another species of swallows, tree swallows.

Amazingly, as if Churintzio is not big or hospitable enough for two species of swallows at the same time, when one leaves the other appears.
Isn't nature wondrous?

Yesterday, I noticed that the new swallows on the block, were joined by the arrival of the strikingly lovely lark sparrows who in small flocks were feasting at the nearby fields of millet.

Sadly for me, as I always look forward to their arrival, the pair of green kingfishers that I have seen for the last four years around the middle of September are nowhere to be seen. The probable reason for that is because both of the bodies of water that I had seen them at, the pond and the double lake do not this year have the aquatic population that they need to survive on as both had totally dried out, thus killing all of the fish in them. As for their eggs??? That is why other shore birds either are not here at all or their numbers are greatly reduced as is the case for snowy and great egrets. That is also why the couple or dozen or so black-crowned night herons that had lived year round at the lake had departed a few months ago, hopefully to a fishier locale.

As a side note, the pond had totally dried out three years ago but the fish population had some how replenished in time to support the bird population as it had done in the past. This year is the first time that any of the residents here remember that happening at the double lake. After this years "normal" rainy season which has just ended, the pond's water has been replenished to its normal level while the much larger pond has shrunk in size by about 40% to what it had been in the recent past.

Nature is indeed mysterious!

As a side-side note, the lake dried out for two reasons. One was that the last two years the area received much less rain than "normally." Despite that lack of rainfall, a tremendous amount of the water there was unfortunately legally diverted for the sake of cattle.

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This morning myself and my erstwhile enthusiastic canine companion, Little Shu-Shu who always accompanies me on my birding/hiking adventures, journeyed off to "double lake." Overall, I saw 28 species of birds today including 14 at the lake.

As soon as we got to the lake, I saw a wonderful sight, 27 snowy egrets perched on the same tree that were probably going to just spend a short time there and would soon be seeking a more permanent site. Other shore birds seen there were 2 great egrets, one curlew, 13 black-necked stilts also probably just visiting as well as was one unidentified tern.

Noisily doing their own thing were eight killdeer who enjoy the marshy environment that the lake offers.

Also seen there were year round regulars vermillion flycatchers, violet-crowned hummingbirds, curve-billed thrashers, Western kingbirds, golden-fronted woodpeckers, loggerhead shrikes and seasonal/migratory American Kestrels and black vultures.

Not included in the count at the lake was literally one dead duck, a blue-winged teal (I think), that Little Shu-Shu was kind enough to call to my attention as she has noticed it first.

In walking across the strip of land which divides the lake that is about a 1/3rd of a mile in length, I had to walk through at least thirty cobwebs some of which had as many as eight spiders on them; I tried to do as little damage as possible to their painstakingly made habitats but that was not easy to do as this time of year the trail disappears in all of the over growth.

As mentioned in a previous post the volume of water at the lake is no more than 60% (probably less) of previous years with little fish life there to support shore birds in any quantity.

Birding Trivia of the Day: Killdeer are large frenetic plovers that get their name from one of the extremely vocal and repetitive sounds that they make, kil-deeah, kil-deeah, kil-deeah...

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I would have loved to see those snowy egrets and loggerhead shrikes! Certainly having water bodies near you increases your chances of seeing many, many different birds.

Today I saw a flock of Canada geese flying in their typical V-formation, no doubt in process of migrating south. I also saw a small flock of grackles and a larger flock of starlings. All were just twittering away in the trees. Aside from the common house sparrows that live here year round I didn't see any other birds. Yesterday I saw a cardinal, blue jay, crows, and a red tailed hawk.


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You are so right Debbie about riparian areas potentially being host to a variety of disparate species of birds. This time of year when Little Shu-Shu and myself go birding every late afternoon 1-2 hours before sunset, at and within 200 yards of "Cemetery Pond," we see in an hour or so between 18-25 species of birds, many of them in large flocks/groupings.

Yesterday at that time we saw the following species:
violet-crowned Hummingbirds
magnificent hummingbirds
streak-backed orioles, male and female
orchard orioles, male
barn swallows
tree swallows
common moorhens
American coots
pied-billed grebes
vermillion flycatchers, male and female
Western Kingbirds (up to a hundred loudly cavorting high in the trees)
house finch, male and female
lesser goldfinch, male and female
groove-billed anis
common ground doves
blue grosbeaks, male and female
golden-fronted woodpeckers, male and female
turkey vultures
blue-grey gnatcatchers
white-collared seedeaters
loggerhead shrikes

Alas, for the first time in a week no black phoebe yesterday but there's always today!

Have you ever seen loggerhead shrikes?

They are really "cool" birds despite their reputation (although in five years of viewing them I have never seen them do it) of impaling their prey-primarily insects like grasshoppers and dragonflies and occasionally lizards, small rodents and small birds- on thorns and barbed wire in order to be able to consume them. You see, the shrikes are lovely white, black and grey 8-9" black masked birds of prey that lack the talons of raptors but have a hooked beak to capture and consume their prey.

Here they are always seen perched prominently on top of small-medium sized trees. About 1/3rd of a mile from the pond in the middle of a millet field there is a solitary tree that was left there to provide shade for the cattle when the field is fallow. Most of the time when I pass by it there is normally one and sometimes two shrikes perched atop of it-hence, I call that tree "the shrike tree."

In flight they are easy to identify as they directly zip through the air displaying their three colors.

LHS' who are classified as songbirds make a variety of sounds but their most common call is a series of distinctive harsh screeching notes of which Maria gets a kick out of it when I ask her if she heard the "shrike shriking."

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I have seen snowy egrets a few times, but not the loggerhead shrikes. I have known for years what they are and I always liked the looks of them, but my area is not in their range, unfortunately.


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Bird Name Pet Peeve #2
(to be addressed in another post, Bird Name Pet Peeve #1)

When I first got involved in birding a few years ago, an experienced birding guide verbally chastised me as I had the audacity to refer to a bird we had seen as a "seagull." She firmly corrected me by saying that there was no such species as a "seagull" but rather each type of gull has a specific name. This new and what proved to be highly accurate information was in direct contradiction to what I had been led to believe in Boston, Mass as a child by no less than an authority as Barney the (puppet) Seagull Weatherbird on a local tv channel who each night at 11PM provided the meteorological forecast. Didn't Barney himself know what he was after all?

After doing some research, I discovered that there were worldwide 43 species of gulls, none of them named "sea." In Mexico alone, over twenty species of gulls occur there with some of the most common ones being California gulls, Franklin's gulls, Heermann's (no not Herman's!) gulls and Laughing gulls- even though my favorite gull is named a Mew gull although it hardly resembles any feline that I am familiar with.

Consequently, I have become a zealous convert in not only attempting to identify each gull I see by its proper name (or at least not say "oh no not another seagull!") as no two species of gulls are identical in appearance but also in trying to inform others that at the very least when seeing a gull one should acknowledge that they are individual species with no "sea" in them no matter where they were viewed.

So, if you ever hear anybody ask "why are seagulls called seagulls? Because if they flew over the bay, they'd be called bagels!", you will know that they themselves have flown over the cuckoo's nest!

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The Mew gull is a nice looking bird. I like the Herring Gull and the Black Backed gull.

I remember years ago sitting in my car eating lunch at a place called the "cove", an area by a river. I would stick my hand out the window with some food and the gulls would fly right up to my hand to grab a snack.


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What really gets my gander, even more so than when people (definitely not Debbie though, as she really knows her gulls!) call all gulls, no matter what their given name may be, seagulls, is calling those seemingly ubiquitous, messy, loud and assertive (ok, aggressive!) geese Canadian rather than their rightful name Canada. For some reason, primarily many people from the U.S. think that those geese are named Canadian. Just because that name is frequently misapplied in current usage does not make it correct or appropriate to do so.

So, let's get the straight poop about those geese. Despite the urban legend that has grown about them, there is no credence to the assertion that they are named after a (mythical?) taxidermist, John Canada, who allegedly was the first to identify them and named them after himself. In reality, they first appeared in Carl Linnaeus' seminal work Systema Naturae in 1772 under the Latin name Branta canadensis. In 1836 James Audobon called it the Canada Goose.

Presently, all North American field guides to birds refer to them only as the Canada Goose as does the well-respected The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Yet, they are still often called Canadian even though that is not their rightful name. One need look no further than BellaOnline's Birding Site to receive verification of this prevalent misinformation. At that site's current Top Ten list of articles, there are two articles about those geese, one correctly titled "Canada Goose Migration Map" while the other is incorrectly titled "Predators of the Canadian Goose." When I clicked onto the latter article, at the bottom of it there were ten goose links using the word Canadian while none said Canada. Wanting to quote from one of those links, an article titled "Canadian Geese or Canada Geese?" that I had previously increduously read that presented from my perspective a misguided attempt to justify calling them Canadian Geese, I was connected instead to an article about Redhead Ducks.

So, please let's not be a silly goose and call them by the wrong name. My wife Maria knows to call them Canada, although those of you who may have read a previous post on RAFT in regards to Maria and swimming birds, may correctly surmise that she calls them Canada Ducks!

Got to run now as it's time for me to feed my bow wow, Little Shu-Shu.

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O Canada Goose

O Canada the land multitudes of us call home,
Why not declare us the national bird.
An idea that certainly is not absurd,
As our identity we are proud regardless how far we roam.

O we are named Canada, glutinous, glorious and free.
Jingoistically we deserve more recognition than the loon or pelican,
But please do not call us Canadian.
O Canada our nomenclature is, as any other name sends us up a tree.

O we are the Canada Goose!
Boisterous, bold, brave and exponentially multiplying,
It's in our nature without even trying.
Even if they could fly, we are better than any darn moose!




Gulleslly, I thank you for getting this far. As a reward, I will spare you from the yet unwritten A Gull Without a Sea.

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In five days for a little over a week I will be in the "birders paradise" of San Blas, Nayarit. Due to its varied habitats SB and its environs is home to numerous western Mexican endemics, a fine selection of widespread tropical species, and in fall/winter, large numbers of migrant landbirds and waterbirds.

While there, pretty much birding from dawn till dusk, the following are the top 36 birds I hope to experience while I am there. Most of the species on this list I have seen before with only a couple of exceptions. Many are "old friends" that I want to revisit with. Many are quite "common" while others much less so. Some really "cool" birds will not be making the list as I will not be venturing off to the habitats they frequent. Around 300 species of birds occur in and around SB. Except for the first three species this list is in no particular order.

Top 36 Birds I Hope to See in San Blas

1. Blue-Footed Boobies
2. Lesser-Ground Cuckoos
3. Elegant Quail
4. Golden-Cheeked Woodpeckers
5. Acorn Woodpeckers
6. Black-Throated Magpie Jays
7. San Blas Jays
8. Purplish-Backed Jays
9. Yellow-Winged Caciques
10. Lineated Woodpeckers
11. Pale-Billed Woodpeckers
12. Colima Pygmy-Owls
12. Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls
13. Squirrel Cuckoos
14. Rusty-Crowned Ground Sparrows
15. Magnificent Frigate Birds
16. Green Kingfishers
17. Belted Kingfishers
18. Wood Storks
19. Roseate Sponbills
20. Anhingas
21. Reddish Egrets
22. Tri-Colored Herons
23. American Oyster Catchers
24. Royal Terns
25. American White Pelicans
26. Orange-Fronted Parakeets
27. Mexican Parrotletts
28. Crested Caracaras
29. Blue Mockingbirds
30. Cinnamon Hummingbirds
31. Citreoline Trogons
32. Elegant Trogons
33. Mountain Trogons
34. Russet-Crowned Motmots
35. Rufous-Bellied Chacalacas
36. Painted Buntings

This was indeed a daunting and highly subjective task coming up with only 36 top birds as I should be seeing over 150 species and dozens upon dozens of really neat birds were not included that I probably will be experiencing.

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I think you are going to really enjoy your trip to San Blas.

"For man, as for flower and beast and bird, the supreme triumph is to be most vividly, most perfectly alive."

~D.H. Lawrence


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H.D. Thoreau and R.W. Emerson one a naturalist the other a transcendentalist, Two Robins in a Nest?

"I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment, while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance that I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn."
Henry David Thoreau

"Hear! hear!" screamed the jay from a neighboring tree, where I had heard a tittering for some time, "winter has a concentrated and nutty kernel, if you know where to look for it."
Henry David Thoreau

"The bluebird carries the sky on his back."

Henry David Thoreau

"O birds, your perfect virtues bring,
Your song, your forms, your rhythmic flight,
Your manners for your heart’s delight,
Nestle in hedge, or barn, or roof,
Here weave your chamber weather-proof,
Forgive our harms, and condescend
To man, as to a lubber friend,
And, generous, teach his awkward race
Courage, and probity, and grace!"

RALPH WALDO EMERSON, May-Day and Other Pieces






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These are great!


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CHACHALACA

Chachalaca, chachalaca, chachalaca!
Every time I see one of those cracidae
As it ungainly leaps from branch to branch,
Whether plain or rufous-bellied,
My heart joyfully beats chachalaca, chachalaca, chachalaca!

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"For most birds, migration is a leap of blind faith, an instinctive urge over which they have no real control. The curlew does not "know," in a conscious sense, that coconut palms and placid coral atolls await it in Tonga or Fiji-it can sense only an urgency to fly in a certain direction for a certain length of time, following a path graven in its genes and marked by the stars." Scott Weidensaul, Living on the Wind:Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds

That urge and sense of urgency has instinctively overtaken me, so this birder has gone birding to experience what awaits! As for when I will be back, the answer is blowing in the wind, if not in the stars.

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I have seen more and more Canada geese on the wing as the temperatures drop here.

"There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of the birds. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature -- the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter..."

~Rachel Carson


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With some narrative to follow at a later time, the following are the species of birds seen/heard over various terrain in the San Blas, Nayarit Mexico area during my 5.5 days of birding there. Those in bold were my personal favorites (only a little less than half the species on the list!):

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis)
Fulvous Whistling-Duck (Dendrocygna bicolor)
Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors)
Cinnamon Teal (Anas cyanoptera)
Northern Pintail
Rufous-bellied Chachalaca (Ortalis wagleri)
Elegant Quail (Callipepla douglasii)
Wood Stork (Mycteria americana)
Magnificent Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens)
Neotropic Cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianus)
Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga)
American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)
Brown Pelican
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
Great Egret (Ardea alba)
Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)
Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea)
Tricolored Heron (Egretta tricolor)
Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)
Green Heron (Butorides virescens)
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (Nyctanassa violacea)
White Ibis (Eudocimus albus)
White-faced Ibis (Plegadis chihi)
Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja)
Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus)
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)
Common Black Hawk
Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)
Gray Hawk (Buteo plagiatus)
Short-tailed Hawk (Buteo brachyurus)
Zone-tailed Hawk (Buteo albonotatus)
Purple Gallinule (Porphyrio martinicus)
American Coot (Fulica americana)
Common Moorhen
Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus)
Northern Jacana
(Jacana spinosa)
Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius)
Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca)
Willet (Tringa semipalmata)
Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes)
Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)
Blue-Footed Booby
Brown Booby
American Oystercatcher

