Friday, December 29, 2006

Xmas Birds

On December 23rd, my father reported that he had seen a great blue heron while jogging around Claypit Pond in front of my high school. My mother and I came to check it out. Sure enough, standing on a submerged stone near the stream that feeds it, there was a great blue heron, just relaxing and looking so sweet.

Now, as far as I could remember, I had never seen anything other than mallards and Canadian geese at this pond. It's right in front of my high school, so I spent a lot of time looking at it. To be fair, I wasn't as interested in identifying birds in high school, but I would've been able to spot a heron. My mother and father often jog or walk around the pond (exactly .6 miles in circumference, it was carefully measured for track practice), and this was the first time they had seen one too. My mother reported that she had been seeing a cormorant in the past 2 weeks, but only recently.

I went back the next morning with my brother, Jamie, and we saw the cormorant was sitting right on a pipe that stuck above the water, about 10 feet out from the shore. Just then, I saw a belted kingfisher fly from one tree to another. This was the first time I have ever seen and identified a kingfisher, so I was very excited.

Belted Kingfisher:

Just as I was riding high on my kingfisher sighting, my brother remarked, "Don't you remember the time on Martha's Vineyard I caught a kingfisher that had swallowed a fish hook and took it to the Audubon society to save it? Oh, I guess you weren't there." My brother is friend to all creatures.

We walked around the pond, looking for the heron, and instead stumbled up my favorite lil' guy in the whole world - a black-crowned night-heron! This was a juvenile, mostly brown with white flecks. He was on this tiny island that's about 5 feet from the shore, just sitting on a fallen branch that hung out over the water.

My brother agreed with me that these night herons were like the bunny rabbits of the bird world. Extremely huggable.

Oh yeah, there were also hooded mergansers. Those have definitely never been in the pond before this year.

Hooded Merganser:

For Christmas, my father gave me a high-powered scope and tripod, so I feel like a real bonafide birder now. I can't wait to impress other birders with my high-tech equipment.

On Christmas day, I went back to the pond with my parents to test out the scope. I tried taking some pictures by "digi-scoping" (sticking my digital camera up to the eyepiece of the scope), which I had heard worked quite well. I didn't have great results, but I think it might take patience and a better camera.

After the pond, my parents and I traveled to another pond in Belmont, where we saw a bunch of mallards and one long domestic white duck. The domestic white duck was being followed by two male mallards that had very pale green heads. I am pretty sure that the domestic duck must've mated with a mallard and produced a hybrid offspring.

I need to look into this more to see if this is a common phenomenon.

Also, near the mallard pond, we saw two huge red-tailed hawks.

Christmas was huge.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Turkey Day

I was apart from my family this Thanksgiving, as they celebrated in the typical somber traditional New England Thanksgiving fashion: they went to a French restaurant on Martha's Vineyard.

My mother called me on Thursday, and mentioned that my brother, who has a true and profound gift for hunting/capturing wildlife (let me be clear - he has never "hunted" a day in his life with a real gun or killed anything. But he can track and catch almost anything. At age 8, he caught a wild rabbit in a net, which if you know how fast rabbits run, is very impressive) was out looking for turkey to photograph.

I've always known there are wild turkeys in Martha's Vineyard, but they always seem up just pop up when you're not looking for them, especially in Felix's Neck, the Audubon reserve there. I doubted Jamie would have any luck if he went out specifically looking for turkeys.

But I can't doubt Jamie Notopoulos's skill. And blind luck, I suppose - he found turkeys blocking traffic by crossing the road in a busy intersection.

My uncle has a song he'd sing every Thanksgiving that goes "Oh, the turkey ran away... before Thanksgiving Day... GOBBLE GOBBLE GOBBLE GOBBLE!!!"

According to another bird watching blogger, there has been a turkey camping out at Battery Park City last week. A DC Birding Blog - "Turkey at the Battery"

Lucky turkeys on Turkey Day. photo by Jamie Notopoulos

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Downy Woodpecker Sighting

I still think it always feels like a special day on your birthday. Yesterday was Eric's birthday, and it was unseasonably warm. We were eating lunch outside in Madison Square Park, and I noticed a bird in one of the trees which was pecking at the branch. I haven't seen anything other than a house sparrow or pigeon in that park, even in summer, but this was definitely a tiny female downy woodpecker.

I also saw some small perching bird that had a forked tail, definitely not a field sparrow, but it was getting dark and I was unable to make out any other details than the silhouette.

Sadly, I didn't see this website until today, or else Eric would've been getting some choice extinct mammal models. Xmas, anyone?

Birthday Surprise:

Friday, November 17, 2006

I'm just trying to impress Micky Hervitz

I made my first Wikipedia edit this week. My contribution (in bold) is the second from last paragraph, about Konrad Gesner.

"A Jenny Haniver is a ray or a skate which have been modified and subsequently dried, resulting in a grotesque preserved specimen unlike anything else.

One suggestion for the term was "jeune de Antwerp" (the French call Antwerp, Anvers), that is "young girl of Antwerp." British sailors "cockneyed" this description into the personal name "Jenny Hanvers."

For centuries, sailors sat on the Antwerp docks and carved these "mermaids" out of dried cuttlefish. They then preserved them further with a coat of varnish. They supported themselves by selling their artistic creations to working sailors as well as to tourists visiting the docks.

Jenny Hanivers have been created to look like devils, angels and dragons. Some writers have suggested the sea monk may have been a Jenny Haniver.

The earliest known picture of a Jenny Haniver appeared in Konrad Gesner's Historia Animalium vol. IV in 1558. Gesner and warned these were merely disfigured rays, and should not be believed to be minature dragons or monsters, which was a popular misconception at the time. It is possible that Jenny Hanivers were the source of some tales of dragons during the Middle Ages, and they affirmed people's belief in dragons.

Haniver is Monster in My Pocket #22."

Wikipedia - "Jenny Haniver"

I am really curious about who mentioned the "Monster in My Pocket" toy series. BTW, there's a super extensive Wikipedia about those toys. That's the problem with Wikipedia - only the things that total nerds care about have really extensive pages. Like some dumb toy monsters.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Reunion Petrel

I've been looking into some information on shearwaters and petrels on the internet. I've never seen either of these kinds of birds; I think they tend to stay farther out to sea, so they are harder to spot.

I'm getting a little stuck on finding out information about one species, the reunion petrel. I can't actually seem to find out if it's extinct or just endangered. I found one site that listed several species of endangered petrels, and it listed the reunion petrel as having only 3 specimens left. Suspiciously, it listed several other species as having less than 10 existing birds. Then I found it listed on some lists of extinct birds.

Further research is required on this. I think I am getting some bad information from dubious sources.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Kouprey News

I've been pretty interested in the story of whether or not the kouprey - an elusive Cambodian wild ox - has been determined to be a true species, or just a hybrid of other ox species. The Journal of Zoology just put out an article about the recent findings, which are still inconclusive. It's looking like it's leaning to the fact that they're just hybrids, which is an embarrassment for the Cambodians, who have named the kouprey their national animal. As if things aren't hard enough over there.

National Geographic News - Cambodia's National Animal Never Existed, Scientists Say

Thursday, November 02, 2006

A New Life Bird for Katie

I forgot to mention that last week I went on a pleasant birdwatching stroll in the Stoneham Fells. I kind of got lost and then scared that I would get murdered out in the woods, but then I just re-traced my steps back to the entrance to the hiking path. The weirdest part when I saw about 9 dogs off the leash being walked by a girl about my age. I just couldn't figure out how she could've gotten all those dogs into a car, or even how she could walk them on a leash on the street all at once. The other creepy thing I saw was that when I was walking across the nearly empty parking lot, a guy in a parked S.U.V. climbed from his backseat to his front seat when he saw me coming. WHAT WAS HE DOING IN HIS BACKSEAT??? I was pretty sure he was going to follow me into the woods and kill me.

Again, I saw some birds I couldn't positively i.d. I got really hungry and wanted to go home, and plus I was still scared about getting murdered where no one could hear me scream.

The birds I did see (all of them first-time identifications for me) were:

Hermit Thrush

White Breastead Nuthatch

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

New Old Bird

New fossils of a 10ft tall, carnivourous prehistoric bird was found in Argentina. Hugo Hervitz probably already knew about it.

NY Times - Fossil Found of a Big Bird That Kermit Wouldn't Like

As yet unnamed bird:

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Hungry pelicans.

I can always count on Josh Stein for something. What that something is, I'll never quite know. Today he sent me an email with nothing but a link to this story about a pelican in a London park that ate a pigeon.

I'm glad that if nothing else, Josh and I will always share a love of pelican news.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Condor dreams

I can't stop thinking about those possible California condors. I really, really want to believe that I saw one. There was one point when we were driving around the winding cliffside roads, and we came around a turn and almost ran into a group of birders looking through binouclars at a large bird which was hovering only about 50 feet above the road. Whether the group was looking at the bird just because it was low-flying, or because they knew it was a condor for sure, I wish I knew. I think that bird was the best candiate for possible condor I saw.

