Yellow-breasted Chat display

The Waterthrush Blog

Growing up in New York, I longed to see and hear the Yellow-breasted Chat, a beautiful bird of southern thickets known more for its unusual song as its brilliant yellow-orange breast. While some chats can be found in New York, and even points farther north, their real stronghold is in the southeastern US. That’s where one can stand in one spot and be serenaded by several chats simultaneously.

I first got my chance with chats in the summer of 1990, when I found them near the southern tip of Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Chats on the Eastern Shore use woodland edge, old fields, and shrubby wax myrtle thickets for breeding, sometimes right up to the edge of the salt marsh. My first chat I only heard: these birds are usually very difficult to see despite their bright colors. Their song, however, is distinctive. It starts like the call of a Fish…

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tuliptree in flower

The Waterthrush Blog

You may be familiar with Liriodendron tulipifera, the “tulip-bearing lily tree” commonly called tuliptree, tulip poplar, yellow poplar, or canoetree. I never knew this tree from the beech-maple-hemlock forests of my upstate NY youth, but came to appreciate it years later as a spectacular member of humid forests in the Southeast and the central Appalachians. Why spectacular? Tuliptrees, for one, can get huge: in mature forests, specimens over 100 feet tall are common, and they might make 200 feet if left alone for long enough. The trunks on these big trees are massive as well, and they tend to be branchless for a good distance up. Their shiny green leaves are also vaguely shaped like a tulip, so the tree is easy to recognize during the growing season. They have persistent, big fruiting bodies that adorn the tree in winter, making it easy to recognize then as well. But…

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weekly haiku – the kids’ first one

The Waterthrush Blog

Katie likes kitties.

They wrote this haiku themselves.

James is a doggie.

(Not particularly inspired we know, but they were both dressed as these respective pets when they wrote it.)

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Audubon’s The Birds of America at the University of Michigan

Since touring the natural history collections at the University of Michigan a few years ago, I have included an abridged version of this tale in my classes when trying to impress upon them the significance of John James Audubon and his The Birds of America. Here is a far more intricate re-telling by James Tobin writing for The Heritage Project at the University of Michigan.

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John Syme’s 1826 portrait of John James Audubon.

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Detail from Plate No. 25, “Black and Yellow Warbler”, i.e., Magnolia Warbler.

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Where we wouldn’t put wind turbines

Speaking of turbines (and again, nine years ago), where *wouldn’t* we put them?

The Waterthrush Blog

Let’s just say for the sake of argument that wind power actually was as “green” as developers and lobbyists would have us believe – a big stretch, but bear with me. It would make good energy sense to erect towers and transmission lines anywhere we had favorable winds, right? But I suspect there would be some examples of places that – again for the sake of argument – were windy enough for development to make sense, but were otherwise so important to us that we wouldn’t actually want the spot developed for wind power. Here are a few examples:

Ellis Island?

Fenway Park?

The Rose Bowl?

Arlington National Cemetery?

Gettysburg National Park?

Colonial Williamsburg?


Old Faithful?

Mount Rushmore?

Yosemite National Park?

The Hollywood sign?

Surely it’s only the truly deluded (or simply the biggest jerks) who would ever consider drastically altering the character and quality of these special places…

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The dark side of wind power

I was already fed up with wind farms in 2009.

The Waterthrush Blog

We can talk about numbers – more birds are killed by windows than anything else – so the number of birds killed by wind turbines is generally thought to be an acceptable amount of “collateral damage.” But what about seeing it as it happens? Is watching a majestic, soaring bird violently ripped from the air by the sweep of a wind turbine’s rotor blade enough to steer our national conversation on wind power toward greater attention in sustainability and the identification of absolute “no build” areas? See for yourself here.
Much credit is due billionaire T. Boone Pickens for his effort to promote wind power as an alternative energy strategy, but the simple fact is that the most productive areas for development frequently overlap areas of great importance to native wildlife. Michael Fry‘s opinion piece in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times points out the problem well.

It’s time we started…

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The Wild Side newsletter – March 2018

The Wildlife Diversity Program of our Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation publishes a great little e-newsletter: The Wild Side.

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This month’s issue hearkens to the extraordinary ecosystem diversity our state packs into its relatively modest area: mixed-grass prairie, Ozark caves, old-growth pine savanna – it’s all here.  Check it out!

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Posted in bat conservation, bird banding, birding, birds/nature, Endangered Species Act, environment, evolution, life, migrants, population estimates, population monitoring, wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment