Do you have a voice in government?

I bet rarely would people respond that they feel well-represented in government. I know I’m not well-represented when I long for a revolution in renewable energy but one of my senators is the guy who thinks snowballs in winter refute anthropogenic global warming. I can’t count on that guy to represent my world view in Washington. That’s okay (well, not really), but he’s my senator not my puppet. It would be weird if he was in lockstep with me.

I’m into even wackier stuff, too.  I want to see aggressive campaigns to help slow human population growth.  While I’m a fan of economic strength, I’m not a fan of economic growth – I’d prefer a steady-state economy that operates within the confines of renewable natural resource availability. Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 10.23.00 AM

These are some seriously fringe ideas and, even though they are grounded in science, I don’t expect these mantles to be taken up by my senators or representatives, let alone for any such directives to be developed in my lifetime. That’s okay though – we live in a pluralistic society in which majority opinions are generally enacted.  I’m used to not getting my way.


For some people, however, the “not getting their way” extends beyond science based policy ideas to basic, every day life in America.  That’s harder to swallow for a lot of folks. At its extreme, imagine those millions of Americans who seceded from the Union and bled on the battlefields to, at least in part, preserve the institution of slavery in this country. When Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, the American way of life was forever changed. Those people wanted to “take their country back” but they couldn’t. It had irreparably changed. Imagine the resentment of seeing freed former slaves by those who lost loved ones and limbs to keep slavery legal.  For decades following the Civil War, veterans of the Confederacy and their families longed for things to go back to the way they were.

How_long_must_women_waitIn 1920, women finally earned the right to vote.  The 19th Amendment was the culmination of a 100-year political battle for women’s suffrage.  Did the opposition go down quietly? People vigorously and passionately argued against women’s suffrage right up to the end.  Do you think they wanted to “take their country back” after the 19th Amendment passed?  You bet they did.  But there would be no going back.  Those in opposition  spent their remaining years feeling rejected by the country they loved. They thought the country had taken a wrong turn. They figured that this once great nation was on a downward slide toward anarchy and oblivion.

Sound familiar?

What happens when you don’t feel represented in government for your pet policy ideas like energy or tax policy or the Syrian refugee crisis? Feeling like you lack that voice is frustrating for sure, but we all experience that. But compound that with a more in-your-face, society passing you by lack of a voice?  Wow, that must be maddening.

If the voice you want to have heard, however, is one that prefers a world in which women can’t vote and whites can own slaves, then screw you.  I don’t care if your voice isn’t being heard because what you have to say is idiotic.  That voice doesn’t deserve to be heard in 2016 and I bet nearly 100% of Americans would agree with me about that. (Nearly.)

FT_16_04.25_generations2050Slavery and suffrage are low-hanging fruit, however.  What other progress has been made that remains resented by millions of Americans? Think about the generations before you consider this question. Much has been made recently about the rise of the Millennials.  They’re now a bigger demographic group than the Baby Boomers.  But those Baby Boomers still number almost 75 million people.  Before them it’s the Silent Generation at almost 28 million, and there are still some of those Greatest Generation folks around, too.  In other words, there are well over 100 million people in this country born before 1964, when the Civil Rights Act (at least on paper) ended segregation and created equal employment opportunities.  So that’s a substantial chunk of 100 million voters who, in 1964, got a big ol’ pie in the face on an issue they cared deeply about, and they’ve resented ever since.

We’ve made great strides since 1964 on civil rights, women in the workforce, and more recently, for gay folks to not only come out of the closet but to actually get married.  Every one of these advances will in 100 years be considered as basic and obvious as women’s suffrage does to us today. As Martin Luther King exclaimed in 1967, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” But for the tens of millions who are on the backside of history , every time they see an interracial couple or a woman driven more by her own career than by a commitment to be a husband’s domestic servant or two men holding hands in public, they feel a punch in the gut to the America they thought they knew.

This is the kind of disenfranchisement that runs just below the surface of our presidential campaign in 2016 and occasionally bubbles to the surface in a racist comment or misogynistic attitude.  Like slavery and suffrage, however, you don’t deserve to have a voice in representing attitudes that deny freedoms to your fellow Americans.  We can talk trade deals and immigration reform and energy policy and our approach to ISIS and the National debt, but we are not going back on policy advances that protect and promote the equal rights under the law of all Americans. Get over it.  Get over yourself, and let’s move forward.







Posted in life | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Birding Community E-Bulletin, July 2016

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 5.20.01 PM

The Birding Community E-bulletin is distributed to active and concerned birders, those dedicated to the joys of birding and the protection of birds and their habitats.

This issue is sponsored by the producers of superb quality birding binoculars and scopes, Carl Zeiss Sport Optics:

You can access an archive of past E-bulletins on the website of the National Wildlife Refuge Association (NWRA):

Birding Community E-Bulletin


Over the Memorial Day weekend, Dave Stejskal and his wife were camping with some non-birding friends at remote Aliso Springs in the northeast corner of the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson, Arizona. It was there that he found an interesting Empidonax flycatcher at the campground, a bird giving a soft ‘whip’ note. He initially thought it might be a late-migrating Dusky Flycatcher, but his photos and sound recording did not seem quite right.

Once he got home he investigated further, then made another visit to the site with birding colleagues to see if the bird could possibly be the first Pine Flycatcher ever found in the U.S. And, indeed, it was!

The Pine Flycatcher is in the genus Empidonax and is normally found in the montane tropical and subtropical coniferous forests and associated clearings from northeast Mexico through southwestern Guatemala. The species has long been anticipated as a potential vagrant that could occur in the U.S. in the right habitat anywhere along the border from Texas through Arizona. A major difficulty in discovering this bird in the U.S. is differentiating it from other Empidonax flycatchers.

In this instance, an added difficulty for interested birders hoping to see the flycatcher was getting to remote Aliso Springs, a high-clearance vehicle with four-wheel drive being a necessity and involving about a ten-mile rough, and sometimes steep, drive from well-known Gardner Canyon Road.

For those intrepid birders willing and able to make the trip, the Pine Flycatcher remained through June. The bird even built a nest, and was regularly seen sitting on it by visiting birders. You can see Dave Stejskal’s original eBird submission with his photos and a sound recording here:


While on the subject of Mexican-based birds occurring in the U.S., this is a good time to revisit a success story pertaining to the Texas-Mexico border. It is the successful reestablishment of the Aplomado Falcon.

Once a nesting species in grassland habitat along the border, the Aplomado Falcon was considered extirpated in the U.S. by the late 1950s. Raptor experts at The Peregrine Fund began experimental releases of these stunning falcons on Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in Los Fresnos, Texas, starting in 1985.Since then more than 1,500 young Aplomado Falcons have been released in South Texas. There have also been experimental releases in New Mexico.

According to Peregrine Fund biologists Paul Juergens and Brian Mutch, the 2016 nesting season has produced some of the highest number of territorial pairs and individual falcons to date along the South Texas coastal landscape. A total of 37 territorial pairs and 93 individual falcons were documented this year. This is approaching the target of 60 self-sustaining pairs, the goal needed to down list the species from Endangered to Threatened.

Wind farms and local development may become new threats, but it is comforting to realize that this lovely falcon has essentially been restored to its former South Texas range.

You can read a short summary on the bird’s current status from the USFWS here:


A new study published in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases has documented evidence of “widespread contamination of habitat” in Hawaii caused by feral cats. This latest research has important implications for the endangered Hawaiian Goose (Nene) and other animals found throughout the Hawaiian Islands.
Continue reading

Posted in life | Leave a comment

Center for Conservation Biology newsletter

Bald Eagles are doing great in Virginia, and so are Peregrine Falcons along the coast.  Should they be?

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 5.16.31 PM Conservation Cornerstones, The Center for Conservation Biology e-Newsletter
e-Newsletter Apr – Jun 2016                Center for Conservation Biology Facebook page  Center for Conservation Biology Google+    Center for Conservation Biology Twitter

Virginia bald eagle breeding population exceeds 1,000 pairs
The Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary and Virginia Commonwealth University has compiled 2016 survey results for the Virginia bald eagle population. After more than 160 hours of aerial surveys, ground efforts in residential areas of lower Tidewater, and observations from inland volunteers, the survey… Read more…

Conservation in conflict: peregrines and shorebirds in the mid-Atlantic
The outer coast of the mid-Atlantic region has become an important site for the conservation of both breeding peregrine falcons and migratory shorebirds. The region is a terminal, spring staging area where several shorebird species stop for an extended stay to build fat reserves for their final flight to arctic breeding grounds. The region has served this… Read more…
Continue reading

Posted in life | Leave a comment

HBW #25 – Handbook of the Birds of the World

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 5.02.04 PM

The latest HBW newsletter is now available!  Included is a link to the recently updated and redesigned Internet Bird Collection of photos, videos, and sound recordings.

