Saturday, February 28, 2009

Antarctica, Day Three: Carcass Characters

From home base in Ohio, Kenn and Kim write: Our first landing of the trip was on the morning of January 9, on Saunders Island in the Falklands (see previous post on "Punks and Saints" posted on Feb. 18). That afternoon we made a second landing, on nearby Carcass Island, also situated in the northwestern part of the Falklands archipelago. Carcass Island isn’t as grim a spot as its name might imply; it was named for a British ship, the HMS Carcass, that visited the region in the 1770s.

Today the island is mostly occupied by sheep farming, but it still has a lot of birdlife. Undoubtedly there’s the occasional real carcass around (sheep fall victim to a variety of mishaps, after all, and various sea creatures wash up dead on the beaches), so there’s an open niche for scavengers. A common scavenger here was the Striated Caracara. This bird also occurs in southern South America, but it’s easier to find on the Falklands than anywhere else.
The adult Striated Caracara always seems to have a disheveled look -- at least, in several trips to the Falklands, Kenn has yet to see one that looked clean and crisp. They’re always messy. Maybe it’s an occupational hazard.
The orange on the skin around the face indicates the adult. In a closeup view, it’s also easy to see the whitish streaks, or striations, responsible for the bird’s name. Incidentally, closeup views are easy to obtain; Striated Caracaras are ridiculously tame. The local name for the bird here on the Falklands is "Johnny Rook," and it’s not always used as an affectionate term. At one time there was a bounty on Johnny Rooks because they were considered pests around sheep farms, and their numbers were seriously depleted. Now the species has recovered somewhat.
Young Striated Caracaras (a.k.a. Johnny Rooklets) have duller skin on the face, browner plumage, and fewer white striations.
On Carcass Island we found what appeared to be a nest, with three large young Striated Caracaras, apparently just about full-grown. They were squabbling over some unmentionable scrap of carrion that one of the parents had brought, and they looked and acted just about as gross as the adults. Not all birds can be beautiful, you know, but they all can be interesting.
Much of Carcass Island (and the Falklands in general) was originally covered by thick clumps of tussock grass. On Carcass, the owners have fenced off some areas of this grass to keep out the sheep, and these grassy places are the domain of the Blackish Cinclodes, locally known as the Tussac Bird. Actually, like many island birds, this cinclodes is very adaptable, scavenging on the shorelines, around seabird colonies and seals on the beach. Sometimes it seems determined to come up and eat your shoelaces. No long lenses needed to photograph this bird.
South America has many species of cinclodes, all associated with open country, often on rocky open areas above treeline in the mountains or along shorelines. These birds belong to the ovenbird family (about which we wrote back in early January, in Buenos Aires), a large family restricted to the American tropics; no species has ever been found north of the Mexican border, so it’s hard to describe the group by reference to North American birds. The Blackish Cinclodes is one of the dullest cinclodes but it makes up for drabness with its cheeky personality.
A specialty that we sought here was the Cobb’s Wren. The first time that Kenn was in the Falklands, this was still considered just the local form of House Wren, and it may go back to that status any day now. Certainly it looks like a washed-out version of the familiar House Wren, although its bill is longer. We looked for Cobb’s Wren in the tussock grass and eventually found it out on the shoreline rocks, bouncing around on the kelp next to the tidepools. It makes sense for these island birds to take advantage of the rich food resources in these areas; a couple of years ago, we watched Yellow Warblers doing the same thing in the Galapagos.
Lest you think that Carcass Island’s birds were all drab brown things, of interest only to hardcore bird maniacs, we should mention that we also found more Magellanic Penguins nesting here. This cozy scene, with an adult and two young resting in the entrance of their nesting burrow, was not far from our landing site.
And here, because we can’t resist, is a closeup of one of the baby penguins!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Days Are Just Packed

American Oystercatchers on the beach at Jekyll Island, Georgia

From Jekyll Island, Georgia, Kenn and Kim write: Okay, we admit, we stole that title from an old Calvin and Hobbes collection. But it totally applies to our current situation. Ever since we arrived at the Bird Education Network conference on Sunday -- or, actually, ever since we left home to go judge the Ohio Wetlands Conservation Stamp contest early Saturday morning -- we’ve hardly had time to blink, let alone attend to luxuries like blogging or sleeping.

