“The numbers are so great the sky itself begins to darken,” an excerpt from The Passenger Pigeon by Errol Fuller

LBP Passenger Pigeon Flock Overhead from Lost Bird Project on Vimeo.

This video puts me in mind of the following excerpt from The Passenger Pigeon by Errol Fuller.

Imagine it is some time early in the nineteenth century. We can pick out any year, it really doesn’t matter. So let us make it 1810. And let us suppose that you, the reader, have hewn from the wilderness a small area of land. Gradually, you have tamed and cultivated it, and now you are enjoying the fruits of season after season of hard work. You grow enough food, and rear enough livestock, to feed your growing family. There is even a surplus with which you can supply the fast-increasing local community.

The scene could be anywhere in the eastern parts of North America, but let us chose a state, just at random. Let us say that you are somewhere in Pennsylvania. It is an afternoon in May, and things are looking good. Perhaps it is too early to say for certain, but the year’s harvest promises to be a splendid one.

You stand in the center of one of your fields recalling with some satisfaction, and not a little pride, the back-breaking effort that you and your family have put in during the bitter winter months and the spring that followed them. As you lean back on your spade you grow conscious of a strange, far-off, almost imperceptible sound, a sound entirely unfamiliar. Unable to decide whether it is a rustle or a buzz, you peer in the direction from which it seems to come. Your gaze passes over the fields to your small orchards, which at last begin to show signs of bearing a decent crop. Then it moves to the forests that surround the farm on all sides, but there is nothing to see; at least there is nothing out of the ordinary. So you turn your attention back to the afternoon’s work, but only for a moment. The noise continues, and it begins to distract you from the job at hand. Although still far off, it is surely getting louder, and now it seems more like a drumming than a buzzing. Louder and louder it becomes, until all your attempts to ignore it and get back to work come to a complete halt. The sound is certainly coming your way and coming fast. No longer does it sound like drumming; now it is more akin to distant thunder, but with this difference: It is a continuous wall of sound rather than something lasting for just a few seconds.

Suddenly, a few birds, pigeons, appear overhead. Your first thought is that they are fleeing before the ever-increasing racket, and you start to feel some alarm. What catastrophe could cause birds to fly so fast in a frantic attempt to escape? Then you realize that this first thought was wrong. More and more pigeons are passing overhead, and you find it is the pigeons themselves that are responsible for the noise. It becomes truly deafening. As more and more and more of them come pouring in, the numbers are so great the sky itself begins to darken. Within a minute or two it is no longer possible to pick out individual birds; the multitude forms one dark, solid block. The sun is blotted out.

The black mass wheels about. It seems to turn as one unit, not as millions of individual creatures. You have never contemplated numbers of this magnitude before. It is a numerical concept beyond your experience or imagination. And the sound! Your eardrums seem ready to burst. Perhaps the ocean roars like this during a hard storm at sea, but you don’t know. You’ve never been aboard an oceangoing vessel. Now something else happens. The great flock has circled and the pigeons are landing on trees in the forest. Those nearer are coming to rest in your orchards. There seems no end to them. More and more are coming in and landing on the overloaded branches, already packed black with squabbling birds. Droppings fall from the sky like big melting snowflakes. Some are falling on your head! A new sound trumpets across the fields, the sound of splitting timber. The weight of the massed pigeons is so great that here and there it is too much for the trees; their branches can no longer take the strain and they crash to the ground.

There is nothing to do now but retreat in despair to the shelter of the house. Fortunately, the roof holds little attraction for the pigeons, and largely speaking they avoid it. After a brief period of inaction you venture out, taking your gun with you. After all, a dozen or so cooked pigeons will provide for the family. The gunshots do nothing to scare off any birds, but at least you have a good evening meal.

Three or four days pass. Then, as suddenly as they came, the pigeons are gone. Vanished. Did they return from whence they came, or have they passed on to new pastures? You don’t know, and you don’t really care.

There are far more important things to worry about. The growing crops are destroyed, the buds are eaten or trampled, the orchards wrecked. It is too late in the year to plant again, and the harvest that promised so much will now be a disaster. There will be little to feed the family and nothing to sell to local people. Nor will there be anything left for the livestock. The well is fouled, and this will mean a long walk to the river to fetch fresh water. The damage the birds have wrought can hardly be measured. An entirely new start will be needed—if, that is, you can survive the next few months and the winter that will follow.


Excerpted from:

bookjacket The Passenger Pigeon
Errol Fuller

van Grouw’s Anatomy: The Unfeathered Bird in Scientific American

Who knew anatomy could be ‘sexy?’7-2 van Grouw

So says paleozoologist and science writer Darren Naish in describing the natural science world’s renewed interest in the field. But it’s not because Katrina van Grouw gives a ‘stripped-down’ look at avian remains; rather, it comes courtesy of stream-lined CT scanning and sophisticated 3D visualizations. Yet, Naish’s praise of Katrina van Grouw’s artful spin on ornithology in this behind-the-scenes look at her life and work is much more nuanced than all that fancy stuff. His article in Scientific American explores the all-encompassing passion of this world-class ornithologist, meanwhile loudly complimenting her new book for its precision in rendering every minute muscle, bone, and tendon of the creatures that fill its pages.

Naish doesn’t just jot down his observations from the sitting-room chair; he is given the walking tour, complete with a perusal into the eccentric couple’s inner- and out-sanctums. For example: Katrina and Hein van Grouw are proud owners of a muntjac deer skull collection, a business of ferrets (live ones, it must be noted), and an unsurprisingly vast treasury of mounted bird skeletons, all of which Naish ogles with palpable envy. In many ways, the home epitomizes the research executed for and presented in The Unfeathered Bird: brimming with ornithological insight and too full of artifacts to dismiss as mere decorative ploy.


“It is simply imperative that you get hold of this book if you consider yourself interested in bird anatomy and diversity, or in anatomy or evolution in general.”


Despite van Grouw’s untimely release from her position at a natural history museum, which resulted from her desire to produce the book, Naish commends her for transforming the inconvenience into a wonderful opportunity and looks longingly into the future toward her forthcoming book on domesticates.

The ethically sourced remains of dogs, cats, chickens and pigeons make the cut for the tour, but together, they’re just a small fraction of the never-ending plethora of both bizarre and mundane critters that comprise van Grouw’s professional interests; and we, like Naish, hope to see them all expressed thus in due time.

Katrina van Grouw is the author of:

7-2 Unfeathered The Unfeathered Bird by Katrina van Grouw
Hardcover | 2013 | $49.95 / £34.95 | ISBN: 9780691151342
304 pp. | 10 x 12 | 385 duotones/color illus. | eBook | ISBN: 9781400844890 | Reviews Table of Contents Introduction[PDF]

Watch This: Digiscoping with Clay and Sharon, Episode 8 (Announcing the Winner!)

Sharon StitelerToday’s the day! In this final episode filled with thank-yous and shared memories, Sharon Stiteler of Birdchick reveals the theme of the series: good ol’ ROY G BIV (the rainbow). There were hints in Clay’s shirts and Sharon’s nail polish, and in the order of the birds themselves. Were you able to guess it?

And now: we know you’ve all been anxiously awaiting the announcement for the Winner of the Swarovski Spotting Scope, so without further delay: Congratulations to Peter Lawrence of Ottawa, Canada! Enjoy your new scope, brought to you by Swarovski Optik North America, Birdspotters Birding App, and of course, Princeton University Press.

Check out the episode here, and remember: when in doubt, visit south Texas!

Watch This: Digiscoping with Clay and Sharon, The Penultimate Episode

In this episode, Clay and Sharon show off some digiscoping/iMovie techniques that allow you to watch birds in slow-motion. They also reveal a new adapter that connects your phone to your binoculars creating a super portable digiscope alternative!

There are lots of hints at the theme of the series in this episode, I think. Do you have it yet? If you think you know, make sure you send your guess in to the Birdchick at digiscoping@birdchick.com (be sure to include the answer, your first and last name, mailing address and phone number). for the complete contest details, please visit the Birdchick site.

ps — thanks for the shout out for The Warbler Guide!

11-Year-Old Birder Raises Money for Conservation with #PhotoBigDay

Dessi1Dessi Sieburth, an 11-year-old birder from Pasadena, California, has just set the PhotoBigDay record for Antelope Valley, and for a great cause.

Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle, co-authors of The Warbler Guide, started PhotoBigDay earlier this spring. Big Days are a tradition in the world of birding, a challenge to see how many different species of birds you can spot in a single day. Today, Big Days have become increasingly competitive, with seasoned birders and ornithologists using advanced equipment to catalogue species midnight to midnight. Stephenson and Whittle created PhotoBigDay with ordinary birders in mind, and with an added twist: participants must document every bird they see on film.

big photo day white faced ibisSieburth recorded 85 species on his PhotoBigDay, including:

  • White-Faced Ibis
  • Snowy Egret
  • Burrowing Owl
  • Caspian Tern
  • American White Pelican
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Wilson’s Warbler
  • Western Tanager
  • Nuttal’s Woodpecker
  • Osprey

Sieburth used his PhotoBigDay as a fundraiser for conservation, and raised $200 so far for the preservation of a local migration area and seed for bird feeders.

 

Photos here are courtesy of Beatrix Schwarz, Dessi’s proud mother!

Watch this: Digiscoping with Clay and Sharon, Episode 6

This episode features some pretty great guest appearances by professional actors like Kelvin Hatle, Dawn Krosnowski and Birds and Beers regular Duck Washington, so don’t miss it! (I especially enjoyed the discreet whipping-out of binoculars – only a birder could pull that off).

Alas, the series is coming to an end – have you guessed the theme yet? For details on how to submit your guess and potentially win a Swarovski Spotting Scope, check out the BirdChick’s web site: http://www.birdchick.com/wp/2014/06/digiscoping-with-clay-and-sharon-episode-5-florida-birding/

Watch this: Digiscoping with Clay and Sharon, Episode 5

I had a fantastic time at Space Coast in January and this episode finds Clay and Sharon exploring the nearby Viera Wetlands where they run into some frisky herons that pretty much dash Sharon’s hopes of working a little less “blue” in 2014.

Have you caught on to the series theme yet? For details on how to submit your guess and potentially win a Swarovski Spotting Scope, check out the BirdChick’s web site: http://www.birdchick.com/wp/2014/06/digiscoping-with-clay-and-sharon-episode-5-florida-birding/

 

Win your choice of books with our #springbooks giveaway

spring book contest

There are three ways to enter this giveaway:

1.) Leave a comment below with the title of the book you would most like to win.

2.) Tweet the title of the book you would like to win with the hashtag #springbooks.

3.) Send an email to blog@press.princeton.edu with the title of the book you would like to win.

 

This giveaway ends today at 5 PM, so make sure you submit your entry!

 

[Update: This giveaway has concluded and the winners have been notified, 6/5/14]

Looking forward to spring warblers? Join The Warbler Guide at these events in Philadelphia

We’re looking forward to spring with three fantastic warbler events this weekend at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum. Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle, co-authors of The Warbler Guide, will be on-hand to give workshops on warbler ID and guide a few walks.

Capture

 

Click here to download a PDF flyer for these events.

Announcing the #PhotoBigDay

big day logoThe brainchild of Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle, co-authors of The Warbler Guide, the Photo Big Day presents a fun, new challenge for birders of all levels. Big Days are established fundraising events — teams of four birders head out to spot as many birds as they can in the span of 24 hours. The big difference this time around is that every sighting has to be documented on film.

We are proud to be co-sponsoring and supporting this effort and we hope you will check out more information at the links below. Good luck to Team Warbler!!!

MORE INFORMATION:
http://www.bigbirdphotoday.org Find out about big photo days, start your own team, raise funds, and more!

http://www.listing.aba.org The official home of big day lists, allows ABA members to upload their totals and results and see records for any area, and will also be live blogging and tweeting the Big Photo Day!

http://www.warblerguide.com Scott Whittle and Tom Stephenson’s site, with info on the Big Photo Day, and much more

http://www.facebook.com/warblerguide For more updates and live posts from Team Warbler

Follow us on Twitter @thewarblerguide

And find out more with #PhotoBigDay

Digital copies of our top-selling bird books now available on iBooks

Click here to learn how to win copies of all 6 books

Giveaway ends February 7, 2014.

One of the questions we field most often is, “Why can’t I buy an electronic version of this bird book?” So we are delighted to announce that starting this month, several of our most popular birding and natural history titles are now available as ebooks through the iBooks store.

The books are affordable and look simply amazing in digital form — zoom in on Katrina Van Grouw’s intricate drawings of skeletons in The Unfeathered Bird, explore The Crossley ID Guide‘s layered plates in greater detail, or simply revel in the majestic photos and artwork in The World’s Rarest Birds.

To view sample pages and explore these titles further, please use these links:

Birds of Peru
This is easily one of our all-time best-selling field guides and this ebook features all of the same great information and illustrations as the print edition, but makes it more portable and easier to search.
The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds
This has always been a book screaming for a digital edition. To say the plates in this book look incredible on a tablet would be a massive understatement– they are absolutely jaw-dropping beautiful.
The Warbler Guide
The complete text, photos, and sonograms at your fingertips in time for spring migration. Keep the print copy at home for reference and take this digital book into the field.
The Unfeathered Bird
Zooming in on the drawings reveals new details about structure, function, and evolution.
Hawks at a Distance
Even more useful now that you can zoom in and examine the profile and silhouette of the birds.
The World’s Rarest Birds
Not only do the photos and illustrations look incredible, but built-in search functions mean it is easier to find the information you want.

Birdwalk Grouse Fights, AKA The Blinding of Richard Crossley

Not really, but check out this astounding video of Richard getting roughed up by a Ruffed Grouse.

Here’s what this beauty of a bird looks like in The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds. Seeing the plate side by side with the video really demonstrates the strength of the Crossley style plate in illustrating the way a bird looks and how it acts:

3 ruffed_grouse_master3