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 5.03.49 PM

Features and news highlights:

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 5.05.59 PMScreen Shot 2016-07-13 at 5.05.19 PMScreen Shot 2016-07-13 at 5.06.15 PM



Posted in life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Black lives really do matter

Words mean stuff.

When white people hear “black lives matter”, many are distracted by the word black, and it leads them down the path of “Hey, ALL lives matter! Why are you singling out black people to receive special treatment?”

If this is what you think when you hear that phrase, then you have misunderstood the intent. The intent – and the part that resonates with most black people – is not the word black, but the word matter. “Black lives matter.”

Don’t feel bad. So much misunderstanding since the movement took hold could have been avoided had the message been better conveyed by simply adding the word too: “Black lives matter too.”

Also. As well. In addition to the lives of white people. As much as the lives of any other people.

The point is not to seek special treatment. The point is simply that black people want to feel as safe as white people do when police officers are around.

If that last bit sounds odd to you – i.e., black people don’t feel safe around cops – then congratulations! You enjoy what’s called white privilege. White privilege does not mean that anything special has been handed to you or you have plenty of money or your life has been easy. It simply means that you can go walking around in a city park, see a police officer on patrol, and breathe a sigh of relief that in that moment you are well protected from the bad guys.

That’s certainly how this white guy feels when he encounters cops on patrol. I’m happy to see them and they make me feel safe.

This is not the reality – or at the very least the perception – of millions of black people in America today. For many, the sight of a police officer causes stress and fear that you might be mistaken for a bad guy, questioned, detained, and – if you say or do the wrong thing – end up dead. Such an outcome would never cross my mind because I have the privilege of officers seeing me and assuming that I’m a good guy.

So imagine that you’ve heard story after story of people who look like you being misjudged and mishandled by police.  Never in my life has someone communicated a story to me that police had it in for people who looked like me.  Imagine how stressful it must be to go through life in a crime-ridden neighborhood, worried every day that a stray bullet will take you out or that your teenage son will be forced into one of the gangs that sprays those bullets.  When you call the cops, they don’t come. Imagine that you not only don’t trust the police, you fear them.  Then imagine reading about Trayvon, Tamir, Michael, Alton, Philando . . .

At some point, you find yourself crying out “Don’t we matter?” “Don’t our lives matter?”

That’s what the movement is about.  People – your fellow Americans – wanting no more than to feel safe in their own communities.You might not agree with some of the rhetoric or the tactics that their activists have used, but at least understand the words that inspire those activists: black lives matter.

Posted in life | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Birding a slice across the Emerald Isle

Well, it’s not really birding.  It was more like paying attention to what birds were around while sightseeing, but it was enough to help me compile a list of 56 species (including 16 lifers!) during the last week of June in the Republic of Ireland. As trips of occasional birding whilst exploring a beautiful land go, this one was terrific.

Screen Shot 2016-07-02 at 9.15.18 AM

It’s difficult to look over your shoulder instead of out to sea when at the Kerry Cliffs,  but there is a reward for doing so.

I don’t need to convince anyone to come to Ireland for a good time.  Whether it’s castles or coastlines, history or hospitality, or just the search for great craic in a rustic old pub, we Americans at least are well aware that wonders await us in verdant glens of the idealized Eire. Such was the case for us, and Ireland wouldn’t be a top choice for me to visit just to go birding. But while there, I was happy to make the most out of any chance to get better acquainted with the local avifauna.

Late June turned out to be a great time to visit Ireland. Birds were singing lustily and/or feeding their noisy fledglings. The days were long, with sunrise before 5:00 and darkness not really settling in ’til about 10:30.  Despite the potential for heat to build with such extensive daylight, I don’t think we climbed above 65F on any day of our week on the ground there. So many places abuse the saying “If you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute” but in Ireland conditions really do change minute to minute. We had brilliant sunshine alternating with soft rains – and every beautiful cloud formation in between – every day.  Looking for rainbows?  You’ll find them here.

Following along on the map below, we began our sojourn in Dublin (1) and then explored a number of locations just north in County Meath (2). From there we headed southwest to County Kerry with stops at the Kerry Cliffs (3) and Torc Waterfall (4) in Killarney National Park. We headed back east along the southern coast with a stop in Ardmore (5), and then north back to Dublin via Enniscorthy and Avoca (6).

Ireland-June 2016.jpg

Dublin isn’t renown for its birding, but St. Stephen’s Green is a lovely, lush, and verdant playground in the heart of the city.  My checklist looked like this,

Mute Swan  1
Mallard (Domestic type)  12
Tufted Duck  6
Eurasian Coot  1
Herring Gull  22
Lesser Black-backed Gull  8
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  30
Common Wood-Pigeon  2
Eurasian Magpie  1
Eurasian Blue Tit  3
European Robin  2
Common Chaffinch  1

but its brevity belies the fact that it was raining quite hard while we were there, and I only had about 20 minutes to poke around.  There was more to be seen, but this was an example of having to wait a few hours instead of a few minutes for the weather to change. Nonetheless, it was fun to get up close and personal with wood-pigeon and Lesser Black-backed Gull, and see the Tufted Ducks on the same pond where I found this species 18 years ago on my first visit.


From Dublin we traveled north into County Meath to visit with friends and for some rambling about Trim Castle, Bective Abbey, and Newgrange. The latter is the only place I managed to put together an eBird checklist:

Newgrange Visitor Centre, Meath, Leinster, IE
Jun 26, 2016 2:30 PM – 4:00 PM

Common Wood-Pigeon  1
Rook  3
Bank Swallow  2
Eurasian Blue Tit  1
Eurasian Wren  1
Willow Warbler  1
Common Chiffchaff  1
Eurasian Blackcap  2
Eurasian Blackbird  3

Newgrange passage tomb, Meath, Leinster, IE
Jun 26, 2016 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM

Common Wood-Pigeon  1
Eurasian Jackdaw  2
Rook  3
Hooded Crow  1
Barn Swallow  6
Eurasian Wren  2
Eurasian Blackbird  3
Eurasian Linnet  5
House Sparrow  2


The afternoon drive across the country from Meath to Kerry was facilitated by the many hours of daylight. As tired as I was, it would’ve been much worse to have completed that drive in the dark. Our full Irish breakfast got us going the next day, however, and we jostled among tourists, buses, and cyclists around the Ring of Kerry. The crowds a nuisance, but it was easy to find delightful little towns to explore along the way where the pace was decidedly slower and the tour buses dared not follow on the narrow roads.

My birding goal for this part of the country was to make it to the coast, find some cliffs, and look for Red-billed Chough – an odd-looking crow that frequents sea cliffs and mountain hideaways. To do that, I checked for the most recent reports of Chough on eBird, and they pointed us to the Kerry Cliffs.  In addition to offering incredible views of the UNESCO World Heritage Skellig Islands, the small crowds and wild terrain made for some great birding. It took a while, but we did find the Choughs!

Kerry Cliffs, Kerry, Munster, IE
Jun 27, 2016 11:50 AM – 1:20 PM
Protocol: Traveling
1.0 mile(s)
14 species

Northern Fulmar  41     Fulmars visible nesting on the cliffs from the walk.
Northern Gannet  4
European Shag  4
Herring Gull  10
Lesser Black-backed Gull  6
Great Black-backed Gull  2
Red-billed Chough  3     Tough to find (and, obviously, to photograph). These were on the left wing of the cliff walk.
Hooded Crow  2
Sky Lark  2
Barn Swallow  1
Northern Wheatear  2
European Starling  3
White Wagtail  4
Meadow Pipit  4


Away from the coast, we headed back through mountains and fields into Killarney National Park. During the height of tourist season, this really was a bit too crowded for my tastes, but we found some isolation along the way and on up above Torc Waterfall.

Killarney NP–Torc Mountain, Kerry, Munster, IE
Jun 27, 2016 6:15 PM – 7:05 PM
Protocol: Traveling
0.25 mile(s)
7 species

Rook  1
Hooded Crow  2
Coal Tit  1
Eurasian Wren  1
Goldcrest  1
European Robin  1
Eurasian Blackbird  1

The next morning brought us to Blarney for some real tourist action, but the grounds of the famous castle really are to be explored at a leisurely pace.  Alas, I kept no bird list there (raining a bit hard for much of that time) but it was really lovely.

