Year 2, Issue 8
* ^^^^^^^^^ ^ ^ ^^^^^^ ^^^^^^^ ^ ^ ^^^^^^^
* ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^
* ^ ^^^^^^^ ^^^^^^ ^ ^ ^ ^^^^^^^
* ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^
* ^ ^ ^ ^^^^^^ ^^^^^^^ ^^^^^^^ ^
*The unofficial electronic publication of the David Cup/McIlroy competition
* Editors: Allison Wells, Jeff Wells
* Basin Bird Highlights: "Inspector" Tom Nix
* Pilgrim's Progress Compiler: "Stoinking" Matt Medler
* Composite Deposit, Stat's All: Karl "Father of the Madness" David
* Bird Brain Correspondent: "Downtown" Caissa Willmer
* Location Manager: Jeff Wells
It was life or death this past month for your faithful Cup editors!
Well...sort of. We were on our way out to our favorite migrant trap,
Monhegan Island, eleven miles off the Maine coast. The rain had finally
stopped, but the wind continued, whipping up whitecaps even in Port Clyde
harbor. But ah, heck, we'd made this trip many times, under rougher
conditions, like the time in mid-winter when we'd squeezed between the
mail bags on the Laura B for an Ivory Gull and the eight-mile stretch of
wild and choppy open Atlantic had us wondering if we might see the shores
of Antarctica any moment (and Jeff "jettisoned" his corn muffin over the
side of the boat). Oh, and there was our honeymoon voyage out, just
after a hurricane had gusted up the coast, leaving monstrous rollers in
its wake (and Jeff "jettisoned" his blueberry muffin over the side of
All was fine for the first few miles: Great Cormorants gawked at us from
the tiny rocky islands; Northern Gannets zipped nearby; Black Guillemots
bobbed here and there. Then, WHAM! A rogue wave leapt up over the
Elizabeth Ann and plowed broadside into your helpless editors, who soon
after found themselves doing some serious soul searching ("Can you
imagine if we'd been swept overboard and drowned? Wow. What a waste of
a perfectly good pair of Swarovskis.")
You'll be relieved to know that everything but our hiking boots dried out
as we birded the island. And as we picked upYellow-headed Blackbird
(lifer for Allison), Lark Sparrow, Dickcissel, and an assortment of more
common migrants, we couldn't help but think, "Hey, birding Monhegan, the
David Cup--they're really the same thing." No, really. Take the boat
ride out: you got your serious birders, and you got those that are along
just for the ride. There's the migrants: you got your lifers, but mostly
you got your seen 'ems. Finally, there's the island itself, which is
really just the Basin in the wrong place. And, like the Basin, wandering
outside the boundaries could mean the end of you.
Monhegan has a vessel to usher passengers around the deep, unpredictable
waters, and so does the David Cup--and it's every bit as dangerous and
stomach-churning as the Elizabeth Ann or even the Laura B: It's The Cup!
(Difference is, we won't soak your only pair of hiking boots.) So hop
aboard The Cup 2.8...but leave your muffins at the dock.
@ @ @ @ @ @
NEWS, CUES, and BLUES
@ @ @ @ @ @
RETURN MIGRATION: Remember James Barry, the raucous former Cornell
student who bravely soared into David Cup waters early last year? Well,
he's now in grad school out in California studying--no, not birds, can
you believe it? Insects! For a few glorious days, though, he was back
in Cupland, lending his eyes to the third-placing Goatsuckers team, for
the Montezuma Muckrace. So he had no excuse not to send his totals to
The Cup, and send them he did...okay, Matt Medler stole them from him.
Just the same, we are pleased to include him in the Pilgrim's Progress
report, and we hope that the next time he returns to the Basin, he'll
host one of those high teas he became so famous for last year. James,
pass the crumpets!
WELCOME MATT: We at The Cup, in another shameless attempt to get out of
doing as much work as possible (to free us up for more birding, of
course), have finally accepted Matt Medler's begs and pleads to become a
regular staffer here. Matt has bravely taken on perhaps the single most
important responsibility at The Cup: reworking the Pilgrim's Progress
totals so that the Wells' scores will be presented in the best possible
light. Not only that but he'll also be expected to keep up the popular
tradition of leaving a Cupper or two off the list from time to time.
Continue sending your totals to us, however; some of our best Cup Quotes
come from the excuses, uh, explanations you send with your totals.
JUN-HO!: Last issue, The Cup's irreplaceable summer intern, niece Sarah
Childs, had left the nest and gone back to Maine. This time around,
Allison's personal assistant, Darrell Childs, has fledged as well.
Although Darrell rebelled against the ways of older sister Sarah by
refusing to join the David Cup (and you wondered why he was sleeping out
on the fire escape every night) he did, like his sister before him, leave
us with hope that Generation Next is really just a bird-brained bunch of
Cupper wannabes. You see, Darrell may not know a sparrow from a
sparrow-hawk, but he knows his Sony Playstation (uh, that's a video game
system.). Among his favorite games: Road Rash II, where one of the
characters, Jun, is a Cupper! Okay, maybe not a Cupper, but Jun's
character description lists one of her hobbies as "bird watching." No
kidding! Thanks, Darrell. Now be a dove, will you, and fetch your aunty
another cup of tea?
"BLUR"RED VISION: Leave it to Basin bad boy Stephen Davies to ruffle
feathers again. And we aren't talking about his self-incriminating
"accidental" post to Cayugabirds that was meant as a private email
(you remember, "I picked up a new pair of Dr Martens, which I'm hoping
will help me kick up some interesting stuff this fall"--not exactly what
we mean by "Kickin' Tail Leader." ) If that weren't bad enough, consider
this email he sent to the editors: "I was glad to see that music forms
other than jazz received some recognition in the last Cup. So I thought
you might be interested in the following, which comes from rockin' London
bad boys 'Blur':
I feed the pigeons
Sometimes I feed the sparrows too
It gives me a sense of enormous well-being
And then I'm happy for the rest of the day
Safe in the knowledge there will always be
A bit of my heart devoted to it.'
No wonder this CD was sold out all over Ithaca this summer (niece/intern
Sarah Childs was so desperate to track one down she nearly cracked.)
By the way, Stephen, The Cup likes rock, too--particularly Rock Wren,
Rock Ptarmigan, Rock Sandpiper, and Cock of the Rock.)
MUCKING AROUND: In an attempt to downplay the fact that the
Sapsuckers (sans Cupper Ken Rosenberg) did not take first place in the
Montezuma Muckrace last weekend (they came in second, with 114), let's
say the Cayuga Bird Club team, Bard's Sandpipers, took top honors and
leave it at that. Okay, so we'll mention that they found 119 species
within the Refuge. True, we should give them space for an acceptance
speech: "We started at midnight but by four in the morning we were
feeling pretty disillusioned because we had only found three species,"
said team member and Cupper phenom Tom Nix. "When dawn hit, though,
things starting picking up and we already had about 90 species by noon."
Okay, Sapsucker coeditor Jeff says, Enough about that! Besides, the
real winner here is the Refuge and the species who use it (including us
birders!) The event raised $850 (including a $25 donation from The
Cup--no need to wonder anymore where your subscription money goes) to go
towards conservation projects within the Refuge, including a Purple
Martin nestbox. Did we mention the Sapsuckers didn't take first place?
PUTTING A "CAWKAH" IN IT: After last month's Scrawl of Fame piece
by Stephen Davies, "A Stoinking Mess," you've probably been wondering,
what's North America's answer to this European term, "stonker"? Well, we
at The Cup, always eager to do what we can to ensure our readers are
the most knowledgeable individuals ever to hold early morning birding
vigils on a lighthouse jetty, did some in-depth research (we called the
Psychic Friends Network.) Although our sources made ground-breaking
predictions ("Mallards will be seen this week at Stewart Park" "the
Sapsuckers will not take first place in the Muckrace") they were unable
to hone in on any NA terms for "stonker." (Matt Medler, boldly again
flaunting his worldliness, tossed around the term "mamita" (see Cup
Quotes, this issue), a little something he picked up from a visiting
Colombian LNS coworker. However, we at The Cup vetoed this on two
grounds: 1) He's got the wrong continent (Matt, Colombia is in SOUTH
America 2) "mamita" is Spanish for "mother" (what does that say about
our fathers, particularly Father Karl?) Leave it to a Mainiac to solve
the problem. It was Allison's dad who, after a lobster dinner during the
editors' recent visit to Maine, announced with the same kind of
satisfaction a birder effuses when s/he has just seen a fabulous bird,
"Wow, that lobstah was a cawkah." (Translated from the Maine, that's
"Wow, that lobster was a corker.") From what your trusty editors have
been able to gather, this term relates to the times when a certain
beverage was home-made. If the batch was bad, it was discarded; if it
was exquisite, you corked it. Rather than let it fall out of use, we are
officially including the term "corker" in the Cuppers' Dictionary. (The
Maine pronunciation will be listed first, but either one is acceptable.)
