Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Winter is Here: Ducks, Meadowlarks and TV Personalities are Spotted in the SC Lowcountry

Its been a busy fall.  Work culminated last weekend with our annual fundraising event which this year featured some new activities and attractions including burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia) flying demonstrations, Harris Hawks on Ice (we flew our male harris hawk during the intermission of the SC Stingrays hockey game), and a visit from wildlife education legend Jungle Jack Hanna. All went very well including flying from the 18th green of Bulls Bay Golf Club which was admittedly a lot of fun despite the stresses. It was a real pleasure meeting and working with one of the legends in wildlife conservation education.  He exceeded expectations.

In the past week, we have taken every opportunity to decompress following the mad rushes and surging ulcers.  Jen needed help and we all needed mindless activities, so the Swallow Tailed Kite monitoring project mailers got labeled, stamped, folded, stuffed, mis-labeled, sealed, alphabetized to locate the mis-labeled (all 500 of them) and finally dropped in the mail.  Thats what we get for trying to help.

photo from wikipedia of  Sturnella magna 
The staff and I have also taken time to look at some birds.  We have a group of about 10 Eastern Meadowlarks (Sturnella = little starling magna = big)  foraging regularly in the short grass of our large flying field and being chased around by a male Falco sparverius that has taken up residence along the field edge.  These beautiful starling like birds can literally disappear in the grass at a moment's notice  which is helpful when being stalked by kestrels..  As with many "eastern" bird species, Sturnella magna has a "western" counterpart, Sturnella neglecta,  found west of the Mississippi river.  Apparently, J.J. Audubon chose the specific name "neglecta" to reflect the fact that it took close to a century for the western meadowlark to be recognized as a separate species by ornithologists.

Audubon's Take on the Ruddy Duck
As I am reminded from the shotgun blasts I can hear from my desk, it is also duck season. I learned to appreciate ducks from a cold, dark, wet blind early in my college years.  They were my gateway bird.  Watching a flock of mallards descend toward the puddle by inverting almost simultaneously  being in the center of a flock of 20,000 snow geese (Chen = Greek for wild goose caerulescens = Latin for becoming blue from the "blue" color of the dark morph) descending on a rice field in the Texas prairie are two experiences I can point to that led me to where I am today.  Look for the "blue" geese in the video. 

While we can't count on being surrounded by thousands of snow geese in Awendaw any time soon, we have observed five or six duck or duck like species in the ponds around the Center over the last week.  The most prevalent are the ruddy ducks (Oxyura = sharp or pointed tail jamaicensis).  Others viewing them this week referred to them as "so cute."  Those words didn't come out of my mouth.  They are cool little birds with tails pointing up at a 45 degree angle and we have tons despite all the shooting.  The male's beak changes color to a sky blue in the breeding season.  Like coots (Fulicka = Latin for coot! americana), the ruddy ducks are not strong in the "take off department" and therefore dive to avoid predatory attacks.  Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus = salt eagle leucocephalus =  white headed) love to eat them and we have had several great opportunities to watch the game unfold as it does on hundreds of ponds in South Carolina all winter.  Of course I didn't get any photos or video of the events.

I will leave you this time with some video (really poor video taken with my smart phone) of one of our newer demonstration birds.  This is a hybrid of two species of falcon found in the US.  Gyrfalcons (Falco rusticolus =  Latin for a "rustic countryman") are a holarctic species (which means found in the "wholearctic") are prized for their size but not their tolerance for heat and humidity. Prairie falcons (Falco mexicanus) pursue in the open spaces in a variety of meteorological  situations including hot and humid.  Mix one part each and enjoy the combination.

Friday, September 10, 2010

A "Miner" New Addition

It has been an exciting summer here at the Center.  The spring was productive for both our breeding program and the programs of our friends and we have some new and exciting birds in our collection as a result.  Since I can't talk about them all at once (and because I have already introduced the Eagle Owl), this post will be an introduction to one of the smallest additions of the year; a hatch year female Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia).  As both the common and scientific name (cunicularia="miner" hence the EXTREMELY witty title to this post) suggest, these small owls spend a great deal of time on the ground in burrows of their own creation as well as the holes made by other ground dwellers including snakes and groundhogs.  They have remarkably long legs and are quick on their feet.

This individual owl was bred by a friend of the Center in New York State and was hand reared with her three siblings ("creche" reared.)  Ideally, this will allow us to capitalize on the benefits of a human imprinted owl for training as well as have a bird that will breed (as she knows what other burrowing owls look like having seen her siblings as well as humans.)  In this video, you can see that she clearly recognizes other burrowing owls (or rather what she believes are other owls).

With any species that we add to our educational programs and demonstrations, the first challenge is to identify behaviors that are unique or particularly interesting that can be utilized to teach.  The obvious behavior with these small owls is their fondness for tunneling.  Eventually, we will have a network of tunnels in a variety of locations for the owl to navigate, but the first step was to familiarize her with the tunnels we would use as well as the reward associated with passing through the tunnel.  Video 2 shows her cruising the tunnel.  It took less than 5 minutes to train this behavior initially and now she wants nothing more than to run through the tunnel!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Go Fly a Kite

The summertime here in Charleston brings lots of things: oppressive heat, mosquitoes, fire ants, hurricanes, tourists and beach traffic.  Fortunately, it also brings one of my favorite things as well. Kites.  This remarkable group of raptors are found all over the world and its members show some of the most incredible adaptations for spectacular flight and strange diets.   There are approximately 20 species of kites, 2 of which can be seen with regularity over the treetops in SC during the warmer months and no matter how many I see, I still get giddy like a schoolgirl whenever I spot one.

Today, for example, we were nearing the end of our morning flying demonstration with our trained Yellow-Billed Kite (Milvus migrans parasitus).  This is an African species that, while significantly larger than the native kites, is a great example of the typical kite morphology: long tapered wings and a long triangular and forked tail.  He is one of the most amazing birds to watch as he nimbly catches bits of beef thrown by the trainer often  becoming completely inverted in the process.

As often happens, some wild birds were attracted to the activity near the ground on the flying field (birds near the ground often indicate the presence of food.)  Today it was a pair of Mississippi Kites (Ictinia = Greek for Kite mississippiensis = the type specimin was collected in, you guessed it, Mississippi) who came in to check out the action.  As hard as I tried to keep my eye on the bird I was training, I kept peeking over my shoulder to see if the wild birds were demonstrating any wild acrobatic skills and in fact, they were.  I saw several stoops, and amazingly enough, only a few flaps of the wings in the 10 minutes they were overhead searching for dragonflies.  Even though I have seen it a million times, it was breathtaking.

In case you thought you had to be in the middle of nowhere to see kites, I will relate another kite encounter from earlier this week.  I was preparing to take my wife and daughter out for a morning on the water when I realized that the paddle was conspicuously missing from our  boat.  While it is well equipped with 90 horses of Japanese power, it is never a good idea to travel up the creek without the paddle, so it was off to Wal-Mart.  Something about Wal-Mart (well, lots of things about Wal-Mart) immediately puts me in a fowl state of mind.  But, since the Folly road store is mere minutes from my house and all I could think about was getting on the water quickly, that was the only option.  After nearly crashing with someone driving the wrong way in the parking lot and having to pass up 2 parking spaces due to the shopping carts carelessly left behind, I climbed out of the car prepared to go on a rampage when I heard one of my favorite sounds.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Eagle Owl Diaries

So, it is time to begin the story of the new Eagle Owl.  I have now spent 1 week watching every poop, casting, and most recently, jump.  Did I mention poop.  I will tell you about the things that come to mind as I look at the owl.  Hopefully, they will be fun to read about as well as educational at times.

