Saturday, August 30, 2008

Mudflat Madness

Marvin DeJong and I arrived shortly after 8 am Friday on the east end of the Aldrich arm of Stockton Reservoir. Just as on our previous visit Monday, the birds gathered along the south shore where the water had receded considerably since our last visit. Our hearts started to race with anticipation as we circled around the back roads to the shorebird locale. We were greeted with the raspy tones and scattering flocks of American Egrets and Great Blue Herons that lined the upper retention pool. I took a wooden plank with us this time, as we easily sank deeply into the mud last Monday. It worked well, as we easily crossed the quick mud of previous days. During the last visit, we could not venture out on the mudflat, but this time the moisture had evaporated enough to allow us to walk gingerly out onto the flats. We soon gave up on being careful, and just like kids, we were having a great time playing in the mud! Soon we were trudging deliberately with 5 lb. mud covered shoes, approaching each group of shorebirds and terns until we sunk to our ankles. I scanned a group of Black Terns that has been increasing in numbers for the last 2 weeks.
I was rewarded with a single Least Tern. Although it disappeared shortly after the flock spooked, we saw 2 in a flyover at the same spot an hour later. Marvin managed to get off a shot from far away.Soon a couple Semipalmated Plovers showed. We ended the day with 7 of them, and no luck in turning up a Piping Plover.
The shorebird selection was good, but I think it will be even better in a week or two. Although I fear for New Orleans and the Gulf coast again, I am looking to see what birds that Gustav both stalls in our area and pushes up into our area.

Below are a few of our birds for the day.
Stilt Sandpipers mingle with assorted peeps, mostly Leasts, Semipalmated, and Pectorals.

A Lesser Yellowlegs hangs near a Semipalmated Plover.
A Semipalmated Plover struts his stuff.

A footnote to the story. For a few years in the 90's my son Nathan and I would always find Bewick's Wren on one of the access roads to Stockton Reservoir near Aldrich. Everytime I've gone by the location for a decade, I stopped to do my screech owl thing and to pssh a bit. Well, yesterday it finally returned. A Bewick's Wren came out instantly, berating me for my obnoxious, albeit convincing imitation. It had been a long dry spell for me and that species.

Good friends Charley Burwick and David Ringer headed up to Aldrich today. I'm anxiously awaiting what they manage to uncover. David always brings expert knowledge to the field, regardless whether our search is for shorebirds, gulls, warblers, or other avian species. Be sure to visit his blog often for world class birding adventures. Anyway, while he is in our neck of the woods, I'm sure he will turn up something interesting.
All photos courtesy of Marvin DeJong.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Marvin DeJong Photography: Aldrich Shorebirds

Western Sandpipers

Western Sandpipers
Least Sandpiper

Thanks to Marvin DeJong for all photos. Taken on Monday, August 25, 2008

Monday, August 25, 2008

Mucky Meanderings

When I gathered up my bins and scope, along with Marvin and Charley, to scope out the mudflats on the Aldrich arm of Stockton Reservoir today, I had high hopes. Visions of Buff Breasted Sandpipers, Neotropic Cormorants, and Ruff swirled in my overly optimistic brain. Unfortunately, none of the above made a showing. But the shorebirds and waders were abundant, and any day in the Ozarks with shorebirds is definitely a good one!

I saw my son Nathan in July, and we visited the basement of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, where all prepared bird skins are housed. We spent some time with Caladris sp., specifically trying to discern the subtle differences between Semipalmated and Western Sandpipers. I was struck that, in many cases, the two species, side my side, even in hand, were difficult to identify. I believe that some of the birds in the tray remain unidentified to species.

We approached the mudflat as closely as possible without sinking deeply into the newly barren muck. But, with a little help from Charley, the museum work paid off! Here's a Western Sandpiper that we found and confidently identified. I'd call it the Bird of the Day. Marvin's photo of it is great! Be sure to click on it to enlarge!

photo by Marvin DeJong
Other highlights included 11 species of shorebirds. In addition to the Western Sandpiper, we had Least Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, Greater Yellowlegs, Semipalmated Plover, and Killdeer.
Over 100 Black Terns sailed over the lake, with a single behemoth Caspian Tern tagging along.

Waders numbered in the 100's, too. A handful of Little Blue Herons, and many Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons lined the shore.

All in all, it was great to get out on the mudflats again. The conditions at Aldrich look great, and as long as the rain holds off, they should improve with the coming weeks. I'm already planning my next visit. Friday sounds good to me!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Back to Birds

Ok, it's official. Our ticket will be Obama/Biden. Actually, after hearing Barack's introduction and Joe's speech today, I think we will be just fine.

Yes, I've been distracted from birds for a while now, but I'm returning. With the sighting of a Ruff at Clarence Cannon NWR north of St. Louis today, and mud flats developing nicely on the Aldrich arm of Stockton, I can't wait to get out there. So, I probably set out on my newly freed up Mondays.
Last week was a teaser. I'd like to find some shorebirds. Here's a couple photos from a trip Marvin and I took last Sunday.A ratty looking Painted Bunting at the Willard Quarry.

Great Blue Heron eyes a flock of Black Terns at Alrich.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Barack, are you paying attention?

Thanks to Lanny Davis and the Huffington Post for this excellent analysis of Democratic prospects for Election 2008. I just hope it's not too late for Sen. Obama to see the writing on the wall and to make the right choice. It could mean everything for the environmental future of America.

Mr. Obama, I respectfully ask............ are you listening?

Why Obama Should Pick Hillary

By Lanny Davis, Huffington Post
Posted on August 19, 2008, Printed on August 21, 2008

Picking a vice president is obviously Barack Obama's decision to make. He must be comfortable with who he picks. Comfort level between a president and vice president may be the most important factor of all.

So I can only offer my argument, based on some facts and subjective impressions, as to why I believe it would be in Sen. Obama's personal and political interest to select Hillary Rodham Clinton as his vice presidential running mate. Not just to enhance his chances of winning -- but, more importantly, to help him be a more effective president.

Let's start with one undisputable fact: Sen. Clinton is the only Democrat who gives Sen. Obama a statistically significant boost in any national poll results.

This is not a criticism of other candidates. This is simply a fact -- a product of Sen. Clinton's nearly 18-month national campaign in all 50 states and the 18 million votes she won. The result was a dramatic increase in her favorable ratings across the spectrum, even among some of her most conservative critics.

In late June, polls conducted by The Wall Street Journal/NBC and Fox/Opinion Dynamics -- using entirely different samples -- both showed Sen. Clinton giving Sen. Obama a +3% bump, pushing him over 51% for the first time, when the two of them were paired against Sen. McCain and Gov. Romney.

Most recently, in nationwide polling on July 22-23, a Fox/Opinion Dynamics poll showed a more dramatic bump of +8% with Sen. Clinton as Sen. Obama's vice presidential running mate. In a head-on match, it was Sen. Obama 41% to Sen. McCain's 40% (this was before the intense media coverage of his European trip). But with exactly the same sample, when all voters were presented with the choice of an Obama-Clinton ticket vs. McCain-Romney, the results were Obama-Clinton, 48% (+7%), and McCain-Romney 39% (-1%).

Can Sen. Obama win without Sen. Clinton on the ticket? Yes he can. Majorities favor his views on most of the economic issues. And his European trip was virtually flawless, demonstrating that he can walk, talk and act like a president in foreign affairs and with foreign leaders.

However, with Sen. Clinton on the ticket, I do not believe Sen. Obama can lose. She adds important strength to Sen. Obama's in the key constituencies of women, blue-collar workers, and senior citizens. And, thus, she could tip the balance in such key border states as West Virginia, Kentucky, and Arkansas (not apparently in play for Sen. Obama as of now) as well as in the key battleground states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Florida.

So, considering this data, why not pick Sen. Clinton? Here are the three most repeated negatives that seem to concern sincere supporters of Sen. Obama the most:

*Sen. Clinton is polarizing and will rev up the Republican base.

In fact, the data proves the reverse is true: Sen. Clinton has little or no effect on Republican preferences in a race against Sen. McCain -- and she helps Sen. Obama significantly among Democrats.

According to the July 22-23 Fox/Opinion Dynamics poll, in an Obama-McCain head-on match-up, Sen. Obama gets just 74% of the Democrats and 6% of the Republicans. With Sen. Clinton as his running mate vs. a McCain-Romney ticket, Sen. Obama's Democratic vote goes up to 86% -- a significant 12% increase. As for Republican voters, rather than getting "revved up" because of Hillary's presence on the ticket, there was no effect at all: The Obama-Clinton ticket gains 3% (from 6% to 9% among Republicans), whereas McCain-Romney gains the same 3% (from 82% to 85%).

So what about independents? An Obama-Clinton ticket appears to gain some strength in this critical swing-voter group. With an Obama-McCain head-on contest, independents are evenly divided, 32%-30%, with Sen. Obama over Sen. McCain. But with an Obama-Clinton ticket vs. a McCain-Romney ticket, the independents favor Obama-Clinton 38%-30% -- a statistically significant 6% increase in a crucial voter group.

*Choosing Sen. Clinton would be counter to the Obama message of "new politics" and change.

The simple answer: How can choosing the first woman vice president in the history of the United States be a choice for the status quo? How can choosing someone who can help the future President Obama bring to America its first affordable and effective national health insurance system reinforce the status quo rather than change? The answer is: Older doesn't mean status quo. Hillary Clinton is a change agent and always has been throughout her public career. Barack Obama selecting her as the first female vice president would reinforce his change message, not detract from it.

