Some links: 101

Some links: 97

  • Ooh, shiny, shiny.
  • Hilary Howard visits the Jewel Streets neighborhood of Brooklyn/Queens, at 4 feet above MSE. It’s not often that you see Phragmites australis growing on a street corner.
  • Yes, outdoor cats are a problem. Probably worse than you think.

    Just the amount of different insects and invertebrates that they are eating in their diet. We know that they eat insects. That wasn’t necessarily new, but we didn’t really have an idea that they were eating so many things. And I think our concern there is that most scientists that have done these studies in the past were not really looking for insects and they’re not taxonomists trained to understand insects.

  • Mary Pipher makes brightness in the dark. “We cannot stop all the destruction, but we can light candles for one another.”

Wren

So I’m finishing Anne Enright’s The Wren, the Wren and it occurs to me to check what sort of bird an Irish person means by wren. And so I pull out my lightly used (only one trip to Europe so far) Svensson’s Birds of Europe, 2/e (2009) (pp. 336-337), and it is indeed the bird we call Winter Wren, Troglodytes troglodytes.

And the species account is hilarious, as field guides go. On the plate, calling out field marks, is one word: “unmistakable!” And the species account has this gem:

IDENTIFICATION Very small, and this reinforced by ludicrously small tail that is usually raised vertically, also by short neck.

I wonder what other tidbits are to be found in this guide.

BANO banding at Clifton Institute

out of the boxin the handClifton Institute technician Caylen Wolfer has her banding kit out again, this time for Barn Owl (Tyto alba) nestlings, just about ready to fledge. A few of us got to ride along.

There are five nestlings (a/k/a fluffballs) in this nest box, which replaced (as far as the owls were concerned) a barn that was pulled down in order to make room for a greenhouse.

Baicich and Harrison write that the owlets are flying after about 60 days in the nest.

I could spot one bird in the box before Caylen got her mitts on it, so this sighting is ABA countable. Yay!

Some links: 93

Never let the facts get in the way of a good story

HOTSPUR. Nay, I will. That’s flat!
[King Henry IV] said he would not ransom Mortimer,
Forbade my tongue to speak of Mortimer.
But I will find him when he lies asleep,
And in his ear I’ll hollo “Mortimer.”
Nay, I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak
Nothing but “Mortimer,” and give it him
To keep his anger still in motion.

Henry IV, Part 1, I:3

It’s fair to say that the ecological consequences of the introduction of European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris, EUST) into North America have been a (mostly adverse) mixed blessing. I’ve been told that EUSTs are favored by groundskeepers for golf courses, because the birds eat turf-destroying grubs—make of that what you will. And my grandmother had a particular animus against them; make of that what you will. I certainly wouldn’t knowingly park my car under a roost.

But perhaps we can retire the canard that the introduction happened at one place, at one time, by one man: Eugene Schieffelin, a drugmaker and socialite in New York. Research by Lauren Fugate and John MacNeill Miller, as reported by Jason Bittel, confirms that Schieffelin wasn’t the only American to release EUSTs, nor was he by any means the first. By the 1870s, “introductions were well underway,” decades before Schieffelin’s activity in 1890-1891.

According to the former president of the Acclimation Society of Cincinnati, between 1872 and 1874 the society released about four thousand European birds, including starlings.

“Acclimation” or “acclimitization” was a particularly boneheaded piece of nineteenth-century ecology that held that introduced species could improve an ecosystem.

Anglophone countries… focused instead on the ways importing species could increase the beauty, diversity, and economic yield of the local environment—sometimes because they themselves had destroyed it.

Most importantly—to answer a question that Rick Wright asked in a 2014 blog post— Schieffelin had no particular interest in the birds of Shakespeare. He just liked starlings. Fugate and Miller lay the myth on the desk of Edwin Way Teale, in an essay from 1948.

“[The starling’s] coming was the result of one man’s fancy,” he writes of Schieffelin: “His curious hobby was the introduction into America of all the birds mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare.” Published more than forty years after Schieffelin’s death this sentence is the first time Shakespeare enters the story. It is hard to say where Teale got the idea.

Perhaps Teale was bemused by Central Park’s Shakespeare Garden, begun in 1913, years after Schieffelin’s death.

As Wright wryly observes,

With a Horatian eye to their capacity to delight and to profit, the [American Acclimatization] Society’s introductions over the years included everything from brook trout to Java finches, neither of which, if memory serves, ever trod the boards at the Globe.

Shakespeare’s one reference to Sturnus vulgaris (above) isn’t even pejorative; rather, the bird is recognized as a good mimic. Make of that what you will.

Field trip and workshop resources in the DMV

Here’s a roundup, somewhat Northern Virginia-inflected, of some organizations that run field trips in the mid-Atlantic.

Nature Forward is our standard-bearer. Workshops and camps for kiddos and families, walks focused on birds/geology/botany/etc., CEU-credited courses in lichens/spring wildflowers/conservation history/etc., overseas travel—something for everyone at nearly every level of expertise. NF is also an important advocate for protection of natural areas in the DC metro.

Some outfits mostly interested in birds:

Are you ready for some botany?

Maybe something a little more niche is your interest.

Or you’re looking for something more fast-paced than the naturalist’s shuffle.

The Washington metro is a mosaic of publicly-accessible, natural areas under several different jurisdictions. Check out individual parks and recreational areas for scheduled workshops, camps, and events.

*I know these organizations only by referral/search, not by firsthand field trip experience.

Some links: 89

Christmas Bird Count 2021: Seneca: 2

On Sunday, my plucky team of eight braved winter winds and a brief period of sleet for the sector 14 count. We put up a respectable count of 40 species; next year I hope to squeeze out a bit more (maybe Rock Pigeon at Reston Town Center?). Avian highlight: an adult Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) being chased out of a Red-tailed Hawk’s (Buteo jamaicensis) airspace above the Gerry Connolly Cross County Trail at Leigh Mill Road. Mammalian highlight: two River Otters (Lutra canadensis) doing their otter thing in Lake Fairfax.

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) numbers were down, perhaps reflecting the semi-mysterious illness afflicting songbirds in the mid-Atlantic this past summer.

I spent a lot of time scouting, but the team knowledge was perhaps more important, and a little liberating.

More takeaways:

  • Plan for a good 20 minutes of logistics conversations at the first meeting point as people trickle in, and especially if you’re going to split the team first off.
  • Exchange phone numbers ahead of time. One of my subparties got separated from one another on their way to their first stop.
  • Check your batteries for your camera, not just your phone and tablet.
  • Use your field notebook, not a copy of the tally sheet on a clipboard. Too easy for the sheet to slip off in a strong wind, and you’re stuck carrying the board all morning.
  • The boathouse at Lake Fairfax makes a tolerable windbreak.

Final results for the Seneca circle will be released by the compiler January-February.