Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Eagle Grabs Baby: stupidity goes viral

Unlike the bird in the viral video, this actually is a Golden Eagle.

From Oak Harbor, Ohio, Kenn writes:  I have spent my whole life trying to teach people about nature.  When I see someone intentionally misleading the public with dangerously false ideas, and others repeating the misinformation without even attempting to fact-check it, I can’t help but be angry. 

Late at night on December 18, a video showed up on YouTube that purported to show a Golden Eagle swooping in to snatch a small child in a park in Montreal.  After a few labored wingbeats, gaining several feet off the ground, the eagle drops the child and flies away, while the videographer (screen name “MrNuclearCat”) rushes over for a closeup of the scene. 

After a few shares on Facebook, the video went viral, exploding all over the Internet.  By the morning of the 19th, the clip was being played on television news shows, and millions of people had seen it. 

But it’s faked. 

To determine that, you don’t have to know anything about computer graphics, or about the weight-lifting capacity of eagles.  All you have to do is look at the bird in the video.  A Golden Eagle in Montreal would be a notable rarity, but this bird is not a Golden Eagle at all.  The pattern of white in the wings immediately rules that out.  The exact identity of the bird is still being studied, but whatever it was—assuming it was a real bird at all, and not entirely computer-generated—it wasn’t anything native to North America. 

The sport of falconry—keeping hawks, falcons, or eagles in captivity, and training them to fly after prey—is still practiced.  Some falconers have exotic raptors that don’t occur in North America, or hybrids that don’t exist in the wild at all.  The bird in the video looks most similar to certain eagles in Asia or Australia.  The most likely explanation is that this was a falconer’s bird, and that it was trained to perform this stunt for the video. 

So:  was it a real baby in the video?  If so, using the child for this stupid stunt was a crime of child endangerment, and the authorities should be looking for “MrNuclearCat.”

Was a falconer’s bird trained to swoop in and pick up a doll that looks like a child?  If so, that is insanely stupid; it would never be safe to take that bird out in public again. 

Were large parts of the video simply done with computer graphics?  If so, why?  Why would anyone do this at all?  People in modern society are too far removed from nature as it is, and all too ready to believe scary stories about wild animals.  Why go to all this effort to create fear about harmless and beautiful birds?

Perhaps the most disheartening thing is the way the story spread, the way people were so willing to believe it.  Let me emphasize that I don't fault the individuals who saw it online and shared it; at first viewing, for most people, it probably looked both scary and realistic.  But I can't understand why several morning “news” shows on American television ran the video as if it were legitimate.  What ever happened to principles of journalism?  What ever happened to fact-checking? 

By now, a little over 12 hours after the video first appeared, it is being questioned in some online media.  I just spoke with Curtis Rush from the Toronto Star, who has already questioned the video online and is working on a second story, and this may help to get the facts out.  It would be wonderful if “MrNuclearCat” would post a follow-up, to explain how he made the video and to clarify that eagles don’t pose a threat to children. 

But people have limited attention spans, and any retraction or correction will never have the reach of the original video.  Vast numbers of people, only peripherally aware of nature in the first place, will come away with the lingering impression that eagles sometimes carry away babies, that nature is dangerous.  And that will represent one more sad break with reality, one more piece of damage done, one more falsehood to carry us all farther away from a real understanding of the natural world. 

UPDATE: It has just been confirmed that the video was produced for a class assignment by three students at Centre NAD, a school in Montreal.  Both the "eagle" and the baby were completely computer-generated.  More information at this link:

So no actual children were harmed or threatened in the making of this video.  But my final complaint about the video still stands; many people will never see the retraction, and they will be forever rendered a little more suspicious and fearful of the natural world, thus darkening their lives and the lives of their children.  

Monday, December 17, 2012

So long, Rich

Rich Stallcup, as he appeared about the time I first met him in the 1970s. Photo by Van Remsen.
From Oak Harbor, Ohio, Kenn writes: This past Saturday, December 15, was the annual Christmas Bird Count at Point Reyes, California. One of the largest CBCs in North America, Point Reyes regularly fields around 200 observers and records around 200 species, a testament to the fabulous birding culture of Marin County.  This year, for the first time in many years, one observer was conspicuously absent: the legendary Rich Stallcup, beloved leader of the Marin birding community for the last half-century. Rich had been battling illness for many months.  As the bird counters gathered for their compilation Saturday evening, he slipped away across the horizon.  

To say that Rich Stallcup had a massive influence on birding and natural history in the great state of California would be a huge understatement.  Everyone knew him, everyone had learned from him.  But his influence spread far, far beyond the boundaries of California.  I was lucky enough to meet him when I was still a teenager, and to spend quite a bit of time with him over the following 15 years, and his impact on me was immeasurable.  

When we first met in the 1970s, I was 18 years old, on my first hitch-hiking trip to California.  Rich was only about a decade older than me, but he was already recognized as one of the top birders on the continent.  I was ignorant and inexperienced, but he never made me feel stupid.  A natural teacher, he invited me along on field trips with him and his friends, sharing knowledge freely, as he did with thousands of others.  And he shared a key idea, too.  When we met, he was going all-out to do a Big Year for the state of California.  I was considering doing my own Big Year later, with all of North America as my target area. When I asked him about his year list attempt, he told me, "The list total isn't important, but the birds themselves are important.  Every bird you see.  So the list is just a frivolous incentive for birding, but the birding itself is worthwhile. It's like a trip where the destination doesn't have any significance except for the fact that it makes you travel.  The journey is what counts."  That statement affected me so profoundly that I wrote it down in my field notebook that night, and later when I did my own Big Year and wrote a book about it (Kingbird Highway), I quoted it verbatim.  Decades later, that still strikes me as the perfect perspective on bird-listing games. 

In the following years I had many chances to go birding with Rich Stallcup, and we even led several tours together in Arizona and Mexico.  I was constantly learning from him.  Although his knowledge was extraordinary, for me his knowledge was overshadowed by his wisdom.  And, yes, I use that term intentionally.  He truly was wise in his approach to birds, nature, and people. Endlessly reveling in the joy of nature, endlessly patient and generous with beginners, he inspired everyone to greater awareness and kindness.  

I recall one time when we were staying at a hotel in Arizona, and members of our group were nervous because a sinister-looking character was hanging around the parking lot.  Rich said, "There is no need to worry" - in a singsong voice, as if he were not just commenting on the moment, but repeating a basic philosophy of life, as perhaps he was.  Striding out into the parking lot, confident and friendly as you please, Rich struck up a conversation with the sinister character.  Of course the man turned out not to be sinister at all, and for half an hour the two were talking like old buddies.  

Another time, in California, several of us were watching an American Redstart that was flitting about in some willows.  Redstarts are somewhat uncommon in California, but not extremely rare.  After a few minutes, everyone had lowered their binoculars - everyone except Rich, who was still watching the bird.  "Come on, Rich," said one of his friends. "You've seen redstarts before."

"Yes," said Rich, agreeably. "But I hadn't seen this one."

I know these stories sound like small things.  Taken individually, they are.  But similar things happened over and over, many times per day, whenever Rich was around.  Layer on layer, these little examples built up into powerful lessons about life as a joyful adventure, nature as a grand treasure.  And these lessons were passed on, directly and indirectly, to vast numbers of people throughout Rich's active life. 

I didn't hear about Rich Stallcup's passing until almost 24 hours after the fact, and I learned of it when I came in from our own local Christmas Bird Count here in Ohio.  My old friend Keith Hansen, a great bird artist and practically a neighbor of Rich's in Marin County, called to give me the news.  We were both choked up at first; but within ten minutes on the phone we were chuckling, even laughing, as we shared stories of adventures with Rich.  And I think that is fitting.  All over California, all over the world, thousands of people are undoubtedly having the same experience right now, sharing stories and smiling at memories of a man who lived so passionately and gave so much.  

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Gifts That Give Twice, Part 1: Great Reading All Year Long

From Oak Harbor, Ohio, Kenn writes: Two days from now, tens of millions of people will be storming the stores and decking the malls for the annual shopping explosion of Black Friday.  Perhaps you'll be among them, and if so, we wish you the best of success.  Perhaps, like us, you'll stay far away from stores on Friday, and take part in Shop Local Saturday at small businesses the next day. But if you're gearing up to shop for holiday gifts, I'd like to make a couple of modest suggestions.  

Of course, buying gifts is already challenging enough. It can be tough to find just the right item for that special person. But buying a gift is an act that can have an impact in both directions: not only for the person receiving it, but back along the line for everyone involved in selling and producing that gift. So with some careful thought, not only can we thrill the recipient, we can also make a positive difference in the world in other ways. We can give a gift that will, in effect, give twice.

If you're reading this blog at all, you're probably involved with birding or nature study in some way. And if you are like Kimberly and me, you already think of birders and naturalists as a community, or even as a big, extended family. So here's the suggestion: think about buying holiday gifts in ways that will support the community. The more the birders support each other, the more support there will be for bird conservation and for the future of the natural world.  

With that in mind, we're going to write a few blog posts with some specific ideas about things to buy and about where to buy them. The first one involves a fine idea for anyone who like birds, anywhere in North America.

Suggestion 1: Give a gift subscription to BirdWatching Magazine.  

This fine magazine (formerly Birder's World) has been a staple of the birding community since the 1980s.  Earlier this year, despite heroic efforts by editor Chuck Hagner and his staff, longtime publisher Kalmbach concluded that they would have to cease publication.  Last month's issue would have been the last one -except that another experienced publishing company, Madavor Media, decided that BirdWatching was too good to allow it to slip away.  Madavor bought the magazine and arranged to keep publishing it without missing an issue.  Chuck Hagner and Matt Mendenhall are still editing the magazine. Established contributors like Pete Dunne, Laura Erickson, David Sibley, Julie Craves, and Eldon Greij have stepped up to keep the content flowing, and Brian Small and I are still producing our "ID Tips" columns for each issue.  

But now here's my question for you: Will the birding community step up and show our support?  Will we show Madavor Media that they made a wise choice?  BirdWatching is a fabulous magazine (and not just because I write for it!), and any bird enthusiast on your list would love a year's subscription.  You can find all the info you need to subscribe for a friend (or for yourself) at this link.

Friday, November 16, 2012

An ill wind threatens a world-class bird migration hotspot

Kirtland's Warbler: North America's rarest songbird species. The only known consistent stopover area  for this bird during its migration is in northwestern Ohio - the area now being threatened by wind power development.

From Oak Harbor, Ohio, Kenn writes:  Our book tour of New England was wonderful, but it was cut short by the approach of Superstorm Sandy.  We had to cancel our last appearances on October 29 and 30, and since all flights were cancelled as well, we drove our rental car back to Ohio through the rain and high winds, arriving safely at home on the 30th. 

Once there, however, we were dealing with an ill wind of another kind. 

As many of you will know already, Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) has been leading an attempt to stop construction of a large wind turbine at the Camp Perry Air National Guard Station, on the Lake Erie shore in the heart of Ohio's premier bird migration hotspot of Magee Marsh / Crane Creek / Ottawa NWR. This is the area popularly known as the "Warbler Capital of the World," the area that attracts tens of thousands of visiting birders annually, pumping tens of millions of dollars into the local economy.  For more on the spring birding in this region, see this link:   
For more on BSBO's efforts regarding wind power, please see the second item under this link:

BSBO has been working to convince local officials to relocate the wind turbine project to another site that would be less threatening to bird populations. This effort has won the endorsement and support of other organizations, including National Audubon Society, Ducks Unlimited, League of Ohio Sportsmen, American Birding Association, American Bird Conservancy, Ohio Ornithological Society, and several others. In addition, both the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Ohio's Division of Wildlife have submitted comments highly critical of the Environmental Assessment of the wind turbine project. In spite of all this opposition, the leadership at Camp Perry appears to be going ahead with their plans.

Currently there's an opportunity for citizens to send comments to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) regarding a "Federal Consistency review." Basically, because Camp Perry is on the lake shore, it falls under federal regulations applying to "Coastal Management." ODNR is required to accept public comments before certifying that the wind turbine project is consistent with the enforceable policies of the Ohio Coastal Management Program.

My take on it: the wind turbine project is NOT consistent with those policies. Even with a very narrow interpretation, Ohio Coastal Management Program Policy # 29, "Wildlife Management," requires that the Division of Wildlife is to protect native wildlife and to protect species threatened with statewide extinction. Allowing the wind turbine to be constructed at Camp Perry would represent a failure on that obligation.

Here's why. The Environmental Assessment (EA) of the project - available at    this link - is totally inadequate regarding threats to bird populations.

The EA totally fails to acknowledge the fact that the lake shore represents stopover habitat, where vast numbers of migrants are pausing during their migrations to rest and feed before continuing their journey. The EA repeats (on p. 61) the tired argument that "a vast majority of nocturnal migration of song birds, waterfowl and shore birds occur at altitudes greater than the height of most modern utility scale wind turbines." This is true - most nocturnal migration occurs at least several hundred feet above the ground - but it's irrelevant when we're talking about stopover habitat, where birds are dropping in and taking off in the dim light of predawn and dusk. Anyone who has been out on the Lake Erie beach at dawn on a good spring migration day will know that vast numbers of birds are flying low, paralleling the shore, in a repositioning flight at dawn. During their arrival, departure, and repositioning flights, these birds will be very vulnerable to more tall structures in the air column.

As another example of inadequacy in the EA, it refers (on p. 60) to numbers of waterfowl using the Darby Unit of Ottawa NWR, and backs it up with duck survey results from October 4, 2011. As any experienced birder or biologist knows, peak waterfowl migration in this area occurs in late fall. The use of numbers from the beginning of October must reflect either ignorance or a willful attempt to mislead.

Huge numbers of migratory waterfowl, like these Lesser Scaup, stop over in the Lake Erie Marsh region surrounding Camp Perry - but not in early October, the only date quoted in the Environmental Assessment.

The EA also understates the threat to local Bald Eagle populations, which are just now bouncing back to healthy levels after being almost wiped out. Ironically, the EA makes reference to the Altamont Pass wind factory in California, without mentioning the fact that alarming numbers of Golden Eagles and other raptors have been killed there.

In short, the sections on birds in the EA are slanted, inadequate, and inaccurate. It's no wonder that both the federal and state wildlife agencies were sharply critical of the EA. The fact that their comments (and ours) are being ignored should be deeply disturbing to anyone who cares about wildlife and about transparency in government.

The public is allowed to comment on this from now through November 30, and you don't have to be a resident of Ohio to comment. To see the information on the comment period, here's the link:     
The Camp Perry wind turbine is currently the first item under that link, under Consistency ID # 2012-073. As you'll see at that link, comments can be emailed to the Department of Natural Resources at  - but the comments have to be sent in before the end of the day on November 30th. And to be effective, comments should specifically mention flaws in the Environmental Assessment and its failure to address Ohio's Coastal Management Program.

I know, this all sounds like a lot of government red tape.  To anyone who has actually read this far: Thank you!  I know that for some, birding is an "escape," and they'd rather not think about conservation issues.  We'd rather not have to think about them either. But this will be harder to ignore if this project is allowed to proceed without opposition, and if Camp Perry puts up a giant bird-killer in the middle of prime stopover habitat. 

This is a test case.  If this single turbine is built, it will almost certainly open the door for more.  And if we allow wind turbines right in the middle of the most sensitive habitat, in the worst possible place, how will we ever keep them out of any important bird habitat?

If you have read this far, would you please consider spending a few more minutes and emailing comments to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources at the link above?  And if you want to do more, would you consider checking out the additional information on the BSBO website and writing letters to a few key individuals?  This kind of thing is no fun - believe me, we know.  But your effort might make all the difference in ensuring that future generations will be able to witness the miracle of bird migration.  

Saturday, October 27, 2012

350 Species...and so much more

What We Did On Our Book Tour Today 
by kimberly kaufman 

We began our day in Portland, Maine, where we did a radio show by phone with Jack Holcomb from Jack's Backyard on WEEU in Reading, PA. We then headed northwest towards North Conway, New Hampshire, where we led a nature walk at 3:00 PM sponsored by Tin Mountain Conservation Center.  Following the walk, we gave a program and book signing at White Birch Books

---And it was AWESOME!  

The radio show was great, the walk at Whittaker Woods was incredible, and the program tonight at White Birch Books was really fun. It was such a pleasure to meet Laura Lucy, owner of this lovely store. 

Our walk today was a real highlight of the trip for us, for a number of reasons.  
When we arrived for our walk, we were at 339 species, having picked up British Soldier Lichen and an Ichneumon Wasp at an information center just south of North Conway.  We hadn't set any high hopes for finding lots of things on the walk this afternoon as we'd never hiked these particular trails and had no idea what to expect.  And besides, we really just wanted to enjoy being outside with nice people on a gorgeous day.  

I love-love-love British Soldier Lichen!  
It's like a little world growing on top of this stump! 

The trails at Whittaker Woods are beautiful.  
On one section, the path perfectly frames a stunning view of Mount Washington. 
The photo doesn't do the view justice,
but you can see the pinnacle of Mount Washington in the distance.