* She would not be a team player and her husband would be a distraction or worse in an Obama White House.

The answer here comes down to knowing Hillary and Bill Clinton as real people, not as cartoon characters. No one who knows either one of them believes there is a shred of truth to this widely held misperception.

Hillary Clinton is the ultimate team player and I have no doubt she would be an invaluable vice president. She knows from firsthand experience the importance of a supportive and involved vice president.

I am certain of this -- not just because of my personal friendship with her over 39-plus years, in the best of times and in the worst of times. But also I know -- and I believe even her critics would agree -- that she is first and foremost a dedicated public servant. And she would do everything, everything, to help her president succeed because by doing so the nation and the American people would benefit. As long as I've known her, that has always been her life's driving goal: public service to help people.

So what about Bill Clinton? Well, what about him? He loves his wife, he loves his country, and he would be 100% dedicated to helping a President Obama in any way the president wished. If that means being quiet and not distracting from the messages or issues the Obama White House is focusing on, Bill Clinton will do whatever it takes to be helpful.

Of course having a former president as the spouse of the vice president in the White House, much less someone with the intellectual power and star quality of Bill Clinton, will be a challenge to a President Obama and his White House. Few can deny that. But the last time I looked, Sen. Obama does pretty well dealing with challenges, even those his closest friends and confidantes are worried about.

In the final analysis, to repeat, this is Sen. Obama's personal and political decision and he must be comfortable with the choice. I respect that. I honor that. These are my best arguments that it is in his political interest and his future administration's interest to have Hillary Clinton by his side on the ticket as vice president -- as a cheerleader and articulate supporter, as a candid adviser, and as a friend inside the White House with eight years of frontline experience of what it's like.

Now it's up to Sen. Obama.

Whatever his decision, I will support it.

This piece also appears in the Wall Street Journal.

Lanny Davis is a Washington attorney and former special counsel to President Clinton (1996-98). He was an active supporter of Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential nominating contest.

© 2008 Huffington Post All rights reserved.
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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Wyoming Wanderings

Recently 14 of my wife's extended family members converged upon the magnificent Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks to collectively celebrate my brother-in-law John's 50th Birthday and our mutual love for wild places. John, who I have always felt a special kinship with as a result of our shared love for nature and lifelong learning, needed the rest, respite, and spiritual lift that only the high places can provide, as he is currently battling an especially brutal and malignant primary brain tumor, glioblastoma multiforme.

Because both my brother-in-law John and my son Nathan are chronicling their journeys through life these days, I've decided to refer my readers to their blogs. For those of you interested in John's Trophy Run, be sure to send a thought or a prayer for his healing while visiting there. For a complete rundown of the fantastic birding and wildlife experiences that we had while in Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, go to The Drinking Bird. Return each day for the extended reports!


Friday, August 1, 2008

McCain's Sense of Humor

It's clear that John McCain's virtuous character has vanished. Compare what his campaign manager Rick Davis and he expressed just a few short months ago to what he said today!

First off, to give McCain credit, here's the March statement from the memo distributed by Davis in early March. I quote:

"It is critical as we prepare to face off with whomever the Democrats select as their nominee, that we all follow John's lead and run a respectful campaign focused on the issues.... Throughout the primary election we saw John McCain reject the type of politics that degrade our civics, and this will not change." The memo continued: "overheated rhetoric and personal attacks" only serve to "distract" us, and that it was imperative that the campaign hold itself "to the highest standards."

What happened? I'll tell you simply. The Karl Rove school of dishonesty team was hired in to run the campaign and ethics flew out the window.

Let me remind all clearly that Senator Obama was expressing his tongue in cheek sense of humor when he said that none of the presidents on American currency look like him. He was clearly NOT playing the race card. He was simply commenting in hopes of bringing a smile and a laugh to the Springfield, Missouri audience. At least, my fellow citizens in Southwest Missouri clearly saw the statement for exactly what it was. Apparently, Sen. McCain isn't quite as smart as we Ozarkians.

McCain couldn't wait to tell reporters at his gathering today that he's just having "fun" with his attack ads, expressing his sense of humor. Yuck it up, good old boys! It's a damn shame that a man like McCain, with fine character in the recent past, has decided to sell his soul to unethical strategists during the presidential campaign.

Come on, Senator McCain! By embracing dishonesty and Rovian attack strategy, you have placed yourself among those who do not deserve to serve in this honorable office. It's time that you and your campaign team stop making a mockery of the greatest democracy on Earth.

I, among so many others, am proud to say that our candidate, Barack Obama, continues to take the high ground, with new ideas that will bring positive change to American and to the world.

My advice to you, Senator McCain, is to try to regain your previously respected position in America by distancing yourself from those who clearly encourage your moral downfall. Do yourself and America a favor. Fire your corrupt, unethical, and clearly un-American campaign team, and, again, become a humble servant of this great country.

Making a Difference this Election

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