Ponder This...

Friday, Jul 25, 2014

Who brings baby storks to their parents?

It's a question that has befuddled mankind for centuries.
 I'd be interested in hearing your conjecture.


Birthday Tribute to Julie

Thursday, Jul 24, 2014

Happy birthday to Julie!

Who is, among other things...
A wonderful, loving Mom
A mother to thousands of baby birds
A science chimp
An amazing artist
 An enthralling writer
A writer of irresistible songs
And fantastic singer of same
A talented pennywhistler
A gardener with green thumbs (and hands, and feet)
A healer of broken plants and animals
A sought-after nature guide
A world-class speaker/presenter
A runner of country roads
A crazy dog lady (Boston terriers only)
a wanderer in the woods.
and a beautiful, loving (and fun-loving) partner.

With love,

 Here's a beso from our evening primrose.


Happy 18th Birthday to My Favorite Bird

Friday, Jul 11, 2014

 To my darling daughter on the occasion of her 18th birthday.

You are a miracle to me, little bird. 
You were wise from your first day...

 So alive and deeply aware, for one so young, of the things that make this life wonderful.
Like grandpas who say funny things and then smirk.

 And the perfect arc of a tire swing on a summer evening.

Or the smooth feel of a baby rhino's horn.

You have proven, since your youngest days, that you can be from the country and still have swag.

You are willing to indulge your little brother, who is your shadow, in his Halloween schemes, his wacky dreams, and encourage him to follow in your footsteps.

 Your running footsteps and all the others, too.

Not everyone can go from goofy...

To glamorous as effortlessly as you, Phoebe...

Even the animals of the forest (and kitchen) sense your special nature...

I'd like to take credit for your love of baseball, but that, too, you came to all on your own.
 I am just your happy baseball buddy.

 Your mama has made you into quite the Science Chimp and Nature Girl.


And it's a good thing, because you seem to have met another of your kind....

I was there when you were born.
I have been blessed to see you growing.

 I have seen you pass milestones, one after another.

And now you launch into a new world.
My sweet little bird, it's time for you to fly away.
 But please, oh please, return
for we cannot imagine our world
without you,
darling, beautiful Phoebe.
 Happy 18th birthday to Phoebe Linnea Thompson!


New Podcast Episode: "Voices of Argentina!"

Thursday, Jun 12, 2014
1 comment

Magellanic woodpecker, female.
I've just finished episode #46 of my "This Birding Life" podcast, entitled "Voices of Argentina." In this episode I interview a variety of interesting folks whom I encountered during a recent birding trip to Argentina. We talk about birds (of course), culture, food, music, the landscape, and many other things.
Scanning the Iberá Wetlands.

Music and birds are the two largest rivers running through my life so I'm really happy to be able to include some Argentine music in this episode. The style of music is called Chamamé and it's a meeting or blending of the folk music of Europe (German accordion and Spanish guitar) and the Guaraní people of Argentina. We were entertained one evening by a duo playing Chamamé  and singing while some local dancers showed us the typical moves associated with each song. And all this was occurring while we were being fed a traditional Argentine asada meal of grilled meats and vegetables. Plus the famed Argentine wine. A memorable night indeed.
Duo playing Chamamé.

After they'd played two sets of music the band even let me play a bit during their break. Another thrill and yet another country where I've had the good fortune to bond with fellow musicians. After the show we exchanged CDs and hearty handshakes.

As you'll hear in the podcast, we birded in just two regions of Argentina (which is a huge country): the northeast around the large Iberá Wetlands Preserve and in the central southwest in the Andean foothills of Patagonia. The birding was incredible in both regions. Special avian treats included Andean condor, many-colored rush-tyrant, Magellanic woodpecker, greater rhea, and horned screamer. We saw a total of about 230 species during our 10-day trip, though, as our wonderful guides noted repeatedly, we were not there at the height of the birding season.
Greater rheas.
Andean condors.

If you are interested in learning more about birding in Argentina, please visit the travel page we've set up on the Bird Watcher's Digest website: www.birdwatchersdigest.com/travel/argentina. This page has links to Argentina's main tourism websites as well as links to the paces we visited, including lodging.
Drinking maté with Starsky, Dominic, and Tim.