Caspian Tern (Hydroprogne caspia)
Laughing Gull
Red-billed Pigeon (Patagioenas flavirostris)
White-winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica)
Inca Dove (Columbina inca)
Common Ground-Dove (Columbina passerina)
Ruddy Ground-Dove (Columbina talpacoti)
White-tipped Dove (Leptotila verreauxi)
Squirrel Cuckoo (Piaya cayana)
Groove-billed Ani (Crotophaga sulcirostris)
Colima Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium palmarum)
Vaux's Swift (Chaetura vauxi)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)
Broad-billed Hummingbird (Cynanthus latirostris)
Cinnamon Hummingbird (Amazilia rutila)
Citreoline Trogon (Trogon citreolus)
Elegant Trogon (Trogon elegans)
Russet-crowned Motmot (Momotus mexicanus)
Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)
Green Kingfisher (Chloroceryle americana)
Golden-cheeked Woodpecker (Melanerpes chrysogenys)
Gila Woodpecker (Melanerpes uropygialis)
Ladder-Backed Woodpecker
Lineated Woodpecker (Dryocopus lineatus)
Pale-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus guatemalensis)
Collared Forest-Falcon (Micrastur semitorquatus)
Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway)
Laughing Falcon (Herpetotheres cachinnans)
Bat Falcon (Falco rufigularis)
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)
Orange-fronted Parakeet (Aratinga canicularis)
Mexican Parrotlet (Forpus cyanopygius)
Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet (Camptostoma imberbe)
Greenish Elaenia (Myiopagis viridicata)
Greater Pewee (Contopus pertinax)
Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii)
Pacific-slope Flycatcher (Empidonax difficilis)
Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus)
Bright-rumped Attila (Attila spadiceus)
Dusky-capped Flycatcher (Myiarchus tuberculifer)
Brown-crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus tyrannulus)
Great Kiskadee (Pitangus sulphuratus)
Social Flycatcher (Myiozetetes similis)
Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus)
Thick-billed Kingbird (Tyrannus crassirostris)
Masked Tityra (Tityra semifasciata)
Rose-throated Becard (Pachyramphus aglaiae)
Plumbeous Vireo (Vireo plumbeus)
Cassin's Vireo (Vireo cassinii)
Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus)
Black-throated Magpie-Jay (Calocitta colliei)
San Blas Jay (Cyanocorax sanblasianus)
Sinaloa Crow (Corvus sinaloae)
Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis)
Gray-breasted Martin (Progne chalybea)
Mangrove Swallow (Tachycineta albilinea)
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)
Happy Wren (Pheugopedius felix)
Sinaloa Wren (Thryophilus sinaloa)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea)
Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush (Catharus aurantiirostris)
Rufous-backed Robin (Turdus rufopalliatus)
Northern Waterthrush (Parkesia noveboracensis)
Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia)
Orange-crowned Warbler (Oreothlypis celata)
Nashville Warbler (Oreothlypis ruficapilla)
MacGillivray's Warbler (Geothlypis tolmiei)
American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla)
Tropical Parula (Setophaga pitiayumi)
Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia)
Black-throated Gray Warbler (Setophaga nigrescens)
Fan-tailed Warbler (Basileuterus lachrymosus)
Wilson's Warbler (Cardellina pusilla)
Yellow-breasted Chat (Icteria virens)
White-collared Seedeater (Sporophila torqueola)
Rosy Thrush-Tanager (Rhodinocichla rosea)
Grayish Saltator (Saltator coerulescens)
Rusty-crowned Ground-Sparrow (Melozone kieneri)
Lark Sparrow (Chondestes grammacus)
Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra)
Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana)
Blue Bunting (Cyanocompsa parellina)
Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris)
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)
Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna)
Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus)
Black-vented Oriole (Icterus wagleri)
Orchard Oriole (Icterus spurius)
Streak-backed Oriole (Icterus pustulatus)
Bullock's Oriole (Icterus bullockii)
Yellow-winged Cacique (Cacicus melanicterus)
Scrub Euphonia (Euphonia affinis)

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You sure did see a lot of birds! That is quite a list. Welcome back!


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Thanks Debbie!

Speaking of that list...

Yesterday, around 10 minutes from our home while birding near Cemetery Pond (on the first day of the Day of the Dead), I was thrilled to see two black-vented orioles, an adult and a juvenile-infrequent visitors to where I bird locally. While in San Blas, amidst the opportunity to see so many species of birds including around two dozen Mexican endemics such as these distinctively gorgeous orioles who as adults are strikingly black on top and yellow on their underparts, I saw three black-vented orioles on three separate occasions.

While in San Blas I saw a much more commonly appearing bird in that area than the black-vented oriole, the endemic yellow-winged cacique. One of the most common of San Blas' specialty birds, the caciques as are all orioles are members of the icteridae family of birds. Overall, I saw over a hundred of those caciques in at least 15 different sightings.

Arguably more striking and distinctive than the above mentioned orioles, they are primarily black atop with yellow wings and a black and yellow tail crowned with a Rastafarian-like black crest. Beautiful, highly gregarious (make that loud! loud! loud!) and social, the caciques are hard to miss.

Yet, most "serious" birders, after having already seen them whether once or often, tend to overlook them due to their being so "common." As for me, familiarity with these "cool" and remarkably lovely sentient beings, could never result in contempt or apathy as they are always a special and sought after occurrence.

Heck, in my birding world, even the beyond common great-tailed grackle, who beyond noisily assemble each dusk in and around San Blas' main plaza in the thousands and can be seen virtually in every birding locale there, are also special!

The same specialness can be said for the one and only gorgeous male scrub euphonia (another on top black and underneath yellow bird-coincidentally or not the school colors of Edward Devotion Elementary School) that I saw while in San Blas!

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Day-in and day-out when birding one of the joys of that activity is to see my "old friends" that regularly and consistently occur in and around Cemetery Pond;no matter how often they may be seen/heard such birds as vermilion flycatchers, Western kingbirds, violet-crowned hummingbirds, groove-billed anis, golden-fronted woodpeckers, streak-backed orioles and American coots, just to mention a few, are a natural pleasure to behold.

However, what makes birding even more joyful is seeing/hearing the unexpected. In the last two days, I experienced four such sightings, the first-three-bing! bing! bing!- occured within five minutes of one another.

1. On a tree on the perimeter of the town's junior high school, I saw a, relatively speaking, rather large bird fly in and perch on an easy to see branch. Getting great looks (and photo) of its long banded tail and its raptor-like beak, I pretty much determined (?) that it was a peregrine falcon which is an infrequent visitor to the areas that I bird in. After he flew off, I was sure that it was that bird of prey due to its angular-shaped wings characteristic of falcons. Bing! Bing! Bing!

2. A couple of minutes later, I saw a bird perched on the utility wire that overhangs the pond. No it wasn't such regular perchers there such as a vermie or a house finch or a lesser goldfinch or even a barn swallow. Rather it was my long anticipated best birdy buddy, a male green kingfisher. As written previously, a pair of kingfishers annually appear in the middle of September. Yet, this year due probably to a lack of fish in the pond, I had not seen any kingfishers either there or at Double Garbage Lake. However, he had finally returned as maybe now the fish have returned too as demonstrated by the recent appearance at the pond of fish-dependent birds like snowy and great egrets along with a green heron. Bing! Bing! Bing!

3. Shortly thereafter, overhead in the air I saw a large shore/sea bird. Displaying an unmistakable beak/bill, I was thrilled to see that it was a brown pelican. When I was recently in San Blas, literally I had seen 100s of those pelicans. Yet, in Churintzio and its environs I had never seen one. Bing! Bing! Bing!

4. The next day, I decided to head off to the lake, primarily to view what shorebirds may be there. Just before getting to the lake I decided to check out some trees in a field that oftentimes has either an American Kestrel or a white-tailed kite in them. Alas, there were no raptors in them. However, my eyes detected some movement on the ground in a nearby dirt path which abuts a millet field. To my absolute delight I saw not one, not two, but three lesser roadrunners, an adult and two juveniles, doing their running and hoppingly flying thing. An hour later after my visit to the lake when I returned to that spot I was equally thrilled to see the roadrunners were still there. In my 5 years of birding I may have averaged about one sighting of a road runner per month but never had fleetingly witnessed more than one at any one time. Bing! Bing! Bing!

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CARACARA WHY?

Caracara why
So much confusion?
Anatomically you are a falcon
Yet vulture-like you consume carrion,
Disdaining soaring for a-strutting on and on.
Crested, some say you appear on the flag of Mexico,
Others who believe it to be the golden eagle say "Dios mio no."
Regardless, in all ways, you are one uniquely regal looking pajaro.

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ORIOLE TREE

Oh lofty Oriole Tree
Other beauties fly onto thee
Like blue grosbeaks, goldfinches, hummers and especially "vermie."
Yet why you have your earned name
Is when in a glorious display of sun setting orange flame
Those multiple gorgeous perched streak-backed orioles silently claim their fame.

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You're seeing several great birds but here many birds are leaving for warmer wintering grounds. With colder weather descending, only the tough and the rugged choose to stay.


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Yes Debbie, bird migration is one of the "amazing" wonders of the natural world. Interestingly, the birds do not migrate to warmer climes because their bodies can't survive the cold weather but rather due to the fact that their means of substance cannot. Hence, they migrate to places where there is a ready food supply.

With the sun about to set on my usual birding "patch" yesterday, in a little less than an hour of birding, here in the abbreviated notation way that I record are what species I was fortunate enough to have witnessed:

CGD
MHB
TV
LGF
VFC
HF
BGG
AC
CMH
SFC
GE
GH
GFWP
BVO
SBO
VCHB
BO

What no GBA or AK or LHS?

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Quite a list, Edward! I look forward to time for birding.


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There's been a lot of crows around here lately, pretty much the only bird I've seen these days due to my busy schedule.

"Crow calls to awaken you to your true soul purpose.....to remind you to follow your heart."

~Native American quote


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A WILD TURKEY'S THANKSGIVING

I am thankful for all the Toms and Hens in my life
I am thankful for my 5,000-6,000 feathers
I am thankful for the 7 million birds of the same feathers in the USA
I am thankful for the forests, pastures, orchards and fields that provide a home to us
I am thankful for the seeds, berries, roots and insects that are our primary sustenance
I am most thankful for when Thanksgiving is over and the human hunters go home
I am gizzardly thankful that I did not end up in someone's oven, stuffed or not!!!
Gobble Gobble Gobble

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This is great, and a little funny!


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It is fun isn't it Debbie, trust edwardd1 cool .........though perhaps not for any of the turkeys who ended up alongside an assortment of side dishes. Had no idea they had so many feathers, wonder what happens to them all. Wouldn't have thought they would be soft enough to make pillows.

In Germany the geese are beginning to disappear from all the fields where they have been running free since Easter, although their wings have been clipped of course, and it is strangely sad to see.

Soon there won't be any left........as traditional 'gefuellte Weihnachtsgans', Roast Goose with stuffing ranging from chestnuts to spiced apple/salted pretzel mash, remains the most popular meal for 'erste Weihnachtstag', December 25. And often appears on New Year's Eve too.

Although there are some geese who are
Quote:
'gizzardly thankful that I did not end up in someone's oven'
because they make incredibly good 'watch dogs', so are given cute names, sometimes even collars, and are kept as useful pets in rural areas. smile


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"What is sauce for the goose may be sauce for the gander, but is not necessarily sauce for the chicken, the duck, the turkey or the guinea hen."

~Alice B. Toklas


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Hi Debbie, Francine and all,

Here in my neck of the nopal and blue agave, there aren't any geese; perhaps their closest relatives that I see daily at Cemetery Pond are over 50 American Coots of various ages as the adults are breeding there in the high marshy grasses and a few Common Moorhens and Pied-Billed Grebes.

Like those other "oven birds," turkeys, geese don't get much respect. Otherwise why does gander not only mean a male goose but also a simpleton or silly person?

Then again, gander also means in a Big Bopper stretching of one's neck sort of way ("make me feel real loose like a long necked goose") a look or glance.

So, let's be positive about geese , whether they are greasy or not or whether they lay golden eggs or not.

Thus, yesterday just before sunset, sans any geese-although there was one Great Egret in a nearby puddle that I startled upon my approach, on Oriole Tree here is what I joyfully was able with my eyes (with help of my trusty binoculars) to ganderize: at least 15 Streak-Backed Orioles-including males, females and juveniles, more than a dozen each of Lesser Goldfinch and House Finch, a quartet of hyper Blue-Grey Gnatcatchers, Violet-Crowned and Magnificent Hummingbirds, Western Kingbirds, male and female Blue Grosbeaks and male "Vermies." Stretching my neck, on a nearby tree I was able to take a gander at a cuter than cute Black Phoebe.

I wonder what I will be able to ganderize today when I go to Double Lake? No matter what,"oh baby, that's a-what I like."

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I love and respect geese. My favorites are the Snow Goose, the Canada Goose, the Greater White Fronted Goose, the Bar-Headed Goose, and the French Toulouse.

Good for you edwardd1 for seeing all of those wonderful birds. I hope today will be just as fruitful for you.


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MALE "VERMIE"

Kilmer thought he'd never see
A poem as lovely as a tree
As for bird obsessed me
The same can be naturally said for the male "Vermie"

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Can't remember the last time I saw a Vermie, male or not (I think a sparrow, 'Spatz in German) and they used to be the most 'common' bird around, miss them.

Where have they all gone...........Hmmm could ask Monsanto for a start, but they are not the only culprits.

However trees............now edward1, the natural beauty, the history so many have seen and we will never know, the fact that without them we just could not be here.

Do I 'hug' them, no really not, but enjoy, appreciate them and am always cast down when they are destroyed to make way for heaven knows what? Yes have to raise my hand to that one.

PS: do love birds too............!



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Ahhh yes indeed Francine!

"When you have seen one ant, one bird, one tree, you have not seen them all."-E.O. Wilson

"To a man, ornithologists are tall, slender, and bearded so that they can stand motionless for hours, imitating kindly trees, as they watch for birds."-Gore Vidal

“You must not know too much or be too precise or scientific about birds and trees and flowers and watercraft; a certain free-margin, and even vagueness - ignorance, credulity - helps your enjoyment of these things.”-Henry David Thoreau

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Befitting the advent of the holiday season in Mexico, my best "good look" this week was a little before sunset at Oriole Tree lit up by the setting sun like Xmas ornaments at the upper level of the tree were more than three dozen "colorful" birds including Western Kingbird, House Finch, Lesser Goldfinch, Streak-Backed Oriole, Magnificent Hummingbird, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, male Blue Grosbeak, male Vermie, and the star of the show right at the very top and center was a gorgeous Black-Vented Oriole whose black and gold colors literally shone.

A few minutes prior, before the ornamental birds began to arrive, was a solitary loquacious Social Flycatcher mid-level on the tree.

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Do you think that birdwatching and birding are the same?

If not, without accessing any value judgements (I must be addressing myself when adding that clause LOL), what are some of the similarities and differences between them?

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It might seem a simplistic answer Les but isn't a 'birder' someone who will travel miles to look for, see, or just hear birds? Usually accompanied by 'equipment' etc., and even almost professionally interested in keeping count and comparing totals.

While a 'bird watcher' looks at, enjoys and appreciates birds if they are around, in the garden or wherever, or travels short distances, which in Germany could be to a nearby nature reserve or protected area, to see species they wouldn't otherwise come across. Has basic equipment perhaps, but wouldn't invest a fortune in super binoculars.

They also wouldn't spent weeks, and perhaps vast amounts of money, to travel hundreds of miles by boat, train or plane, in a deliberate attempt to see either one special bird or various different species from a specific region or area.

The similarities would be interest in birds obviously, and differences between them would include the informality of one the serious intensity and organization of the other.



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Francine, Vermie who is a tough grader and does not believe in grade inflation would give you an "A" for your reply about birdwatching vs. birding. While there is a large range in terms of an individual's level of interest, knowledge, time and resource investment and participation within both of these avian-centric hobbies, the former can be defined as being more casual/passive while the latter would be said to be more intense/active, at times bordering on the compulsive/obsessive.

An analogy that I think is appropriate is that "it’s the difference between watching a sport and playing a sport."
Or another way of saying this is birdwatching is spectating while birding is a (hopefully non-invasive) form of hunting.

Here are two quotes that I would hope all birdwatchers and birders would agree upon:

"My favorite weather is bird-chirping weather." -Terri Guillemets

"Damn that wind!"- Vermie as related by LS

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It seems that some of the Canada Geese have not vacated the southern New England region. I drove by a corn field where only the low cut stalks remained, and low and behold I saw many geese there feeding and milling about. There must have been a few hundred there. I wonder when they will decide to head south. We have snow coming in for the morning.....


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Debbie, maybe those Canada Geese will not be heading south???

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, "some migratory populations of the Canada Goose are not going as far south in the winter as they used to. This northward range shift has been attributed to changes in farm practices that makes waste grain more available in fall and winter, as well as changes in hunting pressure and changes in weather."

Another perspective on this comes from a Birding Forum poster who over three years ago wrote "the reason for the goose population explosion is us. We have built all sorts of habitats that Canada geese love, like expansive lawns, parks, golf courses and such, and then some of us feed them. The result is that flocks that once migrated yearly now hang around all year and breed much more than they used to. Result; goose droppings everywhere, angry geese in your face when you walk in the park, geese crowding wild ducks out of ponds and lakes. They can't be hunted in city limits, and natural predators are rare or non-existant..."

At any rate, “If you feel the urge, don't be afraid to go on a wild goose chase. What do you think wild geese are for anyway?”-Will Rogers

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Les, love your avatar. It reminds me of you...colorful, inquisitive, interesting.

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Les.....Mr. Rogers' quote gave me quite a chuckle, and as I sit here thinking about it I realize that even as a mature adult I sure wouldn't mind running through that field and sending all those geese up into the air to escape the crazy woman. That would be fun until either I slip and fall in the goose droppings, or as the birds circle about a big load lands on my head.

Hmmmmm..........maybe I will chase those geese only in my daydreams.....


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Muchas gracias Connie for your fluttering, er, I mean flattering words and if Vermie was not already so bright red in the face, you would certainly see him blushing while exhibiting his adorable fluttering flight pattern.

Debbie, Will Rogers was really a one-of-a-kind wit and you and others may get an appreciatively knowing response from the following birdy quote of his that should certainly be true where we live in Mexico (or anywhere): "Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip."

The other late afternoon by Oriole Tree and environs in around 45 minutes I saw 22 species of birds, highlighted by multiple sightings of Vermies, gorgeous male royal Blue Grosbeaks, five raucous Groove-Billed Anis (wow, do I love black birds, cuckoos or not!) cavorting together. a cuter than heck White-Collared Seedeater and a beyond distinctively lovely Black-Vented Oriole after showing his colors in-flight landing on Hummingbird Tree and then displaying only his posterior to me.

