Monday, April 30, 2007

"the birds took over the city"

Officially titled Bathtime in Clerkenwell, this zany animated video featuring hordes of cuckoos is based on a Stephen Coates composition of the same name and is from the Tribeca Film Fest. They're everywhere! They're everywhere!

The “Making Vomit” Bird

Buried deep within a working draft of the Aleutian Islands Fishery Ecosystem Plan (.pdf, 3.45 MB) in a section on socioeconomic relationships, I found a couple of paragraphs that discuss Unangam Tunuu (the language of the Aleuts), which has been spoken for thousands of years in the Aleutian Islands. Included in the discussion are a few examples of Unangam Tunuu words for local fish and wildlife species, including the following:
Some words hint at the broader system of environmental knowledge of which they are a part, such as aligdusi – {, used in the eastern islands for jaegers (Stercorarius parasiticus and S. longicaudus). The name literally means “making vomit,” a reference to the behavioral trait of forcing other birds to spit out fish they have just caught.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Great Tits in Ultra Slow-Motion

Watch as this amazing pair of great tits (Parus major) move in the most astonishing and fascinating ways imaginable. Why, they're absolutely titillating! These tits do things you've never before been privileged to see tits do in real life. Watch in stupefying awe as these gloriously great tits defy Newton's universal law of gravitation. Never again will you take tits for granted. Incredible! Stupendous! A must-see video!

Friday, April 27, 2007

A Brooklynite's Bird Essays

Richard “Le” Flan, a self-described “chronic relaxationist,” writes about his environmental adventures around the world at A Brooklynite on the Ice. Richard doesn’t write about birds often, but when he does the writing is superb. Take, for example, his essays about a blurry bird photo (no, it's not what you think), pelagic birding, unwary cassowaries, the big twitch, kiwi spotting, and chumming.

Essay on Snipe Hunting

Cracker Boy waxes poetic with nostalgia about his “miserable” memories of snipe hunting.

Birds Are Like Amoebas

I like to think of the range and population densities of bird species as three-dimensional feathered amoebas slowly inching their way across the surface of the globe.

The range, or distribution, of a species is rarely static for very long. Rather, it is continually changing, much like the movements of an amoeba, expanding in some directions and contracting in others in response to changing environmental conditions or other stimuli. The rate of range change is inherently variable from one species to another; some are inherently fast (relatively speaking), others inherently slow (perhaps even static).

Similarly, population density is not uniformly constant across the range of a species, but is constantly changing. Population density may be increasing (rising or thickening) in parts of the range where conditions are favorable for production of young and survivorship, while at the same moment in time it is declining (falling or flattening) in those parts of the range where conditions are less favorable.

For any given species, expansions and contractions of range and increases and declines in population density are all going on simultaneously, so it’s range and population density are constantly in a state of flux, in much the same manner as a shape-shifting amoeba. It is in trying to detect and monitor these amoebic shifts in range and changes in population density that amateur field ornithologists make their most useful (indeed, essential) contributions to science.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Life of a Wildlife Veterinarian

Unlike the typical vet, most of the patients that Kimberlee Beckman sees have already expired. Beckman, a wildlife veterinarian for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, says that “A lot of the work is like being a medical examiner. The investigative work is fun. It’s satisfying when you can figure out what happened.” It sounds to me like a pretty exciting, varied, and rewarding career.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Bird has the last word

From today's New York Times:

"It’s Not a Sequel, but It Might Seem Like One After the Ads"
By Michael Cieply

LOS ANGELES, April 23 — If the Walt Disney Company and its Pixar Animation Studios unit have their way, by the time “Ratatouille” is released on June 29, millions will have learned not only to pronounce the movie’s title — Pixar’s Web site insists on the somewhat un-French “rat-a-too-ee” — but to love the idea of a rodent in the kitchen.

But not without some extraordinary effort. Next Tuesday, Disney will unleash an unusual all-day television advertising campaign, culminating with a 90-second spot on “American Idol,” intended to drive viewers to a nine-and-a-half-minute clip from the film at

In effect, the studio is promoting its promotion.

Such bravura is necessary in this case because Disney and Pixar have once again staked their fortunes on a big-budget film that is completely original in concept and execution at a time when ticket buyers have shown a growing preference for repeat performances of known commodities like “Spider-Man,” “Shrek” and Disney’s own “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

“It takes a lot more work,” Richard Cook, chairman of Walt Disney Studios, said of the effort to introduce original films. “The rewards can be unbelievable. But they’re clearly more difficult to market.”

That originality is a dying value on the blockbuster end of the movie business is no secret. In the last five years, only about 20 percent of the films with more than $200 million in domestic ticket sales were purely original in concept, rather than a sequel or an adaptation of some pre-existing material like “The Da Vinci Code.”

In the 1990s, originals accounted for more than twice that share, led by “Titanic,” which took in more than $600 million at the box office after its release in 1997.

Pixar and Disney have enviable name recognition among moviegoers compared with virtually any other studio. But when an original like “Ratatouille” costs roughly $100 million to make and perhaps half that to market in the United States alone, even they cannot trust viewers to show up without a painstaking introduction.

“Wonder takes time,” said Brad Bird, the movie’s director. “You don’t rush wonder. You have to coax the audience toward you a little bit.”

Born of an idea from the animator Jan Pinkava (“A Bug’s Life”) and others, “Ratatouille” is not only original but also a bit subtler than some of its Pixar predecessors. Without superheroes, as in Mr. Bird’s “Incredibles,” or talking toys, as in the “Toy Story” films, it is about a rat who wants to cook in a French restaurant that once had five stars, but has slipped a couple of notches.

The conceit brings with it something of an “ick” factor, Mr. Bird acknowledged. Yet he resisted calls during production to make the lead character, Remy, more human and less ratlike. And he predicted that even the whiff of aversion would become an asset in seeking attention in a crowded season.

“That ‘ick’ is something in our favor,” he said. “It makes the story more interesting.”

(Disney, for its part, has generally done well with rodents, from Mickey and Minnie Mouse through the creatures in “Cinderella” and the “Rescuers” films.)

“Ratatouille” has already appeared in a trailer, attached to “Cars” almost a year ago. And Mr. Bird helped produce an elaborate promotional video that circulated on the Web this spring, even as he scrambled to finish the film, which he took over two years ago from its original director, Mr. Pinkava.

