Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Subscribe to Birdwatchin' Buzz

I never realized the impact blogging would have on me. I never realized I'd have so much fun writing about the going-ons in my life. I suppose that's because I've always been kind of a private person. But what do you know ... here I am writing about my life almost daily. And surprise of surprises ... I enjoy it. Who would have thought.

But the best part of blogging is the people I've met. It's been amazing. I have new friends in Australia, Singapore and most recently Costa Rica. And those exotic places don't lessen the impact of those I've met here in the U.S. And then there are the blogs these people and others write. There is a growing list of My Favorite Blogs over on there on the right. There are certainly many talented folks out there in cyberland and they bring insight and humor to my life daily. Computers are wonderful inventions.

My newest acquaintance from Costa Rica authors A Broad In Costa Rica . . . the play on words in the title is just an inkling of humor you'll discover as she writes about her family's adventures as new residents in Costa Rica. Don't miss it.

I also discovered a service on her blog offered by FeedBlitz that allows people to subscribe. What this means is that you'll get an email when there is a new post. Of course, XML syndication is available, too ... as it is on my blog (just over there to the right). But people seem to get confused over how that works and it's said that about 80% of potential subscribers avoid XML because they just don't understand it. Now I really don't know if anyone feels the need or desire to subscribe to my blog, but I thought I'd offer a subscription opportunity, too. Afterall, it's nice to think that I might contribute something about my interest in birds that others might find worth revisiting. So in case that's true and you'd like to get an email notice of new postings then just add your name to the subscribe block (over in the right column) and press Subscribe Me. Your information will be as confidential as you choose it to be. And be assured this is not something that will generate spam or any privacy issues.

I found a good way to make new friends is to leave comments on blogs . . . or on websites. So if you have a comment, something to share, or maybe a request just let me know. I'll do my best to respond.

Today is going to be full of non-birding activities until tonight. Then I get to go the second meeting of the Beginning Birding Class I wrote about yesterday. I'm ready and enthusiastically looking forward to what the next birding pro will share. Besides the birds themselves, it's the people you meet in the birding world that can be just as fascinating. More on the birding class tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Beginning Birding Class

When I received an email promoting a beginning birding class sponsored by the Buena Vista Audubon Nature Center I just couldn't resist signing up. Although I've been birding for awhile I was curious to see what an official birding class had to offer. Besides the BV Nature Center is close enough that I can get my nighttime pet bird chores done and still make it on time. So last Wednesday off I went.

First of all, the Nature Center is a pretty cool place. It is set adjacent to Buena Vista Lagoon in Oceanside (northern San Diego County). The Center is primarily devoted to educating children and they do a great job.

There are many bird specimens which really help to appreciate and remember the field marks of those species. Fortunately, the Nature Center has a volunteer who does taxidermy and she offers her services for free. I was very happy to hear that all the specimens were found in a deceased condition within Buena Vista Lagoon. I'm a real bleeding heart and I don't think I could bear hearing that the birds were captured for taxidermy purposes. I'm afraid if that were the case my experience at Buena Vista would have been ruined. I can't help it ... I just don't deal well with animal death. I know I need to be realistic and I am to a point. But the bottom line is I am a real bleeding heart and I struggle dealing with it.

Anyway, the first class was informal because it was combined with a general meeting of the BV Audubon Society. There was a guest speaker from another Nature Center in the San Diego area. She was a very experienced birder who has been birding for about 35 years. While her talk was informal it was interesting and focused on the mystery and magic of birds. A slide presentation of field marks accompanied her talk.

Then last Saturday we had a field trip to the Lagoon area of the Nature Center -- Buena Vista Lagoon, to be exact. The field trip included an informal talk on "Introduction to Birding" focusing on the birds of fresh water wetlands. The field trip began at 8:30 a.m. That meant rushing around to get morning bird chores done before I could leave. I was organized and out the door in time to get to the field trip on time, but in my rush forgot my binoculars. Did I say I was organized? Evidently, not well enough. Sheesh! I thought only I could pull a stunt like that, but found out later that people who've been birding forever have been known to do the same thing. But I really felt foolish and had to rely on the trip leader's scope to see my birds.

