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.


Moving Pictures

Monday, Dec 30, 2013

We've added some new talent to the roster here at Bird Watcher's Digest?staff members Wendy, Kyle, and Dawn. And this is opening up some new possibilities for us as we collectively figure out the various ways to apply our skills, expertise, and energies to the best possible use.

I'm not sure that video is one of the "best possible uses" but we made the video below recently and, if nothing else, we had a lot of fun doing it.


The goal of the video was to help people to better understand the various ways they can enjoy their Bird Watcher's Digest subscription in our many print and digital options. We were especially targeting folks who received a new computer, smart phone, or digital tablet/reader as a holiday gift.
I think we accomplished this goal (and the numbers actually bear this out, which we're thrilled about) but we're not expecting HBO to come calling anytime soon?unless they are planning a mini-series on birding, in which case we're all-in!

I'm looking forward to working with these fun, talented BWD people in 2014, and beyond.
Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to go! Marty Scorsese is calling and you don't keep Marty waiting.

Wishing you and yours a happy, birdy New Year.


New Podcast Episode: MBS Speaker Highlights

Tuesday, Dec 03, 2013

Episode 44 of my podcast "This Birding Life" is now available for your ears and eyes. This one features short excerpts from seven different speakers at the 2013 Midwest Birding Symposium. I wish I could have shared ALL of the speakers' programs, but it's probably best that you appreciate these things in person. Featured in this episode of TBL are portions of presentations by Jen Brumfield, George Armistead, Sharon Stiteler, Sara Morris, Scott Shalaway, Mark Cocker, and Al Batt.

 I hope you enjoy it. And while we're talking about the Midwest Birding Symposium, you can get on the pre-registration list for the 2015 MBS which will be held in Bay City, Michigan, September 10-13, 2015. We'll be co-hosting the event with Michigan Audubon and, in case you were wondering, Bay City is a charming town with lots of great birding sites nearby.

Thanks for listening!


My Upcoming Birding Events this Winter!

Wednesday, Nov 13, 2013

This year is the last year that our daughter Phoebe will be living full-time in the home nest. She'll be off to college somewhere fabulous in the fall and I was motivated to try my best to stay home more often this year to hang around with The Pheebster. I probably should have asked HER about this, since she's leading the never-stop life of a high-school senior and is rarely at home. Nevertheless, I turned down a number of opportunities to travel and a handful of speaking gigs at festivals.

But I'm STILL hitting the road quite a bit and here are some of the upcoming what's, when's, and where's, through January 2014.

There won't be any Philly vireos present when I'm in Philly speaking to the DVOC.
DVOC Annual Banquet ? Philadephia, PA ? November 21, 2013
I'm the annual banquet speaker for the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club (DVOC) on Thursday, November 21. This venerable Philadelphia-area bird club traces its origins back to the 1880s. Its list of previous annual banquet speakers reads like a who's who of American birding. It's an honor to give a presentation to this group. I'm giving the "Perils and Pitfalls of Birding" talk, so I hope I can get a chuckle or two from the crowd. Registration details are here.

Giant flocks of sandhill cranes will be filling the skies at Wings Over Willcox.
Wings over Willcox ? Willcox, Arizona ? January 15?19, 2014
I think I know why the acronym of this event is WOW. It's probably the thousands of sandhill cranes that winter in this region, plus all the waterfowl. Or maybe because, despite being held in mid-winter, Wings Over Willcox always has a bird list of about 140 species. I'm giving a talk and attending a wine dinner and I'm looking forward to helping out on a few field trips. Get WOW info here.

Limpkins are fairly easy to see at Viera Wetlands during the Space Coast Birding Festival.
Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival ? Titusville, Florida ? January 22?27, 2014
This down-home event along Florida's central Atlantic coast seems to grow larger every year in terms of programming offered, field trips, and number of attendees. It's become one of the must-do birding festivals because the birding is great, the vendor hall is filled to bursting, there's great seafood to be eaten, and let's face it, Florida is a fine place to be in late January if you live anywhere on the planet that still has winter. I'm not speaking at this year's event, but I'll be there manning the Bird Watcher's Digest booth and I'm a co-leader on a couple of field trips. If you've never been, perhaps this is your year:

Ibi in the sunset at Merritt Island NWR.

That's it people. I'll see you out there with the birds!


Fourteen Years Ago Today: Liam!

Friday, Nov 08, 2013

Fourteen years ago this morning, my son and namesake came into this world at 7:24 AM. He is William Henry Thompson IV, but we decided to call him Liam to avoid confusion. He is now and forever attached to the name Liam, and it to him. We'd never call him Bill or Billy or Henry or Hank. But we have about a billion nicknames for him: Shoom, Broski, Hotdog Brother, Li'l Buddy, Albino Spider Monkey...

In what has become a family birthday tradition, the following images and content are dedicated to Liam on his birthday. They will also embarrass him a bit I'm sure, which is just part of the reason why we do it. Julie's wonderful Liam Birthday Post is already up and working its magic.

Like his parents and sister, Liam bonds with all kinds of animals...
Soon after he was born, Liam donned his superhero cape and battled a rampaging dinosaur.
Every time we go to see the Pirates at PNC Park, the Pirate Parrot seems to seek out Liam for a photo.

Monkey see, monkey do.

A real silverback gorilla at the Columbus Zoo was completely fascinated by Liam. Likes attract.

At The Wilds, the baby rhino always walks right up to our sweet, gentle son.
But Liam's favorite animal pal is Chet Baker. They are playmates.

 Of all the people and things in the world, Liam loves his big sister Phoebe most of all. He is completely devoted to her and, to Phoebe's credit, she does not abuse this exalted status?at least not as much as she could.

It's hard for all of us to comprehend what life will be like when Phoebe goes off to college next fall?and it's going to be toughest on Liam. But he will make it, because he has sunshine inside of him.

A wonderful side-benefit of having a big sis is all the older chicks Liam gets to hang with. They all adore him.

 We're not sure what Liam will be when he grows up, but early predictions include artist, comedian, and rubber-faced man in a carnival sideshow. We're not sure where he gets his love of face making.

Escargot, anyone?

It's not all about the Benjamins with Liam.

Will he be a birder? Probably, but we're not forcing it.

Liam knows how to relax.
He is a deep thinker, a ponderer...
And given the chance, he is a wanderer.

We're so lucky to have you here with us, sweet boy. We can't wait to see where you'll go once you spread your wings and fly. Happy birthday, my son.


Has Social Media Killed Blogging?

Monday, Nov 04, 2013


Back about eight or nine years ago when I started this blog, blogs were exploding all over the place. There were celebrity blogs, food blogs, movie blogs, sports blogs, mommy bogs, humor blogs?you name it, there was a blog associated with it.  There were even blogs about blogs. Talk about standing in a hallway full of mirrors!

I got a charge out of writing my blog, Bill of the Birds. So much of the writing I do is very assignment- or info-delivery-driven that I had kind of forgotten how enjoyable it was to sit down and give yourself over to writing about something you were feeling or thinking or anticipating. I look back at some of the stuff I was writing about on BOTB and I see now that most similar things are being shared (by me and others) in the much more instantly gratifying social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, and others. 

It's hard to keep up with everything online. Just ask my friend Bill.

This is perfectly understandable. After all, writing a blog post takes time. Posting to a social media channel takes almost no time at all, which is probably why there are daily news stories about social media faux pas. You barely have to think about it. Just click, tap a few words, and post. It's as easy as falling off a blog.

Blogging on the other hand seems to require more thought, deeper content, and images or links or something to augment the screen full of words. It takes time to create a blog post.
I'd like a clone who could help me keep up with my blog.

Thus it's no surprise that so many blogs are not getting the volume of consistent posts that they once did. Some bloggers are bucking this trend, of course. They are the folks who devote the time necessary to create meaty content, usually around a theme. And these bloggers are reaping the rewards of a larger audience hungry for solid content.

Has social media killed blogging? Yes and no. It's certainly killed off the blogs of the folks who think in quips and short, punchy posts. Those folks do better and gain a wider audience on Facebook and Twitter. And so their blogs are mothballed or cob-webbed or closed. On the other hand, social media has served to be an excellent audience builder, as a tool to point readers/surfers to longer-form content that interests them.

An old blog post from 2006!

For me (a self-admitted quipster) Facebook has stolen my mojo for blogging every day. I'm also a lot busier at work and at home than I've ever been (do you feel that way, too?) and most days the notion of writing a post for my blog is simply lost in the hailstorm of other, more pressing tasks.

But I miss writing for my blog! I miss the way my thoughts would form and shape-shift as I typed sentence after sentence while creating a post. Sometimes I'd get to the end and realize I needed to start all over! Other times I'd get going and, when I reached the end, I'd see that I needed to break this massive post up into several shorter ones. Yes I miss it.

Araçaris in silhouette. Shadows in the sunset.
I wish there were a way to tag all of your favorite Facebook posts over a period of a few weeks, to create a single massive blog post. I'm sure some plug-in or app for that exists. But I haven't got time to search for it?I've got to upload some Instagram photos of my fabulous lunch today (just kidding!).

Before I bemoan the death of the blog, I'm going to attempt to find the time to write for my blog more often. And I'll be sure to announce on Facebook and Twitter when I've got a new post up, since that is where all the readers are these days! People have such short attention sp...HEY LOOK A CHICKEN!

I'll see you out there with the blogs!



Midwest Birding Symposium 2013 Recap: Part 2

Friday, Oct 18, 2013

This is the second half of my 2013 Midwest Birding Symposium recap.

Some additional images and memories from the four days of birding, symposiating, and socializing at the 2013 Midwest Birding Symposium. There were welcoming signs everywhere for attendees. 

The main entrance to the Lakeside Chautauqua.

Many of the Lakeside businesses, like the Ohh La La Cafe, stayed open just for the MBS.

It was great to see old friends and to meet new ones. The MBS is a great gathering point for that.

Carlos Bethancourt from Canopy Tower Panama and Elsa Thompson, founding publisher of Bird Watcher's Digest.

Greg (left) and Tim outside the Birder's Marketplace.
Greg Miller of "The Big Year" fame, meeting Tim Appleton, co-founder of The British BirdFair, the world's largest birding event. The MBS is one of those events where you have an opportunity to meet people you know from social media or from their affiliations and accomplishments. In that way it's a lot like a birding family reunion.

The speakers during the MBS were talented, engaging, and fascinating. Twenty different presenters spoke on things as varied as gull ID, moth watching, pelagic trips, nature journaling, birding in the digital age, and phone-scoping!

MBS attendees during a morning keynote program in Hoover Auditorium.

We had an army of volunteers helping us with the MBS. More than 100 Lakesiders volunteered to help and about another 50 kind souls from the birding community stepped in to do everything from stuffing attendee bags to guiding bird walks to driving golf-cart shuttles and helping to direct lost attendees to their proper destination.

Lakeside volunteers at our pre-MBS luncheon.
Four of the gals on the Bird Watcher's Digest staff, from left: Michelle, Laura, Wendy, and Ann at the MBS closing ceremonies.

In 2011, the MBS attendees in Hoover Auditorium on Saturday night set a world record (recognized by The Guinness Book of World Records) for the most people doing a simultaneous bird call. We hooted out the call of a barred owl. This year we participated in The International Day of Peace by having a giant group Peace Hug.

Everybody enjoying a #peacehug and flashing the peace sign for The International Day of Peace.

The American Birding Association, Lake Erie WingWatch, Columbus Audubon, and The Ohio Young Birders Club helped us make Young Birders' Day at MBS eventful and enjoyable. Despite the icky weather, the birding was really good. So was the pizza.

Five designated birding locales were selected as "official" MBS birding sites and volunteer guides were there at each site just after dawn to lead small groups of birders. Lots of great birds were found, including two species of phalarope, red knot, merlin, and golden-winged warbler.

On Sunday morning we held the Roadrunner 3K Fun Run and about 20 brave souls did not let the cold temperatures and howling Lake Erie wind deter their desire to run. We even had the Blue Goose from Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge in the run. He (she? it?) finished surprising well despite never once taking to the air.

A very special thank you to our Ohio birding pal Ernie Cornelius for taking many of the images you've enjoyed here and on the MBS site. Ernie also coordinated getting images from a half-dozen other photographers and the he prepared a slide show which we projected on the giant screens each night in Hoover Auditorium. Thanks Ernie!

MBS Official Photographer Ernie Cornelius
And then it was Sunday afternoon and time for everyone to head home. It was another successful Midwest Birding Symposium and we owe that to all the support from our sponsors, co-hosts, volunteers, speakers, vendors, staff, and friends.

The next Midwest Birding Symposium will be held in Bay City, Michigan, on September 10?13, 2015. If you'd like to get your name and contact info on the pre-registration list, you can do so at

Bird Watcher's Digest is starting an exciting new series of birding events.

In February of 2014 we'll be hosting our first-ever Reader Rendezvous in Minnesota where we'll go birding with funnyman Al Batt. Follow this link for details.

And in early April we'll be back at the Grange Insurance Audubon Center in Columbus, Ohio for the second annual Birding Optics & Gear Expo. This sales-oriented event gives you a chance to "try-before-you-buy" choosing from among hundreds of optics and gear products for birders. 
Don't miss it!
We'll see you out there with the birds!


The 2013 Midwest Birding Symposium!

Monday, Sep 30, 2013
1 comment

From September 19 to 22, many hundreds of bird watchers converged on Lakeside, Ohio for the 2013 Midwest Birding Symposium, hosted by Bird Watcher's Digest, The Ohio Ornithological Society, and The Lakeside Chautauqua

The speakers were incredible, the Birder's Marketplace was brimming with vendors, the birding was excellent, and the weather was mostly cooperative.

 The MBS started off on Thursday evening with a Lake Erie Sunset Boat Cruise around the region's many beautiful islands. The sunset also made an appearance.

MBS attendees embark on the Goodtime II for the Sunset Boat Cruise.

We had an army of volunteers helping us with MBS, including more than a dozen members of the Ohio Ornithological Society and more than 100 members of the Lakeside Chautauqua community.

The MBS was held just following the summer programming season at Lakeside Chautauqua. If you haven't experienced Lakeside during their summer season, it's quite a wonderful thing. You can learn more here.
 Attendees picked up their goodie bags and name tags at MBS registration in Hoover Auditorium.   

During the event, attendees strolled the charming Lakeside Chautuaqua campus from venue to venue.

 Friday and Saturday mornings were reserved for birding at one of our five birding spots staffed with guides. Two species of phalaropes, red knot, golden plover, and golden-winged warbler were among the species of note spotted during the two mornings of birding.

 The MBS is called "the world's friendliest birding event," and judging from the smiling faces of attendees, it lived up to its reputation.

Many of our speakers are also authors of important books on birds and nature. On Saturday we held an authors' book signing in South Auditorium. Here, British author Mark Cocker sings a copy of his epic new book Birds and People

It's hard to put into words (or electrons in the case of this blog post) just how wonderfully enriching and engaging it is to be a part of The Midwest Birding Symposium. Those of us at BWD have hosted it five (!) times here in Ohio?each time at Lakeside. But this every-other-year event needs to visit other parts of the Midwest, so in 2015 we'll be taking it to Bay City, Michigan. I'll share more details about that in a future post.

The next post here on Bill of the Birds is going to be part two of my MBS 2013 recap.