Today Brian Christman and I visited Ed Levin Park and hiked up to the sycamore grove. It was a great morning, full of song! We a few juvenile birds such as Bulllock's Oriole young, which showed little or now yellow in their plumage, and an American Robin with spots on it's breast. Male and female Lazuli Buntings were easily seen after we passed through the cattle gate. As well, several Rufous-crowned Sparrows were seen and heard after the trail became level and the sycamores were in view. We failed to find the Blue Grosbeak at first so continued higher to the hangliding launch. Another Rufous-crowned Sparrow was seen in this area and a trio of downy Red-winged Blackbird chicks with very protective parents. They had very short tails and downy plumes behind their eyes. Also, as much as they tried to remain quiet, they frequently squawked when adult were near and opened their wide mouths to accept food. We continued to the top of the trail where we heard yet another Rufous-crowned Sparrow and a very proficient Northern Mockingbird who was busy imitating Bullock's Oriole, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Yellow-billed Magpie and American Kestrel... (The last imitation still needed some work, but we appreciated his earnest effort.) No less than six Grasshopper Sparrows were also singing in this area, but only two decided to show themselves. We viewed them with the help of the iPod, of course. A small group of White-throated Swifts were chattering overhead. We turned around at this point, finding a family of young Bullock's Orioles in the mustard weed, and one of several Western Kingbirds seen in the park was perching on the fence. Finally we were back down near the sycamore grove again. Black-headed Grosbeak was heard loudly, and finally viewed. With a little more patience we were able to locate a male Blue Grosbeak who was singing full volume from the top of the lowest tree.
For more than two hours, beginning at 9:30 Kelly and I heard the Black-chinned Sparrow on the trail leading up from the Hidden Villa Hostel. We saw and heard many other birds such as Ash-throated and Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Warbling Vireo, Orange-crowned Warbler, California Thrasher, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Spotted Towhee. The target bird however, eluded us for quite a while. He must have been moving quite a bit around the chaparral because at times his voice seemed to come from widely spaced areas but we had not yet seen him. We even considered the possibility that there might be more than one. We were then joined by three other birders, Don, Bernice and another woman whose name I have forgotten. At about 12:00 all five of us were treated to fantastic looks as the bird came to perch in a tree just a few yards from us. He sang as we watched, then moved to a different perch and continued to sing. Patience really paid off, but as reported, it wasn't necessary to hike very far on the trail before the bird could be heard. Beautiful!
Cricket and I drove to Turlock today for her nephew's 2nd birthday. On the way we tried to visit Merced National Wildlife Refuge, but found Sandy Mush Road blocked off at the intersection with Henry Miller Avenue. We supposed it was because of flooding, but never did find anyone to ask. Instead we stopped at the Los Banos headquarters and looked around the ranger station. There we found several Western Kingbirds, a Bullock's Oriole and many Killdeer, some of which seemed to be guarding eggs on the gravel area beside the restrooms. We never located any eggs, however, and were very careful not to step on the gravel area.
From there we took a quick tour of the San Luis NWR auto loop. We were running late at this point so we had to hurry. As we drove we counted 7 American Bittern and no fewer than 10 Wood Duck ... Not bad for a twenty minute run through. Still, we arrived a little late to the party.
After leaving Turlock, we traveled northwest on Hwy 99 toward Modesto and then west on Hwy 132. Prior to crossing Hwy 5 we stopped to investigate a couple of Hawks sitting in a field. We pulled over and were pleased to find that they were Swainson's Hawks . We had been seen some earlier flying overhead, but these were the first we'd seen sitting down. As we scanned the field a little more thoroughly, we counted a total of 65 Swainson's Hawks in that same field, many adults, some first-year birds with very white heads and 2 completely dark phased birds!
From there we chose to investigate Patterson Pass Road. We enjoyed the drive very much as it meadered uphill through the wind turbines. We stopped a couple of times to look for Blue Grosbeak, which we found easily witht he help of a little playback. Also seen were several Horned Larks.
Yesterday I saw a juvenile Dark-eyed Junco on High Street on my way to the office. The bird looks very little like an adult, and has many small spots on his breast. Each spring, the young Juncos give me pause... We only see them in this plumage for a very short time and they always catch me off guard. Sure enough, a few seconds after I saw it, an adult came in from the side to feed it an insect. There was much excitement and wing shaking as he begged for the food.
The Summer Challenge, "Women and Children First" or code name: "WC1" is now in full swing. The reports are flooding in from class members who have seen Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet and Lesser Goldfinch Those of you who were in class already understand the difficulty of the assignment, namely, figuring out how to identify the often overlooked females and immatures. It's really an exercise in subtlety, requiring you to take a second look at very familiar species. As well as common residents, I've also chosen some species that have probably not yet arrived in the area, so you will need to examine the checklist as well as the field guide when making your plans. Some field guides may not tell you everything you need to know to help with identification, so I encourage people to share their knowledge with others as they locate birds on the list.
For example, I saw my first WC1 species, a Black Phoebe immature during my lunch hour walk by the creek. It's ironic that I spent so much time describing how Sayornis species lack wingbars... and yet, when it comes to these young birds, that is indeed how you recognize them. Obvious reddish wing bars, plus the fact that it was being fed by an adult made it certain. There were other differences as well, but I'll leave that up to you to describe.
Durnig my lunch hour walk along the San Francisquito Creek yesterday I found a Black-headed Grosbeak and a Warbling Vireo between Emerson Street and Poe. This is the same area where a few days earlier a California Thrasher was singing loudly from the top of a tree, and the Hooded Oriole had been heard in someone's backyard. I went back today to see if I could locate them again and was delighted to find a brilliant male Western Tanager calling loudly in the same area.
As you may recall, I contacted Kathleen Buck almost a year ago regarding the controversy at the Tulsa Zoo, where a small group of conservative Christians (led by a Mr. Hicks) had fought to get a 7-day creation exhibit installed at the facility. This was the groups reaction to an installation on Nature and Culture, which included an Elephant deity sculpture from India. At the time, the city council had approved the proposal, due mostly to the ideological support of the mayor, but it was later rescinded because of a public outcry. Sometime later the mayor himself was defeated in an election and the tone of the council changed dramatically. From time to time, I have checked back in with Kathleen to see how the struggle was going. Below is my most recent letter, sent to the zoo's director. It had been a few months since I'd written to Kathleen and I could not find her name on the newly designed website. I feared she had left, or worse, had been asked to leave:
It was almost a year ago that I started writing to Kathleen Buck. Our communications began after the Tulsa Zoo appeared in the media regarding a struggle with a conservative group who wished to install a 7-day creation exhibit at your facility. As an educator, I was horrified that the city had given audience to a religious group wishing to foist their beliefs in a place of environmental education. There is NO place for religion in the study of nature, unless you wish highlight how culture has responded to nature, ie. the Resplendent Quetzal in Central America, or the Indian Elephant in Asia. If the goal is to inject ideologies over nature.. that cannot be allowed as it contradicts the very object of eduction. I was please to hear that the zoo was opposed to the plan and that Kathleen had gone on record as saying that she thought it was "the wrong direction" and I promptly contacted her.
I am a teacher at an adult school class in Palo Alto California. I teach birdwatching. It's not a huge task, but difficult enough because I also have full-time position as a senior designer at a silicon valley design firm. No matter. I wanted to congratulate her and offer moral my support, however unnecessary. Now I find her missing on the staff page of your newly designed website and I'm speaking to you.
So I have two questions:
Where is Kathleen Buck? and Are there any developments in the situation? Last I spoke with Kathleen she was preparing for another attack from the creationists....
If you can offer any information regarding the struggle I would greatly appreciate hearing about it. We have a great team of letter writers here on the west coast and I am more than eager to help by writing letters, or posting updates on my website.
Please let me know if you have any updates.
