Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Is my face red!

I bought the DVD of Stephen Colbert's Christmas special for all my friends down here in South America before I heard about the awful promos at the beginning. A lot of my manakin and antbird friends keep asking why we tanagers head back to North America every year, and we try to explain how beautiful it is and how variety is the spice of life. But frankly, the promos at the start of this video are a bit too spicy--toxically so! Why oh why didn't I watch last Thursday's program and see this warning BEFORE popping in the DVD? But at least Stephen Colbert does issue a pretty clear warning--just take it seriously and skip the promos, especially if you're trying to explain to children or friends of rarefied sensibilities just why you like Stephen Colbert.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

How Earth Angel Bird Identification Binoculars Saved Christmas

How Earth Angel Bird Identification Binoculars Saved Christmas Featuring Ian Smith, Ramiro Figuero, and Joe Erickson.

Christmas at Baker's Blue Jay Barn

Listen in! (Features John and Karen Keenan and Laura Erickson with Katie Erickson on keyboard)

Thanksgiving with the Talon'ted Gourmet

Thanksgiving's coming, and whenever I notice a new cookbook or TV cooking special, I can't help but chuckle. Imagine needing lessons in how to prepare food! Between our own instincts and the education our parents provide, we hardly need to turn to Rachael Ray to learn how to deal with a turkey.

Now humans must have a rather delicate digestive system or something, because they add all kinds of steps to what is a simple and basic all-American meal. Yet, oddly enough, those TV specials don't explain the most fun, but the trickiest, part of preparing a turkey dinner--getting that turkey in the first place. I've gotten pretty good at this, if I do say so myself.

The first step is, of course, to figure out where turkeys roost in your neck of the woods. You want to make your move fairly early at night, but after it's completely dark. You fly in and pick out the one with the fewest branches around her. Yes--I prefer hens to toms--they're smaller and face it, you're not going to eat the whole thing in one sitting. When you grab her back, you have to be quick and careful. The wings are so thick that you're probably not going to get a toehold, so right as your feet make contact, give her a big, powerful bite on the back of the neck. Try to hit the jugular--it's easier than you'd think if you pick one who's tucked in her head. If you do it right, she'll drop out of the tree easy as pie.

So there you have it. The tricky part is done. I always eat the head first--one good clean bite and you have a cropful without getting hardly any blood on your facial feathers. If I'm not very hungry, I leave it at that. But if I'm really hungry, I go for the breast meat. Don't get me wrong--I'm not the least bit worried about my cholesterol level. But that's the biggest chunks of meat. You're never going to get through that keel bone, and the wings make ripping into the back tricky. You might like the guts, especially if you're feeling like you need a bit of predigested plant material. Turkey guts can be mighty tasty if it's a good acorn year.

While you're feasting, the most important thing is to keep a lookout for foxes. I once heard someone say that Rachael Ray is a fox, but really, she wouldn't hurt a fly.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Sick and tired of chickadees

Everyone acts like chickadees are the cutest, sweetest, most wonderful creatures on earth. Well, I say Bah, Humbug! Those nasty, irritating nosy Parkers just won't leave a guy in peace. They flit about, snooping into everyone's business, and whenever they spot me, they start cursing up a storm. Yeah--people think those little sounds they make are endearing, but when their "chickadee" is followed by 10 or 20 dee-dee-dees, they start bringing in the bloodthirsty crows and jays. It isn't too bad when I'm on my home turf. If I'm in my own cavity trying to catch some rays and a chickadee spots me, I can just pull in my head and they forget about me. But if I'm migrating through and don't have a cavity to roost in, oh, man it sucks. I try to blend into the scenery and keep my eyes closed since our beautiful golden eyes seem to capture their attention quickly, but it's hard to take a catnap when I have to be ever vigilant. Fortunately, I can see perfectly well with my eyes open just a slit. I wish chickadees were migratory and I could send them off on a permanent vacation.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Young Stephen has a question for Mr. Colbert

Daddy, why don't you want me, your own adopted son, on your Christmas special? You could read me an all-American Christmas Eve bedtime story, and then I could fly in on Christmas morning, soaring above in a beautiful blue sky set against snow-covered pine trees. I'd be carrying a freshly-killed Christmas turkey for our family dinner. Maybe next year?

From a chickadee who IS a hotline bird

My friend Martha was recently expounding on how great it is to NOT be a hotline bird. But you know something? It's pretty great to be one, too. Last winter, birders came from all over the country to the Sax-Zim Bog Birding Festival just to see ME and some friends of mine. It was way cool hanging out at the feeders along the Blue Spruce Road a mile north of 133 just to hear all the "wow"s and "Holy crap!"s. A birder from New York, Peter Schoenberger, took this picture of me there last year. It was the first year for the festival, and even though there weren't a lot of us hotline birds hanging around, just about everyone got to see me and my buddies, a Northern Hawk Owl, and a bunch of other cool birds from my neck of the woods. This year the festival is on Valentine's Day weekend. What a romantic time to see cool birds!

Friendly skies? HA!

Leave it to a stupid Turkey Vulture to think a joke about flying in an airplane is funny. Those planes are nothing but trouble--how about the time one smashed into my father-in-law's breakfast? Fortunately, fish don't have too many mid-air collisions with Boeing 737s, but even one is too many. Airplane food, my foot.

(By the way, the New York Times story cited above about the Alaska Airlines jet having a mid-air collision with a fish is true. The paper may be dated April 1, 1987, but the accident really happened on March 30, 1987. The crew and passengers were fine, as was my father-in-law. The only fatality was the fish, and we're pretty sure he was already dead.)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Flying the friendly skies

Two years ago, one of my buddies and I got sick and tired of the rigors of migration, so we worked and worked and finally saved up enough money to take an airplane. Before the trip, all our friends kept telling us that nowadays we have to pay for those stupid little “bistro” meals on planes. It sucks--from everything I've heard, real airplane food sounded great--just the thing for the powerful acids in our digestive tracts. But paying for a lousy sandwich after all the money we paid for the tickets? No way!

So on the way to the airport, we each picked up a squashed rabbit in the road (well, I think mine was a rabbit--it was a little ripe) and we tucked them under a wing, and headed in to get our boarding passes.

If you can believe this, nowadays you have to "check in" on a computer! Neither of us had used computers much--from what I've heard, the choices are between some PC thing--and we vultures just don't approve of this whole "Political Correctness" crap--and an apple or macintosh or something like that--sounds way too fruity for one of us Atkins diet adherents.

Anyway, we tried pecking on the screen, but it didn't respond at all. Fortunately, a nice agent walked up and said the "touch" needed to be from fingers, not beaks, so she helped us herself. We each wanted a window seat, of course, and she got us all set up and then asked if she could check our luggage. We looked at those dead rabbits and said, “No thank you. This is carrion.”

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Gobble gobble

Okay, so I hate the idea of predation when the dinner is a turkey, but I sort of get that—we turkeys eat a little meat ourselves and we can get into some pretty gruesome life-or-death fights with each other, so we’re not exactly living in a peaceable kingdom. I do my best to stay alert and keep out of range of predators, including humans, but when the Grim Reaper calls, that’s that.

So I can sort of handle the concept of Thanksgiving, though it irritates the hell out of me that people would single us out. Canada Geese are just as big, and plenty of other birds are supposed to be delicious according to some raptorial friends of mine. But what I really wish is that people would suddenly develop a taste for chickadees. The world would be a lot better without those friggin’ Pollyannas flittering all about, chickadee-dee-deeing and batting their nictitating membranes and thinking all the world is a jolly tea party. I’ve even watched them fly right up to humans and land on their fingers! FINGERS—those bare-skinned appendages that wiggle around stupidly where any sensible being would have wings—the very thought of making contact with fingers makes my skin crawl. It would take a lot of chickadees to make a decent meal for a human, but I say go for it!