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Yesterday in the late afternoon, by where else than Oriole Tree, I experienced a lovely, unexpected treat among the numerous Streak-Backed Orioles, a small flock of House Finch, a few Lesser Goldfinch, an adult male and juvenile male Vermie that was picking off insects from a small marshy area below, a Magnificent Hummingbird, a female and male Blue Grosbeak and a couple of active Western Kingbirds, there was, BING BING BING, a solitary bird that I had not seen this season in Churintzio.

First seeing its distinctive long orange beak and its white neck with black streaks along with its orangish breast, I was delighted to identify a Western Mexican endemic that while common in many areas (like last year I had seen dozens foraging on the ground in the main park in Queretaro City) is only infrequently seen here, as it was a Rufous-Backed Thrush, AKA Rufous-Backed Robin. In the past in Churintzio I had primarily seen them skulking about in the garbage-strewn ravine near the pre-school.

“A Robin Redbreast in a Cage Puts all Heaven in a Rage”- William Blake

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The following is a verse from Robert Service's wicked interesting poem, Bird Watcher:

"The man who mighty mergers planned,
And oil and coal kinglike controlled,
With field-glasses in failing hand
Spies downy nestlings five days old,
With joy he could not buy for gold."

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A seasonal holiday gift from Vermie to you!

Vermilion Flycatchers an Eye-Catching Bird

With over 400 species, tyrant flycatchers are the most diverse family of birds not only in South and North America but in the entire world. However, their diversity for the most part does not extend to their color and markings as the vast majority of these New World flycatchers are mostly a nondescript drab combination of browns, grays, and yellows and are without "unmistakable" physical features. Some obvious exceptions in color or other outstanding characteristics to that are ornate, scissor-tailed, and the three look-alike species-social flycatchers, boat-billed flycatchers and Great Kiskadees. However, for me not so arguably, the most striking, distinctive, and spectacular is the relatively diminutive vermilion flycatcher, particularly the males.

By chance I “discovered” vermilion flycatchers a few years ago just prior to my becoming a birder. Virtually every time that I was taking a hike on a certain trail from a distance of about 100-150 feet I saw this small bright red bird perched on a post protruding from a pond near my home in the Western Central Highlands of Mexico in the small town of Churintzio, Michoacan. Oftentimes, I observed that it would over and over again briefly leave its perch and fly for a few seconds and more often than not return to that same post. I had no idea what it was as I only knew that it was not the very common for our area house finch whose adult males are varying degrees of red. After seeing it more than a dozen times my curiosity was really peaked as this was one gorgeous and behaviorally interesting bird so I looked it up on the Internet and eventually learned what it was. From that point forward, I was not only hooked on Vermilion flycatchers but also birdwatching as that one little bird taught me that there was so much I needed to learn about nature.

“Vermies” as my wife, Maria, and myself excitedly and affectionately call them when we see them-which as area “residents” is quite often- are stocky approximately 6" birds weighing about a half of an ounce and in Mexico are sometimes very appropriately referred to as “brasitas de fuego”/ little coals of fire. They are one of only a few species of flycatchers that are sexually dimorphic, meaning that there are distinct external differences between the sexes. The adult males are astoundingly gorgeous with their bright scarlet crowns, throat, and underparts, a distinctive black “Zorro” mask-like eye-line, gray/dark brown to black backs, wings, and tails and a black straight short bill. Lovely but less distinctive, the females are mostly grayish brown with streaks of white with a wash of salmon or yellow on the belly and display a white eye-line.

These monogamous songbirds range from Southeastern California through the Southwest U.S. to Western Texas down into Mexico and Central America and locally in South America. Interestingly, occurring in the Galapagos Archipelago they are also known as Galapagos and Darwin’s flycatchers. Singly or in pairs, they are most often found in open arid or semi-arid terrain near riparian areas at streams, ponds, or lakes with scrub and brush vegetation.

Typically they are seen conspicuously perching at low to mid-levels on bushes and trees with their tails distinctively dipped. A breeding male will perch about 90% of the time during daylight hours. I also see them very often perching on fences, gates, posts, and wires normally near a body of fresh water. Their prey consists largely of flying insects like flies, grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, and in some areas honey bees.

Just as male vermilions are physically more striking than are the females, so are they behaviorally. When wanting to mate the flashy male will frequently bring to its intended female partner a “showy” insect, frequently a colorful butterfly. Highly territorial, to signal that the area is taken to both its competitors and its intended mate, the male will acrobatically fly about sixty feet high and while singing/calling with rapidly beating wings will then flutter downward. Their song is a series of rapid chirps( “pip-pip-pip-pip”) repeated about ten times followed by a trill (“peeeeeent”); while perched their calls may continue into the night in an attempt to attract females. Even when not trying to show off for a female, the male will often sing in flight. Moreover, I have learned that one easy way from a distance to identify vermilion flycatchers, both males and females, is that when foraging for prey while in flight they will persistently hover.

Very common in their range, vermilion flycatchers are listed as being a species of “least concern” as they are not considered to be endangered, especially in Mexico and Central and South America. Quite unfortunately, in my part of Mexico I have seen in pitifully small cages colorful or attractive songbirds like streak-backed orioles, male Northern cardinals, house finches, and Northern mockingbirds that are captured illegally being sold as “pets.” Fortunately, I have never seen one of our precious vermies in such a barbarically inhumane captive circumstance. That is more than likely due to the fact that, unlike the cardinals, in captivity this most beautiful of flycatchers found in North America (and perhaps even South America) invariably loses its color.

Hence, that is just one reason that the next time and, hopefully, every time thereafter that we go birdwatching together, I should hear Maria excitedly, accurately, appreciatively, and repeatedly call out “vermie, vermie, vermie!” Ideally, that is, for all of the vermies that we visually experience which sometimes is as many as ten or more distinct sightings per outing, especially if we go to "Double Lake" which quite often has an abundance of them along with Western kingbirds (another species of flycatcher) by its shores. If not all, then at least for all of those distinctive, (and now for us) unmistakable and gorgeous males of the species.

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What a fascinating bird, as well as great experiences shared. Thank you, Les!


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A Trilogy of Parrot Jokes

Q. What do you call a parrot that repeatedly says glot, glot, glot?
A. A Polyglot

Q: What do you call a parrot that flew away?
A: A Polygon

Q.What is a male parrot called that has many wives?
A. A Polygamist

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"A day and then a week passed by:
The redbird hanging from the sill
Sang not; and all were wondering why
It was so still—
When one bright morning, loud and clear,
Its whistle smote my drowsy ear,
Ten times repeated, till the sound
Filled every echoing niche around;
And all things earliest loved by me,—
The bird, the brook, the flower, the tree,—
Came back again, as thus I heard
The cardinal bird."

Taken from the poem "The Cardinal Bird" by William Davis Gallagher


Nothing sets the stage for the holiday season for me like a bright red Northern Cardinal in the snow.


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Debbie, Rojee el Bandido (the redbird/male Northern Cardinal whose personality and seasonal song permeates our humble mostly adobe abode) with his effervescent sentient being demonstratively illustrates what Gallagher wrote.

Speaking of redbirds/cardinals, in late March/early April, 2014 I will be birding in El Fuerte (Sinaloa), the Copper Canyon (Chihuahua) and Alamos (Sonora) and one of the species at the very top of my "target" list that I would be thrilled to see is a Pyrrhuloxia.

Pyrrhuloxia's are often referred to as the "desert cardinal." The male is mostly greyish but just above and below his beak is bright red along with having a breast, crest,wings and tail splashed with red. They primarily occur alongside Northern Cardinals in the dry country of the American Southwest and Northwestern/Northcentral Mexico.

Oh Pyrrholoxia,
How I long to see ya.