Eurasian Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo  from the Latin for "horned owl")-  The largest of the world's owls according to most authorities. It depends on the criteria you choose which you would identify as the winner.  Wing chord? Height?  Body mass?  The "Eagle Owl" wins most if not all in some cases. Big owl.

The Center purchased a pair (two of them and one male one female) a few years ago from an educator in Ohio.  She was not having luck with the pair breeding as the male only seemed to vocalize at humans and the pair "fought" too much in their enclosure. Both were "social" imprints or "creche" reared birds that grew up fed by a human along side other owls.  The behavior was not surprising.  I thought that they were young enough and we gave them a shot hoping that they would mate with one another instead of spending their entire lives looking for unrequited human love.

Quick aside for an interesting "lost bird" video.  I hope it adds to your understanding of these really cool owls.

From the beginning, he vocalized at humans. I tried to train him for a season with a lot of stress and without much progress, so we decided to put the two together and watch carefully.  No fights. Excellent!  He called at Audrey and Jen McT. especially, but really would call to anyone passing by.  Not so excellent!  She stood in the corner for weeks on end.  One day, she was squatting.  Could it be?  In fact it was! An egg!   For ten days, I convinced myself that it was infertile, but a good start for the pair.  It was incredibly difficult to wait for ten days without checking for fertility.  Like knowing your Christmas presents were unwrapped in the closet but not being able to peek.

At our 10 day candling, there was positive development! There were lots of "high fives" and other celebratory gestures.  Back under mom.  Still nearly a month of incubation to go.  Mom sat as tight as any bird I have ever worked with.  I had to literally pry her off of the ledge to check the egg weekly.
Finally, after 34 days, the check revealed no egg.  In its place, a fluffy hatchling!  Shortly after hatching, I took the next image in which you can see a yellow "day old chick" as we refer to the feeder chickens we use for a portion of most birds diet as well as the fluffy white owl chick.  The "day old chicks" weigh about 30 grams on average. The owl chick looks tiny in comparison!

When we want to train an owl for educational work, we typically hand rear them from 2 weeks of age on.  If the eggs hatch in our incubator, they are often hand reared from an even earlier age of 1 day!  At one day, the Eurasian eagle owl chick weighed less than 50 grams.  As you might imagine, young birds are fragile and need constant care.  It is best to let the parents do some of the work whenever possible!

This is what it looked like the day I took it from its parents to begin its training.  "Taking" the bird from its parents sounds awful and in this case, I had trouble looking at the parents for a couple of days. I got over it as I know they will.  Knowing that a life as an educator has been pre-arranged for this individual makes it easier to understand the course of action we took.

Today is the chick's "3-week birthday" or however you want to look at it.  Current weight: 818 grams.  Hopefully, we are on the way to a full adult weight of 2000 grams or more! Thats a lot of "day old chicks!"

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Yellow billed kite video

Yellow Billed Kite from Ben Mongold on Vimeo.

Here's a cool video produced by our friend Ben Mongold.  Shows the yellow billed kite in action.  Slo mo is cool!  Plus a cool Neil Young tune. Groovy.  Enjoy

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Meet me in Zihuatanejo

I have had a busy few weeks.  With several events, trainings, trips, etc, our schedule at the Center has been packed.  When you add the beginning of the raptor breeding season, vacations and the fact that there just aren't enough days in the week for us to get everything done and have time to recharge you end up tired.  Satisfied, but tired.  I will share a few experiences from these last few weeks along with photographs from my new camera.  I hope it is educational and enjoyable.

It seems that no matter how hard I try not to, I always schedule some big program and neglect to avoid scheduling three other big programs on the weekends surrounding it.  It is not my strength.  I can however power through them after having done it for years.  Last Thursday, I spoke with over 1000 students in Beaufort County including a brand new charter school (that I was highly impressed with!) and a boys and girls club group with great leaders, and finally, a full house on Fripp Island for the Audubon Club meeting!  Beginning to end, it was a 13 hour day.  I took our marvelous black vulture, Harris' Hawk, Spectacled Owl, and Tawny Eagle.  I had help with loads and unloads from Pete Richards and some others from the Audubon Club.  Next year, plan to have an assistant.

