Go Home, Merlin. You’re Drunk.

Go Home, Merlin. You’re Drunk.

Maybe on Wild Turkey.

I’ve had the window open most of the day. Much to Ollie’s delight. He likes listening to the birds as much as I do. He’ll jump up to the window sill and chatter delightedly at their busymaking.

This morning, though, he had serious zooms. Jumping up and back down and running to the next room to see what the birds were doing outside that window.

At one point, Ollie made impact with the floor as he was vocalizing a half-meow half-chirp while Merlin was recording. In a matter of nanoseconds, Merlin identified a wild turkey.

Oliver is heretofore nicknamed Wild Turkey.

While wild turkeys can be found around here, I didn’t see one. (And it’s not like they’re small.) Also, the recording playback was too faint to verify anything, even Oliver. When I listened to the different calls of the wild turkey, however, I noticed one gobble does sound kind of close to Oliver when he’s high on catnip.

So I’m declaring Merlin drunk. He’s not hearing well today.

In other frustrating news, there’s a starling AND a mockingbird out there, and I have no idea whether there’s actually another Eurasian Tree Sparrow, or I’m being punked by mimicry.

It’s really cool what those two species (sturnus vulgaris and mimus polyglottos) can do. Unless you’re trying to identify what’s genuinely in your area.

I don’t have the ability to track these sounds, but I imagine it must be endlessly frustrating to serious birders to have these two jerks send them on a wild goose chase.

Note to self: look up the etymology of “wild goose chase.”

Yesterday I had a starling and a veery at the same time. Again, I don’t know if it was a rare bird to add to my Life List or just the starling being a jerk. I’ll keep my eyes peeled though, and hopefully next Spring I’ll have a camera feeder to help with some of these IDs.

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New Birbs, Who Dis?

New Birbs, Who Dis?

I wasn’t planning on posting anything today, but the Canadian geese are back. Apparently those freaking sky honkers just wanted to make me look like a liar. Maybe they didn’t think I’d be up so early on a weekend. Well, joke’s on them. We have smoke detectors that go off at 3:00 am for no reason AND I am a registered insomniac.

BONUS! Because it’s Saturday, I opted for a thirty-minute Merlin session instead of a ten-minute one, and I got a total of eight new birbs on my Life List. Including the Common Nighthawk—which is marked by the red “rare” dot and was soaring above at 6:00 in the morning.

Words officially have no meaning anymore.

The Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, the Least Flycatcher, and the Eastern Kingbird were entirely new to me. Never heard of them. The red-bellied woodpecker? I could hear him slamming his head into a tree before he started singing. I knew he was out there.

Side note: I’m getting better at identifying bird songs and onomatopoeia.

I didn’t screenshot them all, but there were a lot of the usual suspects out and about this morning too. And I am kind of amazed that in a few weeks’ time, I’ve identified more than 50 different species of winged dinosaur in just the backyard. If this website ever makes any money, I am going to immediately spend it on one of those fancy camera feeders.

Mom recently planted some new trees out back, and the new digs might be attracting the new (to me) birds. Plus it’s migration season. I was expecting the indigo bunting to show up. There had been reports of them in local birding groups a little south of here.

Welp, pollen is super high already. So I’m going to snort some Flonase and see if I can’t breathe through both nostrils again here soon-ish. Have a good weekend.

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Canadian Geese Are Sky Honkers

Canadian Geese Are Sky Honkers

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Boomer used to bark when Canadian geese—sky honkers—flew over the house. Like an old man shaking his fist at the clouds. He’d bark at all loud birds, actually. I remember there was a really loud cardinal sitting on a phone line in the yard in Urbana once, yelling his tiny bird heart out. Boomer yelled right back at him. My bestest good boy didn’t take any lip from mourning doves either.

Anyway, Canadian geese have a reputation for being aggressive birds. The first time I witnessed this aggression, I was walking along the canal in downtown Indianapolis with my ex-husband. I was surprised when one spread its wings and hissed. (If you’ve read Chapter 2: You’re Wearing That? you’ve probably guessed my ex deserved it. You’d be correct.)

I don’t know what things are like where you live, but here in the Midwest, Canadian geese are ubiquitous and generally unloved by homeowners and groundskeepers. They’re loud and they poop on sidewalks, and because they seem to linger year round, they’re thought of as pests.

So why can’t I capture one of these infernal beings on a Merlin app sound recording? They’re everywhere. This should be easy. We’ve had mallards in the yard for crying out loud. Yesterday I was on the toilet peeing when a few geese honked their way past an open window.

Damn it, I thought. How do they know I don’t have my phone?

Perched upon my porcelain throne, I shook a fist at an imaginary cloud, paying homage to Boomer. The sky honkers honked some more. Pretty sure they were mocking me, actually.

Oh well. I figure the hummingbirds are coming soon, and they’re cuter anyway.

In the meantime, here are some of the nicer birds that visited my yard this week. (The warblers are migrating! Yay!) I even IDed a rare find Wednesday. But there are still no Canadian geese on my life list.


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Eurasian Tree Sparrows in St. Louis

Eurasian Tree Sparrows in St. Louis

(placeholder photo from Pixabay until Dan gets me one)

Pardon me for another post about birds so soon, but there are Eurasian Tree Sparrows in St. Louis. I repeat: there are Eurasian Tree Sparrows in St. Louis.

Merlin identified this non-native species on Day 1. I didn’t initially confirm it. I figured Merlin was probably confused or high and skipped it, not recognizing the species packs I’d installed in the app were actually for North America and the Midwest and so something else had to be going on.

Ignorantly, I did a quick—not thorough—Google search, because: confirmation bias. The map on Wikipedia showed a distribution of about what you’d expect for a species with Eurasian in its common name. I was like, “Yeah, no. That’s not my birb.”

These are my birbs. The ones that woke me up pre-dawn.

The Ruby-crowned kinglet is migrating.

Anyway the little Eurasian Tree Sparrow popped up in another recording the next day, and it made me more curious. Long story short: I got my first rare bird. In. My. Back. Yard.

Hello dopamine.

It turns out in the 1800s homesick Germans brought Eurasian Tree Sparrows to North America, and today they live only in St. Louis, across the river in Illinois, and parts of Southeastern Iowa.

From a wonderfully written piece on the matter (read it!—it includes a fascinating piece of St. Louis’s German-American history and it’s got swears):

On April 25, 1870, roughly 20 Eurasian Tree Sparrows were ceremoniously released in Lafayette Park.

Danke sehr, meine dudes.

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I have so many things in common with the writer, too. Like Collin, I enjoyed birding during the pandemic. Got a backyard feeder. Set up a tripod. Saw a grosbeak for the first time. Started tripping on endorphins.

But ongoing cancer stuff and the move to the St. Louis Metro East (basically suburban St. Louis but Illinois) sidelined this hobby. For a while. 

As you know, I picked it up again this weekend. And on social media where I was like, Eurasian Tree Sparrow my ass, someone sent me the links to Collin’s article in Riverfront Times and an online fact sheet from the Missouri Department of Conservation, which revealed the bird is a thing here and also sometimes called the German Sparrow.

Another local follow on Bluesky mentioned he recently bought a Birdbuddy feeder. And, you guys, my Wishlist has been updated.

I talked to Dan—my husband, caregiver, and personal photographer—about driving me around for birding adventures. 

“I could do the audio and IDing with Merlin from the car! You could get out your fancypants DSLR again!”

He is amenable. Watch this space.

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See who else visits my backyard.

For the Birds

For the Birds

I had a rough few days, which is why I haven’t been blogging at my usual clip. But I’ll get to all that another day. Maybe.

Instead, let’s talk about why I didn’t post anything yesterday: because the weather was fabulous, and I had better things to do.

On social media, an academic follow from the University of Illinois (I always follow some local people if I can find them, and I used to live in Champaign-Urbana) who is into birds (like PhD-level into birds) shared about birding with the Merlin bird app.

That app is like a real-life Critterpedia. I’m hooked. You can ID birds by photo, but also by audio recording. So I sat in the backyard for 10 minutes, listened to birds chirping, and collected these feathered dinosaurs while making vitamin D.

There were more, actually, but it took me a while to realize I needed to confirm and save my findings, so I identified a species or two that I don’t have saved yet.

Merlin is so good at recognizing songs and calls that I can even do it from bed when the window is open. This is hugely delightful for a woman who spends a lot of time being sick in bed.

There’s a surprising amount of wildlife in Mom’s yard, partly because she has made it into a park and partly because the SIUE campus isn’t far away.

It’s one of those sprawling Midwest state-school campuses. Trees and fields with the odd modern building, as opposed to your more urban settings with buildings and parking garages and the odd, perfectly coiffed tree, where applicable.

It’s not unusual to see lots of animals in Edwardsville. Deer. Turtles. Mountain lions. (Ahem.) Foxes. Snakes.

Bald eagles and skunks too, though Dan’s not got pictures of those to share…yet.

The neighbors have a pond in their backyard, and though I can’t see it from here, I can hear the frogs. Sometimes one shows up to feast on the bugs our patio light attracts.

Nice, innit?

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PS: Our cats, Izzy and Ollie, frequently climb that screen and don’t damage it. Highly recommend!

PPS: There are Eurasian Tree Sparrows in St. Louis.

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