As the release date nears, Disney will add ploys like a scratch-and-sniff book from Random House (“I Smell a Rat”) and a 10-city “Ratatouille Big Cheese Tour.”

Led by its founder, Steven Jobs, and its top officers, John Lasseter and Ed Catmull, Pixar has been ferocious in its insistence on originality through a cycle of hits that has included only one sequel, “Toy Story 2” in 1999. That policy led to a rift with its partner, Disney, which once planned its own follow-ups to Pixar films.

Disney finally backed off when it acquired Pixar last year. According to Mr. Cook, Pixar — which has agreed to make “Toy Story 3” — will now be in charge of its own sequels.

Devotion to freshness can have its price. Since the release of “Finding Nemo,” which had about $340 million in domestic ticket sales, each succeeding Pixar film, first “The Incredibles” in 2004, then “Cars” in 2006, has done less business than its predecessor.

In addition, the entertainment conglomerates that now own studios may only bring their full resources to bear on the second or third in a series of films. Next month, for instance, Disney will unveil a “massive multiplayer” online game keyed to its three “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. This potentially lucrative enterprise took three years to develop, and would be far more difficult to build around a one-time success like “The Incredibles.”

“Branding is the word of the day and it will remain that way,” Russell Schwartz, president of New Line Cinema’s domestic marketing, said of the growing preference by audiences and the industry for known quantities.

Mr. Schwartz, whose own company had huge hits in recent years both with high-profile adaptations in the “Lord of the Rings” cycle and with an unexpected blockbuster from scratch in “The Wedding Crashers,” noted that executives would rather not depend on the latter sort of success. “There’s a zeitgeist about that kind of movie you can’t control,” he said.

The drift away from pure inventiveness is limited to the industry’s most expensive and commercial films. According to the Writers Guild of America, West, the balance between original and adapted scripts in overall feature film production has remained constant in recent years, with slightly more than half of the screenplays being original.

Old hands in the film business argue nonetheless that the industry cheats itself of something precious when it leaves the creation of its blockbuster bets to a graphic novelist like Frank Miller, whose work was behind this year’s “300,” or a distant predecessor, like the makers of the original “King Kong.”

“It’s tragic,” the screenwriter Bob Gale said of what he sees as Hollywood’s lost inventiveness. Missing, he said, is the nonpareil thrill he experienced in creating, with Robert Zemeckis, the early drafts of “Back to the Future,” a 1985 hit provoked by his own question: Would he have liked his own father if he had known him in high school?

Still, Mr. Bird confessed that pure invention can be “scary” even for those at Pixar. The director pointed, for instance, to a moment in “Ratatouille” when he felt compelled to forgo a climactic action sequence that was demanded by conventional movie logic, but that did not fit the story he and his peers had invented. “You have to let the movie be what it wants to be,” he said.

Yet that can be easier, he added, than trying to follow in the tracks of the audience. “When you just make something you want to see,” he said, “it becomes very simple.”

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Dicky Bird Society

This so-called (expanded) abstract by Fred S. Milton, a graduate student at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, traces the history of children’s nature conservation movements in Britain, 1870-1914. In particular, it discusses the formation of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Dicky Bird Society (DBS). The DBS pledge:
I hereby promise to be kind to all living things, to protect them to the utmost of my power, to feed the birds in the winter time, and never to take or destroy a nest. I also promise to get as many boys and girls as possible to join the Dicky Bird Society.
You can listen to an interview with Mr. Milton at this podcast (the interview begins at about the 6 min 30 sec mark and runs about 11 min).

Also, if you scroll about 2/3rd of the way down this document (or simply do a search for dicky) you'll find a pamphlet that describes the “History of the Dicky Bird Society.”

Friday, April 20, 2007

Known North American Bird Blogs #5

This list was last updated on March 14, 2007, when the addition of 42 species blogs brought the list of known North American bird blogs to 179.

This update (a) adds 30 blogs, (b) deletes 1 blog that is no longer available, and includes (c) 155 active blogs and (d) 23 inactive blogs previously listed. The number of known North American bird blogs now stands at 208.

A blog is considered inactive if no entries have been posted in the last 90 days. For the 23 inactive blogs listed here, the median number of days elapsed since the last entry was posted is 307 (range 152-439).

To be included on this list, sites must meet the following criteria: (1) the subject matter is primarily or consistently about birds, birding, or birders; (2) the author(s) are physically located in North America or write about birds, birding, or birders on that continent; it was active in the past (i.e., at least one entry) and can be accessed; and (4) it is structured in the format of a blog (i.e., dated entries in reverse chronological order).

(a) New Blogs (n=30):
“Witchities” World Series of Birding Blog – by Brian Herriott in Evanston, Illinois (initiated October 2005; inactive since 05/12/06) [an “old” blog rediscovered]

2007 Big Year Blog! – “Bird photography and identification,” by Tim Avery in Southport, Indiana (January 2007)

At the Bird Feeder – by Ken in Manitoba (January 2007)

Big Spring Birds – “All things to do with birds on the Big Spring (Cumberland County, Pennsylvania) along with other more general birding topics,” by Vern in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania (March 2007)

Bird Blog – “Practically every day I take some bird pictures,” by Dorothy E. Pugh in Durham, North Carolina (February 2005)

Bird Watching in Westcliffe – “Living a simple life in a not so simple world,” by Janet in Westcliffe, Colorado (May 2006)

Birding Life – “Avian ephemera,” by Katie in Brooklyn, New York (February 2006)

Birding Virginia – “a blog to keep my thoughts on birding & also my sightings,” by Les Willis in Virginia (February 2007)

Birding/Wild Birds – from, by Christine Tarski (July 2003)

Birdinggirl – “Adventures in New England birdwatching,” by Birdinggirl in Boston, Massachusetts (November 2006)

Birds – from Suite, by Rosemary Drisdelle (April 2006)

Birds, Bats and Beyond – “With the help of a screech-owl cam, keeping watch on North Jersey’s winged wonders,” by Jim Wright in Northern Jersey (March 2007)

Blue Lizard Birding Blog – “Home of Liz of the cosmos,” by Eliza Gordon in Lewes, Delaware (March 2006)

