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Bay Area Bird Blog » 2008» August

Archive for August, 2008

27th 2008
Never mind elephants, crows are the ones that never forget

Posted under bird behavior & science

The New York Times has an article about recent research by John M. Marzluff, who studied whether birds can recognize people’s faces.

To test the birds’ recognition of faces separately from that of clothing, gait and other individual human characteristics, Dr. Marzluff and two students wore rubber masks. He designated a caveman mask as “dangerous” and, in a deliberate gesture of civic generosity, a Dick Cheney mask as “neutral.” Researchers in the dangerous mask then trapped and banded seven crows on the university’s campus in Seattle.

In the months that followed, the researchers and volunteers donned the masks on campus, this time walking prescribed routes and not bothering crows.

The crows had not forgotten. They scolded people in the dangerous mask significantly more than they did before they were trapped, even when the mask was disguised with a hat or worn upside down. The neutral mask provoked little reaction. The effect has not only persisted, but also multiplied over the past two years. Wearing the dangerous mask on one recent walk through campus, Dr. Marzluff said, he was scolded by 47 of the 53 crows he encountered, many more than had experienced or witnessed the initial trapping. The researchers hypothesize that crows learn to recognize threatening humans from both parents and others in their flock.

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24th 2008
The nerve of some (more) people

Posted under Uncategorized

Yesterday, my wife and I were awakened early in the morning by the sound of a dog chasing a panicked deer through our backyard.  My wife went out back to try to control the dog; I went out front to try to find whoever was walking their dog and let it run loose.  Sure enough, up the street was some guy with his (unleashed) dog, standing and talking with another dog owner.  I said “do you have a border collie?” and he said “yeah.”  I told him his dog was chasing deer in our yard; he said “oh, is that where she got to?  OK,” and made no move to come get his dog!  I insisted that he come down right away and get his dog; he said “oh, OK” and came down.  But rather than show any interest in controlling his dog, he started trying to chit-chat: “Oh, that’s a nice gate, did you make that?,” and “Oh, you have a creek in your back yard, that’s really nice”, and so on.  I said “listen, I have no interest in making nice, I want you to get your dog out of my yard right now.”   He still didn’t care, nor did he apologize…unless you count “I can see you’re upset” as an apology.  The guy’s whole attitude was that it’s no big deal if his dog is running around in our backyard and our neighbors’ backyards, and that he was just humoring us by removing his dog…which he eventually did.  But I guarantee he didn’t learn any lessons or resolve to change his behavior in the slightest; in his world, it’s fine if his dog roams other people’s yards.  I try to remind myself of the many good, responsible dog owners I know, but encounters like this make it hard not to hate the whole group of people.  The sense of entitlement of some of these people is just incredible. (See the discussion of a previous post on this blog for more). 

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19th 2008
Walk this way…

Posted under wildlife (general)

Interesting story in BBC News about a dolphin teaching other dolphins to “tail-walk” — thrash their tails so they can “stand” on water.  Apparently this has never before been seen in the wild. No Bay-Area or bird connection, but I think it’s interesting. 

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18th 2008
Comments now allowed with no waiting!

Posted under Administration

OK, this is a big change.  I finally got a spam filter working, and I’ve turned off “moderation.”  No, this doesn’t mean I’ve become an extremist, it means I no longer have to “moderate” the discussion: your comment will be posted immediately.  Of course I can still kill it if I have to, but I hope this will keep the spam away so I won’t have to deal with my daily average of 20 spam comments.  I guess this is a bigger deal to me than it is to you, but hey, _I_ am celebrating. 

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18th 2008
The nerve of some people…

Posted under Uncategorized

True story:  I was at a party last night of a friend who has a huge redwood tree in his backyard. He said an arborist estimated that the tree is about 350 years old.  A neighbor insisted that he cut the tree down, because it blocks the neighbor’s view of the Golden Gate. My friend refused, of course, but the neighbor insisted! My friend said “Your house has never had a view of the Golden Gate, the tree was here for hundreds of years before your house was built.  If you wanted a view of the Golden Gate, you should have bought a different house.”  The neighbor threatened a lawsuit; my friend said “Here’s my lawyer’s phone number, call anytime.”  They’re no longer speaking.  

I can maybe imagine asking someone not to plant a tree that will block your view, or even asking them to trim a tree that is growing to block your view, but to not just ask, but INSIST, that someone cut down a 350-year-old tree in their backyard because it blocks your view…the mind boggles. Or at least, my mind does. 

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14th 2008
Pacific Flyway Bird-A-Thon, Sept. 1 - Oct. 15

Posted under science & volunteer

Point Reyes Bird Observatory (PRBO) Conservation cordially welcomes the California birding community and friends to help celebrate the 31st. Annual PRBO - Bird-A-Thon which supports the work of 120 staff and seasonal scientists with critical conservation science and education programs in the Pacific Flyway. Join an existing team, create your own team or bird individually! Whatever works best for you in 24 hours between
September 1- October 15th. To learn how you can participate visit -

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12th 2008
Cute story - ducks in Spokane

Posted under birds (general)

This has been making the rounds on email; thanks to Della Dash for passing it on to me.  I don’t know who the people are, I’ll just give you the story the way it was passed along to me.  (So, to make it crystal clear, the person referred to as “my brother” is NOT my brother, it’s the brother of whoever wrote this in the first place).


Something really amazing happened in Downtown Spokane this week and I had to share the story with you. Some of you may know that my brother, Joel, is a  loan officer at Sterling Bank. He works downtown in a second story  office building, overlooking busy Riverside Avenue. Several weeks ago he  watched a mother duck choose the cement awning outside his window as  the uncanny place to build a nest above the sidewalk.

The mallard laid  nine eggs in a nest in the corner of the planter that is perched over 10  feet in the air. She dutifully kept the eggs warm for weeks and Monday  afternoon all of her nine ducklings hatched.


Joel worried all night how the momma duck was going to get those babies safely off their perch in a  busy, downtown, urban environment to take to water, which typically  happens in the first 48 hours of a duck hatching. Tuesday morning,  Joel came to work and watched the mother duck encourage her babies to the edge of the perch with the intent to show them how to jump off!  

Ducks in planter box above a 10-foot drop

[Keep going to read the rest of the story]

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11th 2008
Drake’s Estero trail at Point Reyes is one of my favorites

Posted under day trips & local birds

My wife and I went to Point Reyes on Saturday to do a day hike, our first time up there in several months: I hurt my foot in the spring and have been trying to stay off it.  We did the “Drake’s Estero” hike, which goes through grasslands, through a very small area of pine woodlands, over a tidal marsh, and into the hills above the sea.  It was somewhat foggy when we started out, which deterred other visitors (thank god): we saw very few people on the outward leg, but as we got back towards the trailhead there were several big, raucous groups heading out.  

It would be a beautiful hike even if we didn’t see any birds or wildlife, but in fact there was lots of bird activity.  In the little pine forest, we saw a big mixed flock of chickadees, creepers, and pygmy nuthatches. I’d never seen creepers in a flock before, and didn’t know that they like to hang around with chickadees.  In fact, this should be a big lesson to me: often I’ve seen a flock of little birds, taken a close look and said “chickadees”, and not given the flock a second thought…think of all the nuthatches and creepers I may have been missing. 


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