While we hadn't set our expectations high, as soon as we set foot in the woods we started finding new and wonderful things for our 350 species list.  Partridgeberry, Yellow Birch, Indian Pipe, and American Witch-hazel. 
Bracken Fern, Common Juniper, and under a rotting log, this adorable creature...
...a Red-backed Salamander!
Oh, I was just so tickled to share this with everyone.  Many of the people on our walk had never seen a salamander, despite the fact that they walk these trails on a regular basis.  What fun to introduce them to their special little "neighbor!" 

The species kept coming: Red Pine, Bigtooth Aspen, and Beech Drops. It wasn't long before we realized that we were just one species away from 350! And then, in the fading light of late afternoon, in the shadows of a giant White Pine,  we found the lingering leaves of Starflower -- and we had done it!   350 species in 12 days - and in the midst of an ambitious book tour, no less!  

Our group of new friends pauses to celebrate our 
350 species accomplishment with us! 

Nature is so accommodating, so giving, so bountiful.  We needn't travel to pristine wilderness to find nature's gifts.  They are everywhere. On the edge of parking lots where the tough and rangy wildflowers refuse to yield.  Along the highways where Red-tailed Hawks and American Kestrels eke out a living.  Outside a school yard in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where a class of 6th graders discovered the lovely heart-shaped leaves of Shepherd's Purse. At the lights of the local convenience store where interesting moths and insects frequently gather. There is treasure out there - if we just go out looking for it. 

This quest for 350 species was nothing more than a silly game, of course, but it got us out there looking and searching at every opportunity. And ultimately, we found more than just the species we needed to reach our goal. We found hope and joy and new friends. And we learned a lot, too.  As my favorite person in the universe once said, "It's good to go on a quest. But it's better to go with an open mind. The most important thing we find might not be the thing we were seeking." 

Book Tour Big 350: Hurricane warnings

From Portland, Maine, Kenn writes:   So here we are in Maine, and suddenly Moose are cavorting everywhere. Or, at least, representations of them are everywhere. This guy greeted us at the first service area on the Maine turnpike.
In case you can't tell from this small photo, Kimberly is signalling two thumbs up, not some other kind of gesture that might be inspired by an elusive moose.
Aside from the silent moose, everyone we meet right now is talking about the approaching late-season hurricane, Sandy, and its possible effects on the region.  Of course we're keeping an eye on that as well.  But the theme yesterday (Friday the 26th) was of surprisingly mild weather.  The temperature reached the low 60s again, and even a few insects were active, adding to our trip tally.

We had been surprised, a week ago, to see a few Monarchs on Cape Cod and in Rhode Island. Yesterday, later and farther north, we were even more surprised to see a few Monarchs winging their way south on the coast of Maine. They have a long way to go to get to their wintering area in southern Mexico, and this late in the season they would seem to be pushing their luck. But we also saw four other species of butterflies on the wing yesterday (Clouded Sulphur, Cabbage White, Painted Lady, and Red Admiral), more than I would have expected for Maine in late October. We had seen all of those earlier on the tour, but other insects such as Carolina Locust and a pond full of whirligig beetles added to our total.

On Friday, after checking a couple of spots on the edge of Exeter, NH, that had been recommended to us by new local friends, our first destination was the Wild Bird Supply store in Freeport, Maine. The owners, Jeannette and Derek Lovitch, do a lot more than simply run a store; they support birding and conservation in major ways.  Derek's book, How To Be a Better Birder, published this year by Princeton University Press, is an outstanding resource that is getting rave reviews. Kimberly and I had planned to arrive early so that we could get out birding with Derek for a couple of hours before our scheduled book signing, so he took us out for a quick run to local habitats.  It was fun to explore the area, and it was also productive, netting new species for our list such as Greater White-fronted Goose and Pileated Woodpecker. 

Back at the store, a nice crowd showed up, and we were amazed and pleased that our friend Seth Benz showed up. Seth lives quite a ways up the coast, so it was out of his way to come and see us.  Our birding history goes back many years: back in the early 1980s, Seth and I and some other friends went birding together around Peru, Mexico, and other destinations. More recently, for several years Seth Benz was the director of the Audubon Camp on Hog Island, Maine, where Kim and I both had the privilege of teaching as instructors and where we took many of the photos that we used in the New England field guide.

In the evening we went to the fine nature center run by Maine Audubon at Gilsland Farm, just north of Portland.  By now we've given our program about the new field guide more than a dozen times, but we're still having fun with it; and we had a great crowd for the presentation tonight, including more friends that we hadn't seen for a long time. 

Very late at night on Friday we finished tallying up our trip list so far, and it came to 337!  We are getting very close to 350, and that's fortunate, because we are running out of potential species to add.  From here we head back across New Hampshire and Vermont, through country where most of the flowers and butterflies are done for the season... and besides, there's a hurricane on its way.  Wish us luck!

Book Tour Big 350: lichens, butterflies, and mussels

From Portland, Maine, Kimberly Writes: We've been blogging every night during our book tour through New England, updating readers on how we're doing with our 350 Species Challenge.  But after a very long, wonderful and emotional day on Thursday, we were just too darn tired, so we promised ourselves that we'd catch up soon.

Highlights from Thursday, October 25th.  
We started our day in Concord, New Hampshire and headed off for Exeter, New Hampshire.  We made a slight detour so we could spend some time on the coast, both to add species to our list and because we both love the ocean and the beach.  

We stopped for lunch at a great little place and splurged by ordering big bowls of Clam Chowder!  It was a little chilly on the beach, so we were both happy to have something warm and wonderful like delicious local Chowder. 

Just outside the restaurant was a small butterfly garden that still had some blooming flowers.  They were looking a little tired, but still had enough life left in them to attract a few late season Painted Ladies!  By this late in the season, every butterfly we see feels like a gift, and the Painted Lady was no exception.  

On the beach we found several new things for our list, including...

Sea Lettuce

Blue Mussels

And the aptly named Sunburst Lichen

Spending time on the beach was great and it helped put our list up over 320.  But we really had to move on, so after our lovely walk on the beach we headed for Exeter where we gave an evening talk at the Water Street Bookstore.  

Everything about the evening was perfect.  Water Street Bookstore is one of those awesome bookstores where charm and atmosphere flow from every nook and cranny.  The audience was warm and friendly and very complimentary about our presentation and about the book.  And the store's owner, Dan Chartrand, was a perfect host. 

Just when I thought the evening couldn't be any better -- it was!  

Dan told us that he had something for us, and he came out with this stunning flower arrangement. 

I couldn't imagine who they could be from, and then I read the card. Turns out, my wonderful, amazing family back in Ohio had arranged for these gorgeous flowers to be delivered to the bookstore for us. When I read the card and discovered who the flowers were from, I just broke down and cried.  It was the sweetest, most thoughtful and encouraging thing for my family to do, and I love them beyond words for this very special surprise. These beauties are now strapped into backseat of the Nature Mobile so I can enjoy them everywhere we go!  

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Book Tour Big 350: 300 in the rearview

From Concord, New Hampshire, Kim Writes: Well, we made it to New Hampshire where we gave a presentation and did a book signing tonight at Gibson's Bookstore.  Established in 1898, Gibson's is the oldest bookstore in New Hampshire, and might even be the oldest in all of New England. It was a wonderful night, and the nicest people came to our talk and stayed well after chatting about the book and nature in general. It's encouraging to see so many independent bookstores, like Gibson's!, that appear to be thriving and considered important parts of the community. 

Before leaving South Hadley this morning to head north, we took advantage of some precious free time to get outside and explore with friends who live in the area. Jamie Bishop and her son Galen joined us, along with Josh Rose, and we spent a wonderful couple of hours at one of their favorite spots in the area.  It's one of those birding spots with a really distinctive name that you don't forget.  They call the area "The Honey Pots," but no one I asked was sure just how it got this name.

We didn't have a lot of time, but with the extra eyes and the knowledge of these local experts, our species list for the Book Tour Big 350 Species Challenge surpassed the 300 milestone!  

Josh, Galen, Jamie, and Kenn look for insects among the fading plant life. 

Our walk took us down a lane to a community garden. I did what I always do when there are logs and limbs that have been lying on the ground for a while; I started flipping them over to see who or what was living below. We found some really interesting creatures to add to our list - and to our delight!  Once we had a look at who was under there, we gently put the logs back in place. 

Under a section of discarded landscape timber
we found 
some Camel Crickets!
  You never know what overlooked piece of debris
will make a good home for some tiny creature. 

Under another piece of discarded wood, Josh--who just happens to be an expert entomologist--found and identified a couple of Rove Beetles. 

I had never seen them before and they were fascinating.  Rove Beetles are part of the large and ancient family Staphylinidea, and Rove Beetle fossils have been dated back to the Triassic, 200 million years ago. 

The Rove Beetles were cool, but they reminded me a little too much of Earwigs, so I moved on to look at other things. (I really love insects, but Earwigs just creep me out so much that I call them "Slithering Ickwads." 

Josh is a real bug expert, but I did get to teach him something about photographing certain kinds of beetles.  It can be a challenge to get them to hold still for photos, but if you gently blow on them, many of them will freeze, and it worked today on our photogenic Rove Beetle.

I was happy to find a few Large Milkweed Bugs lingering 
in the remains of Common Milkweed.

While searching for milkweed bugs I found some dried milkweed seed pods and took a few moments to appreciate the soft and silky fibers that help carry the seeds aloft on the wind. 

Next we have a bittersweet tale of destructive beauty.

Along the roads and fence rows nearly everywhere in New England you will find this unfortunately beautiful invasive.  Oriental Bittersweet is a real problem in this part of the country (and other parts of the East and the Midwest, as well), owing partially to the fact that it's so beautiful that people are reluctant to eradicate it. Trouble is, this beauty eventually chokes out everything else in its path. It's easily confused with our native American Bittersweet, which is losing ground across its range, so it's important to learn how to tell the difference before removing it. 

From the beautiful to the utterly bizarre...

Much to my surprise, we found several Stinkhorns growing amid the mulch used to protect the roots of some of the plants in the community garden.  These things look completely obscene but they're just too weird to ignore.  And trust me: they earn the name Stinkhorn in a MAJOR way.  Kenn and I were at a naturalist rally in Tennessee a few years ago and found the spore of one of these things.  It looked like a small withered, wrinkly egg. Following the advice of a local naturalist, I brought it home in a paper bag and sat it on our kitchen counter so we could photograph it when it "hatched."  Oh, Dear Lord, did it ever hatch!  It took a few days, but then came the reckoning. I woke up one morning and was making my way downstairs when it hit me. A stench that was punch-you-in-the-face powerful. It smelled like every rotten vile thing you can think of all at once and the smell lingered and lived on in our house for several days even though we promptly evacuated it from the premises. 

Let's end, not with a Stinkhorn,
but with this sweet little Woolly Bear Caterpiggle.
It wasn't exactly energetic, but it was alive and well and posed nicely for a photo. Woolly Bears overwinter as caterpiggles, and I hope this one survives the winter and emerges next spring as a lovely Isabella Tiger Moth.

It was a day filled with fun, exciting discoveries, and friends old and new. I'm looking forward to another week of the book tour and more of the same! 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Book Tour 350: Now it gets tough

From a cozy B and B in South Hadley, Massachusetts, Kimberly Writes: It was with a bit of reluctance that we left our lovely room at the Roger Sherman Inn in New Canaan, Connecticut, and headed for South Hadley.  We had such a fabulous time during our two night stay in New Canaan and we both wished we could stay a little longer.  We gave a presentation at the New Canaan Public Library yesterday and it was just wonderful.  A great turn-out, a diverse audience, and the local book store sold out every copy of the New England field guide they had and took several orders! 

Almost directly across from the Inn was a wonderful nature preserve and we walked some of the trails there a few times during our stay. We found several new things to add to our 350 species list, but even if we hadn't, the wooded trails were incredibly beautiful and we really enjoyed our time there. 

The species list keeps growing, but now that we've sort of knocked off the "low hanging fruit" we expect it get more challenging from here on out.  We're going out in the field tomorrow morning with some friends of ours who are local experts and we hope they can help us find some cool stuff to add.  

We surpassed the 280 mark today when we added Spotted Wintergreen, Hermit Thrush, Northern Lady Fern, Black Walnut, and a millipede lurking under a rotten log.  Returning back to our B&B after tonight's presentation, we added a Yellow-striped Armyworm Moth that we found under the porch light.  

Speaking of tonight's presentation...
We were honored to speak tonight at the fabulous Odyssey Bookshop here in South Hadley.  It's an independent book store about to celebrate its 49th anniversary!  The current owner/operator, Joan Grenier, inherited the store from her father, Romeo Grenier, a French-Canadian immigrant who arrived in Holyoke, Massachusetts in 1923 at the age of thirteen.  Read more about Odyssey Bookshop HERE.   

Tonight was really fun and it was great to see so many old and new friends. I nearly fainted when Donald Kroodsma, author of the wonderful book, The Singing Life of Birds (and other awesome publications!) came up and introduced himself. It was such an honor that he came to hear our talk and he bought several copies of our book, too! Geoff LeBaron, longtime Director of the Christmas Bird Count at National Audubon came, too, along with several local naturalists and friends! 
Great friends, our book well received at a wonderful independent book store, and some time outdoors with friends ... life is good!

Can you tell that I'm having fun?!?!  :-)  Yes indeed, I'm enjoying the book tour immensely, and Kenn and I are both very grateful to the amazing team at Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt for arranging such a dynamic (and fun!) schedule! 

Here, in totally random order, are some highlights of the tour, so far! 

European Mantis
Separated from Chinese Mantis by the black and white "bull's-eye" on the inside
of the front leg of the European Mantis
While we were in the Cape Cod area we stopped to sign books
at the aMAZing Bird Watcher's General Store!
We even got to go birding with Mike O'Connor, the owner of the
 store and a super awesome guy!  

While we were in the Boston area we gave a presentation to several classes of 6th and 7th graders,
 and even got to take one class outside to do some nature studies using the new field guide.
Here's Kenn with part of his group of students

I call this photo "Wood Sandpiper Feet."
Obviously not the feet of the actual bird, but the feet of unprepared birders (me and Kenn!)  who were  really
determined to see this rare bird and willing to slog through the marsh in street shoes to get to it!

We've already had some wonderful experiences on the tour and we still have more than a week to go!  

Monday, October 22, 2012

Book Tour Big 350: shoe moth and other novelties

From New Canaan, Connecticut, Kenn writes:  Last night we reported that our big book tour list had soared to 260 species.  Today our pace slowed way down, but we added a few things.

Today we were dealing with people, mostly, not nature.  Kimberly and I both had to attend to correspondence related to a big conservation effort back in Ohio; we gave an afternoon program to a wonderful audience at the New Canaan Public Library; then we got together with our great friend Fred Baumgarten, with whom I had worked at National Audubon Society back in the late 1980s.  But when we got back to the hotel room, well after dark, we got a new species for the trip literally IN our room.
Velvetbean Caterpillar Moth: a southern species that wanders northward in fall, but hardly something that we'd expected to find in Connecticut.
We mentioned on the blog a couple of days ago that we had slogged through a marsh in Rhode Island to see a rare Wood Sandpiper.  Our shoes had gotten pretty skanky during that adventure, so today I had washed my shoes in the sink and set them outside on the porch to dry.  When we got back late this evening I brought them in - still very wet, still a bit rank - and after I brought them inside, we noticed a moth sitting on one shoe.  Some moths are attracted to bait such as animal droppings, carrion, or rotting fruit, so this moth's fascination with my shoe is not a good sign!

We've seen this species in the past, but couldn't remember the name. Fortunately, moth expert Ken Childs came through with a quick ID: it's a Velvetbean Caterpillar Moth (Anticarsia gemmatalis), a common southern species that invades northward in fall.  It's rare in New England, so we hadn't expected to see it here, and hadn't included it in our field guide!

Other new things for the list today included Red-breasted Nuthatch (finally) and Wild Geranium.  We're up to 265 now, but we'll have to average better than 10 new species per day from now on if we're going to hit 350 by the end of the tour.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Book Tour Big 350: We break 250!

From New Canaan, Connecticut, Kenn writes: If you've been following our story so far, you know that we're several days into the book tour for the Kaufman Field Guide to Nature of New England, officially published last Tuesday.  We are speaking and signing books every day for 15 days, traveling through all 6 New England states.  To make the trip more fun and more interesting, our friends at the publisher (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) suggested that we should take on a challenge: identify at least 350 species of living things in the wild in New England before the tour ends.  Kimberly and I always like a challenge, so we've been working on this as time permits, dashing out to areas of good habitat to look for more plants and animals for the list. 

Fall colors seem to be near their peak in southern Connecticut right now. The maples are ablaze with red, with the oaks adding darker reds and browns and the birches adding yellow to the mix. Traveling around New England at this season is hardly a rough assignment.
Late October is a wonderful season for fall colors in New England, but it's not the prime time to find the widest variety of nature here.  Most flowers have finished blooming for the season, most butterflies have ceased flying, other insects in general are past their main period of activity, and some of the birds already have departed for the south.  If the weather had turned cold a week ago, we might be struggling to find enough variety to meet our goal.  But we've been lucky: the weather is unseasonably warm, so we've found several kinds of butterflies, frogs, and other half-hardy creatures. 

Kimberly spotted this Eastern Newt in a small pond at the Greenwich Audubon Center. Warm weather has kept the amphibians active; we heard Spring Peepers calling at several places.

Yesterday (as reported in a previous post) we saw a rare Wood Sandpiper and other choice things in Rhode Island, then traveled to southwest Connecticut to visit the Greenwich Audubon Center.  We were lucky to stay overnight at the center, so we got out to hike around there this morning before going to a guest appearance on BirdCallsRadio.  Later we went on to New Canaan, where we are giving a program at the public library tomorrow. Walking around the trails at the New Canaan Nature Center, we saw several new things for the trip list, including Wood Ducks, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and White-tailed Deer.
At the New Canaan Nature Center in Connecticut, we heard the odd catlike yowl of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and tracked it down for a look. Sapsuckers are migrating right now, so we had hoped to catch up with one.
As Kimberly reported two nights ago, we were at about 175 species before yesterday, but we hadn't had time to count up again until tonight.  Our trip tally now stands at 260!  Getting to 350 is looking more reasonable now, but it won't necessarily be a walk in the park.  We've used up most of the common and easy birds, trees, shrubs, mammals, and hardy insects, and we'll have to work for every addition from now on.  But with 9 days to rack up another 90 species, we think we can do it!  We'll keep you posted on our progress. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Book Tour Big 350: Wood Sandpiper and Audubon Greenwich

From Greenwich, Connecticut, Kenn writes:  It has been a long day and our eyes are barely open, but we wanted to at least mention a couple of highlights from today.

After last night's presentation to the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, we couldn't bear to leave the Ocean State without at least trying for the Wood Sandpiper that had been present at Marsh Meadows Preserve near Jamestown, RI, for the last several days.  This Old World shorebird has been found only a handful of times ever in the Lower 48 States.  So we set the alarm for 6 and drove down to meet our friend Drew Wheelan at Jamestown. 

Drew and Kimberly and I spent quite a while slogging around in the marsh on the west side of the road, in areas where the sandpiper had been seen on other days, and finally got the word that the bird had just been relocated on the east side of the road.  It took a soggy hike of half a mile to get to the right spot, but once we arrived, we had long, satisying looks at this elegant little wader. Kimberly even got some good digiscoped photos through Drew's telescope.  At least 40 other people were there looking at the Wood Sandpiper, and among the crowd we were delighted to run into our old friend Geoff LeBaron, who has been editor of all the Christmas Bird Counts for National Audubon Society since the late 1980s. 

Wood Sandpiper in Rhode Island on October 20, 2012. Digiscoped photo by Kimberly Kaufman.
The marsh area and bordering woods provided many other new species for our big 350 challenge: birds such as Saltmarsh Sparrow and American Black Duck, plants such as Marsh Elder and Winged Sumac, and even insects such as European Mantis. 

After a quick stop at the Point Judith Lighthouse, we left Rhode Island and headed west through Connecticut.  Our destination was the famous Audubon Center at Greenwich - one of the first Audubon Centers established, decades ago, and still a leader in nature education.  I had spoken there before, but this was Kimberly's first visit.  Arriving in late afternoon we hiked around, adding some more species to our list, then went to an evening reception and gave our program again.  It was another warm and wonderful audience, leaving us feeling inspired all over again.  We stayed up late after the program, talking with some of our young friends who work at the Center, and now I'm trying to write a quick blog post before I'm overtaken by sleep. 

We haven't added up our list with today's additions, but there were many new ones, from mammals such as Woodchuck to moths such as Lunate Zale.  Surely we are over 200 species by now.  We'll try to update sometime tomorrow!

Friday, October 19, 2012

350 Species - Challenge Accepted!

From Providence, Rhode Island, Kimberly Writes:  We began our day with a visit to the Cape Cod National Seashore.  In order to try and add some species to our list for the Book Tour Big 350 Species Challenge, we first hit one of the wooded walking trails and had great success, adding many plants, trees, and even some insects.  

From the woods we headed for the beach.  Both of us love the ocean, and with the winds really whipping out of the East/Southeast, we both hoped to catch a glimpse of a few seabirds.  We weren't disappointed.   There were squadrons of Northern Gannets everywhere, numbering in at least the hundreds.  There was never a point during our watch that we couldn't see multiple Gannets in the air. Interesting to both of us was the fact that they were nearly all adults.
Northern Gannets against a rolling surf
In addition to the gannets, we also had huge rafts of Common Eiders, three Scoter species (Black, Surf, and White-winged),  and we even had nice looks at a Greater Shearwater! We stayed longer than we should have, considering the rest of the day's schedule, but since we're driving the Nature Mobile Hot Rod we figured it was no big deal to make it on time! 

The Nature Mobile Hot Rod
Coz this is how we roll!

It was hard to tear ourselves away from an awesome sea watch, but we had to head for Providence to give a presentation for the Audubon Society of Rhode Island tonight.  

It was a packed house and the audience was wonderful. We signed lots and lots of books afterward, too!  Conservation giant, Drew Wheelen, came to hear our talk and Kenn and I were both honored to meet him.  Drew did remarkable work during the devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and his bold and courageous work in revealing the real story of the spill's catastrophic impact on wildlife was nothing short of heroic. 

We enjoyed the evening immensely, and now we're back in our hotel room in Providence tallying our species list.  As of last night we were at 114, but with today's success we surpassed the 175 mark!  

200, here we come!  

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Book Tour Big 350: Sightings in the City

From Boston, Mass., Kenn writes:  So far we've had very little time to walk around outside; so after 2 days, the species list from our book tour is still under 100.  But we've had some good sightings even in urban Boston. 
Red Admirals had a very good flight in 2012 - here's a photo of one from Ohio from last April. On October 17th, we saw a lingering individual in downtown Boston.

With our book tour happening so late in the season, we figured we wouldn't be seeing many butterflies or other insects, but Kimberly spotted a Red Admiral flying right past the car as we crossed a bridge on our way into downtown Boston. With temperatures predicted to reach the mid 60s on Thursday, we might see a few other butterflies down on Cape Cod.

This morning (Wednesday the 17th) we got to visit with classes at Pierce Middle School in Milton.  Science teacher Jeff Stoodt invited us to come speak to an assembly of 6th and 7th grade classes, and later in the morning we went out on the school grounds with one of his classes.  Jeff is one of those natural educators who loves to share ideas and fascination, not just facts, and his students were already energized with his enthusiasm, so we had fun exploring the school grounds with these kids.  And we found a number of new species for our Big 350 list.  As a group, we all used the new KFG to Nature of New England to identify Sugar Maples, Eastern Gray Squirrels, and other schoolyard life.  A weedy patch on the lawn revealed Common Mallow, Shepherd's Purse, Common Dandelion, and other new plants for the tally.  As I said, we're still under 100 species, but we'll try to have an exact count for you by tomorrow night!

Book Tour Big 350

From Cambridge, Mass., Kenn writes:  Our book tour for KFG to Nature of New England will take us through all 6 New England states, October 16-30, with public programs, book signings, media interviews, store visits, etc., so we're going to be somewhat busy for the next two weeks.  Our friends Taryn, Lisa, and Katrina at the publishing company, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, decided that we weren't going to be quite busy enough, so they suggested a challenge: "Why don't you try to identify 350 species of living things while you're traveling through New England?" 

As evidence of how crazy we are, Kim and I immediately said Yes to the idea.  Why not, indeed?  New England is loaded with natural wonders; and even in late October, past the main season for butterflies and flowers, after many birds have flown south, we are still going to see a lot of nature over the course of 15 days.  So that's our listing challenge: the Book Tour Big 350!

We arrived in Boston late at night on the 15th, and on the 16th we were running around to 4 different stops, but on the fly we were identifying trees along the roadside at 55 mph: "Look! Eastern White Pine!" "There's an Eastern Sycamore!" "Hey! Shagbark Hickory!"  And of course we were seeing birds along the way: not only Herring Gulls and House Sparrows, but a variety of other things like Hairy Woodpecker and Brown Creeper when we pulled into the Mass Audubon center at Drumlin Farm at dusk.  We decided that we could certainly count anything we heard, so calling Carolina Wrens and Northern Cardinals made the list.  After one day, we have names of birds and trees and weeds scribbled on pieces of paper and we haven't been able to count them up yet (we have to be at a school this morning to give a program at 8 a.m.!) but we think we must be close to 75 species already.  Wish us luck!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Book Tour Schedule!

From on the way out the door in Oak Harbor, Ohio, Kenn writes:  We're heading to Boston to start our trip to introduce the brand-new Kaufman Field Guide to Nature of New England!  The official publication date is Tuesday, Oct. 16, and we will kick things off at the New England Wild Flower Society and Massachusetts Audubon Society before going on to events in all six New England states.  We are looking forward to seeing old friends and meeting lots of new friends as we travel through one of our favorite regions in the world!

Here's a preliminary schedule; we will try to update this with more information as we get more details.  We are immensely grateful to Taryn Roeder and her staff at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for making arrangements for this whole tour.

Here's our new "baby" - its official "birthday" is October 16th!

October 16 at Framingham, Massachusetts: 12:30 p.m. program and book signing at New England Wild Flower Society. More information is here.

October 16 at Lincoln, Massachusetts: 7:00 p.m. program and book signing at Massachusetts Audubon Society's Drumlin Farm. More details are here.

October 17 at Cambridge, Massachusetts:  7:00 p.m. lecture at the Harvard Museum of Natural History.

October 18 at Brewster, Massachusetts: 7:00 p.m. program and book signing at the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History. More details are here.

October 19 at Bristol, Rhode Island:  7:00 p.m. program and book signing at the Environmental Education Center of the Audubon Society of Rhode Island. More information is here.

October 20 at Greenwich, Connecticut: 6:00 p.m. reception, followed by a program and book signing, at the Greenwich Audubon Center. Please RSVP. More details are here.

October 22 at New Canaan, Connecticut: 3:00 p.m. program at the New Canaan Library as part of the library's "Authors on Stage" series.

October 23 at South Hadley, Massachusetts: 7:00 p.m., program and book signing at Odyssey Books.

October 24 at Concord, New Hampshire: 7:00 p.m. program and book signing at Gibson's Bookstore.

October 25 at Exeter, New Hampshire: 7:00 p.m. program and book signing at the Water Street Bookstore. More details are here.

October 26 at Falmouth, Maine: 7:00 p.m. program and book signing at Maine Audubon Society's center at Gilsland Farm. More details are here.

October 27 at North Conway, New Hampshire: Program and book signing at White Birch Books or Tin Mountain Conservation Center. Time to be determined.

October 28 at Hancock, New Hampshire:  Program and book signing at the Harris Center for Conservation Education. Presented in conjunction with Toadstool Bookshop and New Hampshire Audubon.  Time to be determined. 

October 29 at Keene, New Hampshire: 7:00 program and book signing at the Toadstool Bookshop.

October 30 in Montpelier, Vermont: 7:00 p.m. program and book signing at Bear Pond Books, in an event co-sponsored by North Branch Nature Center. More information is here.

Additional stops: More things may be added to this schedule at the last minute, but we will try to update as these things come up.

Our listing challenge for the tour:  Just in case we weren't going to be busy enough on this trip, we decided to give ourselves a challenge:  we are going to try to identify 350 species of living things while we're in New England on the tour.  That number would be easy to achieve in a few days if we were there in summer, when flowers are blooming, butterflies are flying, etc., but it will be more of a challenge in the latter half of October, especially when we're trying to keep a tight schedule.  Wish us luck!  We'll write more about this in a separate post, and we'll try to keep providing updates as we're traveling.    
This is what we look like BEFORE the tour!  It is possible that we will be slightly more bedraggled after 15 days, 6 states, and 350 species!