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BARRIERS TO OPTIMAL BIRDING WHERE I LIVE (in order of occurrence and explanation when required)

1. Night/Darkness- Unless you go owling!
2. Wind-Throughout the year, Churintzio makes Honolulu, Boston, and Chicago, the windiest cities in the U.S., seem calm in comparison. The smaller birds in particular when the winds are strong are nowhere to be seen as they are holding on for dear life deep inside bushes and shrubs.
3. Overcast Conditions
4. Rain
5. Mud-during the rainy season at times most of the trails are virtually impassable unless one is will to walk, er, I mean trudge, mas o menos, ankle deep in mud for extended periods of time.
6. Festivals, feasts, holidays, processions and celebrations-HUH? AY CARAMBA! Mexico is well known for its plethora of celebratory events. In Churintzio, most of, if not all of those occasions include seemingly non-stop BOOM BOOM BOOMS in the form of rocket cannons and myriad types of fireworks. The birds in the nearby trails get rattled by this constant noise and temporarily disappear, many heading far off into the hills. So, it's off to the hills for me too during those times!
7. Cattle-They oftentimes are massed on the trails and most of the time they will move out of the way on their on volition when I want to pass by them. However, if there are calves, the mothers or bulls may get extremely hostile and aggressive and sometimes, discretion is the better part of valor and I exit stage left (or in whatever direction they don't inhabit, preventing me from getting to my original destination).
8. Snakes of the venomous variety- If one stays on the trails, snakes if they are seen are easy to avoid as they typically aren't looking for trouble. However, if one leaves the trails and goes into the high grass, who know what one may unexpectedly encounter. So, although I have never had to use it, I carry with me at all times when birding a bottle of anti-venom in case I ever get bit by local inhabitants like coral and rattle snakes. Unlike many of the locals of the human variety, I do not carry with me a machete as many times I have seen beheaded snakes, whether or not they were venomous!
9. Mexican military-One time I was stopped by army personnel three times while birding/hiking on the trails as a high ranking officer involved in drug interdiction was assassinated a couple days before by some "bad guys" affiliated with drug trafficking in Michoacan.
10. Household chores-Nah, doing them is never a barrier to my going birding as I have my priorities in order and hopefully they can wait until nightfall or beyond!!!

In these parts, extreme cold or heat are not an issue as daytime temperatures rarely get below 50 degrees Fahrenheit or higher than the high 80s.

Where you live, are there any BBs (Birding Barriers) that I have not included?

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A New Year's cuckoos gift!

A TAIL OF TWO CUCKOOS


Mexico is home to twelve species of birds that are in the cuckoo family. Where I live in the Western Central Highlands of Michoacan occur two of those family members, albeit strikingly different in appearance and behavior, the groove-billed ani and the lesser roadrunner. One, the more common, less elusive, and less reclusive anis I get multiple “great looks” of virtually every day on the trails near my home while the other, the roadrunner, I only can get a quick glimpse of about one in ten times when I do my daily birding. Nonetheless, both are a thrill to observe and appreciate.

These two species of cuckoos only have two major physical characteristics in common. Like all cuckoos, their feet are zygodactyl meaning unlike songbirds that have a three-toes-forward and one-toe-back arrangement, they have a two-toes-forward and two-toes-back arrangement. Their only other important external anatomical similarity is that they both have long tails whose outer feathers are shorter than the inner, giving the tail a rounded look. Other than that, these cuckoos are well beyond being birds of a different feather!

Approximately 13" long, the groove-billed ani is a medium-large sized blackbird with a sometimes hard to discern iridescent blue and green sheen on its head and breast. An odd bird in both looks and demeanor, I like to describe them as displaying both a “serious” and “whimsical” appearance. Along with a curious slicked-backed crown these anis have a large thick curved rounded beak which has parallel horizontal grooves. Consequently, to some observers they “look like grackles with somebody else’s head.” In flight they flap their wings and then gracefully glide to where they are heading all the while their tail appears as if it is on a hinge as it swings in all directions in a pendulum-like manner. Oftentimes, I see them “sunbathing” similar to anhinghas or cormorants as when perched they spread out their wings at “weird” and varying angles.

These tropical birds range from Southern Texas through Mexico, Central America, and into Venezuela, Ecuador, and Peru. They inhabit open and partly open country-pastures, savannas, orchards, and fields. Where I live, these ground foraging cuckoos are typically seen cutely yet ungracefully hopping around in small groups of 5-8 amidst similarly minded cattle egrets near grazing or resting cattle in their pursuit of stirred up insects-they also eat seeds and fruit. Additionally, I see them hanging out with cattle egrets at the municipal dump where carcasses of animals along with chicken feathers are discarded as that is a prime territory for their locating and consuming their insect prey.

Extremely social, they are known to intriguingly breed in pairs of 1-5 and share communally one nest where all group members in a highly territorial fashion incubate and then care for up to 20 babies. Also part of their social and cooperative nature as it relates to preserving the safety of their group, are the anis many vocalizations. Easy to identify in advance of seeing them, I have heard all of their known “voices” ranging from their frequent sharp, high whistles to slurred whining, squeaks, pips, squeals, and even “growls.”

Conversely, their distinctly different cuckoo brethren, the lesser roadrunner, is the antithesis of social. Of the dozens of the fleeting sightings (none lasting more then 15 seconds and most much less) only twice have I ever seen more than one of these 16-20 inch primarily terrestrial birds at a time- although when not solitary, they will be in monogamous pairings perhaps for life. With their long legs, powerful feet and with their “cocky” crested head with its oversized dark beak and its long tail both in prototypical road runner fashion held erect, when I see them its normally on trails as they skitter/run a few feet and then fly barely off the ground a few feet and then suddenly disappear into the dry semi-open field or scattered brushy chaparral. Moreover, perhaps I have heard their call as they are hidden away in the brush, but I am not sure, as their sound is said to be a series of low moaning dove-like coos but somewhat louder.

You see (however briefly), these non-migratory, short-winged roadrunners who are capable of running 18mph/30km are ground dwelling cuckoos who in pursuit of their prey (or during any other daily living activity) much prefer to sprint rather than fly; only to get their streamline dark brown with tan and white streaked bodies over obstacles like short walls or to escape predators will they fly any distance at all. True omnivores, lesser roadrunners while on the ground will pursue and eat insects, scorpions, frogs, and small reptiles (including lizards and small rattlesnakes that will be consumed whole). Unlike their cuckoo counterparts, the greater roadrunner which inhabits the Southwestern USA and Northern Mexico, the lesser roadrunners are endemic to Southwestern Mexico, a tiny segment of the Northwestern Yucatan Peninsula, and Northern Central America.

Fortunately, both of these cuckoo family members who are a joy to behold even though they are largely disparate by looks and habit, are listed in terms of their evaluation status as being of “least concern,” meaning they are not close to being considered endangered or even at-risk. Even though in my area, the last couple of years some of the nesting habitat of the groove-billed anis has been destroyed by the property owners of the cattle grazing lands, somehow they remain delightfully and abundantly viewable. As for the far less frequently seen lesser roadrunners, I really wish that when birding with my wife, Maria, who is fluent in both English and Spanish, as sometimes I am looking at another type of bird, when seeing a roadrunner would get my attention by spontaneously saying “roadrunner” or “correcaminos,” instead of what she always excitedly does by going “look, look it’s a ahh, ahh, ahh.”

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Les........thank you for a very informative and enjoyable post about these two species of cuckoo. Any bird sporting a long tail is quite interesting to me, bright plumage or not.

As the temperatures plummet here to 15 below zero at night, I wonder how all the little birds who winter here survive such cold, when being outside for human beings is downright dangerous. I know the birds fluff up, find shelter, lower their metabolism, and often gather in numbers to press together to conserve body heat, but those little things seem so ill equipped to deal with such arctic cold.

"Five English sparrows, defying the weather,
There in the pathway a conference hold;
Ho! merry midgets in doublets of feathers!
Why do you rally out there in the cold?"

~Taken from poem Winter Birds by Andrew Downing


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Thanks Debbie for the birdy cold weather report! Some of you may want to check out a short but information packed article on the Backyard Bird Center by Mark McKellar titled How Do Birds Survive the Winter to discover the varying means depending on the species in which those remarkable sentient beings "rally out there in the cold" "defying the weather."

As stated in that article I find it remarkably fascinating that "cold temperatures are survivable by most birds, it is the covering of the food source that is the main problem. Ground feeders and waterfowl know that their food sources are going to be covered up quickly, but arboreal (tree dwelling) species like evening grosbeaks and crossbills can ride out the same 'cold' conditions that juncos and snow geese had to abandon."

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From the aforementioned Mark McKellar article, I found the following most interesting especially about the pluses and minuses of birds being in the state of torpor: "Hummingbirds and a few other species can drop their body temperatures drastically. This condition is known as torpor. For species, like hummingbirds, with extremely high metabolic rates, this is the only way they do not 'starve to death' while sleeping. Hypothermia and torpor do not come without hazards. A bird in torpor can't take off and fly if danger approaches, in fact, it can take up to an hour for a bird to regain full muscle control."

For a more romanticized perception of birds surviving in the cold, the following is from The Snowbird by Caroline Spencer:

He sits in winter's sleet, and the snow is round his feet,
But he cares not for the cold;
For his little cheerful heart thinks the snow as fair a part
As the summer's green and gold.

On the branches bare and brown, with their crystals for a crown,
Sits the tiny winter bird;
In the dark and stormy days lightening the lonely ways
With his constant cheery word.