But nooooooooooooo—people have a taste for turkeys and there’s not a thing we can do about it. I can deal with that. But the one thing I can’t deal with is that bizarre satanic ritual they have when they’re done pigging out—they honestly seem to think that if they break some poor dead schmo’s furcula, the one who holds the bigger half will get a wish granted. Holy crap! I mean, just the thought of that snapping sound creeps me out. These Freddy Kruegers go around slicing and dicing our friends and then, as a final insult, snap their bones and make wishes. It’s enough to make me want to extend my snood, engorge the carunculated area of my head and neck, and go goose every stinkin’ one of ‘em. Gobble gobble, indeed.
F Minus
Click on the cartoon to see the whole thing. (Thanks, Karl!!)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A word from a concerned chipmunk

I'm looking at those poll numbers on the side and I must say I like the results so far. Tastiest rodent? A full 25 percent of you say it's deer mice, 12.5 percent say it's white mice, an unbelievable 62.5 percent say it's George Stephanopolous, and ZERO percent say it's chipmunks! YAY! Now--please share your insights with that pesky Broad-winged Hawk who keeps staring at me.

Oh--and to clear things up, this proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that George Stephanopolous is not a chipmunk.

Why do birds stand on one leg?

Because if they pulled that one up, too, they'd fall down.

Martha's first post: hotline birds

My name is Martha, and I want to say something about hotline birds. Now please don't think this is sour grapes--I know we chickadees never make any hotlines and really, it's no big deal. I mean, far be it from us to want birders wasting valuable natural resources chasing one of us down--that's why we try so hard to keep our numbers up and our range predictable and broad, and also why we waste so much time coming up so close to birders. People who don't see a chickadee on a day's outing--well, I don't mean to be judgmental, but they're just not trying.

Right now there are two strangers in my neck of the woods who really don't seem...well, they don't seem very well adapted, if you know what I mean. It's not like 27 degrees is all that cold, but for some reason the Little Blue Heron in Sapsucker Woods today was standing on the edge of the water, fluffed up and hunkered down, looking so miserable that I felt sorry for him. I'd have opened up my home to him, but he's too big to fit through the entrance. As is the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher up in Moravia. We chickadees have been doing our best to talk to these two, encouraging them to migrate south, but they just don't listen. I don't know if they're eating up all the attention, if they just love being in the birding spotlight, or what. But maybe you people shouldn't be encouraging them. I mean, really--what does a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher have that we don't? Well, besides that spectacular tail and those beautiful, rich colors? (And I have to admit that the one in Moravia is splendid!) And what's so special about a Little Blue Heron? They're punier than Great Blue Herons, not as gleaming white as Great Egrets, and even when they reach adulthood lack those aigrettes that people used to make such a fuss over.

So my advice is, skip the hotline birds and start paying attention to your chickadees again. We do our best to bring in stray warblers, nuthatches, creepers, kinglets, and other birds just in case you're one of those birders who think variety is the spice of life. And really, what other bird can you COUNT on, day in and day out, winter, spring, summer, and fall, whether you're in a suburban backyard or pristine forest? You can rely on us chickadees through thick and thin, and we won't sit around looking miserable, either. So stop listening to hotlines and come enjoy your backyard chickadees!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Can't a bird molt in peace?

So I'm minding my own business googling photos of Eastern Screech-Owls, hoping I might come across some pictures of old friends, when what to my wondering eyes should appear but this highly embarrassing photo of me molting back in something like 2003. I mean what the heck?! Can't a bird do ANYTHING without some blankety-blank human taking pictures? I usually don't look nearly that bad when I'm molting, and 90% of the year I look gorgeous if I do say so myself.

Really, I don't mind this next series at all, but if I've got to be perfectly objective (not an easy task for an owl!) I suppose some poor white mouse googling photos of HIS family members might feel a bit queasy.

What's in a name?

That which we hyphenate as Northern Hawk-owl by any other name would be as sweet. And more correct nowadays, if you spell it Northern Hawk Owl.

But frankly, my dear, we birds don't give a damn what you call us or how you spell or punctuate it. For all I care, you can even call me Surnia ulula. Or how about urniasay lulauay? Scientific pig Latin--how's that for class? But me--I've got more important things on my mind, like puncturing that vole down there. Buh bye!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Inquiring minds want to know...

...Will Obama be bringing any of Chicago's Hyde Park Monk Parakeets with him to D.C.? Or does Washington already have enough? These hard-working community organizers do a great job at building inexpensive but durable and comfortable apartments and providing equal rights for all adults. And--get this!--they have a ZERO carbon footprint! They're a little squawky, but provide an excellent example of how a diverse group of immigrants can work together for the common good in a spirit of cooperation and generosity of spirit. A role model for our time! This photo was taken, by the way, in Hyde Park.

And hey--last time we had a president from Hyde Park, it was a different Hyde Park! And that guy apparently had to fix up a big mess left for him, too. I'm glad we birds don't get involved in economic issues!

(Posted by George and Martha)

First post by Vera: The Secret Life of Bees

Hi! I'm Vera. My brothers (Chuck and Dave) and I are going to be posting occasionally about birds in popular culture. A couple of weeks ago I heard about a movie, The Secret life of Bees. I was hoping it was a documentary that could give me some ideas on how to cope with those pesky critters, but Chuck and Dave checked out Rotten Tomatoes and put me straight. I still wanted to go--I love Queen Latifah, who seems like exactly the kind of centered, kind person you can count on to put together a really fine feeding station, but no way would Chuck and Dave go--they claimed that it was a chick flick.

Well, okay--they had that pretty right. But I liked it a lot--EXCEPT for one thing. This movie was set in South Carolina, but for several forest scenes, they played calls from a Common Loon in the background! Whoa--who was in charge of sound effects? No self-respecting loon would be caught dead in South Carolina during the breeding season! Meanwhile, where were the Tufted Titmouse songs and calls? We're all over the place in South Carolina, winter, spring, summer, and fall! What are we--chopped liver?

My first post, by Archimedes

My name is Archimedes. I'm an Eastern Screech-Owl who, right now, is stuck in a dead-end career in education. I tried to get Stephen Colbert to notice me and invite me on his program so I could get my big break in show business, but he's been studiedly ignoring me. It's probably just as well--he'd set me up with some lame line like "Cat got your tongue?" and I'd lock my talons into his Wrist Strong Bracelet and piss him off and there would go my comedy career, down the mouse hole.

It's just as well, because my political aspirations have been ignited by the recent election. I've been trying to get my ducks in a row to start the application process. That's been trickier than I thought--apparently they want to know all about my past associations. I admit it--I used to hang around with some pretty militant hawks at the Daisy Hill Puppy and Owlet Farm where I got my start. And I've got blood on my own talons, too. There are whole colonies of mice that consider me a vicious serial killer--if they get anyone's ear in the new Administration, well, there goes that.

Anyway, I'll be posting occasionally, as will some of my friends, to keep you up on all the gossip in the world of birds. Three Tufted Titmice who live near me, Vera, Chuck and Dave, want to offer their perspectives on the cultural scene. We'll have occasional Point/Counterpoint editorials by George and Martha (ultra liberal chickadees) and their nemeses John and Sarah (the neocon shrikes). Tips about green living will be offered by Neely Mealy Parrot, Rachel Robin will have plenty of housekeeping ideas, and we'll have guest commentaries by various other neighborhood friends. We birds have been grousing and sniping to no one in particular for too long--it's time we got connected to cyberspace.