Archive for the ‘Birds’ Category

“Joy in looking and comprehending is nature’s most beautiful gift.” – Albert Einstein

A male Baltimore oriole. — Wikimedia photo

My 477th Bird

Back in 2006, when I was still a full-time RV-er traveling across America, I found myself camped beside Grand Lake o’ the Cherokees at Bernice State Park in Oklahoma. On my second day there, I was up by 6 a.m., and after a quick cup of cream-laced coffee and a short walk with my canine traveling companion Maggie, I took off alone to explore the park’s nature trail. It was summer-hot and humid, and Maggie had seemed quite agreeable to be left behind to sit in her favorite perch in front of the air conditioner.

View of Grand Lake that I had through the window of my RV at Bernice State Park in Oklahoma. — Photo by Pat Bean

Several bird feeders set out near the trailhead were bustling with Carolina chickadees and American goldfinches, and as I watched, a nearby downy, North America’s most common and smallest woodpecker, drummed its own attention-getting beat. It was going to be a good day, I decided.

As I continued on down the path, I took plenty of time to breathe in the simple beauty around me: a yellow patch of wall flowers, the artistic composition of a small dead tree reclaimed by vines, and an occasional peek of a glistening, sun-speckled lake through thick foliage

I’ve often wondered how people who don’t take nature breaks stay sane in today’s fast-paced world? I suspect that the angry psychopaths who do evil and harm are among the deprived.

My thoughts were interrupted when a doe and her freckled fawn came into sight around a curve in the path. I froze, as did the two deer. We all stared intently. When I finally took a step forward, mom stepped into the woods. Her baby gave me one last look of interest then quickly followed. It amazes me how fast wildlife can disappear from sight.

A male Bullock’s oriole — Wikimedia photo

My thoughts were still on the deer when a flash of orange drew my attention. With eyes glued to my binoculars, I followed the color through the tree branches, and realized I was most likely looking at a Baltimore oriole. While common in the East, these orioles don’t visit the West, where I had lived when I took up birdwatching.

Out West, the Baltimore’s look-alike cousin is the Bullock oriole. I had seen hundreds of Bullocks, but this was my first Baltimore. It was what we birders call a lifer. While I rejoiced, I lamented the too brief view I had before the bird disappeared amongst the trees. I had identified the bird more because of its color and location than because of specific field marks.

Later in the day, as I was sitting at my table writing, the omission was rectified. A Baltimore oriole flew right outside my RV window, and then lingered in the area. It was a breeding male with a black head atop a bright orange body that had thin white streaks on black wings. A Bullock wears only a black cap atop its head and its black wings have prominent white patches on them.

After the oriole flew away, I got out my world bird list and added the Baltimore oriole to it. It was bird 477. I had been hesitant to put it on the list earlier because of the poor sighting. Life is good, I thought, as I added the date and place of its sighting beside the bird’s name.

As I had suspected, it turned out to be a very good day.

Bean Pat: Houston Art Car Parade http://tinyurl.com/mqug4ef For people watchers, too. As a writer, these photos are good examples of interesting characters.

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“Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

One Colorful Bird. No, Make That Two Birds

Elegant trogon. — Wikimedia photo

at Two

I hunted for the elegant trogon twice in Madera Canyon here in Southeastern Arizona – and did not find it. For my third try, a detour on one of my annual trips from Utah to Texas, I hired a bird guide out of Sierra Vista, and made a reservation at a Sierra Vista hotel to spend a couple of nights.

Three days before my trip was to begin, I bought Gypsy Lee, the small RV in which I would soon live in and travel in for nine years. I then switched my hotel reservation to an RV park reservation, which is how Sierra Vista became the first place I hooked up my RV. I still remember the trepidation I felt about that virgin event. I had to purchase a special sewer connection sold by the park. It was a connection that I never had to use again, and once I had the hang of it, I could hook up the water, electricity and sewer to my RV in just a couple of minutes.

I found my elegant trogon up Garden Canyon in Huachuca Mountains, just an hour and a half away from Tucson. . — Wikimedia photo

But back to that elegant trogon, which at the time was just as important to me as getting familiar with my new home on wheels.

The guide took me and two other birders onto Fort Huachuca in his VW Camper, and then on a hike up Garden Canyon. We hadn’t gone far when he pointed out an elegant trogon quietly sitting on a branch above a small stream. I could hardly breathe. This is one colorful bird.

I was the one, meanwhile, who saw the second trogon, and pointed it out. As our quartet of gazes shifted between the two birds, the first flew over to the second, and mated with her. It was all over in a matter of seconds.

I thought about this sighting, which took place on May 9, 2004, because I’m been thinking of a return trip to Garden Canyon, which I have never visited again. Nor have I seen another trogon.

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Bean Pat: Mammoth Cave http://tinyurl.com/kap7kxd For the armchair traveler – and my bucket list.

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House sparrow. — Wikimedia photo

“To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter… to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring – these are some of the rewards of the simple life.” — John Burroughs

Chirp, Chirp, Chirp

My home in Ogden, Utah, had a huge Rose of Sharon bush growing in front of my bedroom window that brought me much delight and pleasure. It grew wild and free, and I let it have its way. I loved that bush, and so did the house sparrows, which also gave me many hours of pleasure.

A female house sparrow. — Wikimedia photo

Until I began seriously watching birds, I had never really noticed these seemingly plain brown birds. At least that’s how I thought of them until I looked more closely and saw that the male, especially in breeding season, was actually quite eye-catching.

On a Jan. 31, 2001, morning, not too long after I became an addicted bird watcher, I watched one such male, and wrote: “I have a gorgeous male house sparrow perched in my Rose of Sharon bush right outside my window. It’s sitting in the sunlight so I can clearly see it in all its splendid colors, rust brown, white and black, a perfect copy of the house sparrow illustration in my bird guide, complete with the white dot next to its eye.”

My Rose of Sharon bush always bloomed profusely in spring, and the blossoms stayed around for a long time. I miss that bush — and its resident sparrows. — Wikimedia photo

On another day, I wrote: “My house sparrow is chirping outside my window. The morning light is still dull so his colors aren’t showing well. But having once seen him in the light, I can pick the colors out. He’s really chirping this morning. Maybe he’s trying to attract a female.”

And so he did. And for the next couple of years, I watched as that first pair of house sparrows to take up residence in my Rose of Sharon raised babies. And I watched one morning as another female flew in, and was then chased away by the resident female while the male just looked on from his perch. And from that time forward, my morning wake-up call was always a chirp, chirp, chirp, which is about all these sparrows ever say.

House sparrows are one of about 25 sparrow species world-wide. They thrive near human populations, and love to forage just about everywhere on the planet where humans drop crumbs, from service stations to picnic grounds. I’ve seen them in Japan and Africa looking just like they did in my Rose of Sharon bush.

I’m sure if you look around you, wherever you live, you will find one, too.

            Bean Pat: Meditate Your Way http://tinyurl.com/n62noxy For all of us who find it impossible to sit still and control our minds. Bird watching works for me.

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The gull on the left is a ring-billed, and the gull on the right is a California Gull, both of which are frequent visitors to Utah’s Great Salt Lake. For years I thought they were simply seagulls. — Photo by Pat Bean


In order to arrive at knowledge of the motions of birds in the air, it is first necessary to acquire knowledge of the winds, which we will prove by the motions of water in itself, and this knowledge will be a step enabling us to arrive at the knowledge of beings that fly between the air and the wind.” – Leonardo da Vinci

Just Ask Any Avid Birder

            In 1999, I became addicted to watching, identifying and listing birds. While I had always loved being outdoors in nature, these flying creatures, until this point in my life, had mostly gone unnoticed.

Then suddenly I was seeing them everywhere. I couldn’t not see them. Every profile on a utility pole, every rustle in a tree on a calm day, every small shadow flickering across my path had me looking to see a bird, and to identify it.

How had I lived for half a century and been so blind to their amazing numbers and varied activities?

My addiction didn’t happen overnight, however. I should have paid more attention to the warning signs, which included my suddenly finding opportunities to write about birds as part of my then assignment as an environmental reporter. Along with taking every opportunity to get out of the office for the day to research stories about things like forest management, wildlife habitat and water issues, I began writing stories that involved birds.

The Seagull Monument in Salt Lake City’s Temple Square. — Wikimedia photo

I wrote about backyard birding, hawk watching atop the Goshute Mountains, and the local Audubon field trips. But it was the story about Egg Island, a tiny bit of land in Great Salt Lake, that should have warned me about how crazy birders can be.

In writing the story, I called the gulls that nested on the island seagulls. As soon as the paper hit the streets, I had birders calling to tell me that there was no such thing as a seagull, that the birds nesting on the island were mostly California gulls. From the callers, I also learned that there were over 25 different species of gulls in North America – and none of them were seagulls.

I guess the artist who created the Seagull Statue that sits in Temple Square in Salt Lake City (to honor the “seagulls” that saved the crops of Mormon pioneers from a grasshopper infestation) wasn’t a birder.

Since writing that story about the birds that nest on Egg Island, I have personally seen and identified 15 species of North American gulls. In addition to the California gull, they include Sabine, Little, Bonaparte’s, Franklin, Laughing, Heerman’s, Mew, Ring-billed, Herring, Glaucous, Glaucous-winged, Western, Lesser Black-backed, and Great Black-backed.

I’m still looking for all the gulls I haven’t seen. But then I’m a crazy birder who now knows there is no such thing as a seagull.

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Bean Pat: Travels and Trifles http://tinyurl.com/kcblvks Don’t Fence Me In.

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“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust

Forget-me-nots by the roadside. -- Wikimedia photo

Forget-me-nots by the roadside. — Wikimedia photo

2001 Memories of a Non-Wandering Wanderer

I remember clearly when Alaska became a state in 1959. It had been an issue that had been discussed in the news for several years before it actually happened. And it had been one of the issues I debated in school.

Bald Eagles near Haines ... Wikimedia photo

Bald Eagles near Haines … Wikimedia photo

I remember that I took the opposing view, and one of my arguments against Alaska becoming a state was that it would mean Texas would then be only the second smallest state. Dumb argument, but what do you expect from a 14-year-old native Texan. And as I recall that argument was met by another 14-year-old who said: Alaska wouldn’t be bigger if all the snow and ice were melted away.

I thought about those school days as I drove from Haines Junction, Yukon, to Haines, Alaska, where I would catch a Ferry that would take me and my vehicle on the Inland Passage to Vancouver, Washington.

It was yet again another scenic drive, one with quite a few lake overlooks, an abundance of ground squirrels flittering here and there, trees full of bald eagles and roadsides full of small blue flowers.

Forget-me-not, up close and personal

Forget-me-not, up close and personal

I identified the flowers as Forget-me-nots, and learned it was Alaska’s state flower. From an Alaska guidebook, I also learned that the For-get-me not was first adopted in 1907 as the official flower of the “Grand Igloo,” an organization formed by pioneers that had arrived in Alaska before 1900, and that in 1917 it was proposed that the flower be declared the official emblem of the newly created Alaskan Territory. Esther Birdsall Darling wrote a poem for the occasion:

        So in thinking for an emblem

        For this Empire of the North

        We will choose this azure flower

         That the golden days bring forth,

        For we want men to remember

        That Alaska came to stay  

       Though she slept unknown for ages

        And awakened in a day.

        So although they say we’re living  

       In the land that God forgot,  

       We’ll recall Alaska to them

        With our blue Forget-me-not.

The Alaska Flag

The Alaska Flag

In 1927, Benny Benson, a 13-year old Aleut boy, referenced the Forget-me not with his winning flag design for the territory. He said the blue field represented the sky and the blue of the Forget-me-not flower. The North Star is for the future state of Alaska, and the Dipper is for the Great Bear – symbolizing strength, he added.

When Alaska entered the Union as the 49th state, Benny flag was retained as the state flag – and the Forget-me-not was adopted as the official state flower.

And it seemed that everywhere I looked on the drive this day, I saw Forget-me-nots. And I never will forget them.

Bean Pat: Forest Garden http://tinyurl.com/hk8rssn Flowers and Words, lovely.

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            “We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” — Jawaharal Nehru

I saw my first trumpeter swan in Alaska. -- Wikimedia photo by Donna Dewhurst.

I saw my first trumpeter swan in Alaska. — Wikimedia photo by Donna Dewhurst.

2001 Memories of a Non-Wandering Wanderer

            Less wild, but just as beautiful, the 275 or so miles from Denali National Park to Alaska, took quite a bit more than the average six hours to drive because of sightseeing stops along the way.

A postcard of the Anchorage bed and breakfast where I stayed for two days.

A postcard of the Anchorage bed and breakfast where I stayed for two days.

One of those first sights along the way was a pair of beautiful trumpeter swans on a lake. I immediately did a U-turn for a closer, and longer look. It was a lifer for me. Although looking much like the tundra swan, of which I had seen thousands at Bear River Migratory Bird Refugee in Utah, the trumpeter is much larger. It is, with a wing span of six feet and weighing in at about 25 pounds, North America’s largest waterfowl.

What a great start, I thought, for the day.

Another spot along my drive that slowed my progress was the small and quaint village of Talkeetna, which felt very Alaskan. It was exactly the opposite of how I felt when I drove into Anchorage for the first time. Even the weather here is different, with more moderate winters because of its location in the southern portion of the state.

Talkeetna welcome sigh

Talkeetna welcome sigh

Anchorage’s large population, close to half a million residents, and yuppie espresso shops made the city feel more like California than Alaska.

The bed and breakfast  I had booked for two nights, however, had the feel of Alaska that I preferred. It was run by two great old ladies, one who cooked and took care of the flowers, and the other who took care of the business.

Yet another great day!


Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Bean Pat: Something to keep in mind. http://tinyurl.com/jfrz43y

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“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends. “– Maya Angelou

An autumn scene along the Peace River, not exactly the view I saw during my trip but I certainly saw river-side landscapes that were just as awesome. -- Wikimedia photo

An autumn scene along the Peace River, not exactly the view I saw during my trip but I certainly saw river-side landscapes that were just as awesome. — Wikimedia photo

2001 Memories of a Non-Wandering Wanderer

          I compared my first day of driving the Alaska Highway through Canada to a day of riding steep roller coasters. The route crossed many creeks and rivers, and most of the driving was done in the rain.

A page from my 2001 Alaska Trip journal.

A page from my 2001 Alaska Trip journal.

My guide for the Alaska Highway was the 2001, 53rd edition of The Milepost, which listed all the sights of the route in milepost numbers. As much as my interests, and time, demanded, I took short detours to see them, including one off road adventure to find Peace River Park, supposedly on an island across a causeway. I noted in my journal that the causeway was dinky.

The only animals I saw this day were brilliant blue Steller jays (visit my September 24 blog for a picture of a Steller jay) at a dump, lots of ravens, one llama, two hawks I couldn’t identify, and one deer. Signs along the way frequently claimed “moose and caribou on road” – but they lied.

I ended the day in Fort Nelson at Mile 300. The small town was named in honor of British naval hero, Horatio Nelson. It was established by The Northwest Trading Company in 1805 to accommodate fur traders. Because of fires, floods, and feuds, according to one history source, Fort Nelson is currently situated in its fifth location.

While in town, I visited the Fort Nelson Heritage Museum, an interesting step back in time that included exhibits of a “Hardly Davidson” scooter, and the first curling stones on the Alaskan Highway.

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Bean Pat: A funny comics blog http://tinyurl.com/jy9sqhn This is so me!

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