There was also a point where we saw 3 birds all at once, and one landed on a rooftop on the cliff. I was watching this bird on the roof lumber around, and after a minute, it hopped down onto a lower perch. It was hard to guess the scale and so I couldn't really say how big the bird was, but the way it jumped made me think it was a very large creature.

I just want to be able to brag that I really saw one.

Last night I dreamt that I had uncovered fossil evidence of a condor ancestor that was identical to fossils found more easterly. I then planned on finiding a condor fossil in the Eastern U.S. that would prove my theory that condors have lived in the east in the past. But somehow, someone else took the credit for my fossil findings. I think this part of the dream was directly related to watching the Whoopi Goldberg movie "The Associate" where she invents a male business partner to attract clients, and then they give all the credit to the ficticious partner. If only I could have dreams of "Made in America".

Thursday, October 19, 2006


So I'm telling my mother on the phone last night about how I wasn't sure if what I saw in Big Sur was a condor or just a turkey vulture, and she says, "Well, isn't a condor just WAY bigger? You couldn't tell?"

Totally put in my place by mom! SNAP!!!

This from a woman who recently told me she saw a large bird in a tree, and wasn't sure if it was a turkey vulture or a turkey.

I just got my skillz DISSED!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Things are always cuter when they're smaller

Extinct dwarf water buffalo has been discovered. Closely related to water buffalos in Indonesia, but tinier, therefore the cuteness is exponentially compounded.

It lived between 10,000 and 100,000 years ago, meaning it was still alive when humans crossed the land bridge to North American 12,000 years ago. It was the perfect size for homo florensesis (if they even existed) to buck around on around in a pre-human rodeo.

Dwarf buffalo

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Birding in Big Sur

I was in Big Sur this weekend for a wedding (congratulations Sara and Sean). I drove up and down the coast from LA. I have to admit I saw many many birds that I couldn't positively i.d.

Here's a list of the ones I did:

- Steller's Jay (these were everywhere in Big Sur. They're scavengers looking for people food)
- Western Gull
- Dark-eyed Junco
- Black throated hummingbird (my first hummingbird!)
- Golden Eagle
- Turkey vulture (saw more of these than probably ever in my life combined)
- Brown Pelican
- Spotted towhee
- Common grackle
- American Kestrel

The big question was if I saw a California condor or not. Some of the birds I assumed to be Turkey vultures were far enough away that perhaps they were actually condors. Condors are known to live in Big Sur, and there is even a nesting pair according to this article. I like to think that perhaps we saw some, but some of the large, black, soaring birds we saw were too far to be sure.

Steller's Jay in an outdoor restaurant. This guy was particularly haggard and bold.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Scariest YouTube video blog ever.

This guy has 4 videos up on youtube, all "Bird of Prey" Parts 1-4. All have the same video clip of a vulture and his creepy singing. God, I need a webcam so I can truly express my feelings.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

New Green Day Song Material

My new band is probably going to write a lot of songs about how life in the suburbs sucks. But my bleak lyrics won't be anything compared to the real scourge of the burbs - roving baboon "gangs" in suburban Johannesburg, South Africa. Baboons are breaking into people's houses, raiding their fridges and pooping all over.

I'm no wuss, but if I saw a baboon in my kitchen, I would probably take a pause from dying my hair and cutting myself, and wet my pants. Baboons are huge and scary. I think probably 4 baboons could kill me. I could probably hold off one or two if I had a knife.

Menacing Baboons:

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Weekend Plans

With the recent announcement about ivory-billed woodpeckers in Florida, I can hardly contain my excitement for this weekend's excursion to Maine for a cryptozoology adventure. Bates Colllege's art museum has been hosting an exhibit called Cryptozoology: Out of Time Place Scale, with various artifacts and artwork. It's the closing reception, so hopefully it'll be a real party. There's supposed to be some speakers, and hopefully wine and cheese. Amy Hunt and Eric Emm are on board for the trip.

I'm especially excited to see Alexis Rockman's paintings. He's featured prominently in Carnivorous Nights: On the Trail of the Tasmanian Tiger which is written by a journalist couple who bring along their friend Rockman on a trip to search for Thylacines. They describe Alexis as a real stoner and charismatic guy. Who isn't, though?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Down at the bridge

I went down the Grand St bridge to check out if the black-crowned night herons were there. The last time I went, I didn't see them, so I wondered if they were heading away for the fall.

