Sunday, June 29, 2008

End of an era

The time has come to face reality. And therefore I've set myself a goal. Not a major one, mind you, but one of those little things that has nagged for many years until, finally, enough is enough.

By the end of this year I will be retiring... my account. This last unannounced, pretty much unwanted upgrade by the dear folks at AOL is so horrific that one actually gets less bang for the increasing buck than before. And with so many other good options available, why keep torturing myself?

Granted, I have numerous online accounts to change, friends to notify and other sundries, but the effort will be well worth it. Those of you who need to know, don't worry I'll keep you informed...

It's been fun, but it's time to move on. Now if I could make the same decision about other aspects of life!


No, not what you might think. The title is shorthand for Purple Martin (progne subis). I attended my first Minnesota Purple Martin Fest on Saturday. Finding my way to Hugo, MN is a story unto itself, but I will stay on the subject at hand.

I was the guest bird bander for the festivities, and had a wonderful time. Good food, good presentations and a not-overwhelming banding effort. Purple Martin banding concentrates on the nestlings, and most in this colony were too young. I will likely return in a few days to complete what I can. A number of other colony landlords expressed interest in banding. If by me, there's a danger of being spread too thin. If by them, then I suggested making contact with the North American Banding Council who might provide references to willing-to-train banders.

I'm hoping for a quiet day today. Non-work, non-banding things are happening that will likely have major repercussions. At least it's not my personal health. I think... Undoubtedly more to follow in the coming days. Meantime, a couple photos from yesterday. Enjoy!
Purple Martin colony site

Colony detail

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Summer banding

So far a quiet but rewarding two days of bird banding this summer. Yesterday the formal public program was a struggle, but we did band seven birds (including three American Redstarts!) and retrapped two over the course of four hours. Today for the private training session we managed another eight birds and one retrap. All in all a great day; many thanks to volunteers/trainees Susan, Susie, Jessi and Amber for the help!

Highlights today (for which I will post photos if I receive any) were the unexpected Bobolink (the weather was windy and the birds flying high) and the two Cedar Waxwings. Amber was so excited with the latter she was very much doing a happy dance, especially when we let her band the first one. Susan banded a Clay-colored Sparrow, and Susie and Jessi did the bulk of the rest. So fun to see the enthusiasm!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Life's little embarrassments...

1. Had a wonderful evening meal and conversations at Merlin's Rest.
2. Feeling tired and a little claustrophobic from the crowd, so drove home.
3. Got almost to my garage (about a 20 minute drive) and realized...
4. ...I had departed without paying. YIKES!
5. Did a wheelies U-turn in the Aveo.
6) Drove back to Merlin's Rest.
7) Paid. Added a bit extra for the embarrassment factor...
8) Drove home. Actually stayed this time! My punishment is both feeling totally stupid and the wasted $4/gallon gas.

Many thanks to Sharon for being a wonderful hostess and covering my major faux pas.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Check out these bird photos...

The May update for bird banding at Powdermill, seen beginning here, is superb. Enjoy some up close and personal views, including an immature male Orchard Oriole (YAY)! Compare the photo there with Amber's photos in prior entries here, including the infamous "blue at the base of the beak." Congrats to Bob Mulvihill and crew for a fine, albeit slow for them, spring. As you'll see, they also had their share of storminess and cool weather.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What not to be at work...

Proactive. This is according to some people "in the know." Especially if you're being proactive in an entirely different direction than everyone else... SIGH... And another fine week gets underway!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Mauston - NO

Too much rain, too many washed-out roads. Better to be safe, however. Meeting Jackie will have to wait until September. I hope she and all my other new-found relatives can ride out this craziness...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Certificate of Appreciation

I received a note today from a contact for whom I have done banding of Purple Martins (Progne subis). At one of his two sites he reported a dead martin to the Bird Banding Laboratory, part of the US Geological Survey.

Yes, bird banders are your tax dollars at work. Many of us (myself and sub-permittee Roger included) receive volunteer's wages for this. But we do it to learn, to teach and to share notes. As Bob Mulvihill at Powdermill so aptly states, we are akin to auto mechanics looking at one part (birds) of the car (Earth, Gaia etc). OK, enough of the soapbox...

When you find a banded bird, you can report it in the US in one of three ways:
2) 1-800-327-BAND
3) for the non-squeamish and a dead bird, remove the band, attach it to a postcard and send it to the address on the band (yes, there is a usable address on that little silver bracelet!).
In all cases, report the date, where you found the bird, its condition, what it appears to have died from, and other information as noted on the Web site. In due time you will receive a certificate similar to the one below.

Any reported band is important, as waterfowl hunters know very well. The odds of a reported songbird band are about the same as winning the lottery, so all recoveries, even of a dead bird, are very much appreciated!
Certificate of Appreciation

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Today I had my first actual conversation with distant relative Jackie, who is herself visiting not-quite-as-distant relatives near Burlington, Wisconsin. We both noted the fragility of our meeting plans, with the recent inundation of the southern part of the state. We're both keeping fingers crossed that the weather breaks enough that travel is not too crazy. We shall see. If everyone does get together, it's going to be great fun (at least as much as a Niles can ever have...)! I'm taking pictures off my walls as we speak; gotta show 'em off!

Friday, June 06, 2008

A tinge of envy

A co-worker of mine will be participating in a cross-country bike race as part of this team. I wish them and their fellow racers all sorts of good luck. Please donate if you can!

Someday I hope to do a cross-country "pilgrimage" of some sort, although my currently preferred mode is walking on rail-trails. Someday, if health allows...

Enjoy the weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Dichotomous Key

OK, folks, even duller entry than usual today, so if you're not into a somewhat scientific look at some bird photos:
Immature male Orchard Oriole
Female Orchard Oriole

The species of the top bird was called into question by one of Minnesota's better birders. This led me to also question the ID of the second bird shown. I confirmed my field judgment with the help of two books:

"A Manual for the Identification of the Birds of Minnesota and Neighboring States" by T.S. Roberts
"Identification Guide to North American Birds, Volume I" by Peter Pyle

The first book contains a dichotomous key for all the various species. This is a fancy way of saying that you choose either answer A or answer B to a series of questions until you get to the final answer. Pretty neat if you can follow along! To go though the full set of questions for the first photo (yes you can tell all the answers from the picture):

1. Whole head, throat and upper breast bright yellow (YES) or not (NO)?

The NO eliminates adult male Yellow-headed Blackbird
2. Body below dark chestnut (YES) or not (NO)?
The NO eliminates adult male Orchard Oriole
3. Underparts, including throat and breast, wholly black, brown or slate (YES) or not (NO)?
The NO eliminates a whole host of blackbirds
4. Throat bright yellow, pale yellow or buffy (YES) or not (NO)?
The NO eliminates Meadowlarks and a number of female blackbirds and orioles (we will revisit this item shortly)
5. Entire head and throat pure black (YES) or not (NO)?
The NO eliminates the adult male Baltimore Oriole
6. Throat pure black, underparts greenish-yellow (YES) or not (NO)?
The YES arrives at immature male Orchard Oriole!

For the second photo, questions 1, 2 and 3 are answered the same. However, question 4 is answered with a YES which takes us to:
5. Upperparts striped (YES) or not (NO)?
The NO eliminates Meadowlarks
6. Bird uniform grayish-brown (YES) or not (NO)?
The NO eliminates female Brown-headed Cowbird
7. Head buff-colored (YES) or not (NO)?
This eliminates young Yellow-headed Blackbird
8. Entire underparts pale yellow or yellow-orange (YES) or not (NO)?
The YES eliminates female and young male Yellow-Headed Blackbird
9. Entire underparts greenish-yellow (YES) or orange-yellow (NO)?
This is the most difficult to judge, but the YES leads to female Orchard Oriole and the NO leads to female Baltimore Oriole. The choice of the former was confirmed in hand by measurements of wing and tail as detailed in Pyle's book, the Orchard Oriole being a smaller species than Baltimore Oriole.

The question had arisen if the first photo was of a Hooded Oriole. This was a very good possibility, but the some blackish feathers in the bird's crown (as barely seen in the photo) and some chestnut feathers above the bird's tail (not seen in the photo but seen in the field) were present. The plumage clues were once again confirmed by the smaller measurements of wing and tail detailed in Pyle.

Isn't science fun? For even more fun check out the hybrid warblers at Powdermill's web site.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Back to Earth...

...with a THUD. Nothing like that first day back at work to make one forget about vacation and all the previous fun. To top it off, almost all co-workers were some degree of cranky. YEOW!

Thank goodness for cohorts Susan, Nora and especially Jackie; your smiles were the only highlights today.

A full week lined up, which is fine because outside is rain, rain, rain according to the forecasts. We shall see...

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Now I just need an Old Milwaukee...

...because life can't get any better than this. Then again, if I was retired it could be better...

Had another great bird banding weekend, yesterday at Ritter Farm (18 birds of 11 species) and today at Carver Park (12 birds of 6 species). The phenomenal birds were today, photo'd by Amber:
Adult male Bobolink

Adult female Bobolink

Immature male Orchard Oriole

Adult male Orchard Oriole

I need to get back to work to take a break from the intense excitement bird banding has held for the past month. Of course, not too much work.

And only thirteen more days until meeting some new old relatives... YIPPEE!!