Head on over to my bird blog www.feathersawry.wordpress.com to read about my work in bird conservation. Hear all about my summer's experience on Seal Island with the puffins, find out how I caught eight owls in one fell swoop, learn about my work resighting and banding tiny, jewel-like warblers. And you can be sure there's a lot more photography to go with it! Thanks for joining me on my adventures :)
I thought that, upon returning to civilization, it would be fascinating to be in DC during this tumultuous time, but also exciting: we were about to welcome our first female president to the stage, right?
Ha. Well, I don't know what to say about all that's happened and plenty of more politically-minded souls are absolutely (and rightfully so) taking up the airwaves. But seriously. What. The. Fuck. And furthermore: WTF my fellow white female Americans?!? I'm ashamed of my country and I'm ashamed that females are still not considering (or able to consider) themselves a worthy sex. Why else would they truly consider voting for such a hateful misogynist? If anyone really thinks he's going to or even capable of doing what he says he's going to do to "M.A.G.A." (I can't even write out the words, they make the bile rise in my throat), they're not just fooling themselves, they're setting a sad example of themselves as "Americans" and we're all going to suffer as a result.
I'm terrified for not just us, I'm scared for planet Earth. Americans have the biggest hand in ruining it and, now that we have a climate denier as our new "leader", we will likely find ourselves further sidestepping the responsibility that comes along with changing our future for the better. Nevermind jobs or healthcare! If our natural resources are destroyed without regard to our future generations thanks to the fact that we're the greediest of the greedy, we're going to have a whole lot more to worry about. The whole hindsight thing is going to catch up on us with a vengeance.
Here is a depressing piece I wrote in January of 2008, less than a month before I found myself biking around DC on an invigorating, fateful Inauguration Day. Oh we had it so good. Now almost eight years later, I'm feeling the bile rise.
Have a read!
Chaosbeyond: My Drug
Getting lost in a story is my drug of choice. My escape. What I am escaping is the world and how depressing it is. It is comforting to just lean back and enter another reality where the problems you are facing are not your own. In the story, they are fighting the bad guys, saving the world, becoming heroes. In real life, our fight seems hopeless and there is no end. What good am I here? We are all just a single number, lost among the billions. Every single one of us is no better, no worse than another but, of course no one person wants to give in to that truth. So either they step upon others to raise themselves or they become the stepped upon. And everyone loses because we are all so jaded. And meanwhile the world itself begins to crumble. And we're all so caught up in our own struggle to truly ever be able to come together and do anything about it. So what is my place in this mess? What is anyone's responsibility and how far does one's responsibility span? What if I just want to escape? Am I a bad person for shirking a supposed responsibility? I want to be happy. I want to support myself and not feel guilty for how I live my life. Feeling guilty, this is a big thing: GUILT.
Just by being born, just by living, I am adding to the destruction of the planet. We all are.
EVEN DAVID ATTENBOROUGH AGREES!! (..8 years later)
We begin marching to our own death as we emit our first exhalation. It starts small but then we learn that we are a middle class, white, american, and we buy our laptops and our ipods and cars, live in our overly air conditioned and heated homes and throw away our masses and masses of package waste. What would it look like if it followed us, if we had to step through it, drag it, wear it? Would we try harder to make sure it never even began? Every girl and boy comes to a point in their live where they are capable of the realization of their detrimental contribution to the earth and they can either do something about it or ignore it. Either way, so much has already been done. Every day, think about how many children are being born. Think about how each and every one of us is another bullet through the earth's heart.
I need to go get lost again. In the woods, in a story, anywhere but here.
Sorry to be so heavy, I'm just feeling pretty lost right now. If you want a pick-me-up, head over to my blog at www.feathersawry.wordpress.com for adorable pictures of baby birds to get your mind off things. This little tern chick can help get you there, just click on the pic but don't wake him up!
They thrive in our cities, taking over the sidewalks and filling the trees, these hardy species will do anything for a crumb or two to subsist among the human masses.
The house sparrows are like communal, rampant mice. They'll congregate along sidewalks to pull apart an errant piece of hamburger bun. They'll hop around tables on restaurant patios. I've even had one land on my laptop computer screen as I worked. But my favorite is the dust bath parties. In the shallow piles of dirt in back alleys or curbsides, these feisty little critters jiggle together in the dust, wings splayed, feathers every which direction, almost vibrate until there's a little depression caused by a jiggling bird body. This, along with frequent preening gets rid of feather mites and parasites. And they're a little picky about their spot, fighting off an intruder or hopping in to scare another bird off its spot.