I saw three juvenile black crowned night-herons, but no mom or dad. There had been at least 2 adults I had seen this summer. I had only ever seen one juvenile at a time this summer, so I wondered if the young ones had been in the nest all summer and are just now going out on their own.

Also, something which I hadn't seen before was several gulls sitting out on the dock alongside the herons. There were 2 laughing gulls and 2 herring gulls just chilling out with them. On the other side of the bridge, there was a lone hering gull, which seemed to spook away one of the juvenile herons when he attempted to land on the brigde.

It was so nice to see my little friends again. I hope to see the adults again, or I might start to worry...

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

National Aviary

My trip to the National Aviary was a success. And not just because I got some flashy great blue heron earrings at the gift shop (thank you, Eric). The keepers do little informational presentations when its feeding time, and they encourage the patrons to help feed the birds. I held up a fish and an Inca Tern flew by and snatched it out of my hand. It was pretty sweet. Eric held up a grape that was picked out by a fairy bluebird. The little kids on the tour really loved it. For a zoo experience, it was really pretty sweet to have birds eat things out of your hands.

Feeding the Inca Terns

Thursday, September 21, 2006

City of Champions

Last night I had the pleasure of meeting Sophy Naess's father, a fellow birdwatcher. He told me he's seen screech owls in Central Park, and I told him about the herons in Newtown Creek.

Tonight I leave for Pittsburgh with Eric, Josh, and Laura for Rosh Hashana. I've never been to Pittsburgh, and I'm most excited about being promised a trip to the National Aviary. Looks like Xanadu.

National Aviary

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

I can't believe people actually paint this stuff

So I was really excited when I heard that Brody Railton had found some really nice pictures while google image searching "pipe". I tried image searching "pile", and came up with a sweet fantasty drawing of Chevy Chase with rippling muscles. Pretty messed up.
Anyway, I started searching for more fantasy drawings, and I found this super sweet gem:

Now that's a fantasy....

Saturday, September 16, 2006

New Bird Species

An amateur birdwatcher in India discovered a new species - New Bird Discovered In India. Nice work!

Bugun liocichla

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Not-so Secret Cattle

New info on kouprey, the extremely rare wild cattle in Cambodia. According to a new study of DNA, kouprey might not be a real species at all. Instead, it's a feral population of a cross-breed of two domesticated Asian cattle species, the bateng and the zebu. At least some of the DNA of the kouprey and the bateng match through the maternal side of DNA. But if what this means isn't' exactly clear, and it's still being debated.

I am definitely pretty excited about this.

NY Times: A Celebrity Among Ungulates May Soon Be Dismissed as a Poseur

Friday, September 08, 2006

Condors Eat Lead

There's an article in National Geographic online about how California condors have been getting lead poinsoning. The condors eat dead animals that were shot with lead bullets, and ingest some of the lead.

When I was 3 years old, I went to the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, where they have tons of stuffed animals. When I saw the California condor, which was nearly the same size as a tiny Katie, I burst into tears and made my father carry me on his shoulders for the rest of the day. For a few years, I still had trouble looking at it, and would be very scared when visiting the museum that I would accidentally turn a corner and be face to face with this horrible beast.

So imagine my relief when I learned a few years later that the condor was near extinction. I was pretty perplexed that people actually wanted to save this miserable beast, and I hope they would die out.

I suppose now that I am a little older, wiser, and considerably taller than a condor, I can reluctantly say that the species should be preserved.

I've been thinking about condors a lot recently after finishing Mark A. Hall's Thunderbirds. He dismisses the notion that condor could be responsible for some of the thunderbird sightings, but I'm not totally convinced. It seems like it could be just as possible that a condor could be sighted outside of its normal range as it could that there's an entirely new species.

Missing Night Herons

Eric Emm and I went to the Grand St bridge last night to look for the black-crowned night herons that have been nesting there all summer. We found none. Perhaps they were just out fishin' for a few minutes, or perhaps they have migrated on for the winter.

I miss them terribly.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Monk Parrot Researcher

There was an article in the New York Times on Tuesday about a parrot researcher who is interviewed about monk parrots and conservation. There's a bit on the monk parakeets in Greenwood cemetery. Mostly it's about why people like parrots as pets.

