Silver Feathers October 1997

Silver Feathers is a production of The Senior Group, an
informal group of older netizens.

Silver feathers describes journeys, pleasures, plans, and musings
about birds, nature, and environmental issues.

Silver feathers  also has a World Wide Web edition located at



    From the Nest on the Chippewa (editorial)

    News and features

    Messages from Readers

    Webbing with Judie

    Winging  it (the writer's corner)

     From the Nest on the Chippewa

The construction of the Silver Feathers web site (see url in
introduction) has gone faster than I expected and we can now take
photos to accompany your stories.

Just send them to me by regular mail (I can't take slides) along
with a self addressed stamped envelope if you want them returned.
Send the accompanying text by e-mail.

I will send my post office address by e-mail. Contact me at

I can also accommodate any gif or jpeg files sent as attachments
to the e-mail address above.

This month's web issue features photos of volunteer work from
Florida and Oregon.

We have decided to go ahead with monthly publication, depending
on the amount of material we get. Next Month's issue will
b]probably be a little late, however.

Just on another personal note.

I have been working for several years on a project involving the
creation of a Habitat Conservation Plan for the endangered
species, Karner Blue Butterfly, here in Wisconsin and am building
a web page to explain the process.

The page is still under construction but enough is done so the
basic facts are there.

It is at  http://discover-net.net/~jimo/karner

    News and Features

A Razorbill In The Bath Tub
     by Helen Gere Cruickshank

On New Years Day 1967, the sea was calm after days of high winds.
James Thomson picked up his gear and hiked down Melbourne Beach*
to enjoy some surf fishing. That sport was forgotten when he
spotted a seventeen-inch bird with a black back and white front
standing upright at the edge of the advancing tide. It was an
immature razorbill. He telephoned Allan who found the razorbill
in fair shape but quite weak so he brought it home. Perhaps the
storm had tossed the inexperienced razorbill around so violently
that it had been unable to catch enough fish, master fishermen
though its species is. All living alcids are good fliers but are
unique in their swift use of their wings under water to propel
themselves in pursuit of their prey.

The only suitable place for our guest was a bathtub. As soon as
one was filled and the razorbill afloat Allan cut strips of fresh
mullet for it. Unlike the indifferent, stoical dovekie bathtub
guest in Rye*, the razorbill enthusiastically accepted the fish.
It also accepted us as friends.

The most distinctive feature of an adult razorbill is a white
line or series of lines in its deep bill. It is also one of the
three largest of the twenty two living species of Alcidae.  Our
guest had faint white lines on its bill but they would not become
pronounced until it reached maturity.

One summer years ago I was photographing  on twenty- three acre
Matinicus Rock off Penobscot Bay, Maine. Approaching with rapid
wing-beats, a pair of razorbills landed on a rock about twelve
feet from my blind. They faced each other and both opened their
bills as wide as they could. To my surprise, for I had never
heard of it, the inside of their mouths was bright chrome yellow!
Though there is little change in their black and white plumage
throughout the year, they have a gorgeous color decoration at
nesting time. Is this color, surely sexual in nature, ephemeral?
Does the color come and go like that of the lores of anhingas,
snowy egrets, white ibis and so on? Who knows? So many things
about birds are still a mystery. Our immature razorbill had no
touch of yellow in its mouth as we had a frequent chance to see
for its hunger was almost insatiable.

On January 7th our bathtub guest was in fine health. Allan,
accompanied by many IRAS* birders, put the razorbill in the west
turn basin at Port Canaveral. It stayed near the Port area for
sometime and was last reported on February 10. Razorbills are
much attached to their place of birth. Hopefully our Brevard
razorbill made its way north to its ancestral home and reared a
single young for many years to come. Alcidae belong to the order
Charadriiformes (shorebirds, gulls, terns, skimmers, etc.) and
are placed at the top of that order as the most highly developed
family. Their greatest numbers occur in the Bering Sea and  the
fringes of the Arctic Ocean. Three species nest  sparsely as far
south on our Atlantic seaboard as Maine: black guillemots,
Atlantic puffins and razorbills.