Here is the list of what I saw: Pied-billed Grebe, Western Grebe, White Pelican, Great Blue Heron, Mallard, Cinnamon Teal, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Ruddy Duck, Osprey, Red-tailed Hawk, Common Moorhen, American Coot, Black-necked Stilt, Ring-billed Gull, Anna's Hummingbird, Cliff Swallow (and their nests under a bridge), American Crow and Marsh Wren. Not bad for standing in one spot for a couple of hours.

We'll have four more class meetings along with field trips. Each field trip will be to a habitat that provides an opportunity to use skills and see the types of birds covered in the previous class meeting. The last field trip will be to participate in the Buena Vista Audubon Society's Birdathon--America's Birdiest City Contest. The Beginning Birder's Class will form a team to participate in this event to test their new skills. Should be fun and a great way to finish the class.

Then on April 15th I'm going to attend a Birding By Ear class also sponsored by BVAS. I'm really looking forward to it because identifying birds by their song will be new to me. I just haven't put much effort toward learning those skills. More on that later.

I should have my new binoculars for the next field trip. I can't wait to get them ... they will be my first real high quality optics. I'm getting an Eagle Optics Bino System Harness strap, too. With that gadget I can hang my binocs around my neck in comfort and without them swinging around. They tell me that these straps are the way to go. So I'll hang my new binocs around my neck before I leave the house. I don't think I could deal with forgetting them twice.

Sunday, March 26, 2006


Last night I went to bed wondering what today would bring. Maybe it would be an energetic day and I'd get some work done. I need that sense of accomplishment because I have too many things to do and not enough time. Or I could weaken and ignore the projects by taking a trip up to Lake Henshaw to see the Bald Eagles. Last night I was really leaning that direction. It's much more fun to go look for wild birds and enjoy nature than put my nose to the grindstone. But as it turned out I didn't do either. Bummer!

Yesterday I got up early to attend the field trip. So by the end of a very busy day I should have been pretty tired. I was. But after going to bed I found I couldn't go to sleep. At 3 a.m. I was still wondering when I would fall asleep. Not good. So when it was time to get up I dragged myself out of bed and felt wasted. And I never bounced back.

So now the day is almost over and I have little to show for it. OK, it's Sunday and is supposed to be a day of rest. So, I rested. I'll leave it at that. In a few minutes I'll be heading to the bird room to do nighttime chores. It is a part of my daily routine and I've been doing it for 22 years. The only time I get a break is when I go on vacation and that has been a rare occurrence lately.

I guess if my avian "kids" where human they would be out on their own by now. But since they are not . . . I'll be doing these chores daily until I can no longer physically do them. That will be a long time from now, if I'm lucky. Lucky? Yep! Even though I get real weary of doing the routine I'll keep doing it forever because sharing my life with my birds is so meaningful to me it's become my lifestyle. It's how I think of myself . . . I'm a
parrot person.

Maybe its partly habit -- it's hard to break any habit even it involves sacrifice. But it is mostly the intense connection I feel to these amazing birds. I wish I could find the words to really describe how meaningful that connection is. What it really means to me. I guess I've always been much more animal/nature-oriented that most people. Maybe that is the reason I seem obsessive about my avian companions. But I know it is really because of who they are. Unless you live with abundantly-nurtured, hand-reared parrots (or a dearly loved pet of some other persuasion) you might not be able to understand even if I were to find the right words to describe this connection I'm talking about.

Since I can't find the words to really explain how I feel I just leave it like this. Because of who they are, my avian friends deserve my devotion and protection. And I'll make sure they get it. So I'll hang in there for them, especially since they've put up with me and a domesticated lifestyle all these years.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

A Bald Eagle Nestling

I intended to chat about a birding class I'm taking and the birds we saw on our first field trip today. But I'll Leave that for tomorrow.

It's more interesting to give a brief update on the Bald Eagles and their nest at Lake Henshaw which I've written about during the past couple of weeks. While I was on my field trip a local birder here in San Diego took the opportunity to visit the Bald Eagles to observe today's happenings. And, wow, did he have good luck. He watched one of the adult eagles feeding a chick. Yes, there is now proof that a chick has hatched. The nestling was visable all during this feeding and appeared to take all the food. There was only one eaglet, as far as he could see. It seems reasonable that if there were two in the nest they both would have been seen. While one adult eagle fed the young the other was out flying over Lake Henshaw evidently in search of another tasty meal. However, the eagle didn't have any success and was harrassed by one of three Red-tailed Hawks that live in the area. The eagle returned to the nest but then left shortly and was again harrassed by the hawk. Then the eagle attending the nest flew out over the lake with the same result.