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Do you think we help birds in the winter by putting birdfeeders out? Do you think it helps some birds stay for the season who would otherwise leave? Does it make them more dependent on us? If the supply of feed stops will it put the birds at risk?

I wonder.....


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Originally Posted By: Debbie-SpiritualityEditor
Do you think we help birds in the winter by putting birdfeeders out? Do you think it helps some birds stay for the season who would otherwise leave? Does it make them more dependent on us? If the supply of feed stops will it put the birds at risk?

I wonder.....


Me too???????

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As for the question should any birds be held in captivity???????


Northern Cardinals Should Be In the Wild But…

My reasons for obtaining Rojee el Bandido/Red the Bandit were primarily twofold. Having lived in Mexico for about one year, my menagerie of “pet” birds had grown to exclusively include more traditional “captive” birds: four budgerigars, a cockatiel, and a West Mexican orange-fronted parakeet aka a half-moon conure. Although I thoroughly enjoyed being the primary caregiver for those members of the parrot family, I wanted to experience being trained by a less traditional “pet” bird. Just as compelling, if not more so, when I saw Rojee, a male Northern cardinal in a way too small cage with many other cardinals for sale being fed a diet of only seeds and believing that I could provide for him an environment far superior to that of most Mexicans who would only desire him for his beauty and singing ability and not offer the emotional and physical care that he deserved, I decided to “rescue” him from his present and probable abysmal long-term fate.

You see, in Mexico, as are all songbirds, it is legal to purchase Northern cardinals as “pets.” In the U.S., they are extremely popular and well-regarded as evidenced that they are the state bird of seven states-Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia. However, unlike Mexico where they commonly are kept in captivity and in Europe where they are a very popular aviary bird, in the U.S., along with approximately 800 species of birds, their sale as caged birds has been banned by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

Purchased when he was about four months old, for more than five years, Rojee has been part of our household. He is housed in an extra large cage that is equipped with at least nine natural perches placed at varying heights and angles, both lengthwise and widthwise, from which during daylight hours when he is not eating, actively, he is virtually perpetually hopping back and forth, up and down. During the day for at least eight hours, weather permitting, he and all of the other birds are in our open courtyard.

As much as possible, albeit without the insects that make up a considerable part of an omnivorous cardinal’s diet in the wild, the food that is provided for him daily is somewhat representative of what he would be eating if he were out in nature. Since he is a grosbeak with a heavy conical bill that allows him to eat a wider variety of seeds than birds with smaller bills like finches and sparrows, in addition to mixed seeds and the stalks of field seed that I gather after the local crop is harvested, he gets and easily devours sunflower seeds. Of all of my birds, Rojee receives and consumes the most fruit and typically gets a minimum of five fruits daily; his favorite fruits are those that are either red or dark in color such as red prickly pears, strawberries, watermelon. red grapes, red or purple plums, red or yellow guavas, mangoes, pappaya,and peaches. For snacks that he seems to look forward to receiving regularly at 3PM, he particularly enjoys unsalted peanuts and unsalted popcorn. Additionally, he enjoys millet, steamed brown and white rice, corn and flour tortillas, tostadas, bread, and steamed corn. As cardinals are often ground foragers, all of his food is placed on the bottom of his cage.

Unlike many male cardinals that I have seen in captivity whose red color have declined, Rojee’s has remained appropriately vibrant. There are two major reasons for this. One is his diet (although sans insects and spiders) from which he is obtaining many of the necessary carotenoids that lend his species its famous red color and the other is the fact that he is outdoors a good part of the day.

From what I understand and have observed, Northern cardinals, like finches, are not known in the least as being “interactive” with their human caregivers. This was particularly true with Rojee, as for the first year or so he was so “reticent” or “shy” (anthropomorphically speaking) that he waited for me to be out of his range of view before even eating, or in season, singing. Yet, over time, perhaps as a result of my respecting his boundaries, our “relationship” has radically changed. Now, he seems to look forward to my talking to him, singling him out for praise or additional attention, and, especially, to “our time together” when I mimic his frequent verbalization of “teet-teet-teet” and he comes as close as possible to me while verbalizing. Most surprisingly and atypically, as related to me by my wife, Maria, who only provides care to him and the other eight birds when I am off on a birding trip somewhere in Mexico, is that Rojee will stop his singing while I am away, but when I return home he resumes those wonderful and natural vocalizations; somehow, he and I have formed a special bond.

Interestingly, in the wild the lifespan of a Northern cardinal, mostly due to natural predation, averages three years. Yet, in captivity, if properly cared for, they may live fifteen or even twenty years. With much conflicted and ambiguous feelings, it is beyond my capacity to say if Rojee or any Northern cardinal is “better off” in captivity.

However, what I do know and feel is this. A while back, when birding in a ravine less than ten minutes from our home in the western central region of Mexico, I had a millisecond glimpse of a bright red bird foraging in the dense underbrush. Could it have been a rarely seen in our area male summer tanager? To my utter surprise, although widespread in Mexico but not known to occur in my adopted state of Michoacan, when he came out of the brush and perched ever so briefly, it was apparent that the bird was, unmistakably, a brilliant red, black masked, orange billed and large crested male Northern cardinal. Although extremely unlikely, could Rojee somehow gotten out of his cage? In a semi-panic, I rushed back home to see. Was I ever relieved and glad to view Rojee, naturally or not, hopping back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, all the while “teet, teet, teeting”…

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I am coming back as Rojee Shulman in my next life! Lestie says. For the fruit to be sure! Smile now as I am for a fine post and discussion and all and all. Cheers.


Lestie Mulholland
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Zesty Lestie, Rojee extends you his teet, teet, teeting enthusiastic best vibing wishes that you live a long and prosperous life as he is well aware that one cannot live on carrots alone. Lance B. says nice to see that you are at your formatting best now and that you will hopefully soon be avatarizing!

Tomorrow early in the AM, as I also did last week, I will be venturing off by bus to the small town of Zinaparo (Zinapo being the local word for obsidiana) which is 10 kilometers from Churintzio.

There, instead of "killing two birds with one stone" (even acknowledging that idiom's figurative meaning, I wish killing could be substituted by a more bird friendly word),I will be experiencing the following: I will be visually/and or aurally appreciating up to a couple of dozen species of birds, a mother lode of multiple types (black, brown, mahogany, rainbow, silver sheen and gold sheen) of world class obsidian, along with artifacts made from that volcanic material, many gorgeous free ranging horses, and outstanding scenery/vistas while on my four hour or so hike.

In a decidedly non-killing sense, in that dry, hilly, and chaparral terrain my target birds will be spotted wrens, lesser roadrunner(s), common ravens, blue-grey gnatcatchers, and, of course, vermies.

Where you bird, are you able to multitask and, if so, what are you able to kill, er, I mean appreciate?

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I would be a single-minded early birdie and the one that got the worm!


Lestie Mulholland
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"Pack up all my cares and woes,
Here i go, singing low,
Bye, bye, blackbird."...


"Make my bed and light the light,
I'll arrive late tonight,
Blackbird,
I said blackbird,
I said blackbird,
Oh, blackbird, bye, bye."


Streak-Backed Orioles a Blackbird of Different Colors

Every two weeks when I go from my home in Churintzio,Michoacan to Zamora, I often see streak-backed orioles. Yet, rather than being thrilled to view them as these gorgeous and behaviorally fascinating birds are one of my local favorites, I am quite saddened and dismayed. Rather than being in their natural habitat, they are “for sale” in Zamora’s expansive open-marketplace being pedaled and peddled by pajareros/roving bird sellers as they are “displayed” in tiny cages. Unlike the active, vibrant and healthy songbirds that I almost daily see in nature, those held in barbaric captivity appear relatively lethargic, unkempt and frail-looking and somehow, although they really aren’t, seem close-up to me to be smaller than their definitely ought-to-be out-in-nature relatives.

Streak-backed orioles, like all New World orioles, are members of the Icterid family, the same avian family as blackbirds, cowbirds, grackles, meadowlarks, caciques and oropendolas. They are one of fifteen species of orioles that occur in Mexico. Primarily a Mexican bird, these typically non-migratory, year round residents in Mexico range from the country’s far north occurring down most of its Pacific slope. In the U.S., they are perhaps the most scarce of the neotropical orioles and may rarely be seen as “casual visitors” usually in the fall and winter in southeastern Arizona and southern California; as an “accidental vagrant” they also may quite infrequently be seen in Oregon, Texas and Colorado. Also, they are rarely seen in the Central American country of Costa Rica.