The video clips offered are kind of funny if you're into, you know, older women who look like a beat up Blythe Danner.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Wacky Warblers

Micky Hervitz and I went to the Prospect Park Zoo this weekend. The zoo isn't great; the best animals are the kangaroos and sea lions. It's has a large collection of indoor cage animals - tropical frogs and lizards. I always thought those were the boring stuff, but Micky loved those most of all. This was almost as surprising as discovering that Paul Manley's favorite section at the Natural History museum is the gems and minerals. It's like finding out someone you know likes the yellow Starburst best.

In the public restrooms, we saw two blue and yellow birds flying back and forth through the vaulted ceiling of the pavilion. They would stop and rest for a few seconds at the lamp that hung down, then fly around the ceiling. I couldn't figure if this was a mating ritual or if the birds just couldn't figure out how to get out of the pavilion. The bizarre behavior caught the eyes of more than a few other restroom patrons.

I made a quick call to Amy Hunt, who I described the blue and yellow markings of the birds, so she could look through the New York state birds guide book and identify them. We were pretty sure it was a type of warbler, and after consulting a second book, I am pretty sure that they were Canada warblers. More like Totally Mental warblers.

Canada Warbler

Friday, September 01, 2006

secret cattle

According to a Thai newspaper, there was a possible sighting of a highly endangered animal called a Kouprey in a Cambodian forest. I never even heard of this animal, but it's a huge wild cattle species, and hasn't been seen since 1957. Apparently, since there are so many landmines in Cambodia, no one can go look around the jungle for them.

The fact that such a large animal species can go unseen for so long gives some hope that maybe other animals that haven't been seen in over 50 years might still be around - thyaccines, ivory-billed woodpeckers...

I am totally scared of the Cambodian jungle.

Mourning doves

Yesterday was the third time in as many weeks I've seen a mourning dove in Manhattan. Twice I saw one walking on the scaffolding outide my window in midtown, and once in on a sidewalk in the east village. I can't think of the last time before that I've seen a mourning dove around here. I wonder if the NYC population is growing, or if these were just isolated sightings. Perhaps this is the time of year the mourning dove migrates through, though I assumed that mourning doves do not migrate, like pigeons.

I will certainly have to investigate this.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Thunderbirds love babies

I've been reading Mark A Hall's book on Thunderbirds about the possibility that today there exist giant eagles mentioned in Native American lore, big enough to carry off a child (as allegedly happened in 1977 in Illinois). Many bird experts refute the possibility that a bird or eagle would attack a human, or have the ability to actually kill or pick up a child.

Just yesterday, had a link to a new article about how anthropologists have just said that there is strong evidence that eagles killed and attacked early human ancestors. The scars on the skull of an
Australopithecus africanus toddler are more in line with the marks of an eagle attack than a saber tooth tiger, as was originally thought to be the culprit. Also, it was recently discovered from investigating the discarded bones in eagle nests, that these African crowned hawk eagles have been eating mangabey monkeys on a regular basis.

Just saying...

Monday, August 28, 2006

Supply and demand in Miami

I was very excited to learn that Micky's father had seen this site. In honor of my favorite new reader, I'd like to talk about some of the birds of Professor H's hometown - Miami.
seems to be a helpful site for tips on places to birdwatch, as well as The SouthFloridaBirding site has a nice photo gallery, and I found myself stuck in a little quandary while looking at the images. Because of Miami's warm climate, it allows for some of the more colorful, almost tropical looking birds to live there. So I assumed that there would be some weird, unusual looking birds, such as the roseate spoonbill. But some of the birds in the pictures were birds that I really didn't think were at all native to Florida, not even North America.

Roseate Spoonbill:

My first tip was that several parrots photos were on the site. The only parrot species to be native to North America was the Carolina parakeet, which has been extinct for over 100 years. However, there are plenty of parrots that have escaped from captivity and have bred in the wild. There's even a flock of monk (also known as quaker) parrots living in the gate of the cemetery here in Brooklyn -

One of the pictures of the hill myrna really caught my eye - the birds seemed familiar to me from guide books, but yet I really didn't think it could actually be native to Florida.

Hill Mynas in Miami:

Turns out it is actually a native of southeast Asia and India. It is popular as a pet bird, because it can talk. This couple set up a whole website dedicated to pet mynas, and warning other owners of the "iron storage disease" that claimed their own beloved pet -

Here's a little more info on escaped pet birds:

"The Monk Parakeet is considered a major agricultural pest in its native Argentina. That reputation, coupled with reports in the popular press putting the U. S. feral population at 4,000 to 5,000 birds, led to a coordinated eradication program, especially in New York, New Jersey, California, and Virginia. The program was highly successful, and small feral populations now persist only in a few Florida locations and in Chicago. In retrospect, the fears may have been groundless. The actual number of feral birds probably was overestimated considerably, and population expansion was mostly confined to the metropolitan New York area, with lesser numbers in Florida, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. Nonetheless, it has been estimated that the Monk Parakeet could cause millions of dollars in agricultural losses should it become abundant.