The birder also noted three Turkey Vultures drifting in and out over the nest, sometimes simultaneously with the hawks. By the time the birder left the eagle originally tending the nest had settled down over the nestling.

So it is ... a morning in the life of Mr., Mrs. and Junior Bald Eagles. Now here is my dilemma. Do I take a trip to Lake Henshaw myself tomorrow to see all this drama for myself? It sure is what I want to do. But I may not have the opportunity. I'll have to wait and see what is on tomorrow's agenda.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

When Did I Become a Bird Lover?

I've been asked when it all started ... when I did I get interested in birds. That got me thinking. I'd had to go way back ... back to my early childhood. I'm not sure what age I was when our family got Budgies. We had two and I was in grade school. The budgies were untame so they weren't companions.

Some years passed. When I was a young teenager my Dad brought home two Cockatiels -- Junior and Pancho. Junior was handfed and was a love. Pancho was probably handfed also, but hadn't been handled enough as he got older and was a little nippy. So Junior became my pal. He'd eat breakfast with me every morning before school and later in the day we'd have some playtime. The only time he got into trouble was at breakfast one morning. He hopped down to the table and proceeded to jump into my bowl of cheerios. Being an animal-loving family we didn't consider that anything but a funny event -- we all got a big laugh out of it. But Junior did need a bit of cleaning up and my cereal had to be replaced.

Sometime later my Dad decided to build an aviary in our backyard and then he brought home some more cockatiels. I think we had ten. Dad is gone now so I can't ask him about his intentions for the cockatiels. And I can't remember because sometime later my parents separated. Understandably, the separation was an extremely traumatic time for me and may be the reason for my failed memory. Perhaps Dad meant to breed the cockatiels. I don't know. He had built an area within the aviary which housed them at night and contained their food and water. But I don't remember seeing any nestboxes.

It was Junior, my cockatiel, that connected me to birds. He was the most wonderful little creature and I loved him more than anything.

I was a very shy kid and it was hard for me to stand up in front of my school class and give reports and things like that. I do remember vividly that one of my classroom assignments was to give a report on any subject of my choosing. Along with the talk, I had to use the chalkboard to explain my subject matter. Whew! I was scared to death. What got me through it was talking about my Cockatiels. I drew a picture of our aviary for the chalkboard part of it. I guess the A+ I got on my report should have been an indicator of the future serious interest I would have in birds.

My next birds were budgies that I kept in my apartment when I went to college. They weren't tame but were nice companions, nevertheless.

It wasn't until I was in my early forties that birds really became a big part of my life. My connection with Junior always remained with me. One day -- many years after sharing my life with him -- I happened by a bird store where a Moluccan Cockatoo was displayed. I was instantly captivated. I'd never seen anything so beautiful. That vision stayed with me for several more years. Then my circumstances changed and I found myself able to buy a Moluccan. But that's
another story.

Now it is twenty two years later and Fagan, the Moluccan, is still with me plus 13 other birds. My interest in birds has grown from being Mom to my avian family to a die-hard birdwatcher, creator of a website
Birdwatchin'.com devoted to that interest, publishing a birdwatching newsletter -- David's Wild Bird News! . . . and this blog. I guess you could say that birds have become a way of life. And I couldn't be happier!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

More on the Bald Eagles

It is frustrating to not have the time to go to Lake Henshaw right now to see the Bald Eagle activity. So I'm grateful to receive posts from the SD Birding Group. One of the birders posted the following message which is definitely worth passing on to anyone interested in Eagles.

Here is the message: "This afternoon we watched the Bald Eagles nesting at Lake Henshaw. One was on the nest and you could see the top of the head moving. This eagle was visible most of time. The other bird was across the lake perched in tree. It changed trees while we watched. At about 5 pm it took off and was not seen for a short time. It then came flying across the lake to the nest, passing over us. It carried food for the eagle with nest duties, probably a small mammal. That bird stretched then ate while the other sat to the side of the nest. They then changed places, with the eagle that hunted taking up the nest and the nesting bird flying off. We found as we were leaving that it had returned and was perched in a dead tree not far from the nest tree."

What a great experience that any bird lover would be thankful to have. I hope my next trip to Lake Henshaw will be as a productive an experience.

Also of note in her message was the following: "Also the lake is host to a large number of White Pelicans. I estimate at least 50. Three weeks ago there might have been 3 times that number." Yes, I would agree. We were up there about that time and there were a very large number of White Pelicans. They were a bit far off, but with the scope could be identified.

Viewing Lake Henshaw is done from a road elevated above the lake. On my last visit to there were a very large number of all kinds of water birds. Most were circling in the air and it was interesting to look down on them as they flew.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Bald Eagle Update

Good news! One of the local birders here in San Diego made it up to Lake Henshaw to check on the bald eagles and their nest. The parent birds were seen and everything looked a-ok. So, I guess my worries were unfounded. But, as I said, since I wasn't sure if the unexpected snow would cause any harm, I could only hope the eagles would be fine. It's great to have confirmation that they are.

Since this active eagle nest is within driving distance I must find some extra time to learn more about their nature. Being able to observe them is a great incentive to learn more. I hope to visit the nest soon to watch the the young eagles as they progress toward fledging. It would really be great if this eagle family is content to stay in our area. What an opportunity it would be to continually visit Lake Henshaw and be able to sight them occasionally. They actually have picked a good spot to raise a family. Lake Henshaw is large and has plenty of fish. Enough to attract many species of birds. Sighting the eagles would definitely be frosting on the cake.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Bald Eagles and the Snow

We've had such a nice winter .... weather-wize. That is, until the past couple of weeks. Actually, I was wishing for rain as we need it here in Southern California. While the temperature dropped into the 50's we didn't get any wet weather until the past week.

In the coastal regions the rain has been rather mild, but enough to get some moisture in the ground. In the higher elevations the latest storm coming down from Alaska brought much lower temperatures and snow to the mountains surrounding San Diego. In fact, the snow was as low as 2,000-3,500 feet depending on which day we are talking about. And boy, did they get snow ... enough to close the roads to Julian and Mt. Palomar. Now, that is pretty incredible to me ... since these places are less than a hour away from where I live, which is near the coast.

Thinking about the amount of snow that would cause road to close gave me concern about the nesting Bald Eagles I wrote a blog about on February 25th. The most recent sighting of these Eagles came from a birder that belongs to the San Diego Birding Group. The birder saw one of the Eagles at the nest and the bird looked like it was regurgitating food into the nest. To me, that can only mean one thing ... one or more chicks had hatched. This was within the last week or so.

So my concern is over the rain, snow and cold weather and how it would affect newly hatched chicks. I'm not an Eagle expert, by any means. So my concern maybe unnecessary ... but I still can't help but worry. Of course, Bald Eagles live in cold climates like Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. From what I can tell from my field guide their year-round range in these areas is along the coast, but it is still very cold there in the winter. So they must be well adapted to frigid weather. Our area is part of their winter range. I wonder if these Eagles are year-round residents or migrated here to raise their young. Lots to wonder about.

I hope the unexpectedly cold weather and snow isn't a hazard. I'm looking for an update on the Eagles via someone in the SD Bird Group. But I don't suppose anyone can get up there until the roads are open again. That should be soon. When the report comes I hope it is good news ... that the Eagle family is doing well. I'll go up to take a look as soon as I can. Right now it's not possible with a close relative in the hospital recovering from open heart surgery. Just no extra time for birding right now.

Monday, March 06, 2006

What To Do About Squirrels

We don't have tree squirrels in the coastal regions of Southern California. But ground squirrels are abundant in the more rural areas. I've lived in my current home almost 4 years but it was only this past fall that a ground squirrel discovered one of my bird feeders. I guess I asked for it since it was a platform-style feeder designed to sit on the ground. It was set out for the many ground feeding birds that visit ... everything from White-crowned Sparrows, Quail and California Towhees to the neighborhood peacocks.

Surprisingly, all went well for several months because our local squirrel population has decreased somewhat. In fact, recently I've only noticed one squirrel. I'd know if there were more around because they tend to stay in groups when they are looking for food. So I'm assuming there is just one. Anyway, he finally found the feeder and the seed disappeared very quickly. Although this was a bit disturbing I didn't mind feeding him ... too much, anyway. Then he got enterprising, as squirrels do. He found one of the large hanging feeders and since it was located near a fence he made quick work of that food, too.

Okay, I have a choice. I can let him clean out my feeders everyday or two. But that will really make a dent in my budget and I'll have an extremely over-weight squirrel. Or I can give him his own food, like dried corn on the cob. That is the first thing I've decided to do. This may deter him somewhat, but I don't expect a miracle. So what else to do.

Recently, I found out about a squirrel deterrent that shouldn't cause him harm, but is supposed to strongly discourage him. Here is the idea:

Puree hot peppers and make a spray. I supposed that means straining the pureed hot peppers and then adding some water. Then add a few drops of Ivory liquid soap to the spray. Spray it on plants to keep squirrels away. I'm going a step farther. I'll spray my wooden feeders in addition to the small potted tree the squirrel uses to get on the fence. I've decided to try Habaneros peppers since they are very hot and easily found in the grocery store.

There are a couple of other ideas I learned about, which I'll do in addition to the pepper spray. One idea makes sense for me because I have a cat.

Evidently, if you place a very small amount of used cat litter around budding plants it will deter squirrels. Since my little "friend" isn't bothering my plants I thought I might try this idea at the base of the potted tree he climbs. Evidently, the cat smell makes a squirrel believe that the cat is nearby which sends him on his way to a safer location.

I understand that sprinkling blood meal around the borders of your garden is a good deterrant, too. I suppose that placing the meal around my ground feeder might add to the effectiveness of my squirrel-deterrent plan.

It will be interesting to see if these solutions work. I hope so, because I don't want to harm the squirrel (actually I really like watching him). I just don't want him devouring all the bird food. Maybe he should learn some table manners ... gluttany isn't attractive. Then he could dine with the rest of the critters.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

A New Pair of Binoculars

A couple of weeks ago the San Diego Audubon Society sponsored their annual Birding Festival. It was a 4-day event. I was only able to go for 2 days to attend a couple of classes on digiscoping. The speakers were excellent and I learned a lot. I was disappointed though because I missed all of the birding field trips and keynote speaker, Pete Dunn. That was due to the events filling up fast. Those misses were very unfortunate and I'll be sure to make early reservations for the Birding Festival next year.

On Saturday there were lots of vendors and organizations providing information. With all the binoculars, scopes, etc. on display I discovered and confirmed what my next pair of binoculars will be. Selecting binoculars is a highly individual choice. Where I thought the real high-end equipment like Swarvoski, Zeiss, etc. would be just what I'd probably want, I discovered an Eagle Optics binocular that suited me just fine and is equal in visual quality to the more expensive designs. In fact, I like these binoculars better ... they are really perfect for me. My excitement over the decision to get them is in high-gear. Liking these binocs better than the real expensive ones surprised me because it always seems that to get what I really want means paying a higher price. So while my budget will be hit fairly hard at $879, it seems reasonable as compared to the mid-$1,500-plus range.

I'm still using my first pair of binocs ... Audubons. When I bought them they seemed adequate enough and for some things, they still are. I guess real die-hard birders would consider them priced on the low end of the scale. Like I said they still are ok ... but after looking through my new choice ... Stokes Birding Series DLS 8x42's ... with their much better optical quality I know I need these new ones!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

How David Got His Name

David Jeffrey, my Hyacinth Macaw got his middle name in an odd way. It all began because the lady who hand-fed David chose, what she considered to be, very sweet boy names for the two Hyacinth babies she was raising. It's easy to understand her desire because handfed Hyacinths are such incredibly sweet baby birds.

When I bought David I kept his name because I've always preferred naming most of my pets with human names. This is especially true for my parrots. Parrots have such human characteristics it seems almost insulting to give them some "cutsey" pet-type name. But that's just my personal feeling, of course. There are many parrots in the world with great names that aren't normally used for people.

David has a brother and they were raised together until being separated to go to their new homes. When I arrived to pick up David I discovered a house full of people there to celebrate David going to his new home. One of the guests was confused over which bird was David and which one was Jeffrey. So everytime she spoke to one of the Hyacinths' she would call him David-Jeffrey.

Then we discovered that Jeffrey's new "parents" wanted to change his name to something different. So the name Jeffrey was abandoned. That made the lady who raised Jeffrey kind of sad because she thought the name was so appropriate. Since the party-goer had used the name David-Jeffrey it stuck for me. So we officially added Jeffrey as David's middle name.

I have an African Grey with a middle name, too. But that's another story.