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We now return to our regularly scheduled program…

I’ve not blogged in several weeks. The reason…I largely “unplugged” during that time period. Given what was at stake in the election Tuesday, I just HAD to unplug. Unfortunately that meant staying unplugged not only from the political ugliness, bigotry, misogyny, and hatred that is life under the Trump administration, but also from my website, blog, and posting of bird photos.  To get back in the swing…a photo from one of my favorite bird encounters EVER in South Dakota…the only dark-phase Gyrfalcon I have ever found. As we head into the middle of November, we’re getting close to the time where there’s the potential to see these gorgeous rarities in the central part of South Dakota!  I’m REALLY looking forward to my periodic winter trips to the Fort Pierre National Grasslands, as I search for these guys, Snowy Owls, Ferruginous Hawks, Golden Eagles, Prairie Falcons, and other wonderful winter raptors.

As I get back in the swing of my normal online life, I do want to limit or eliminate the vast majority of political commentary on my blog.  It’s not that I don’t have a lot to say, as I DEFINITELY do in this horrible political climate. But keeping my blog primarily focused on birds, birding, and photography is one way to stay sane in such an environment.  However, I simply have to give a parting blog shot regarding the last couple of months, and the election. If you’re in the GOP and are offended by this…GOOD.  That’s what’s called a “conscience”, something your entire party seems to have lost.  Some points:

  • To my fellow Democrats...PLEASE STOP THE DOOM AND GLOOM that many seemed to adopt even after Tuesday. Saturday Night Live NAILED Democratic attitudes since 2016 (and admittedly, before that).  We have had some major traumas over the years, not the least of which is winning two elections by (2000, 2016) by ALL measures the rest of the civilized world uses, only to have our archaic, unfair electoral system award the most powerful office in the world to the person who received the fewest votes. I get it. I get the trauma. I at least understand the paranoia and pessimism that has permeated our party over the last 18 years.  But Dems…TUESDAY WAS AN OVERWHELMING SUCCESS.  Was it perfect? Hell no. I too was devastated by Gillum’s loss in Florida.  I too am incredibly upset about the situation in Georgia, with Kemp apparently squeaking out the narrowest of wins thanks to his own manipulation of Georgia’s voting rolls. And of course there’s Beto, the charismatic face of the election for Dems. That man has a VERY bright future in politics.  The fact that he lost, by 2.5% in ultra-red Texas, doesn’t diminish that future, nor does it diminish what he accomplished. Yes, the Senate seat didn’t flip.  But thanks to Beto, the face of Texas politics has begun to change. Thanks to Beto, it’s very likely two US House seats flipped blue that wouldn’t have otherwise. Dems…WE WON THE HOUSE!! Despite unprecedented gerrymandering by Republicans, despite the need to win the overall popular vote by a whopping 6% just to have a CHANCE to win the House…we flipped it. And not just flipped it, Dems are likely to have a healthy majority of about 231-204.  We also flipped at least 7 governorships, which is an incredibly powerful accomplishment given those governors will have a say in redistricting and eliminating gerrymandering after the 2020 Census. It was a massive success, and we now have a check on the most corrupt administration America has ever known.  Dems, PLEASE LEARN TO CELEBRATE OUR SUCCESSES, and stop wallowing in self pity.  It serves no purpose and only diminishes our progress. Keep fighting the good fight. WE ARE MAKING PROGRESS.  Don’t give in to the despair and pessimism.
  • To Republican Americans...WAKE…THE…FUCK…UP.  I’m going to be blunt. If you’re in the GOP right now and continue to vote for the GOP, there are only three possible categories in which you fall.
    • #1 — You’re a racist — Nothing new here.  Trump won the election in 2016 by fanning the flames of latent racism. Down the stretch in 2018, what did he focus on? The economy? Health care? No…he talked incessantly about the dangers of immigrant hoards taking over the US.  Never mind that the oft-mentioned “caravan” consists of political refugees fleeing violence in their own country, and that a majority of them are women and children. They were presented as a major threat to the American way of life…and a huge chunk of the GOP ate it up.  Given what we’ve seen for almost three years now, since Trump announced he was running back in 2015, the man is an clearly an unabashed racist. Trump campaigned for the GOP on a platform of racism, and GOP voters responded with a resounding YES…THIS IS WHAT WE WANT. THIS IS WHAT WE STAND FOR.  In the long term…you’re destroying your own party. The 2018 elections are just the start. A party built on racism is unsustainable in the long term. From that perspective, I’m glad to see the GOP revealed for what they have been ever since the racist dog whistles that began with Nixon…a party of and for white America, a party that no longer pretends to even try to represent all Americans.  In the short-term however…it’s incredibly destructive.
    • #2 — You’re ignorant — Another huge chunk of the GOP (and indeed, of Americans as a whole). Let’s face it, Americans on BOTH sides often vote on reflex. They vote for a “D” or an “R”. They are completely ignorant of the issues. The don’t know the candidates or what they stand for.  Other than the outright racism demonstrated by the GOP, the second biggest threat to American democracy is apathy.  Trump was RIGHT a couple of weeks ago, when he said the Florida bomber and the mass shooting disrupted GOP momentum.  Despite every illicit, immoral, outright disgusting action taken by the Trump administration over the last 2 years, GOP numbers were rising somewhat as the election approached. Why? Americans can’t be bothered to account for 2 years worth of reprehensible behavior!  It’s forgotten! Ask most people what Mueller is investigating for example, and you’re likely to be met with a blank stare (or an outright lie). Ask about the huge number of indictments of Trump officials…I guarantee the vast majority of Americans don’t remember anything about Manafort, Cohen, and the rest of the corrupt crew.  Americans just…don’t…care.  TRUTH DOESN’T MATTER.  It’s MUCH easier to digest the drivel that’s spoon fed to them by state TV (otherwise known as Fox “News”) than it is for them to learn the truth of what’s really happening. Of course I can’t give this class of GOP voters a pass. That ignorance, the outright apathy, is almost as destructive as GOP racism.  But at least from a moral standpoint, apathy and stupidity is somewhat less disgusting than GOP racism.
    • #3 — You’re a CEO — Or perhaps not a CEO, but a wealthy business owner. Someone who wants to perpetuate a system with the worst income inequality in the world. Someone where corporate or personal profit is the ONLY thing that matters…morality be damned.  In other words…someone exactly like Trump.  From a morality standpoint, clearly this is just as despicable as the racist sect of the GOP.  These are people that simply do not care about the racism, the misogyny, the bigotry, the spread of hatred…as along as it doesn’t interfere with the most business-friendly, least worker-friendly administration in American history.

Despite the election results, it’s still going to be a very rough next few years. We’ve already seen that, where within 12 hours of the election results coming in, the Trump administration makes their move to bury the Mueller investigation.  The response from GOP politicos?  A yawn.  Other than a few outgoing politicians (e.g., Jeff Flake), or the VERY rare class of GOP politicians who seem to actually have any  morality (e.g., incoming Senator Mitt Romney)…there were no condemnations of the complete flout of the rule of law.  There were no calls in the GOP to protect the investigation. For a morally bankrupt party like the GOP, it’s the end result that matters. Nothing else.  The truth? Irrelevant. The LAW? Irrelevant.

The 2018 election was a powerful rebuke of GOP immorality. It’s a WONDERFUL start, but we’ve got a long slog ahead.

And we now return to our regularly scheduled program.  Birds…photography…nature…a MUCH needed distraction in today’s environment.

Juvenile Gyrfalcon - Falco rusticolus

It’s time!! Getting close at least. Of course I’m talking about our WONDERFUL South Dakota winters, and the birding opportunities that we have. Yes…yes…it’s a cold, glacial hell here in winter. But we do often have incredible numbers of raptors, including the chance to see US mega-rarities. Gyrfalcons are the big prize for me in the winter. This photo from a few years ago is the ONLY dark-phase Gyrfalcon I’ve seen…a gorgeous, gorgeous bird.

Holy $hit!! An honest-to-goodness Trogon!

Photo of Elegant Trogon

Serendipity strikes! This gorgeous Elegant Trogon flew in like a dream and landed right in front of me this morning, while birding at Florida Canyon south of Tuscon, Arizona.

Better lucky than good!!  I had a work trip to Tucson, one of my favorite places on earth to bird, so I took a couple extra days of personal time to bird. I had a number of “target” species I wanted to try and find (and photograph). This wasn’t one of them.

Elegant Trogons are dang tough to see in the U.S. They’re only found in a few spots in far southern Arizona, near the Mexican border.  In November though?  Nearly all Trogons move south for the winter, so you’re not likely to find one this time of year.  I started birding this morning in “Florida Canyon”, a place I’d checked out through eBird.  Painted Redstarts, Hepatic Tanager, and several other “new” species to me had been seen there recently, henc my decision to start there.

Florida Canyon certainly didn’t disappoint!  I saw a gorgeous Painted Redstart right away, and later, a male and female Hepatic Tanager.   It was very “birdy”, but I certainly wasn’t expecting what happened next.  As I was watching a tree seemingly filled with Hutton’s Vireo and other birds, this very big, brilliantly colored bird came flying in. My first thought as it came in over my head…Magpie, as it was the big long tail in flight that reminded me of a Magpie. But this certainly wasn’t a magpie!!  There in front of me was an absolutely brilliant Elegant Trogon!

Over the course of the next half hour, I watched and photographed the Trogon, with it making a couple of short flights and changing perches in that time. Getting a clean shot was a challenge, but I finally did find a good vantage point.

Great morning!  One of my biggest thrills as a birder!

An end to ultralight-led Whooping Cranes

Saw today that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is recommending and end to the use of ultralights to lead eastern Whooping Cranes on migratory flights. The image of a group of young Whooping Cranes following an ultralight in a many-day “migration” is certainly well known both within the birding world, and for the public in general.  They’ve been used for a number of years to lead first-of-year Whooping Cranes from their summer grounds in Wisconsin, to Florida.

The Fish & Wildlife Service notes that they want to get away from “artificial” methods of expanding the Whooping Crane range.  They also note cost as an issue.  As a Fed scientist, my best guess?  It’s cost that’s the biggest factor here.  I can at least sympathize with the thought of using only “natural” conservation methodologies, but c’mon.  Would we have any Whooping Cranes moving between Wisconsin and Florida, without the use of ultralights and the program associated with it? What about other species?  We’ve brought back California Condor from the brink of extinction by capturing all wild birds and initiating a captive-breeding program.  Condors are now (rarely) starting to breed in the wild, but could they survive without “artificial” programs to support their population?

It ain’t easy being a Fed scientist in recent years!  I’m sure Fish & Wildlife is in the same boat as many of us…long-term declining budgets, and the need to cut valuable research and conservation programs.  It can certainly be expensive to implement and maintain programs such as those used for Whooping Cranes, California Condors, and other “iconic” species.  There are definitely arguments that a focus on such “artificial” and expensive programs, efforts that benefit only one species, are not the most efficient use of ever-declining conservation and research dollars.

On the other hand, the public in general isn’t going to pay much attention to conservation efforts for a rare forb or insect.  The value of programs for species such as Whooping Cranes and Condors goes beyond that individual species.  When the general public sees stories in the mainstream press about young Whooping Cranes being led across the country by a person in an ultralight, it draws their interest. It makes them care.  From that standpoint, it’s money well spent, as it opens up public discussion about conservation issues in general.

The cynical side of me looks at this story and sees that the total cost for the ultralight program has been around $20 million, with some of that coming from private funds.  The cynical side of me looks at the Defense Department budget, hovering around $700 billion, and notes $20 million isn’t even enough to buy spare parts for their most ridiculously expensive fighter jet.  The cynical side of me notes that for the cost of a handful of cruise missiles, we can continue to fund a program that may help save a species from disappearing from the face of the planet.

The cynical side of me gets a little depressed seeing stories like this…

From Australia…a BETTER story than our own Ivory-biilled Woodpecker

Drawing - Ivory-billed Woodpecker - Terry Sohl

The only image I’m ever likely to make of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker! The recent sighting and capture of a Night Parrot in Australia brings to mind the uproar over the Ivory-billed Woodpecker sightings of several years ago. It also brought back distasteful memories of how some skeptical birders reacted to the Ivory-billed news

I still remember the day at work several years ago when a colleague and birder friend came up to me in the hall and excitedly said “Have you heard? Have you HEARD!?!?”  That was the day it was announced in the media that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker had been found again in Arkansas. A species not seen in decades, one that the vast majority of “experts” had declared extinct, yet reports of a number of good sightings from the reputable Cornell ornithology group sent the birding world into an excited tizzy.

A story of similar significance was just published, noting that the famed “Night Parrot” of Australia had been confirmed still alive.  Researchers in Queensland not only recorded instances of the species by sight and by sound, they actually managed to capture a live bird.  A confirmed live bird hadn’t similarly captured since the 1800s, and as the story notes, even despite a pair of dead birds found in the last 30 years, many experts considered the species extinct. The species nests in ground burrows and introduced species, particularly feral cats and introduced rat species, pose a grave threat.  Many thought it was a mortal threat and that the species was forever gone, despite intermittent reports of sightings over the years.

A birding “miracle”, ala our very own Ivory-billed Woodpecker!  Alas,the story of the night parrot is even better than the Ivory-billed Woodpecker story, in that the clear photo and capture of the night parrot was irrefutable evidence of the bird’s continued survival. In the case of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, almost immediately after Cornell announced the sightings of the Arkansas bird(s), doubters emerged from the woodwork. Despite sightings from a number of reputable ornithologists associated with Cornell, and despite more sightings in Florida by Auburn University researchers, an outcry emerged from many in the birding community that without a clear, definitive photo, the sightings didn’t constitute “proof”.  Prominent birder David Sibley was one who led the charge against the published reports, In short, instead of being met with excitement and joy, many in the birding and science communities instead chose to attack the reports, and indeed, to personally attack the Cornell group itself.

Ah, what a difference a photo makes!  One thing I’ve come to truly HATE in the birding community is the competitive nature many birders have.  Given then names involved in the Arkansas and Florida sightings, and given the number of DIFFERENT people who saw and/or heard the birds, I have no doubt that Ivory-billed Woodpeckers were seen.  Alas, however, in the birding community nothing brings scorn as does lack of DEFINITIVE proof. Unfortunately, even a CLEAR PHOTOGRAPH doesn’t constitute proof in the eyes of some skeptics, as George Lowry found out in 1971, when two photos were rejected by “experts” as likely fakes.

My opinion…I’ve never met him personally, but thanks to his VERY vigorous reaction to the Ivory-billed episode, I will now forever think of David Sibley as a pompous jackass.  I will now FOREVER equate his name with the many other PJB’s (Pompous Jackass Birders) that I’ve run across over the years.  What did Sibley and others stand to gain by personally attacking the Cornell group? Without a clear photo, Sibley and others COULD have taken the high road, expressing excitement and joy in the sightings, while at the same time encouraging additional work to photograph or even band a live Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

Instead, the (jealous?) PJBs chose the low road, looking at the glass as half-empty and interpreting every bit of evidence in the most skeptical and negative way possible.  All for the lack of a photo.  Congrats to the Queensland group for the wonderful work. I look forward to the day that similar “proof” is found in the case of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.  I look forward to the day of vindication for the Cornell Group, Geoffrey Hill from Auburn, John Dennis for his sightings from the 1940s to 1960s, George Lowry (he of the photos from 1971), and the many others over the years who have been open ridiculed for DARING to publicize a sighting of a species that the jackass PJB’s hadn’t THEMSELVES seen.

 

 

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