Adults average in size between 7.5”-9,” with the males being larger than the females. They are sexually dimorphic (there are visually differences between the sexes), interestingly much more so in its northern and central range. Where I live, the Western Pacific region of the country (albeit more than 100 miles inland), it is quite easy at a momentary glance to color-wise tell the females from the males, but when I was on a birding trip in the southern state of Oaxaca, the sexes were hard to distinguish from one another. It is believed that in the south of Mexico this fascinating ecological difference is the result of their being year-round territorial as the females must assist the males in all territorial concerns whereas in the north only in the breeding season are they territorial.

In Churintzio, the adult males that I view typically have bright flame orange-red heads and chests (that is why at one time they were called “flame-headed orioles”), bright orange under parts, yellow-orange backs with black spotted lengthwise streaks (hence, their name “streak-backed”), black wings with white bars and a black tail with white outer tips. The females’ colorings are much duller and muted compared to the males; consequently, the males could be described as being a bright orange oriole and the females as being a yellowish one. Regardless of sex, they all have distinctive black bibs, stout, fairly long and sharply pointed metallic-looking grey bills and strong legs and feet. They are very similar in appearance to both hooded orioles and Bullock’s orioles. Yet, of all the local species of birds that I see, arguably (as I am only arguing with myself), I consider them, along with male vermilion flycatchers and male blue grosbeaks, to be the most lovely birds in my day-to-day viewing area.

Their usual habitat is arid and semi-arid scrubby open areas, brushy woodlands and fields/plantations. On my virtually daily birding hikes on the trails near my house, that is the terrain where they appear year-round. Like the curve-billed thrashers and golden-fronted woodpeckers, I often see them on nopal cactus, particularly when the cactus’ flowers are in bloom or when its fruit, the prickly pears are ripening. Their diet consists mostly of insects (which they often snag midair after a quick burst of flight) and berries, soft fruits, flower nectar and plant buds which they forage for in trees and shrubs.

Often, like with many species of birds, I hear and identify them before I see them as vocally they exhibit an unmistakable dry, hard chattering (or what I prefer to call “streak-backed rattling”) as they are temporarily out of view as they forage in the shrubs on the periphery of the corn or millet fields. Their song, to me, is a rather unmelodious warble, not as appealing or memorable as two other local appearing songbirds, the blue grosbeaks and the aforementioned curve-billed thrashers. Frequently, they issue forth with a series of clear wheet-wheet-wheet call notes.

Once in a while locally I will spot one of their nests as they are quite distinctive. Hanging down from the branches of trees, their weaver-style nests are woven, elongated pouches that look like small baskets. Normally they are made from plant fibers, grasses and tree bark. The last time that I was in the “birders paradise” of San Blas, Nayarit, I discovered that their nests were almost identical to that of their familial avian cousins, yellow-winged caciques, except for the fact that the caciques’ were even more elongated.

As the literature reports, and my experience with them attests to, they are seen either singly or in groups, oftentimes associating with other species of orioles. Perhaps my most memorable all-time birding experience occurred just before sunset one winter’s day at what for good reason I call the “oriole tree” which in a cleared area is about 100 yards from Churintzio’s “Cemetery Pond.” There, that early evening with their typical strong direct flight with rapid wing beats multiple species of orioles were flying in and out of that tree. At one time, delightfully awe-struck I counted thirty-five orioles (I so wish that I could have seen the unexposed to me back of the tree as there must have been many more there!), the vast majority were streak-backed but there were also some bullock’s and two black-vented orioles. With the setting sun beaming in on the orioles, the orioles gloriously looked like lit yellow, orange, red and black Christmas ornaments. This year, the most streaked-backed that I have seen at any one time at “oriole tree” was “only” twelve which isn’t exactly chopped liver either!

So, I hope you can see why I prefer by an exponentially compelling factor, and so should you, to view those gorgeous streak-backed orioles out in nature rather than in some cage. Even though conservation-wise, they are of “least concern” as their population is abundant, THERE OUGHT TO BE A LAW! Alas, you see, unfortunately there is not as in Mexico it is legal to sell all species of songbirds as “pets.” Que lastima”/What a pity!

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"If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, does that mean it is a duck?"

Or it could mean that it is a Teal which is a dabbler (ok, a duck!)that although it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks (at least the females vocalize quackingly) like a duck quite often feeds by swimming forward slowly in shallow water with their bills partially submerged.

Bing! Bing! Bing!
For the first time since I have been paying attention to birds as I do not remember seeing any of them there before, over thirty Blue-Winged Teals and at least one male Cinnamon Teal have been hanging out at Cemetery Pond for a week or so. Hopefully they will stay there until it is time for them to head North.

In flight the BWTs, these rather smallish ducks (15"-16" as opposed to many species of ducks that are over 20" like Mallards and Canvasbacks), prominently show how they got their colorful name as their wings are an appealing shade of blue. When swimming, that patch of blue on their wings is mostly hidden.

To winter in Mexico, they may fly thousands of miles as their home territories are in the Northern U.S. and Canada as they are strongly migratory preferring to avoid cold weather more than most species of ducks.

In a year where atypically not many wading birds like herons of varying kinds have not made an appearance (or stayed long!) at Cemetery Pond since primarily due to last year's drought there apparently is not enough fish in it to support them, it is great to see these teals joining other swimmers/divers there like coots, grebes and moorhens who also subsist on the underneath vegetation of which there is plenty!

Time for LSS and myself to head off to CP to see if the BTs are still there and if I can see if there is more than one CT.

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Wow Les, you certainly have a great variety of water birds in your area for your optimum enjoyment.

Seems that even in the height of bird activity in the summer I don't see even half of the amount of different water birds you see at any one of the fresh water bodies around here. I will see the typical Mallard Ducks and Canada Geese, and rarely a pair of Mute Swans. Now and then I will see a Blue Heron or a Snowy Egret, but that is not very often.

Thanks for sharing!


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As I think more about it, probably the lack of variety around here is due to the great amount of developed land around these water bodies. So much human interference in the surrounding land is most likely a deterrent to many species.

On another note, I thoroughly enjoyed your post about Rojee. Even though I believe the Northern Cardinal should be left in the wild, because he was already in captivity at an age when he should have learned survival skills to exist outside, you certainly did him a great service by taking him in. The care you provide him daily far surpasses the typical care that he would have been given by someone else in the area. Rojee is obviously quite happy.

Kudos to you, Les!


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Thanks Debbie! Soon Rojee will be grosbeaking on one of his favorites, a (out of season) mango.

Speaking of water birds(?), bing bing bing serendipitously the other day I was thrilled to see in way inland Churintzio two flocks of 12-16 American White Pelicans as they were migrating southwest as they do every year around this time. They were part of a great migration that even makes the news here! Quite a sight!

Shrike Tree
In a field sits only one tree,
Often with a Loggerhead Shrike atop of it, solitar-ily.
Perched so confidently
Is this tiny bird so predatory.
For two days I did not see
Either him or any other member of his family.
On the third day I was filled with glee,
For then I saw, bing-bing-bing, shrike three.

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Have just caught up with all your posts Les......all fascinating, informative and gosh you have been busy - Birding editor in all but name.

Agree with Debbie masses of birds have been driven away, or out out of existence by 'us' basically. Really sad. Can see the difference in Germany, where pesticides, even for home gardeners, are heavily regulated, as are 'wild areas' and there are so many different varieties of bird regardless of species.

France, where it is a case of taking one's life into one's own hands as far as the pesticides in the air go for a great deal of the year, plus nature reserves are a bit of a joke, the sighting of almost any type of bird/butterfly/bee is cause for a huge celebration.

As for caged birds - in Brussels there was (probably still is) a bird market in the town center every week. It was pitiful to see these tiny things shivering, rammed up against each other to keep warm in miniscule cages. All from 'somewhere else', certainly not Europe, and totally legal. Used to avoid Brussels on Sunday, but did sign petitions run by we 'sensitive' (a description given to us by a Belgian official) expats, and make formal protests.

We did have two caged birds there which we brought to Germany, but only because they belonged to my youngest son's 2nd grade class and the pupils and teacher lost interest so they were going to have their necks 'rung'. We ended up with them and they lived in style in a huge cage we bought them, almost more suitable for two eagles, for the rest of their days.

How lucky you are to be surrounded by so much wildlife Les smile



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Ah Les you are a quick and clever writer
And all that besides being a smart bird sighter
Now what would happen if you were to write "Yikes!"
Today I saw four and even more types of Shrikes.

I tell you what would happen ... we would read your messages for sure and love your bird descriptions.

Oh Ogden, what have you started?!

Cheers now



Last edited by Lestie4containergardens; 01/28/14 07:00 AM.

Lestie Mulholland
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I love your avatar, Lestie! So bright, cheerful, and lovely.


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