Tuesday, March 18, 2008

What To Do On a Rainy Day?

Paint! Yep, I'm getting myself mentally prepared for an eight hour painting session. Oh the agony!!!! I suppose I should look at the bright side of things and remind myself how happy my wife will be when the entire house is finally finished (on the inside). Not only that but the fact that I will have my own little sanctuary, full of bird books, nature art, and a nice, comfy antique chair that I bought last year at an estate sale. A place to sit and read Thoreau, Darwin, and lots of good neo-ornithology literature.

Speaking of Thoreau I just whipped through a short essay of his entitled "Walking".
I've been reading Thoreau since I was around thirteen or fourteen. What inspired my first jump into his writing was the fact that I spent allot of time in Maine, visiting aunts and uncles while on summer break. My first book of his was entitled "Maine Woods", a pretty good read, and one that I should probably pick up again seeing that it has been fifteen years or so. In any case I thought I would share some thoughts and a few of my favorite lines from this essay. It's a great read and short enough to break up the monotony of the day.

If your not familiar with this book, you may be familiar with one of Thoreau's most famous lines that comes from it. " In wildness is the preservation of the world..", I don't think anyone could put it more simply, and eloquently than he did so long ago. If only we had headed his words! Perhaps my favorite line, the former aside is a little earlier in the essay. I quote "we should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure...", I was pleased to find this. I do my best to think this way before I head out for a hike, or even before doing my research. I mean that's what I got into all of this for in the first place. Undying adventure, my nature cries for it, and I would be a miserable man if I had continued painting houses, and what not.

To step into a marsh before sun-up so anxious that there's no need for coffee, knowing that at some point something interesting and inspiring is about to happen. No matter how small, or large. Be it a short glimpse of a Black Rail that only last five seconds, but seems like five minutes, or watching a male and female Virginia Rail slink through the marsh, circling you. When you are only able to get a glimpse of them every few minutes or so, and that glimpse may only be the orange bill, or a rump, but you know that they are there because there is a constant pig like grunt emanating from only a few feet in front of you, completely closed off by a thick stand of sedge...Wooo!

Now I'm ready to paint!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Spring Break is for the Birds

Yep, it's spring break at Cameron University. Fortunately and unfortunately I have to many obligations to actually enjoy it. I was supposed to be in Bartlesville today at the Sutton Center putting a mountain of data in to the computer for the winter atlas project, but I had to call and ask permission to push it back two weeks. Luckily I have a boss, who understands my position at the moment. So what will I be doing my very first day of spring break? Ripping out an old kitchen to make room for my office, woo hoo!

Even though I'm mostly working inside I am still able to see a few birds. The House Sparrows are busy filling every cavity (one male posed pretty nicely for me)in my backyard with a nest. I am doing my best to cope with this, I can only hope to get a Carolina Wren or something else sooner or later. Knowing that these birds are now genetically different from there European counterparts, I guess I have to accept them, but I would still love a little more diversity. Two good yard birds yesterday were a small flock of Cedar Waxings and a Cooper's Hawk.

Oh, we have a bee hive about three feet from the ground, and yesterday for the first time I got tangled up with one. He landed in my hair, and I couldn't get him out, by the time I did he was pretty well pissed off. To let me know about it, he landed on my fore-arm and let me have it. I've been stung before so I wasn't to worried,I pulled the stinger out and jumped around a bit and then got back to work. Everything seemed fine, well this morning I awoke to a large red welt. Fortunately no red lines to my heart as of yet, but it is very sensative to the touch. I've never had a reaction like this, I can only hope that they aren't Africanized!

Well I need to get to work, my office awaits!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

What's in the Name?

Something has been bothering me for the past few days. I was talking with Mike H. the other day and we were discussing the name Prairie Chicken, and whether or not it deserves a name change. This was something that the AOU had considered at some point, but never agreed upon it (i'm still looking for the paper). So here is something to consider. Does the name Prairie Chicken give these birds the full respect that they deserve amongst the wild species of the world? I say no! I need to research it a bit more, but I imagine that this was a name that people used to call them and it just stuck.

The reason I am bringing this up is the fact that I have experienced the confusing nature of this name first hand. My first week working on the Sutton Center's LPCH project I was dirving back and forth from Woodward to the Laverne area in NW Oklahoma. I was staying at a hotel until my wife and I could find a place closer to the research site. A particuliar evening I was enjoying a beer and a game of pool at the hotel bar, when someone asked me what I did. I explained that I was working with Prairie Chickens, and there response was, "well what is that?" So I told the guy, and he still replied, "so you mean that you are studying chickens that got loose and have become a wild population?". I attempted to explain one more time, still he failed to grasp the concept.

So let me ask a few simple questions. Would people think more of these species if there particuliar name was "Prairie Grouse"? I mean that's what they are. Would it be less confusing for people if they name where changed? Why are we calling something a chicken, when it is a grouse and doesn't live on a farm? I honestly think that a name change for these birds would be beneficial for there future.

Well, stay tuned I'll be tackling these questions in future posts. Later for now....

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Give it up for the Lesser Prairie Chickens

I have a special place in my heart for Lesser Prairie Chickens. They were my first real job working with birds. This was actually not so long ago, three year this month to be exact. To say the least it was exciting and I will never forget it. From that time on I have been on the soap box here and there, giving a presentation or standing up for them at a meeting, but I never felt like it was enough. Honestly, I'm not sure if I ever really reached that many people with all of it. Well, finally a little public involvement and some much needed attention is just around the corner.

Oh, if your not up on the whole Lesser Prairie Chicken (LPCH) scoop, I can say a quick word or two about the situation. Basically LPCH's are a non-migratory game bird(currently no open season in Oklahoma) , grouse to be exact (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus). They are cousin to the late Heath Hen (Extinct), and those Attwater's Prairie Chickens that are just hanging on by a thread(critically endangered), as well as the more numerous, but still not safe Greater Prairie Chicken. The LPCH is fairing no better in the world currently than the Heath Hen did not so many (less than 100) years ago. Constricted to pockets in NW Oklahoma,the Texas panhandle, east central New Mexico, and western Kansas. There numbers have dropped dramatically, and I think most avian biologist would agree that these birds are one of the most critically in danger species in North America. Most of the blame for the drop in there numbers can be linked to habitat fragmentation of one kind or another. So without going any further in depth, there you have it. If you want more check out the Sutton Center's website at www.suttoncenter.org, I'll leave it at that before I put my foot in my mouth!
So back to this whole public involvement thing. The Oklahoma Important Bird Areas Program and the Oklahoma Audubon Council are organizing a Boots, Buckets, and Chickens weekend! Sounds fun doesn't it? Basically the weekend of April 5th we will be holding the event at the Selman Ranch in Harper County. There will be Prairie Chickens, good eats, some volunteer habitat improvement opportunities, and who knows what else could happen. Oh, a bird tour Sunday morning by yours truly. So if your interested check out the link to the right(Oklahoma Audubon Council) , there you will find a RSVP form (very important so we now what to expect), as well as some more tidbits about the weekend. Listen, this is a great opportunity to really see the ground zero in the fight to preserve this species (don't get me wrong there are a lot of people involved in this effort, it just sound more intense if you call it ground zero), (well now I've totally blown the whole mystery around it!), if your not able to come, please find a way to support this cause and these birds, they really are truly unique.

Thanks to Steve Metz once again for his wonderful photographs of the LPCHs! http://stevemetzphotography.com/

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Back in the Saddle

Well I've been hard at work getting that Lucy Challenge thing worked out (read the last post), and I'm finally able to sit and actually get something written. First things first, I'm completely behind schedule with getting those rooms done before the trip, bummer! But, I still have plenty of time, and they will be completed!

I'm mentally gearing up for my marshbird project that starts in a little over a month. Fortunately for me it looks as though some important funding is coming my way, which will actually let me get to some really great places this season (Red Slough!!!). I'm looking forward to getting out in the field again, and to be free of some of that college classwork (for at least a month!). I'll bring everyone up to speed on what's going on with the marshbird project later though.

With all the good, warm weather of late it was time to start on that garden, and spring cleanup. Fortunately that means spending some time in my backyard which I don't often do. So what's this mean to a field ornithologist? Time to find new yard birds! In between turning the compost of course.

Since I've been home the feeders have been full, so all of my neighborhood's birds are showing up again. I snapped a quick photo of some Inca Doves today. My high count this winter was something like thirteen, thus far I've had five individuals show back up. I've noticed a few other species around as well, including House, and American Goldfinches, Orange-crowned Warbler, Carolina Wren, Mourning Dove, Cardinals,Cedar Waxwings, American Robins. A few that I have seen high overhead this last week have included this flock of Sandhills heading north, as well as a Ring-billed Gull, and Red-tailed Hawk. Not too bad. I am actually thinking of keeping a yard list, I'm no lister but this kind sounds appealing to me so maybe I'll give it a shot.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Answering the "Lucy" Challenge

You ask what is the Lucy challenge? Well Cameron University's Honor Society is paying for a trip to Houston's Natural History Museum to view the "Lucy Skeleton," a week long excursion pretty much on them. So what's the challenge right? Well I am in the field so often that I am missed at home, and my wife often suffers the consequences of all of the field work I do. It's not easy raising two young children, especially when one of the adults is always gone. So when I presented her with the offer that I had recieved, to say the least she wasn't as excited as I was!

Well, being the wonderful woman that she is, she posed a challenge. Finish remodeling the two offices and the extra bathroom before the trip and you can go! Rightly so, she has patiently waited nearly a year since the time we bought the house. So how much work is this? I think the pictures say it all too well.

I have three rooms to texture, paint, put in flooring, hang shelves, lay tile, and everything else that comes along with all of that. Can I get it done? Very good question. Well, her office is actually nearly complete! All that it requires is the laminate flooring, installing the ceiling fan and finishing paint(trim). My office and the extra bathroom are the two problems. Actually it's really just my office, an old mother in-law's kitchen that I am tearing out to make space for all of my stuff! Don't get me wrong I want my office, it is just going to be a mountain of work, on top of my already large heap! Oh well...we will see what happens.

23 Days To Go