They're very social creatures: never alone, always cheeping in touch. Their various calls all signify something different, as in, you can separate when they're content, agitated or alarmed. Their interactions include begging and feeding, chasing off other birds (although their comrades are all bigger so they end up being the chasers) and each other, and then there is the constant search for food.
While you're in the city, you won't even have to keep an eye out for these prolific birds. Constantly cheeping, and trolling alleys, sidewalks and park greens for those tossed-aside niblets, they occupy human territory with ease.
And keep an eye out for albinism; so far this summer I've seen a full albino sparrow and another with a pair of pure white tail feathers. Very cool.
Starlings are famous for their murmurations. If you haven't heard of this phenomenon, check this out. These also beautiful for their plumage, which reflects glossy blue-green and whites changes with the seasons. These birds are characters, highly vocal, with a variation in calls and mimics such that you may be fooled into thinking it's something mechanical that's having issues. You might have come across a roost tree, where the birds gather for the night. Before bed, the entire tree is alive with squeeks, buzzes, alarm calls, trills, alarm calls and whistles.
They're an exotic invasive species, it's true. This means they came from elsewhere, Europe in this case, and they're invading ecosystems, often to the detriment of the native species there. The story is that they were brought over from Europe in 1890 by a man named Eugene Scheiffelin who aspired to bring every bird mentioned in Shakespere's works to America. Starlings are highly gregarious and can live in forests as well as cities, so they fit right in as cities grew up around them. Unfortunately for the more timid native cavity nesting species, this prolific outpouring of starlings--which also dwell in cavities-- meant competition for species including bluebirds and woodpeckers.
Also in the cities are the ever-present pigeon--rock dove..rock pigeon--whatever they're calling it these days. Coming in an array of color combinations, these fat birds are getting fatter along city sidewalks. Taking wing at the absolute, very last minute, you may have very well tripped on one already. With an inflatable neck pouch, the male will inflate the thing and follow a disinterested female around, pushing his breast right upon her til she gets sick of it all and flies away. You've probably heard the low cooing emitting from the eaves of a rowhouse or the top of the Dupont Circle fountain. These fat birds with their varied color forms and herd behavior can attract a lot of attention with those loudly flapping wings. Urban raptors find them to be a hearty meal on wings. Some may think they're ratty, but these birds are a big part of this urban ecosystem that we call home.
Next up, we have the northern mockingbird. They always seem a little grubbier to me in the city but maybe that's just my imagination. These light grey birds belie their species by way of simply flying away: Look for the auspicious white wing patches and tail feathers on this slender bird. These guys are mostly solitary and are mimics. They love to sing at night in the summertime, it's kind of soothing if you like to hear fake car alarms and garage door openers emitting from a thick, leafy tree. They'll also mimic birds, I've heard blue jay, red shouldered hawk, cardinal, carolina wren and more. If you're lucky, you might see a strange bit of behavior this bird takes part in: the wing flash. They'll walk along, upright on the ground and quickly splay their wings just once, take a few steps and then flash them again and again..this has been said to flush insects, but it looks like they're just making a show to the world about how cool they are. Which, they are.
On the wilder side, you have the chimney swifts. If you keep an ear pricked for twitterings above your head, particularly in the spring when they return from their southern wintering grounds, you might have a fleeting view of these aerial wizards. On the wing throughout the entire day, these swifts dip and tumble through the air, weaving amongst one another, all a'twitter. Chimney Swifts hardly land. They are part of the family apodiform which means "no feet". While they do have feet, they don't use them often! At night they swoop down into a chimney to bed down, shoulder to shoulder in the safety of the shelter the chimney provides.
While I haven’t viewed this particular species of swifts in their nightly descent into the depths of a chimney stack, I have had the privilege of viewing the same feat conducted by vaux’s swifts in Oregon, tumbling en mass into the tall, brick chimney stack on top of the journalism building where I got my master’s.
The gray catbird is one I look forward to in the spring, when they return from their southerly wintering grounds. Related to mockingbirds, their song is a stilted diversity of calls and partial mimicry and the occasional raspy “raughh!” reminiscent of an irate kitty, explaining their name. Catbirds sport a stately shade of dark gray with a black cap and--you gotta look for it--a rufous underrump. Fruitivores, these birds eat berries. I’ve had success leaving out a dish of natural jam for this jaunty bird to investigate and enjoy a sweet snack to my nerdy delight.
