Sunday, December 3, 2017

Hallie on birding


NEWS! TIME OUT for tooting our horns!!
Rhys Bowen's Majesty's Frightfully Secret Service was named a best historical of 2017 by Overdrive Librarians and In Farleigh Field was named a best book of the year by Suspense Magazine.

Hallie Ephron's You'll Never Know, Dear was named a 2017 Best Audiobook by Audiofile Magazine.

HALLIE EPHRON: As many of you know, I'm a birder. I travel with binoculars and bird guide  (actually my husband carries the bird guide). 

When I was a stay-at-home mom (briefly) with my firstborn, I took a class on birding at our local Audubon sanctuary and got hooked. With the class, I took a trip to Plum Island (north of Boston) and there were snow geese, green heron, a ruby crowned kinglet...  I introduced my husband to birding and hooked him. 

The best thing about birding is birds are everywhere, and when you go to a new part of the world, you'll find birds you've never seen before. Always a thrill.

Jerry and I often travel just for the pleasure of seeing birds we've never seen before. Here are the top places we've been:



  • The Bosque del Apache, a national wildlife reserve in south of Albuquerque where snow geese and sandhill cranes winter by the thousands. There's no lodging in the reserve, so you have to drive down before before the sun rises. As day breaks, the snow geese rustle. They get louder and louder and then, as if a conductor has tapped his baton, they all rise in unison. They swoop back and forth, settle, rise and swoop a few more times. Finally they take off for nearby fields where they feed. After the snow geese leave, the sand hill cranes fly off in threes and fours. After a morning of birding, we head back toward Albuquerque and stop at the Owl Cafe for their green chile cheeseburger. And come back down at dusk to watch the birds return.




  • The Asa Wright Nature Center and Lodge in the mountains of Trinidad's Arima Valley. Its headquarters are in a house on a former cocoa-coffee-citrus plantation where they've set up spotting scopes on the veranda. We arrived and within twenty minutes had seen about thirty species we'd never seen before. We walked into the woods to find a bell bird, one of the weirdest of God's creations--just following the sound, like an anvil hitting metal, and there it was. There are more than a dozen species of hummingbird. Trogons (they bark). Nine kinds of tanager. Motmots. We went birding at night to see nightjars. And that barely scratches the surface.  (Photo from the Asa Wright web site)







  • Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula on the hot, humid southwest coast. We stayed in a nature reserve (now a hotel), inaccessible by car. Moments after we got there saw our first toucan and jacamar... and howler monkeys
  • And of course, there's no place like home. We have a birdbath in our backyard, and within the last month it's hosted a ton of sparrows plus titmice and song sparrows. We're waiting for the snowbirds (junco) to return, and of course cardinals are here year round. (Here's the screech owl that lives in the tree across the street from us and Canada geese that blight in our local cemetery.




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And here's what happens when a bird enthusiast encourages her book-collector husband to get with the program.

When you hike, are birds your thing? Or rocks, or wildlife, or flowers, or do you just walk for the sheer pleasure of being out of doors.


64 comments:

  1. Hallie, the pictures are absolutely magnificent. It does sound as if you’ve had some wonderful adventures . . . .
    While we enjoy seeing the birds [and flowers], mostly we walk just because it’s wonderful to be outside and we like to walk.

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  2. Great photos, Hallie.

    Many visitors come to southern Ontario since it is on the pathways of several bird migration routes.

    Although I love walking in nature, I am not a birder but I do enjoy seeing an egret or blue heron occasionally in Ottawa. Instead, I focus more on seeing the changing flora and fauna throughout the year.

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    1. I always wish I knew more about plants and flowers. There's something so satisfying about being able to name a thing.

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  3. I love watching the birds! For several years I participated in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Project Feederwatch, which is a great way to have fun doing real science. Back in those days I lived under a major flyway and watched scads of geese migrate through every year. The sandhills often stopped overnight at a river a few miles away, and three or four times I got to see the Whooping Cranes on their migration. More recently I sometimes get takeaway for breakfast, and pause to eat at a nearby park where I can mark the change in seasons by what's swimming around the lake. Right now, it's lots of coots and loons, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. This past Monday, however, I got a real thrill when I spotted a bald eagle swooping down for his own breakfast. I've seen them before, but always in captivity. It was the first time I'd ever seen one in the wild. What a thrill!

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    1. Bald Eagles are magnificent. Our cottage on Lake Winnipeg is just up the shore line from what must be a regular nesting site, as we are lucky enough to see mature eagles and also their young as they learn to fly - swooping and calling out. I'm sure they're always saying, "Look at me, Ma. I can fly!"