LAW OF THE LAND: On September 8, Governor George Pataki signed
into law the New York State Bird Conservation Area Program Bill. This
historic piece of legislation will allow the Department of Environmental
Conservation Commissioner, the NYS Parks Commissioner, and the
Secretary of State to designate lands under their jurisdiction that are
important for bird conservation. The criteria used to designate lands
were adapted from the New York Important Bird Areas criteria. What will
this mean for Cuppers? According to our own Jeff Wells, who also happens
to be New York's Important Bird Area Coordinator, "The management of
state lands that support significant abundance and diversity of birds
will be reviewed by a special committee to ensure that these areas remain
good for birds." And that means, presumably, birders as well.
MEGAN UPDATE: It would appear that Mike Runge is becoming more
and more threatened by his infant's birding progress, so much so that
this past month he took her abroad (i.e., safely out of the Basin.) But
at least that didn't keep her from picking up a few lifers some of you
probably don't even have: "Unwilling to count introduced species, Megan
insisted that we travel to Ireland so she could see an English Sparrow.
(There was a secondary goal of seeing her grandmother, I should add.)
She picked up a few other life birds, most of which were pretty hard to
miss, like the four Mute cygnets two feet away, and the European Robins
picking up the crumbs of bread that dropped from her hands. She also
ticked off her first corvid, Jackdaw. Meanwhile, Dad was able to pick
up a few pelagic treats, including Manx and Greater shearwaters, and
European Storm-petrel. However, Megan had a major miss this month in
her very own backyard. She was sitting in her stroller watching dad work
in the garden when a Willow Flycatcher landed in the small apple tree two
feet away and at eye level. It flitted back and forth from that perch to
another on the other side of the garden for about three minutes but Meg
was too intent on watching dad toil to bother with this flitty little
bird. There is some concern being voiced within the family that she is
not showing the enthusiasm for birding that one would expect of a seven
month old." Sure, Michael. You mean relief, don't you?
BIRD CUP BLUES AND ALL THAT JAZZ: Okay, so we didn't make it
to Koko. Neither did you. But at least Allison can stake this claim to
fame: On Saturday morning, August 23, during WVBR's "Crossroads" blues
show, she heard those fateful words, "Be caller number three on the
listener line and you'll win yourself the Jonny Lang CD." Guess who was
caller number three? Allison has this to say: "While I was calling, they
were playing that Ledbelly song, Where Did You Sleep Last Night?' I
heard that tune all summer, the Nirvana Unplugged version of it anyway,
so there was really no question that I would win. The real suspense was
in seeing who among my fellow Cuppers would call to congratulate me.
Ken Rosenberg was on the line in no time! Of course, in return, I had
to wish him a happy birthday..." As for the CD, Allison says she's
never heard such gut-wrenching moaning and groaning coming from a
teenager before...except when Jane [Sutton] asks [son] Casey to take out
:> :> :> :> :> :> :> :> :> :> :> :> :> :> :> :> :> :>
BASIN BIRD HIGHLIGHTS
By Tom Nix
The month began with an inkling of the impending land bird migration.
Kevin McGowan, looking to jumpstart his challenge of yours truly, was
noticing changes in his Beam Hill warbler species mix, and John Greenly
was noting early singing of E Screech-owls at his Ludlowville homestead.
Matt Medler and the Wells' were taking the temperature of shorebird
migration at Mays Point and noting the influx of numbers of Purple
Martin. All in all, a pretty typical August, with nothing special
happening. Then Kevin noted a Pine Siskin at his feeder in Dryden on the
eleventh, an early taste of things to come?
My good friend and fellow state lister Steve Kelling has said that
while his desire to chase further additions to his state list may have
dwindled, he would still travel to chase a Cattle Egret, because they are
currently declining in the state. The need to travel vanished when, on
the twelfth, Stephen Davies posted the following electrifying post:
"Around 7:30 this morning I had a CATTLE EGRET, in breeding plumage,
sitting on the breakwater off the white lighthouse jetty. I watched the
bird for 5 min as it sat amongst the gulls. It then flew toward the east
shore of the lake, before cutting back toward Stewart Park. I lost sight
of it as it descended into the treetops around the swan pen. I guess it
may be roosting in the swan pen area and may still be around." Indeed the
bird was still around, and Steve and many other Cuppers ticked it not
only for their David Cup list, but Mcticked it as well.
An interesting bird, this Cattle Egret. You won't find it listed in
Bent's classic Life Histories, published in 1926. At that time, and until
the 1940's it was unknown in North America, having crossed from Africa to
South America in the late 1800's. It has since spread over most of the
continent following deforestation and the cattle industry. The first
report in New York was in 1954, and by the 70's it was a locally common
spring visitor. There are a few breeding records from Long Island. The
young birds are great wanderers, dispersing great distances, even
thousands of miles, in all directions. One wonders where Stephen's bird
went to, as it had left Cupland by evening, not to be seen again.
Meanwhile, shorebird variety and numbers increased. At midmonth we
had reports of such notable species as Black-bellied Plover and Baird's
Sandpipers at Montezuma, and five Western Sandpipers at Father Karl's
private Aurora farmpond. Short-billed Dows were in as well as Stilt and
White-rumped Sandpipers. Kelling, Davies and Rosenberg discovered a
Wilson's Phalarope on the twentieth that lingered into the following
weekend, so that working stiffs might still find it. Black-crowned
Night-herons finally came out into the open, and the twilight skies over
Mays Point filled with blackbirds and swallows by the tens of thousands
and the occasional passing Common Nighthawk.
Toward the end of the month land bird migration finally picked up,
providing a diversion from MNWR and shorebird-induced scope-eye. Those
confusing fall warblers arrived - a Blue-wing at Newman Woods on the 21st,
followed by the flock of migrants that Jeff and Allison Wells discovered
there on the 24th, a flock that included a Wilson's Warbler. Carrying on
the Rosenbergian tradition of birding while presumably at work, Steve
Kelling observed a Philly Vireo waiting for a phone call at the Lab of O
feeders. Leave it to the lab to make such advancements in feeder
technology as telephones for the birds. Olive-sided Flycatchers reached
the region, signaling an end to flycatcher migration, with one being
tagged by Andy Farnsworth from his new aerie on Cascadilla gorge. Meena
Haribal reported a good flock of young and adult warblers from Conn Hill.
A really nice sighting was Stephen Davies' seven (!) Common
Nighthawks, only to be surpassed a few days later by the 14 (!!) reported
on the Birdline flying over the north end of the city. Just like the old
days, when nighthawks lived on city rooftops. Birders with an ear to the
sky noted Veerys by the score among the seeps and zips passing overhead.
But back to Montezuma, where some pretty good birds were found in the
last days of the month. Geo Kloppel had a Ruddy Turnstone in Benning
Marsh. Long-billed Dowitchers showed up in Mays Point, testing Cupper's
ID skills. The annual appearance of the shorebird hunting Peregrine Falcon
thrilled all assembled. Things got even better when young guns Matt
Medler, Chris Butler and Dan Scheiman scooped the old folks by finding two
Buff-breasted Sandpipers in the grass at Benning. And, on the last day of
the month, the late-surging McGowans scored big with a Yellow-headed
Blackbird at Benning. Only Stephen Davies had the good sense to be
following the McGowans closely around the auto tour loop. Kevin's posted
description indicated just how well they saw the bird, even getting down
to describing the color of the poor defenseless bird's privates. What a
way to end the month! What a way to take the lead in the David Cup!
(Tom Nix is a Liberal Arts grad-turned-carpenter, now a Code Inspector
for the City of Ithaca. He was spotted recently at an Ithaca Ageless Jazz
Band gig on the Commons--in his David Cup t-shirt! Unfortunately,
he did not pick up a sax...or a Merlin, either.)
100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100
100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100
[Overheard inside the 100 Club:] "Bill, what are you doing with that
black magic marker? Come on, now, they just painted the lighthouse, it
looks so pretty. [Sigh.] Guess now it'll be black, white, and read all
James Barry's BIRD 100: Yellow-billed Cuckoo
(fide Matt Medler, who also fides that James would have objected to us
running his total had he not made it into the 100 Club.)
Andy Farnsworth's BIRD 100: Refused to response to questionnaire
200 200 200 200 200 200
2 0 0
200 200 200 200
[Overheard inside the 200 Club]: "Did you see what Bill Evans scribbled on
that nice white lighthouse? Just for that, we probably shouldn't let
"Yeah. For that reason and the fact that John Bower's the one
subsidizing' the new spa for the Club."
Karl David's BIRD 200: Baird's Sandpiper
WHAT HE GAVE TO GET IN: The Lang Elliot/Stokes CD he won for being
on the winning Muckrace team
Matt Medler's BIRD 200: American Avocet
WHAT HE GAVE TO GET IN: Basin bird tours in his "trusty" Reliant
Meena Haribals' BIRD 200: Semipalmated Plover
WHAT SHE GAVE TO GET IN: All the birds she's seen in her native India
<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<< PILGRIMS' PROGRESS >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
by Matt Medler
You knew it was going to happen. It was only a matter of when. Stephen
Davies, that undeniable force, has wrested control of the David Cup away
from Tom Nix. The next question is: does Nix have the heart, the grit,
the desire, to win it back?
