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         There are two classic tales in the world of fishing. The first is about the one that got away; the rare specimen a fisherman didn’t quite land, that managed to elude him. The second story, which may be more common, explains that you should have been here yesterday when everything was perfect, or at least much better.

 

            Similar stories are also common in the birding world. I’m sure you have often been told that you should have been here yesterday, or last week, or last month when there were so many warblers they were practically falling out of the trees. Or remember how last year’s migration was so much better.   Whenever serious birders gather there seems to be an intense competition as to which of them has participated in the most extreme chase while hunting down a rarity. It is common to hear a tale of a 5-6 hour pre-dawn drive in rain to look for a rare species. Or of waiting countless hours in sub-freezing temperatures for a reported bird to appear.

            The story of the chase is even more dramatic if, after overcoming incredible obstacles, the bird never appears. An epic adventure without a triumphant ending. I know of one birder from Wyoming who rushed cross-country to Nantucket Island off Rhode Island to see a Red Kite, a rare European raptor, only to arrive exact twenty minutes after the last time it was seen. These stories are the legends that build birding credibility. All serious birders can relate such tales of extraordinary adventure just to see a single bird. It almost seems that an easily found bird is not as memorable as one that requires super-human effort.

            Personally, I do not chase rare birds. At least not if it is too far away, or too inconvenient, or if I am busy organizing my sock drawer. However, if it is less than five to ten miles away and not more than a twenty minute drive, I might try.

A few years ago I learned about a rare bird, a northern wheatear, that met my criteria. It was seen at Croton Point Park a large park on the Hudson River. Wheatears breed in Greenland and the Arctic. Normally in fall they migrate across the Atlantic to Europe and then south to their wintering grounds in Africa. They are extremely rare in New York where I live. In fact, this was the first sighting reported in Westchester county in over 40 years. I had never seen one. It was nearby. I had free time. So why not?

            Checking my field guide, it did not seem like a spectacular bird, a basically nondescript sparrow-size bird. But it would be a life bird. So I went on the chase.

            The park is an easy twenty minute drive on a good road without much traffic. However, halfway into the drive a steady mist began, enough to turn the wipers on. Normally, I am a fair weather type of birder and don’t venture out in the rain. I debated turning around. But it was a not full rain and I was almost there, so I continued driving.

            Croton Point Park is a large park and I did not know the exact location within the park where the bird was seen. Peering through the wiper streaks, I wondered how I would find it, where to look. The mist was intensifying and I didn’t want to go scouting around for any length of time without a destination in mind. My plan was to look for a group of people standing around toting binoculars watching the bird and swapping stories. A rare bird attracts birders.

            As I pulled into a parking lot I scanned for eager birders but none were visible and there was only a handful of cars in the lot. Time for Plan B. I pulled into a parking spot to consider my next step. The gray sky and steady mist were not very inviting, especially since I didn’t know whether go left or right. Perhaps, the wisest choice might be to come back tomorrow when sunnier weather was forecasted.

            One last quick look around. Nothing. Then I noticed a small bird sitting atop the chain link fence ten feet directly in front of my car. It was the wheatear! Amazing. Grabbed my binoculars. Got a great look. Checked out the field marks. But only for sixty seconds before it flew off across a large stretch of water and disappeared. There was little hope of finding it again if I chased after it.

            A life bird! And I didn’t even get out of my car. I should have been excited, but I wasn’t. I should have opened the car door, stepped out, and performed the obligatory life bird dance but it was raining and I just wasn’t into it. Too easy. Only a brief glimpse. The whole outing was too short, taking less than thirty minutes. I recall thinking I was more excited when I identified my first chickadee decades ago even though this was a life bird. I don’t think I am getting jaded. Maybe there should be more to birding than just ticking off a new bird on a list. Don’t get me wrong. I did check off the wheatear – I’m not giving it back just because it was easy.

            The next day I did return to the park. The mist had lifted, the sun was peeking out, the weather was much improved and the expected clump of birders was there. And so was the bird, powerful scopes following its every movement. I didn’t get as close or get as good a view as the previous day. But I enjoyed it more. Was it sharing the joy with fellow birders? Was yesterday too easy? Is a good chase story essential to fully appreciate a new life bird?

            Now, when my birding buddies begin to spin their tales of difficult chases, I smile and tell them my story of the wheatear, my easiest life bird ever.   They are not impressed. To a true believer, a good life bird requires a good chase story. So I don’t tell them that my favorite sighting ever was the red-headed woodpecker I saw in my backyard. A life bird is a life bird, even if it is easy.

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Bird Watcher or Spy

                Bond, James Bond. Agent 007. Master Spy in service to Her Majesty.

                Thanks to Ian Fleming’s 17 novels and subsequent movies the fictional spy, James Bond, is famous. Even his preference for alcoholic beverages is known worldwide – martini, shaken, not stirred. In real life, I believe, all his notoriety would have made him somewhat ineffective as a secret agent. But James Bond, spy, is fictional and anything is possible in fiction.

                The real life James Bond, however, remains relatively obscure. There was one. He was a serious bird watcher. There is no doubt that Ian Fleming blatantly appropriated his name to use for his fictional spy. Fleming actually admitted it. It was a true case of identity theft.

                The real life Bond, born in Philadelphia and educated at Cambridge, was a 20th century ornithologist with his own modest claim to fame (at least among birders). He travelled to the Amazon as a youngster and conducted many field studies in the Caribbean. He was considered “the expert” on birds of the Caribbean area. Among ornithologist he is known for proving that birds of the Caribbean originate in North American, not South America. Eventually, he became curator of birds at the prestigious Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. In 1936 he published the authoritative book “Birds of the West Indies” which later became part of the Peterson Field Guide Series. And today an updated version continues to be part of the Collins Field Guide Series.

               How (and why) did James Bond, spy, assume the name of James Bond, ornithologist? This isn’t a case of alter egos, Superman and Clark Kent, Batman and Britt Reid, or the Green Hornet and Bruce Wayne.

                The story: In addition to serving as a Lieutenant Commander for the British Naval Intelligence Division during World War II, Fleming was an avid birder (he was British after all). While attending a spy conference in Jamaica he fell in love with the island, and after the war purchased an estate there that he called “Goldeneye” – a good name for a book, a villain, or a duck.   In the early 1950s he was in Jamaica finishing the final draft of his first novel, Casino Royale. But he was not completely happy with the name he had given his main character.   On the side table was his copy of James Bond’s Birds of the West Indies which Fleming referred to as his bible. Fleming’s eye fell on the author’s name, he shouted “eureka” and ran to tell the king. No, I think that is part of another story. Well, he liked the name James Bond. So he stole it.

                Later he would write “I wanted the simplest, dullest, plainest-sounding name I could find, ‘James Bond’ was much better than something more interesting, like ‘Peregrine Carruthers’. Exotic things could happen to and around him, but he would be a neutral figure.” So Fleming’s protagonist was dubbed James Bond. The books became best sellers, first in Britain, then in the US. and James Bond became a household name.

                In the meantime, the real James Bond was unaware of this identity theft until 1960. He was reading a review in the London Sunday Times of the new edition of his field guide. The Times reviewer jokingly wrote “I can barely bring myself to write that James Bond, like practically everyone else these days is trying to establish a new image for himself. Bond has revealed himself as a bird-watcher.” The reviewer then became serious and went on to acknowledge that the real Bond was, in fact, “a top banana in ornithology”.

                Bond was somewhat amused and stated he was “fine with it.” But his wife, Mary, wrote to Fleming lightheartedly chastising him for stealing her husband’s name for his “rascal” character. Fleming wrote back explaining that he was just looking for the dullest name he could find. The name struck him as “brief, unromantic, yet very masculine”. Still he understood why Mary might be upset and offered a trade. “In return” he wrote “I can only offer your James Bond the unlimited use of the name Ian Fleming for any purpose he may think fit. Perhaps one day he will discover some particularly horrible species of birds which he would like to christen in an insulting fashion.”

                Fleming invited the Bonds to visit with him in Jamaica which they did a few years later. While there Bond also appeared in a documentary that was being filmed about Fleming.   In 1964 Fleming presented Bond with a first edition copy of You Only Live Twice inscribing it “To the real James Bond, from the thief of his identity.” . Fifty years later that book was sold at auction for $84,000. 

                Once the story behind the origin of the name became better known subtle references appeared. In one scene of the 2002 film Die Another Day, Bond, played by Pierce Brosman, is shown examining a book titled Birds of the West Indies with a cover that looks exactly like Bond’s book but with the author’s name obscured. In the same film, Bond introduces himself to Halle Berry as an ornithologist.

                Depending on your perspective, James Bond is either a serious scientist studying Caribbean birds or a debonair spy searching for an evil mastermind intent on ruling the world. What about you? When you are in the field, high-powered optics slung around your neck, which Bond do you emulate? Are you actually looking for a rare bird or would you prefer to be a, suave secret agent out to save the world?

 

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The good news is that Bird Watchers Digest, the largest circulation magazine for average birders, has agree to print one of articles on birds – “Eat Like a Bird”

The bad news is that they already have so many stories waiting to be published, they may not get to mine until 2016.  But, fear not.  So you won’t have to wait  so long I have posted that story below.  How you enjoy it.

Eat Like a Bird

 

“Your Aunt Helen eats like a bird,” my mother would say. “She just pecks at her food and barely eats anything. If you don’t eat all the food on your plate you’ll grow up looking like a real string bean. So eat.”

Actually, my mother was wrong, as many people are, when describing a bird’s eating habits. Maybe she once saw a chickadee at our feeder grab a single sunflower seed and fly away or watched a robin struggle with a skinny worm. The truth is birds are not the dainty eaters most people imagine. Compared to supermodels desperately trying to maintain their trim figures, birds are pigs.

A small backyard bird commonly consumes 25-35% of its own weight every day. A larger bird such as a blue jay may eat 10% of its weight. Hyperactive hummingbirds consume their own weight in a single day. A typical adult man eats maybe 3% of his weight in a day. If he actually ate like a chickadee, he would be eating about 50 pounds of food per day. That is the equivalent of 200 quarter-pounders, hardly a starvation diet. A bird eats an enormous amount of food considering its diminutive size. A bird is an eating machine.

Birds need to eat a lot and often because flying requires energy. Yet despite their large food intake, they don’t pile on extra pounds. You never see a fat bird. It can’t afford any extra weight. Weight would slow it down, make it less maneuverable, and increase the risks from predators. Fortunately, birds have a high metabolism rate which compensates for their high food intake.

In fact, except for shrews, hummingbirds have the highest metabolism rate of any vertebrate creature on earth. As a result, hummingbirds need to eat almost continuously throughout a day, 3 to 4 times per hour. Studies show that a single hummingbird might visit up to 1,000 flowers per day and drink its own weight in nectar, while burning 12,000 calories per day.

When it comes to dining behavior, hummingbirds and small songbirds might be considered “grazers” – birds that don’t eat a single large meal but have many smaller meals throughout the day. One study showed that an individual chickadee may eat more than one hundred sunflower seeds during a day. Not all at once. Maybe a couple of seeds early in the morning after waking, then a few more several hours later, a couple in mid-afternoon, and again late in the day just before retiring.

Hawks, owls and other raptors have the exact opposite eating style. They might be considered “gorgers” – they don’t eat as often as hummingbirds. But when they do eat, they want a big feast – a large mouse or rabbit. One hearty meal can satisfy a raptor so it may not eat again all day.

Gaining Weight

At some times, some birds do deliberately overeat, usually just prior to a major expenditure of energy. For example, tiny Blackpoll warblers, weighing less than one-half ounce, make a long fall migration flight of more than 1800 miles non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean from northeastern United States to South. America. They can’t stop to eat along the way. So in preparation for this long, perilous flight they deliberately bulk up, nearly doubling their normal weight. The added weight is primarily fat, which provides energy to burn during their long journey. This binge eating is similar in concept to an airplane loading up with extra jet fuel before an extended flight. It takes more energy to become airborne but the extra reserve fuel adds many hours of potential flying time, which can be critical if they encounter strong headwinds or adverse weather. It extends their flying time and range. Since there is no place for a Blackpoll to land during its migration flight, the added range is a prudent safety measure.

Don’t Gulp

Another one of my mother’s common admonitions was “Stop gulping your food. Always chew it carefully before swallowing. It will taste better.” Birds gulp their food, swallowing an entire seed without chewing it. They can’t chew. They don’t have any teeth. It is believed birds lost their teeth as part of the evolutionary process to reduce their weight for improved flying. So they gulp their food whole.

How do birds taste their food without chewing? Humans have about 10,000 taste buds, mostly located on the rear of the tongue. The human tongue is soft and amazingly flexible. A bird’s tongue is hard and stiff with less than 50 taste buds, so they don’t expereince the same taste sensation we do. Yet, countless studies have demonstrated that birds do have taste preferences. One bird will prefer Seed “A” over Seed “B” but won’t touch Seed “C” at all. Finches, for example, love nyjer/thistle seed but other species won’t eat it.