Brandon’s Birding Blog – by Brandon J. Green (February 2007)

Eric’s Birding Blog – “A blog about Eric and Jody’s birding outings,” by Eric Goodell near Palo Alto, California (January 2006)

Fairfax Birding – “a group blog about birding, birds, and nature. Our focus is on the Fairfax area in Northern Virginia, but this will not stop us from posting about birds in other areas,” by Jeff and Greg in Fairfax, Virginia (January 2007)

Field of View – “What the editors of Birder’s World (and a few of the editors’ good friends) find in their field of view when they work on the magazine, look through binoculars, and consider the world of birds and birdwatching,” by Chuck Hagner and Matt Mendenhall (February 2007)

Gone Birding...Blog – “News blog for Gone Birding…trip reports, news and announcements,” by Rich Mooney in Parksville, British Columbia

Greensboro Birds – “regales you semi-daily with tales of amateur birdwatching in North Carolina’s beautiful Piedmont region” (September 2006)

Illinois Birding Blog – “Birding & conservation in the prairie State,” by the Birdfreak Team in Rockford, Illinois (online since March 2007) [not to be confused with Illinois Birds]

Imprints – “The journal of the Rochester falconcam,” by the Genesee Valley Audubon Society in Rochester, New York (March 2007)

Laura’s Birding Blog – “For the love, understanding, and protection of birds,” by Laura Erickson in Minnesota (March 2007) [Laura formerly blogged at the now-defunct BirderBlog]

Lovely dark and deep - "from kingbirds to kookaburras," by Corey Finger aka Scott Catskill in Albany, New York (February 2007)

My Backyard Birds – “One woman’s adventures in backyard birding” in Virginia (July 2006)

Osprey Project – a classroom project to teach children about Ospreys, coordinated by a team of Project Contributors in Indiana (January 2007)

Semipalmated Llama – “Birding blog,” by Andy Sewell in Columbus, Ohio (April 2007)

The Birdist – by birdDC in Aspen, Colorado (December 2006)

Toronto Bird Observatory Blog – “station reports and announcements,” by Marg in Toronto, Ontario (December 2005) Birding Blog – “Birding in San Francisco,” by Harry Fuller in San Francisco, California (June 2006)

Winged Wonders – by Dave M. in South Jersey (January 2007)
(b) Deleted Blog/No longer available (n=1):
(c) Active Blogs (n=155):
10,000 Birds
2 Birders to Go
A DC Birding Blog
Aimophila Adventures
Alan's BirdCam Blog
Alis Volat Propiis
Antshrike's Bird Page
Audubon's Daughter
Avian Tendencies
B and B - Birds
Backyard Birder
Bay Area Birding
Beakspeak - The Big Bird Blog
Beginning to bird
Bell Tower Birding
Betsy's Bird Journal
Big Country Blog
Bill of the Birds
Bird Advocates
Bird brained stories!
Bird Couple - Love ... birds
Bird Photos
bird QUIZ
Bird the Planet
Bird Traveling
Bird Treatment and Learning Center
Bird Watchers Notebook
Bird Watching: How to Study Birds
BirdBlog - ruffling feathers
BirdBreath Blog
BirdChick Blog
Birdfreak Birding Blog
Birding and Mountain Biking
Birding Bytes
Birding in Chico
Birding in Maine
Birding is NOT a crime!!!!
Birding on Broadmeade
Birding Sonoma County
Birding Watching in South Florida
Birds and Climate Change
Birds Etcetera
Birds of Plymouth Gardens
Birdwatchin' Buzz
Bloomingdale Village
bootstrap analysis
Boreal Bird Blog
Born Again Bird Watcher
BRDPICS - Bill Schmoker's Birding Blog
Bur Oak
Central Park Wildlife Photography
Chickadees, Juncos, and Jays Oh My!
Citizen Science Projects - Ornithology
Coastal Georgia Birding
Coffee & Conservation - Birds
DC Audubon Society
Drew's Birds
Duncraft's Wild Bird Blog
Eureka Nature
Feather Weather
Feathered Ghosts
Field Notes
Florida Big Year
FluidFive Birding
Gulf Coast Bird Observatory
I and the Bird
Illinois Birds
Introduced Birds Weblog
It's a bird thing
Ivar's Birds
Ivory-bill Skeptic
Ivory-billed Septic
Ivory-bills LiVE!!
Jeff Gyr Blog
John C. Robinson's Birding Blog
Julie Zickefoose
Kyle's Blog
Limeybirder's Diary
Little Big Year
Lord Garavin's Bird Blog
Mad Birders
Magnificent Frigatebird - North America
Maine Birds
Marie Winn's Central Park Nature News
Midwest Birder
Mike's Birding & Digiscoping Blog
Mobile Search Team Travel Log - IBWO
Mokka mit Schlag - Birding
My Birding Journal
Natural History Artwork
NaturalVisions - Birds
News from the 2007 Search - IBWO
Night of the Kingfisher
North Coast Diaries
Notes from soggy bottom
NYC Nova Hunter
Ocellated (Birding)
Ohio Birding Blog
Omar's Birding
Operation Migration - In the Field
Ravens in Hollywood
Recent Bird Reports from Quebec
Remembering New Jersey
San Diego Birding and Photography
Saskatchewan Birding, Nature, and Scenery
Search and Serendipity
SE Colorado Birding
Southwestern Birding Tales
Sparroworking - Birds
Stokes Birding Blog
Susan Gets Native
Tails of Birding
The bird nerd's avian adventures
The Birdchaser
The Brownstone Birding Blog
The Choctawhatchee Search
The City Birder
The Egret's Nest
The Firefly Forest - Arizona Birds
The Flycatcher
The Hawk Owl's Nest
The Leica Birding Blog
The Nemesis Bird
The Origin of Species
The Plover Warden Diaries
The QUBS Review
The Urban Pantheist - Birds
Thoughts of an Iowa Birdwatcher
Today in NJ Birding History
Updates from Florida - IBWO
Urban Birder
Urban Hawks
Veracruz Hawkwatch
VINS Conservation Biology Blog
Whooper Happenings
WildBird on the Fly
Woodsong - Avian
Words on Birds
(d) Inactive Blogs (n=23):
A View from the North
Bird Notes from West Houston
Bird Watching for Birders
Birders on the Border
Brinkley Birding
Carolina Ivorybills
Chicago Bird Watching
East Bay Birders
For Elect Eyes Only
Hamilton Birding
Home Bird Days
Home Bird Notes
Home Conservation...for the Birds
The Chronicles
The Incorrigible Birder
The Rookie Birder
Windy City Birder
Previous Posts in This Series:
  • Still More North American Bird Blogs—An Update (03/14/07)
  • More North American Bird Blogs—An Update (12/07/06)
  • List of Known North American Bird Blogs (11/21/06)
  • North American Bird Blogs (05/08/06)
  • AOU Check-list Online

    The entire text of the 7th (1998) edition of the AOU Check-list of North American birds (all 829 pages!!!) is now available online as a set of downloadable .pdf files.