By a most amazing coincidence, on our early morning flight out of Columbus on Sunday, we wound up sitting right next to our dear friend (and wonderful artist / author / blogger) Julie Zickefoose. She was headed to Honduras, we to Georgia, and fortunate fate put us not only on the same flight but even in the same seat row. We talked about birds and families and writing and music, and never has a three-hour plane flight passed so quickly. Here at the conference we managed to sit down and have dinner with another respected leader of the bird blog community, John Riutta of Born Again Bird Watcher. But most of our time here has been a whirlwind of activity.

We gave a keynote talk together at the opening of the conference ("Working Toward a Bird-Literate Society"), we co-led two lengthy field sessions and a short morning field trip together, and each of us spoke independently at other indoor sessions (Kim on promoting birding activities for teenagers, Kenn on birders and the National Wildlife Refuge System). But there have been many other speakers and we’ve had conversations with dozens of dynamic leaders in the whole field of educating students, and the public, about birds and bird conservation. The amount of energy here is amazing, the networking that’s going on here is phenomenal, and the results of this conference should have wide-ranging positive effects all over North America and beyond. After we get all our notes sorted out, we'll have a huge selection of new ideas to try out in our own work.

And eventually, maybe, we’ll get caught up on sleep!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Georgia Geography

From home base in Ohio, Kenn writes: It just occurred to us that we should ward off any potential confusion caused by the popularity of the name "Georgia" in geographic terms. We're in the process of posting, gradually, about our recent Antarctic trip, and one huge highlight of that trip was our four-day visit to South Georgia Island. But we're about to have a four-day visit to an island in south Georgia -- or I should say, in southern coastal Georgia. And these are two different places.

South Georgia Island is beautiful, rugged, and remote, isolated in the far South Atlantic at the edge of the Antarctic region. We didn't see anyone there except a couple of British researchers and the other passengers on our ship. The island that we're visiting next week is also beautiful, but not so rugged or remote. It's Jekyll Island, Georgia, and we're going there for the conference of the Bird Education Network. We'll be seeing lots of people there, lots of our friends and colleagues and co-workers, people who are passionately committed to teaching the public about birds and conservation. Kim and I will be giving a keynote talk together at the conference and helping to lead instructional field trips, and each of us will be taking part in panel discussions. We hope to learn new approaches, share ideas, and come back with even more energy for educational work.

With luck we'll have time to post from there (as well as continuing our Antarctic series). But for a preview of what Jekyll Island is like, visit Lydia Thompson's blog. Lydia is an expert birder and a wonderful artist, and she has done more than anyone to raise awareness of the spectacular bird habitat on Jekyll Island and elsewhere along the Georgia coast.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Antarctica, Day Three: Punks and Saints

From Home Base, Kenn and Kim write: We should state up front that the Falkland Islands (or, as the Argentinians would call them, Las Islas Malvinas) are best classified as part of the subantarctic region, not part of Antarctica itself. The islands lie east of the southern tip of South America, and we actually had to travel somewhat north from Ushuaia, Argentina, to get there. After being out at sea all day on January 8, we had the Falklands in sight by very early in the morning on January 9, and we made our first landing of the trip at Saunders Island, in the northwest part of the archipelago, early this morning.

Ferried ashore in the Zodiacs, the sturdy inflatable boats that are a mainstay of adventure cruising worldwide, we got an eyeful and earful of wildlife on Saunders Island. This fabulous first stop presented a series of spectacles that kept us gasping with delight for the entire morning. Magellanic Penguins (about which we wrote in our post of Feb. 6) were in the water and on the beach, to be upstaged by hundreds of Gentoo Penguins and dozens of King Penguins. We’ll write more about those soon. But the star penguins of the day were the bold, weird little Rockhopper Penguins. We knew that Saunders would be our main encounter with this species, so we all spent a lot of time watching them.
Rockhoppers DO hop on rocks. Their nesting colony on Saunders was high on a hillside, and the birds had to hop and waddle and scramble up a very steep rocky slope to bring food to their young. Fortunately, they seem to be pretty tough birds, able to make this arduous journey over and over during the nesting season. But the effort could explain their grouchy expressions.
Of course we shouldn’t assign human expressions to animals, but with the Rockhoppers it was almost impossible to resist the temptation. For example, we couldn't help wondering what this adult might be telling its fuzzy half-grown chick.
Everyone on these Antarctic cruises is instructed not to approach the wildlife - - to stay back at least 15 feet from the birds (or farther for some species). But if you stand still, some of the birds will walk up to you. The Rockhoppers seemed curious, in a grouchy way, waddling up to members of our group and staring at them as if to say, "what the hell ... ?"
Kim pointed out that, with their spiky hairdos and weird expressions, the penguins were misnamed; they really should have been called Punk-Rock Hoppers.
("Hey, human chick, you wanna step outside and repeat that?")
Of course, once we were into this mode of anthropomorphizing (that is, applying human characteristics to animals), it was hard to get out of it. Nesting on the same hillsides as the Rockhoppers were colonies of Black-browed Albatrosses. We had seen many of these at sea the day before (along with lesser numbers of the much larger Wandering Albatrosses). But here we were able to watch them up close, tending their young, and we were struck by how they seemed gentle, benign, even wise.
The Falkland Islands are a major nesting area for Black-browed Albatrosses. According to some estimates, 80 percent of the total world population nests here.
Their nests are built up of dried mud, and shaped like little volcanoes. In many of the nests we could see the single young, still covered with fuzzy grayish-white down. Almost every active nest was tended by one of the parents; presumably the other parent was away foraging at sea. We saw a few exchanges where one adult would come back with food for the young, and after various greeting rituals, the adult that had been there would leave.
Admittedly, the young were cute enough that they seemed worth guarding with care!
Maybe we can’t really tell what the adult albatrosses are thinking, but they do have beautiful faces. Can you deny the sense that these look like gentle giants?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

My eyes have seen the glory....

Kim writes: Some of you may be wondering why--outside of a few random photos and thoughts--I haven't really attempted to describe the Antarctic experience. In fact, I've been wondering about it myself. Certainly time is a factor. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't. In the Kaufman Universe, life moves at warp speed. But, time (or lack thereof) is not the real problem. It's the trip itself.

Unlike Kenn, I was not born with the "travelin' bone." I grew up on a farm in rural Ohio and throughout most of my childhood no one I knew ever went anywhere, to speak of. If someone actually went someplace that required a SUITCASE it was a really big deal! Funny story---When I graduated from High School one of my Aunts got me a set of luggage. Of course I accepted the gift graciously, but inside I was thinking, "You gotta be freakin kidding me with the luggage, right?" (Sorry Aunt Connie! You're the best.)

Now, you might think that marrying someone like Kenn, I must have had some idea that travel would be part of my life. But to be honest, it wasn't something I really even thought about. I mean, yeah, I knew that Kenn had worked for many years as a bird tour leader--traveling all over the world. But, by the time we met, he had moved on from tour leading to work on his field guide series. I guess on some level I assumed that far-flung travel was a thing of the past. Kenn is an amazing person and he fills my life with so much adventure that I would be perfectly content if we never left home. But, traveling with him is like the ultimate bonus. And now--that girl who laughed at the idea of owning a suitcase--has been to some pretty astounding places.

Now, be honest...If you were asked to make a list of the top 10 places in the world that you wanted to travel to, would your list include Antarctica? For me, the thought of going someplace like that was just too far outside the scope of my imagination. For good reason. It was a totally mind-blowing, life-altering experience. Nothing could have prepared me for it. No books. No pictures. No videos on U-Tube. Nothing does it justice.

But now I have been there. And I have struggled for weeks to find a way to tell you what it was like. I will try. But I must tell you that I will fail. Until your eyes have sparkled with tears at the sight of an iceberg peppered with penguins. Until a flock of Cape Petrels dances for you. Until the bow of your ship has moved in close enough to kiss the edge of a glacier. Until your senses have been exercised to their ultimate limits by a colony of Adelie Penguins. Until your heart has practically thumped its way out of your chest as you stared straight into the eyes of a Leopard Seal. ----- Until you've walked where ice is magnificent enough be a place on the map.....It is truly hard to imagine.

But we will do our best....
See the black lumps in this photo? EVERY BLACK LUMP IS AN ADELIE PENGUIN!
Now, imagine that you are standing a few feet from the edge of this astounding scene. Waves crash and stir bits of ice against the rocky shoreline like rhythmic music...your ears ring with the sound of it. Adelies are before you in numbers that are nearly incomprehensible...your nose wrinkles with the smell of it. The rough and tumble rocks of the island--and the occasional Adelie at your feet--make you aware of every footstep. And your soul weeps with the joy of it.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


This White-throated Sparrow is just waiting patiently to be counted ...

From Oak Harbor, Ohio, Kenn writes: Here's a shout out to ace birder Rob Fergus, who writes the very popular blog over at The Birdchaser and who is also one of the principal organizers of the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). The GBBC is going on right now, through Monday the 16th (Presidents' Day), and it's easy for anyone to get involved. You can count birds from the comfort of your kitchen window, or you can trek out into the wilderness, and your results will help to give a valuable snapshot of what's happening with birds all over the North American continent this weekend. It's the second-most-fun thing you can do on Valentine's Day (and it may be THE most fun thing you can do on Presidents' Day). It's a great activity for families -- if you're a parent with kids who are lukewarm on birds, get them involved in helping to count and then let them enter the data online and explore all the interactive stuff on the GBBC site. You can find all the info on the Great Backyard Bird Count right here and you can get Rob's own perspective on it by going to the Birdchaser Blog here.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Antarctica, Day Two: I.D. At Sea

From home base, Kenn writes: (now that I've been so cutely interrupted by Kim's last post ... That's the thing about Kimmer, I can't stay mad at her for more than a few seconds at a time.) On January 8, when I got out on deck around 5 a.m., we had left the Beagle Channel itself but the islands of Tierra del Fuego were still visible off the stern. Dozens of Sooty Shearwaters and Greater Shearwaters, plus various other seabirds, were around the ship. The last of the land soon disappeared behind us but we would continue to see large numbers of seabirds all day. Most seabirds are beautiful creatures and amazing masters of flight, and in addition, many of them present fascinating challenges in identification.

Check this out. I know you can’t see much detail, but this is an unaltered photo taken from the rail of the upper back deck of the ship, with six seabirds captured in the same frame. From left, they’re a young Wandering Albatross, a Brown Skua, three Greater Shearwaters, and a Northern Giant-Petrel. I’m not saying every moment was like this, but it was common to have 30 or 40 individual birds visible at once.

Watching birds here was good practice for identifying them back in North America. This Wilson’s Storm-Petrel nests only on islands in the far southern oceans, but it’s common in the northern summer off the Atlantic Coast of the U.S. and Canada, and scarce off the coast of California.

Greater Shearwater is another bird we can see close to home in the northern summer. At that season it’s common off the Atlantic Coast of the U.S. and Canada, but it nests only on islands in the South Atlantic.

Identifying seabirds can be tough, partly because the viewing conditions at sea can be challenging, partly because the differences can be subtle. Even on very large seabirds, the best field marks can involve small differences. Take a look at this Southern Giant-Petrel ...

... and then at this Northern Giant-Petrel. Both species are variable in plumage, and the best way to tell them apart is by the color of the tip of the bill: green on the Southern, red on the Northern. Those who are red/green color-blind, as some excellent birders are, might note that the Northern's bill tip looks darker than that of the Southern. (These are poor names, incidentally, since both species live only in the Southern Hemisphere and their ranges overlap extensively.)

Variation reaches an extreme in the beautiful Wandering Albatross. It has five distinct populations, nesting on different island groups, that are thought by some to be separate species. All of them vary at least a little with age, so there are a vast number of different plumages possible on these birds. Add to that the fact that Royal Albatross can be very similar to Wandering, it has two distinct populations that also might be separate species, and it also varies with age. The richly colored brown bird above is one of the youngest Wandering Albatrosses.

This bird, extensively white above, is an older Wandering Albatross and may be an adult male, although some old males can become even whiter than this (and some adult females might duplicate the appearance of the bird in the photo).

This partially brown bird is in the Wandering Albatross complex and is almost certainly a young bird, although there are a few populations in which even the adults show a lot of brown. We saw many such variations today, and enjoyed discussing the identification of all of them.

Fortunately, we often got to look at Wandering Albatross individuals from very close range!

For this voyage, Victor Emanuel Nature Tours (VENT) had filled 85 of the 110 spaces on the Clipper Adventurer. You can’t have 85 participants and only one or two leaders, so VENT had recruited a team of leaders, all of them long-time friends of mine, starting with Victor Emanuel himself. Victor has been a friend of mine since the mid-1970s, when I was a teenager and he hadn’t yet started his tour company. Also along as leaders were Barry Lyon, a seasoned world birder and one of the professionals in the VENT office; Louise Zemaitis, great all-around naturalist, teacher, and nature artist; Michael O’Brien, a bird identification expert and lead author of The Shorebird Guide; and Lars Jonsson, from Sweden, probably the most renowned bird painter in the world today, and a leading authority on bird identification as well. Dr. John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, was supposed to have been a leader on this trip, and at the last minute he was unable to go. In his place, he sent Brian Sullivan, head of Project e-Bird for the lab, and another expert on bird identification, especially seabirds. Finally, the ship’s ornithologist, Geoff Carpentier from Canada, was also on deck, taking part in the discussions of identification from the perspective of his experience in these waters.

So a day at sea, looking at challenging or tricky seabirds, turned into a wonderful ongoing discussion and series of impromptu seminars in birding. For me, with my long-time interest in advanced bird identification, and for Kim, who is interested in all of these things and who was seeing some of these southern seabirds for the first time, this was a day of total fascination. Some people might imagine that all those hours on the open ocean could become boring, but for a birder, nothing could be further from the truth.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Down With the System

From Home Base, Kim writes: I woke up this morning thinking about the Antarctic trip. Not that that's unusual. I've thought of little else since we got back! But, last night Kenn and I had dinner with our dear friend Delores Cole. You might recall that I mentioned in an earlier post that Delores was on the trip too. Of course the main topic of conversation was the trip, and we spent a lot of time talking about some of our favorite experiences. So, naturally, I dreamt about it all night, and woke up feeling all energized by thoughts of icebergs, glaciers, whales, and of course, penguins. So, I've infiltrated the "daily trip reporting system" (an approach that I had to convince Kenn to use) to insert a few gratuitous and completely random photos. I'm sure Kenn will be TOTALLY fine with it! He really understands me and my "quirky" ways. He's always so understanding and tolerant. Plus---he's not here right now! : )

Kenn doesn't normally like the approach of --and then, on this day, we went here and saw that-- et cetera. But, I convinced him that for this particular trip, it would help to put things in perspective if we put our posts in chronological order. I felt it would give a sense of time and place to the birds and wildlife we encountered, and a better understanding of the time at sea between each landing. And, as long as we included photos, and Kenn added all the juicy bits of detail about the birds, I didn't think it would be boring. So, if you're bored reading about albatross and whales, penguins and icebergs, please don't tell Kenn! Instead, maybe you could help me out by posting comments saying things like: "Wow! What a GREAT way to share an experience!" Or, "Gee, This approach REALLY works well for me", or something like that! Boy, Kenn had better come home soon! Yikes!

So, now that I've convinced Kenn that we should describe the trip in day-by-day order, here's a post that does just the opposite: here are some random trip photos, courtesy of Kim "the brat" Kaufman:

I could not have imagined how colorful and lovely ice could be. On the first day of the trip, a woman admitted to me that she was somewhat disappoined that her husband had picked the Antarctic as their trip destination for this year, because it seemed to her that the place would be colorless: "I mean, it's all white for goodness sakes!" When I related this to Kenn, he was quiet for a long time. What he finally said to me, in his quiet wonderful way was so beautiful. He said, "A painter often will work with just a limited palette. That's what brings out the drama and the depth in each color."
One of the surprisingly challenging things about the trip was simply trying to have dinner. I would say that roughly 1/3 of the time, just as meals were being put on the table, someone would yell, "Whale!" Or, "Iceberg!" The entire dining room would clear out, and we'd all stand shivering together on the back deck, admiring what ever glorious "thing" happened to be drifting past. In this case is was not "just" an iceberg. It was an iceberg sprinkled with Adelie Penguins!

I spent several minutes kneeling on the ground studying this little Adelie Penguin chick. "He" had just been fed, and was happily napping in the sun. Occasionally, he would open his eyes and blink at me, but beyond that our interaction was pretty passive. At least physically. It was impossibly hard, but I resisted the overwhelming urge to reach out and softly stroke the top of his head. But, emotionally, this encounter with one little penguin had a profound impact on me. Although I've thought about it a lot, I still can't really say why. I mean, I know you can't see it in this picture, but beyond this one adorable individual, are thousands of Adelies, looking pretty much like exactly like this one. But, there was just something about "my" little penguin.

King Penguins are just the coolest thing that Mother Nature ever dreamed up! I gotta tell ya that a lot of the bird names out there, are, well, OUT THERE! I mean, Cinnamon-rumped Foliage Gleaner? Come on! But, whoever named the King Penguin nailed it! I have no idea whether he ever did, but I secretly hope that Elvis got to see a King Penguin at some point in his life. I know that if we could undertand Penguin-eese, a lot of the trumpeting going on in the King Penguin colony would sound like, "Thank you! Thank you very much!" In this photo, twin "Elvis" Penguins take a bow.

Well, I've gotta make tracks. ; ) Kenn will be home soon, and I don't want to get caught in the act! It's been fun being bad with you. And, remember to help me out here, K&K blog readers.... Make sure you tell Kenn how you love the trip reporting method. btw...In case you're wondering, the footprint was made by an Adelie Penguin. I can't wait to show you pictures of their feet up close!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Birders Rock, version 09.2

From Port Clinton, Ohio, Kenn writes: When we came back from the Antarctic, with a million things to do after a month away, I wasn't that thrilled about the fact that our band had a performance scheduled just over a week later. But as it turned out, our gig last night was a total blast. The band has a new sound system and it inspired us to play our hard-rocking best. Our month without practice seemingly was erased by three intense sessions in the last week, and in fact we were able to add several new songs to the set list. Kim was amazing as always, and no one who heard her soaring vocals would have guessed that she was fighting off the remains of a cold.

Once again, Mango Mama's in Port Clinton was packed for the event. This town provides great support: the mayor was there again, and three county commissioners, and a couple of hundred other people who know how to have a friendly good time.

I was pleased to see that once again, in addition to having a couple of serious birders in the band, there were several out in the crowd -- including long-time friends of ours like Delores, Laura, Hugh, and Judy, and others whom we've just met for the first time, like Linda, Jim, Dave, and Sal. Thanks, fellow birders, for supporting the music. And here's a salute to our friends Julie and Bill, who, with The Swinging Orangutangs, will be rocking the walls off of the Whipple Tavern down in southeastern Ohio on February 13th.

I repeat: Birders Rock!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Antarctica: Day One, Beagle Channel and Magellanic Penguins

From home base in Ohio, Kenn writes: On the afternoon of January 7, after a day of birding around Ushuaia, we boarded the Clipper Adventurer. By about 7 p.m. we were under way, cruising east down the Beagle Channel. That might sound like a specialized offering on cable, but it’s actually a narrow strait of water running through the southern part of Tierra del Fuego. It was named for The Beagle, the ship on which Darwin traveled. Captain FitzRoy of The Beagle was responsible for exploring this waterway at the southern tip of South America during two voyages in the 1820s and 1830s.

During the evening we were mostly admiring the scenery -- just as Darwin did when he arrived here in 1833 -- but of course we were also birding, and people who stayed on deck late enough saw the first penguins of the trip, the first of the eight species that we would encounter. These were distant views of swimming birds, and observers were startled to hear that these mysterious distant "ducks" or "grebes" were really Magellanic Penguins. The photos below were all taken a couple of days later in the Falkland Islands.

The first thing to notice in this close-up portrait is the color of the background: green. The public may think of penguins as birds of the deep-freeze zones, but Magellanic Penguin belongs to the genus Spheniscus, a group of four penguins that are all limited to mild climates. These are Galapagos Penguin on the Equator, Humboldt Penguin in western South America, Jackass Penguin (yeah, that’s one of its official names) in southern Africa, and the Magellanic, which is found all around the southern coasts of South America. The latter has several large colonies in Argentina, and seeing it in the Beagle Channel was no surprise.
The second thing to notice is that the bird has, let’s face it, sort of a slow-witted expression. Penguins aren’t at their best on land anyway, but Magellanics come across as rather dim bulbs.

As we would see on the Falklands a couple of days later, it’s a common thing to see Magellanic Penguins standing around peering at holes in the ground. But they have a good excuse: that’s where they nest. They’ll dig burrows up to six feet deep, laying their eggs in a cavity at the end of the burrow, and tending their young underground until the chicks are large enough to be safe from most predators. Penguins in the Antarctic nest out in the open, but several kinds in the temperate zone are burrow nesters.

Here’s an adult Magellanic Penguin peering out of its burrow. The striking face pattern is a lot less obvious once the bird is in the shadows, and it may serve as disruptive coloration, breaking up the bird’s outline and making it less conspicuous.

Zooming in and overexposing another shot of a penguin in its burrow, we can see a couple of chicks lurking in the background.

And here’s a better look at a slightly larger chick out at the entrance to the nest burrow with one parent bird. The chicks are fed by both parents for at least two months before they molt out of their fluffy down and go out to sea.
This might seem like an odd juxtaposition, but I have to stop writing about baby penguins now because our rock band is performing in a couple of hours. The band has had only three practices in the eight days that Kim and I have been home, and there's a certain adrenaline rush involved in trying get mentally prepared and get back into rock-'n-roll mode. But I'll try to blog more about the Antarctic trip tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

We interrupt this Antarctic Expedition to bring you an important message

From Oak Harbor, Ohio, Kim writes: Just when you thought baby penguin pictures were imminent, I take us off topic to share some really uplifting, inspiring, and hope-inducing news for anyone who cares about the future of birds and birding.

While we haven't talked much about it on the blog (not yet!), Kenn and I devote a large portion of our time to a program called the Ohio Young Birders Club (OYBC). I won't give all the club's nitty gritty here. Just check out the website that's chock-full of information. Ohio Young Birders Club The club is something that Kenn and I helped form about 2 1/2 years ago, with the hope that we could build a community of young birders, and offer them the opportunities and experiences that would foster their interest in birds and nature. The ultimate goal being that some of the students would someday pursue careers in bird and conservation related fields.
Here are a few of my favorite field trip pictures.
Studying Virginia Rails & Soras at the Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area, in Holmes & Wayne Counties, Ohio.
This trip was sponsored by Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) and Time & Optics Ltd.

A rainy trip to search for migrants on Kelleys Island, and conduct a service project at the Glacial Grooves, which are totally cool! This trip was sponsored by our partners at Kelleys Island Audubon Club

An intense study of a single Peregrine Falcon spotted at the Funk Bottom Wildlife Area. This trip was sponsored by our partners at Greater Mohican Audubon Society.

I am often searching for ways to evaluate the success of the the program. Grantors always ask for this. Since this is a BSBO program, my Board wants to know. The media wonders. Parents too. The nature of our program makes success somewhat challenging to assess. We can cite membership figures: For example, currently, more than 100 young people are members of the club. But in the last few days, I received some information that offers perhaps the ultimate measure of our success.

I recently received three separate requests from OYBC members to include me and Kenn as references for jobs. Of course we agreed. A few days ago I received an e-mail from a researcher in Barrow, Alaska. He's studying the breeding ecology of shorebirds on the Arctic Tundra this summer, and one of our OYBC members applied for a position on the team. He was impressed by the young man's application and was following up on his references.

Yesterday I received an e-mail from a graduate student at the University of Kentucky studying the role of genetics and male phenotype in mate choice and success in Dickcissels. One of our OYBC members who will graduate from high school this year had applied for a position with her team. Impressed with the application, she was following up with a series of questions about the applicant.

And, finally, in today's mail I received a scholarship recommendation form from a foundation that one of our recently graduated OYBC members had applied to. She is planning to conduct a research project on breeding bird ecology at a large scout camp in Northern Ohio and applied for a scholarship.

I am in no way suggesting that the OYBC is solely responsible for helping to develop this level of interest in these young people. The OYBC is but a single spoke in a very impressive wheel that Ohio spins beautifully. With a thriving birding community that embraces young people, represented by the very supportive and dynamic Ohio Ornithological Society, more than 20 partnering organizations across the state of Ohio that support the OYBC, and, perhaps most importantly, some of the most impressive parents I have ever met, we will continue to encourage, educate, and empower our future conservation leaders.

The OYBC is having a major impact beyond Ohio's borders. To date, we have assisted New York, Illinois, Florida, Connecticut, Georgia, and Oklahoma in forming their own versions of the OYBC. Several other states have inquired about launching clubs too, and many are in the beginning stages of forming clubs for young people based on the success of the OYBC.

I encourage you to visit the OYBC website, and please pay special attention to the fact that adults are encouraged to join as adult supporting members for just $10 a year. For this small donation, you will receive our club's excellent newsletter (filled with articles, trip reports, artwork, and essays..all written by young birders), and help to support this very important program.

Thanks for being patient about penguin photos. I promise to make it up to you with tons of pics SOON!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Antarctica: Day One, Pre-trip Birding in Ushuaia

From home base in Ohio, Kim and Kenn write: In terms of overall bird diversity, there tend to be fewer species as you go from the Equator toward the poles, and fewer species on islands than on equivalent mainland areas. Because of these basic trends, a trip to islands of the Antarctic region won't produce a huge list of bird species ... huge numbers of individuals, yes, and fascinating creatures to watch, but not a huge amount of variety. So birders headed for the Antarctic usually take advantage of South American stopovers to add more birds to their total trip lists.

We've already written about some of the birds we saw around Buenos Aires, and we saw more on the official pre-trip to Otamendi on January 5, but things really got underway on January 7th in Ushuaia. This city, located on the Beagle Channel in southernmost Argentina, prides itself on being at the "end of the Earth" -- or "Fin Del Mundo," as the signs say on the edge of town. Ushuaia has become a major stopover point for tourists, as almost all the cruises going to Antarctica make their turnarounds here.

Here's a distant view of the harbor at Ushuaia with a few of the cruise ships tied up at the dock. But on this day we took most of the group (from Victor Emanuel Nature Tours) out to the Tierra Del Fuego National Park to see some of the specialty birds of South America's southern tip.
Here's part of our group birding the edge of the marsh in
Tierra Del Fuego National Park.

Our friend, your friend, heck, it's everybody's friend, the Rufous-collared Sparrow.
We've seen these birds all over South America, but the ones here in the extreme south are slightly different, with a plainer gray look to the head. Plainer, yes. But, still kinda cute.

The local American Robin look alike--the Austral Thrush. Kim loves the name of this bird. This is obviously a juvenile, all decked out and bedazzled with spots galore.

One of many species of caracara (which is a really fun word to type, btw) the Chimango Caracara was the first life bird for Kim in Argentina, spotted from the plane as we landed in Buenos Aires back on January 1st.

The act is getting classier. This beautiful bird is the Patagonian Sierra-Finch. It was all over the National Park, frequenting camp sites, looking for scraps left behind by campers. It reminded Kim of a Mourning Warbler at first glance.

This bird was, without a doubt, a highlight for everyone in the group! The Magellanic Woodpecker is a glorious looking bird. In the genus Campephilus (yes, the same genus as the Ivory-billed) one thing that's particularly fun about this species is that the female is the really gorgeous one in the pair. She sports this amazing top-knot with a forward-curving crest of slightly curled feathers. The photo is of the male, but we had stunning looks at the female too. A hell of a time for one's camera battery to go dead. Wouldn't you say?! [Kim's screams of frustration echo through the night...]

On the way back into town we stopped the bus in the middle of the street to enjoy watching a small group of Austral Parakeets. Clambering about and performing impressive acrobatic manuevers among the branches of the Southern Beech Trees, they were a blast to watch. Even if we had to perform our own acrobatic manuevers in the bus seats to get in position to take this photo.

Back into Ushuaia, we birded a series of ponds and coastal lagoons on the edge of the city. This Crested Duck was one of several species of waterfowl that we saw.

The lovely Dolphin Gulls were a nice change of pace from looking at Ohio's rather drab and homely Ring-bills and Herring Gulls. [Kim's thought...Kenn asks for a disclaimer here.] Not quite as sharp as Heermann's Gulls, but close.

You are one day closer to BABY PENGUIN PICTURES!