Category Archives: Birding

Birding Panama or How I Escaped the Polar Vortex

panama.coverphoto
There was nothing but snow as I travelled to Newark Airport on February 22nd. Susannah and I chatted with the shuttle driver, but our thoughts could have been summed up in a few words: ‘It’s finally here. Panama. A place with No Snow!’ (See example above, the mountains of western Panama. That white stuff is fog, NOT snow.) Our New Jersey Audubon group gathered at the gate, 6 men and 6 women, including tour leader Scott Barnes. Most had already birded Panama with Scott and our Panama leader, Guido Berguido of Advantage Tours. I had never been to Panama, but I had a little neotropical birding experience, and had packed the birding essentials: bins, cameras, power cords, Tilly hat, granola bars, deet. I was looking forward to to getting to know my birding companions, and to seeing Panama, land of the canal.

I was not disappointed. Here are some highlights, presented in two blog posts. And, I have to note that there were many other highlights I couldn’t photograph for one reason or another. We birded from dawn to dusk, literally, on the road and in the van and during meals. The ideal birding trip.

Panama: White-necked Jacobin

We spent our first few days at Soberania Lodge, otherwise known as Guido’s Place, in Gamboa. About 40 minutes from Panama City, Gamboa was once a town for Panama Canal workers, and is now the entry point for Soberania National Park, where birders bird and researchers from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute study neotropical plants, bats, insects, and, I hope, birds. We occasionally ran into a researcher in the park and at the lodge, which houses Smithsonian students as well as birders.

Panama: White-necked Jacobin, Female

“Down time” was spent in that time honored neotropical birding pastime, watching the feeders. White-necked Jacobins, Florisuga mellivora, had the monopoly here. The Neotropical Birds website calls them medium-sized hummers, but I think they are huge. White-necked Jacobins inhabit a broad range in the Neotropics (I’ve seen them in Ecuador, Costa Rica and Trinidad), and can be pretty aggressive. That’s the male and the female above. The male has the distinctive white neck and is sticking out his tongue. Nectar, yummm. The female is more difficult to identify, as female hummers tend to be.

Panama: Gray-headed Chachalaca

Gray-headed Chacalacas, Ortalis cinereiceps, were noisy, regular visitors, often eating every banana in sight.

Panama: Feeder Friends

But, there were times when the other birds, like this Blue-Gray Tanager, Thraupis episcopus, just put their claws down and refused to move.

Panama: CCT (as in Clay-colored Thrush)

Clay-colored Thrushes, Turdus grayi, were ubiquitous, seen pretty much everywhere we went in addition to the feeders. We called them CCT’s or, for old timers, CCR’s (Clay-colored Robin, the old name).

Panama: Agouti Under the Feeders

The agoutis, a rodent species, were also common to the point of being tame. It was a big difference from the agoutis in Trinidad, which also helped themselves to fallouts from the feeders but then scampered away before I could get a decent photo.

Panama: Pipeline Road

Panama: There is a Pipe on Pipeline Road

Our birding for the first few days was in the vicinity of Gamboa, with many hours spent on the fabled Pipeline Road, which is really Soberania National Park. Yeah, there really is a pipe that runs along the trail and at odd places in the forest.

Panama: Birding Pipeline Road

A highlight of the first morning, at the tram parking lot, was this Orange-crowned Oriole, Icterus auricapillus, below. It was the third oriole species we saw there, and apparently a very unusual one for the area. Guido and Luis, our birding guides, were very excited about it, especially Luis.

Panama: Orange-crowned Oriole

Of course, we didn’t always look at birds, though there were fewer dragonflies and butterflies than I expected. Morphos flew along the path, uncatchable by hand or camera, and once in a while I spied a fantastically beautiful creature. This dragonfly has no common name, it is simply known as Rhodopygia hinei. I would have like to have gotten images from the front too, but my access was blocked by the tree below, which I call simply Spiny Tree.

Panama: Rhodopygia hinei

Panama: Spiny Tree

This small butterfly is known as Togarna Hairstreak, Arawacus togarna. It has a false head, intended to fool predators. Frankly, I’m not sure exactly how that works. If you’re eaten, you’re eaten, right? Does it matter from which end?

Panama: Arawacus togarna, Togarna Hairstreak

The rain forest was haunted by the roars of the Howler Monkeys, particularly during our first two days. I’ve never heard them so loud, and we wondered if they were defending their territory against another Howler Monkey tribe. (This is National Geographic on Howler Monkeys: Male monkeys have large throats and specialized, shell-like vocal chambers that help to turn up the volume on their distinctive call. The noise sends a clear message to other monkeys: This territory is already occupied by a troop.)

Panama: Parent and Child

Howler Monkey and Howler Child

Panama: Howler Monkey Pondering Life

Another Howler Monkey, pondering the silly birders and life in general.

Panama: Rest Stop on the Pipeline Road
This small rest stop along Pipeline Road was a good place for clean rest rooms and more birding. I photographed this Whooping Motmot there, a bird we also saw every day at Guido’s feeders. It’s part of what is call the “Blue-crowned Motmot complex”, a group  of motmots that were split into five species in 2010, leaving me very confused. (Still trying to figure out which Motmot I saw in Ecuador. Whooping?)
Panama: Whooping Motmot

One of the highlights of the trip was seeing this Rufous=vented Ground-Cuckoo, Neomorphus geoffroyi, along Pipeline Road. This juvenile bird had been seen on occasion by birders, including Luis, for the past week. Luis knew just where to go. We walked into the forest a few feet and waited. For once, our group was quiet. Soon, we could see the RVGC walking along the forest floor. Of course, a rainforest floor is not clean, it’s full of leaves and ground cover and vines and just a lot of stuff, so many of us were wiggling our heads and cameras, trying for a good full-body look and image.

Panama: Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo 2

The RVGV didn’t seem bothered by our presence at all, he just kept on walking and poking amongst the ground cover, probably looking for nice sized bugs. It didn’t even seem bothered when I used a flash on it–thus the purple eye in these photos. Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoos are usually seen following large ant swarms. This was one of several birds we saw that week that usually follow ant swarms, so we figured we just missed one. (Darn! Seriously, if you are birding the rainforest, you want an ant swarm.) Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoos also have a reputation as wary, skulkish birds (unless they are following an ant swarm). We were very fortunate to encounter this juvenile bird, which seemed too young to know that it should have hightailed it back into the forest as soon as one of use wiggled a finger.

Panama: Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo

More in the next posting, Birding Panama, Part Two.

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The Wonders of Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz Island: Island Fox
We didn’t originally plan to visit Santa Cruz Island. We–my friend Ian and I– decided that it would not work out. Our time in Southern California being limited, we wanted to squeeze as many life and Western birds out of each day as was possible, and with the boat leaving Ventura Harbor at 9am and not returning till dusk, it seemed to us that this would mean spending an awful lot of time on an island with limited birding opportunities. Of course, there was the almost certain opportunity of seeing the island’s bird star, the endemic Island Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma insularis . But, this one Life Bird seemed small potatoes compared to a pelagic trip, an all-day birding trip at sea, promising oodles of sea birds we would never see on land.

santacruzisland.fromboat

Fate being what it is, the pelagic trip out of Santa Barbara was cancelled due to lack of participation (hey, Santa Barbara birders! what’s the deal with that?), and luckily I was able to get tickets on the Island Packers boat to Santa Cruz Island (above) for the same day, Saturday, September 21st, right before they declared the trip full.  Yes, apparently people would rather be on a 1.5-hour boat ride to a pretty island where they can hike and picnic than on a 9-hour boat ride where they might see jaegers and shearwaters and….might not.

Ventura Harbor: Brown Pelican

It was fun waiting to get on the boat at Ventura Harbor and observing our fellow passengers, who included a boy scout troupe in a mix of scout and play garb, a local Nature Conservancy major donors group wearing name tags and carrying field guides, and some very healthy, athletic twenty-somethings, carrying guitars and storing kayaks in the boat’s hold. This Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, impassively watched too, comfortably settled right below the walkway to the boat, and wearing the last vestiges of breeding plumage. (California Brown Pelican,P. o. californicus, I’ve discovered, is more colorful in breeding plumage than our own Eastern Brown Pelican.)

santacruz.sealions
The fun started on the way out of Ventura Harbor, passing these Sea Lions on one channel marker, and, very quickly, the resident rarity, a Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster), on channel marker 3. The photo below was taken a week later, from Marina Park. The Brown Booby is the bird on the right. Apparently, Blue-footed Boobies were also being seen on the Ventura Harbor breakwater, but we didn’t see them that day. We did see many Blue-footed Boobies at other locations on our trip.
venturaharbor.brownbooby

Island Packers boats sail to Santa Cruz Island daily May through September (and, it looks like,from their web page, October too). I was surprised that the boat ride was 1.5 to 2 hours long, but the time goes quickly. Unless you’re like me and get slightly seasick even if you’ve taken anti-seasickness medicine. Ian and I were entertained by a pod of dolphins and periodically tried to identify seabirds and gulls. At one point, we were surrounded by acrobatic Black-vented Shearwaters, a life bird for Ian.  Other people who have taken this boat ride have seen whales and Pink-footed Shearwaters (what I was hoping for). But, the goal of the boat is to reach the island, so there is little time for pausing to identify and observe sea life.

Here’s a map of the island, from the Island Packers web site. They, in turn, seem to have borrowed it from the U.S. National Park Service.

santacruzisland

Santa Cruz Island is owned by the U.S. National Park Service (24%) and a group of nonprofits–The Nature Conservancy, the University of California Field Station, and the Santa Cruz Island Foundation (76%). It has a complicated history, which is nicely encapsulated by Wikipedia (and maybe by the National Park Service, but I cannot access that website today, while the U.S. government shutdown is in progress, though why the website must be shut down is a mystery to me).  The island was originally populated by the Chumash Indian tribe, and then taken over by Mexico, which briefly used it as a home for convicted criminals (thus “Prisoners Harbor”), and then granted to a Mexican army captain. There was then a series of owners and litigation over ownership worthy of a mini-series or a big fat book, like the kind Michener used to write.

Santa Cruz Island, Prisoner's Harbor

More importantly, the island was home to a thriving sheep ranch and then a cattle ranch. It was also used for hunting, fishing, smuggling, and military operations. By the time the majority of island land was sold to the Nature Conservancy, introduced species like sheep and feral pigs, and invasive species like the Golden Eagle were destroying native island ecology. Endemic species, notably the Island Scrub-Jay and Island Fox, were in danger of extinction. The Nature Conservancy to the rescue! Seriously, they (and I assume the U.S. Park Service, though I can’t research that part of it with their website down!) have done an incredible job here, removing the sheep and pigs, relocating the Golden Eagles and re-introducing the Bald Eagle, replanting bare hillsides with native plants, and more.

Santa Cruz Island: Kayakers!

There are two places to land on Santa Cruz Island. If you’re a boy scout or a kayaker or an athletic young person, then you probably want to get off at Scorpion Anchorage, where you can kayak and hike and camp and play the guitar. If you’re a birder or a Nature Conservancy person, then you probably want to disembark at Prisoner’s Harbor, because that is where the Island Scrub Jay hangs out.

Santa Cruz Island: Island Scrub Jay 1

Scrub-Jays are members of the Corvid family, and they were considered one species till 1998, when they were split by the AOU into three species–Western Scrub-Jay, Island Scrub-Jay, and Florida Scrub-Jay. The Island Scrub-Jay looks very much like the Western Scrub-Jay (which itself is a candidate for being split into coastal and inland species), only it is darker and larger, with a heavier bill. The bird is on the Yellow list of the American Bird Conservancy, which means that it is in need of conservation attention, but not to as great a degree as those species on the Red list. However, Birdlife International has uplisted the species to the Vulnerable list because (1) it exists only on this island and can be wiped out by a catastrophe, like a super-storm, and (2) it’s vulnerable to West Nile disease. Also, while it had been estimated that there were 9,000 scrub-jays on the island, more recent counts indicate there are far fewer–less than 3,000 individuals and less than 1,000 breeding pairs.  The Nature Conservancy is on the case, and has a program to vaccinate the birds.  It involves peanuts on a stick, a box, and a vaccine.

Santa Cruz Island: Island Scrub-Jay 2

Ian and I were, of course, most anxious to see the Island Scrub-Jay, and it didn’t take long before we heard it. Another few minutes later we saw the bird! And then another. And then another. The birds had a maddening habit of appearing just beyond the distance needed for good photographs or in the middle of a tree or vocalizing very near us and then flying away before we could aim our cameras. Still, we were very happy to see so many Island Scrub-Jays; both for conservation reasons and because they were Life Birds! I wondered whether, like their cousin, the Florida Scrub-Jay, they could be coaxed closer with peanuts. Alas, I had no peanuts with me, for a reason only Ian knows, and probably would not have tried this even if I did, out of respect for the rules of the organizations that own the island.

The other endemic creature living on Santa Cruz Island is the Island Fox, a small creature the size of a small house cat (so they say, Ian and I think it’s a pretty large cat). In fact, “there are six subspecies of the island fox, each of which is native to a specific Channel Island, and which evolved there independently of the others” (thank you Wikipedia).  The Island Fox population had fallen to less than 100, mostly due to the arrival of the Golden Eagle, when the Nature Conservancy and its partners started its Island Fox Recovery Program in 2002. The program included captive breeding, close monitoring in the wild, and vaccination, and has been so successful that the captive breeding program could be discontinued. There are now more than 1,300 Island Foxes on the island.

santacruzisland.fox2

We spotted our first Island Fox down the hill, right after our first Island Scrub-Jays flew away. And, then, like the scrub-jay, we saw another! And another! We were so excited, we ran after them (at a distance) and took photograph after photograph. Let me tell you, it was really hard not to go up to this totally adorable and almost cooperative fox and remove those grasses by its face. Later, we found the Island Fox pictured at the beginning of this post, hunting the picnic area. The Park Service provides fox-proof bins where visitors can store their lunches, and they are definitely needed. Every fox has the most trusting expression on its face, doesn’t it? Even when it’s scrounging under a Park Service jeep or trying to open a large cooler on a picnic table.

Santa Cruz Island: Common Raven A pair of Common Ravens also frequented the picnic area, first calling to one another, and then coming down to seek out goodies. I wished they had stayed up in the trees. Seeing these majestic birds poke around like, well, crows, really took something away from their mythic stature.

It turned out that the island was very birdy, that you didn’t need to hike very far to see birds (we had decided not to go on the 4.3 Nature Conservancy hike), and, as one of the naturalists on the boat told me, anything could show up. This Clay-colored Sparrow was a very good find, both for the island and California. It was foraging on a dusty path with a stripey western Savannah Sparrow and a western Chipping Sparrow (I found that many of familiar sparrows looked very different in California).

Santa Cruz Island: Clay-Colored Sparrow 1

Finally, at 4pm, it was time to board the boat for the trip home. The boat was delayed by about 20 minutes, which gave us an opportunity to sit by and dock and simply enjoy the beautiful view. A trip to Santa Cruz Island is not a pelagic, but it does offer up its own unique wonders.
Santa Cruz Island: The Dock to Nowhere

My Great Gray Owl

It’s been a little over two months since I saw the Great Gray Owl.  January 6th, to be exact, in Kingsville, Ontario, Canada. It was my first Great Gray Owl, Strix nebulosa, a bird I’ve been coveting for years, ever since I realized that I had missed the Great Gray Owl invasion of 2004-5.  This was the bird I most wanted to see in 2012.

Ontario: Great Gray Owl 2

The owl was first reported on December 23rd, 2011 and it was a big deal. There are Great Gray Owls in Ontario, but not in the southwest, near the shore of Lake Erie, a half-hour southeast of Windsor, just across the Ambassador Bridge and 20 minutes west of Pt. Pelee. This was a Great Gray Owl that could be easily seen. If you lived in Michigan or Ohio or Ontario.

 
I lusted after the Great Gray Owl in frustration for weeks till I realized that in early January I would be in a place, let’s say Chicago, that was only a short drive, let’s say 5.5 hours, away.  The owl was not being seen regularly at that point. I had contacted a couple of local birders, hoping it was one of those situations where people just weren’t reporting it, which seemed crazy to me, but it was rural Canada, a town of around 20,000 people, so–who knew? The absence of news was not promising, but sometimes one needs to trust the birding goddess. I got into my rental car and drove east.

My path took me through Indiana, where I chanced on a Snowy Owl (thank goodness for birders who point out owls to strangers) at a place called Port of Indiana on Lake Michigan, which turned out to be a guarded industrial area, not a real port.  Here is a digiscoped photo of the owl, taken before the security people showed up and threatened to take away my camera.
Indiana: Snowy Owl on the Jetty

It was dark by the time I got to the Ambassador Bridge, barely visible behind construction and detour signs. Night in Windsor, coffee at Tim Horton’s, time to go for the bird. It was only then I realized that not only could I not use my iPhone to check the Ontario listserv or to call the local birders, I couldn’t use the GPS function to find my way to the bird. I was in Canada, a foreign country, helpless without my phone.

A little more coffee and I realized I needed to go east. And south. And east, towards the sun. I knew I was in the right place when I recognized the street signs, set far apart in this rural area comprised of very large rectangles of fields and woods. The owl was not at its last location. This was o.k. because sometimes you want to do a little work to find the bird. Calling on expertise imparted by my birding mentors, I did that sophisticated thing you do when looking for a famous rarity: drive around and look for the big cameras. And, it worked!

Ontario: My First View of My Great Gray Owl

I saw the small mob of photographers and tripods on McCain Side Road, south of the intersection with Road Two. Pulling over behind the line of cars, I jumped out, camera and scope in hand. I assumed the owl was much further down the road, beyond the crowd, and started running. Then I stopped. I had left my bins in the car. I stood in the road for a second, stuck between running to see the owl immediately, before it flew off as it undoubtedly would, and taking a minute to retrieve my binoculars. And then, my problem was solved. A large dark being flew out from the clutch of photographers, aimed straight towards me, and perched on a branch of a tree on the edge of the road, 6 feet away. “Well,” I said to myself, “I guess I won’t need the binoculars.” This was my first view of my Great Gray Owl. I was in love. And, I think he was in love with me.

Ontario: Great Gray Owl Stands AloneBecause, this is what happened: After gasping and staring and photographing and some more gasping and staring, I walked across the road to put my scope in a safe place, away from cars and the photographers, who were awkwardly running up the road with their cameras and tripods. I stood by my car, parked in front of the only house on the street. I looked up. The owl was flying across the road to a short tree in front of me, and then onto this post, a little lower down. Directly in front of me. The photographers looked at me suspiciously, then ran across the road and set up their tripods on either side of me. I started wondering if the owl would follow me into my car, but figured it would be hard to explain the bird to immigration control.

Ontario: Great Gray Close-up
The Great Gray Owl was not as large or as massive as I had imagined; his shape had a compact, tapering quality, and the shape of the head changed as he stretched and preened. His colors were lovely, gray and ecru (o.k., off-white), brown, and all shades in-between, changing with the light. The thin line of white feathers under his face, his bow-tie, gave him a natty, dressed-for-success-but-a-little-worn-out look. His eyes, when he chose to open them, were that incredible neon-bright yellow, but mostly they were hooded, set far back in his head. I know we’re not supposed to anthropomorphize, but I couldn’t help wonder what the owl was feeling. Sometimes he looked gentle, other times, very stern and impatient with us humans.

Ontario: Great Gray Owl Listening

Here is one of my favorite photos. I was wondering if those indentations indicated where the owl’s ear openings were, so I asked my very knowledgeable birder friends via Facebook. Allison Shock, also known as Three-Star Owl, replied, “That may not be the actual opening where the wind has parted the plumage, but it’s close — the ear openings are right behind the rows of stiffened feathers in the facial disc. You’ve got yourself a real case of “Half Dome Head” there! Allow me to rudely quote myself: Half-Dome Head: the Geology of Owl Crania.” Allison is a sculptor as well as a birder, so she needs to know about things like skulls and feathers. Please, read her article. She does a great job describing technical things in language we can all understand, such as why the Great Gray Owl’s face is shaped like a radar dish and why the head is shaped like the granitic dome formation, Half Dome, in Yosemite Valley, California,

Another Facebook friend, birder photographer Christopher Ciccone, wrote, “Some additional cool info… the sides of the skull are right next to the outside edge of the eyes – the rest of that big head is all feathers! Also, the ear holes are not even – one is higher than the other to help them hear in 3d. Very cool adaptions!!” I knew about the all-feathers fun fact, which is pretty amazing. I did not know about the asymmetrical ear holes. And, according to the Lab of O’s Birds of North America, it also has an asymmetrical skull! The left external ear opening is directed further upwards than the right external opening; this gives the owl very precise directional hearing.

Ontaro: Photographers Waiting for the Owl

A lot of birders had traveled to see this owl, but the day I was there, I felt like I was the only birder in the crowd. There were photographers and local people and me. Some of the people who lived in the area had seen the bird almost every day. Mothers came with their kids, businessmen stopped their cars on the road to ask how it was doing, police waved. Still, I was concerned. People were getting very close to the owl. The photographers stood in front of it, and on the rare occasions when the owl faced them and open his eyes, all their cameras went off at once. Hey, if I were a Great Gray Owl, I would not be happy about that. What? You only love me full frontal with my eyes open? “You have wings,” I told the owl telepathically, “Use them.”

And, he did. He flew off, across the fields, into the woods. The photographers looked after him wistfully, shrugged their shoulders, and said, “Lunch break.” The locals went home. I went off in search of more Snowy Owls, and to see the entrance of that mythical place, Pt. Pelee. It would be nice to see my Great Gray Owl again, but if he wanted to take the rest of the day off, find a hidden field where he could hunt for mice in peace, that was fine with me.

Postscript: The Great Gray Owl was not seen again that day, and by mid-January he was gone. Maybe. Someone said they saw him last week, March 15th, on the east side of Kingsville, but no one else was able to find it. I like that idea. The owl is out there, on the shores of Lake Erie, successfully eluding the people who would adore it.

The Emily Post Guide to Birding Georgia

This is what happens when you travel for business or family and bird on the side:  you research locales and the Internet to target your limited time, you lug a duffel bag full of maps and birding guides so you don’t spend that time getting lost, you find great birds (sometimes), and you meet a lot of local birders (most times).    You discover that birding conversations follow the same pattern, whether you’re in Las Vegas, Chicago, or the Everglades:  where the bird is, what the bird is doing, where the bird was.  Sometimes, there is a digression:  who photographed the bird, who chased the bird away.  And, no one introduces themselves.  This has been my experience for the past eight years. The only names articulated are those of the bird.  Until I birded Georgia.

I discovered the uniqueness of birding Georgia a couple of months ago, when I had the pleasure of once again visiting Victoria Collett, who resides on Skidaway Island, outside Savannah.  This trip, I decided to fly into Jacksonville, FL and bird my way up the Georgia coast.  Plane fare cheaper, and there was a Buff-bellied Hummingbird on Jekyll Island.  I also discovered, once I landed and checked Georgia Birding, the online Rare Bird Alert, that a Harris’s Sparrow had been found that very day at a place called Altamaha WMA.   Harris’s Sparrow!  I needed that bird!  A quick check of my Delorme map showed Altamaha WMA was north of Jekyll Island, on the way to Savannah.

Jekyll Island: Buff-bellied Hummingbird 1

I got to Altamaha shortly after noon, having spent the morning photographing the Buff-bellied Hummer in the backyard of two lovely women (who were surprised that a New Yorker did not talk like a character out of Law and Order).   And then I ran into a problem.  The directions on the Internet seemed specific enough, but when I reached the coordinates that were supposed be Altamaha I found nothing, no sparrow, no birders.  I realized Altamaha is one of those places where directions only make sense if you have spent ten years birding it.  I tried driving around slowly.  There must be birders looking for this sparrow, right?   No birders, no sparrow.

Georgia: Altamaha 1

I tried parking the car and walking a trail.  Nothing.  Till I heard a car slowly driving up the tiny narrow dirt road.  Two nicely dressed women with binoculars around their necks greeted me cheerfully.   “Hello!  We found a Harris’s Sparrow yesterday; do you want to see it?”  And, then they did something even more astounding.  They introduced themselves.  Full names.  Towns.  They looked at me.  I stared back, dumbfounded, and then realized that I was expected to introduce myself too.  Name.  City.  Date I arrived in Georgia.

I thought the exchange might be an aberration.  Maybe these were two Southern belles who had taken up birding between socials and who just happened to stumble across a Harris’s Sparrow.

I got to the area where the Harris’s Sparrow was found (a half-mile from where I originally arrived, but down another narrow dirt trail that didn’t look like it could accommodate a car, around a pond  full of egrets and cormorants, and through a field), and found two more elegantly dressed women birders, who told me the Harris’s Sparrow had been seen around the bend.  And who introduced themselves and asked where I was from.  Really!  This was getting ridiculous.  I had a Life Bird to find.

Next field down, I spotted a clutch of birders holding binoculars.  And, putting them down.   Yes, I had missed the bird.  The Georgian birders extolled me with the basics, where the bird was, how the bird was photographed, what the bird looked like.  And, they introduced themselves.  Full names.  Towns.  The Southern belle theory went out the window, ‘cause these were all birding guys.  Except for the woman who brought me over to her station wagon and introduced her children.

Georgia: Altamaha 2

No Harris’s Sparrow, but there were four hundred and twenty blackbirds in a tree.

It turns out that not only do Georgian birders introduce themselves, they print everyone’s names in their Internet reports.  So, I had the honor of being mentioned in Georgia Birding two times that weekend, the first day I missed the bird, and the second day I missed the bird.  Because, of course I had to try again on the drive back to Jacksonville, the only day in January that the bird was not seen.  But, there is my name in print, documentation that I tried:  “Donna from New York”.  Yes, only Donna.  No last name.  Because, as much as I tried, tribal customs die hard.  It will take more than an extended weekend in Georgia to change my birder’s etiquette.

[Note:  I finally got my Life Harris’s Sparrow the next week, at a research conference in Colorado.  Where, by the way, the birders are friendly but do not do introductions.]