So, contrary to the popular belief that the first sight of an American Robin indicates the harbinging (harbinging?) of spring, they’re actually found in the city all year. They'll occupy lawns and gardens throughout the winter. Nevertheless, their song does welcome the warmer months as they begin to pair up to nest. Crisp clear notes tumble over one another as this bird sings from the higher branches alongside the sidewalks. Their rush-and-stop foraging behavior can be seen as you walk by a particularly nicely landscaped garden, patch of mulch or any lawn they might find. Grubs and worms are their food of choice in the summertime and fruit in the fall and winter.
The ubiquitous crow. Always up to something. They're not looked upon fondly by other birds, particularly when they're flying off with an egg in their maw. It may surprise you to know that the crows you'll happen across in the city are different than those you might see more often in suburbia. With their almost pitiful "gah", fish crows, which occur all over the city, don't have the powerful "CAW!" of their cousin the American crow. Now that we're reaching the end of the summer, look for the birds collecting in large flocks, a river of birds, heading to a huge communal roost.
There are yet more birds that we can find around the city: canada geese, osprey, gulls and cormorants around the tidal basin, downy woodpeckers forage above the sidewalks in trees, including the middle of downtown. Occasionally you'll hear a bluejay or cardinal. I saw a nesting pair of kingbirds on the corner of the National Mall and chipping sparrows love the grassy expanses it offers. In the urban raptor side of town, there were bald eagles nesting in three locations around the city this spring including a pair that successfully reared a brood above the azaleas at the National Arboretum. A young red tailed hawk kept watch from the white house windowsills this summer. Read more about my take on the urban raptor experience here.
Birds in the city are often overlooked (unless you're ducking as a flock of pigeons hurtle toward you) but they really can give you a sense of the tenacity of nature. Humans have created an unnatural ecosystem and certain birds have adapted and survived. They may be grimy, but that's not their fault. They're also beautiful, their plumage, their flight, their songs, we're lucky to have them here. Some may think we'd be better off without them, but if that were the case, I'm sure I wouldn't be the only one to notice.
To learn more about Maryland and DC birds, visit www.birdforum.net
There's something about the tilt of the light, the breeze that transcends the swampy humidity, the worn leaves after a summer's worth of hungry insect.
I don't want to speak too soon, I'm not saying there won't be more days of swampiness, but my how the months charge on, the next season always right around the corner.
Keep an eye on the swallows, the chimney swifts, my above-city friends. Enjoy them before the leave..enjoy the season before it's gone!
There’s a feeling like we're on the cusp of a new beginning. Life is perking up with the onset of the growing season: snowdrops are emerging, forsythia buds are popping and crocuses bring small bursts of color to an otherwise colorless landscape.
The birdlife is changing too, returned from southerly regions: grackles cackle from the tops of trees, cormorants wing low over the tidal basin, and phoebes harken spring from within the leafless forest. It’s early yet, but we’ve already got a pair of bald eagles tending their new hatchlings above the National Arboretum’s azalea grove for the first time since 1947.
Soon many more nests will fill with tiny songbird eggs and before we know it the forest will ring with the cry of fledglings, rasping after their parents. It all happens fast, spring, the buds are growing to burst and soon we’ll be engulfed in flowers. The cherry trees that encircle the tidal basin erupt in blossoms in early April, attracting tourists from all over the world.
As the petals pass their peak, the leaves push through leaves immediately follow in a delicately gleaming shade of green unlike any other. The cover that this curtain of green provides provides the returning warblers and other songbirds with cover and the warming weather brings out insects, to provide a meal among the branches for the feathered folk.
So as we ready ourselves for the ephemeral growing season that is spring, let’s remember to keep our eyes to the trees (and flowers). Irregardless of whether you live in the city or the countryside, there’s definitely something to be seen. But don’t miss it because, before you know it, it will be too late!
While all of this is a work in progress, I invite those if you who don't know about it already to visit my other www.birdsalongtheway.com for some more bird-centric pieces including information on hummingbirds and other feathered backyard visitors. You'll also find photos and and escapades in nature as well as some interesting information on puffins, which I worked with for two summers off the coast of Maine.
With these two websites I have a lot on my hands with the issue of keeping them separate but equally interesting. From now on my intention is to try and keep my bird news on www.birdsalongtheway.com and my environmental news here on staceymhollis.com.
Since I'm such a bird nerd, the birdiness may overlap a bit but I'll try and keep some semblance of order between the two. At least that's what I'll strive for. Thanks for your patience and I hope you'll check into both sites as I smooth out the framework.
Thanks for reading and please leave comments whether they be questions or suggestions, all are welcomed.
These pesticides are rampant and could affect more than just the birds and the bees.
So you might have heard of neonicotinoids (a.k.a neonics), a virulent pesticide that, while meant to take care of all manner of agricultural pests, wreaks havoc on other organisms as well. What's good is that a lineup of environmental news organizations is taking note of this new bane on the existence of not only pollinating insects but quite possibly birds and other wildlife.
When plants and seeds are treated with these strong chemicals, they make the entire plant toxic, including pollen and nectar, both of which are an important food source for insects and birds (think of tiny, fast-metabolism hummingbirds). And neonicotinoid treatment isn't just subjected to agricultural plants, they're also found in the kinds of plants you might pick up at the local nursery for your garden.
Where have we seen the greatest detriment to living organisms? Well, just think of the massive bee die-offs that have plagued several areas in the recent past. These important pollinators, while not targeted by applicators of these pesticides, have nonetheless seen unsettling declines. Despite this, the pesticides are continued to be used in our country, while the United Nations have already banned them.
It doesn't seem like the U.S. will do much about neonics in the near future thanks to some riled up agriculturalists and big corporations who only see the benefits of these harsh chemicals. Nonetheless, the issue has arisen on the hill, President Obama has issued a task force with the EPA to look into what detrimental effects these chemicals have on the environment. If determined as too high a risk, that would mean the 90% of all corn crops in the U.S. treated with these pesticides will have to find a safer alternative.
What we hope is that research into neonics will undeniably prove these chemicals to be bad for living species and the environment. Furthermore, neonics are known to enter the environment; they don't stay where they're applied. Perhaps if we can trace the chemicals in our water systems, the issue may become more urgent. If we don't care enough to make a difference because wildlife and the environment are impacted, we might when humans are affected. Who knows. But however it may happen, the sooner these pesticides are banned, the better.
En una vida arboreal, la vista es más grande que abajo.
Era un ardilla que tenia muchos años. Él ha visto la vida en cada color, cada emoción. Conocia el miedo cuando los halcones estan cazaban y la felicidad en viendo las nuevas generaciónes después de él.
Ahora, él tuvo muchos parientes, lejanos y cercanos. Unos que se fueron con los halcones y otros que crecieron y tuvieron sus propias familias.
Un dia la ahijada de él vino con una pregunta:
“Papi, por qué vivimos en los árboles?”
“Tu no lo ves, querida?”
“No,” dijo ella.
“Bueno. Lo que necesitas hacer es pasear un dia abajo y tomar apuntes. Vas a ver por que vivimos arriba.”
Ella fue por los ramas hasta el tronco del arbol y fue abajo al suelo. Allí, ella miro a su alredador. Inmediamente, encontró unos nueces que cayeron desde del árbol de su familia. “Son más faciles de comer que arriba entre las hojas,” ella dijo, comiendo los maduros.
Ella exploró por los arbustos y, de repente, vio un gato grande que paso con un gruñido. Aqui ella encontró una gran razón para vivir arriba en su árbol.
Pero eso no era suficiente, pensó ella. Ya sabía del peligro de evitar depredadores. Esto es en cada lugar, es parte de la vida de ser un mamífero pequeño. Elle quería encontrar algo espectacular para contar la razón de vivir en los ramas.
Pasó el tiempo y ella exploró el area, encontrando piedras, lombrices y hierbas deliciosas. Despues de unas horas, se aburrió y, por una razón desconocida para ella, triste. Ella pensó en esto y, mirando alredador, se dio cuenta del por qué. Todo el bosque era muy obscuro. La favorita cosa de ella era buscar las ramas mas altas para alcanzar la parte superior del árbol y disfrutar la vista del sol.
Quería subir el árbol de su niñez para no perder la puesta del sol esta noche. Ella subió para arriba y encontró su padrino.
“Papi, te echo de menos! Y yo he encontrado la razón por la que vivimos aqui. Vamos rapido!”
Arriba en la rama mas alta, se sentaron y miraron el puesto del sol con rayas tan brillante.
“Estoy agradecida de que vivimos aqui arriba, Papi.”
“Se nota,” dijo su padrino.
BSc in Biology & Environmental Studies (WWC)
MSc. in Journalism (UOregon)
You can find my published work in Eugene Weekly, Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife.