Year 2, Issue 7
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* The unofficial publication of the David Cup/McIlroy competition.
* Editors: Allison Wells, Jeff Wells
* Summer Intern: Sarah Childs
* Basin Bird Highlights: "Inspector" Tom Nix
* Composite Deposit, Stat's All: Karl "Father of the Madness" David
* Bird Brain Correspondent: "Downtown" Caissa Willmer
* Wardrobe Coordinator: Sarah Childs
* Non-Cupper Personal Assistant to Ms. Wells: Darrell Childs
* Foley Supervisor: Jeff Wells
Another July, over and done, and with it, another independence day. No,
we're not talking about some high-flying movie from last summer,
and we're not talking about the celebration of the birth of our fine
country, either. We're talking about the David Cup's own founding
fathers--or Father, as the case may be.
Whether or not you've realized it, since signing up for the David Cup,
everyday for you has been independence day! You're brave, free-thinking,
persistent--and a little rebellious--all qualities admirably demonstrated
by our would-be Cupper forefathers (is it any wonder our national symbol
is a bird?) but best illustrated by former president Karl David.*
So, to all of you, Happy Independence Day--yesterday, today, tomorrow,
and ever after. To celebrate, we've sent off, not fireworks, but
something a little more exhilarating, colorful, and yes, dangerous:
another edition of The Cup! Go ahead, throw that tea in the harbor,
crack the Liberty Bell, but read The Cup 2.7...or face charges of
(*Karl David was president of the Cayuga Bird Club, not the United
States of America.)
@ @ @ @ @ @
NEWS, CUES, and BLUES
@ @ @ @ @ @
BYE-BYE BIRDER: Sarah Childs, our trusty Summer Intern, has Cupped
and gone. We at The Cup thank her for her help tallying totals, for
writing witty bits of wisdom to replace the filler the editors
ordinarily resort to, for teaching her brother Darrell how to make a
tuna sandwich, and, most importantly, for restoring our faith that in
every Gen X songster is a Cupper just waiting to hatch. (Consider
these titles that came to us courtesy of Sarah's CD player: "Fly," by
Sugar Ray; Live's "Turn My Head"; "Fuel My Fire," by Prodigy; "Not an
Addict," by Kay's Choice; Matchbox 20's "Push"--Bill Evans' personal
favorite; Republica's "Drop Dead Gorgeous"--particularly apt in light of
last month's misguided Kentucky Warbler; and our vote for the #1 Gen X
Cupper band--ready?--Mundy!) Sarah leaves us with these parting words
about her summertime stint: "It was a good summer. I'm especially glad
that I got to see the avocet, especially since some Cuppers didn't.
I'm glad that my younger brother looked at it through the telescope,
too, without too much embarrassing protest. He just might turn into a
Cupper one of these days. See you next summer!"
CRAB-HAPPY: The Cup 2.5 reported on the crash of shorebird numbers due
to over-harvesting of horseshoe crabs in Delaware Bay and implored you
all to join us in writing to New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman.
Apparently her cup ranneth over with letters from concerned Cuppers
(okay, and maybe from others as well.) Whitman has made the following
proposal: The taking of horseshoe crabs shall be limited to Tuesdays
and Thursdays in May and June, in only back-bay areas, with a 100-crab
daily limit per crabber (still seems high, doesn't it?) The crabs may be
harvested only by hand, and licenses will be limited to only those
crabbers who have held permits for at least two years previous.
Delaware Bay hosts the second-largest concentration of migratory
shorebirds in North America--probably the most important stop on the
highly threatened eastern migratory flyway. Applause to Governor Whitman,
and to all of you who wrote letters, may a Red Knot alight at Myer's
Point in your honor...after the guy who walks his dog there every
morning has come and gone.
STOP THAT SHIP!: Don't put your pencils down just yet! We at The
Cup have received word that a private developer has purchased an old
yacht club along Florida's Crystal River with plans to turn it into a
restaurant and marina. He also intends to lease space to a 100-foot
casino ship that will run four trips daily. This will destroy
critical habitat for the federally endangered West Indian Manatee.
Other plans include two more ships to cruise into Kings Bay--a manatee
winter sanctuary. To voice your opposition to this stupidity, uh, lack
of good judgement, write to: Governor Lawton Chiles, The Capitol,
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001 email:
http://www.eog.state.fl,us/cgi-win/mailform.exe. Or write to Marine
Fisheries Commission, Mr. George R. McElvy, PO Box 520, Crystal River,
FL 34423-0520; or how about Carol Browner, Environmental Protection
Agency, email: epamail.epa.mail.gov; or even Bruce Babbitt, Secretary
of the Interior Bruce_Babbitt@IOS.DOI.GOV. For more info email:
email@example.com. Now, we know manatees are not birds, but hey, birds,
manatees, humans--we're all one big ecofamily, right?
TALK RADIO: While we're on the subject of national issues, I (Allison),
under humble protest from The Cup's coeditor, must tell you that our own
Jeff Wells was interviewed for "The Environment Show," which airs on
PBS stations throughout the country (though not on ours--phooey!)
Jeff's NYS Important Bird Areas program ( under National Audubon),
was featured for its proactive approach to conservation--identifying
lands that meet IBA criteria and working with other concerned groups
statewide to develop smart management plans. His 6-minute segment
aired July 26, but you can access it on the Web at
MUCKING THINGS UP: Among those IBA's is Montezuma NWR. What better way
to celebrate that than to put together a team for the 1st Annual
Montezuma Muckrace! The object of the Muckrace is for each team to
identify as many bird species as possible in a 24-hour period (midnight
to midnight, Saturday, September 6th) within the boundaries of
the Northern Montezuma Wetland Complex. The event is sponsored by
Owasco Valley Audubon, USFWS, National Audubon Society of NYS,
Cornell Lab of O, and the Roger Tory Peterson Institute. Teams must
consist of three or more birders. Minimum registration fee, er,
donation for affiliated teams is $100 ($50 for unaffiliated teams.) ALL
monies raised will go directly to a bird-related project within the
Complex. Currently, a Purple Martin house, a bluebird trail and
additional Wood Duck boxes are being planned for the refuge. Also, a
new tract of recently acquired agricultural land is slated to be seeded
to encourage grassland birds. Prizes include memberships to the RTPI,
and the Lab of O, framed Peterson prints, the new Stokes CD of Eastern
Bird Sounds (by Lang Elliot), gift certificates, bird houses and more.
For a complete set of rules and boundaries or to register your team,
contact: Owasco Valley Audubon, Bill Grow, President, 2342 Kijowski
Road Auburn, NY 13021.
RUMOR HAS IT: Just think what participating in the Muckrace will do
not only for the good of Montezuma but also for your David Cup totals!
Think hard, because the rumors you've been hearing are true: fabulous
prizes will in fact be awarded this year to David Cup Top Ten finishers!
What exactly will these prizes be? Shiny new Ford Explorers? Well, no.
But consider the prestige factor, not to mention press releases, photo
ops, interviews with national publications...maybe.
MEGAN UPDATE: How did Megan "Puffin" Runge fare during the month of
July? Here's what Daddy Michael has for us: "As for my excuse, er,
report this month...Megan and I did manage to get out and see
the avocet. Megan, now at 6 months and 27 inches, seemed to enjoy her
first trip out to the end of the white lighthouse jetty, although the
pebbles were more interesting than the scenery and the birds. I can't
say that she was able to tick off the avocet, as it certainly didn't meet
the Five-foot Rule. However, she did keep saying, "Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah,"
which is her word for avocet, so I thought maybe she wanted to swim over
to the other jetty to see it. But since in the last issue 'Dear Tick'
questioned her qualifications as a puffin, she's lost a little confidence
in the long-distance swimming events. Alas."
BIRD CUP BLUES AND ALL THAT JAZZ: Guess who was in Dundee on July 21?
Koko Taylor, a leading lady--if not THE leading lady--of the blues!
Guess who wasn't there to hear her? Any of you! Jim Lowe and the
Wells had an IAJB gig that day, but, Ken Rosenberg, what's your excuse?
And you, Kevin McGowan? Listen, you all get another chance, she'll be
performing on August 16 in Norwich. Although the Wells have an IAJB gig
that afternoon, we're hoping her performance will take place in the
evening, maybe giving us time to catch it. Anyone besides Ken interested
in joining us? E-mail (or call us) and hopefully we'll have more details
(where, how much, etc.) by then.
:> :> :> :> :> :> :> :> :> :> :> :> :> :> :> :> :> :>
BASIN BIRD HIGHLIGHTS
By Tom Nix
Imagine. It is dark. In the east ahead the sky is lightening, and
the features of the forested land below, so unlike the flat high plains
of your home, are becoming more distinct. You, having flown all night
(for you are indeed a bird) are weary and would love to find a mudflat,
a tidal marsh, or a beach for a rest, and some muddy water to sieve for
those crustaceans you so love. Your low, arrow-like flight has brought
you fifteen hundred miles from home, and in nearly the opposite
direction from the normal fall flight of your kind. Most of them leave
the continent's interior to drift toward the Gulf of California or to
Central America and the Caribbean. To be sure, there have been a few of
the old ones who found their way to the big eastern ocean, and even
fewer who returned to tell of it. But wait! The land is changing below;
you cross long narrow bands of water. You choose one band, a large one,
searching along the near shore for a beach. There is none. You try the
next band, even bigger. Only high cliffs and houses, forests right down
to the water. Desperately tired, you turn south, and at the end of the
water there is a human city, to be avoided for sure. Yet you are dead
tired, and you must land to rest for a while, so you choose the
only available refuge, a long and very low breakwater with a curious
red light at the end. So mesmerizing, that red light; so tired, your
wings. You close your eyes.....
Imagine. You have been coming to Stewart Park religiously nearly
every morning all year. Sure you have turned up some good birds, and
your McIlroy list rivals the best David Cup lists, but you have yet to
find that big one...a real Good Bird. You get out of the car and give
a cursory scan with the bins. Just the usual. Set up the ol' Swarovski
to check out the distant ones. Pan right to left: Mallards, Mallards,
Mallards. Check out the light house jetty, and there it is: Unmistakable
silhouette--upturned bill; long, thick neck, long legs. Your heart rate
jumps as you zoom in to 60X and you whisper to yourself: Avocet. Avocet!!
And I wonder, did Steve Kelling (and Stephen Davies) jump up and
down when he saw that avocet in mid-month? A short pumping of the fist?
What a Great Bird! Many other shorebirds, some making far longer
journeys than an avocet, began moving in July. Kevin and Jay McGowan
counted another McIlroy coup with a Baird's Sandpiper at the Stewart
Park lakeside. This uncommon shorebird would make a Cupper's day at
Montezuma, let alone in the C.O. Ithaca. Montezuma later on that is,
when they (I hope, I hope) lower the water levels in Mays Point. With
high water levels at the Basin's best shorebird spot, birders had to
make do with patiently waiting for Spring Pool's largely hidden waders
to show themselves or don hard hats to visit the construction sight at
the bridge in the middle of the mucklands. Intrepid Cuppers Davies and
David led the length-of-the-lake charge to see the first returning Least
Sandpipers and such species as Semipalmated Plover, Semipalmated Sandpiper,
Short-billed Dowitchers, Stilt Sandpiper, both yellowlegs and Sanderling.
Looking at that sorry mudflat out in the middle of all those beans and
corn, or seeing the peeps queued up on the lighthouse jetty, one realizes
just how little habitat for shorebirds there is around here--just tiny
dots on a great, big map. One realizes again just how important Montezuma
The Steves, both lovers of the pale and gray (or grey?), were
disseminating reports of Bonaparte's Gulls and Forster's Terns, while
just about anyone who took the time could see dozens of Caspian Terns at
the south end of the lake. John Greenly and Father Karl strove to outdo
each other with Myers tern sightings, scoring both Common and Forster's.
Ring-billed numbers soared, and a trio of Great Egrets summered just off
the Thruway at MNWR. Ralph Paonessa, who also travels some pretty
remarkable distances, returned to the Basin long enough to rustle up a
pair of Uppies in the underbirded Seneca Airport area.
Not much to report toward the last half of the checklist. Chris
Hymes reported Acadian Flycatcher on Howland Island, but that's about
all. Now is the time to grab your folding stool and spend some serious
time scoping out the shorebirds, maybe salute them as they cruise by on
their amazing journey. And then when we're done we can rest our weary,
scope-burned eyes on the soothing drab green of those confusing fall warblers.
100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100
100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100
[Sign on 100 Club door:] "Please sign this petition to have the
100 Club moved down to the lighthouse jetty--Bill Evans."
Geo Kloppel's BIRD 100: "I have no idea what #100 might have been,
that was back in May, when I could still see the birds without the
HOPED OR THOUGHT IT WOULD BE: Excused from answering this
portion of questionnaire (see quote above.)
200 200 200 200 200 200
2 0 0
200 200 200 200
Due to the recent influx, however slight, of new members, former
contractor extraordinaire Tom Nix built an addition onto the 200 Club.
Unfortunately, when we said, "How 'bout a nice office, for member
registration?" he thought we said, "closet, for members misbehavin'."
So there's more room, but not a lot--you better get yourself in here
before it reaches full capacity! (By the way, that closet? It's full.)
John Greenly's BIRD 200: Forster's Tern
"That makes up for my cowbird 100th!"
WHAT HE GAVE TO GET IN: His state-of-the-art pocket Cup calculator
Chris Hymes' BIRD 200: Lesser Yellowlegs
WHAT HE GAVE TO GET IN: His season pass to Howland Island
Steve Kelling's BIRD 200: Semipalmated Sandpiper
WHAT HE GAVE TO GET IN: The shorebirds he stole from Myer's Point
Jeff Wells' BIRD 200: Lesser Yellowlegs
WHAT HE GAVE TO GET IN: His blue mug for drinking vanilla almond tea
<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<< PILGRIMS' PROGRESS >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
1997 DAVID CUP JULY TOTALS JUNE TOTALS
219 Tom Nix 213 Tom Nix
215 Stephen Davies 211 Stephen Davies
211 Kevin McGowan 206 Ken Rosenberg
210 Ken Rosenberg 204 Kevin McGowan
209 Steve Kelling 202 Jay McGowan
209 Allison Wells 202 Allison Wells
208 Jay McGowan 199 Chris Hymes
205 John Greenly 198 John Greenly
204 Jeff Wells 197 Jeff Wells
202 Chris Hymes 194 Steve Kelling
198 Karl David 189 Karl David
195 Matt Medler 189 Bard Prentiss
189 Bard Prentiss 188 JR Crouse
188 JR Crouse 187 Meena Haribal
187 Anne Kendall-Cassella 187 Matt Medler
187 Meena Haribal 186 Anne Kendall-Cassella
181 John Bower 167 John Bower
169 Bill Evans 158 Michael Pitzrick
159 Geo Kloppel 150 Bill Evans
158 Michael Pitzrick 150 Marty Schlabach
150 Marty Schlabach 124 Jim Lowe
137 Jim Lowe 123 Michael Runge
135 Margaret Launius 122 Margaret Launius
130 Michael Runge 120 David McDermitt
120 David McDermitt 115 Anne James
115 Anne James 109 Martha Fischer
109 Martha Fischer 106 Chris Butler
106 Chris Butler 102 Caissa Willmer
104 Caissa Willmer 89 Andy Farnsworth
89 Andy Farnsworth 85 Casey Sutton
85 Casey Sutton 68 Cathy Heidenreich
68 Cathy Heidenreich 68 Diane Tessaglia
68 Diane Tessaglia 67 Jane Sutton
67 Jane Sutton 61 Rob Scott
64 Sarah Childs 59 Dave Mellinger
61 Rob Scott 46 Larry Springsteen
59 Dave Mellinger 42 Sam Kelling
46 Larry Springsteen 40 Mira the Bird Dog
42 Sam Kelling 37 Taylor Kelling
40 Mira the Bird Dog 0 Ned Brinkley
37 Taylor Kelling 0 Sarah Childs
5 Ralph Paonessa* 0 Ralph Paonessa
0 Ned Brinkley*
*Currently living out-of-state but anticipate or have made a temporary
return to Basin within the 1997 David Cup year. They sent in their
totals because it's in the script.
1997 McILROY JULY TOTALS JUNE TOTALS
184 Steve Kelling 182 Steve Kelling
182 Allison Wells 179 Allison Wells
175 Stephen Davies 173 Stephen Davies
174 Jeff Wells 172 Jeff Wells
157 John Bower 156 JR Crouse
156 JR Crouse 152 John Bower
152 Kevin McGowan 147 Kevin McGowan
136 Tom Nix 136 Tom Nix
130 Jay McGowan 134 Ken Rosenberg
130 Matt Medler 128 Jay McGowan
129 Karl David 127 Matt Medler
116 Anne Kendall-Cassella 123 Karl David
115 Michael Runge 114 Anne Kendall-Cassella
111 Bill Evans 107 Michael Runge
110 Jim Lowe 106 Jim Lowe
97 Martha Fischer 97 Martha Fischer
83 Chris Butler 94 Bill Evans
70 Casey Sutton 83 Chris Butler
66 Jane Sutton 70 Casey Sutton
57 Dave Mellinger 66 Jane Sutton
51 Rob Scott 57 Dave Mellinger
50 Sarah Childs 51 Rob Scott
46 Larry Springsteen 46 Larry Springsteen
40 Mira the Bird Dog 40 Mira the Bird Dog
0 Ned Brinkley* 0 Ned Brinkley
0 Ralph Paonessa* 0 Sarah Childs
*Currently living out-of-state but anticipate or have made a temporary
return to Basin during the 1997 David Cup year. They sent in their
totals because it's in the script.
THE EVANS TROPHY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Named in honor of the late Dick Evans--beloved local birder, esteemed
Cayuga Bird Club president, and friend to many--the Evans Trophy will be
awarded for the highest Dryden total...even if Ken Rosenberg wins from
his bathroom window.
188 Ken Rosenberg
178 Bard Prentiss
171 Kevin McGowan
165 Jay McGowan
126 Anne Kendall-Cassella
108 Matthew Medler
Kevin McGowan's Lansing total: JULY: 149 JUNE: 147
LEADER'S LIST LLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL
By Karl David
Six Nix additions to his June list were enough to keep him on top of
the heap, but don't look back, Tom...the pack is bunching up behind
you! Here's the list of 219 birds to take aim at:
Common Loon, P-b, Horned & R-n grebes, D-c Cormorant, American &
Least bitterns, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Green Heron, Tundra &
Mute swans, Greater W-f, Snow & Canada geese, Wood Duck, G-w Teal,
American Black Duck, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Blue-winged Teal,
Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Eurasian & American wigeons, Canvasback,
Redhead, R-n Duck, Greater & Lesser scaup, Oldsquaw, W-w Scoter,
Common & Barrow's goldeneye, Bufflehead, Hooded, Common & R-b
mergansers, Ruddy Duck, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Northern
Harrier, S-s & Cooper's hawks, Northern Goshawk, R-s, R-t & R-l
hawks, Golden Eagle, American Kestrel, Merlin, R-n Pheasant, Ruffed
Grouse, Wild Turkey, Virginia Rail, Sora, Common Moorhen, American
Coot, Killdeer, Greater & Lesser yellowlegs, Solitary, Spotted &
Upland sandpipers, Sanderling, Semipalmated, Least & Pectoral
sandpipers, Dunlin, Stilt Sandpiper, S-b Dowitcher, Common Snipe,
American Woodcock, Bonaparte's, R-b, Herring, Iceland, Lesser B-b,
Glaucous, Great B-b & Thayer's gulls, Caspian, Common & Black terns,
Rock & Mourning doves, B-b Cuckoo, Eastern Screech-, Great Horned,
Barred, L-e, S-e and Northern S-w owls, Common Nighthawk,
Whip-poor-will, Chimney Swift, R-t Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher,
R-h & R-b woodpeckers, Y-b Sapsucker, Downy & Hairy woodpeckers,
Northern Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Acadian,
Alder, Willow & Least flycatchers, Eastern Phoebe, Great Crested
Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Horned Lark, Purple Martin, Tree,
Northern R-w, Bank, Cliff & Barn swallows, Blue Jay, American & Fish
crows, Common Raven, B-c Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, R-b & W-b
nuthatches, Brown Creeper, Carolina, House, Winter, Sedge & Marsh
wrens, G-c & R-c Kinglets, B-g Gnatcatcher, Eastern Bluebird, Veery,
G-c, Swainson's, Hermit & Wood thrushes, American Robin, Gray
Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, American Pipit, Cedar
Waxwing, Northern Shrike, European Starling, B-h, Y-t, Warbling,
Philadelphia & R-e vireos, B-w, Tennessee & Nashville warblers,
Northern Parula, Yellow, C-s, Magnolia, Cape May, B-t Blue, Y-r, B-t
Green, Blackburnian, Pine, Prairie, Palm, B-b, Blackpoll, Cerulean &
B-and-w Warblers, American Redstart, Prothonotary Warbler, Ovenbird,
Northern & Louisiana waterthrushes, Mourning Warbler, Common
Yellowthroat, Hooded, Wilson's & Canada warblers, Scarlet Tanager,
Northern Cardinal, R-b Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Eastern Towhee,
American Tree, Chipping, Field, Vesper, Savannah, Grasshopper,
Henslow's, Fox, Song, Lincoln's, Swamp, W-t & W-c Sparrows, D-e
Junco, Lapland Longspur, Snow Bunting, Bobolink, R-w Blackbird,
Eastern Meadowlark, Rusty Blackbird, Common Grackle, B-h Cowbird,
Orchard & Baltimore orioles, Purple & House finches, American
Goldfinch, House Sparrow.
FATHER KARL'S COMPOSITE DEPOSIT
Five species (all shorebirds) were added to the overall list in July,
bringing the grand total for the year to 247:
R-t Loon, American White Pelican, Cattle & Snowy egrets, B-c
Night-Heron, Ross' Goose, Brant, Black Vulture, B-w Hawk, Peregrine
Falcon, American Avocet, Semipalmated Plover, Ruddy Turnstone,
Baird's Sandpiper, Laughing & Little gulls, Forster's Tern, Y-b
Cuckoo, Snowy Owl, O-s & Y-b flycatchers, W-e Vireo, G-w, W-e &
Kentucky warblers, Common Redpoll, Pine Siskin, Evening Grosbeak.
(Karl David teaches mathematics at Wells College in Aurora. It was ESP,
not prior knowledge, that led him to the jetty on the avocet morning of
July 24. Oh, and some rumor about a McGowan McBaird's Sandpiper. )
! KICKIN' TAIL! !
What better way to prove you're still being scoped out as a serious David
Cup contender than by being featured in an interview exclusively for
The Cup, even though you only came in second? Kickin' Tail brings well
deserved honor and recognition to the Cupper who has glassed, scoped,
scanned, driven, climbed, dug, jettied, or otherwise made his/her way to
the top of the David Cup list...at least once. You remember Stephen
Davies, don't you, from April's Kickin' Tail interview? Here's a
little something to jar your memory:
THE CUP: Hi, Stephen. You've probably heard by now that Tom Nix
is the REAL Kickin' Tailer this month...again. But his picture fell off
the mantel in the 200 Club and smashed to bits (whether or not this
was an accident has yet to be determined.)
DAVIES: It wasn't me, it was Ken Rosenberg. I saw him reclining suavely
against the mantle, large G&T in one hand, long, smouldering Cuban
Special Export in the other. Made it look like an accident but...
THE CUP: What? How awful! Why, we had no idea he was a stogie
puffer! Anyway, we didn't dare face Tom, so we're turning to you, our
only other 1997 KT leader, for the interview. (We'll wind you up with a
few questions but feel free to take off whenever you like.)
DAVIES: Hold it right there. I won't be taking anything off or dancing
on the tables in the 200 Club just yet--still plenty of time left in DC
'97, you know.
THE CUP: No, no, we want you to save that for the Cupper Supper.
Stephen, for months now we've all been anticipating your retoppling of
Tom Nix, yet that hasn't happened. What's holding you back? Are you
afraid of success?
DAVIES: Well, you know me. Shy, retiring, reserved.
THE CUP: That's what you'd have us think.
DAVIES: Actually, truth is, Tom has put in an unbeatable performance
so far. I guess we're all waiting to see if he will sustain the
intensity through to the end of the year. It will be very exciting if
THE CUP: Alright, enough with the obligatory nice guy talk. Go on,
rip into him, you know you want to.
DAVIES: He must stand a chance of setting a new Basin record, with so
many fine birds on his DC '97 list?
THE CUP: Ouch. That was a low blow. Speaking of leaders, you were
were the first, or among the first, to see the avocet the morning of
July 24. Would you describe for us what that was like, walking out to
the jetty (for the umpteenth time), setting up scope and finally seeing
something worth breathing in all that boat exhaust for?
DAVIES: The jetty is an unpredictable kind of place and I always feel a
certain amount of anticipation as I make the trek out. Guess that's one
reason why I'm addicted to this interface of sky, water and concrete.
THE CUP: How romantic!
DAVIES: It's a kinda spiritual experience, man.
THE CUP: Or too much boat exhaust.
DAVIES: In many respects, the jetty birding experience is symbolic of
all birding endeavors: you put in the effort and sometimes something
speaks to your soul at the end.
THE CUP: Just think of how many more birds you might see if you
weren't out there meditating.
DAVIES: As I recall, 24 July was a calm, overcast, foreboding type of
morning, kinda made you feel like something unexpected might
materialize. That day it happened to be an avocet. Not really a
thunderbolt from on high, but definitely a sign. By the way, that was a
very fine 'twitcher's walk' you, Jeff and Karl were doing as I passed
you on my way back.
THE CUP: That was you? We all thought it was one of the monks of
Santo Domingo (albeit in a rippin' leather jacket.) Have you heard yet
whether or not Tom Nix saw the avocet?
DAVIES: I assume he did.
THE CUP: [This just in: Tom Nix did NOT see the avocet. Repeat: He
did NOT see the avocet. (Poor Tom.)]
DAVIES: The bird sort of cheapened itself by sticking around all day.
THE CUP: Yes, John Bower even got it, can you believe it? So, what kind
of binoculars do you use, and did you buy them with the money the
Sapsuckers paid you for scouting for their Big Day?
DAVIES: I have a beat-up old pair of Swifts, which have been a faithful
and thoroughly dependable companion for 15 years, having survived
numerous drops, soakings and other mishaps. I'm very attached to
them, emotionally and physically. Sadly, I think they are on their last
legs so I may need to retire them soon.
THE CUP: Perhaps a David Cup Hall of Fame is in order?
DAVIES: My scope is a Kowa, again the poor man's version. Payment
for scouting came in the form of lots of birding, good company and
Tastykakes--not readily exchangeable for new optics.
THE CUP: Perhaps not. Are you missing any should-haves? (Don't tell
anybody, but we've heard that Jeff Wells is missing Prairie Warbler.
DAVIES: Acadian Flycatcher springs to mind. Golden Eagle and
goshawk are painfully absent from my DC list, too. This is just
between you and me, right?
THE CUP: Of course. How many times this year have you seen Bill
Evans out on the jetty? Does he share his coffee with you?
DAVIES: Bill is just getting back into jetty mode in preparation for
fall migration. I'm looking forward to communing and braving the waves
with him on a regular basis over the next few months.
THE CUP: Aside from pushing Bill into an oncoming roller, what's your
strategy for getting back to the top? Do you anticipate stonkers [see
Scrawl of Fame, this issue] to play a part in this? (By the way, is it
true that the way the Queen of England actually decides whether or not
someone is worthy of knighthood depends on the number of stonkers
DAVIES: Fall is the most unpredictable, and to my mind, the most
exciting time of year. I suspect the Basin may yield a few more
stonkers before the year is up and these birds will probably be the
major factor in determining who will come out on top at the end of
the year. I'm planning on trying to get out as much as I can, keeping
abreast of the common stuff and seeing what else I can kick up, er, I
mean dig up. As far as knighthood is concerned, I thought everybody
knew that KBE stood for Knighted Birder Extraordinaire?
THE CUP: We do now. Thank you, Stephen, you've been gracious. Do
you feel used?
DAVIES: Horribly--and I love it. Smoke me a kipper--I'll be back
By Jay McGowan
Welcome to Birdbits! Here is a chance to test your knowledge of the
world of birds. Answers next month (or, if you pay me ten dollars, I'll
tell you them now.)
1. What color are the lores of a breeding Snowy Egret?
2. Which bird digs the longest burrow, and what is the length of the
longest burrow on record?
3. Which bird seeks blood on which to feed, and how does it obtain it?
4. Which hummingbird occurs the farthest south?
5. What is the scientific name of the Blue-throated Starfrontlet (a
6. What is the only bird in the genus Mniotilta?
7. The American Ornithologists' Union recently split the genus Parus
into six genera. What is the new genus of the Black-capped Chickadee,
and other chickadees?
8. What local bird insists upon using snake skin in its nest?
9. What is the common name for Lamprotornis nitens?
10. Song Sparrows and House Sparrows are both called sparrows, but are
not related. Which one is really a sparrow, and what is the other one?
(ANSWERS TO LAST MONTH'S BIRDBITS)
1. Which North American cuckoo likes to eat snakes? The Greater
Roadrunner. These large cuckoos live on the southwest part of the U.S.,
and down into Mexico.
2. Which North American bird builds the biggest nest, and how big is it?
The Bald Eagle builds the largest nest. One pair of eagles were said to
build a nest over ten feet across weighing almost two tons! Eagles
generally add on to the nest a bit every year, and usually use only one
nest, so their nests get to be pretty big.
3. Which bird has the longest scientific name, and what is it? The
Crowned Slaty-Flycatcher. This brown and gray bird has 35 letters in
its scientific name and lives in South America. Its scientific name is
Griseotyrannus aurantioatrocristatus (and I thought Corvus
brachyrhynchos was long!) It is sometimes put in the genus
Empidonomus, but even then it has 32 letters, and is still the longest
scientific bird name anywhere.
4. Which is the smallest North American swift, and how much does
it weigh? Vaux's Swift weighs only 17 grams (0.6 oz.).
5. What is the common name for Sialia currucoides? Mountain Bluebird.
6. Why are the birds in the genus Indicator called honeyguides? Because
these relatives of the woodpecker lead large mammals, including people, to
bee hives. They hope the mammal will open up the hive for honey, and
they will get to eat the honey comb and bee larvae.
7. What is the largest falcon? The Gyrfalcon is the largest falcon. A
female weighs about 4.6 lbs and is 22 inches long from head to tail.
8. Which bird that breeds in New York is polyandrous (one female has
several mates, and defends the territory, and the male sit on the eggs
and take care of the young)? Spotted Sandpiper.
9. Which bird has the longest bill, and how long is it? The male
Australian White Pelican. Its bill length may reach 19 inches (48.3 cm).
10. Which two North American wood-warblers walk, not hop, on the
ground? The Connecticut Warbler and the Ovenbird. These secretive
warblers walk on the ground, which not many other North American
(Jay McGowan, age eleven, is home-schooled. He and his family recently
adopted a kitten they named Swift. It is yet to be determined whether
Jay or Swift is the better birder.)
STAT'S ALL, FOLKS
By Karl David
You may not believe it, but this inveterate lister actually made do
with a rather makeshift life list until this year, when he sprung for
the Fifth Edition (1996) of the ABA Checklist, incorporating the most
recent taxonomic changes (three Scrub-Jays at Kevin's bribing, etc.).
Checking off all the species I've seen, and writing in the place and
date, was a powerful, but pleasant, exercise in recovered memories.
Until I got the checklist, I didn't know too much about the
"birding code" that the ABA Checklist Committee supplies to every bird
on the list. This is an integer from 1 to 6 which indicates, in the
Committee's opinion, how easy or difficult the bird is to observe. The
higher the number, the harder to find. Thus, Chimney Swift is a "Code-1
Bird," whereas Great Auk is Code 6. Not only officially extinct birds
are Code 6, by the way; birds last seen in the ABA area over 100 years
ago have also been given this designation (Bumblebee Hummingbird, for
example, was last seen in Ramsey Canyon, AZ, in 1896, as this
wonderfully information-packed checklist informs me). I can think of
one historical loose end here, though: if you look at the final edition
of Peterson's eastern guide, you see an inset of King Vulture,
reportedly seen for the first and only time in Florida around 1730 by
(I believe) William (John?) Bartram. King Vulture, however, doesn't
even appear on the checklist. Does anyone know the history behind this?
Okay, where do the statistics come in? Well, I thought I'd see how
my list broke down by way of how many birds I'd seen in each
category. Intrigued by the result, I then went back to the checklist
and classified all the birds in it by code. The results:
Code 1 2 3 4 5 6 total
Me 407 52 17 6 2 0 484
Not-me 61 98 40 77 134 12 422
Total 468 150 57 83 136 12 906
Some observations: First, my data, for Codes 2 through 5, almost
perfectly fits an inverse exponential curve (a.k.a. "exponential decay.")
This is so because the number recorded for each of these codes is
almost exactly one-third of the number for the preceding code. Of
course, Code 1 provides a definite "outlier," i.e., exception, to this
trend. Second, notice that the total distribution is far different. For
Codes 1 through 3, it is still roughly inverse exponential, but then
the numbers go up again for 4 and 5. Why are there so many Code 5 birds,
and why have I seen so few of them?
A good analogy, in my humble opinion, is the list Sports
Illustrated printed years ago of all of the baseball pitcher Nolan
Ryan's strikeout victims, on the occasion of his setting the all-time
strikeout record. Not only were they all listed, but the number of
times he struck each of them out was also given. Furthermore, the
list was ordered with his most frequent strikeout victim first, and
those he'd struck out only once last. So, which number of strikeouts
had the most victims associated with it? One, of course, by an
overwhelming margin. Most major leaguers have relatively brief careers.
And when you find out that Code 5 birds mostly comprise the accidentals,
which pretty much means birds with total records comfortably in the
single digits, it's not at all surprising there are so many of them.
Out there on the Aleutian Islands, or just north of the border,
Mexico-way, they're being added to the list at the rate of two or three
a year ... definitely THE growth category on the ABA Checklist.
Why I have so few Code 5 birds is of course easily explainable.
People with little money, or little time, or a fear of flying, do not
have very many Code 5 birds ... and I fit two of those three categories.
For the record, my Code 5 birds are Western Reef-Heron and Whiskered
Thinking about all this, I realized something else. Have you ever
noticed that the Mexican specialties mostly turn up in Texas or
Arizona? Duh, look at a map. Surprise! They have the longest borders
with Mexico. But ... New Mexico and California still have a
substantial Mexican interface, yet my impression is that, especially
in the case of California, not very many southern rarities show up
there. If my impression is correct, why is that?
For me personally, the most discouraging number in my chart is 61:
the number of Code 1 birds I haven't seen. I would have sworn, before I
undertook this exercise, that there would have been far more. I've
only gone on four western birding junkets, and three of those were in
the winter. How could there be so few easy birds left?
So what do I think is my "best" bird, now that I've studied the
codes? Both my Code 5 birds were reported birds I chased, of course.
For Code 4, they're all either chasers or seabirds seen on pelagic
trips, so they weren't unexpected. Now, on one memorable trip I did
happen to be the first person on the boat to spot the White-tailed
Tropicbird, but within seconds everybody was on it, so that's not
quite satisfying enough. We have to dip down to Code 3 to find my
favorite: Yellow Rail. Almost everything about this bird was "right":
it was totally unexpected, and I found it myself ... a fall migrant
flushed near the edge of a goldenrod and teasel patch on the fringes
of the Pyramid Mall back in 1990. I said "almost" perfect, because
unfortunately no one else saw it, though a group of us formed a conga
line through the patch hoping, in vain of course, to put it back up.
The 1996 ABA Checklist is a moment frozen in time in the history of
North American birding. As I write, Basin "wayward son" Ned Brinkley
and others are working hard at adding new species, such as Fea's
Petrel, to the next edition. I can't wait!
(Did we mention Karl David is a mathematics professor?)
SCRAWL OF FAME
"A 'Stoinking' Mess"
by Stephen Davies
On the morning of July 24th, the editors' adopted "kid brother" was
overheard--again--dropping the word, "stoinker," as in, "That avocet's
a real stoinker!" Since Matt (Medler) takes great pleasure in
"casually" mentioning that this is a little something he picked up in
Europe, we, in a shameless lash of sibling rivalry, asked resident
Brit Cupper Stephen Davies for the definitive word on this whole
"I think the word Matt is referring to is 'stonker,' but I can
understand how he might have thought it was pronounced 'stoinker' had
he, say, spent too much time hanging around with Scandinavian birders
(easily identified by the fact that they always go by the name of Lars
or Klaus). So, if you were birding at Falsterbo, Sweden, you might
overhear someone saying, '*%#@$&* Franklinsmas!! Vot ein stoinkker!!!'
Whereas if you were birding at Cley on the English east coast, you
might overhear 'Bleedin' 'eck gov! Cop a load of that Franklin's Gull!
Wot a stonker!!' Then seconds later, you would be deafened by the sound
of hundreds of pagers all going off simultaneously as the nation is
informed that a Franklin's Gull has just been discovered in Norfolk.
'Stonker,' or 'stonking,' is usually used to describe something
excellent, big or obvious--or all three. Thus, it could be said that
Tom Nix has a stonking DC '97 list, by virtue of the fact that it is
bigger than everybody else's. A Franklin's Gull would definitely be a
stonker on account of its rarity. A Great Black-headed Gull would be a
stonker because it is both big and rare. Field marks can also be
stonking. For example, 'Look at the stonking white tips to the retrices
on that Pallas Grasshopper Warbler!'"
Thanks, Stephen. You're a real stonker!
(Stephen Davies is in the vet school at Cornell University. He is
currently devising a plan to make "Birding the Lighthouse Jetty 101"
part of his required curriculum.)
If you have an opinion--or insider information--about the art, science,
and/or esthetics of birding or birding-related topics, write it up for
the Scrawl of Fame.)
< COACH'S CORNER <
< < < <
He edits the Kingbird Region III. He's concocted a website where
birders can register their Basin records
He's even devised his own shorebird timeline--and he shares it, even,
on his website! To top it all off, he's now working at the Lab of
Ornithology. Who better than Steve Kelling to serve as Coach during the
shorebirdy month of August? Pay attention...and polish up your scope.
COACH KELLING: One of the most exciting birding events of August
is the annual draw down of May's Point Pool at the Montezuma National
Wildlife Refuge and the subsequent use of the mudflats by migrating
shorebirds. On a given day in mid- to late-August, over 15 species of
shorebirds can be observed at May's Point Pool. But first a little
Prior to the mid-70's the Main Pool at MNWR was drawn down so
that the entire Main Pool was a large mud flat. Walter Benning (yes,
the same guy whose name you see on the sign at Benning Marsh) had noted
that tremendous numbers of shorebirds used this mudflat. For example,
on several occasions he estimated that there were over 2000
Semipalmated Sandpipers feeding on the mudflat. The best place for
shorebirding was from the tower at the Main Pool. During the mid-70's,
Purple Loosestrife (a very invasive ornamental shrub) began to envelop
the refuge. It was noted that loosestrife needed barren mudflats
to germinate its seeds. Furthermore, once the seed germinated it was
practically impossible to get rid of. So the staff at MNWR had to stop
their practice of annually drawing down the mudflats. Purple
Loosestrife releases its seeds in early August, so it is not until
mid-August that water levels can be lowered at the refuge, without suffering
the consequences of having a fresh crop of Purple Loosestrife. This is
why there is so much water at MNWR through mid-August. Thanks to
recently retired refuge manager Gene Hocutt, a program was begun at the
refuge that would at least provide habitat for migrating shorebirds
beginning in mid-August and extending through November. Gene initiated
the annual draw down at Mays Point Pool. Consequently during the peak
of shorebird migration over 1000 individuals can be observed at May's
Point Pool on any given day. This by far is the greatest influx of
shorebirds that could be observed at any one location in New York State
away from Long Island.
The best time to see shorebirds at the Montezuma refuge is during
the last week of August and the first two weeks of September. It is at
this time that up to 18 species of shorebirds have been seen there at
one time. Yellowlegs, predominately Lesser, and Semipalmated Sandpipers
are the most common birds at this time, but also look for high numbers of
Pectoral Sandpipers and a few Baird's Sandpipers.
The place to be at the refuge is at May's Point Pool. Since the
corral at May's Point pool provides a southeast view of the mud flats,
don't go there in the morning on a sunny day. Shorebird viewing is
always at a bit of a distance at May's Point (you will need a scope)
and distant shorebird profiles while looking into the sun is not very
enjoyable. So go in the afternoon. I like to get there around 3 PM.
Then the light conditions are optimal and one can spend a pleasant
several hours watching the activities of the mudflats.
Benning Marsh, when conditions are right, provides some good
close-up shorebirding. Unfortunately, you cannot get out of your car
at Benning, but with a good window mount in the car you can get some
great views of shorebirds.
While shorebirding, always keep your eyes out for other birds.
Peregrine Falcons and Merlin always seem to appear when shorebird
numbers are high. Waterfowl begin to come in numbers and you might be
able to spot a Eurasian Wigeon or some such. And the swallow numbers
are extraordinary. Late August and September is the best time to bird
at Montezuma. The more you are able to get up there, the more you'll
agree that the refuge is the best place to bird in New York State
outside of Long Island.
(Steve Kelling works is a computer specialist at the Cornell Laboratory
of Ornithology. Rumor has it he recently lost prime McIlroy real estate
near the top of the Cornell Theory Center.)
mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm McILROY MUSINGS mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm
"What? John Bower's being featured in this month's McIlroy Musings?
But he's nowhere near the top of the heap!" We know, we know, but...
THE CUP: Hi, John, nice of you to join us this month, even though
you're not exactly kickin' Mctail. Sometimes, you just gotta rearrange
the furniture, you know? You walk into the house and there's that same
darned chair again, staring you in the face. We at The Cup would never
toss fearless leader Steve Kelling into the dumpster, but, we're
not against moving him to the other side of the room for a bit, you
know what we mean? And since you're a one-time leader, and you've been
gone so long. You started out with so much promise, then, nothing.
Nadda. Fizz. Hush. Where's John-John. Like, that must be SO embarrassing
for you. How have you been dealing with this?
BOWER: I thought my record-breaking January total would land corporate
sponsors like those Sapsuckers have. But when Swarovski and Kowa
failed to come through, I knew I was sunk. There's just no way to pick
off Baird Sandpipers on the jetty without corporate-sponsored optics!
Since then, dear editors, to be honest, I have taken to drinking.
THE CUP: You mean those were your empties in the Lab of O mailroom?
We thought they were Matt Medler's. How have things been between you
and Bill Evans since your fall from McIlroy grace?
BOWER: I'd be lying if I said things aren't a little stressed between
Bill and me. Last fall Bill spent every waking hour at the end of the
lighthouse jetty to sneak above my McIlroy total. As I (the
responsible type) drove up Route 13 to the Lab of O each morning, I'd
look down there and think they'd added a second lighthouse to the jetty.
But when I checked it out one very foggy morning--the second lighthouse
turned out to be Bill in his oversized red overalls.
THE CUP: Those are some big overalls!
BOWER: The morning I visited him was so foggy you couldn't even see
the water from the jetty, but did that stop Bill? No way! Peering up
through his bins into the thick fog, he called off "Pomarine Jaeger"
and "Surf Scoter" and others at a rapid clip. A desperate man with a
dedicated imagination, how could I possibly stay ahead of him? Anyway,
every time I see Bill nowadays he laughs this macabre laugh--reminds
me of "Friday the 13th" or something--sounds like he's gearing up for
a repeat performance.
THE CUP: He's talking again, you know, about a "making a big push."
BOWER: This year I've vowed to match Bill's hard working imagination
with hard work of my own. I can tell you (strictly off the record of
course) that come December 31 his total will be a woeful eyesore
compared to mine.
THE CUP: If not, you can blame it on your Song Sparrow research, like
you've been doing all along. Come on, tell us all about it, you'll
BOWER: I study the patterns of communication that occur in a
neighborhood of Song Sparrows when two males are having a territorial
fight. I put eight microphones around the periphery of a nine-acre
field in Brooktondale, which allows me to simultaneously record the
singing of all 14 male Song Sparrows living in the field. The short of
it is that before two males duke it out they usually sing a lot (trying
to psych each other out, I suppose.)
THE CUP: Sounds like a certain two Cuppers, let's call them "JB" and
BOWER: The cool thing is that the other Song Sparrows in the
neighborhood often start singing more just before and during the
ensuing battle. The whole thing reminds me a middle school playground
brawl--two kids talking trash to each other, escalating to a fight,
while everyone else stands around yelling, "Fight! Fight! Fight!"
THE CUP: Yeah, a middle school playground. Or the David Cup.
They're really the same thing, anyway. How exactly has this research
interfered with your McIlroy quest? You know, grad studenthood
actually helps other Cuppers (see Stephen Davies, Pilgrim's Progress.)
BOWER: I realized early on that entering grad school is a great
strategy for winning the David/McIlroy competitions. One has great
scheduling flexibility and is required by the grad school to spend a
lot of time procrastinating before completing thesis work--a perfect
set up for birding. What I didn't realize was that this only works if
you study something other than birds. You see, someone like Stephen
Davies, who peers through a microscope for a decade or so before
throwing together his little black book, can do his microbe watching at
night. But me, I'm stuck in the same damned field every morning for
the three most critical months of the year.
THE CUP: (Sniffle, sniffle.) Hanky, please.
BOWER: My field is in David territory, and I've seen some great birds
there--Prothonotary Warbler, Orchard Oriole, Golden Eagle--but still,
it is only one field! I haven't told my wife yet, but I am considering
a second Ph.D. in something more amenable to birding, like History of
THE CUP: Is it true you've been sitting on a McHooded Warbler most
of the season? Surely this has elicited threats from Allison Wells,
who, we understand, does not have a McHooded.)
BOWER: Mr. McHooded showed up in early July. I heard him singing
almost every day for a month, but have not heard him since the beginning
of August. It's been great to have him around, though I suspect that he
has not been having much fun.
THE CUP: Sounds like some male bonding is in order for the two of you.
Why don't the two of you rent a movie? Maybe "Fly Away Home." We've
never seen it, but...
BOWER: As for Ms. Wells, what does she need, a personal invitation
sent by registered mail?
THE CUP: Well...yes.
BOWER: I posted the bird several times on Cayugabirds!
THE CUP: You're a lowdown, dirty liar!
BOWER: I suspect that after that Peregrine flew by her window while
she was doing aerobics in the living room she wouldn't stoop so low as
to drive to the southern edge of town to chase a McHooded. She'd
probably prefer that her McHooded show up while she's taking a bath
THE CUP: Hey, she's the reigning McIlroy champion, she's entitled
to a little coddling.
BOWER: By the way, has anyone ever studied the oxygen stress on
the reliability of bird sightings?
THE CUP: Yes, oxygen stress has been shown to heighten one's awareness
of his/her environment, much the way a cold glass of sangria will.
Now, enough of the sour grapes. Let's say you save face in the McIlroy
and place in the top half of the pack. What about the David Cup? Might
you finish in the Top Ten? (Surely you've heard the rumor, about
BOWER: On December 31, I will be king of the David/McIlroy world!
(Or maybe not). I did hear that to follow up on last year's Hollywood
theme our humble editors have arranged to give each top Cupper a late
night owl prowl with a famous Hollywood kittycat (tomcat as the case may
be). Is this true?
THE CUP: A lot of it depends on our budget, so if you'll kindly get out
BIRD BRAIN OF THE MONTH
with Caissa Willmer
The bird brain I grilled this month is not, it turns out, a Cupper
after all, but she is a regular and insightful contributor to the
CayugaBirds. She suffers tyro birders, with embarrassingly basic
questions, gladly--at least she has suffered my queries like a true
teacher, taking pains to instruct me gently and fully.
She's Sandy Podulka, and when I asked her, "Who are you
professionally?" she answered: "I always get stuck on tax forms and
other forms, as to what to put in that blank for 叢rofession.' Sometimes
I put 礎iologist' (that's when I think they don't know what
"ornithologist" means, like on the Federal and State Tax forms).
Sometimes I put 素ield biologist' or 奏eacher.' (禅eacher' is for when
they won't know what 'biologist' means.) But I suppose what I really am
is an environmental educator. I really want to be a bridge between
science and the public. So, I seem to have the perfect job, in the
education department of the Lab of O, where I work on the home-study
course and help field questions from the public. I taught conservation
at TC3 as an adjunct for about eight years, but haven't done that the
last year or so."
[CW: Here I began plying Sandy with the standard catalogue of
Bird Brain questions.]
"I've been in love with nature since I was old enough to walk.
Birds were just one part of the natural world I loved, and I remember
being thrilled the first time an Indigo Bunting showed up in 僧y' field.
But butterflies and moths were really my main interest. I spent most
waking hours collecting, pinning, and displaying them.
"It wasn't until college, when I took a summer course from Bill
Dilger here at Cornell, that I became really entranced with birds,
especially their songs. I was NOT a morning person. And this class
met every morning for these stupid bird walks at about 5 am. I couldn't
believe I had to get up in the dark! I would show up in long underwear
and my down coat, since it was so cold that early, and then felt really
silly as I walked back to my dorm room around noon, when everyone else
was in shorts and T-shirts. But, at 5 am, the birds were singing, and
I had no clue who went with the different songs. I suddenly had to know
them all, 5 am became a magical time, and I was hooked for life.
"I have a home office with big windows looking over a swamp, and
some people think that I just sit home all day, watching the birds in
our yard. But it's not really true. Also, since we have microphones
outside to bring in the bird songs, and since they're hooked up to our
only stereo system, my husband claims he never is allowed to hear the
news in the morning any more. This is also not true. He did miss all
world events between late March and late June, but I consented to some
'nonbird' time once all the windows were open in July.
"I used to be an avid lister. But now I have this silly idea of
turning half an acre of solid clay and rock into flower gardens, and
that doesn't leave a lot of time for running all over to see different
birds. I do keep a life list and a yard list--though I sometimes have
trouble remembering which birds are on my life list (that's not the
only thing I have trouble remembering), but have sort of given up the
year list. I tend not to run after rarities--mostly because I'm lazy,
but partly because I'd rather go see them where they belong. I get the
impression sometimes that people think because I'm not in the David Cup,
I don't like listing. That's really not true. It's more that I'm a sore
loser, so I know I'll only get frustrated. I find listing fun, exciting,
and a perfectly fine sport.
"Some listers--call them 'lister-only's'--I think of more as
athletes than as naturalists or scientists. (These are the folks to which
a seen bird is simply a trophy.) And that's fine, for what it is.
Birding, though, to me includes getting involved with the birds--learning
their habits, habitats, behavior, song, and so on. It also usually
involves sharing that interest with other people. And, at best (in my
opinion), it includes getting involved in the conservation issues
surrounding birds. I don't think keeping lists, no matter how insanely
or intently (you top 10 competitors in the David Cup, that means YOU),
necessarily precludes the other types of involvement with birds.
"My own birding passions center around two very different things:
my yard and the tropics. Living in a house that is somewhat like a
huge bird blind overlooking a swamp and open areas, surrounded by forest,
has given me a great opportunity to watch bird behavior in comfort.
Probably the most fun sights have involved Wild Turkeys. In spring, we
have displaying males in the yard most days, and we've even seen them
get into a circle facing each other, and then jump toward each other and
straight up--with a great deal of noise. Last week a female brought 10
newborn fluffballs to our feeder--the first time we've had any younger
than 奏eenagers.' But perhaps the most interesting turkey sight was
watching a juvenile Gray Fox (we had a family in the yard one year)
encounter a mom with teenage turklets. They each alternately advanced
and retreated, and neither knew quite what to do.
"As to the tropics, I suppose the most memorable experience was
in the Peruvian Amazon, watching hundreds of parrots and macaws come to
a clay lick. Watching the sky and trees fill with color, and hearing the
din of squawks was breathtaking--even from our distant observation site
across the river.
[CW: Here I interjected the usual plea for some biographical information.]
"I grew up in Fayetteville--near Syracuse, NY--before the
Fayetteville Mall was there-and studied Wildlife Biology at Cornell. Then
I went to the U. of Maryland at College Park, where I earned an M.S. in
Animal Behavior, studying the song repertoires of Song Sparrows. I hated
the Washington D.C. area (I would have liked it better if I'd had more
time and money to spend at the good ethnic restaurants--now it's a fun
place to visit). My commute there was 30 minutes that all looked like
Route 13 in Ithaca by the car dealers. So, I headed back to Ithaca as
soon as possible, and worked as a technician for Steve Emlen at Cornell,
looking at social behavior of White-fronted Bee-eaters. The birds were
in Africa, but unfortunately I wasn't. That was fun and interesting for
a while, but I was missing the 'education' part of my goal, so I went to
work at the Cayuga Nature Center as Office Manager. Not really doing
educating, but at least I was close to it. From there, I headed to
teaching at TC3, and a part-time job at the Lab of O, first in Bird
Population Studies (data analysis) and now in Education."
[Another CW interjection: When we were corresponding in May, you
were reluctant to commit yourself to the birdbrain interrogation because
of all the spring birding you anticipated doing. Please, let us know
how your spring birding turned out this year.]
"OK, let me tell you about my spring birding. We planted a huge
flower garden and vegie garden, and put in seven large shrubs (down
from about 120 last year) and a bunch of tiny shrubs in our new rock
garden. Also, I led field trips for Steve Kress's Spring Field
Ornithology. That course is my birding savior: it forces me to leave
the yard and go birding without guilt.
"We had fantastic warbler days on our property. Maybe it was luck,
or maybe I paid closer attention to the birds and weather, but we were
treated to a number of fallouts in the woods within five minutes of our
house. We have had 25 species of warblers so far this year, including
Cape May and Mourning, which we've never seen before. We had one
amazing day with 20 species! Most of the views were close-up and
eye-level, and even my husband had trouble leaving to go to work.
"The other notable spring event was that 'our' Canada Goose pair
finally had a successful nesting--the first since we arrived in 1993-
-raising two young in our yard. We also had two Baltimore Oriole nests
near the house, and that kept the adults coming to our orange halves
(along with Hairy Woodpeckers and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks) up to
about three weeks ago. My theory that they only eat oranges during
migration was destroyed.
(Caissa Willmer is Senior Staff Writer for the Cornell Office of
Development. She's also theater critic for Ithaca Times. She may or
may not be daydreaming about American Avocets during staff meetings. )
(your birdverse here)
Because birders suffer so many unique trials and tribulations, The Cup
has graciously provided Cuppers with a kind, sensitive and intuitive
columnist, Dear Tick, to answer even the most profound questions, like
Last night I dreamed that I was looking through a barely-adequate scope
at a rich assortment of sandpipers, but instead of striving to discern
those trifling fieldmarks that separate them, in my dream I found I was
just shooting them! I understand that the fathers of ornithology carried
fowling pieces rather than Swarovskis, but I felt a strange certainty
that my intent was not to ID those little birds, it was something more
sinister...(I remember noticing that my tripod's legs terminate in
slender skewers, and I also searched my dream-pockets for matches,
though I do not smoke.) The dream was so shocking that I sat bolt
upright in bed!
Reassuring myself that it was just a meaningless dream, I laid back
in the dark, and mentally reviewed shorebird fieldmarks to calm myself.
Coming at length to the longed-for "Western" Sandpiper, I caught myself
sniffing at an imagined scent of mesquite-smoke and Tabasco-drippings in
I've been a vegetarian for 32 of my 46 years, having concluded long
ago that observing animals was simply more engaging than killing and
eating them (_the_ sizzling interest among my rustic schoolmates way-
back-then). But I'm _not_ some naive "fuzzy-syndrome" or "peaceable-
kingdom" type. Birding adds a wild-quarry savor to vegetarian life, but
I have never lambasted carnivorous naturalists, nor affected airs of
greater holiness merely because the smoke of burnt offerings does not
cling to _my_ robes.
You can't imagine how disturbing this dream was! I was in such a
stew, I couldn't get back to sleep afterward, so I went downstairs to
raid the fridge. Nothing was there but tofu-dogs, boiled rice and salad
greens! Am I going mad ?
--Urgently Need A Spiedie Reply in W. Danby
Dear Urgently in Need of a Spiedie:
How completely and utterly repulsive! What kind of monster are you?
Only the basest, most deprived sort of person would even consider
putting Tabasco sauce on shorebirds. Tabasco should be reserved for
large Larids, mergansers and loons. Shorebirds require a more sensitive
touch--a lemon-basil-poppyseed vinagrette with capers, perhaps, served
with a nice white wine.
I've been reading about the American Avocet that's been disporting
her/himself around the breakwater and the light house. I wasn't able to
get myself out there, though. But I have a fairly intimate acquaintance
with American Avocets--I get to spend a day or so each December
scanning Bolinas Bay in California, where lots of them winter. Seeing
that I can picture the bird in brilliant detail, and I can definitely
visualize what one would look like out by the Cayuga Lake lighthouse,
can I count that for my David Cup list?
--Visionary on North Aurora Street
Did you read my reply to The Eviscerator in last month's column? If
so, you should be acutely aware that feelings of intimacy with a bird
are suggestive of deeper, more serious problems--for the bird, that is.
The last one (Kentucky Warbler) that was the focus of a Cupper's
feelings of intimacy got the warm fuzzies all right--the poor shell of a
bird was stuffed, and I don't mean with a smorgasbord of spiders and
caterpillars. Talk about padding your totals! These avocets, do you
know them inside and out? Don't let your relationship with them
amount to little more than fluff. Take heart and save face謡ait, cut
that--oh, shoot--no, no, don't! I guess what I mean is, don't open this
thing up any further.
The other night I woke up in a cold sweat. I realized I had had a
premonition in my dreams of the passage of Hurricane Ned through
central New York later this season. In my dream, I found a moribund
Fea's Petrel at Long Point State Park. I was faced with a terrible
dilemma: The competitive Cupper in me told me to run to a phone and
try to get others on the bird before it expired. The sensitive nature
lover in me told me to take the bird down to the Vet School in hopes
they could save it. But it got worse. Having just read the two-part
article on the soft-plumaged petrel complex in "Birding," I knew the
bird wasn't even on the official ABA checklist yet. Can we count it,
just in case I am proven to be clairvoyant?
--Terror Drama Victim in Aurora
If you're really clairvoyant, you'd know that you don't stand a chance
of winning. I suggest you stop focusing on dream birds and try
counting something a little more sensible--sheep, for example.
(Send your questions for Dear Tick to The Cup at firstname.lastname@example.org)
""""""""" CUP QUOTES """"""""
"I still don't know much about the flight speed of an unladen African
swallow, but I did make an interesting observation on the way to work
this morning. I happened to look out my window as I was driving along
Ferguson Road and noticed a hummingbird flying along directly parallel
to my route of travel. It flew with me for the better part of a housing
lot or so, and was going slightly faster than I was. I looked at the
speedometer, and I was going just a hair over 30 mph."
"I wouldn't be surprised if Kevin blazed ahead of the field ...
he seems extremely active. A little father-son competitiveness?
Someone should tell Kevin not to worry...he's still the alpha male in
the family, I think."
"I headed north through the Basin yesterday...At the Savannah Mucklands,
[there were numerous] L Yellowlegs, L Sandpipers, Killdeer, and
Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers, along with a somewhat manic Yellow
Cropduster who seemed to enjoy terrifying the shorebirds and traffic;
right out of 選ndependence Day' (選'm baaaaack!'). I looked diligently
for Buff-breasted Sandpiper along the edges, and listened for
Rainbow-billed Barking Duck, but found neither."
"Too bad I don't have a huge telescope that would help me spot Basin
birds from here! And because I don't, my July totals are the same as
those of June. Maybe I'll do better in August."
--JR Crouse [from Gowanda, NY]
"Once a couple evening visits to the swim club area failed to produce
the thrasher, I went this morning. Stepping into the bushes to pick a
few blackcaps caused quite a commotion among the catbirds, grackles,
jays...I watched for a while ...wandered down by the volleyball net,
and suddenly it appeared!...Then at 111 Burdick Hill there was a
completely unexpected N Mockingbird...so I made a three-mimid sweep
without even trying :-)"
"At Myers Point this morning (Fri 7/25) were one Sanderling and one
"Darn, Karl scooped me again! I can confirm the Sanderling and Least
this morning at Myers."
"We went up to Myer's and saw...two Sanderlings (beating Karl's
first-of-year report by a day--sorry, Father!)"
"Sorry to tell you that Jay and I had two Sanderlings on the lighthouse
jetty 21 June."
"One of my July birds was a gaspin' Caspian--they DO look as
though they're gasping for air, sometimes, as they gawp with those
"Today there were eleven Caspian Terns on the breakwater at Stewart
Park. These were life birds for me, and I was very impressed by their
striking colors, especially in flight."
"No new Ithaca birds for July. I did pick up a number of new lifers,
however, in a nice long bicycle tour of southwest Colorado and
"No visits to the Basin in July (did Bill Evans have something to do
with this? Enquiring minds want to know), so nothing new to report."
"I was actually able to get to the Basin 2x's in July and with the help
of Chris Hymes' great directions to Sedge Wren site and Howland WMA
added 13 birds to my Cup total! The Sedge Wren was a life bird."
--Margaret in Mansfield
"The arrival of both American Avocet and Baird's Sandpiper in the
Cayuga Lake Basin certainly has brought to the forefront that the fall
shorebird migration is occurring...Some of the shorebirds that Tim
Gallagher photographed on their nesting grounds in Churchill, Manitoba
this past June almost beat him back to Ithaca. I am exaggerating of
course, but not by much."
"Well, there was no avocet visible from Stewart Park between 12:15 and
12:45 today (even with my super scope), but there *were* 30 Caspian
Terns and one Common Tern. Lots of boats as well."
"I would like a copy of the David Cup report.... The teasers were just
--John van Niel
"Should we run Anne [Kendall-Cassella]'s quote?"
"Sure. Why not?"
"Well, it might appear too self-congratulatory. People might, you
"Of course they will, but that's how you keep your name in the press.
It's an old trick celebrities use. This will be right up there with
Liz Taylor letting her hair go silver and Elvis coming back from the
"In that case..."
--Allison Wells (with stars in her eyes)
"The latest version of The Cup was outstanding! I always enjoy it,
but I found this one especially scintillating. Beyond the rapier-like
wit of the publication, you are performing a real service to the birding
community by documenting in one place the monthly sightings in the Basin.
This is truly a contribution!!"
"Who's Ken Rosenberg?"
May Your Cup Runneth Over,
Allison and Jeff