My special thanks go out to Tim Appleton of the British Birdwatching Fair who invited me on the trip. And to Pablo Cagnoni from Inprotur, the organizer of the trip in Argentina, as well as to our wonderful guides, hosts, drivers, and planners.
Birding on a large estáncia in Patagonia with our lead guides Scarlett (dark hat) and Eugenia (second from left).

My fellow travelers on the Argentina adventure were Niklas Aronsson of Vår Fågelvärld (Our Birding World magazine in Sweden), Dominic Couzens (a popular and prolific nature writer in the UK), Matthew Merritt (editor of Bird Watching magazine (the original) in the UK). Click on their names to find out more about them.
From left: BOTB, Niklas, Tim, Dominic, and Matt.
Thanks for reading and listening!


Caption Contest #25 Winners!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Hey everybody! We have winners for Caption Contest #25! Yes that's winners?plural, with an s. Our judges were stymied at the prospect of choosing just one winner, so we divided the entries into two categories and we have two winners!

In the Dirty Minds category:

Nilpad said...
Optics for all your middle-aged guy needs!

Alyssa said...

Although the invite specifically said "bare-naked birding", Geoff didn't feel comfortable unless he brought along certain..."enhancements."

Erik said...
Looks like Geoff stores his Viagra in his optics case.

In the Funny and Clean category:
Leslie said...
OK, scan north until you hit Michigan, look for third jack pine from the left, halfway up the tree, eight o'clock, sitting on skinny branch against the sky, yellow breast, black streaking, split white eye ring..........

kevbosnafu said...
Our new 'Pinocchio' binoculars will let your birding friends know when you are....exaggerating... about that ivory-billed in the backyard.

Congratulations to our two winners and all of our finalists! And thanks to all who played!

Leslie and Nilpad, please contact me via e-mail to give me your details and claim your prizes! bt3 AT birdwatchersdigest DOT com. Use the subject line BOTB Caption Contest.

Thank you!


Caption Contest #25!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

It's been a while since we had a good old-fashioned caption contest here at Bill of the Birds. In fact it's been WAY TOO LONG! So here goes...

My good buddy and New River Birding & Nature Festivalco-founder Geoff Heeter is using some impressive binoculars in this image.

Almost as impressive is your opportunity to submit a clever caption for this photograph and garner a fabulous prize if your caption is chose as the winning entry. The prize is a personally autographed copy of The New Birder?s Guide written by yours truly.

Here are the rules:

1.     Use the Comments section of this blog (below) to create and enter your caption.
2.     Make sure there?s a way for our panel of esteemed judges to identify and contact you by including your Blogger name, non-linkable e-mail address, Google+ or Twitter handle, etc.
3.     Get your entry (or entries, there?s no limit other than your time and imagination) in by May 22, 2014.
4.     Entries must be in English or in one of the other identifiable languages of Planet Earth (no Klingon or High Valyrian entries please).
5.     Encourage your friends, birding pals, social media contacts, and frenemies to enter.
6.     Sit back, enjoy the entries from others less clever than you
7.     Wait for the announcement of your BOTB Caption Contest victory!

Thanks for playing and let?s be careful out there.


Introducing The New Birder's Guide!

Thursday, May 08, 2014
1 comment

My latest book is out this week and I?m kind of excited about it. It?s The New Birder?s Guide published by my great friends at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in Boston. This book?s core content?simple species profiles of 300 of the most-commonly encountered North American birds?is based upon The Young Birder?s Guide to Birds of North America which is aimed at young people between the ages of 8 and 12.

The Young Birder?s Guide to Birds of North America was itself an expanded version (with 100 western bird species added) of my original book in this series The Young Birder?s Guide to Birds of Eastern North America which was a best seller among nature books in its time and the winner of several book awards. After the publication of the eastern YBG I wanted to do a version for young birders in the western United States, but the folks at HMH were more enthusiastic about doing a guide for all of North America, so that?s the direction we took.

My original idea for doing a field guide for young birders came from my own experience as a 7-year-old who had sparked on birds but struggled with the available resources. It wasn?t until my family moved from Iowa to Ohio in 1971 and my mom fell in with a gang of birding women that I discovered that bird watching was a hobby and there were other people who thought birds were cool. This was also my introduction to Pat Murphy, leader of The Betsey Birders (affiliated with a local organization for women and girls known as The Betsey Mills Club) who became a birding mentor to our family and to dozens of others in the Marietta, Ohio region. Pat introduced us to field guides and bird feeders and taught us bird identification and bird songs. She also gave me my first look through a spotting scope. This gave my interest in birds and nature an enormous boost and eventually led to my family starting Bird Watcher?s Digest. But that?s another story?

