The Tiny Aviary

It's been too long since my last post here at 600 Birds. It's easy to get swept up in the holiday craziness that happens both at work and at home. Add to that all the snow shoveling that I've been doing lately and it's no surprise that I've found little time for blogging.

One of the many duties that has been filling my time has been holiday shopping. It seems that every year, while on that quest for a perfect gift for someone else, I come across something that I just have to have myself. Well this year I treated myself to a print by Chicago area artist and fellow bird nut, Diana Sudyka. I first came across Diana's work while admiring that of husband's, Jay Ryan. Below is a copy of the print that I purchased for myself.
I'm a huge fan of illustration, including comic books. Diana's illustrations bring together elements of a lot of my favorite things: nature, art, science, music, and whimsy. Her work reminds me of a mix between the stylized drawings of John James Audubon and Edward Gorey.

You can see a lot of her bird artwork as well as anecdotes about working with the skins collection at the field museum at her blog, The Tiny Aviary. Gig posters can be found here.

Below are some of my other favorites by Diana.



If you love snow, it looks to be another fantastic winter here in the Madison area. If not, you have my condolences. Personally, I've already been out x-country skiing a few times and am looking forward to many more moonlight skis this week.

This is what it looks like right now outside of the window next to my desk. Lots of snow and not much else. School has been canceled and people are staying home today to enjoy this beautiful spectacle. So far we've got 7" on the ground with 3-5" more before the end of the afternoon.

My daughters have already spent the entire morning exploring the snow-covered backyard with our dog. I'm sure my wife will have them all warmed up and well rested by the time I get home. I expect we'll do some sledding tonight at the local hill and maybe after bedtime I'll have a chance to suit up and go skiing. I think we will all sleep well tonight after a full day of fun in the snow.

The real efficient laborer will be found not to crowd his day with work, but will saunter to his task surrounded by a wide halo of ease and leisure.

-Henry David Thoreau


The Wildlife of Costa Rica and Panama

I've finally gotten around to reviewing the hundreds of photos I shot while on my recent vacation to Central America. Photographing wildlife was a real challenge due to lack of light in the forests and an abundance of rain on many occasions. The photos below are just a sliver of the animals we enjoyed on this trip, be it in the forests, skies, or seas.
This is a spiny-tailed iguana shot at Manuel Antonio National Park. One of the naturalists from our ship said that these are prized for their meat by some of the locals.
A Capuchin or White-faced Monkey, also shot at Manuel Antonio. These guys were everywhere and quite easy to approach. We were advised to keep a close eye on backpacks, cameras, and binoculars, as it was not uncommon for an inquisitive monkey to make off with someone's gear.
The Crab-eating Raccoon is found only along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica and is closely related to the ubiquitous Northern Raccoon, common to exotic locales such as Mount Horeb, WI.
This is a Three-fingered Sloth. What can I say about sloths other than they are such cool and bizarre creatures. Sloths are also a favorite food of the Harpy Eagle, the national bird of Panama.

The Marbled Wood-quail is a very elusive, chicken-like ground forager. I was told that many birders in Costa Rica seldom if ever get a chance to view one of these shy creatures. I felt pretty lucky when we were able to watch a small covey hunt amongst the leaf litter within 15 feet of us and tried to get a decent photo. This was the best I could do with the lack of light.
This is a Jesus Christ Lizard, named as such because it escapes predators by running across water on its hind legs.

A Spotted Sandpiper in winter plumage.

Chestnut-mandibled Toucan.

We had spent a day in the Darien Jungle with the indigenous people of the Embera village. Here is a picture of a group of children enjoying close-up views of a Night Monkey through my scope.

Night Monkeys (also called owl monkeys) are a nocturnal species. If I recall correctly, the night monkey is the only nocturnal species of monkey.

The list of those species seen but not photographed is too long to post, especially when we get to the bird species.

As I look back on our trip, I am continually amazed at both the diversity and abundance of life present in such a small geographical area. Having said that, both Panama and Costa Rica face continual pressure for development of land for housing, industry, and agriculture. A bright spot here is that both countries have recognized the value of eco-tourism to their economies and have protected large tracts of land to try and insure its future. My hope and belief is that their reverence for wild things will continue to keep in check the tempting desire for wealth easily obtained by exploiting the land. I highly encourage you to help keep these places wild by visiting and supporting the eco-tourism industry in Central America. It's worth it!


New Mexico/New Birds

Brown-capped Rosy-Finch

Black Rosy-Finch
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch

Above are images (courtesy of Jeff Bouton) of the Rosy Finches at Sandia Crest, NM. Upon landing in Albuquerque we made a beeline there to try and see all three species. The light was beginning to fade as we worked our way up to the peak. We managed to get there just in time to see all three species perching atop a Spruce tree and then fly off, not to be seen again for the day.
Here I am, peaking over the railing at Sandia Crest, hoping the Rosies will return for a closer look and maybe a chance to photograph them.
Here is Jeff, walking the pasture land of rural New Mexico as we pursued a flock of over 100 McCown's Longspurs. We had many brief but up-close looks at these birds. Regrettably, we were not able to get them to stay still long enough to photograph them. They proved to be a very wary flock of birds.

Here is a Williamson's Sapsucker that I digiscoped at Water Canyon, just outside Socorro. While I digiscoped this sapsucker, there were a Red-naped Sapsucker and a Townsend's solitaire in this same tree. Two other life birds. I was able to get images of the solitaire but not the other sapsucker. Shortly before these birds showed up, we were treated to great views of a Northern Goshawk. Water Canyon proved to be one of the birdiest places on this trip and a destination that I will certainly re-visit next time I find myself here.

It was a great trip to New Mexico and the Bosque del Apache NWR. We saw many species of birds and took in some breathtaking scenery in the process. I came home from New Mexico with the addition of 7 new birds to my North American species count, bringing the new total to 582. These numbers and lists, however, are always secondary to the wonderful experience that birding provides. At the end of the day, it's about time spent outdoors in relatively wild places. I consider myself fortunate to be there, new birds or not.


Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving of course, is all about being grateful for what we have in our lives, be it people or things. It has also become a holiday embracing the notion of stuffing our faces with food. In that spirit, I offer the following images from the Bosque del Apache to draw inspiration upon. Happy Thanksgiving all!


Views from Bosque del Apache NWR

I just got back from the Festival of the Cranes at the Bosque del Apache NWR. This was my first time to this festival and refuge and it was a spectacular experience. The ambiance of this place is undeniably stunning. I've got a few more posts about this place/event but am still catching up on work/family stuff. I've been out of town 18 days since the beginning of this month! More posts to come on my recent trip to the tropics as well. In the meantime, enjoy these views from the Bosque!
Hundreds of Snow geese lift off.

A Prairie Falcon surveys the desert.

Can you find the hidden digiscoper?

There were White-crowned Sparrows everywhere around the visitor center.

A sliver of moon hangs in the sky as morning begins.

Digiscoping way too early in the morning.

Gambel's Quail in the sage.

Ferruginous Hawk.

Geese and ducks coming in at dusk.

Sunset at the refuge.


Wow, that was a lot of fun!

My wife and I returned home from our Central American cruise on Tuesday and are trying to adjust back to our normal life. We had a fantastic time and I will try and post many stories and photos here, once I catch up with work, etc...
In the meantime, enjoy this zip-line canopy tour from Corcovado, Costa Rica.


I'm A Winner!

Last spring, the sport optics division of Pentax was running a contest/drawing for all of their binocular dealers and customers purchasing certain models of their products. The grand prize for this Sail Away promotion was a trip for two to Costa Rica and Panama. I was randomly selected among all the nationwide entrants as the grand prize winner of this contest and will be flying to Costa Rica with my wife tomorrow afternoon! We are excited, to say the least.
If you are curious, here is a description of our cruise.

Though there won't be much going on here at 600 birds for the time being, I'll be sure to have lots of stories photos to share when I return mid-November.
Quetzel image courtesey of Jeff Bouton
Hopefully we'll be able to see a few of these on the trip.


Saw-whet Owl Banding

I had a great experience Saturday night participating in the Saw-Whet Owl banding operation at the Linwood Springs Research Station in Stevens Point, WI. Right now the Saw-Whet Owl migration is peaking here in Wisconsin as the owls (mostly females and juveniles) head south for the winter. See the Saw-Whet Owl's range here.

Gene Jacobs runs this research station, which conducts studies on Sharp-shinned and Red-shouldered Hawks, in addition to Saw-whet Owls. Gene and his interns band 500-700 owls annually. Here Gene is explaining the molting patterns of the Saw-whet owl.

When the owls get processed, the wing feathers get marked with a non-toxic, blue marker. Gene is assisting in a study on the Saw-whet's molt pattern. By marking the wings, Gene and other banders can determine the molt strategy and sequence on individual birds over time.

This is the ear of a Saw-whet owl. Like the larger Great Gray Owl, Saw-whets have ears that are asymmetrical, allowing them to triangulate the position of prey via sound. A very convenient product of evolution for birds that hunt in the dark.
Here I am with "Hootie", an owl that my wife and I adopted for our daughters. For a small donation, the adoption gives us a certificate with Hootie's band number, age, weight, etc.. We will also get updates on any re-captures of Hootie, should she find her way into another mist-net during her migratory life. Our kids were excited to have their own owl, even though we weren't able to bring Hootie home.

This year, the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin (NRF) hosted 3 Saw-whet Owl banding trips to the Linwood Research Station. The NRF is a wonderful organization devoted to conservation efforts here in Wisconsin. Their field trip program offers participants the opportunity to get a world class education about Wisconsin's wildlife and ecology directly from experts in the field. I would highly encourage anyone with an interest in the outdoors to check this program out.