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the year in birds: 2011

This tradition is now probably just for me, and my 3 remaining readers!

I took two international trips this year: one to the central highlands of Nicaragua, my second time in this area (you can read about the highlights here and here), and the other a quick trip to Honduras. Also a business trip to California, but no time for birding.

  • New life birds: 25. Most were from the Nicaragua trip. The last one was Chestnut-colored Woodpecker (Celeus castaneus) in Honduras.
  • Total life birds: 1098.
  • Total ABA-area birds: 579. No new species this year.
  • Total state birds: 312 (new this year was Brant).
  • Total birds in my home county: 263 (new: Lapland Longspur, Brant, Rufous Hummingbird, Short-eared Owl). I had 186 species this year.
  • Total city birds: 223 (new species this year: Lapland Longspur, Ross’s Goose, Barred Owl). I saw 160 this year.
  • Total birds at work: 195. Nothing new this year.
  • Yard birds: 136. Nothing new this year.

Happy New Year.

Filed in Me

fill ‘er up

The Rouge River is an urban river, and its urban character is nowhere better reflected than in its last few miles, after it passes through the campus of the University of Michigan-Dearborn and Henry Ford’s former estate. As it approaches Michigan Avenue all sense of riverness ends: this is where the Rouge gets harnessed into its concrete straitjacket, and it remains shackled down to where it empties into the Detroit River.

The channel was built in the mid-1970s by the Army Corps of Engineers for flood control. We’ll leave the pros, cons, and results of that for another discussion. But, among other things, it was a feat of engineering. Consider these photos from 1971 from Wayne State University’s Virtual Motor City project.

That’s the Ford Rouge complex in the background of the photo above. It’s also in the upper right corner of the photo below, from the Corps, just after the channel was completed.

The Rouge is my urban river, concrete channel and all. Technically, you’re not supposed to walk along it, though it’s not unusual to see walkers and bikers. Although it looks calm enough, the channel is V-shaped and from 15 to 21 feet deep. It’s not particularly steep above the water line, but in places it can be slippery and the current is usually deceptively fast.

Frankly, there isn’t much to see and what you do see is fairly ugly.  It’s amazing to me the amount of plastic detritus I find in the wrack line. Much is unidentifiable plastic bits, but the majority is represented by plastic tampon applicators, followed by disposable lighters, prescription pill bottles, and ball point pens. People, quit flushing non-organic stuff down the toilet! I have also found, not once but twice, er, marital aids*.

Despite the general sterility of concrete, nature perseveres on the channel. Remarkable little ecosystems arise from the cracks and the accumulated debris.  There is also grassy and shrubby vegetation above the concrete banks, and some wooded patches on buffer property. In fact, the efforts of a few of us have managed to accumulate records for 154 bird species.

This stretch of the Rouge lies between two heron colonies, and they frequently fish along the river, as evidenced by this “graffiti.”

Other animals take advantage of vertical surfaces under overpasses to mark their territories.

And there is also evidence of them fishing in the river and creating their own little ecosystems.

This spring is the second wettest on record for Detroit; we’ve already had over 14 inches of rain in the last two months. Last week, the Rouge watershed had about 4 inches in one day. Here’s a typical view of the channel looking north from this point towards a large hotel.

And this was the view when the river crested on 26 May — well over the top of the concrete banks, something I have never seen.

And here is the view from the same overpass, looking downstream.

The river crested at over 5 feet above flood level. The argument could be made that the channel did its job, keeping water more or less within itself, and draining the watershed like a massive flume. On the other hand, just upriver on campus, the natural floodplain also did its job — the one nature intended. If more floodplain remained in the watershed, if far less land had been converted to concrete and other impervious surfaces, this much water would never make it to this point in the river, an enormous “flood control project” would not have been necessary, and a river would be just a little more free.