So when it was time for me to propose a new book idea, my talented editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Lisa A. White, asked my what I wanted to do. I told her I wanted to create a field guide for young birders. She asked what my vision was and I replied, ?I want to create the field guide that I wish I?d had as a young person interested in birds.?

Lisa liked this concept but wondered aloud how I would make this book different from ?all the other kids books out there on birds and nature.?

?I?m going to use my daughter Phoebe?s 4th grade class as my focus group!?

And that was the genesis of these three books. Phoebe and her classmates helped me for their 4th and 5th grade years, choosing photos, critiquing design samples, refining the content, and this made the entire book-creating process incredibly inspiring for me. We started out by going birding and using every single field guide I could find?both for kids and for adults. The kids told me what they liked and didn?t like. We followed the progress of the book through concept development, writing, editing, re-writing, more editing, image and illustration selection, design samples, production, proofing, galleys, and?finally?finished books. The day I walked into Salem Liberty Elementary School, halfway through their 6thgrade year, and handed out copies of The Young Birder?s Guide to Birds of Eastern North America to each of the students was the single proudest day of my professional life. I still get choked up thinking about it. We DID it! We made a BOOK! We all just stood there beaming?

The original Young Birder's Guide to eastern birds.
A month or so later I was at a birding festival?I can?t remember where?giving my first talk based upon the Young Birder?s Guide. Afterwards I was selling and signing copies of the book and the very first person to buy one was a friendly woman of about 70 who was buying a copy for her grandson who had shown some interest in birds. I signed the book and endorsed it to her grandson; she thanked me and walked out of the auditorium. About 20 minutes later I saw her come back into the room and get back in line. Soon she was back at my table, shaking her right forefinger at me.

?You should have called this The NEW Birder?s Guide! I was leafing through it in my car and the content and approach are so easy to understand! It?s PERFECT for a new birder like me. I?ll take another one and you can autograph it to me, my name is Irene.?

A light bulb went off in my head as I signed her book. And now, six years after that encounter, here is The New Birder?s Guide. It includes the same 300 species profiles as the all-of-North-America version of the YBGbut redesigned for adults. And it features almost 40 pages of new introductory material for the adult beginning birder. These introductory pages include advice on finding and identifying birds, on field craft, on bird conservation, how to dress, how to gear-up for a birding trip, how to choose optics, and so on. Perhaps my favorite section is the one entitled ?You Might be a Birder if?? I?ll let you be the judge of whether or not I get things right. At the very least I hope it?ll give you a chuckle.
That's me guiding young birders in Massachusetts.
If you are a new birder, or if you know a new (or young) birder, I hope you?ll consider getting them a copy of one of these books. After all, Phoebe is off to college this fall and we?re counting every penny. Have you seen what college tuition costs these days? Yikes!
Phoebe has helped me at many book signings.

Thanks for coming along with me on this journey. I?ll see you out there with the birds!

Bill of the Birds

P.S. When The Young Birders Guide to Birds of North America came out in 2012, covering 300 species for the continent, it replaced The Young Birder?s Guide to Birds of Eastern North America. The good folks at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt allowed me to acquire the remaining 1,500 copies of the eastern YBG with the stipulation that I not sell them. So I gave them away to young birder?s clubs, nature centers, scout groups, teachers, schools, and to kids who?d already ?sparked? on birds. I know this may have taken away of a few sales of my books, but I?ve always felt that my main mission on this planet is to help people discover the joys of bird watching. And there?s no better way to accomplish that than by giving someone a copy of the book I wished I?d had as a child?way back in 1968, when a snowy owl flew into our Iowa front yard and my life was changed forever.


Racing to Save Birds!

Thursday, Mar 20, 2014

Dear Birding Friends and Friends of Birds:

There are many, many worthy conservation causes vying for your attention these days. Birdathons, appeals to save habitat, funding for field work on endangered species, even bird club scholarships to send young birders to nature camp. All of these are wonderful causes, worthy of your financial support.

