Sunday, January 19, 2014

Inside a Bald Eagle's Nest

© 2014 Schiffer Publishing, Ltd. 
Thank goodness the founding fathers went with the beautiful bald eagle as the symbol of our nation rather than the much less photogenic turkey! The bald eagle is truly an awe-inspiring bird but one that many of us never get to see in real life. It is only through hard work by conservationists and citizens who were determined not to allow this majestic bird to go the way of the Dodo that the bald eagle survives to nest in our nation's capital and other areas. By about 1960 eagles were rare and nearly extinct, victims of DDT, habitat changes, and hunting. Indeed I recall as a child wondering if I would ever get to see a bald eagle outside of a zoo. Legislation banned DDT and protected the remaining eagles who, miraculously, are making a huge comeback in many areas of the country, including urban and suburban areas. 

Inside a Bald Eagle's Nest: A Photographic Journey Through the American Bald Eagle Nesting Season by Teena Ruark Gorrow and Craig A. Koppie is a gorgeous coffee table type of book that takes readers on a
© 2014 Schiffer Publishing, Ltd. 
photographic journey through one full nesting season in suburban Washington D.C. The photographs, most taken by Koppie or Gorrow, are often amazing and even startling. As a budding photographer I can only hope that one day I have the opportunity to take a photograph half as good as these. It's hard to pick out a favorite but rarely will you get to see such an up-close shot of eaglets without being ripped to shreds by protective eagle parents! 

© 2014 Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.
While it is tempting to focus entirely on the photography, that would be unfair to the book. The text is filled with interesting facts and  information about the eagles. Beginning with nest preparation, we learn about mating and egg laying and nest building. We also watch as the eggs incubate (the male will sit on the eggs for brief periods of time to give the female a break) and hatch, marveling as the eaglets start to learn about life outside the nest. We also learn about current threats to the eagle. For example, wires from utility lines and towers threaten the birds and wind farms have caused the death of 68 eagles since 2008. But even with these dangers, life goes on. One of the last photographs is of two proud-looking parents surveying the area as their family moves on, hopefully to return the next year for another cycle of nesting.

Last Chance Forever conservationist
with young Bald Eagle
Thanks to conservation efforts it is now possible to see bald eagles in every one of the lower 48 states, as well as Alaska. (When Jim and I visited Alaska many years ago the best place to see the eagles was at the town dump!). Closer to home for us, we've visited the eagles near Burnet and at Lake Buchanan. (Last Chance Forever brought out a young male that is being rehabilitated for release so we were able to get a very close view.)  Maybe next year we'll got to Emory, TX (billed as the Eagle Capital of Texas) for the 19th Annual Eagle Festival. To find eagles near where you live or are visiting, check out the Bald Eagle Viewing Directory

And it if you can't get a personal eagle fix, check out the webcams listed in Inside a Bald Eagle's Nest that offer readers the opportunity to view live and recorded footage from several sites. My favorite is probably the National Geographic camera that features highlights from the birds we met in the book.

Oh, and I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher, who hoped I would review it.

Monday, January 13, 2014

What's a Three-Letter Word for Bird Watcher?

Let me start by saying I should have written this article last month....December 2013 was the 100th anniversary of the crossword puzzle. I love doing crossword puzzles. For an indoor activity, nothing gives me more pleasure than being able to complete an entire puzzle without resorting to using the crossword dictionary. (My favorite is the New Comprehensive A-Z Crossword Dictionary but it hasn't been updated in 10 years so when my copy fell apart I bought The Million Word Crossword Dictionary. It's as good but the size of a small house.) 
Young Bald Eagle
Royal Tern

So what does this have to do with birding? As I've become more obsessed with adding birds to my life list, I've started noticing birds in crossword puzzle clues. Some are obvious and almost expected. A "coastal flyer" is almost always either erne or tern. I know what a tern is but don't think I've ever seen an erne. Turns out that another clue provides more information about the erne--it's a (4-letter word for) sea-eagle (or as a 3-letter word, ern). The word is not used very frequently and doesn't show up in The Sibley Guide to Birds (Note: the 2nd edition is coming out in March!), which probably explains why most of us have never heard the word used in real life. ( "Did you notice the magnificent erne in the nest out on the highway past Burnet?") Oh, an interesting bit of trivia...a group of Steller's Sea-Eagles are collectively known as a "constellation." Wait, a minute. Sea-eagles are any of the eight large fish-eating eagles so I have seen the Bald Eagle, meaning I have seen an erne.

Some birds can only be found in the puzzles. Big extinct bird (3 letters) is Moa, a flightless bird from New Zealand. Hunted to extinction by early Polynesian people, the bird was, apparently, very slow to mature. The Dodo, or feathered has-been (4 letters), was not really stupid and was considered so mainly because it was friendly, having no enemies on the island of Mauritius until pigs and dogs were brought there in 1851. 

Other birds to look for in crossword puzzles? These are just a few. Feel free to add more in the comments when you spot them in a puzzle.
  • Wading bird (egret, heron)
  • Bright bird (tanager)
  • Flightless bird (emu, dodo)
  • Game bird (grouse, pheasant, quail)
  • Bird of prey (falcon, kite, vulture)
  • Insect-eating bird (vireo, gnatcatcher)
  • Bird of peace (dove)
  • Aquatic bird (coot, grebe, cormorant)
  • Downy duck (eider)
  • Red breasted thrush (robin)
  • Talking bird (mynah and variants myna and minah; parrot)
  • Nocturnal bird (owl)

So, my question is: Does spotting birds in crossword clues count as birding? Maybe I could do a Big Year in crossword puzzles! How many species might I find? Time to pick up my pencil and go birding. Oh, and what is a three-letter word for bird watcher? Try cat.