1997 DAVID CUP AUGUST TOTALS JULY TOTALS
228 Stephen Davies 219 Tom Nix
225 Tom Nix 215 Stephen Davies
222 Kevin McGowan 211 Kevin McGowan
222 Steve Kelling 210 Ken Rosenberg
221 Ken Rosenberg 209 Steve Kelling
220 Allison Wells 209 Allison Wells
219 Jeff Wells 208 Jay McGowan
217 Jay McGowan 205 John Greenly
210 John Greenly 204 Jeff Wells
208 Chris Hymes 202 Chris Hymes
207 Matt Medler 198 Karl David
205 Karl David 195 Matt Medler
204 Meena Haribal 189 Bard Prentiss
198 Anne Kendall Cassella 188 JR Crouse
193 Bard Prentiss 187 Anne Kendall Cassella
190 John Bower 187 Meena Haribal
188 JR Crouse 181 John Bower
182 Bill Evans 169 Bill Evans
182 Chris Butler 160 Chris Butler
179 Martha Fischer 159 Geo Kloppel
175 Geo Kloppel 158 Michael Pitzrick
158 Michael Pitzrick 150 Marty Schlabach
150 Marty Schlabach 137 Jim Lowe
141 Margaret Launius 135 Margaret Launius
140 Anne James 130 Michael Runge
137 Jim Lowe 120 David McDermitt
136 Michael Runge 115 Anne James
120 David McDermitt 109 Martha Fischer
119+ Andy Farnsworth 104 Caissa Willmer
111 Caissa Willmer 89 Andy Farnsworth
90 Casey Sutton 85 Casey Sutton
68 Cathy Heidenreich 68 Cathy Heidenreich
68 Diane Tessaglia 68 Diane Tessaglia
67 Jane Sutton 67 Jane Sutton
64 Sarah Childs 64 Sarah Childs
61 Rob Scott 61 Rob Scott
59 Dave Mellinger* 59 Dave Mellinger
46 Larry Springsteen* 46 Larry Springsteen
42 Sam Kelling* 42 Sam Kelling
40 Mira the Bird Dog* 40 Mira the Bird Dog
37 Taylor Kelling* 37 Taylor Kelling
5 Ralph Paonessa* 5 Ralph Paonessa
0 Ned Brinkley* 0 Ned Brinkley
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Matt Medler has done an outstanding job in his maiden
voyage as Pilgrim's Progress compiler, most notably by omitting a
Cupper--his pal, James Barry, no less! Good job, Matt. However,
the editors are going to override you this time around because James was
valiantly in the Muckrace, but we're too tired to redo the list. So,
as a result, James gets is own space:
104 James Barry*
*Currently living out-of-state but anticipate or have made a temporary
return to Basin within the 1997 David Cup year. They bravely sent in
their totals because they just wanted to, that's all.
We all know a certain somebody wants this one real bad. And yet, Kelling
actually pulled away from her even more this month. And what about Davies
coming up on the outside? Does the British Bad Boy have a shot at the
first-ever David Cup/McIlroy Award double?
1997 McILROY AUGUST TOTALS JULY TOTALS
191 Steve Kelling 184 Steve Kelling
186 Allison Wells 182 Allison Wells
185 Stephen Davies 175 Stephen Davies
178 Jeff Wells 174 Jeff Wells
161 John Bower 157 John Bower
156 JR Crouse 156 JR Crouse
153 Kevin McGowan 152 Kevin McGowan
148 Martha Fischer 136 Tom Nix
140 Karl David 130 Jay McGowan
139 Ken Rosenberg 130 Matt Medler
138 Matt Medler 129 Karl David
136 Tom Nix 116 Anne Kendall-Cassella
130 Jay McGowan 115 Michael Runge
128 Bill Evans 111 Bill Evans
122 Chris Butler 110 Jim Lowe
116 Anne Kendall-Casella 97 Martha Fischer
115 Michael Runge 83 Chris Butler
111 Jim Lowe 70 Casey Sutton
70 Casey Sutton 66 Jane Sutton
66 Jane Sutton 57 Dave Mellinger
57 Dave Mellinger* 51 Rob Scott
51 Rob Scott 50 Sarah Childs
50 Sarah Childs* 46 Larry Springsteen
46 Larry Springsteen* 40 Mira the Bird Dog
40 Mira the Bird Dog* 0 Ned Brinkley
0 Ned Brinkley* 0 Ralph Paonessa
0 Ralph Paonessa*
*Currently living out-of-state but anticipate or have made a temporary
return to Basin during the 1997 David Cup year. They bravely sent in
their totals because they just wanted to, that's all.
THE EVANS TROPHY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Named in honor of the late Dick Evans--beloved local birder, Cayuga Bird
Club president, and friend to many--the Evans Trophy will be awarded for
the highest Dryden total...if Ken Rosenberg has anything to say about it.
191 Ken Rosenberg 188 Ken Rosenberg
179 Bard Prentiss 178 Bard Prentiss
178 Kevin McGowan 171 Kevin McGowan
170 Jay McGowan 165 Jay McGowan
126 Anne Kendall-Cassella 126 Anne Kendall-Cassella
108 Matt Medler 108 Matt Medler
Kevin McGowan's Lansing total: AUGUST: 149 JULY: 149
THE YARD STICK ----------------------------
As the 2nd Annual David Cup ticks toward conclusion, some of you
non-Basin dwellers (i.e., David Cup cowards) have been asking us, "What
happened to the Yard List competition?" Well, we don't know. Maybe the
compiler (Cup Reader Rick Bonney's daughter Jesse) got grounded for
tallying at the dinner table? Maybe she just plain forgot? We'll try to
find out. Meanwhile, start running your numbers. Presumably for
inspiration to you all, the McGowan family sent their 1997 Yard List total
along with their other tallies. Despite all their hard work in adding it
up, we're going to go ahead and run it anyway.
McGowan Family Yard List Total: 117
(HYPOTHETICAL) LEADER'S LIST LLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL
By Karl David
The evening news reported the other night that Scottish voters were voting
on a referendum concerning increased home rule. Dang if the guy the camera
showed stuffing a ballot box didn't look a lot like ... Stephen Davies!
And I thought Davies was a Welsh name. Stephen, you may have some
explaining to do when you get back.
You also might have a few words to say about your Leader's List, since
your absence from the country has forced me to GUESS at it. Using a few
choice clues, let's see how close I get. Corrections, if any are needed
he said in his hubris, will appear in the next Cup.
C Loon, P-b, H & R-n grebes, D-c Cormorant, A & L bitterns, Great Blue
Heron, G & C egrets, Green Heron, B-c Night-Heron, Tundra & Mute
swans, S & C geese, W Duck, G-w Teal, A Black Duck, Mallard,
N Pintail, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, E & A wigeons,
Canvasback, Redhead, R-n Duck, G & L scaups, Oldsquaw, W-w Scoter,
C Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Hooded, Common & R-b mergansers, Ruddy
Duck, T Vulture, Osprey, Bald Eagle, N Harrier, S-s & C's hawks,
R-s, B-w, R-t & R-l hawks, A Kestrel, Merlin, P Falcon, R-n Pheasant,
R Grouse, W Turkey, V Rail, Sora, C Moorhen, A Coot, A Golden-Plover,
S Plover, Killdeer, A Avocet [wild guess!], G & L yellowlegs, Solitary,
Spotted & Upland sandpipers, R Turnstone, Sanderling, Semipalmated,
Least, White-rumped, Baird's & Pectoral sandpipers, Dunlin, Stilt
Sandpiper, S-b & L-b dowitchers, C Snipe, A Woodcock, W Phalarope,
Bonaparte's, R-b, Herring, Iceland, Lesser B-b, Glaucous & Great B-b
gulls, Caspian, Common, Forster's & Black terns, R & M Doves, B-b &
Y-b cuckoos, E Screech-Owl, G Horned, Barred, L-e, S-e & N Saw-whet
owls, C Nighthawk, C Swift, R-t Hummingbird, B Kingfisher, R-h &
R-b woodpeckers, Y-b Sapsucker, D & H woodpeckers, Northern Flicker,
P Woodpecker, O-s Flycatcher, E Wood-Pewee, Y-b, Acadian, Alder,
Willow & Least flycatchers, E Phoebe, G Crested Flycatcher, E Kingbird,
H Lark, all six swallows, B Jay, A & F crows, C Raven, B-c Chickadee,
Tufted Titmouse, R-b & W-b nuthatches, BCreeper, Carolina, House,
Winter, Sedge & Marsh wrens, G-c & R-c kinglets, B-g Gnatcatcher,
E Bluebird, Veery, G-c, Swainson's, Hermit & Wood thrushes, A Robin,
G Catbird, N Mockingbird, BThrasher, A Pipit, C Waxwing, E Starling,
Blue-headed, Y-t, W & R-e vireos, B-winged, Tennessee & Nashville
warblers, N Parula, Yellow, C-sided, Magnolia, C May, B-t Blue,
Y-rumped, B-t Green, Blackburnian, Pine, Prairie, Palm, B-breasted,
Blackpoll, Cerulean & B-and-w warblers, A Redstart, Prothonotary
Warbler, Ovenbird, N & L waterthrushes, Mourning Warbler, C Yellowthroat,
Hooded, Wilson's & Canada warblers, Sc Tanager, N Cardinal, R-b Grosbeak,
I Bunting, E Towhee, A Tree, Chipping, Field, Vesper, Savannah,
Grasshopper, Henslow's, Fox, Song, Lincoln's, Swamp, W-throated &
W-crowned sparrows, D-e Junco, L Longspur, S Bunting, Bobolink,
R-w Blackbird, E Meadowlark, Y-h & Rusty blackbirds, C Grackle,
B-h Cowbird, Orchard & Baltimore orioles, P & H finches, A Goldfinch,
FATHER KARL'S COMPOSITE DEPOSIT
Stephen creeps up to the 90% plateau [i.e. the leader has now seen
almost 90% of the total number of species seen], but he'll have to nab a
few of the following birds to get there:
R-t Loon, A White Pelican, Snowy Egret, G W-f & Ross' geese, Brant,
Barrow's Goldeneye, Black Vulture, N Goshawk, Golden Eagle, B-bellied
Plover, Western Sandpiper, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, R-n Phalarope,
Laughing, Little & Thayer's gulls, Snowy Owl, Whip-poor-will, N Shrike,
W-e & Philadelphia vireos, Golden-winged, Worm-eating & Kentucky
warblers, C Redpoll, P Siskin, E Grosbeak.