Members of the parrot family are not the only cage birds to have gone feral in the mainland United States. Red-whiskered Bulbuls (passerines related to kinglets), from southeast Asia, escaped from a bird farm near Miami around 1960. The species, at last report, occupied about three square miles and was slowly spreading. Escaped bulbuls also established feral populations in the Los Angeles area, where attempts have been made to eliminate them by shooting. The Java Finch and Indian Hill Myna, both popular as pets, are also feral in the Miami area. The Spot-breasted Oriole from Central America is also well established in southeastern Florida following escapes from captivity. The most spectacular feral bird in the United States, however, is the Greater Flamingo. This Caribbean species has repeatedly escaped from captive flocks in Florida, and a free-flying colony lives around Hialeah Race Track in Miami."


A veterinarian I met at a party once explained to me about how the monk parakeets living in the Brooklyn cemetery are an example of the ecological "niche theory". The idea is that North America as an ecosystem is capable of sustaining one species of parrot. Until recently, that was the carolina parakeet, and after that species became extinct, this opened up a niche for a different parrot species, this time non-native, to fit in. Since monk parakeets come from a similar latitude in the southern hemisphere, they were able to fill this niche and thrive.

This seems related to economic markets, which Mr. Hervitz is an expert on. If there is sustainable niche in a market for something, if one company folds for some reason, there's room for another company to come in and fills that place in the market. Though in the case of parrots in North America, the marketplace has changed, and now there less demand for parrots, and more demand not having eating all our crops eaten by pesky parrots.

Thankfully, Prof. Hervitz is a much more welcome transplant from Argentina to Miami.

Monk Parakeets in the Brooklyn cemetary:

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Mystery bustards

I recalled on recent trip the American Museum of Natural History that in the hall of birds, in the display window for birds of the African Savannah, there was some strange looking bird that was listed as extinct on the label card, and I had tried to make a note to look into it. I thought that it was some kind of bustard, but when I tried to do some internet searching for a type of extinct bustard, I came up with nothing. It seems that all species of bustard are alive and (relativelty) well.
The most interesting thing I came across was a site all about a program to re-introduce the Great Bustard to England where it once lived. The website, which has some pertty hilariously bad web design, tells how the bird became excinct in Britain by 1832, but thrived elsewhere. Apparently, bustard eggs are being taken from Russia and transported over to Salsibury Plain to hatch.

Great Bustard:

I'm wondering what examples of re-introduced species have been successful. California condors in Arizona is probably the best example I can think of. Grey wolves? That actually seems more like a failure story, with people hating having more wolves around.

Anyway, back to the mystery at the Natural History Museum. I emailed Marylou Murrillo, who works in the textiles department of the AMNH. I asked her if she could take a look at the African birds case adn check it out for me. What she found was that there is a Denham's Bustard in the case, and it is listed as critically endangered.

I had some trouble finding information about Denham's Bustard (formerly known as Stanley's bustard) on the internet, but I did find that 13 different stamps depicting the Denham's bustard from 5 African countries have been issued since 1951.

Angolan stamp:

Monday, July 24, 2006

Sad Tale of the Stephen's Island Wren

Probably my favorite story of the extinction of a species is the Stephens Island Wren. Stephen's Island is a tiny uninhabited island off of New Zealand until a lighthouse was built there in the 1894, and a single lighthouse keeper and his cat, Tibbles, lived there. A few months after the lighthouse opens, the lighthouse keeper, David Lyall, sound a small, flightless, bird that Tibbles had caught and killed. It was unlike any bird he had seen before, so he sent it to a scientist friend to look at. The scientist determines that it is a new species, and sends it off to London to be examined and a lithograph to be drawn. Meanwhile, Tibbles keeps on killing more of these little birds - 15 in total. A few months later, Tibbles stops bringing the birds home, and that's the end of that.

No one ever saw the bird alive in the wild. There were probably more than just the 11 that Tibbles nabbed, but Tibbles and his friends have been breeding, and by then there are lots of feral cats running around the island that probably ate up the other few wrens. Before cats came to the island, there were no predators, and the birds had evolved to loose the ability to fly, and took up more of the niche that mice or small rodents would have filled. Living without predators probably also meant they had lost their fear of potential predators. What a sad fate for a tiny creature - to die of being too trusting and having became too slow and comfortable in their prelapsairan secluded life.
When I went with Josh Stein on a trip to the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology for an appointment with someone in the orinthology department for some research on dalmatian pelicans, I asked if they had a specimen of the Stephen's Island Wren. The idea of seeing something so rare that there were only ever 15 specimens ever felt exciting. After opening a few drawers of tanengers, the ornitholgist remember that the bird had recently been moved to another draw, but he couldn't remember exactly where. Not wanting to be a pest, I dropped it.
This photo is of the specimen in a New Zealand museum:

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Tears in Heaven

So the short version is that i came into posession of a parakeet this weekend that died the next day.

in the living years:

RIP, Josh.

The long version is that Eric's brother, Josh, found a parakeet sitting under his parked car in Greenpoint. He called Eric, who was with me, to have me come pick the bird up, because he knew I happened to have a spare bird cage (a decorative antique one - a birthday gift from Eric). It was assumed that the parakeet escaped from the apartment building on his block, and he and his grilfriend Laura planned on putting up "found pet" signs in the builing.
I was thrilled. I took the lil fella home and fed him some of Amy's hamster's food, which he hungrily ate and some water. At night, I put a blanket over his cage to put him to sleep. In the morning, I woke him up, and he adorably had groggy sleepy eyes he kept half-closing. Even though I knew I might have to return him to his rightful owner, I named him Josh after the man who found him. I was in love.
The day was spent out at Coney Island, and when I returned in the evening, Josh was face-down in the cage, competely still.

Insert Monty Python dead parrot joke here.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


There was an exciting article on tuesday's science section about researchers finding new dodo remains, as well as more information on how the dodo might have lived before it became extict sometime in the mid 1600's. Boy, was I excited about this. I've really had dodos on the mind recently. A few weeks ago, I was riding with Amy and Micky along the bike path near the south street seaport on an ill-fated plan to visit Govenor's Island, and I was thinknig about dodos, since I had just gotten a new book about excinct birds that morning. Then, all of a sudden, I see this tiny resturant called The Dodo.
Clearly, this is going to be my favorite resturant EVER. Dodo Cafe
Anyway, in the NY Times article, it mentions how dodos are part of the pigeon family, and how their closest relative was the solitaire bird, which is also excinct and lived on a nearby island.

I had never heard about the solitaire bird before. a little internet research led me to some information about the closest living relative of the dodo and the soliatire was the Nicobar pigeon:

That bird is fantastic!!!!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Jamaican'-Me-Crazy Bay

As summer has rolled around, I'm not the only one to feel the itch to get out of the city for a day trip on the weekends. Amy, Micky, Paul, and Eric agreed to join me on a birding trip to the Jamaica Bay wildlife refuge in Queens. I think I was most thrilled about the sweet bastketball jersey that Paul was sporting with his cutoff jeans shorts. He was going on a date later that night, and I really wanted him to wear that outfit to impress the lady.
Jamacia Bay is all the way past JFK airport, in the middle of the bay between JFK and the Rockaways. It's a huge refuge and apparently one of the big spots in New York state for shore birds. Paul and Eric were very worried about the sign that advised to watch for ticks. I warned them that ticks smell fear. Also wusses.

One of the first things we saw was an osprey nest on a man-made pole specifially for osprey nests. I recognised these poles from the Felix Neck refuge in Martha's Vineyard, though I don't think I ever actually saw any ospreys at their nests there. But at this best, there were two adults flyign to and from the nest, and as we saw through our binoculars, at least two little baby ospreys. It was pretty far inthe distance, and even with the binoculars, it was hard to see, but the telltale white marks on the head were visible. Paul wasn't convinced that it was realyl an osprey, and suggested it was instead a loon after conferring the guide book.
Thankfully, just then a parks service ranger walked up to us with a giant scope and tripod, and asked, "looking at the ospreys?" He told us that the ospreys were rebounding in population from a few decades ago, and they nested here for a while on their trek up and down the Altantic coast. For some reason, I had thought ospreys were a little more rare, and felt slightly disappointed to know they weren't such a big deal to see.

We saw several sandpipers, which I was unable to idenify, as well as a seagull which gave me some confusion. It looked like a little gull or a bonaparte's gull becuase of its black beak and black feet, but mostly white body. I ended up decided that it was an immature Laughing gull, but to be honest, I'm not erally sure. I couldn't get all its features to match up to any of the images in my guide book, but since gulls look different at different times of year and at different ages, it's hard to tell. I need a better guide.