Steven replied very quickly, and because I had had no communication with him before, I did not know what to expect. Would he by sympathetic? Would he agree with Kathleen (or me)? He turned out to be very supportive and I feel he is very much of the same mind. Here is his response:
Thank you for your email. We very much appreciate your support. You should know that we at the zoo were strongly in opposition to the proposed biblical exhibit at the zoo, but were being instructed to proceed with it primarily as a result of the mayor at that time. As you know, with much vocal community opposition, the decision was reversed. Also, since then the former mayor was defeated and we have a new City administration. I fell very confident that the creationists will not find the sympathetic ear in the new administration that they found in the previous one.
I have included Kathleen in this email and you can respond to her.
Thank you again for your support, and I wish you well in your busy pursuits.
Stephen Walker, Zoo Director
"America's Favorite Zoo"
Tulsa Zoo and Living Museum
5701 E 36th St N
Tulsa, OK 74115
Tel: (918) 669-6223
Fax:( 918) 669-6260
Not long after that, I heard from Kathleen herself:
I'm glad to hear that we are not forgotten! The incident has progressively quieted although I think we'll always be on-guard now. I don't think Mr. Hicks will ever let it go because we are his "project" for some strange reason. As Stephen mentioned, we recently got a new mayor so we feel (& dearly hope!) that we're somewhat protected currently from this type of attack. At this point, we have not installed anything related to the exhibit including what we'd designed as an acceptable alternative. I feel that any knee jerk exhibit would give them enough satisfaction to keep up the fight. I'm glad it has subsided!
I've attached part of an e-mail from a guy who has written a book with this incident included in case you're interested: ...from a professor in Michigan who requested some information ...about the Tulsa zoo controversy for a book he was writing zoo politics. I've followed up to find out when his book will become available, and this was his response. I haven't seen the book yet so I don't know if our zoo issue made it to his book.
"Our book "The Politics of Zoos: Captive Animals and Their Protectors" (Northern Illinois University Press) is on Amazon and should be out within a month or so. The "Politics of Zoo Art" book is under review at a publisher, so I'm not expecting to see it in print for about a year.
Your message also reminded me that I had not yet made a donation to the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance, so I sent off a check yesterday (one to the Tulsa Zoo Friends too). I figure that you'll need all the resources you can muster to fend off the Hicks of the world!
Associate Professor of Political Science
Chair, Dept. of Political Science
Saginaw Valley State University
7400 Bay Rd.
University Center, MI 48710
Matthew, Thanks again for supporting us on this and keeping in touch. I've asked Zoo Friends to put my contact information back on the website. I didn't know they'd removed me and several other zoo staff! Let me know if there's anything else I can answer for you.
The educational climate in coastal Northern California seems worlds apart from Oklahoma... or does it? You need not get far from the Bay Area before the seeing billboards along rural roads proclaiming that intelligent design is the science of god... Personally I consider evolution to be the greatests truth, second only, perhaps to the destructiveness of us humans, who may understand it, but evidently feel we're beyond of its jurisdiction.
A stop in Alviso after the class outing to Ed Levin produced dozens of alternate-plumaged Red-necked Phalaropes, as well as Dunlin, Least and Western Sandpipers. On Disc Drive, a Burrowing Owl perched on the chainlink fence. There was the South Bay Bird Festival going on at the EEC, but we didn't stop because we were pretty tired. The class outing had been a huge success with Grasshopper Sparrow, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Lazuli Bunting, Blue Grosbeak as well as many other birds.
Kelly and I made a quick tour of Los Alamitos Creed yesterday evening. We arrived a bit too late and the light was getting dim but we managed to find a few birds. Highlights were 6 Common Mergansers loafing on the sandbar at the creekmouth, as well as a Spotted Sandpiper (with actual spots!). Candada goslings were feeding beside their parents. Along the trail we saw both Hooded and Bullock's Orioles, as well as a pair of Ash-throated Flycatchers in the sycamores by the overpass.