Grand Total: 256 [last year's final total: 268]
(Karl David teaches mathematics at Wells College in Aurora and is spending
a sabbatical year at Cornell. Look for him giving his math lessons down
on the lighthouse jetty.)
! KICKIN' TAIL! !
What better way to prove you ain't Father of the Madness for nothin' than
by being featured in an interview exclusively for The Cup, even though you
haven't placed first yet this year? Kickin' Tail brings well deserved
honor and recognition to the Cupper who has glassed, scoped, scanned,
driven, climbed, dug, Fathered, or otherwise made his/her way to the top
of the David Cup list...last year, anyway. With our official Kickin'
Tail leader presumably having tea with the queen, we tapped 1996 David
Cup King Karl David for 15 minutes of fame this time around. You remember
Karl, don't you? Fast car? Bloodshot eyes? Checkmark-motion hand spasms?
THE CUP: Knock, knock, Karl. Bet you didn't expect to find The Cup's
Kickin' Tail interviewers at your door this month, huh? But, well, the
real Kickin' Tail Leader, Stephen Davies, fled to Scotland this week for a
bit. Apparently, he was afraid Tom Nix might come after him with
a two-by-four (but don't tell anyone.) Karl, for the last eight months,
everybody's been wondering: WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN! You, the man who last
year was birding in his sleep!
DAVID: To turn your phrase around: I must be sleeping during my
birding. I've been out a fair amount, but the numbers just aren't there.
I cut some corners here and there.
THE CUP: Though apparently, not enough classes this time around.
DAVID: I didn't try for Worm-eating Warbler, for example, and there
were no serious bittern/rail heroics like last year's multiple walks over
the Cayuga railroad tracks until I got the Least. I'm about where I am
during "normal" years. But the curse of the David Cup is ...what used to
be normal is now also-ran.
THE CUP: Tell us about it! So how is Beloved Elaine taking the idea
that her man has not Kicked Tail yet this year? Oh, the look of love on
her face last year at the Cupper Supper, when you "drank" from the Cup
DAVID: You should see her face these days...'cause I sure don't, not
since early August, when she left for Wisconsin and her new job trying to
convince the wholesome farmers' sons and daughters at Carthage College
that plants are sexy.
THE CUP: How tough can that be?
DAVID: I told her they're losers compared to birds, but she's stubborn.
I'll be going out to see her during fall break...and hope for a Swainson's
Hawk or something migrating down the west side of Lake Michigan. That'd be
worth five or so year birds for the Cup (no offense).
THE CUP: With an attitude like that, no wonder you're not Kickin' Tail.
Actually, though, you've made significant inroads recently and may even be
in the Top Ten as we speak. What has pulled you up, besides shorebirds
(since most everyone else is getting shorebirds, too, now.)
DAVID: Well, I've patched up a few embarrassing gaps from the spring,
like American Bittern (the same day I wrote Stat's All for this month!),
Common Nighthawk, Barred Owl. I still don't have Broad-winged Hawk,
goshawk, grouse, raven, Rusty Blackbird, Fox Sparrow...Not to make
the people immediately ahead of me (Matt Medler, for instance?) nervous,
THE CUP: Speaking of Matt, you know, don't you, that he has his sights set
DAVID: To quote my favorite philosopher, Bertie Wooster: He's young,
THE CUP: Bertie, pronounced "Birdie," we presume? As for Matt, he's still
driving that Reliant, so you should be safe. What was the latest CD in
your CD player?
DAVID: The complete piano music of Leonard Bernstein, because it's the
last one I bought. I bought it because some of the pieces entitled
"Anniversaries" are actually easy enough for me to play (two of them so
THE CUP: More talent to display at the next Cupper Supper! Of course,
you'd have to bring your own piano...
DAVID: I wanted to hear what a real pianist made them sound like.
Anyone who can get a hold of the out-of-print Seven Anniversaries for me,
by the way, will be treated to a free something-or-other, bird- or
THE CUP: Forget it. Real Cuppers only listen to blues and jazz. (Say,
have you heard Maurice Andre's Vivaldi trumpet concerto...eh-hem.) What
are your thoughts about the performances of our previous Leaders?
DAVID: Both Nix and Davies know I'm a tough act to follow. Well, a
tough old coot, at any rate. Stephen has the ebullience of youth on his
side, and those good Welsh genes. Tom...well, he was my Muckrace partner,
after all, and that's a bonding experience not lightly cast aside. I have
to favor him, for that reason alone.
THE CUP: Not to mention that as a code inspector, he could declare your
house unsafe and force you to buy a new one, maybe outside the Basin.
Meanwhile, what's your strategy for the rest of the year? How will being
based at Cornell for your sabbatical compare to your birding, uh, teaching
at Wells College--halfway to Montezuma?
DAVID: The problem with a sabbatical leave is you have to explain to your
colleagues afterwards what you did.
THE CUP: That's asking a bit much.
DAVID: "Engineering the greatest come-from-behind performance in David
Cup history" won't impress them.
THE CUP: But that's Nobel Prize territory!
DAVID: I actually have to do professional improvement things during my
year at Cornell. And, I have to face the prospect of finding a new job if
my beloved Elaine and I decide to stake our future in Wisconsin.
THE CUP: What? But Wisconsin's out of the Basin! Besides, you're our
Father, leaving us would be child abandonment, punishable by law...
DAVID: My goal remains modest this year: just finish in the Top Ten,
and just ahead of Matt Medler.
THE CUP: Any parting words for our Kickin' Tail leader before we say
DAVID: You could tell him the lighthouse jetty sure is lonely without him,
though that Parasitic Jaeger I saw there the other day almost makes up for
his absence ...
By Jay McGowan
Welcome to Birdbits! Here is a chance to test your knowledge of the
world of birds. August is the month for shorebirds, so this month's
Birdbits is dedicated to shorebirds. Answers next month (or, if you pay
me ten dollars, I'll tell you them now.)
1. How could you tell an American Golden-Plover from a Black-bellied
Plover if all you could see was their feet?
2. Which North American shorebirds have black bellies in breeding
3. What is the scientific name for the Spoonbill Sandpiper?
4. Which of the peeps (the small sandpipers) have webbing between their
5. What shorebird is supposed to clean the teeth of crocodiles?
6. Curlews' bills curve down. Godwits' bills curve up. Which shorebirds'
bills curve to the side?
7. Flamingos have the longest legs relative to their size of any bird.
What is second?
8. What North American shorebird has the longest bill?
9. What is peculiar about the egg tooth of an American Woodcock chick?
10. What does Dromas ardeola eat?
ANSWERS TO LAST MONTH'S BIRDBITS:
1. What color are the lores of a breeding Snowy Egret? Most of you
probably said yellow, but the high breeding male Snowy Egret's lores are
2. Which bird digs the longest burrow, and what is the length of the
longest burrow on record? The Rhinoceros Auklet. The record burrow was
26 feet (7.9 m) in length.
3. Which bird seeks blood on which to feed, and how does it obtain the
blood? The Galapagos Sharp-beaked Ground-Finch pokes a small hole in
the base of a developing flight feather of a Masked or Red-footed Booby
to obtain the blood.
4. Which hummingbird occurs the farthest south? The Green-backed
Firecrown breeds as far south as the Straits of Magellan.
5. What is the scientific name of the Blue-throated Starfrontlet?
6. What is the only bird in the genus Mniotilta? The Black-and-White
7. The American Ornithologists' Union Recently split the genus Parus into
six genera. What is the new genus of the Black-capped Chickadee, and other
8. What local bird insists upon using snake skin in it's nest? The
Great-crested Flycatcher. All birds in the genus Myiarchus use snake skin.
If they cannot find it they will use plastic or cellophane.
9. What is the common name for Lamprotornis nitens? The Red-shouldered
Glossy-Starling. These glossy green-blue starlings live in central and
10. Song Sparrows and House Sparrows are both called sparrows, but are
not related. Which one is really a sparrow, and what is the other one?
Most Americans would say that Song Sparrows are the real sparrows and
that House Sparrows are weaver-finches, but actually Song Sparrows are
really buntings and House Sparrows are the real sparrows, having been
named first. The real sparrows (family Passeridae) are closely related to
the weavers in the family Ploceidae, and are sometimes included in that
(Jay McGowan, age eleven, is home-schooled. It is expected that he will be
the one who ultimately repairs the MIR Space Station.)
STAT'S ALL, FOLKS
By Karl David
I hope people aren't getting tired of me always using my own data for
this column, but the path of least resistance leads right to it--it's the
only easily accessible data I have. And for illustrative purposes, it's as
good as any other data.
I suspect that many working statisticians' first love was probability.
They earn their bread doing something useful for their clients (maybe!),
but they got into this applied science by falling in love with the "pure"
art form of probability. This month I'm going to try to convince you that
calculating complicated-looking probabilities (at least in theory) is not
as arcane and baffling as it may seem.
There are really only two things you can do when you're combining
several probabilities--add them or multiply them. You know you've made a
mistake if you come out with a number not between 0 and 1. Once you
figure out when to multiply and when to add, that won't happen, but you
could still be wrong. Now you probably forgot to account for one or more
cases, or counted some cases more than once, or both.
When do you multiply? Well, remember fractions decrease when you
multiply them together. And when do probabilities go down? When you're
asking for the probability of a succession of events, each with its own
probability. Being rich, famous and handsome is less likely than just being
rich, or just being handsome, or just being famous. So, you multiply those
three probabilities together.
And when do you add? Fractions increase when you add them together.
And probabilities increase when you're asking if any of several distinct
situations are likely. To use a shopworn example, a die toss can come up
even in any one of three ways, each having probability 1/6. So adding
those three gives ½ for the probability of being even ... greater than the
probability of any particular even number.
To illustrate, consider the probabilities of seeing the usually
occurring bitterns, rails and cuckoos in the Basin in a given year. Of
course, you can't find these numbers written down anywhere! The best I can
do is use the proportion of the number of times I've had them to the total
number of years of observation (12). For the six birds in question, these
turn out to be:
American Bittern: 11/12
Least Bittern: 7/12
Virginia Rail: 10/12
Black-billed Cuckoo: 11/12
Yellow-billed Cuckoo : 7/12
Of course, as estimates of probabilities, these need to be taken with
lethal doses of salt. For example, for a 12/12 bird like Wilson's
Phalarope, using this principle means I can never miss it! But alas, I'm
on the verge of doing so this year. Again, I use these numbers for
illustrative purposes only.
Now, let me reveal to you the shocking fact that so far this year,
I haven't seen any bitterns, rails or cuckoos! Based on the assigned
probabilities, how likely is that to happen? That's easy! I have to miss
all six birds, which is a lot harder to do than just missing any one. So,
I need to multiply together the six probabilities of missing the birds,
which is found in each case by subtracting the probability of finding the
bird from one [either finding or not finding a bird exhausts all the
possibilities]. So, the answer is 1x5x2x6x1x5 divided by
12x12x12x12x12x12...a number so ridiculously small it might as well be
zero. Oh, well.
Let's finish with a harder-looking example. What's the probability I
see at least one each of bitterns, rails and cuckoos? Though tedious to
carry out, this is straightforward in principle. I just write down all the
possible ways this can happen. For example, if I see both bitterns, Sora,
and both cuckoos, I'm in. Or, I could see Least Bittern, both rails, and
Black-billed Cuckoo. Only one of these cases is going to occur. So, I
figure out the probability of each case. The first one mentioned, for
example, would come out 11x7x2x6x11x7 divided by 12x12x12x12x12x12 [2
because I miss Virginia Rail in this scenario]. Then I add up the
probabilities of all these "success" stories, and bingo, I have the number
The tricky part here is making sure you get all the cases. If you
want to try your hand at this, I'll give you the answer: there are 27, 2
of which I wrote down in the previous paragraph. To succeed at this, you
need a plan for organizing the cases so that you don't skip any, or
inadvertently write one down twice. Here's a hint: you'll see either
6,5,4 or 3 birds if you're going to get at least one of each of the three
types. In the case of 5 out of 6, index your work by the missing bird. For
4 out of 6, realize one of the three types will have to have both birds,
while each of the other two has one, etc. Good luck!
P.S. Luckily for me, I don't have my calculator with me, so I'm not
going to calculate the probability!
(Did we mention Karl David is a mathematics professor?)
SCRAWL OF FAME
"It's All in the Details"
By Kevin McGowan
I have a couple of comments to make regarding Karl's fine "Stat's
All, Folks" from last month. He asked a couple of questions that I can
answer, and brought up a point that could use some clarification. I don't
really want to take on the role of "Answer Man," and unlike Dr. Science,
I'm not sure I know more than you do (but I might). I do, however, know
a few things, and I am happy to share them.
First, regarding the King Vulture that Peterson includes but the ABA
doesn't. William Bartram visited Florida in the 1770's. Although
primarily a botanist, Bartram recorded many observations of birds (he
collected the plants.) The names he used were quite different from those
used today, but most of the birds are identifiable, either by the names or
the brief descriptions he wrote. He described two vultures: the Carrion
Crow (pretty clearly a Black Vulture) and the "Painted Vulture, Vutur
sacra." The latter had some characteristics of the Central and South
American King Vulture, but differed in having a white tail and "a large
portion of the stomach hanging down on the breast, in the likeness of a
sack or half wallet" (quoted in Howell, 1932, Florida Bird Life). No
bird quite like this exists. Some people have accepted the King Vulture
interpretation while others conclude that it might be an imaginary bird
based on some tale told to him by others. The American Ornithologists'
Union no longer accepts the King Vulture theory, suggesting that it was a
Crested Caracara. Two King Vultures have been seen in Florida in recent
times (1958 & 1989), but they were both known to be escapees from
captivity (Robertson & Woolfenden, 1992, Florida Bird Species: An
Karl pondered the occurrence of Mexican species in the southwestern
US, with many seen in Arizona and Texas but relatively few in California
and New Mexico. To understand this situation, first look at a
physiographic map of Mexico. What you'll see is that Mexico contacts the
US in a couple of different zones: mesquite grasslands, desert (of
several types), and pine-oak forest (read: mountains). The interesting
bird action is outside the deserts, especially in the mountains.
California gets mostly the desert part, but also some chaparral. But
even that connects to Baja California, an arid peninsula rather
depauperate of birds (as islands and peninsulas usually are).
Southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico, and to a lesser extent,
western Texas make contact with the mountainous zone. Mexico has two long
lines of mountains extending from the US border down into the middle of
the country (where they connect in a horseshoe pattern), and many species
work their way up these to points in Arizona and Texas but not into the
deserts in between. The mountains have a great many interesting species,
only a handful of which make their way up to where the ABA can count them.
So, Texas is good because it has a huge border with Mexico with a variety
of habitats. Arizona is good because it has the strongest mountain
connection. California is bad because it is cut off by desert, and New
Mexico is bad....Well, why is New Mexico bad?
Some people would say it isn't! In fact, the same main mountain
system that gets into Arizona makes it into the corner of New Mexico. The
seeming lack of interesting Mexican birds in New Mexico may be entirely
the result of the smaller number of people birding these areas. In fact,
a number of people have come to just this conclusion recently and have
been birding harder in New Mexico. They are finding just about what they
expected to find, and the New Mexico list is growing.
Karl's revery started by his acquisition of the newest ABA Checklist,
incorporating "the most recent taxonomic changes." Actually, it doesn't.
For those who don't know, the American Ornithologists' Union maintains a
Committee on Classification and Nomenclature (the Checklist Committee)
that creates The AOU Check-list of North American Birds. They update it
regularly with supplements published in The Auk, the official scientific
journal of the AOU. This is THE official list of North American birds.
The checklist itself has scientific names (old ones as well as the current
ones), and habitat and distribution information. The Checklist contains
all species for which there is a published record of occurrence within the
Checklist area (which now includes all of Central America as well as
Hawaii). The main list contains those species documented with either a
specimen or an unequivocally identifiable photograph. (A recording of a
diagnostic vocalization would be okay, but none are represented this way,
at least up to 1983.) Because the AOU is a scientific organization, such
conservatism is appropriate. In science the watchwords are "repeatable
and verifiable." Only if there is some way for someone else to make an
independent assessment is the record accepted. Besides the main list (the
countable ones), it includes in the appendices lists of species with
reasonable sight records; a "hypothetical" list of species with
tantalizing but not quite sufficient descriptions; a list of forms of
doubtful identity or of hybrid origin that have been given names; and a
list of species deliberately introduced or escaped from captivity that
have not become established. The ABA list is close, but not identical, to
the AOU main list. Birding is a sport and not necessarily a science, so
the criteria used to accept things is less stringent. Good written
documentation is sufficient to add species to the ABA list. Also, some
disagreement has existed in the past about what was established or not.
So, as to "the most recent taxonomic changes"... The three
Scrub-Jays are old news! They were split in 1995. The most recent
Supplement to the AOU Checklist was just published in the July 1997 issue
of the Auk. Although an official document, and the first published
occurrence of many changes, the last supplement is merely an abstract of
what to expect in the soon-to-be-published (November 1997?) 7th edition of
the Checklist. Hold onto your hats, because things are going to change.
If you don't care about scientific names, Central America, who is related
to whom, or in what order you list the birds, then very little will affect
you. If you do, then expect some surprises. Actually, for the birds of
New York, and especially the Cayuga Lake Basin come little changes. You
should list Turkey Vulture right after Wood Stork instead of with the
hawks. The order of the ducks changes around a bit. "Ross'" (as in Gull
and Goose) now becomes "Ross's", and "Harris'" (as in Sparrow) becomes
"Harris's" (I'll bet you were spelling it that way anyway, weren't you?)
But the only really noticeable one is that the Solitary Vireo has been
split into three different species: the Blue-headed Vireo (the one we have
here), Plumbeous Vireo (Rocky Mountains), and Cassin's Vireo (West Coast).
If you bird out West you'll want to watch the (ex)Plain Titmice for the
new Oak and Juniper Titmice. Oh, also, the Marbled Murrelet has been
split into the Marbled and the Long-billed murrelets. It's the Siberian
Long-billed that occasionally turns up in eastern North America, as it did
in New York a couple of years ago. Also, the order of the Passerines (the
song birds) will change to put the vireos, shrikes, and crows together
right after the flycatchers, and a bunch of things get moved around near
the tanagers and finches, but I haven't internalized all of that yet
myself, so I'll put it off for later. Once the big book comes out,
though, I'll be a stickler for detail!
(Kevin McGowan is Associate Curator of Birds & Mammals at the Cornell
Vertebrate Collections. He was approached by the producers of the
"The X-files" to appear as "Answer Man," but he declined. )
(If you have an opinion--or insider information--about the art, science,
and/or esthetics of birding or birding-related topics, write it up for
the Scrawl of Fame.)
< COACH'S CORNER <
< < < <
For a while the editors feared the Coach for this issue had abandoned his
team. But in the end, he couldn't resist the opportunity to win over
Cuppers that might vote to accept his membership into the 200 Club. Who
is this 200-Clubber wannabe? Why, it's Mr. Nightowl himself, Bill Evans!
Or you could call him Mr. Migration, we suppose. Or you should just call
him Coach Evans...
COACH EVANS: Fall migration is the home stretch in the David and
McIlroy Cup competitions, and the long-awaited period from mid-September
through mid-October is when some of our region's premier species can be
found. Even if one is well behind the leaders in Cup competition, finding
a rarity can rev the engine of inner satisfaction to realms of victory.
Though species are equally weighted in the competition, a qualitative
difference in their value exists. In fact, there is a ranking to the
ticks not formally recognized by the competition but one that is valid and
in a sense superior (i.e., it's the quality of the tick that counts!).
For example, finding your own bird is better than seeing a "chased bird."
No doubt, the personal experience of finding the regionally rare American
Avocet on the jetty would rank higher than rushing to see the bird after
finding out about it from another birder. Another example is Dave
Russell's adult Sabine's Gull in Elmira. This was such an outstanding
bird for our region that it seriously impacted the Cup competition--
birders left the Basin to see this improbable avian event. [As I write
this text, Chris Hymes comes in and tells me he didn't drive down to see
the Sabine's Gull because he figured he would see one another time. I'll
try to educate the greenhorn but youth rarely listens to experience. I
have my own life as proof--a not chased Fork-tailed Flycatcher near
Rochester a few years back]. The Sabine's Gull was part of the Cup
competition in a strange and twisted way--sort of like the principle of
Manifest Destiny, the rules of the game are in a state of constant flux
and evolution. By Cup rules, I can't tick the Sabine's Gull but the
quality of the Sabine's experience seeps in osmosis-like and affects my
status as I speak to Hymes. I pummel the guy in my mind. I feel bad
afterwards but I blame this on my association with academia in recent
years. "Eat and be eaten," a Sufi sage once said!
The gist here is that say, for example, at the beginning of this
year someone told you had a choice of coming in second in the David Cup or
finding your own Sabine's Gull in Elmira like Dave Russell did. What would
you choose? For me there is no question, I would have taken the gull
experience just like I took the jaeger last year! Of course, Cup
bureaucrats might say that swinging this unofficial sword of quality is
the kind of psychological tactic Coach Evans must wage when his Cup totals
are so far off the pace of the leaders. The truth is out there!
Below are species that top my list of rarities to be found in the
Cayuga Lake Basin during the mid-September through mid-October period
along with strategies for finding them:
1) Dickcissels are on the move late-September through mid-October, and
though they migrate at night, they are prone to continuing their migration
in the morning. Cayuga Lake acts as a catcher's mit for diurnal-migrant
songbirds in fall migration (robins, jays, waxwings, etc.). As the
eastern lake shore curves southeastward, many southbound birds don't want
to cross the lake for fear of being picked off by a merlin or sharpy so
they fly along the shore and round the lake's south end, flying over the
Ithaca City Golf Course and Stewart Park. Listening for the distinctive
call note of the Dickcissel (example on the new Stokes audio field guide)
at these locations or along the eastern Cayuga Lake shoreline in the
morning hours during favorable migration weather could very well yield a
2) LeConte's Sparrow is a potential fall migrant through the Cayuga Lake
Basin. Typically, they select upland hayfields with long grass as
stopover sites. For example, the extensive fields where Chris Hymes
directed us to a Sedge Wren this past summer is excellent LeConte's
habitat. The best time to check this habitat for a migrant LeConte's is
during the first week or so of October. One strategy might be to get a
line of birders (each birder standing maybe 20 yards apart) and sweep
through fields of this long grass habitat listening for the thin,
high-pitched, down-slurred contact call of LeConte's (also on Stoke's audio
guide). Pishing is often successful to bring this species up into view.
If enough acreage is covered, I wouldn't be surprised if another rarity
turned up--a Yellow Rail! Both these species are probably regular fall
migrants through the Cayuga Lake Basin but their habitat rarely gets
3) Connecticut Warbler is one of the most savored fall migrant wood
warblers passing through the Cayuga Lake Basin, and it is well known that
mid-September is the peak time for finding them. Local wisdom tells us
to search patches of Jewel Weed for this gem of a skulker. Yet a few
years ago I spoke with Paul Kerlinger, then director of the Cape May Bird
Observatory. He said that for years at Cape May, their banding operations
captured very few Connecticuts and they didn't understand why because the
species was seen regularly in morning flight at the Higbee dike migration
count. Then one year they put some nets across hedgerows and banded over
50 Connecticuts in three weeks, by far their highest season total. Maybe
we would have better luck finding this species if we checked hedgerows
with Jewel Weed. A few years back Annette Finney found a Connecticut
Warbler along Rothermich Road in just such a location. The bird remained
in the same area (200 sq. ft.) for three days.
(Bill Evans is a Lab Associate at the Laboratory of Ornithology. He was
a contestant in a wet t-shirt concert recently in Elmira, but the winner
was a Sabine's Gull.)
mmmmmmmmmmmmmm McILROY MUSINGS mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm
"This time you've gone too far!" That's what your defenseless coeditor
Allison Wells was accosted with in the Lab of O parking lot soon after the
last issue of The Cup came out. And who was it that spoke with such
ferocity, such venom--such whining and pleading for equal time to offset
the public attack of John Bower in the last McIlroy Musings? Yes, it was
Coach Evans! Seeings as there's still much knowledge to be gleaned from
Bill regarding the night migration that's happening even as we write, we
thought it best to stay on his good side and grant him his "request."
THE CUP: So, Bill, how does it feel to be here, even though you don't
deserve it? (You know, at least Bower had come out ahead ONCE, albeit
back in January when everyone but him was out of town.)
EVANS: Let's face it, I'm here for only one reason: To pay back Bower
(that lying scum) for his remarks last month.
THE CUP: Ouch! Indeed, since we all know that Allison Wells is going to
blow past Steve Kelling and take the McTrophy again this year, the real
McCompetition is between you and Bower. Any thoughts on how you're
going to take him?
EVANS: As with last year, all I have to do is get close to Bower in the
competition and he'll choke. You'll soon start hearing his characteristic
whining that he must spend more time at home, or else there'll be the
incessant PhD excuses.
THE CUP: You mean that sound was John Bower? We thought it was
EVANS: Last year that's all I heard around the Bioacoustics Lab. "Oh,
I'm not really taking this seriously," he'd scoff with true academic
snobbery. It's well known that Bower chose Song Sparrow for his doctorate
thesis because that was the only species he could identify with confidence.
THE CUP: We had no idea!
EVANS: The only reason he can even identify them is because their numbers
are so great, his chances of correctly guessing are pretty good!
THE CUP: Yah, but at least he admits it...doesn't he? So Bill, how and
when did you discover the joys of birding the lighthouse jetty?
EVANS: Birding at the jetty goes way back before I came to the Basin.
Ned Brinkely was the one who initiated the recent wave of lighthouse
birding. Ned started a regular Friday afternoon outing at the lighthouse.
THE CUP: How come we're not surprised?
EVANS: Sometimes there would be a dozen people out there.
THE CUP: So that's why the place was always strewn with beer cans and
EVANS: It was a lot of fun. However, since I am in preparation of a
three-volume epic on the history of birding the Ithaca lighthouse jetty, I
will refrain from further comments at this time.
THE CUP: We'll look forward to reading excerpts in The National Enquirer.
And it will include a chapter entitled, "The Ghost of Ned Brinkley" won't
it? Say, is Ned the one who gave you those infamous big red overalls?
EVANS: Regarding the overalls, if Kevin McGowan can pick off a Baird's
Sandpiper on the jetty from Stewart Park, one would think others could
see that my overalls are dark brown, not red. I got them from REI in 1985.
THE CUP: Made from garbage, we suppose, like those sneakers you had that
fell apart. How does this year's McScore and strategy compare to last
year for you?
EVANS: Pretty much the same. I draft in the back of the pack until
the home stretch. As the others burn out from exhaustion, I am fresh as
the morning and sprint past them to the finish.
THE CUP: Hope that means you've been putting in some quality time on
the treadmill, because your sprint right now is looking like a 10K run.
Meanwhile, you've done a pretty good job of following the David Cup rule
of share and share alike, by spilling your night-migration expertise.
Still, there have been grumblings that you've really only given crumbs
from your hardy loaf. Do you have any plans to feed the hungry paupers
some bigger slices. You know, CDs, guided night tours, brain transplants?
EVANS: I don't know if even a brain transplant would help some folks in
THE CUP: Now, don't be so hard on yourself. [See Pilgrim's Progress.]
EVANS: All I can say here is that I will be leading another night flight
call listening adventure up on Mount Pleasant in the third week of
September for Gray-cheeked and Swainson's Thrush.
THE CUP: We'll take it. By the way, another arch rival of yours, Jane
Sutton, was mysteriously tipped off about this interview and sent along
these sentiments--you probably recognize them, they're lyrics from your
theme song, "Push," by Matchbox 20: "I'm a little bit angry, well, this
ain't over, no, not here...I wanna push you around, I will, I will, I
wanna push you down, I will, I will..."
EVANS: Jane's Cup scores are so low they are just barely on the edge of
my perception. She is like the mythical unicorn--I keep hearing about her
but I'm never really certain she exists!
THE CUP: Perhaps her court papers, charging you with slander, would be
proof enough? By the way, have you in fact made your "big push" yet?
How will we know when this has taken place?
EVANS: You'll know when you hear the loud moose-like moan from John
Bower (LNS# 2473) as I surpass him in the McIlroy Cup down the stretch
with one migration period tied behind my back. By the way, I will be
playing a rare archival cut of Bower snoring at the upcoming 2nd annual
Wide World of Sound seminar at the Lab of O this February. John came up
to listen to migrants on Mount Pleasant with me back in early August 1987.
After he was through groveling around with some woman he found up there,
he promptly fell asleep.
THE CUP: Was that when the Barn Owl went over?
EVANS: There was a good migration that night but the tape was dominated
by his bull frog-like snoring. I will be performing spectrographic
analysis on his snores at the seminar--coffee and cookies will be served.
THE CUP: Both John Bower and Stephen Davies sent along inquiries
regarding some graffiti down on the northside of the lighthouse [see Cup
Quotes, this issue.] Apparently, it reads, "Evans Rules!" Did you write
EVANS: I think it is only proper that now again we remember one of our
fallen peers, Dick Evans. Dick was the President of the Cayuga Bird Club
back in the late 1980s and his steadfast guidance and wry sense of humor
laid the foundation for the early pre-Cup Big Year competitions. I'm sure
whoever wrote the graffiti on the lighthouse had this in mind.
THE CUP: Of course you did...
BIRD BRAIN OF THE MONTH
By Caissa Willmer
We've got a charming and delightful Bird Brain this month: Matt
Medler of list and Lab of O fame. He thinks of himself as a novice birder,
but his skills are growing at a phenomenal rate--under the close and
careful tutelage of Jeff and Allison Wells--and his enthusiasm is more
than infectious. I plied him with the standard opening question: When did
you start birding, and what was it that first got you interested in birds?
"I started birding just over four years ago, so I'm still fairly new
at the whole game. When I came to Cornell as an undergraduate five years
ago, I was not even remotely interested in birds. But, as luck would have
it, James Barry was my roommate freshman year. Here was a guy who had
goofy-looking bird shirts, liked to listen to bird song tapes, and talked
about going to a place called Sapsucker Woods. What a weirdo! Somehow
James talked me into going to Sapsucker Woods during finals week, and
although I didn't even birdwatch on that first trip, I really enjoyed our
visit, and I remember thinking that maybe birdwatching wasn't so bad after
all. When James and I did go birdwatching for the first time later that
summer, I enjoyed the places we went, and I was amazed by the beauty and
diversity of the birds we saw. I've been watching birds ever since.
[CW] Next Q:To what extent does birding color your life--i.e., your
"I'm at a stage in my life where I don't have many responsibilities,
so I don't have much of a daily routine. I don't own a house, I don't
have any pets, and I don't have a girlfriend [sigh], so the only real
commitment I have is my job. I work from 8:30 to 5, but other than that,
any time is available for birding. If I want to drive up to Montezuma
after work, or if I want to get up early and go down to the lighthouse, I
do it. However, I haven't reached the advanced stage of addiction where
birding is part of my daily schedule. I'm not sure I'll ever reach that
[CW] So, what does birding mean to you?
"Birding used to mean ignoring my school work and going out with
James Barry in my trusty Reliant station wagon, hoping to track down some
rarity' that Steve Kelling had seen. In many cases, the birds were rare
only for us, and in most cases, we didn't have any luck seeing them. So
in those days, bird outings with James were often more about the
camaraderie than the birds (since we weren't seeing many). My birding
skills are a bit more refined now, but the people element is still a big
part of birding for me. I don't enjoy going birding alone nearly as much
as I enjoy it when I'm with somebody else. At the risk of sounding corny,
I enjoy sharing birds with fellow birders, whether they be seasoned
veterans or beginners.
[CW] Well, then are you an avid lister?
"I have a really difficult time with the word lister,' and whether I
am a lister or not. When I think of the word lister, I think of a
twitcher--someone who chases down rare birds and seems to value adding the
bird to his/her list as much as actually experiencing the bird. I would
say that I'm not that type of lister, although this damn David Cup
competition has made me twitch once or twice recently. Perhaps the better
question would be Do I keep a list?' The answer to that would be yes.
The big list for me is my lifelist. All other lists, such as North
American lists, state lists, Basin lists, town lists, and yard lists, seem
a bit silly to me. I could figure out how many birds I've seen in New York
State, or in the Basin, and I generally know when I'm seeing a new Basin
bird or state bird, but what's the big deal (especially when a list
involves political boundaries)? Oh--did I mention David Cup and McIlroy
lists? Those are probably the silliest lists of all.
"Of course, I know exactly how many birds I have on my David Cup list
this year, because I decided to make a strong effort to hit 200. After the
madness ends this year, though, I will probably seem a bit listless. Did
this clear things up at all? Probably not.
[CW] Would you describe two or three of your most memorable
"One of my first great birding experiences was when James Barry and I
went to Montezuma for the first time with our own binoculars, but since
that experience involves our getting yelled at by a refuge volunteer, I
think I'll pass on the details. We were totally innocent! I swear!
"Another truly memorable birding outing was when James and I went to
Ferd's Bog for our first (and only) time. However, the highlight of that
trip was not Boreal Chickadee, Gray Jay, or the three-toed woodpeckers
(none of which we saw), but rather my ending up waist-high in Ferd's Bog
muck, so I'd prefer not to describe that experience. I'm sure that James,
however, would be more than happy to tell his version of the trip.
"For those who are starting to feel bad for me (no tears, Allison!), I
do have at least one birding story with a happy ending. I spent two weeks
last summer in Lapland, where I ringed birds with some Swedish friends from
Lund University. One morning, the non-birder in the group mentioned that
she had seen an owl outside of her window as she went to bed the previous
night. She described the bird well, and we decided it was a Hökuggla--Hawk
Owl! So that night, a group of us walked down the road a ways in the hope
of seeing the owl. After quite some time, we saw the silhouette of the
bird fly across the mountain, at quite some distance. That was nice, but I
was hoping to see the bird better. We waited a while longer, in the hope
of another appearance. Gradually, the group began to thin out, until just
a young Swede, Karl-Martin, and I were left. We waited and waited, but
still there was no sign of the owl. A huge full moon was now visible, and
Karl-Martin told me how he had seen a Hawk Owl last year, flying across a
full moon. We were having no such luck, but we were reluctant to give up.
We walked the road again, and waited. Still no owl. Finally, we decided
to head back to the cabins. On the short walk back, we heard a strange
sound. What was that? I don't know. What sound do Hawk Owls make?
Strange sounds. We decided we should wait five more minutes, and finally,
we were rewarded. The Hawk Owl appeared, flying right past us, with the
full moon behind it. We ran up to the reindeer pen where it was headed,
and it proceeded to put on a show for us. It sat on a large post, and then
would swoop down to the ground, eventually returning to its lookout. It
stayed in the area for over 15 minutes, allowing us to admire it from close
range. Finally, as a last hurrah, it flew right over me, maybe 20 feet
above my head, and headed up the mountainside. It was a truly magical
[CW] OK, then, who are you professionally?
"According to my official Cornell title, I am Media Assistant V at the
Library of Natural Sounds. I'm not entirely sure what that means, so I
usually say that I'm a curatorial technician at LNS. I started working at
LNS seven months ago, along with Martha Fischer, to tackle the sizable
backlog of Neotropical recordings which has accumulated there over the past
20+ years. Our primary responsibilities are to copy original field
recordings, splice these LNS cuts into the working collection, and enter
recordists' data into our new LNS data entry program. I don't always have
a big smile on my face when I'm entering data, but otherwise, I'm very
happy with my job so far. It's great-I get to do bird work all day long,
and I get paid!"
[CW] Would you give us a bit of biographical background?
"I am a lifelong New Yorker, although I have spent time in three
relatively different parts of the state (none of which include New York
City). When I was growing up, I spent the school year at my family's home
in Glenville, a suburb of beautiful Schenectady. As soon as summer rolled
around, we would go up to our camp (or summer palace,' as James Barry
refers to it) in Willsboro, where the Adirondacks meet Lake Champlain.
After spending most of the past five years in Ithaca (and with plans to
spend at least the next year and a half here), Central New York is starting
to feel like home.
"Unlike many birders, who spent their childhoods looking at birds and
other creatures, I spent most of my youth playing sports, and I still enjoy
playing basketball, tennis, frisbee, and even golf. If anybody's ever
looking for a little friendly competition in any of these sports, just let
"Finally, some people might have gotten the impression that I've spent
some time in Scandinavia. Actually, that's not true. I made the whole
thing up. The stories about being an exchange student in Norway in the
summer of 1991, and working in Sweden last summer for three months?
Blatantly false. And the rumor that I speak Swedish? Ja! I know about as
much Swedish as the chef from the Muppet Show.
[CW] What else would you like to talk about? (That's bird-related,
"I think that's all for now."
(Caissa Willmer is Senior Staff Writer for the Cornell Office of
Development. She's also theater critic for Ithaca Times. Although she will
not admit it, she pays her Bird Brain interviewees with backstage passes to
Tony-nominated Broadway shows. )
(your birdverse here)
Because birders suffer so many unique trials and tribulations, The Cup has
graciously provided Cuppers with a kind, sensitive and intuitive columnist,
Dear Tick, to answer even the most profound questions, like these...
My VCR quit working last week. I traced the problem to a little rubber
drive-tire that had worn out, which turned out to be unavailable
anywhere. I didn't care too much about that, until I realized that I was
going to have to spend the dusk-hours looking out for Common Nighthawks
and Whip-Poor-Wills. I was forced to chuck an old plumbing fixture into the
South Bend and turn out a bronze die with which I punched a replacement
tire out of an old tractor inner-tube to get the VCR back on line. Whew!
Now I can bird on Thurs evenings again, but I can't figure out whether I
did it because I _have_ to see those birds, or because I'd rather put my
money into a scope than into a new VCR, or I just _couldn't_ miss another
episode of "XENA." If it breaks down again before next Thursday's
broadcast, and I go birding anyway, will you tell me what happens to the
--Heroic Plumber at the South Bend
Dear Heroic Plumber:
Boy, did you miss an episode! She went on this crazy Montezuma Muckrace
thing, birding around the Refuge for 24-hours straight. Oh, the battles
she fought! Fatigue, hunger, not to mention those confusing fall warblers
and then...oh, wait. You said Xena. I thought you said Meena. Nevermind.
This past month, I went on Darien Lake's new $10 million monstercoaster,
the Mind Eraser. The ride held up to its name: as soon as I got off the
ride I realized I couldn't remember a single bird on my David Cup list. Can
I still be in the competition?
--Eraserhead in Sapsucker Woods
Remembering the birds that are on your David Cup list is not important.
Seeing or hearing them isn't all that big a deal, either. Heck, you don't
even have to like birds to be in the David Cup. As a matter of fact, it's
preferable (to the birds) that you don't. Liking them too much can lead to
separation anxiety, and as you know from recent Dear Tick columns, this can
make them feel very uncomfortable. Don't worry about your list unless
you're a contender for the trophy. Till then, regarding your monthly
totals, just make something up. That's what everybody else does.
Let's say I went down to see that Sabine's Gull in Elmira, which is,
currently, out of the Basin. Let's say this same individual bird flies
into the Basin and I don't see it. Even though I didn't see it in Basin
territory, shouldn't I be able to count it for my list anyway, given the
chain of events?
--Gull-lover Twist in Ithaca
Dear Gull-lover Twist:
Let's say you kiss your mother. Let's say your mother goes on to win the
Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes and as Ed McMahon gives her the
big payday, she gives him a big smackeroo. Would you go around telling
everyone you kissed Ed McMahon?
(Send your questions for Dear Tick to The Cup at firstname.lastname@example.org)
""""""""" CUP QUOTES """"""""
"Registered mail for Allison Wells: Ms. Wells, there was a breeding
plumage male Hooded Warbler skulking around near my driveway at
9:00 this morning." [See McIlroy Musings, The Cup 2.7]
"A leisurely 31st spent birding made up a bit for our absence of nearly
half the month. We're still missing a bunch of rather common things (well,
okay, not that common, but findable anyway), but have had a nice measure
of good luck to balance."
--Kevin and Jay McGowan
"A Merlin was coursing around Joe's Restaurant when I drove by the
intersection of Buffalo and Meadow Street at about 6PM on Thursday night.
Obviously seeking pasta primavera...no question."
"I met up with Bill Evans this morning out at the white lighthouse, in
the hopes of a good movement of birds early this morning. There were no
real mamitas,' but it was a nice morning to be down on the water."
"Well, I made a trip to MNWR for phalaropes (which I am dying to see or
rather living to see.)"
"Okay, so I didn't get any new birds the past two months-- so what!
Big deal! It's not as if I feel guilty or inferior or anything (Arrgghh!
The shame, the agony, the defeat, mercy, mercy, mercy!)"
"Okay, your ad on Cayugabirds sold me. Please subscribe me to The Cup.
[In the middle of the night...]
"Jeff, listen! Screech-owl! Oh, nevermind, it's Teddy [the Wells' cat]
snoring here beside me."
"David Cup Total:182 (Must...reach...200...)
McIlroy Cup Total: 122 (Must...beat...birding dog...)"
"Last evening at dusk I witnessed...the rising of a Great Horned Owl
from its roost in our spruce grove to a commanding perch on spruce-top.
I was quite close to it and even though it was silhouetted against the last
glow of sunset, could see a lot of detail...After a few minutes it flew
past me to the hedgerow. Amazingly large, and truly silent. Maybe common,
but a real wow' just the same."
"I really appreciate the carpenter bees in my siding. We share the same
love for morning sun on the porch in June, and we both fear the
depredations of woodpeckers! They won't raise the value of my home in the
eyes of real-estate appraisers, but they make it a much more appealing
residence to me."
"Maybe it is an attempt by the city of brotherly love for forgiveness, but
today while waiting for a phone call a very bright plumaged Philadelphia
Vireo appeared at the bird feeders at the Lab. of O."
"Please send me this strangely advertised document to enlighten our
--Watt W. Webb
"Come on, come on, show me your butt--not you, Jeff, the [White-rumped]
"Kevin McGowan wrote: Bill was disappointed with the Friday flight,
and expects the next cold front to usher in a big flight night.' This
reminds me of a certain frigid Thanksgiving morning at the Taughannock
loon watch, where the gathered minions were promised either
(a) a massive loon flight, or (b) a swan dive by Bill Evans off the
jetty into the lake. After much debate, we decided that four loons did
not really qualify as massive.' But to my knowledge, no one has yet heard
The Big Splash. (Sometimes, late at night, I put on headphones and yearn
to hear the sounds of the night. And sometimes, I hear a low, growing
chorus, in tempo not unlike the slowly accelerating drumming of a Ruffed
Grouse, but vaguely human. Straining, I hear voices: Bill ... Bill ...
Bill ... Bill Bill Bill BillBillBillBILLBILLBILL B I L L ! ! !' And then
--silence, like the rippled waters of a cool, inviting lake.)"
"Not much down on the jetty today--not even a Bill Evans. I had to make
do with the sound of the telegraph cable being rapped by the wind against
one of its supporting metal posts - an, even rhythmic bill,bill,bill,
bill,bill,bill,bill, bill,bill,bill,bill,bill,bill...' Oh, and while we're
on the subject, any idea who scrawled the words 'Evans Rules' in black ink
on the pristine white paintwork of the jetty lighthouse?"
"[In the interview with Bill Evans] you might ask him about the graffiti on
the north side of the lighthouse--it say's Evans Rules.'"
"Okay, I'll bite and take a look at The Cup as I keep seeing references to
The Cup on the list serve and would like to satisfy my curiosity."
"Tonight looks to be a great night to hear the calls of birds in night
migration. I will be up at the Mount Pleasant Observatory at 9PM with
recording gear if anyone wants to join me for a good listen."
"Myers had no shorebirds this morning, but there's always the
May Your Cup Runneth Over,
Allison and Jeff