Paul on the hunt for ospreys, looking fly in his jersey:

I was pleased to see some american oystercatchers, black skimmers, a great blue heron, snowy egrets, gret egrets, and cormorants. I was especially happy to get a good look at some glossy ibises. We left tick-free and satisfied. Paul was abel to make it home in time to change for his date.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Bald Eagles in Connecticut

Driving with Eric on I-95 somewherein the middle of Connecticut, I saw a bald eagle nest in a cell phone tower on the side of the highway. Bald eagles build the biggest, messiest nests, so they're easy to identify. What was really exciting was that I could see an eagle flyign up to the nest. Bald eagles are fairly common again around here, but I haven't actually seen one in the wild since I was 13 on a family vacation to Yellowstone.

Bald eagle nest:

Friday, April 07, 2006

Audubon's Eagle

James Audubon's Bald Eagle print:

New York Historical Society is running an exhibit of James Audubon's original watercolors that were the templates for the lithographs prints that are in his Birds of North America. I went on a guided tour of the exhibit, which at the time I thought was fabulously informative. So much so that when my parents came to visit from Boston the next week, I took them there to show them the exhibit. It was then I discovered that almost everything the guide had told on the tour was exactly what was written on the information cards on the walls. What a rip!

Audubon did two versions of the Bald Eagle - he decided he didn't like the first one enough, so he made a new one. The two were hanging side by side, and you could see the difference adn superiority of the second painting. The eagle is in the same pose and the same size in both, but in the orginal, he is killing a Canadian Goose with his talons, but the dead fish he kills in the second painting is far more gory and gross. Which is why he chose it.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Eagle calls

I learned that there is only one eagle that makes the piercing call that is used as stock "eagle" sounds in television and movies. I wish I could remember which eagle is was.....

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Sandy Hook

I went with Joshua David Stein on Audubon sponsored trip to Sandy Hook, NJ to watch for shore birds and harbor seals. I was pretty excited to see what kind of crowd was going, and though I was definitely right in suspecting some real weirdos, I didn't realize how OLD the average age would be. Old people love bird watching. The guide, Joe, was a real character, a rather blustering middle aged guy whose didactic assault of information was pretty agressive.

As one can imagine, Josh proved to be the least popular member of the excursion. He kept asking obnoxiously mocking questions and loudly yelling wrong answers when the guide asked questions. Despite his unpopularity with the seniors, I am very pleased at how enthusiastic Josh is to undertake the various natural history adventures I have invited him to. He is becoming a real ally in these investigations.

This was my first time birding with a real guide, and I was totally impressed by how quickly he could identify a bird, even in flight or in a far distance. One of the most impressive identifications was of the Fish Crow.

Fish Crows:

The Fish Crow is slightly smaller than the American Crow, and it is very difficult to tell them apart from appearance alone. However, the Fish Crow has a slightly different call. Whereas the American Crow calls "ka-KAW" with the "KAW" going up, the Fish Crow's calls is more like "awh AWH". Fish Crows are generally only found near the coastline of New England to Texas.

Our guide explained that technically, the Fish Crow has 11 wingbeats per minute, while the American Crow has 10. Joe said he knew a guy who claimed to be able to differentiate the species by wingbeat counting, though Joe scoffed that this was practically impossible and didn't believe the guy.

The Cornell Ornithology website has a page about Fish and American Crow differenatiation that is helpful:

Fish Crows

The trip was a success, and a total of 25 birds were sighted. I was particularly excited to see some of the sea ducks that were just passing through for a few weeks each years, such as the long-tailed ducks and surf scoters.

Long tailed duck:

Surf Scoter:

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

My favorite birds

I have several favorite birds. My most favorite is the black-crowned night heron.

This little fella lives in most part of the U.S. except the Rocky Mountains. He lives near ponds and lakes, and eats all sort of bugs and minnows. He's got a snazzy black cap and a red eye. What a handsome guy!

The black crown-ed night heron was probably the first bird that I was able it identify that I had never seen or heard of before. I saw one flying overhead, and grabbed my bird guide. It looked to me like some sort of black and white heron, but I wasn't sure if such a thing existed. Sure enough, it does. I felt so happy to have identified my first bird all by myself. I happened to be on the phone with Micky Hervitz, and I started excitedly talking about how I saw a night heron. Incidentally, I had completely lost my voice the night before from a lot of trying to talk over loud music, and he couldn't understand a word I said.