I stopped at Dumbarton Bridge today on my way to Fremont and spotted a Ruddy Turnstone in the salt ponds. Other Shorebirds included Snowy and Semipalmated Plover , breeding plumaged Dunlin, Western and Least Sandpiper as well as a few Red-necked Phalaropes on the north side as I returned to Palo Alto.
I just received my copy of Birder's World and was pleased to find a 4-page article about our breeding colony of Snowy Egrets at Palo Alto Baylands. An online version is available at: http://www.birdersworld.com/brd/default.aspx?c=a&id=668
The spread features wonderful images taken by Mark Bohrer and opens with a quote by our own Debra Bartens. There's a small error, when an image of Bonnie Nattrass is shown holding a Snowy Egret chick that fell from its nest, and would have been eaten by Yellow-crowned Night Heron if it had not been rescued.... Oh, well.
Congratulations to Mark and Deb and Bonnie for the great coverage!
I also want to include the following report from two of my students. Boyce and Linda had sent me a wonderful report from Pinnacles NM, which the class plans to visit in a few weeks. Their enthusiasm is utterly contageous:
Since we will be traveling most of May, we decided to take an early trip, Sunday, to Pinnacles, in the hopes of showing our friends Joachim and Claudia the condors, and to do the vireo/warbler walk down the canyon. You may find this summary useful as an indication of what is going on there now.
The weather was beautiful, about 75 at mid day. We stopped at Pacines reservoir at about 8 AM, but were fogged in, and couldnt see the bald eagle trees... we did return at 6 PM, on the way back, and were able to spot one baldy in a tree at the north end... he seemed to be saying "Hi there, Need any postage". Also I was surprised by a large mostly white bird with a big yellow bill and black underwing tips flapping slowly
fro south to north along the reservoir... I'm thinking Caspian tern, but not sure they would be expected this far inland.
Just 2 miles down highway 25 we discovered a pair of nesting red tails in a big oak opposite a vineyard. One parent was on the nest while the other circled above, and 3 chicks were in the nest, dark with with white heads... will they still be there for the class trip? Linda has yards of movie footage.
We entered the Monument from the east side at about 9:30 AM and walked down the canyon below the visitor center. I won't list everything, but we saw black headed grossbeaks, warbling vireos, and heard the "vireo?... i don't know" of the Cassin's vireo often, but without spotting the bird. We did better with warblers: Wilson''s, yellow, orange-crowned, Townsend's, and 2 hermit warblers! We pretty much
struck out there with flycatchers.
Back in the parking lot at noon we spotted a fine western tanager pair. We then did the 5.3 mile loop up the high peaks trail and back. At about 3 PM we ran into the condor-tracking ranger at the top who told us that there are 13 condors in release there, and that he had been getting signals from the peaks to the east, but hadn't sighted any. He also mentioned that they have 2 peregrine families nesting in the cliffs, and many prarie falcons. We didn't see these birds in flight, but the top was busy with VG swallows and WT swifts, beautiful to watch. And plenty or wrentits calling. Also up near the peaks we encountered several ash throated flycatchers in the pines, as well as BG gnatcatchers who were very acommodating.
On the way back down we scanned the eastern skies for possible returning condors... I had just about given up when, at 5 PM Linda spotted a flotilla of big birds moving in from the south east. I followed them in with the spotter (Glad I had schlepped it up there!) and gradually made out the pale white at the front of the wings, and the gray-white W of the feet against the tail, and then the tags on the wings. The wings of these birds looked like pine boards, 9 feet long, with many flexible fingers at the ends. FIVE glorious condors passed overhead, heading for the peaks. This was the birders equivalent of "shock and awe." One of the condors flew for a while with the turkey vultures, giving us a chance to appreciate the size and sillouette differences.
On the way out of the Monument where the entrance road meets highway 25, we stopped to see western kingbird on the fence, and a Bullock's oriole in the grasses... and also a purple finch near the entrance campground. A total of 60 species for the day.
This was certainly our most exciting bird day yet, and we want to thank you for getting us to the point that we can show these marvels to friends, without making too many mistakes.
All our best, Boyce, Linda, Joachim and Claudia