*Of course I have photos, and good taste is not one of my strong suits, but I think it’s best they remain unpublished. One has to wonder about the backstory, though. Both were inhumanly large (though not the inspiration for the title of this post) and probably could not have made it down the toilet. The first one was found in the general vicinity of an adult book store. It doesn’t take too much imagination — and you’d only want to partake in the minimum amount — to conceive a scenario on how it may have ended up nearby. We found it during a Christmas Bird Count, and took great delight in announcing it at the tally as “dicky bird sp.”  The second one, however, was quite a distance upstream. Further, it was sort of charred looking (a burnt weiner) and appeared thoroughly battered. Hopefully this was due to its arduous journey downstream from wherever it originated, and not [shudder]. Well, if that’s the most disgusting thing I discover urban birding, I’ll consider myself very fortunate.



Filed in Urban issues

My cats, indoors

We’ve had Sophie since she was a kitten. She’s never been allowed outdoors, and shows absolutely no interest in going out. Maybe because there are fewer gullible humans to cuddle with than inside our house.

Juniper was a stray we got as an adult, and has been harder to keep away from the doors. We have a boatload of toys for her, so we’re all well entertained. She finally gets the point she can’t go out; we’re still working on the concept of window screens.

I’ve banged this drum before, but please — keep your cats indoors.

Filed in Cat blogging

Over yonder in the right sidebar is a list of Urban Ecology Resources. You can expand each category by clicking on it.  One item in the Literature category is my urban bird bibliography (Word doc), where I keep track of papers published on the topic. I’ve just uploaded a new version. New additions include:

  • Benitez-Lopez, A., R. Alkemade, and P. A. Verweij. 2010. The impacts of roads and other infrastructure on mammal and bird populations: a meta-analysis. Biological Conservation 143:1307-1316.
  • Hu, Y., and G. C. Cardoso. 2010. Which birds adjust the frequency of vocalizations in urban noise? Animal Behaviour 79: 863-867.
  • Isaac-Renton, M., J. R. Bennett, R. J. Best, and P. Arcese. 2010. Effects of introduced Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) on native plant communities of the southern Gulf Islands, British Columbia. Ecoscience 17:394-399.
  • Kempenaers, B., P. Borgstrom, P. Loes, E. Schlicht, and M. Valcu. 2010. Artificial night lighting affects dawn song, extra-pair siring success, and lay date in songbirds. Current Biology 20:1735-1739.
  • Saggesea, K., F. Korner-Nievergelt, T. Slagsvold, and V. Amrhein. 2011. Wild bird feeding delays start of dawn singing in the great tit. Animal Behaviour 81: 361-365.

Papers in the whole document go back to about 2003, taking up where the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory bibliography left off.

Filed in Blogs, links, and the like, Urban issues

my lucky year!

I already know 2011 is going to be great year, or at least a prosperous one. In just the last couple of weeks, I have received over a dozen emails from all over the world informing me of impending wealth.

I was most touched by the woman from Liberia, smuggled to Italy and “lulled into prostitution.” In Mexico, she was caught with a “kilo of drugs in my private part,”  arrested, and “incarnated.”  Upon release from prison, she tried to go straight, but a litany of awful things happened, including the police confiscating her boutique. When she heard this news, she fell into a coma.  She came back to life, and now needs my help saving her soul AND getting $8 million out of an Italian bank before she succumbs to her “Mal-Functioning Heart Condition.”

Meanwhile, I need to go through my family tree to see if I indeed have a Nigerian relative. Robert Mueller himself wrote me from the Anti-Terrorist and Monetary Crimes division of the FBI to make sure I was the legitimate heir of $10.5 million from Nigeria. He offered to help me get through all that nasty red tape — the Nigerians tried to use a “secret diplomatic transit payment (S.T.D.P)” to get me the money, which is apparently a big no-no.

And though I hardly ever even buy a scratch-off lottery ticket at the corner market, I’ve been hitting jackpots in other countries. I recently won €700,000 in the Alamannian lottery (the message was, curiously, in Spanish), $500,000 in the Niger Delta Development Commission’s monthly online lottery, and £55,000 in a lottery held by Chevron and DeBeers Diamond. Plus who knew even the United Nations had a lottery? The Asia Secretary General wrote to me to confirm if I was “(DEAD) or (ALIVE)” so that they could process my winnings of $2 million.

