Thanks For The Birds

Can you name this bird. Caroline Tompkins for The New York Times

On this day each year, we reflect on things to be grateful for. Today, as tempting as it may be to talk about coffee, I am mindful of how important birds have been in our family. In 2014 I was on the terrace at Xandari with Seth. He was recently graduated from college, where he had worked on an outreach program for school children to get them interested in birds, and birdwatching. Now he was training to manage the type of lodge where birdwatching is an activity, and one of his sidelines at Xandari was guiding birdwatching tours in the forest reserve that was part of the property.

As we sat on the terrace discussing the day’s plan, a young couple and their son sat down for breakfast. I said hello to them, and I asked the boy if he was enjoying Costa Rica. He lit up, and said it was his first morning here, but so far it was great. I asked what was great, and without missing a beat he said, with cheer: the birds woke me up! The conversation that followed was a once in a lifetime pleasure. I asked why he was so happy about that, and he and his parents explained that during the school year that had just ended, his class had been “celebrating urban birds” in Brooklyn, NY. It turned out his class was one of the many that Seth had been doing outreach with during the previous year. I told the young fellow that if he wanted to take a birdwatching tour, I had a recommendation of who could guide him.

I am mindful about birds today thanks to Dan Sinker’s op-ed essay:

The Birds Are Outside

One bird feeder became two, then three. Months passed.

Dan Sinker

Me, my wife, our teenager and our 5-year old, we knew nothing about birds before the lockdown sent us inside in March. Our cramped home was suburban-convenient before the pandemic hit, nestled a few blocks from a school we don’t go in and a train downtown we won’t ride, and now it is just small.

It was a bedroom short and had nothing a person could call work space beyond the dining room table even before it became our entire lives. But it did have windows, sunny and bright in the morning, that looked out on the worn patch of yard just outside so I bought a bird feeder and some cheap seed and mounted it just outside our dining room window. We needed a distraction. Continue reading

From The Lab Of Ornithology

Continuing the theme, our thanks to our friends at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and especially its director, for this message. It came in an email, but click the image above to go to the Lab’s website where the message continues with the resources you will also find below:

Birds Can Be Beacons of Hope

A Message from Our Director

Dear Friend,

March is normally the month when my wife Molly and I head to central Florida where, every year since 1972, I have studied Florida Scrub-Jays. Things are quite different this year, with the entire world hunkering down for an extended fight against the spread of COVID-19.

Even though I’m sticking close to home for now, I am comforted to know the scrub-jays are there, pairing up under the bright Florida sun, lining new nests with palmetto fibers, unperturbed by the tremendous human ordeal around them.

I often talk about the power of birds, but this year they take on an even more powerful meaning. They enliven our days, brighten the trees, serenade in our backyards and city parks, and bestow us with so much joy and hope, all bundled together in feathers and lively personalities.

Like everyone around the world, we at the Cornell Lab are adjusting to new routines. We’ve also spent recent days scouring our brains and our servers for ways to help—in some small way—people who find their daily lives upended.

If you’re a teacher prepping for a new kind of remote class, we’ll send you ideas. A parent or grandparent whose kids are on an unexpected “spring vacation”? They can play our games and learn. Are you a bird watcher with extra time on your hands—or an inveterate traveler now homebound? We can bring birds and bird song into your home—or let you explore the farthest reaches of the world in sounds and images.

A core part of our mission is to help people celebrate the wonder of birds. We do it because you (and we) love birds, are amazed by their powers, and even gain solace from them and a deep, clean breath of hope.

Together we’ll all get through this. In the meantime, whenever you may need a moment of respite, we invite you to explore, enjoy, wonder, replenish, and spark hope with the resources we have to share.

With my best wishes

John W. Fitzpatrick, Director
Cornell Lab of Ornithology Continue reading

117 of 314 Bird Species, As Urban Murals

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Photo: Mike Fernandez/Audubon

A couple years ago we linked to a story about urban murals and now, progress:

Where Birds Meet Art . . . After Dark

Greater Sage-Grouse by George Boorujy

Greater Sage-Grouse by George Boorujy
Location: 3920 Broadway, New York, NY 10032

The Audubon Mural Project is a collaboration between the National Audubon Society and Gitler &_____ Gallery to create murals of climate-threatened birds throughout John James Audubon’s old Harlem‐based neighborhood in New York City.

Pinyon Jay by Mary Lacy

Pinyon Jay by Mary Lacy
Location: 3668 Broadway, New York, NY 10032

The project is inspired by the legacy of the great American bird artist and pioneering ornithologist and is energized by Audubon’s groundbreaking report “Survival By Degrees.” Audubon’s scientists have found that climate change will threaten at least half of all North American birds with extinction, and that no bird will escape the impacts of climate-change-related hazards like increased wildfire and sea-level rise. The project commissions artists to paint murals to call attention to this problem, and it has been widely covered in the media, including The New York Times.

On the website where Audubon features these murals you can click through to see the individual stories of each, including lots of interesting species information:

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Clockwise from top left: Black-and-white Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, John James Audubon, depiction of Russell Lee’s 1941 photo of Chicago, Magnolia Warbler, James Lancaster’s hand, and Tree Swallow. Photo: Mike Fernandez/Audubon

Endangered Harlem by Gaia

Location: 1883, 1885, and 1887 Amsterdam, New York, NY 10032 Continue reading

Funky Nests 2017

a mother Costa’s Hummingbird on her nest at Villa del Faro in Baja California Sur. The rim of the nest is covered in her and/or her offspring’s droppings!

In the citizen science department of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Celebrate Urban Birds program (CUBs) holds several competitions a year revolving around a certain idea of bird celebration. We have covered the Funky Nests in Funky Places competition several times,  and back when I worked for CUBs as a Cornell undergraduate student I wrote worked behind the scenes on the competition.

Now the contest is back, and ends on June 30th!

Continue reading

Counting Down To Global Big Day

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A world of birders has already marked out where they’ll be on 13 May. Where’s your place? Add it today!

Thanks to eBird for the one week marker until Global Big Day, which we look forward to supporting at Chan Chich Lodge. Click the map to the left to mark your territory, so to speak. This countdown notice uses one species to illustrate a conceptual premise of the annual event, and we are happy to report that this species is frequently seen at Chan Chich Lodge on birding walks, and excursions to Gallon Jug Farm, where the barns are accommodating:

The familiar Barn Swallow (right) has been recorded in eBird from 222 countries. You can hope to spot a Barn Swallow almost anywhere on the planet, from Alaska to Argentina, Siberia to Australia, Iceland to South Africa. Barn Swallows criss-cross the equator and traverse the Eastern and Western Hemispheres. Their movements not only span an entire planet of birds, but connect a worldwide community of birders.

In the same way, Global Big Day and eBird connect all of your local birds with the rest of the world, making a real difference in the collective understanding of birds worldwide. On 13 May, every bird that you report contributes to the global team total for an unprecedented snapshot of our planet’s bird diversity. Every bird counts.

To join the Global Big Day team from more than 150 countries, all you have to do is go birding on 13 May!  Continue reading

Christmas Bird Count, 2016

Seth’s work at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, with the Celebrate Urban Birds initiative helped us all get a close look at citizen science in action. Past Christmas counts since then have been an annual tradition in these pages. Thanks to Lisa Feldcamp for a note on this topic with her post Give Kids the Gift of Birding on The Nature Conservancy’s website Cool Green Science:

The annual Christmas Bird Count is one of birding’s most cherished traditions. This year, consider introducing the count to a child. There’s no better time to get a youngster started in birding.

“When I was a kid in a large family of eight kids in Upstate New York, my parents told us we could do anything that cost less than $5; baseball, boy scouts, or birding,” says Tom Rusert of Sonoma Birding. “I joined Junior Audubon with my brothers, not realizing it would be a life sport to enjoy forever. It really is no different than any other sport.” Continue reading

UK Birders Unite

Voting for a National Bird seems like the perfect example of a ornithologically related Citizen Science activity.

Two amazing things happened in the mid 60′s. The Robin was voted Britain’s national bird and…

The surprising thing is neither has happened since.

Well, all that is about to change. David Lindo (AKA The Urban Birder) feels the Robin’s many decades in power needs to be challenged, so he is fronting a campaign to help find Britain’s new national bird. Running alongside this year’s General Election will be this alternative Election, which we’d love you to take part in. Continue reading

If You Happen To Be Anywhere In the World…

Our interest in birds shouldn’t come as a surprise to readers of these pages. With contributors Seth and Justin on a Smithsonian Expedition in search of the Golden Swallow, over 3 years of our Bird of the Day feature from many talented photographers, and a plethora of posts about the subject, we assume it’s obvious.

Prior to 2013 the Great Backyard Bird Count focussed on North America, but that year it went global and the results were amazing! Continue reading

Cool Green Science Celebrates The Celebrate Urban Birds Initiative

Hummingbirds nesting in a patio chandelier. Photo by Lydia D’moch for the CUBs Funky Nests in Funky Places 2014 competition.

Hummingbirds nesting in a patio chandelier. Photo by Lydia D’moch for the CUBs Funky Nests in Funky Places 2014 competition.

The Nature Conservancy is currently promoting their blog called Cool Green Science, which we expect to be a new source for us to regularly share links to on topics we particularly care about.  We like the blog’s stated purpose:

noun 1. Blog where Nature Conservancy scientists, science writers and external experts discuss and debate how conservation can meet the challenges of a 9 billion + planet.

2. Blog with astonishing photos, videos and dispatches of Nature Conservancy science in the field.

3. Home of Weird Nature, The Cooler, Quick Study, Traveling Naturalist and other amazing features.

Cool Green Science is managed by Matt Miller, the Conservancy’s deputy director for science communications, and edited by Bob Lalasz, its director of science communications.

Of course we would like you to consider visiting Xandari for this purpose, but we appreciate Lisa Feldkamp’s point. She is the senior coordinator for new science audiences at The Nature Conservancy and earlier this week she posted on a topic that is near and dear to us:

What is Celebrate Urban Birds?

You don’t need to book a trip to Costa Rica or the Amazon to enjoy great birding. Continue reading

An Impromptu Tacacorí CUBs Art Contest

A crudely-formed bird (airplane?) mosaic, photographed from the school roof

Last week, after many delays, I was able to get down to the school in Tacacorí and take photos of all the CUBs rocks that the students had painted. I used my camera (rather than my phone) and a borrowed tripod so that the pictures would be better quality and also more standardized. The result was 146 photos of rocks. I don’t know the exact number of students at the school, but I know that fifth-graders in particular were impatient to take their rocks home before I photographed them, because there were only a handful of specimens left last week.

Unfortunately for those students who didn’t wait until I told them they could  Continue reading

Migration Celebration

When I graduated from Cornell not too long ago, I drew a bird on my graduation hat. It was a stylized yellow-bellied sapsucker, a symbol I encountered almost every day in my four years as an undergraduate as I studied, worked and conducted research at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The Lab shaped my undergraduate experience and inspired my love of science and multimedia. This past weekend I had the gratifying opportunity to give back a little and pass on the inspiration.

As the Autumn chill set in – which in Ithaca means grey skies and a constant drizzle of rain – the Lab opened its doors to the community for a day of Migration Celebration. It was a day to celebrate birds: their fascinating behaviors, plumages, songs, migrations, habitats and ability to bring together people from all walks of life. The event was mainly geared towards children, with innovative educational activities organized by all Lab departments:

“What’s your favorite bird? A sandpiper? Can you draw it? Cool! Now let’s put it on a map and look up where it spends the winter.” Continue reading

Celebrate Urban Rock Birds

With over a week of working with other grades at the elementary school in Tacacorí, I’ve seen lots of really great paintings of birds on locally-found stones, and even one or two chunks of cement. After finding around seventy-odd rocks around Xandari that were mostly usable for this art project and scrubbing them all of mud and moss, I Continue reading

Tacacorí Rocks Birds

A sixth-grade creation

Starting last week, I began the next art project at the elementary school in Tacacorí. After learning that over time the papier-mâché creations succumbed to the Central Valley’s relative humidity and became difficult to preserve, I decided to find a more solid medium. I liked the idea of recycled plastic bottles from the hotel but I worried about the extensive use of scissors they’d require and all the sharp plastic edges that would be created in the process. Instead, I went with the option that, although not exactly recycled, at least doesn’t require industrially-created materials and is fairly abundant: rocks. And the best part is that stone is impervious to humidity (on the scale of time that we’re thinking about).

Fifth-grade creations — some kids pasted paper versions of their bird on the rock.

In the slideshow below, you can see some of the fifth- and sixth-graders’ works of art Continue reading

Birds Are Barometers, Among Other Things

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A recent study projects that the summer range of the Allen’s hummingbird will shrink by 90 percent by 2080. Photo by Loi Nguyen/Audubon Photography Awards

One more story related to the centenary mentioned here, this time with a podcast interview with  to accompany our previous post linking to his editorial in the New York Times:

It’s been 100 years since the last passenger pigeon died. Would we have been able to save the bird today? What is the state of bird conservation in North America? Gary Langham of the National Audubon Society and Ken Rosenberg from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology discuss which species are under threat and how climate change might affect birds in the future.