    The only downside is that the .pdf files do not yet incorporate changes made in the 42nd-47th Supplements.

    Hi-Tech Remote Birdwatching

    Researchers from UC Berkeley and Texas A&M have combined to develop the latest Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game: Birdwatching.

    The game will be launched on April 23, 2007. The website will combine a remotely-controllable robotic pan-tilt-zoom video camera (focused on the Sutro Forest) with live streaming video, image database, and point system.

    A quote from Berkeley professor Ken Goldberg:
    We’re hoping it attracts a wide range of players, from young videogamers who have never tried bird watching, to seniors who are seasoned birdwatchers. Initially, the gamers may be better at controlling the interface, and birdwatchers may be better at correctly classifying the birds. We’re looking forward to seeing how things turn out.
    This news release from UC Berkeley provides more details.

    Introduced Birds: Index #2

    For your convenience, here are links to the 10 most recent entries posted to the Introduced Birds Weblog (April 13-20, 2007):
  • Stanley Temple on Exotic Birds
  • The Trumpeter Swan in Michigan
  • Cold Turkey
  • Distribution and Status of the White-tailed Ptarmigan
  • Wild Turkey Restoration in Nebraska
  • Gamebird Stockings in Nebraska
  • Quail and Pheasant Stocking in New Jersey
  • "Australasian bird invasions: accidents of history?
  • Invasive Species in Australia
  • Impacts of Introduced Game Birds in Hawaii
  • A previous index is here.

    Random Gleanings from the BirdSphere #18

    Introduction: A daily (or as often as I can find time to compile it) feature that highlights recent entries from North American bird blogs listed in my blogroll; also see here.

    Random Blog of the Day:
    A DC Birding Blog – "a creative outlet to write about my bird observations," by John Beetham in Washington, D.C. (online since June 2005)
    Random Entry of the Day (excerpt):
    IPCC Predicts Climate Change Impact for U.S.

    The latest IPCC report on climate change predicts that the warming climate will produce severe results in the United States. As expected, it details the likelihood of more extreme weather events, easier spread of diseases, and species extinctions.

    [click here to read the rest of this entry, as originally post by John Beetham on April 17, 2007]
    << Previous . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Next >>

    Catching the Birding Bug

    Deb Acord, columnist for the Colorado Springs Independent, writes about what it means to be a birder. As she notes, it is extremely habit-forming, and an affliction that (once contracted) can be ameliorated (but never cured) only by heading to the nearest fields or marshes before dawn to hear and see what birds the day holds in store.

    Thursday, April 19, 2007

    Random Gleanings from the BirdSphere #17

    Introduction: A daily (or as often as I can find time to compile it) feature that highlights recent entries from North American bird blogs listed in my blogroll; also see here.

    Random Blog of the Day:
    Urban Birds – “reflections, notes and an occasional rant from Saint Louis,” by Sherry McGowan in Saint Louis, Missouri (online since September 2005)
    Random Entry of the Day (excerpt):
    Feeder watch birds

    I really do need to get out more. While the rest of the Saint Louis birding community is training its scopes on rare ducks and gulls, I’m transfixed by the backyard birds.

    There have been two unexpected individuals in my backyard sparrow watch over the past eight days. Last Saturday a late Chipping Sparrow made a brief stop in the yard, and this morning an American Tree Sparrow, a newcomer to the yard, snacked for a moment on the asters and then moved on. The latter is my yards ninth tenth species of sparrow.

    [click here to read the rest of this entry, as posted by Sherry McGowan on November 19, 2006]
    << Previous . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Next >>

    Would You Care for Some Arsenic With Your Chicken Cordon-Bleu?

    Fact is, you haven’t been given a choice. It seems that arsenic-based compounds, most commonly something called roxarsone, have been added to most chicken feeds “to promote growth, kill parasites [i.e., coccidiosis] that cause diarrhea, and improve pigmentation of chicken meat.” That’s all well and good for commercial chicken producers, I suppose, but not so good for humans who consume chicken. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “long-term exposure to inorganic arsenic can cause bladder, lung, skin, kidney, and colon cancer, as well as deleterious immunological, neurological, and endrocrine effects. Low-level exposures can lead to partial paralysis and diabetes.” Makes you want to run for the hills, doesn’t it? At least one law suit has been filed over the use of roxarsone in the poultry industry.

    My thanks to cyberthrush at Ivory-bills LiVE!! for bringing the C&EN article to my attention.

    Wednesday, April 18, 2007

    Something Different

    In an attempt to broaden the cultural appeal of this blog, I hereby present for your viewing pleasure Swan Lake--danced like you've never seen it danced before. Enjoy!

    Click here for information about the history of the Swan Lake ballet.

    Random Gleanings from the BirdSphere #16

    Introduction: A daily (or as often as I can find time to compile it) feature that highlights recent entries from North American bird blogs listed in my blogroll; also see here.

    Random Blog of the Day:
    bird QUIZ – “take the challenge,” by mon@rch in New York, who also authors Mon@rch’s Nature Blog (online since January 2007)
    Random Entry of the Day:
    What Could This Bird Be?

    Another fun warbler for you to try and identify.

    [click here for entire entry, including photograph, as originally posted by Mon@rch on January 27, 2007]
    << Previous . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Next >>

    Monday, April 16, 2007

    Review: The Animated Man: a life of Walt Disney

    Walt and his wife Lillian arriving in England in 1946; from "The Animated Man" by Michael Barrier

    As I've written before, my respect for Michael Barrier goes back to the late 1970s when he was publishing his magazine Funnyworld. The contents were an animation fan's dream: interviews, essays, illustrations and reviews all about cartoon animation of the golden age. There was never anything close to it before, and in the decades since there's been but one similar effort, Amid Amidi's excellent Animation Blast.

    It makes sense that given the huge interest in animation since the late 1980s at least one serious magazine about animation would exist now, but when Barrier was putting out Funnyworld it stood totally alone in a barren landscape of dry film journals who, if they deigned to discuss cartoons at all, usually reserved their attention for "serious", "artistic"(read: abstract, non-narrative) animation. They wouldn't have given the likes of Bob Clampett or Walt Disney the time of day unless it was as a dartboard for sexism/racism/facism/freudian subtext in cinema. Dull times indeed.

    From Funnyworld I gleaned that Barrier was a stickler for facts, interested in detail, and had formed very strong views about the various studios' output. His standards of what makes good or great animation were obviously high, but he knew enough about the techniques and context of studio animation to avoid a common stumbling block I've noticed--that of comparing apples to oranges, and finding apples lacking. That is, he appreciated the Warner Bros. best output just as much as he did the best of Disney's(you'd be hard pressed to find the same broad view taken by most of the veteran artists of that age).

    His last book, Hollywood Cartoons, was written with great weight given to the Disney studio--and considering the impact Disney's work had on how the world perceived animation of the so-called golden age, that made sense. It also made me eager to read Barrier's take on a man he had heard so much about from so many of his closest colleagues and employees: Walt Disney.

    Since I write this blog as an animation artist and fan, and that's who I write it for, I'll put it this way: Animated Man is the book I've always wanted to read on Disney the person, and the one that I've enjoyed the most (of the two recently released and the previous few), because it's plain the author understands exactly how animated cartoons are and were made--what they are, what they can be, and how it felt to work for Walt Disney at that incredible time in history, for better or worse.

    Years of research and hundreds of hours of interviews with so many artists employed by Disney clearly did that for Barrier. Although he obviously finds Walt admirable and fascinating(which he inarguably was), he never deifies him or avoids describing--through first person interviews, letters, articles and quotes--the rough edges that made up a complicated, brilliant individual. I simply don't get that feeling--that tingling at the nape of the neck, if you will--from most other authors' attempts at portraying Disney that I got from this book: that I was getting a glimpse of the real person, as much as anyone at this far remove of time and commercial ossification ever could.

    A striking addition to this biography lacking in so many others is the number of long-forgotten articles in major magazines Barrier tracked down and quotes from. They're fascinating reading. Often they reveal startlingly frank descriptions of Walt's manner and appearance--much more so than one would think possible from, say, a McCalls magazine of the 1940s. It tears away the veil of reverence that's obscured the real man, resulting in Walt Disney being made over into "Uncle Walt"--a jovial, grandfatherly, completely unintimidating figure as mythical as any of his characters, if not more so.
    This phony Walt, well-meant as the image might be, is terribly unfair to a man whose contradictions and flaws were just as vital to his makeup and his success as were his boundless enthusiasms, entrepreneurial spirit and imagination.

    From Barrier we get neither a candy-coated view of Disney nor a fashionably po-mo slam; the context of the particular time is always clear, and made meaningful--not necessarily to Disney's benefit as an "icon", but always fair. One may occasionally wince at what one reads, but never does it ring false. Rather, it made me respect and appreciate the complete man even more--and really, really appreciate the difficulties of working for him on his greatest projects--and his failures. Since the sucess of the Disney studios depended so heavily on the contributions of many artists, we are treated to much fascinating information about those men and (few) women--including much more previously unpublished material than I expected to find. It's a biography of Walt Disney the individual, but it's also a great history of animated film production itself--since Disney virtually was his studio, as attached to it as Nemo was the Nautilus.

    Certainly some of Barrier's positions buck the mainstream--one example: he feels "Mary Poppins" is a deeply flawed film. Personally I fall more into the Leonard Maltin group; despite its length and miscasting I loved the movie, as I do the completely different Travers books. Same goes for "Jungle Book"--both the film and the great novels.

    But the fact is that every biographer had better have opinions, hopefully strong ones where his chosen subject is concerned. All I expect is that the author will express himself in such a way that I want to keep reading and feel I'm getting an honest context for a life--even if one or another of the author's stated opinions make me want to hurl the book across the room. Disagree though I might I never got to the hurling stage with Animated Man, and that's a tribute to the sagacity of the writing.

    As a kid I interviewed some animation veterans who'd worked closely with Walt. From some of them, particularly Ward Kimball and Art Babbitt, I got much more than I expected or could process at age 17 about just how ambivalent these men's emotions were towards their onetime boss.
    Their various contradictory views flummoxed me. Nothing in Bob Thomas prepared me for what they had to say, and I realized that I really had no idea of who Walt Disney was. If I'd been able to read The Animated Man beforehand it all would have made a lot more sense to me.

    I have to believe that The Animated Man is the definitive book on Walt Disney's life and work, and likely to remain so for quite a while. If you have more than an average interest in Disney or animation or film production as it was from the 1920s to the 60s, this will more than suit. It's a must-have.

    The Animated Man: A Life of Walt DisneyUniversity of California Press 411pp $29.95
    Addendum: I can't think of anything to strongly quibble with in the book save one(and it really is but a quibble, of limited import): I think Barrier somewhat missed the boat in his description of Calarts, the instituion that Disney personally planned from the ashes of the venerable Chouinard Art School that gave the studio so many of its artists.

    He describes the current campus as a "huge structure" when it's actually quite small, comprising a single building with no more then two floors of classrooms and space(I'm leaving out the notorious sublevel). Frankly the campus' five schools (film-dance-art-music-theatre) are if anything too crowded, as the building has never been substantially enlarged since its construction in the early '70s. And while Barrier points out that Walt's Calarts vision of a cross-pollinating melange didn't truly happen as he'd imagined, he doesn't mention the fact that at the very least, Calarts' music program is one of the most respected in the United States--and yes, we animation students were exposed to constant sounds of rehearsals, gamelan-jamming, jazz improvisation and dancers warming up in the shared hallways, and some cross-use between departments did occur. The theatre school too is extremely well-respected.

    And without the creation of the Character Animation department (as well as Jules Engel's slightly earlier Motion Graphics department) it's more than likely that any training at all of "Disney" animation wouldn't have happened outside the studio itself, or been available to any of the lone bunch of the era who still dreamed of feature animation performance and filmmaking--of creating "the illusion of life"--being a possible, viable career.
    Nevertheless, Barrier deserves credit for mentioning Calarts as being important to Walt at all as most writers on Disney completely ignore its importance in his life outside of the character animation classes' continuing additions to animation credits.

    One Problem with Wikipedia—People on the Fringe

    I have been a contributor to Wikipedia over the years, and frequently link to Wikipedia articles in my posts here. But like any Internet source, it has to be used with caution. Wikipedia has many problems, but I will focus on just one of them here. Because the content of Wikipedia is totally derived from the efforts of volunteer contributors, its coverage of events and people is often uneven.

    For example, I was startled this morning to discover a lengthy Wikipedia article on Jean Keene, the “Eagle lady” of Homer, Alaska. Ms. Keene’s sole claim to fame is her obsession with feeding Bald Eagles on the Homer Spit. In my humble opinion, Ms. Keene is pretty far out on the lunatic fringe; see my earlier post about Jean Keene and the problems that her eagle-feeding fixation has caused for the town of Homer. Unfortunately, her wacky notoriety has brought her much (undeserved) publicity and attention: one of the most ludicrous (and most uninformed) things I’ve read is this headline from a Reader’s Digest article: “Each winter for 26 years, Alaska’s Jean Keene has been keeping these great birds alive.”

    Now, contrast Wikipedia’s extensive coverage of Jean Keene with the pathetic accounts available for Louis Agassiz Fuertes and George Miksch Sutton (offered as but two examples), the former arguably the greatest bird artist this country has ever known, the latter an accomplished bird artist as well as renowned ornithologist.

    Someday maybe I’ll tell you the story of my first-hand connection with Jewell, who is, like Jean Keene, a (former) resident of Homer, Alaska.

    Sunday, April 15, 2007

    Ruddy Ducks and Dark-eyed Junco

    My wife and I took a short drive to Poor House Farm Park in western Berkeley County, West Virginia, yesterday afternoon just to break the monotony of what had been a cool and rainy day. On the 5-acre artificial pond, I was surprised to discover a little flock of four Ruddy Ducks. I don't have a whole lot of experience with ruddies, but they hold a special place in my memory. They were a life bird for me when, on a field trip to some wetlands in southeastern Michigan in the late 1960s, my college ornithology professor, George Wallace, pointed out a flock of them rafting far out on a large body of water, with little more than their cocked tails visible as a key to their identification.

    Along with the ruddies, the pond held three white Domestic Geese, five semi-domesticate wild-type Mallards, and eight white Pekin-type Domestic Ducks.

    Earlier in the afternoon, we had spotted a late-lingering Dark-eyed Junco in our Martinsburg neighborhood.

    Your Feathered Jewel Might be a Hawk's Next Meal

    For the better part of our country’s history, raptors were considered “vermin,” rapacious creatures to be shot on sight. Many States maintained bounties on raptors well into the 20th century. In the enlightened dawn of conservation in the early 1900s, learned individuals such as conservationist William T. Hornaday began preaching the concept of “good” hawks and “bad” hawks. In simple terms, buteos were judged to be “good” and accipiters “bad.” Even such notable contemporary artists, educators, and ornithologists as Louis Agassiz Fuertes*, Mabel Osgood Wright, and George Miksch Sutton railed against the dastardly habits of the bird-eating hawks. It may come as a shock to some that not until 1972 did all of the raptors (hawks and owls) receive full Federal protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

    This Cooper's Hawk has just devoured a Rock Pigeon. Photographed by Phil Eager, as originally posted to
    Bildstein (2001) has written this interesting history (.pdf) of changing attitudes toward raptors. As he notes, the accipiters still have their detractors, and they come from a most unexpected quarter:
    . . . many birdwatchers, especially those maintaining backyard birdfeeders, continue to call Hawk Mountain Sanctuary to express outrage at the seemingly persistent predatory activities of sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks at their bird feeders. Both species of accipiters appear to be increasingly willing to enter human-dominated landscapes; most likely in response to reduced human-caused mortality there. Although most callers seem resigned to this situation, particularly once they have been informed that removing a single raptor from a backyard is likely to be as ineffective as removing a single gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), others appear determined to “do something themselves” about the situation, including, a few have suggested, shooting the hawk (Bildstein, personal observation).
    Such attitudes suggest that we still have a long ways to go in teaching basic principles of ecology and natural history to the general public. Seeing a hawk swoop in and grab a cardinal or goldfinch may be disturbing to the unitiated, but it's nature at its finest. Instead of bemoaning the loss of a favorite songbird, birdwatchers should rejoice at the chance to witness one of natures finest avian hunters in action. Those who persist in feeding the birds, should be prepared to offer up an occasional sacrifice to the hawks. They also have to eat.

    Citation: Bildstein, Keith L. 2001. Raptors as vermin: a history of human attitudes towards Pennsylvania’s birds of prey. Endangered Species UPDATE 18: 124-128.

    *A lengthy memorium written by Frank Chapman in honor of Louis Agassiz Fuertes can be read at the link below (HINT: to ensure that this lengthy .pdf document doesn't crash your computer follow these simple steps: right-click on the link, left-click "Save Target As...," left-click "Save," and left-click "Open"): Fuertes memorium.

    Saturday, April 14, 2007


    Charles of the Charlestonian Blog has provided illustrated step-by-step instruction on How to Cook Ramps. Ramps are an Appalachian springtime stable staple. You haven’t lived ‘till you go to a ramp fest. Can’t make it to a ramp festival this year? Then do the next best thing and take this photographic ramp tour. You can even have fresh ramps shipped to your front door from this specialty catalog!

    I have a well-aged bottle of ramp wine that should compliment Charles’s recipe nicely. We bought it as a joke, but have never had the nerve to give it to anyone as a gift, nor the bravery to open it for own enjoyment. Having eating ramps in many different ways, it’s hard to imagine what ramp wine might taste like. Oh, . . . it say’s here that ramp wine is "great for cooking."

    Friday, April 13, 2007

    The Mousetrap, Part 2

    Two pages of caricatures and the inside back cover of this one-off parodical Disney magazine. Pardon the quality of the scans--the interior pages are an off white, slightly textured bond that makes for trouble in reproduction.
    Some of the subjects of caricatures are well known, and a few others are unidentified by me. Anyone want to chime in on the more obscure ones?
    The "undraped model" notice seems very much in the vein of Ward Kimball.

    Birder Indicted for Killing Cat

    This is pure lunacy. Texas birder Jim Stevenson, founder of the Galveston Ornithological Society, was indicted on a felony charge of cruelty to animals for shooting and killing a feral cat in an area near a toll bridge on the west end of Galveston Island where he had previously seen cats stalking “three snowy and two piping plovers, and several sanderlings.”

    Under Texas law, one definition of cruelty to animals is “killing an animal without its owners consent.” But this was a feral cat. It didn’t have an owner, right? Technically, that’s true. But a bridge worker testified that “he and his peers regularly laid out food for the cats and had come to think of them of as pets.” And that is apparently enough to make them “owners” and the cats “pets” under Texas law. Is this type of testimony permissible in a court of law? There were apparently multiple cats in the area, so how were the bridge workers able to prove to the satisfaction of the grand jury that the cat killed by Stevenson was one of the cats that had accepted handouts from them?

    It’s truly a sad day when feral and invasive cats receive more protection under our laws than do native birds. It seems to me that if it could be shown that cats being fed by the bridge workers were responsible for killing birds protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, then they could be charged with the illegal take of migratory birds under that Federal statute. This case is a major travesty.

    Disclaimers: (1) I am not overly fond of cats, particularly feral ones, but I once tolerated a domesticated cat in my home for nearly 10 years. (2) I also killed a feral kitten that appeared in our yard. (3) On another occasion I removed a feral cat from our garage, where it had taken up residence and was being fed surreptitiously by a grandson, and transported it (unharmed) to an animal shelter.

    The Way Things Used to Be: Passenger Pigeons in New York City

    The following very brief note (.pdf) appeared in the October 1960 issue of The Auk:
    Hugh Gaine, an Irish-born printer and bookseller, who landed in New York in 1745 “without basket or burden,” ran a print shop across from the Old-Slip Market and established the “New-York Mercury.” On Monday, 11 March 1754, on page 3, he recorded: “Yesterday we had the greatest Flight of Pidgeons over this City, that has been known for many Years past, so early in the Season.”
    Could this two-sentence note be the shortest contribution ever published by any of the major ornithological publications?

    Citation: Sherman, Constance D. 1960. Eighteenth-century observation of flight of Passenger (?) Pigeons over New York City. Auk 77: 474-475.

    Bird Watching With Children

    Karen Stephens, director of the Illinois State University Child Care Center, offers some useful tips (.pdf) for getting kids interested in watching birds, noting that bird watching “helps children become nature-wise” and “builds values of respect and compassion for nature and all living things.” So, the next chance you get, take your child or grandchild on a bird or nature walk with you.

    T-rex in the Hen House?

    Examination of protein particles from tiny fragments of soft tissue found in a 68-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex bone unearthed from a sandstone deposit in Montana reveals that “the genomic . . . sequences are closer to birds or chickens than anything else.” Astounding! Read the full story here ("T-rex thigh shows chicken family ties").

    “Some Really Fine Blogs Out There!” & Warbler Politics

    PBurns of Terrierman’s Daily Dose recently took a tour of the Internet and discovered “there is some quality writing and thought-provoking stuff out there.” I’m honored that he was impressed enough with Birds Etcetera to include it among his 28 “Blogs Worth Checking,” especially since most of the other blogs on his list are about hunting and fishing.

    Anyway, PBurns has done some “quality writing” of his own, including one about How Warbler Politics Made Two Presidents. Can you name the two warblers? The two presidents? No? Better read the article then, so you can impress all your birding friends with your knowledge of the influence of our avian friends on presidential politics.

    Thursday, April 12, 2007

    Funny Bird Comic

    Lisa “the bird nerd” says she found this comic “in one of my older bird field guides,” but it can’t be THAT old!

    Gamebird Hat

    U.S. patent 6058511, filed February 8, 1999, and issued May 9, 2000, to inventor Jim Finch includes “A method for fabricating a gamebird hat from multiple gamebird pelts.”

    The number of pelts required to construct a hat varies from 2 for a hat made of goose pelts to 12 for one made of quail pelts. For more of an upscale designer look, you can also mix-and-match pelts of different species. While I’m sure these hats would be nice and warm for cold-weather wear, I just don’t see them catching on as fashionable accessories.

    And of historical interest, here is a patent for a feather hat issued to Benjamin Abraham on December 19, 1882.

    Introduced Birds

    The subject of introduced birds has long been of interest to me. Last fall, I launched the Introduced Birds Weblog (IBW), a modest contribution modeled somewhat after Jennifer Forman Orth’s highly acclaimed Invasive Species Weblog. Despite my best intentions, I suffered through a severe bout of inertia and malaise in getting IBW off the ground. My interest in the subject continues unabated, however, and I have renewed my efforts to update IBW on a more consistent and regular basis.

    The masthead for IBW proclaims it to be “a blog about the ‘birds from elsewhere’ – the alien, introduced, invasive, non-indigenous, and non-native birds of the world.” In actually, IBW will probably have a more modest focus, concentrating on the introduced birds with which I am most familiar, those of the North American continent.

    Here, to whet your appetite, are the 10 most recent entries that have been posted to IBW:
  • Ring-necked Pheasants in South Dakota
  • Invasive Birds
  • Ring-necked Pheasant Leaflet
  • Captive-Reared Bobwhites Are Inferior to Native Birds
  • “The Myths that Surround the Monk Parakeet”
  • Alien Invaders
  • Northern Bobwhite in Ohio
  • Ring-necked Pheasants in Wisconsin
  • “List of bird species introduced to the Hawaiian Islands”
  • “Impact of invasive bird species monitored by Lab of Ornithology network”
  • Gargantuan Rockfish Meets Sad Demise

    Trawling for Alaska pollack south of the Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea at a depth of 2,100 feet, the Seattle-based catcher-processor Kodiak Enterprise pulled in a 60-pound female shortraker rockfish estimated to be 90 to 115 years old. What I found most amazing about this ancient fish is that she was still fertile: “the belly was large” and “the ovaries were full of developing embryos.”

    The untold story that virtually all of the major news outlets fail to report is that this magnificent fish was bycatch, having been caught (along with 9 other rockfish) incidental to the harvesting of 75 tons of pollock, the targeted species, on a single days haul of the trawlers giant net. Bycatch is normally discarded back into the ocean; think about that the next time you dine on artificial crab or shrimp made from surimi, a "fish puree" that is typically derived from pollock, or order a fish (i.e., pollock) sandwich at your favorite fast-food diner.

    Because of its extremely large size, this particular specimen was saved and donated to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle for further study.

    Addendum: Mark Powell, Director of Fish Conservation at the Ocean Conservancy, provides interesting insights into the value of giant female rockfish at blogfish, including some links that are well worth reading.

    Five-Star Birding

    As reported here, the first, and so far only, five-star award in VisitScotland’s new category of Wildlife Experience has gone to Islay Birding, a family firm offering tailor-made birdwatching trips for parties of no more than six people. Read more about this five-star award at the Islay Weblog.

    Congratulations to the owners of Islay Birding, Jeremy and Anita Hastings, on this wonderful accomplishment.

    Monday, April 9, 2007

    Random Gleanings from the BirdSphere #15

    Introduction: A daily (or as often as I can find time to compile it) feature that highlights recent entries from North American bird blogs listed in my blogroll; also see here.

    Random Blog of the Day:
    Words on Birds – from “a monthly newspaper column about birds and birdwatching . . . published in Chicago’s western suburbs,” by Jeff Reiter in Glen Ellyn, Illinois (online since June 2005)
    Random Entry of the Day (excerpt):

    Avian Outcasts: Non-native Species Unloved

    It’s fitting that the monk parakeet is green. It is, after all, an alien bird.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    Or maybe that depends on who you ask. Non-native or “introduced” species like the monk parakeet, European starling, rock pigeon, and house sparrow are despised by a lot of birders. They’re regarded as illegal immigrants, or worse. I’ve heard pigeons called rats with wings. Sky carp. Falcon food.

    [Click here to read the rest of this entry, as originally published by Jeff Reiter on February 15, 2007.]
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    Sunday, April 8, 2007

    One weird bunny

    It's Easter--and in honor of the day i thought I'd share with you one of the most disturbing images from your diarist's childhood:

    For some reason I found this maniacal-looking rabbit a bit creepy...for me it was a bogey along the lines of that clown doll thing in "Poltergeist". And this was supposed to be a charming kid's record(my dim memories are of a generic rendition of "Here Comes Peter Cottontail" and a few weakly performed versions of songs from "Bambi")!

    Looking at it now, I'm not sure why I thought it was pure evil, exactly--but I suspect a Kimball influence. Who else would design such a thing?

    Random Gleanings from the BirdSphere #14

    Introduction: A daily (or as often as I can find time to compile it) feature that highlights recent entries from North American bird blogs listed in my blogroll; also see here.

    Random Blog of the Day:
    News from the 2007 Search – This blog associated with the Ivory-billed Woodpecker webpage at the University of Windsor provides periodic updates of happenings in the search for this species along the Choctawhatchee River in the Florida Panhandle, by Dan Mennill in Windsor, Ontario (online since January 2007)
    Random Entry of the Day (excerpt):
    The Rising and Falling of the Choc

    The Choctawhatchee River (“the Choc” to the syllabically conservative) carries rainfall collected over a substantial section of the Florida panhandle and a large section of southeastern Alabama. The river is not regulated by any major dams. When a rainstorm hits, the water level on the Choc rises, sometimes by as much as a foot or two per day.
    [Click here to read more of this entry, as originally posted by Dan Mennill on March 31, 2007]
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    Saturday, April 7, 2007

    The Mousetrap, Part 1

    "The Mousetrap" was a oneshot magazine that certain of the Disney artists self published in the late 1930s, before the move to the Burbank studio(I'm not sure of the exact date--anyone?).

    It's a compendium of short written pieces a la the good old days of National Lampoon, leavened with caricatures and several pages of girlie drawings by Fred Moore and at least one other artist. Some of the contents have been reproduced elsewhere--most notably in "The Illusion of Life"(Ward Kimball's drawing of George Drake and Don Graham heading east in a jalopy to scout new talent; some T. Hee drawings; Fred's girls). Funnily enough, none of the contributions are signed.

    Originally there were but 500 of them made and so they were extremely scarce, but around 1975 or so someone bothered to reprint it in a facsimile edition. I picked one off of a large stack at the old Collector's bookshop on Hollywood Boulevard in the late 1970s. Now both versions are rare.

    With that in mind, I thought I'd post all of it here. Some of it is pretty esoteric if you're not hardcore Disney, but that's what this blog is all about, so...

    I've got a fair amount of scanning and cropping to do. For a start, here's one of the back pages, with a silly gag thing by--I think--Roy Williams(I could well be wrong, so please, anyone--feel free to correct me). And another of the now-venerable girl compositions, which most of you may have seen already. Enjoy!

    I'm 85% sure this is by Fred Moore--there are definitely Moore girls in the magazine--but I hadn't looked at this for years, and now it's bothering me--it's possible that they're by one of the other artists, as similar as they are to Moore's style. What do you think?

    Wednesday, April 4, 2007

    Pimentel--él lo hace otra vez

    I hope I got the title right. It's supposed to say "he does it again".

    Dave's most recent post is an upload of the drawings he was able to dash off in yesterday's gesture drawing class at Dreamworks, which he organizes. Since he spends most of the the pose time walking around, helping people out and talking to the group at large he gets little time to draw himself, so the drawings posted aren't cherry-picked. Lots to learn by looking at them, I think...also, it's my favorite model. She's a girl who has a terrific sense of grace and action in posing, and is blessed with a form that is beautifully proportioned--perfect for animation.