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    2. Bald eagles - majestic birds! We saw them on our trip to Alaska, and in the Pacific northwest on the coast seems like they've gone from being rare to thriving. Lucky you, Gigi, to have seen whooping cranes. We've seen sandhills.

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    3. We got to stop in Kearney, Nebraska on our way east last year, during the time the sandhills were en masse there on the flats around the Platte. It was incredible, as was the smell! So many birds standing in fields they looked like a solid mass. Breathtaking.

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  4. (second attempt at commenting; first time it just disappeared when typed on my iPhone - this problem suddenly started on Friday. Very weird).
    Great pics, Hallie! My partner introduced me to the pleasures of birding and, after 24 years of observing, I'm able to identify quite a few birds. This summer, I was able to identify one from its call alone - verified with the iBird app, once carefully listened to in the yard at the cottage first. Too bad I cannot now remember what it was :( Guess I should keep a proper list of my sightings...
    In the city, we feed the birds come autumn and into the winter. A few years ago, a Pileated Woodpecker landed on the suet feeder. Wow - what a magnificent bird that is. Just like Woody Woodpecker in the cartoons!
    We see your Juncos up here in Manitoba before they return to you. Sorry about those Canada Geese and their, um, leavings. We suffer the same plague up here.

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    1. Amanda, sounds like you're ready to start a 'life list.' The first bird call I could identify was a towhee ("drink your TEEEE") - a robin-sized bird with patches of black and white and brown, it scratches around under bushes so you need to hear them to find them. A pileated woodpecker lived on the college campus where my husband works, and for years you could hear him jackhammering away at the trees. Now that's an impressive bird.

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    2. Amanda, tht happened to me , too. You have to go in through Google, suddenly. (Is that how you made it work?)

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  5. Love this Post Hallie! I did not know your history with birds and for some reason I always assumed that Jerry was the original birder. The owl in the tree is my favorite photo. I'm a lazy birdwatcher– Prefer someone else to point them out. But I didn't need a guide to see the field of flamingos in southern France. All those pink birds, magnificent!

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  6. more places to visit! I come from a family of competitive birders and enjoy a bird walk, though I'm more interested in photographing the wildflowers and terrain. Saw a red-tailed hawk yesterday! I will never forget the thrill of my first bald eagle, on the banks of the James River near Williamsburg.

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    1. My first bald eagle was over the Snake River, I think. Wyoming. Even our kids were impressed.

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  7. I've never been a birder but I enjoyed recognizing the variety that we used to get at the feeder we maintained in the back yard at our last house. Goldfinches and purple finches, sparrows, jays and thrashers, cardinals in winter, lots that I can't remember. We put up a bluebird house and it was occupied a couple of times. When I walk outdoors I mostly look at the trees, but I definitely notice the bigger birds, including lots of red-tailed hawks, plus an occasional egret at a lake. One of my bridge partners loved hummingbirds and would post short clips from her feeder.

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    1. BLUEBIRDS! I haven't seen one in ages. Sigh. When we were in Jamaica we went to a hummingbird sanctuary where you could feed them. They'd perch on your finger. Extraordinary experience.

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    2. The bluebird is the state bird of Missouri, but I rarely if ever saw them when I lived there. Here in Texas I see them fairly often, and sometimes I even spot a painted bunting.

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  8. As you know, I married into a family of bird photographers, so have spent most of the last forty years looking up.

    When Steve and I first met my oldest daughter was about to turn eight. He took us on a lot of fun little outings around the outdoors, including fishing, where he would point out birds for us to learn. My daughter, getting frustrated with trying to find moving targets in the binocular's field of vision, suddenly became interested in learning about wildflowers. Her interest waned, but mine expanded.

    I've not been to Bosque del Apache, but Steve has, and I started following their Facebook page awhile back. It's on my bucket list.

    There are Stan Tekila handbooks for bird identification by state--my Steve took many of the photos in those books. The one for Kentucky at the farm has a lot of checkmarks in it now; over the last nine years we've seen most of the birds in that book on our little farm, a lot of them from the porch of the house. The towhee can just about drive you crazy, ordering us to "drink your TEEEE" incessantly. If the whippoorwill is singing at night, forget trying to sleep. But I've never seen one, despite its noisy self.

    The Galapagos and Peru were great spots for birding. My sister-in-law and I added well over 100 new species to our life lists--which we only began when we started hanging around with this family. And of course Tanzania, where Steve and I went solely to see and photograph birds and animals, was a rich source, as well. But my favorite was in Australia, waking up on a farm in New South Wales, to the sound of thousands of bell-like calls in the surrounding trees. And the dozens of parrots we saw flocking around the park near the Sydney Opera House. Birds are such cool creatures.

    Roberta, one companion on the Tanzania trip rehabs birds at the San Diego SeaWorld, and her specialty is flamingos. When we arrived at Momo Lake to see a hundred thousand birds, rimming the lake in pale pink, she was so overcome with emotion, it still chokes me up to remember.

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    1. Karen, I'm not sure I did know about your husband being a bird photographer... Wow. Talk about patience. It's hard enough to spot one and get a good look through the binoculars; to get a picture takes hours of waiting. And you really need one of those humongous lenses and a tripod.

      One spring we had a nocturnal mockingbird in our yard who raucously proclaimed a hullaballoo from our roof in the middle of the night... for weeks.

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    2. On the humongous lens front: once we were at Yellowstone, walking towards the famous blue pool. Steve was carrying his camera, with a lens as long as my forearm. I was cracking up at how many men stopped us to mention how big it was!

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  9. Congratulations on the awards, Rhys and Hallie! Since I loved all 3 books, I'm very happy to see them recognized.

    I am a quasi-birder who for a while has thought I should get more serious about it. I have a couple of guides around, and have been to a couple of birding nights at Myles Standish State Forest and loved them. One in the Spring focused on Whippoorwills. So interesting!

    My mother's an avid birder. I grew up in a house in Barnstable, MA where the kitchen table was in front of a picture window that looked out over a kettle-hole pond. She always had her binoculars, bird guides and list handy. Because of her, I know most of the basic birds and waterbirds but not much beyond that. Since I hike for exercise (in the fall mostly at Audubon centers because of hunting season), it's a waste not to be a birder! I did see a great blue heron at the Cape Cod National Seashore the other day and a bald eagle flying over the highway on the way there. Pretty exciting, although raptors are not my favorites. My mom now lives in Maine, where there are supposedly tons of bald eagles, but I've never seen one there. Both times I've seen them, they've been flying over highways in Massachusetts. Tough to drive and try to get a good look!

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    1. Raptors cruise the median strips looking for an easy meal.
      Another big bird that's made a comeback are ospreys... here in New England they've put up nesting platforms at the water's edge, and in season virtually every one of them is occupied, fledgling and ma and pa.

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  10. Another birding enthusiast here, Hallie. My most spectacular so far... kakadu park in Australia. A lake filled with different water birds. But I love watching the flock of Pelicans on the pond at home, how they all turn in unison. And I've seen. Golden eagle in the same place. Next time you are here I'll take you, Hallie

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    1. I have never seen a golden eagle. Looking up kakadu park...

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  11. Congratulations to all the Reds--not surprised!!

    I'm not an official birder--no life list, no expeditions for birding--but I do love to see them and try to identify them. My favorite for vocalizations is the catbird--usually there's a pair in the summer. Bluebirds in my backyard, the hummingbirds, wild turkeys, woodpeckers of different sorts--and just the once--a bald eagle who spent the morning and early afternoon perched in a tree on the edge of my property. But I also enjoy photographing the butterflies, the flowers, the changing seasons on my walks.

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    1. Catbirds are among my favorites. So personable and vocal. They make sweet neighbors.

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  12. I love the motmots. We saw them in Tobago a few years back. When I'm out hiking I tend to pay attention to the wild flowers, the ferns, and mosses. Maybe because I can spot those easily, as opposed to birds and things that move!

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    1. Motmots! Now those are birds that impress people who don't care of birds. Turquoise Gold and those paddles at the end of their long tails.

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  13. Birdwatching is one of my favorite things to do. My mom was an avid birder and she introduced all five of us kids and our dad to birding. Only my youngest sibling had very little interest in birding and she good-naturedly put up with our birding discussions.

    I've taken a couple of birding classes in adult education, which included some expeditions to local hotspots for birding. We went up to see the bald eagles at the Stevenson Dam in Connecticut on a Saturday morning around 22 or 23 years ago. It was the first time I had ever seen bald eagles in the wild, and it brought tears to my eyes!

    For more than 25 years other family members and I have been vacationing in Chincoteague Virginia, where it is impossible to not see birds! We go at approximately the same time every summer. Some years we see lots and lots of certain bird species, and other years we don't see that many of them. We never know what to expect!

    30+ years ago I spent a couple of weeks at Sanibel Island, and visited the wildlife reserve just about every day. It was hard to drag myself away from there when it was time to go home!

    One thing I especially like about birding is that it's a very inexpensive hobby, unless you're the kind of person who wants to have all sorts of gadgets. I'm happy with basic binoculars and a bunch of bird guides. I'm seriously thinking of volunteering at the local Audubon Center when I retire. I don't want to stop learning about birding!

    DebRo

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  14. Putting Chincoteague on my list...
    The other great thing about birding is the interesting characters you meet... other people who are birders are often interesting and not the people you'd meet in your day to day, and all of them care about preserving wildlife.

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    1. And birders are very willing to share information with each other. Sometimes if I'm out birding somewhere and there's another person in the same area using one of those spotting scopes, the person will ask me if I would like to look at the birds through their scope. They usually then share a little bit of information about whatever they're looking at.

      DebRo

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  15. Congrats, Rhys and Hallie on the very well-deserved accolades!!!

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  17. I've been a birder since I was a teenager. That was one of the reasons I majored in biology, and I had a serious ambition to study ornithology at Cornell. Life, however, had other ideas, but birding has never ceased to be a pleasure.

    Just the other day, I looked up from my computer and there was a male red-bellied woodpecker on the trunk of the pecan tree right outside the window, not six feet from me. I was so excited. I pulled out my forty-plus-year-old Peterson's just to check my identification. More often here we see downy, hairy, and ladderbacked, but this gorgeous guy was unmistakable.

    Some of my birding highlights: A couple of years ago I looked out my kitchen window and saw a red-tailed hawk sitting on my deck rail! Of course, they're very common here, but I'd never seen one in the wild that close. Fortunately, he decided not to snack on our koi. We have a great blue heron pay a visit to our little pond, too.

    Years ago in the Quachita Mountains in Arkansas, Rick and I saw a pileated woodpecker. Fabulous!! And on a friend's ranch in the Texas Hill Country, a painted bunting! Somebody spilled the paintbox!!! They are so pretty!

    And of course I'm crazy about our hummingbirds, Ruby Throated here. From mid-March to the first of October, they are a big part of my day.

    How could I not love birds with a granddaughter called Wren? :-) (Our wrens here are a species called Bewick's, an adorable little bird with a beautiful song.)

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    1. I did not know this about you, Debs! We get red bellied woodpeckers here occasionally. But I have NEVER seen a painted bunting. Only in the books

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  18. I enjoy the pictures and I have a bird feeder but I'm a bit afraid of birds. I think I saw Hitchcock's The Birds at a way too impressionable age. ��

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    1. Those were starlings which hang out in flocks. I agree, a truly scary movie (made me afraid of phone booths)

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    2. And how about when ALL THOSE STARLINGS flock into trees and start tweeting? Terrifying.

      I just burst out laughing. I think I just made a New Yorker cartoon. Chirping, I mean, not Tweeting.

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  19. My brother has always been the avid birder in the family but I've gotten interested in the last few years and am lucky to live in an area that offers a lot to see. A few years ago, an osprey pair built a nest atop a cell tower in town and now nest there every year and there are a couple of bald eagle nests within easy driving distance. I'm fascinated by woodpeckers that visit my yard and am learning to tell one sparrow species from another. I haven't done any bird-related travel (except a two-hour drive to see a red-headed woodpecker) but you've now got me interested, Hallie. And congrats to both Hallie and Rhys!

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    1. Thanks! We get flickers, big brown woodpeckers with a red blaze on the back of the head on the male/ Also downy and hairy woodpecker. A red-headed is unusual, and of course it doesn't actually have a red head which is one of those weird things in bird-dom.

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    2. Oops - redheaded DO have red heads. It's the red-bellied that don't have red bellies.

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  20. Montmagny in Quebec for the snow geese! We camped where you could see the take offs and landings.
    We have a pileated woodpecker here. A wall display of the rogues gallery with most of the birds seen here as photographed by my husband.

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    1. Sharyn are his photos on line? Give us a link.

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  21. Oh Hallie, your post is such a timely one for me. (Jungle Red posts have a delightful way of often being timely for me.) This morning I saw a notice in the paper about a birding class being offered soon, and I thought I would like to go to that. I've become more and more interested lately about birding. I love to sit at the kitchen table at various points in the day and watch the birds out back and in the nearby bushes to the kitchen windows. The robins, cardinals, and finches are my favorites, but I can put up with the occasional starling. We used to get some bluejays, but I haven't seen one in a while. One of my greatest bird thrills this past year was the two Canada geese that came in low enough for me to almost touch over the back driveway. I heard them coming before they arrived. It shocked me for two reasons, how low they were and that there were only two. I did some research online and found that when a goose is injured or sick, another goose will stay behind until the ailing goose is either ready to fly again or dead. So, I'm guessing that's why these two were by themselves and that they were on their way back to their flock.

    My husband is retiring next summer, and for Christmas I have bought us hiking sticks. These will be used for walking trails rather than hiking, but now I'm excited to think that we can get into birding together. I'll have to look at some birding books now. I'll start with the ones Karen mentioned her husband took photos for in Kentucky.

    Oh, I have to add one of my proud moments with birds. I helped to rescue an injured owl. This happened some years back when my dog was alive. We were on a walk and she started barking intensely in the direction of a bush. I saw a large flapping of wings and pulled my dog back. It was an large barn owl that was injured and unable to fly. I went to the nearby fire station and talked to them about it. They called the local nature expert who contacted the appropriate rescue people. I watched from my house across the road until the bird was picked up. It was so satisfying. We now have an active bird raptor center in our county, where these large birds are taken and rehabilitated and then released.

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    1. In Alaska we went to a raptor center where they were treating bald eagles and injuries owls. They had a tiny pigmy owl. So adorable.

      IMHOP the best bird guide is still Peterson's Field Guide to the Birds of North America. Do not be seduced by the bird guides with photos. Peterson's drawings are MUCH more helpful when you're getting started and trying to tell one sparrow or starling from another

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    2. Peterson's is great, and so is the Golden Guide to Field Identification Birds of North America (which is my personal favorite). But the Stan Tekila books are handy for a couple of reasons. They're arranged by color, and if the male and female are different colors, you can see both on the same pages. Also, you don't waste time trying to identify a bird that is never seen in your area; the state-related ones help beginners narrow down the choice.

      Binoculars help, too. Don't waste your money on really cheap ones, although you don't have to spend a fortune. It makes a big difference. Lightweight is good.

      Kathy, you'll probably be amazed at how many birds you already know.

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    3. The binoculars might be a good idea for my husband's birthday, four days after Christmas. Can you recommend a brand, Karen? Going to go search for the Stan Tekila books now.

      Hallie, thanks for the tip about the drawings vs. the photos. It would have been easy for me to get influenced by the photos. So, IMHOP and the ones Karen suggested sound like a great start.

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    4. Kathy - Google AUDOBON and BIRDING BINOCULARS and see their recommendations. There's a huge range of quality and prices. My husband says X7 or X8 is probably good for magnification.

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  22. Now, a separate comment for Rhys and Hallie. Congratulations on the wonderful recognition of your amazing writing. You both are on my Favorite Books of 2017 list that I will post on my blog the end of December.

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  23. Hallie, the photo of the owl is amazing. I can't believe he or she roosts right across the street! I'm not a birder, but I do enjoy hiking, and I do a lot of walking in the city, which entails its own observation opportunities.

    Your comment about the pleasure in naming things reminds me of a conversation I just had with a Norwegian friend. He grew up spending lots of time in the forest and mountains of Norway with his grandfather, who taught him the names of plants, animals, birds, etc. When he came to America, he found the task of learning all those names in English daunting, which is something I'd never considered in terms of learning a second language. We suggested that calling things by their Norwegian name sounds exotic and scientific, and when in doubt, he should pull out the Norwegian!

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    1. It's a challenge birding in a place where they speak another language... which is of course most of the rest of the world. Because the locals names for things are different from what our bird guides call them.

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    2. Oh, that's so interesting, Ingrid! Never thought about that..

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  24. Hallie and Rhys, congratulations! Your books always give me pleasure, so any honors you receive never surprise me.

    DebRo

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  25. Sorry to e so late--had an event that started SO early!

    Love bird watching! And Hallie, I remember the first day you came to my house..you saw one of our bird books on the table, and asked -who's a birder? It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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    1. I had forgotten that! Books n birds...

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  26. Definitely birds -- I have been to Costa Rica and to Ding Darling. Thanks for the photos.

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  27. Hallie, just really started looking at birds: Pacific golden plover (kolea in Hawaiian); Hawaiian duck; Hawaiian stilt. & lots and lots of cattle egrets are my current discoveries. The kolea is special; its feathers turning color before leaving for Alaska breeding grounds.

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    1. Kolea - I've never seen one of those. Going to look it up now.

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    2. AKA Pacific Golden Plover - have seen it... in Hawaii!

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