"Meet me in Zihuatanejo"

Eggs really are the rage this time of year.  Everybody is either laying them, hunting for them, dying them, scrambling them or trying to break out of them.  Very popular.  At the Center, the eggs that are getting the most attention are those which remind me of scenes in two of my favorite movies.  Think "Shawshank Redemption" and "Raising Arizona."  Both have great jailbreak scenes concluding with some sort of rising from a pool of sewage.  Chicks hatching are not quite as wet and messy, but the scene is filled with excitement just the same. There is always the chance you won't make it.  

We breed a limited number of birds at the Center every year for education.  It is now officially the time of year when owls hatch chicks.  I was corrected by a friend at the Audubon meeting that owls don't have "babies" only people have "babies". I appreciate correctness and therefore now call the man who corrected me a friend despite having spoken to him only once.  At any rate, owl eggs started hatching last Thursday while I was away.  Things have not been easy for those trying to get out of Asian Brown Wood Owl (Strix leptogrammica) eggs over the last few attempts.  In fact, only one had made it out alive and only lived a few minutes on the outside.  Young pairs often take a few trys to get things right.  We did what we could to help, but the breakout can only be executed from the inside.  Blood vessels in the egg membranes must be gradually pinched off by the chick's beak (with egg tooth) movements.  Outside help, while well intentioned, can cause death from "external" bleeding.  Yikes.  

Several had reached the pipping stage (seen in picture above), but had failed to turn in the egg and therefore failed to break out.  The chick must rotate and chip a "belt" around the egg separating it into two halves.  We weren't sure if it was an issue of humidity or some congenital defect.  We fixed the humidity issue and were patiently awaiting this egg's pip.  36 hours went by with little rotation.  Aargh.  But he had started with 2 cracks.  He had rotated some.  A step in the right direction.  Keep going little fella.  Keep going. 

When I arrived Saturday morning, we were almost there.  Like most good escapes, the bulk of this one happened under the veil of darkness.  Just a little way to go.  Don't give up.
Saturday afternoon, I could see the egg flexing as the chick stretched its legs and wings.  I could not resist assisting at this point because I knew all of the veins had been closed.  It was only a tiny application of pressure and with a snap, the chick rolled out onto the hatching incubator's surface, mostly wet, but with a small fluffy area that had been exposed to the outside world for a day.  Notice that the egg must serve as a sewer as well as a home. I think it looks most like John Goodman covered in mud.  
The final shot is of our new Asian Brown Wood Owl chick lying on the beach in Zihuatanejo with its old friend Andy Dufresne.  Freedom is sweet.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A couple of cool experiences

Had several cool experiences this last week.  One relates well to the bird side of the blog and the other touches on another theme and that is music.  I have not had any moving food experiences recently, so that should be coming soon I hope.

Getting the message out ( in ever increasing concentric circles around the Center)   is one of the most challenging components of our job in the education department.  Whenever someone wants to talk to you for a TV show or a newspaper or a webcast, you say sure.  Most are perfectly well meaning, but sometimes the process is irritating.  Schedules don't match.  You need something difficult from a bird.  Challenging, but often energizing.  I do it a lot.  Talking with Leslee Johnson was fun.  She listens well.  Is able to converse intelligently (which isn't a given)  and writes nice stuff about the environmental topics I enjoy.  Here are some links to articles she wrote based on our conversation.  Brevity is not my strength, and fortunately, she had 3 stories planned.  I guess 300 words is what humans are reading now a days before switching off.
Fierce canaries in a huge mine (how about that title!).  Nice  chatting Leslee!

The second cool experience happened the other night at the Charleston Pourhouse.  I have been playing music for a long time.  I started my true professional career in a group called Wheelhouse in 1997.  Matt Weldon and I played acoustic music to lots of drunks in many fine establishments with bartenders named Randy.  While I often jest about my songwriting prowess, I have only ever recorded two original songs.  One about my dog that I wrote while playing in a band with my friend Ray Murphy.  The other I wrote during an art history class as an undergraduate.  At the PoHo gig, we had a small, enthusiastic crowd.  We had requests for songs from  the record.  There was a young lady who knew all the words.  She sang the melodies and we could have harmonized to them.  Every word.  Started with a duet with Chris on "Montana Cowboy" a high lead solo tune.  All the words to my song "True Wisdom, " all 7 minutes of it.  And she sang on key.  Felt really cool.  This video reminded me of it.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZoJJeBeStg .  No pictures in this edition.  Deal.  Thanks Flatt City fan, for liking our record.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Snow, Red-Tailed Hawk Sex, Wildlife EXPO!

So, I will finally give a brief report on the Wildlife Expo. I can blame the delay in posting this report on lots of things, but I won't.  Just be happy it happened before the original predicted date of 2016!

We had a great year this year as usual.  It was stressful as could be throughout, but despite rain, snow, and several local birds, all went off without much of a hitch.In our first rehearsal, a wild coop gave our lanner falcon (Falco biarmicus) a flyby on the ground and then landed on the A-frame perch just a few feet away and looked at us for a minute or two.  Audrey debated trying to catch another one bare handed, but decided to let this guy go.  We saw him periodically throughout the weekend, but fortunately, no more close calls.

As if on cue, the aforementioned lanner took a 30 minute leisurely stroll around the city on Thursday in his second rehearsal.  While he was never out of radio range, he was out of visual contact for longer than I would have liked especially considering the recent appearance of the coop and the onlooker on the church steeple.  I tell you, my life gets shorter by years with each passing EXPO.
The same onlooker and her mate gave the audience a show again this year on Sunday afternoon.  They sure do like to be watched.  On a church steeple?  And on the sabbath no less.  The nerve.  Another example of the really important fact that birds don't observe the same set of "rules" that humans do!

We also had snow this year for EXPO.  Friday night was a virtual whiteout for Charleston with 4+ inches of the fluffy stuff.  It made for a beautiful drive into the Center to load birds and added a nice touch to the events at Marion Square.

As with all EXPO's past, the best thing about this one is that it is over.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Fast as Lightning

OK.  A lot happened in my little bird world this week. Today was the first day of the Southeastern Wildlife EXPO here in charleston.  It was a nice, slow first day. I had interesting conversations with several nice folks on topics ranging from litter, to murder suspects from the genus Bubo, to our friends Bombycilla cedorum. More on that later in the EXPO report (available in late spring 2016).

photo from http://www.beaconhillparkhistory.org 
Cooper's Hawks (Accipiter cooperii originally from the Latin accipere "to understand" or "to grasp" and William Cooper (1798-1864) zoologist, collector, conchologist, and author) have been on my mind a lot for some reason the last week or so.  Some of you chuckle. These are some of the coolest, most often seen raptors.  Like a flash.  Short wings, long tail, bursts of power, unmatched agility, bird killing toes (see above photo).  We had a rogue coop around the Center last week with a penchant for kestrels.  He attempted to eat them all.  We found evidence that he killed a wild eastern screech owl (Megascops asio   the big little eared owl owl) as well. New word for the day: Raptivore.

We tried to catch him with a Bal Chatri (wire box covered in monofilament nooses containing bait.) He flew inches over the nooses directly to the kestrel in the enclosure.  This happened more than once.  I was less that 10 feet away from him more than once. On Monday, Audrey caught the bird bare handed.  She's fast as lightning.  He was hungry, sure, but I did say bare handed.  OK, she had her falconer's glove on, but she used here right hand to catch him.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Psychology and Second Graders

Funny story.  I was visiting with some second grade students at Sangaree Elementary school earlier this week during the last flooding rainstorm here in Charleston.  It was a fun visit full of interesting questions and insights from the young minds in the room.  They have been watching birds as a part of project feeder watch and my visit was the culmination of their bird unit.  I was flying one of our Harris' Hawks around their classroom when an astute young lady asked me how I trained the bird to come to my glove.  I explained to her that it was by using a training method that their parents probably use on them all the time (meaning positive reinforcement.) She interrupted saying, "Oh, reverse psychology."

Stephen:  "Don't soar endlessly up to 1000 feet."
Black Vulture: "I'm heading up to 1000 feet now."

I wish.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Some of my favorite birds

People, kids mostly, always want to know about the superlatives in the bird world.  Which one is faster?  Which one is the biggest?  Which one would win in a battle?  Which one is your favorite?  I can do a pretty good job with all but the last one.  It might even be fun.

Little Bobby:  "If a Great horned owl and a Bald Eagle had a battle, who would win?"

Stephen: "Well, it depends on the battlefield.  Are we talking about in a muddy field by a pond during the day or the pine woods at dusk?  I think the woods at dusk is a better scene for a battle."

Little Bobby: "What is dusk?"

At any rate, you see how it works.  Fun.  That was a made up conversation.

The last of the questions is one I hate to answer and most often dodge nimbly (as nimbly  is the only way I roll). But there are a few that I really like.  Several of those popped into the picture this week and fit quite well into the theme of my blog.  So, i'll talk a bit about them and the people and places involved.

In the vain of the last post, this one involves my day off.  I decided to take advantage of the free "Tourist in Your Own Town" passes since the Center has been filled with participants and I had yet to visit one attraction.  Emily and I took off Wednesday morning for Charlestowne Landing.  I had not visited since the renovations, so I was excited.  Emily had one visit under her belt, and every detail was fresh.  Nice to have a guide.

We headed toward the animal forest preparing to see, lions (cougars), tigers (bobcats) and of course bears.  Oh my, the excitement was palpable.  On the way, I spotted a bird in a tree in the old cemetery.  It was only 20 feet away, but since it wasn't a raptor, I misidentified it initially.  I thought it was a tufted titmouse (Baeolophus = having a small crest bicolor = you can figure this one out, right?).  Neat birds.  I was wrong.  I looked through my binoculars at the solitary bird and realized it was one of my all time favorites, back from the south.  As I put the binoculars down and looked at the bigger picture, I realized he was not alone at all.  A total of 11 cedar waxwings (Bombycilla = silk tail cedorum = they like to eat cedar pine cones) sat peeping quietly in the tree.  Not many birds have the elegance of these little fellas.  Your best suit can't touch the grey on these birds.  Then add the yellow tip on the tail and the Makers' Mark bottle drip on the wing as some of the best flair in the business and you have quite a handsome package.  I go out of my way to experience large numbers of these birds.  Fortunately, they are typically all over the Center in spring and if they are not here, they will likely be between the old College of Charleston library and Maybank hall feasting on holly berries while zipping amongst the college kids.  Nothing like it.

While the waxwings have not arrived on the Center's campus yet, we have been swamped with visitors from the TIYOT pass program this month.  It has been nice to have big crowds for the demonstrations and tours and I have had several nice conversations with guests about birds.  On Thursday afternoon, I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of a gentleman named Rusty Denman.  I noticed him during the demonstration because he had on a sweet hat (he had some good questions too, but the hat was sweet!)  Mr. Denman was highly complementary of the work we were doing and was genuinely excited about what we are doing.  As I was heading back to the owl wood, he asked me where I was going to be in a few minutes and told me that he had something for me in his car.

Stephen:  "I'm excited already" not knowing whether it was a box of dirty socks or a sock full of diamonds.

Rusty: "Oh buddy, you should be!" 

A couple of minutes later, a smiling Rusty arrived in the owl wood carrying a paper Piggly Wiggle bag.  He pulled out a loaf of bread.  OK, not a sock full of diamonds, but homemade bread is pretty nice too.  It smelled awesome.  His wife makes it, labels it and gives it away.  Under the bread was a Styrofoam food contained labeled "Rusty's Famous Barbecue Chicken" in blue sharpie pen.  He told me about the process.  Pressure, seasoning, more seasoning, grill.  Then there was the sauce.  It looked and smelled great, but it is hard to impress with barbecue sauce.  And there was the little issue of taking random car food from a relative stranger.  Who carries boxes of chicken and loaves of bread in their trunk and gives them to strangers?  

I should mention that the domestic chicken (Gallus domesticus) is pretty high on my list of favorite birds.  They make eggs, which are nice.  They also taste great in a large number of recipes.  I know that the poultry industry leaves a lot to be desired in the the eyes of many (including myself), but for the sake of this blog, think "tasty!"

It will be difficult to describe effectively just how tasty it was.  Monty and I devoured the box of chicken and sopped up the sauce with the bread.  Quite literally, the best BBQ chicken I have ever tasted.  As a musician, I have had every caterer's attempt and while some are really good, none are in the same league.  Thanks Rusty and "Mrs. Rusty".  If I had skills like that. I would carry bags of it everywhere I went.  Now that we're not strangers, I hope that I have many more opportunities to take food from Rusty!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Can't live on birds alone

Sometimes strange schedules make for days off in the middle of the week.  I have today and tomorrow off as my "weekend" this week, so I thought I would take advantage of nap time to mention a couple of my new favorite songs. I forget sometimes how energizing new music can be.  If you like music, you'll probably get hooked on
one or both of these.

"Ruby" - The Dave Rawlings Machine -,  I can't get this song out of my head.  I have listened to Dave for years as the archtop wielding sideman of his wife and songwriting cohort Gillian Welch.  This is from his solo project.  The band is Dave, Gillian and the guys from Old Crow Medicine Show.  Great hook, cool harmonies, groovy pickin'.  Nothing but wood, strings, picks, bows and voices. No fancy tricks.  Music.

"The Gardner" - The Tallest man on Earth-  This Scandinavian dude has a style and singing voice that appeals to me.  I first saw him on the NPR series Tiny Desk Concert.  There are tons of other great acts on there as well.  From Classical to Hip Hop.  At any rate the tall guy really has soul.  His guitar playing works with his voice and poetry to produce something that I enjoy and think you should check out if you like music.  You know, wood, strings, picks, voices.  Music.  Plus, the space in which this video is filmed is pretty awesome.  Must find out where it is before my next visit to the City.

I can't quit singing them in my head and repeating them on the i-pod.  Fortunately, I think Lindsay and Emily like them too.  

Monday, January 25, 2010

Theme Song

An old friend posted an audio response to my blog on Facebook.  I think it is an appropriate theme song for my blog. I Like Birds

Thanks Zach.

Wet, wet, wet, wet

This morning it is wet.  The road is wet, the field is wet, the birds are wet and my feet are wet.  While it is a minor annoyance, the water has made for an interesting morning of birds.  First, two mourning doves (Zenaida macroura named for the wife of French Prince and ornithologist Charles Lucien Jules Laurent Bonaparte, Princess Zanaide as well as their uncommonly long "macro" tail  "oura") found themselves trapped in the weathering area (an area enclosed by a mesh net meant to keep birds out where we tether our trained birds during the day).  Not a good place for "raptor food" to be trapped.  Before I could get the doors open, they found their way to freedom.  I suppose they were looking for seeds flushed out by the rain.  Or they were really depressed and contemplating ending it all.  The former is much more likely.

I also saw one of my favorite bird phenomena.  A large flock of red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius = belonging to a flock phoenicus = dull scarlet color) and boat-tailed grackles (Quiscalis major) were feeding in the pond that was once our flying field.  Perhaps pond is the wrong word as the deepest spot is probably 3 inches deep, but puddle doesn't have the same impact.  As the flock moved across the field in search of food, it folded over itself from back to front.  It looked like a wave breaking in the surf.  Birds in the rear flew over the rest of the flock to land in the front.  Such a fluid motion from hundreds of individual birds was incredible.  Now I need a video camera as well.  

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Cosmic Timing

So here's a funny story about people and birds.

For the last 10 years, the Center has had a great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) known as 2051.  This pertains to the place in which the bird was admitted into our medical facility (this one was the 2051 of nearly 5000).  Since there is little difference between the males and females in most raptors, determining sex can be a challenge.  Females are larger than males in most cases (reverse sexual size dimorphism) and obviously females lay eggs, but other than that there is no consistent external difference.

So, earlier this week, an argument blossomed between the education staff.  To be honest, it was me against them.  They argued that the bird was a female.  I argued male.  Their argument was supported by size.  My argument was supported by the fact that the bird had made "nest scrapes" in the corners of its enclosure, a job typically reserved for the males.  I was pretty sure I was right.  I am sure you can see where this might be heading.

So, at dinner (some cosmic pizza at Mellow Mushroom) prior to our monthly volunteer staff meeting, things escalated to include members of our clinic staff.  It was suggested that we all chip in to have a blood test done to settle the disagreement.  You see, the test costs $25 and if we don't "need to know" we usually don't waste the money.  I was ready to throw $10 in and I was sure I would win.  Even though we all agreed that more gambling at work would be a good thing, dinner ended without a handshake or even a verbal "you're on."

Fast forward 18 hours to yesterday afternoon.

Monty: "Stephen are you receiving?"
Stephen: "Go ahead."
Monty: "How much was the bet about whether the owl was a male?"
Stephen: " Let me guess, there's an egg."
Monty: " Yup."

While there is still some suspicion that the egg might have been carefully placed in one of the nest scrapes by someone looking to make me look the fool, I am left to eat my words.  There is not much more definitive proof of sex than an egg.

I guess she figured she would have to make her own nest scrape if no lousy male was going to do it for her.


I have decided to start a blog. When I ask myself "why would you do something so silly and time consuming?" I struggle to find a good answer. Then I remember that I experience lots of cool things at work on a daily basis and I think there are people that might be interested in hearing about them. At the very least, I will improve my writing skills for that novel I keep dreaming about and it will give me reason to focus on the positive things that are happening in my professional life. So, off we go.

For those that don't know, I am the Director of Education for a non-profit organization called The Center for Birds of Prey located in Awendaw (just outside of Charleston), SC. Over the past 20 years, the Center has gone by several other names which are of little importance as they are the past. It has not always been an easy past. I am going to strive to make that the last mention of said "difficult past" in this blog. This blog is about the good. Birds are good.

Here at the Center, we work with birds, primarily raptors. The focus of the work is to utilize birds of prey as a foundation for the understanding of environmental issues through education, research and the treatment of injured birds in a medical setting. As you probably gathered by my title, the focus of my work is utilizing birds to teach. We have a collection of raptors that we utilize in a variety of educational settings (display, flying demonstrations, school visits) to help expose our "students" to the importance of, threats facing, and general "coolness" of birds. We also have a fantastic campus in the coastal plain of SC with a huge diversity of habitats and therefore a wide variety of wild birds of all shapes and sizes.

This blog will focus on the birds and the people we experience every day here at the Center. There will be some recurring characters. There will always be new faces. I need to get a camera so I can add images to help you see what we see. I'll see what I can do.

So, I am off to work. Outside my window, some "butter butts" (yellow rumped warblers Dendroica coronata) are flitting through the bushes dangerously close to the window pane. Careful fellas. The parking lot is filling with cars. The "Tourist in Your Own Town" program brings us hundreds of visitors a day throughout January. I am sure there will be some interesting dialog as well as the potential for many new friends for the Center. There is a stiff, cool breeze which will make for some great flights in the demonstration. I'll let you know how it goes-