Some ornithologists consider alcids the most abundant birds in
the world. In many places of the far north they are  protected
almost as if domestic animals and "farmed." Annually great
numbers are harvested but under strict control so in spite of the
"take" their numbers should remain stable. They are protected by
law in the United  States. If you ever take the Canadian mail and
supply boat that goes north by Newfoundland and Labrador into
Hudson's Bay to Churchill you may be served puffin stew or
dovekie soup. Eating alcids there is legal.

Of the alcids, the razorbill is most closely related to the
extinct flightless great auk (Pinguinus impennis). It was the
only alcid that could not fly. It was commonly called penguin.
Measuring thirty inches in length, it stood over two feet tall on
its big webbed feet. That it sometimes came as far south as
Florida has been proved by great  auk bones found in Indian
middens. Oddly enough when sailors first ventured into Antarctic
seas and saw flightless black and white birds standing upright
they called them penguins. So the common name of the great auk
lives on today but in a species having no relation to that
alcid! Most ornithologists including the late great Alexander
Wetmore of the Smithsonian Institution placed today's penguins
(Sphenisciformes) at the very bottom of  the evolutionary order
of birds!

Many plant and animal species have vanished from the earth in the
last century and the pace of extinction is mounting each day. We
can all be thankful for such groups of people as the IRAS who
recognize the threat to this world and to all of us, who do their
best to educate those who are blind to the danger or, knowing, do
not care. An individual can do little alone, but as understanding
grows, so do the multitudes who care - and do their best to stem
the tide of extinction. March 1990


This is story number fifteen of twenty essays from "The Nature of
Helen" by Helen Gere Cruickshank and published by The Indian
River AudubonSociety. Helen is eighty-eight when she writes this
story( Used here from a posting in Birdchat listserv)


The Tangled Web

-Jim Olson

It's a given in environmental discussions to note that all living
things are connected and interactive in many ways. These
connections and interactions are often very complex. and the
search for simple explanations to environmental changes is a
tempting shortcut to often difficult analysis and action based on
a consideration of all factors available for exploration at a
given time.

We say, for example, that the Passenger Pigeon became extinct
because of over-hunting. Certainly that was a factor, but
ornithologists now see the situation as far more complex.

So it is with some timidity that we need to approach
consideration of the effects of a number of essentially man made
and "natural" disruptions of the web of life at any given time.
And that is equally true of consideration of any possible human
actions designed to keep the web intact.

While most man made disturbance of the  web are relatively slow
and cumulative such as the ever accelerating pace of energy
consumption, and its impact on global warming we sometimes see a
dramatic events or natural occurrences that we can speculate on
in terms of their effects on nature. There are two under scrutiny
now by the press and the environmental community, man's torching
of the forests in Indonesia and the upcoming severe weather
pattern El Nino.

The following are some excerpts from various sources considering
the effects of both of these events:
I understand from my son-in-law, a keen and experienced birder
from age 12, that El Nino has brought 181 brown pelicans to the
Victoria area.  Anybody who is there and is wanting to have a
look can call their bird alert at (250) 592-3381.  Hopefully
they'll still be there by the time of publication.
Irene Harvalias, Mayne Island, B.C.

note- El Nino has warmed the waters all up the Pacific US coast
far above their normal levels, and as warm water fish move up
into the warm water (and cold water fish move north) the birds
that feed on them move also.

and this from an Oregon birder:

There are a lot of assumptions about what El Nino will do to
birds here in the "Cascadia" region (Oregon, Washington, British
Columbia), but surprisingly little hard data.  It is becoming
clear that the change in water temperatures has affected the near
shore food chain and in turn has disrupted the breeding success
of Common Murres, Pigeon Guillemot, (possibly) Tufted Puffin,
Brandt's Cormorant, and Caspian Tern.

But for some reason many birders are more interested in cool
rarities that are brought in by these severe ecological stresses
and the only rarities that can be satisfactorily linked to El
Nino beyond Central California are irruptions of Elegant Terns
and (probably) Magnificent Frigatebirds.

We are looking.  And there is an effort underway to keep better
records of the changes associated with this El Nino events, but
part of this effort will include looking for stuff in non-El Nino
years.  If we look only when we expect to find things, think of
all the things we'll miss when we're looking the other way...

from Mike Patterson 


The fires in Indonesia, whoever set them and for whatever reason, are
also having an effect.

A recent web posting by a birding group in Singapore indicated
that a recent hawk watch was unsuccessful because the haze from
the fires in Indonesia had extended up to Singapore and blocked
the sun from creating the normal thermals that hawks use to glide
on while searching for prey.

The fires will also, no doubt, make some contribution (probably very
small) to the global warming process as well and be a topic of
discussion at the upcoming Global Warming conference called by
President Clinton.

The result of global warming on the entire earth's eco-system
will be a topic for discussion and speculation for decades to
come. Here in Wisconsin an environmental group, The Aldo Leopold
Society, has noted that the flowering dates for a key wildflower
species, Butterfly Weed, has been gradually coming earlier and
earlier in the spring. How this will affect the nectar feeding
butterflies that depend heavily on this plant for food remains to
be seen.

   Feathers (messages from Readers)

The University of Connecticut is searching for volunteers to
conduct surveys for greater scaup populations, as part of a
study on the status of greater scaup in North America.  These
surveys are a companion study to research into contaminants in
greater scaup habitat, being conducted in cooperation with the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Volunteers will record flock location, size, sex-ratio, and
behavior. Surveys are to be conducted on a biweekly basis from
November to the first week of May.  Volunteers receive a
newsletter, data sheets, and an annual report on the population
survey results.

People are needed to conduct surveys anywhere in Alaska, Canada,
and the contiguous U.S., wherever greater scaup are found during
breeding, wintering, or migration periods.

Interested people should contact:
The Wildlife Conservation Research Center
University of Connecticut
Attn: Jonathan Cohen
Box U-87
1376 Storrs Rd.
Storrs, CT 06269-4087

or e-mail jcohen@canr1.cag.uconn.edu

    Webbing with Judie
Birding on the Web

Judith A. Yannarelli

Well, friends, here's another Top 5% web page--Lanny Chamber's
Hummingbird Page--when I visited to file this report, over
148,000 visitors had hit this page--and it's a beauty!!

The opening page--http://www.derived.com/~lanny/hummers/--has a
beautiful colored photograph by Philip Greenspun. Amazing how he
captured this speed-winged creature so everyone can enjoy the
beauty of its wings; it would be interesting to know what speed
film and lens he used to capture the hummer in flight--and
head-on.  Well, for those of you who enjoy photographing our
feathered friends, you can e:mail Lanny with the hyperlink on the
accompanying page.

Also on the opening page you're asked, "Does your browser support
frames?"  I answered Yes, not knowing the real answer and it
immediately brought me to the second page of the site.  If you're
web-smarter than I am, and know the answer to the question re:
your own software, then you'll know what to answer.  If you're
still slightly web-ilerate like me, follow my lead.

One of the features you shouldn't miss is the photographs by John
Owens of a partially albino ruby-throat, captured in Louisiana on
September 24, 1997.

Like the other sites featured in this column, there are
hyperlinks to other areas, including The Butterfly Web Page and
Moths of United States.  Of special interest is the left-side
panel, which lists fourteen categories concerning hummers,
including the welcome, migration maps, hummer notes,
bibliography, etc.  You can even listen to music while you
explore this site, if your software supports it.

This is an award winning page and Lanny blatantly brings this to
the visitor's attention with the Department of Shameless
Self-congratulation at the bottom of the page.  Included is the
Eye Candy nominations/winners; 1996 Macintosh Website Design;
Orchid Award for Page Excellence; Editor's Choice award; and
Virtual Garden's Pick of the Crop.  These are also hyperlinked
with particular note on the Eye Candy site.  If you're into the
visual, here is the place to hyperlink you to all the winners and
honorable mentions of this award.

Next issue we'll be visiting The Baltimore Bird Club Home Page.
Initially, I hesitated to feature a regional birding site,
particularly since our readers span the U.S.; however, in the
future, I hope to cover sites in all regions of the U.S. and,
perhaps, Europe.

I welcome your comments.  Let me know if you're enjoying the
suggestions, or, better, still, pass along some sites you've
discovered while browsing.  That's me at the top of the page,
Yjudie@aol.com.  I'd love to hear from you.

   Winging  it (the writer's corner)

Bald Eagle at Washoe Lake

At dusk he flies
from lake to crag, intent.
No predator he fears
for he is master of his skies.

We below may envy him;
while he, indifferent to us, vies
only with weather,
peers, and prey.

Ada Roelke NVAda@aol.com

______ end Silver feathers Oct 97 ____