Continuing along the southern coast to Waterford County, we spent the next evening in the lovely seaside village of Ardmore. Here we enjoyed some of the freshest fish ever, met a wonderful beach dog, chatted with some young hurlers, and followed St. Declan’s path along the cliffs until well after dark.  If you’re looking for the best full Irish breakfast in the Republic of Ireland, you’ll find it at Duncrone B&B in Ardmore!

Ardmore, Waterford, Munster, IE
Jun 28, 2016 8:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Protocol: Traveling
0.25 mile(s)
Comments:     Downtown and along the beach in Ardmore
12 species

Black-headed Gull  5
Mew Gull  1
Herring Gull  12
Sandwich Tern  5
Common Wood-Pigeon  3
Eurasian Collared-Dove  1
Common Swift  5
Eurasian Jackdaw  6
Hooded Crow  1
Barn Swallow  1
Common Chiffchaff  1
House Sparrow  1

Ardmore cliffs walk, Waterford, Munster, IE
Jun 28, 2016 9:15 PM – 10:45 PM
Protocol: Traveling
3.0 mile(s)
18 species

Ring-necked Pheasant  1
Northern Gannet  2
Common Murre  1
Black-legged Kittiwake  40
Mew Gull  2
Herring Gull  26
Great Black-backed Gull  2
Common Wood-Pigeon  2
Common Raven  2
Sky Lark  1
Barn Swallow  21
Common House-Martin  12
Eurasian Wren  2
Goldcrest  1
Common Chiffchaff  1
European Stonechat  1
Dunnock  1
Meadow Pipit  11



From Ardmore, we headed north through Enniscorthy on our way to Wicklow and The Meetings of the Waters in Avoca. We found Red Kites by surprise in Avoca! View from Vinegar Hill, Enniscorthy:

The Meetings of the Waters, Wicklow, Leinster, IE
Jun 29, 2016 8:00 PM – 8:30 PM
Protocol: Stationary
8 species

Gray Heron  1
Common Wood-Pigeon  1
Hooded Crow  1
Bank Swallow  12
Barn Swallow  4
Eurasian Blackbird  1
Gray Wagtail  2
Common Chaffinch  1

Screen Shot 2016-07-03 at 1.40.54 PM

Grey Wagtails were entertaining but surprisingly difficult to photograph.

The Meetings of the Waters, Wicklow, Leinster, IE
Jun 30, 2016 8:45 AM – 10:15 AM
Protocol: Traveling
0.25 mile(s)
14 species

Ring-necked Pheasant  1
Common Wood-Pigeon  2
Eurasian Jackdaw  1
Rook  1
Hooded Crow  4
Barn Swallow  2
Eurasian Blue Tit  3
Great Tit  4
Eurasian Wren  2     feeding fledgling
White-throated Dipper  2
Spotted Flycatcher  1
Eurasian Blackbird  1
Gray Wagtail  2
White Wagtail  2

At last, this bird brought us home. ‘Twas a week that went by far too quickly and, like just about everything I see and do in Ireland, I’m left wanting to do it again. We will return. Slan, for now!

Screen Shot 2016-07-03 at 1.44.55 PM

Posted in life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Birdwatch Ireland eWings #80


Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 8.47.17 AM

Welcome to the May 2016 issue of eWings, BirdWatch Ireland’s email newsletter.

Ireland’s hedgerows don’t get the respect that they deserve. One of our most important wildlife habitats, not to mention a stunning visual feature of our countryside, for many foreign visitors they are THE defining feature of the Irish landscape. Shamefully, despite this, they are all too often hacked and/or burned during the summer months. The consequences for nesting birds are clear to see, but perhaps less obvious is the effect on Ireland’s dwindling insect-life: the very same insects upon which we depend for the pollination of our crops and wildflowers.

Under the Wildlife Acts 1976-2010, hedge-cutting and scrub-burning is banned from 1st March to 31st August each year. However, a quick walk or drive almost anywhere in Ireland during the summer months reveals that this law is very poorly enforced indeed, and is all too often completely ignored.

This summer, BirdWatch Ireland is aiming to keep track of as much illegal hedgerow destruction as possible. We would ask our eWings readers to please notify us of any suspected illegal destruction of hedgerows or scrub by emailing the details (including the location and, if possible, some photographs) to us at

We also want to help showcase the beauty of Ireland’s hedgerows. Continue reading

Posted in life | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment