Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.

Last-minute shopper?

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird conservation, Bird feeding, Bird identification, Birding equipment Updated: December 19, 2014 - 11:18 AM

Holiday gift ideas from birding consultant Paul Baicich, an experienced birder and educator (with over 800 species on his North American life list):

Shade-grown Coffee — This is a wonderful gift, ideal to bring along to a holiday party. It should start up a conversation about shade-coffee vs. sun-coffee and the ways that certified arabica shade coffee helps sustain our Neotropical migrants in coffee country throughout much of Latin America and the Caribbean.  

Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp — The "Duck Stamp" is a fine gift, and a great conservation-supporting item. Since almost all the funds collected from the stamp go to building wetland and grassland habitat in the National Wildlife Refuge System, it sends a great message, too. Besides, you will probably be at the Post Office anyhow, so picking up a $15-stamp or two should be easy. You can also download a free and unique stamp-related certificate describing just how much one stamp secures in habitat, attach the stamp, put it in a frame, and you're set! 

Bird Art — Speaking of frames, how about some bird art? No, not an original piece of expensive artwork, but a quality print. Whether your recipient favors waterfowl, gamebirds, raptors, shorebirds, hummingbirds, orioles, or warblers, the options are vast. Just search online! 

Bird t-shirt — Yes, lovely bird t-shirts are often perfect gifts. In fact, you can combine the previous two suggestions — the "Duck Stamp" and bird art — in one t-shirt purchase. Buy a t-shirt with a Duck Stamp design on it! You can find one here: http://www.friendsofthestamp.org

Bird Feeder - Few backyards are so full of bird feeders that another one 
wouldn't help. Another tube feeder? A suet feeder? A hopper feeder? 

Bird Seed — And there should be quality feed to fill those feeders. A large bag or two of high-quality bird seed can go a long way. Think especially about getting black-oil sunflower or Nyjer. 

Window Protection — Birdseed and feeders are great gifts, but they can also attract birds to potentially dangerous windows, a situation with creates unfortunate collisions. Short of retrofitting entire windows, some outdoor hanging bird-screens or large "one-way-view" stickers or films can alleviate the situation. These are fine gifts for the season. 

Catio — Also in the realm of backyard bird protection, there is the opportunity to address the issue of outdoor cats. There are an estimated 84 million pet cats in the U.S., and perhaps 36 million of them are let outside to roam. This is deadly for our wild birds. Now cat owners who wish to allow their cats outdoors have a bird-safe alternative. These are called a "catios," and they come in a variety of configurations available in various sizes and finishes. Check out these two sources for catio ideas: Catio Spaces and Catio Showcase.

Optics Gear — No, it doesn't necessarily have to be new binoculars, but it could be associated optic gear. How about a new binocular strap-harness? A traveling case? A quality cleaning kit? 

Field Guide — There are so many excellent field guides out today that it may be hard to choose. But pick one that fits the individual recipient. For kids? Try a Thompson guide. Otherwise, you might consider a National Geographic, a Kaufman, a Sibley, a Crossley, a Stokes, or even a classic and ever-reliable Peterson. They all have their own individual advantages. 

American-grown Rice — A festively-wrapped bag of fine American-grown rice is another great gift that sends a message about habitat for our wetland-associated birds (waterfowl, shorebirds, long-legged waders, and more). No other mass-produced U.S. crop can claim to have such benefits for our birds. 

Gift Membership or Subscription — There are a number of bird, nature, and conservation organizations or magazines that offer special annual gift memberships or subscriptions at this time of year. This is sometimes an ideal quick solution to your shopping problems, and the recipient is often contacted directly about your thoughtful gift. 

Climate as viewed by writers of fiction

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird conservation Updated: December 16, 2014 - 11:35 AM

The news a few days ago about a possible solution to the potential bird-collision problem at the new Vikings’ stadium is encouraging. Perhaps the predicted thousand bird deaths per year can be avoided.

What about those birds and the millions of other birds in the world on a long-term basis?

That — and the fate of my grandchildren — drives my interest in the carbon dioxide content of our atmosphere. It’s too bad that carbon dioxide doesn’t have a bright color or a bad odor so awareness might be higher. co2 is the engine that is driving changes to the earth. It fascinates me, macabre perhaps, but I do love birds and I do love my grandchildren.

With that in mind I searched the Internet for reported daily co2 levels. I found what I was looking for on the web site of the Michigan Wild Turkey Hunters Association. You can find this information on many Web sites. I was pleased to download one from a bird-related organization. If those turkey hunters have an interest in atmospheric co2 levels, that suits me just fine as a birder. I share their concern.

Studies of climate are always underway. The one I read during this search is dated Oct. 29, 2014, and was posted by the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego (www.scripps.ucsd.edu).
Using ice cores from the Antarctic, scientists determined that previous climate changes, three in the past 16,000 years, did not occur gradually but arrived in abrupt pulses of co2 increase.

The change from the last ice age to complete deglaciation of the world was driven by an increase of 80 parts per million over a period of 10,000 years. Eighty ppm in 10,000 years.

We were at 315 ppm in 1958. The average monthly reading for 2014 was 401 ppm. We have exceeded the critical gain of 80 ppm, and we did it in 56 years instead of 10,000.

Perhaps we are talking about the wrong thing when we discuss solutions to co2 input. Perhaps we should be talking about survival in a vastly different world that seems more and more likely. It’s going to raise hell with the descendants of the birds that might not collide with stadium glass, and it won’t do our grandchildren much good either.

There has been no shortage recently of pithy comment on our plight. The HBO series “The Newsroom” on Nov. 23 presented a truly scary scenario of an interview (fictional, of course; this is a tv series) by a news anchor with an administrator from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The latter is being interviewed about a report showing atmospheric co2 levels hitting the 400 mark, regarded as a point of no return. (Timely, no?)

A few minutes into the interview, the anchor says, “You’re saying the situation is dire.”

The EPA man answers, “Not exactly. If your house is burning to the ground the situation is dire. If your house has already burned to the ground the situation is over.”

What can we do to reverse this, the anchor asks. The answer, the EPA man says, is nothing.

Fiction, yes. But the numbers are real. 

If this catches your interest, read the book “The Collapse of Western Civilization” by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway (Columbia University Press, a short 89 pages). Here, two scientists in the 23rd century look back 200 years to what is our present time. They are living in a world vastly changed from ours. They want to know why we let this happen. We had the knowledge. We failed to act on it. Why? 

I liked this point those fictional scientists make: We, citizens of the 21st century, did not pay sufficient attention to what was happening to us until our pets began to die of the heat. Fido and Fluffy fall over dead, and now we are worried.

An essay by Jason Mark in the Dec. 9 “New York Times” the author discusses climate fiction fantasy as seen in movies. He mentions titles from “Waterworld,” Kevin Kostner’s bomb, to the more recent “Snowpiercer.” What’s fictional, he writes, is not so much the situation depicted. The fiction is endings suggesting we will survive.

“Times” movie critic A. O. Scott wrote recently about the responsibility of artists to tell the truth. “Much as I respect the efforts of scientists and social scientists to explain the world, and the intermittent efforts of politicians to change it,” he writes, “I trust artists and writers more … through the integrity and discipline they bring to making something new, to tell the truth.”

Our Congressmen, the ones who take campaign money to ignore the climate problem, perhaps should see more movies. Or keep more pets.

co2 level for Dec. 15 was 399.26

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird conservation Updated: December 16, 2014 - 11:25 AM

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere on Dec. 15 was 399.26 parts per million (ppm). The level for Dec. 14 was 398.09.

One year ago = 396.30.

1958 = 318

800,000 years ago = 260

In April, May, and June of 2014 the level exceeded 400 ppm, highest in almost one million years. 

Readings are taken daily at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii for the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Go to https://scripps.ucsd.edu/programs/keelingcurve/

CO2 level for Dec. 9, 2014, was 398.48

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird conservation Updated: December 12, 2014 - 4:33 PM

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere on Dec. 9 was 398.48 parts per million (ppm).

One year ago = 395.80 ppm

1958 = 318 ppm (the year records began to be kept)

800,000 years ago = 260 ppm

In April, May, and June of this year the level exceeded 400 ppm, highest in almost one million years.

Readings are taken daily at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii for the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Go to https://scripps.ucsd.edu/programs/keelingcurve/

A squirrel you might want to invite over

Posted by: Jim Williams under Birds in the backyard Updated: December 11, 2014 - 10:33 PM

A reader wrote to ask about his recent sighting of a flying squirrel eating at one of his bird feeders. He didn't expect to see that mammal here. 


Flying squirrels are resident in the Twin Cities area. There are two species, Northern Flying Squirrel and Southern, both occupying the northern two-thirds of the state, excepting western portions.


A couple of years ago we had a female raise her family here (Orono) in one of our nest boxes, built for bluebirds, but used in the yard by chickadees. We had them at our home east of Grantsburg, Wis., also, when we lived there in the 1990s. 


Flying squirrels don’t actually fly, but glide from one perch to another. They have a fold of skin, a membrane which extends from the front to the hind feet. Legs stretched form an airfoil that allows glides as long as 150 feet. Shorter glides are the rule.


The squirrels are about the size of chipmunks, with dense, glossy olive-brown fur above, white below, with large brown eyes. They eat  — besides birdseed and suet  — fruits, nuts, insects, small birds, and meat scraps. 


Nocturnal, the squirrels are infrequently seen, feeders like those of my correspondent offering the best opportunities. The squirrels are beautiful animals, absolutely wonderful mind-their-own-business neighbors. Anyone who sees one is fortunate. Keep an eye on your feeder. (A neighborhood with mature trees helps). And if you have a cat, please keep it indoors at night. 


Below, a flying squirrel at a feeder. If you look closely you can see the fold of skin used for gliding.



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