To this chorus of causes I am adding another?and asking for your support. My friends at BirdLife International and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel are hosting a new event on April 1, 2014 with the goal of raising money to help stop the shooting and trapping of birds in southern and eastern Europe

The event is called Champions of the Flyway and while stopping the slaughter of migrant birds is its focus in 2014, the long-term goal is to support bird and habitat conservation efforts all along the major flyway that connects Eurasia with Africa?funneling millions of birds right through Israel.

Bird Watcher's Digest with financial support from some conservation-minded folks, is fielding a team for the Champions of the Flyway event! We're called The Way-off Coursers and our team members are George Armistead, Michael O'Brien, Ben Lizdas, and yours truly. We're not only planning to have fun whilst birding in the Eilat region of southern Israel on April 1, we're hoping to raise $5,000 to contribute to the Champions cause.

The event is a bird race (similar to a birdathon). All the teams will be birding within a limited geographic area, around Eilat in southern Israel, all day on April 1. Various awards will be given to the winning teams the following day, but the real winners will be the birds that we help to save through this very special conservation initiative. And the people all along the flyway who will get to see, hear, and delight in these birds in future years.

Why is Bird Watcher's Digest involved in a bird race on the other side of the world? Because bird conservation is a global challenge. And birding is a universal language, right? There are teams from England, the Netherlands, Finland, the USA, the country of Georgia, and a joint Israeli/Palestinian team! Truly international!
Palestine sunbird

Another reason I am committed to this project is thanks to the efforts of my dear friend Jonathan Meyrav, who is one of the event's creators and leaders. I met Jonathan in the Hula Valley of Israel a few years ago. We later spent time together when he came to visit my farm in Ohio. Jonathan is a world-class birder and a dedicated conservationist. When he asked me to put together a team for the Champions of the Flyway event when it was just an idea, I was determined to do so because his enthusiasm and dedication are contagious. And our friendship is something I cherish.
BT3 (left) and Jonathan birding in Ohio.

Won't you consider a contribution? Even a small donation counts toward our goal. As I write this, we're already at 32% of our fundraising goal! Wow!

Little green bee-eater.

You can follow the progress of The Way-off Coursers on the COTF website, as well as on Facebook and Twitter. The event's Twitter feed is @flywayschampions. Our team hashtag is #cotfwayoff and we'll also be posting when we can on our personal social media accounts.

Thanks so much for your support! On behalf of the Bird Watcher's Digest Way-off Coursers, we'll see you (way) out there with the birds!



Amazon Kingfisher! New Podcast Episode.

Tuesday, Feb 04, 2014

The famous Amazon kingfisher!

There's a neat new episode of my "This Birding Life" podcast available. This one is an interview with Jeff Bouton, the amazing birder who found the Amazon kingfisher during the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival last November about an hour east of Harlingen, Texas.

Jeff Bouton

 Many of you may know Jeff from his current role as a product specialist in the birder/naturalist markets for Leica Sport Optics. He's been to almost every birding festival in North America serving as a speaker, birding guide, and expert on digiscoping. Before that he was a field researcher doing bird surveys, a professional hawk watcher, and even a purveyor of the indoor sport known as karaoke. ALL of these experiences helped to mold Jeff into the top-notch field birder that he is today. His keen observation skills, honed over years in the field, were the reason he noticed something unusual about a kingfisher he saw perched on a tree as he drove past last November. Most of us might have passed it off as a poor look at a belted kingfisher. Not Jeff. He turned the car around to look again at the odd bird... and the rest is history.

Crowds of birders immediately converged on the roadside wetlands where the kingfisher was found.
Over the next few weeks, the Amazon kingfisher that Jeff found?only the second one ever recorded in the United States?was seen and enjoyed by thousands of people. The bird may have moved on, but Jeff's amazing find will be talked about for decades.

Have a listen to this new episode "Jeff Bouton and the Amazon Kingfisher" which is free to download over at Podcast Central as well as in the iTunes podcast library. At either of these links you can also enjoy any of the previous 44 podcast episodes. All for free!


"This Birding Life" is brought to you through the generous sponsorship of Carl Zeiss Sports Optics.


The Well-named Roadrunner

Sunday, Jan 26, 2014

Some birds are poorly named. Many a birder has complained about this and I've blogged about this topic before

Every now and then it's good to be reminded why certain birds are named the way they are. 
Take the greater roadrunner for example. Recently I encountered one on Blue Sky Road outside of Willcox, Arizona. This bird was skulking along in the thick mesquite along the road and then seemed to realize that I was the editor of a major birding magazine?or perhaps he just wanted to help me come up with a fun blog post. Either way, he obliged me by actually running down the road.

Now that I think about it, maybe he thought I was a wily coyote, chasing him in a rental car.

Roadrunners are kismet birds. You can't simply say "I want to see a roadrunner," and then go find one. In fact, the harder you look for one, the more elusive they seem to be. They just pop up, unannounced, give you a quick look or two, and scamper off into the brush.

Or on down the road.


Target & Wish Birds for 2014

Tuesday, Jan 07, 2014

It's that time of year again, birders. Our year lists all click back to zero and we start with a clean birding slate.

I'm off looking for new birds! Image by Mary Ferracci.

I'm making my 2014 Wish List of Birds. These are birds that I am hoping to see or planning on seeing in the new year. Most of them would be life birds, but a few are just birds that I totally dig for one reason or another. Here's what's on the 2014 Wish List thus far*:
Spruce grouse ©Washington Dept of Fish & Game

Spruce grouse: A bird I've sought repeatedly in Maine yet remains unseen by me. I've found feathers, though. It'd be a lifer. Best shot: Minnesota in February during the "Owls with Al" Reader Rendezvous event with Bird Watcher's Digest.

Northern hawk-owl: Hoping to find this one in the Sax-Zim bog. I saw one briefly and in silhouette in northeastern-most Pennsylvania in about 1989 and I've been in BVD-mode ever since (that's Better View Desired, by the way?get your mind out of the gutter). It'd be a make-good lifer.

Snowy owl: We're taking the Bird Watcher's Digest staff on a half-day trip here in Ohio to search for a snowy owl later this very week. Since this bird was my spark bird way back in the late 1960s, I feel a special affinity for it. Wish us luck! Not a lifer, but always impressive.

Snowy owl ©Bill Thompson III

California condor: I've wanted to see this bird in the wild since they captured the last free-flying individual years ago. Now that they are breeding in the wild again, I'm even more determined. This is a long-shot for 2014 however. I'll be in Arizona in January at the Wings Over Willcox festival, but not in the right part of the state. It'd be a lifer.
California condor ©NPS

Ivory gull: I missed the ones that were seen well south of their normal range in the winter of 2009. I had a hunch I'd regret not going after one. It'd be a lifer and it's a species that may go extinct in our lifetimes. And no, it's not because they were all captured and melted down to make Ivory soap.

Barnacle goose: This one is going to have to show up near me. Lifer. Best chance might be at the Winter Wings Festival in Klamath Falls, Oregon in February.

Black rail: Have heard them but have never seen one. I have no planned trips in 2014 that are ideal for finding this bird, but I'm still holding out hope that we will cross paths. Not a lifer, but a visual lifer.

Steller's or Spectacled eider: I'd settle for a sighting of eider one. Both would be lifers. Best chance, though still a long shot, is at the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival in May in Homer, Alaska.

Gyrfalcon: I've never chased this species because I've never been near enough to one to do so. But if the phone rang right now and one was seen within a 12-hour drive, I'd probably go. Lifer. Best shot is a drifter that comes well south and terrorizes pigeons in an old rock quarry, grain elevator,  or some similar setting.

Bicknell's thrush: I'll need to scale a high peak in the Adirondacks to get this species?something that's not currently on my schedule for 2014. It would be a lifer, though one of those AOU-taxonomic-split lifers that happens when the DNA of some individual birds within a particular species gets sufficient spinning in a centrifuge to turn one species into one or more new species.

Smith's longspur: I am planning to go after this species in western Ohio in late winter/early spring. There's a three-week window during which northbound Smith's longspurs stop over in the muddy agricultural fields of far-western Ohio. I plan to be there, scanning with my spotting scope.
Smith's longspur ©Tom Johnson

Eurasian tree sparrow: It's a long shot that I'd get to see this species in 2014. I'd have to go to St. Louis, Missouri to have the best chance to see one. I'm thinking a road trip to see my beloved Pittsburgh Pirates play their arch-nemesis St. Louis Cardinals might offer the perfect opportunity. Lifer. Besides, I am both a baseball and a birding lifer myself.

What are YOUR Target/Wish-List Birds for 2014?

* I reserve the right to change my mind arbitrarily as to the contents of this list.