There’s still more!

  • “Sequel to the legal fight” (that I did not know I was a party to), the International Court of Justice, pursuant to the United Nations wants to send me my $5 billion settlement, payable through the World Bank.
  • Nor did I realize I was well-known in South Africa, but someone there wants to give me $42.6 million because I am a “respected personality.”
  • No fewer than three dying women — one from Oman, another from Cote d’ivoire, and someone in Asia — would like me to receive a total of $66 million (some of which they’d like me to spend on helping widows and orphans) because I am a “God-fearing person.” They must have the wrong gal.
  • An account manager at Lloyds of London offered me 40% of  £56 million from a closed account. Another account manager there was a little greedier, and would only offer me 30% of £15.5 million.

With all this good news flooding in, it’s a good thing I heed all those warnings and keep my inbox from exceeding it’s limit!

Filed in Silly stuff and bluster

Golden squares

I posted this old recipe a few years ago, but it didn’t make the move from the old blog. I thought I’d just scan the 40-plus-year-old recipe I have taped to an index card. Just three ingredients (I leave out the nuts) for the richest, densest, sweetest treat EV-AH!

I don’t bother with the waxed paper, I just use butter or cooking spray. I occasionally make myself feel marginally better by using low-fat sweetened condensed milk. It doesn’t affect the quality of the product (or make me feel much less guilty). I do think of my mom whenever I make these, since she made them as a special treat for me, and that makes me feel good.

Filed in Me, Other reviews

the year in birds: 2010

I’ve done it before (2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009), so I’ll do it again: summarize my bird lists.

I took two international trips this year: one with the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory to Mexico (you can read about the highlights — Dwarf Vireo! Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer! Red-breasted Chat! — here), and the other a quick third trip to Panama (previous: 2005 and 2007). Also two business trips to California, but not much time for birding, especially for species that I still didn’t have there.

  • New life birds: 59. Most were from the Mexico trip. The last one was Fulvous-vented Euphonia in Panama.
  • Total life birds: 1073.
  • Total ABA-area birds: 579 (picked up one on the Winter Wren split).
  • Total state birds: 311 (new was Golden-crowned Sparrow).
  • Total birds in my home county: 259 (new: Trumpeter Swan, Golden-crowned Sparrow).
  • Total city birds: 220 (I saw 148 this year). No new species this year.
  • Total birds at work: 191 (new: American Pipit).
  • Yard birds: 136 (new: Double-crested Cormorant flyover).

Happy New Year.

Filed in Me

two years with juniper

It’s been two years since Juniper became part of the family. Whereas our other cat Sophie is mellow, cuddly, and just wants to be loved, Juniper is affectionate, but often rambunctious and always entertaining.

"What kind of trouble can I get into?"

It took awhile for them to get along, but now Sophie and Juniper even birdwatch together.

She loves defined spaces. Boxes are frequent resting places...

...as are baskets...


...and the inbox.

It’s hard to remember life without her bright-eyed curiosity and constant antics. Love you, cutie.

Filed in Cat blogging

birthday smiles

Yesterday was my birthday. Kingfisher left me a card and a couple small gifts on my desk in the morning. He often signs notes and cards “me” instead of using his name. We laughed at the ambiguity of his inscription in my birthday card:

It took me a few more hours to come across the main gift. I have ten coffee plants which I have grown from ripe coffee cherries collected on our various trips to coffee farms. As some of the plants have grown into small trees, I’ve jokingly called my collection “Finca Dos Gatos” in honor of the cats.

Our finca takes up a lot of space. The plants spend the summers outside, and winter under lights in front of a bedroom window, usually all lined up on metal plant stands. When I headed upstairs yesterday, imagine my surprise to see that the name had become official.

How cool is that?

Filed in Me