A death in the family

Onik Arian, 61, of Crescent City, California, a dedicated birder, member of the Conejo Valley Audubon Society, and emergency room physician at Sutter Coast Hospital, died on December 16 while participating in the Del Norte County Christmas Bird Count. Arian was swept off a jetty during a break in the storms that have been hammering the Pacific Coast and died of head trauma. You can read the story here and here.

I don’t recall ever meeting Dr. Arian, but any birder’s passing is like losing a member of our extended family. His death is all the more tragic for occurring “in the line of duty.” My thoughts are with his relatives, friends, colleagues, and birding companions.

Thanks to John Trapp at Birds Etcetera for sharing this sad news.

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The recycled birds of Jane Gillings

gillingsbskiAustralian artist Jane Gillings makes colorful, cartoonish, yet faithfully rendered birds from discarded plastic. Some samples are included with her artist profile for her exhibition at the NG Gallery (someone got a bit too creative with the page layout – you’ll have to scroll  way over to the right to see the photos).

Thanks to Susan Lomuto at Daily Art Muse.

Helping hummingbirds through winter weather

With the usually temperate Pacific Northwest battered by fierce winter storms, there’s a lot of concern about how the resident Anna’s Hummingbirds are handling brutal temperatures and frozen feeders, and what their human hosts can do to help them survive.

One way to help is to use a slightly stronger feeder solution. Many people, myself included, have switched to a ratio of 3 parts water to 1 part sugar for all or most of the year. The sugar concentration (about 23% by weight) is closer to the average sugar content of hummingbird flower nectars (about 25%) than the standard 4:1 recipe (about 18%), and it has the advantage in winter of freezing a little more slowly.

It’s important not to go overboard, because more is not necessarily better. Sugar solutions sweeter than 3:1 can be syrupy enough to interfere with feeding efficiency, and this effect is magnified as temperatures plunge. There’s also the issue of dehydration, since nectar is a hummingbird’s main source of water (especially when everything else is frozen).

Even 3:1 will freeze if the temperatures dip low enough, but some winter hummingbird hosts have reduced the need for switching feeders by placing them next to a window (the more poorly insulated the better), inside an open shelter made of plywood, or under an outdoor-rated heat lamp.

If you make the switch to 3:1, you’ll need to adjust your expectations a bit. Since it contains more calories per drop than 4:1, your birds will not have to visit as often. It may look as though they’re avoiding the feeder when actually they’re just feeding more efficiently.

Related posts:

Keeping hummingbird feeders from freezing

When the going gets chilly, the chill get crafty

Rethinking winter hummingbirds

Keeping hummingbird feeders from freezing

Science is back, y’all!

From President-elect Obama’s weekly radio address:

From landing on the moon, to sequencing the human genome, to inventing the Internet, America has been the first to cross that new frontier because we had leaders who paved the way: leaders like President Kennedy, who inspired us to push the boundaries of the known world and achieve the impossible; leaders who not only invested in our scientists, but who respected the integrity of the scientific process.

Because the truth is that promoting science isn’t just about providing resources—it’s about protecting free and open inquiry. It’s about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology. It’s about listening to what our scientists have to say, even when it’s inconvenient—especially when it’s inconvenient. Because the highest purpose of science is the search for knowledge, truth and a greater understanding of the world around us.

Amen to that.

Good birders don’t wear white shoes after Labor Day…

I’ve been having fun the last couple of days designing custom items for the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory’s new gallery on Zazzle (a print-on-demand company similar to Cafe Press).  Zazzle offers a wide range of products to customize, including T-shirts, caps, tote bags, mugs, mousepads, notecards…and Keds shoes.

Shoes? I wasn’t expecting that, but after looking at a few examples created by other customers my brain began to churn. About an hour later I had designed this:

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Like ’em, ladies? You can have a pair of your very own, and proceeds will help SABO help birds. (Sorry, dudes, they’re only available in women’s sizes.)

I and the Bird #90 is up!

Jeff Gordon is hosting the latest edition of I and the Bird, with a seasonally appropriate theme: Christmas Count Tally Rally.

My first CBC of the season is Monday, in the beautiful and birdy Sulphur Springs Valley (Elfrida). Someone else will probably get assigned to the plum territory that includes Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area (with its Sandhill Cranes, waterfowl, Barn Owls, Vermilion Flycatchers, etc.), but roaming the back roads can be pretty productive (if not quite as heart-poundingly exciting as watching thousands of cranes spiral in for a landing).

Whether you’ll be trudging through ice and snow dressed like the Michelin Man or counting birds from a comfy chair, steaming mug in hand, thanks to everyone who contributes to the largest citizen science effort in history!