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Making Do

by Lanny McDowell on November 6, 2008

 The ambition was fair, even promising.  Two days previous a Black-tailed Gull had been spotted and nicely photographed at Herring Cove Beach next to Provincetown.  Look up this gull in a reference, if you can find it at all, and you will be impressed with how little likelihood there is of one showing up anywhere near Massachusetts.  I was told this one was probably the third or fourth record in the state.  A lot of small pinkish shrimp, like krill, were either in the shore waves or already washed up on the beach there and around the corner at Race Point and lots of gulls of many sorts had shown up to devour them with little effort.  Lots of gulls would translate, according to one observer, as about fifteen hundred birds.

 Anyway, I wanted to attend a monthly meeting for serious birders held in a small auditorium in a biology lab building at Harvard.  The principal speaker was someone I wanted to meet, because she orchestrates a lot of the research on Red Knots (please go to the “Crusade” page above) that happens out at Monomoy, just south of the elbow of Cape Cod.  Her crew actually censuses the knots feeding in certain measured plots, checks them for identifying leg bands, tests what their proximity tolerance is for human activity; and they even take core samples of the top few inches of the sand/mud to ID and count what prey items lie within.

 Since I was headed off-Island anyway, it made perfectly good sense to make a run up to P’town to find the Black-tailed Gull.  A no-brainer, if I could find the time.

 This is becoming a shaggy-dog story, because I did not see the sacred bird, even though I know it was in the ‘hood that day.  I also went back the morning of the following day en route – if you can call it that – from Cambridge to Woods Hole and the Vineyard.  That’s how it goes in birding.  I gave it my best shot under the circumstances.  But my blogging is an excuse to put up bird photos anyway, so, as I waited for the rare one to cruise by or land at my feet, I took some shots of Ring-billeds at the parking lot and of the overall gulls-on-the-beach scene.

 From the reports of others on site and from my own observations the following seabirds were logged from shore:

 Pomarine and Parasitic Jaegers

Greater, Cory’s and Manx Shearwaters

Common Terns

Gulls – Black-legged Kittiwake, GBBG, HEGU, Lesser BBG, Ring-billed, Laughing, Black-headed, Bonaparte’s, Little and, somewhere, a single Black-tailed to round out the numbers.  Ten species at one spot!  Actually, I think it’s eleven, because someone mentioned a Kumlien’s/Iceland Gull in the mix as well.  (Subsequent reports of the profusion of gulls on and off the Provincetown beaches include a Glaucous Gull – so it’s a dozen gull species – and both Forster’s and late Roseate Terns.)

 There were also small numbers of White-rumped Sandpipers mixed in with the Sanderlings, as well as two flocks of Snow Buntings and a few pipits and siskins overhead.

Variations on a first-year Ring-billed theme.  Great plumage combos:









 Bashful adult:

Blownaparte’s w/ probable Parasitic Jaeger:


Underwing study as gray chart: 








The scene at Race Point:

Closer in, a Lesser Black-backed in the middle of things:


Birds are cool!  Lanny

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More Grins

by Lanny McDowell on October 5, 2008


For about three days now, not including this rainy Sunday, the Peregrine parade has been making the skies over the Gay Head cliffs on Martha’s Vineyard very unfriendly to other birds.  When the falcons are not patrolling, pursuing or eating they are often playing, rattling their swords and chasing and dive bombing each other.  While the next photos are technically not so hot , the action they capture is.











When their captured prey is small enough, they have no particular reason to land in order to consume it, so they remain aloft to dine, wings set on the updraft.

I think the meal here is a Northern Flicker, maybe a Red-bellied Woodpecker, judging by the tail feathers visible.  Click to enlarge.


In these shots it may be what’s left of a catbird.  It’s hard to say.



And the undertaker always wins:


Birds are cool!  Lanny

These images and more are available for purchase. Contact me or View store.


Stay off the cliffs, unless your name is Falcon.

by Lanny McDowell on October 2, 2008

 Thursday morning, 10/2, at the Gay Head cliffs in Aquinnah, wind blowing strong out of the WSW.  In my opinion there were two kinds of birds there:  falcons and Black Poll Warblers.  I was impressed that a number of warblers in the flight headed out into the wind for Cuttyhunk and beyond.  Amazing, given the prevalence of cruising raptors.


 Everybody knows the falcon is probably not going to eat the Turkey Vulture.  The vulture really cannot afford to take this to heart as a certainty.  Gross tonnage does not rule the air waves.



 It’s basic: speed and accuracy.



 Grin on grin.


 If you are a bird and are close enough to see a Peregrine like this, you should refile your flight plan.




 This is a Peregrine’s version of tiptoeing.


Sometimes it’s better to be a bystander than lunch.


The local Red-taileds do not often concede  home turf to ruffian interlopers, but three Peregines today and a smattering of Merlins made the skies a bit crowded.


Birds are cool!  Lanny

These images and more are available for purchase. Contact me or View store.

Crackberry, the addiction!

by Lanny McDowell on October 1, 2008


My friend is physically rather imposing.  Let us just say he doesn’t get lost in any room.  He is very outdoorsy, active, intelligent, by my standards, and inquisitive.  All that is in the process of going to waste, turning to mush, failing to materialize, etc., etc.  It is a pitiful thing to watch:  the deterioration of a competent mature adult with a wealth of useful experience into the hunched and immobilized victim of addiction, of what even he calls “Crackberry”.  The scourge running rampant among even the healthiest among us could also be referred to as I-phonitis.  It’s not just for kids anymore!  The sad joke of children lost gaming in tech world is now a generation-jumping epidemic affecting vulnerable individuals well beyond any notion of youth, those who perhaps only just last month learned how to cut & paste .  Now they interview global information piloting their own palms, scraping the cerebellum for reasons to stay attached.  Consider  the patient on an IV drip who balks at the imminent threat of pending release from hospital, like a canary panicky in the face of freedom through the open cage door, clutching the wheeled drip stand for fear of wellness and fresh air.  This is the new pathetic face of umbillicalization to the global info placenta.  What used to be communications opportunity is now Bubble Boy with WiFi. 

My good friend has lost one to two inches in height. His gaze can hardly elevate above the horizontal.  Maybe a Gyrfalcon streaking above the treeline could do it, but it would rock him back on his heels, his neck having lost most flexibility, atrophied by the unceasing down-slanted stare.  He is most comfortable with a focal length out about fifteen inches.  When he stands directly in front of you, you no longer really exist in his world.  You are too far away, outside the attention limit, beyond the frame of his world, the impersonal and cynical world of Crackberry.  And it is not only communicable, but highly contagious.  Sit in any waiting room and look about you.  Emergency patients no longer wail for Nurse, doctor!  Soldiers don’t scream Medic!  Old folks who have fallen and can’t get up no longer press the panic button for remote rescue teams.  All anybody wants is Dr. I-phone or Nurse Blackberry.  That’s the fix, baby.  Life is good as long as the battery is.

For the addict, of course, the comforting rush of endless and constant connectivity has replaced any priority for interpersonal give and take in the flesh.  Hand gestures, facial expression and eye contact have given way to frantic thumbing of the device, fingertip filing to work the tiny keys and out-of-sync exclamations of surprise, urgency or, more often, exasperation with the vagaries of not enough bars.

Of course, that’s not my only observation about the great time I had just recently downeast in Maine.  Once you start noticing that practically everyone everywhere is immersed in their personal digital assistant, assuming you can spare a second or two to look up from your own, you will find it’s a majority that you are observing.  At least no-one will see you staring at them!


Well, that techno-rant notwithstanding (always a curious and especially-appropriate-here word in its own right), below are some random photos from that recent trip to and off the coast of Maine, out of Rockport, past a zillion gorgeous islands to Matinicus, then out to circle Matinicus Rock, then back with a couple of stops along the way:


George – surfer, host, entrepreneur, business maven and, alas, fisherfolk.


One of two princes of Matinicus Rock:





Matinicus forest & harbor:



Not Porter:




This is the sort of aerial engagement no beast with feathers wants to encounter, the ‘grine strafing run. Enlarge.




This Maine photo has everything but the moose and the rifle and an LL Bean logo.


Birds are cool!  Lanny

These images and more are available for purchase. Contact me or View store.