Scientists have experimented by adding various flavoring to water. Birds could tell the difference. When hummingbirds are offered the choice of water with different concentrations of sugar, they always choose a particular concentration, not too sweet, not unsweetened, just right. Waxwings test the sugar content of berries to determine if they are sweet and ripe enough to eat.

A British ornithologist tested his backyard birds. Taking a large bag of identical seeds, he dyed some of them yellow, some red, and some blue. His birds showed a definite preference. They ate the yellow seeds first. When the yellow ones were gone, they ate the red ones. And, finally, when there was nothing else, they ate the blue seeds. Why? He speculated that yellow was the color nearest to natural wheat or grain seed, while few edible things in nature are blue.

If you watch a bird’s feeding patterns at your bird feeder, you may notice a chickadee pick up one sunflower seed and drop it. Then it picks up a second or third seed before finally selecting one to eat. Why do they prefer one seed over another? It takes the same amount of effort to break open any seed. So the bird chooses the heaviest seed, which yields the most food for their effort, the biggest bang for the buck.

Good Nutritional Guideline

Nutritionists have many reasons to frown at a bird’s dietary regimen. First, there is very little variety. A chickadee would be happy eating nothing but sunflower seeds 365 days a year. Of course, they supplement the seed from a feeder with food they get from other natural sources. Many birds are opportunistic feeders. When a particular food is abundant they feast on it. When grass goes to seed, they gorge on fresh grass seed. At the peak of the 17-year cicada abundance, blue jays feast exclusively on cicadas. If scientists from outer space landed on earth at that time and studied jays, they would conclude that blue jays are 100% dependent on cicadas and eat nothing else.

Nutritionists would also warn birds about the amount of fat in their diet. Birds love fat. Suet, for example, is pure beef fat. One 11 oz. cake of pure suet contains 2900 calories, the equivalent of six Big Macs. But birds like it.   And birds need calories.

Despite my mother’s misconceptions about birds’ eating habits, she did instill in me reasonably good eating habits. I have a hardy appetite and I don’t pick at my food. I choose a variety of food from all the food groups and am careful about my fat intake. But my mother still thinks Aunt Helen eats like a bird.

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How High is Up?

Educators express concern that today’s kids spend more time looking at digital screens than connecting with nature. Because of the time they spend in the digital world they are comfortable using computers, tablets, cell phones and are skilled in using them. But the natural world is less familiar. Yet, I’m always energized when I lead bird walks for youngsters. Their enthusiasm is contagious. Young boys in particular are fascinated by a bird’s ability to fly. Every nine-year-old boy dreams of flying. He can picture himself flying over his backyard or school. He is a superhero racing through the sky to fight evildoers. “How high can a bird fly?” they pester. “Can they fly over the tree tops? Over skyscrapers? How about mountains, can they fly over mountains? Do birds fly as high as a jet plane?”

            I explain that during their normal day-to-day life, birds generally fly close to the ground, usually less than 50 to 100 feet high. However, during migration, birds fly at higher altitudes because the wind is better. Backyard birds, for example, may fly at 1,000 feet when migrating. Larger birds such as ducks and hawks may fly at an even higher altitude.   And sometimes birds fly incredibly high.

            I ask the boys what is the highest spot on earth. They know. It’s Mount Everest, just over 29,000 feet above sea level, more than 5 miles up. Then I mention that elite mountain climbers attempting to scale Mount Everest have reported seeing flocks of bar-headed geese flying over their heads. Bar-headed geese, slightly smaller than our common Canada geese, have pale white heads with two black horizontal bars. They nest on the Tibetan Plateau, called “the roof of the world,” and migrate annually over the Himalayas to reach their winter territory in south Asia.

            Mountain climbers are skilled athletes who train for months to climb Everest. Yet sometimes it is a struggle for them just to gain a few feet of altitude. The amount of oxygen in the air at 29,000 feet is less than half of what it is at sea level. Climbers refer to it as “thin air,” and it makes it hard to breathe especially when they are exerting tremendous effort to climb. So they bring extra oxygen for climbing at high altitudes. Their Sherpa guides lug hundreds of oxygen tanks up the mountainside so climbers can breathe. Without them, most climbers would never scale Everest. Yet the bar-headed geese just sail gracefully over their heads with no extra oxygen. Cool.

            Airliners cruise at about 30,000 feet. At that height, most people feel the effect of low oxygen. So, to make passengers more comfortable and keep pilots alert and able to function, airlines pressurize a plane’s cabin and add oxygen, simulating conditions at ground level.

            Why do pilots and elite athletes need extra oxygen and geese don’t? Their respiratory system has evolved allowing geese to extract more oxygen from the thin air than humans can. Kids aren’t interested in those technicalities, so I don’t mention it. I want to leave them with the image of sitting on a mountain top and watching birds sail overhead. That is awesome.

            However, there is one element of high altitude flight that I do not fully understand: the outdoor air temperature at 30,000 feet is -35 degrees Fahrenheit. In a plane you can turn up the heat to stay warm. Climbers wear special insulated clothing. But how does a goose stay warm at that temperature? The physical effort required to fly generates body heat and a goose has a thick down coat, but the answer has to be more than that. Maybe someday I will learn the answer. Or, better yet, I’ll just ask a kid if they know. Today’s kids are smart.

            After one recent bird walk when we were back inside the nature center building, one young boy stopped me short saying “Mr. Weber, you were wrong.” That got my attention. “I just Googled it” he said “and it says the bar-headed goose is not the highest flying bird. It’s the Ruppell’s griffin vulture from South Africa. Want to see its picture?”

            I walked over to check his laptop screen. He was right. In the 1970s a Ruppell’s griffin vulture was sucked into the jet engine of a plane flying at 37,000 feet in altitude, more than a mile higher than Mt. Everest.

            Although I was embarrassed that he discovered my error, I was thrilled that he cared enough to Google it. Later, I did my own searching on the internet and learned that other species also fly at high altitudes similar to the bar-headed goose. Most are large African and Asian birds, such as swans and vultures, with very long wings. The highest altitude positively identified for a North American bird was recorded in 1961 over the Nevada desert when a plane collided with a mallard at 21,000 feet.

            Youngsters may spend hours each day looking at digital screens but they still are attracted to the natural world. They have the best of both worlds. Today, if a young boy asks me how high a bird can fly, I still tell him the story of Mt. Everest then add several thousand feet to my previous answer to identify the vulture. Then I explain how he can access the internet with his digital device and discover all kinds of interesting information on his own.

            Learning from kids is just as exciting as teaching them.

Ironing Board Wings

Summer is a slower, laid back time of year. As a result I haven’t posted anything new to this blog for some time. Now is the time to start being more active.

I’ll start with the article below that I wrote and will soon be appearing in the Sept/Oct issue of Bird Watchers Digest magazine.

 

Just the facts, Ma’am

The Case of the Bird with Ironing Board Wings

 

Jack Webb, who portrayed Sgt. Joe Friday on the early TV series, Dragnet, uttered the iconic line “Just the facts, Ma’am”. Today, 50 years later, that line is still heard, even among those who have never watched black and white television. Keep the facts plain and simple.

I am a nut about bird facts, the more obscure or remarkable the better. In a bird trivia competition, I could be a finalist. What’s the largest bird? The smallest? The fastest? Who flies the highest, the farthest? I often use remarkable facts to impress new or novice bird watchers.

Recently I attended a program on bald eagles hoping to learn some new tidbits. I didn’t. But I did learn a valuable lesson.  When describing the size of an eagle, the speaker did not, as I would have, simply state that an eagle has a wingspan of 8 feet. That’s a fact, a dramatic fact, I think. But the speaker realized many people do not relate well to numbers. It is like saying the national balance of trade will increase a trillion dollars. Is that good or bad? Who knows how much a trillion dollars is?

Instead, the speaker compared an eagle’s wingspan to something more familiar to the audience – an ironing board.   Each wing, he said, is as long as an ironing board. Place two ironing boards end-to-end and you have the wingspan of an eagle.

Wow! I never thought of it that way. Using his description, I could visual just how big an eagle is. I instantly understood that, in order to make a fact more attention-grabbing, it must be presented in a way the audience can easily relate to.   For the next few days I spent every moment trying to create colorful new ways to describe facts about birds.

How fast is a peregrine?

Consider the well-known fact that a peregrine falcon is the fastest creature on earth, having been timed at over 200 miles per hour. That sounds pretty fast. But how fast is it really?

A typical city block is about 1/10 of a mile long. A peregrine would be just a blur as it travels the complete block in less than two seconds. To me, that sounds even faster.

Or, here is another way to put speed into perspective. A cheetah is the fastest land mammal reaching speeds of 60 miles per hour. A very fast human sprinter may run 20 miles per hour. Let’s say the next Olympic Games holds a 100-meter dash featuring a peregrine, a cheetah and the world’s fastest human. At the sound of the starter’s gun all three competitors take off at top speed. When the peregrine streaks across the finish line, the cheetah will have travelled only 1/3 of the way and the human would barely be out of the starting blocks. That’s fast.

How much does a bird weigh?

I often point out that birds are truly light weight, any excess weight necessitates more energy for flying. So you seldom see a fat bird. A chickadee, for example, only weighs about 0.4 ounces. That sounds pretty lightweight, but who really can sense what 0.4 ounces feel like?

Would you find it easier to relate to that number if, instead of quoting a statistic, I compared the weight of a chickadee to the weight of something more familiar, say a McDonald’s quarter pounder? Well, it would take 10 chickadees to equal the weight of just the meat patty in one quarter pounder. That would be a mouthful of feathers.

Or put another way, one chickadee weighs about the same as a dozen paperclips. That’s light.

A hummingbird is even lighter, weighing only 1/8 of an ounce. How light is that? Say you had 8 hummingbirds laying around and imagine stuffing all of them into a standard business envelope. You then could mail all those hummingbirds to anywhere in the country using just a single 1st Class postage stamp. Eight hummingbirds weigh about one ounce, the same as three sheets of paper.

Do these illustrations give you a better sense of the lightness of birds?

More Facts

Trying to relate facts to common, everyday items was addictive. Once I started, I created more.

An ostrich egg, weighing about 3 pounds, is the largest egg. You can probably sense about how hefty 3 pounds feels. But maybe a better way to depict the size of an ostrich egg is to describe what you can do with it. There is enough material in a single ostrich egg to cook the equivalent of 24 fried egg sandwiches. That is 2 dozen chicken eggs.

The highest flyer

Birds usually fly at an altitude of less than 50 feet. During migration, however, some fly at higher altitudes, often as high as several thousand feet. If you strapped on an oxygen tank and climbed to the summit of Mount Everest in Nepal, the highest place on earth (elevation: over 5 miles), you might see bar-headed geese fly overhead as they migrate over the Himalayas.

Arctic terns make the longest migration – over 24,000 miles round trip – annually flying from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back.   By the time a tern is 10 years old, it has flown enough miles to reach the moon.

I am still working on clever new ways to present common bird facts (including the classic: how much does a pound of feathers weigh?) Instead of just remembering unusual facts about birds, I am now passionate about finding ways to make those facts more relevant.

An eagle’s wingspan is still 8 feet, but I never use that fact anymore. Instead, I have become an advocate for “the bird with the ironing board wings”.

 

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The Summer Solstice is upon us — the official start of summer. And we associate summer with the appearance of warm weather suitable for outdoor activities. Hurray for summer! Especially after the terrible winter we just had.

The Summer Solstice is also the day of the year with the longest period of daylight and the least amount of darkness. From now there are fewer hours of daylight. Each day has less and less daylight and more darkness. That is nothing to cheer about.

I, for one, vote for the warmer days of summer

Birding with Ben

Leica, the high-end camera and binocular company, is sponsoring an essay contest.  They are looking for essays of less than 300 words about an experience mentoring young birders.   Here is my contribution:

 Birding with Ben

           He is now studying ornithology at Cornell. But I first heard about Ben from his 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Conca, who weaves birds into her curriculum. Ben was her star pupil and his interest continued to grow.    For several years I tracked his progress mostly via rumor. Until one morning, Ben, then a high school freshman, joined my Saturday birdwalk. This was my mentoring opportunity, a chance to share knowledge.

            It didn’t work.

            Gentle drizzle made for slow birding. Ben, the only teenager, was quiet, respectful and focused totally on the few common birds we did find. I reinforced his enthusiasm.  As we neared the end of our walk without a long bird list, Ben quietly approached asking if I would allow him to play a call on his phone. He had audio of Chickadees mobbing a Screech Owl. Was it OK?  I agreed as long as he didn’t overdo it and stress the birds.

            Ben smiled and hit the play button. The call echoed through silent woods without any initial effect. But after 2 or 3 repeated plays, birds appeared everywhere eager to join the mob chasing away the intruding owl. In the next five minutes we saw more birds than we had seen all morning.

            After the walk I offered to drive Ben home, but he insisted on calling his mother. Waiting with him meant time to talk birds. However, I was curious and this was before smart phones became widespread. So Ben, a tech-savvy teenager, showed me the basics explaining how it can help birders.

            Mentoring morning was a double success. I encouraged Ben’s enthusiasm and, maybe, passed on a few tips.   He helped me learn about smart phones and how to attract birds when none are being seen.

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