R.I.P., Boris

•Tuesday, 26 November 2019 • Leave a Comment


< May 2008 – † 26 November 2019

I do not know his hatchdate or year even, but I know that Boris joined the flock after recovering from an accident that left him maimed.  I always wondered if he “remembered” what happened.  I always wondered if he ever suffered from phantom limb syndrome.  I later wondered if surviving such a harrowing experience that physically disabled him was precisely what enabled him to be such a patient and energetic partner, father, and participant in life.

And Boris’s song always soothed me especially after Bulbulicious perished.  He had a deeper, fuller timbre.  Confident and deliberate.  Though it is the end of an era, I’ll shall not forget the songs and wingbeats and company of Bulbuls in my home.

Papa Boris Worm

Boris procured the protein for the youth and also enjoyed some himself. [28 June 2010]

Papa Boris

Boris as the the dutiful father [28 June 2010]

Boris is trying to be supportive, nevertheless.

Boris was often seen by Bulbulicious’s side and fluttered on Bulbulicious’s whim.  Even D.Z. once remarked “He follows her wherever she goes!” [11 October 2011]

let them eat cake

The celebratory convalescent cake baked by M.R. and enjoyed with C.Ch. was indeed vetted by Bulbuls and Bulbul-approved! [1 April 2012] Let them eat cake together in some Bulbul heaven.



R.I.P., Bulbulicious

•Friday, 16 December 2016 • Leave a Comment

Borjomi “Bulbulicious”

† April 2007 – 16 December 2016


She was the closest to a daughter that I shall have in this lifetime, and indeed I proudly state that she was undeniably a daughter of mine.  She liked to stay up at night and sleep late.  She was into everything.  She dabbled in mischief but always stayed safe.  She was a trooper who commanded the royal treatment of a princess.  I learned so much about Bulbuls and enjoyed an intimate and privileged peek at avian life with her.  I also learned to be my own person from that little feathered person. Her lifespan shall exceed her wingspan for all who knew her; she’ll forever have nest in my heart.

Urban Birding Adventure: St. Louis Tree Sparrows!

•Thursday, 1 December 2011 • 8 Comments

I spent the Thanksgiving holiday with relatives in Saint Louis, Missouri. We went to the local zoopark, and I enjoyed the opportunity for some backyard and urban bird-watching. As nice as it was to see the Cardinals of Saint Louis (of course, I mean the birds not the baseball team), the ornithological highlight of the trip had to be the sighting of the Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus).

We started out by driving around in the Dogtown community which includes the Clayton-Tamm neighborhood. After we spotted suspected Eurasian Tree Sparrows (not to be confused with American Tree Sparrows, who are not true sparrows but buntings) perched on a wire, we decided to park somewhere and walk around. Near our parking spot, songbirds could be heard, and a possible predator was lurking on a lamppost.

We headed back on foot toward the site of the drive-by sighting of suspicious silhouettes on a wire, and I had already trained my eye to scan for all of the feeding stations dutifully maintained by the residents of the neighborhood, even after a rainstorm. While walking eastward on Lloyd Avenue, just past Graham Street, I spotted a little black cheek spot like the pupil of an eye gazing out at us from the center of a shrub. This was our first confirmed sighting of the Eurasian Tree Sparrow in Saint Louis!

This is nearly the very instant of our first confirmed sighting of the Eurasian Tree Sparrow in the States on 27 November 2011 at 12:53 CST. Indeed, they were exactly where they were supposed to be!

MO’ Euro Tree Sparrows! > > > > >

Are those hummingbirds in your pants, or are you just happy to see me?

•Monday, 19 September 2011 • 5 Comments

These photos seem to be all over the internet, but the story is not.

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In 2010, French customs officers at the Rochambeau airport in Cayenne, French Guiana after noticing some suspicious bulges, conducted an intimate pat-down of a Dutch tourist and found some tiny parcels in some very personal space.

Colibri as contraband and what (not) to do about it > > > > >

Birds in Space II: Quails in the Cosmos

•Tuesday, 6 September 2011 • 8 Comments

In the previous account of poultry in space, I related the story of how chicken embryos were launched aboard Discovery STS-29, but I did not make it to the story of birds (ex ova) in space. Despite claims to the contrary, someone did indeed try to launch birds into space, and the attempt was not a total failure.

A few small and clumsy flaps for quails, quite a giant and sturdy flap for quail-kind and space aviculture!

Japanese Quails (Coturnix japonica) have ventured to the final frontier; they have even hatched on Mir. These are the same species of quails about whom I wrote before, but do not worry: reproductive foam was not the subject of these investigations.

To boldly go where no quails have gone before > > > > >

Birds in Space I: Eggstraterrestrial Chicken Embryos

•Friday, 2 September 2011 • 2 Comments

Over a year ago, I had the privilege of attending a talk on directions in space biology given by Dr. Antonio J. Ricco, and having had so recently seen the image of the “moulting swan,” I just had to ask about birds in space. He mentioned the case of launched avian embryos referring to the work of Dr. J. David Dickman, but he and his associates did not know with certainty whether there were really birds (ex ova) in space. Since then, I confess that I have eggshausted, intermittently, an eggsorbitant number of hours reading and writing about Galliformes and their embryos in space.

On the question of the chicken or the egg, eggs went first, at least to space. NASA’s original attempt at chicken embryology experiments in space began as a student project. The idea was conceived by John C. Vellinger as an eighth grader in Lafayette, Indiana. Throughout high school he was entering his proposal into a contest held by the Shuttle Student Involvement Program with sponsorship of NASA and the National Science Teachers Association.J. Young and R. Krippen

Mission patch for SE 83-9 or "Chix in Space" on which Col. Sanders is acknowledged

Vellinger claimed distinction at the district level for three consecutive years, and in 1983, he won at the national level.
The kid proved to be upwardly mobile from there and with all of the right connections. He got a little help from “The Colonel,” and I do not mean an Air Force colonel. After his first year at Purdue University in 1985, NASA arranged for mentorship by Mark Deuser, an engineer who was working for Kentucky Fried Chicken, the corporation that sponsored the $50,000 incubation project and not only in the interest of becoming the “first fast-food restaurant in space.’

An eggsperiment in the final frontier > > > > >

Passerine Gynandromorphy Collage

•Saturday, 4 June 2011 • 4 Comments

Via Birdchick, I first learned that a gynandromorphic Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) had been spotted by a retired school biology teacher in Rock Island, Illinois in 2009. Minnesota Birdnerd has posted additional photos of this sighting.

Gynandromorphic Cardinal

Gynandromorphic Cardinal in Rock Island, IL © Jim Frink

It was then that I decided to start up a collage of songbird gynandromorphs . . . and very shortly after that, when I realized that I was rather too busy for the undertaking. Fortunately, I was reminded of the project by recent news (and controversy) of a similar backyard sighting at the beginning of this year reported by another academic, Prof. Larry P. Ammann, who when not teaching statistics at UT Dallas, takes time to appreciate a genetic anomaly.

More Passerine Gynandromorphine! > > > > >

Two Minutes of Toucan Beak Fame

•Wednesday, 26 January 2011 • 3 Comments

Last May, I spent a day in Fallbrook at Emerald Forest Bird Gardens, the very source of our Toucan beak and feather specimens (NB: No birds are harmed in this research!). The special occasion was a NOVA filming event for the “Making Stuff” series, the first part of which aired last week. I was very pleased to see that our Toucans had their moment in spotlight!

Me, Tocos, and David Pogue on 13 May 2010 at Emerald Forest Bird Gardens. I took many, many more photos.

I met David Pogue in person! In addition to “Arrrr, they were all out of parrots,” he made other silly jokes such as “Just put it on my bill.” When he was holding the detached Toco Toucan bill, the live Toucans became obviously distressed about this, so he said to them “Don’t worry! It was no one you know.” At some point, he moved the beak to match his words as he said, “I filled out my donor card.”

Also, I had the privileged opportunity to see my ex-advisor being coached by the director: “Marc, don’t look at the camera. Marc, you’re looking at the camera. Marc! Marc, stop.” It was awesome (in a vindictive sort of way).

The polished final product is available here. The Toco Toucans are featured in Chapter 6 with some cameo appearances in the introduction.

Click here for some unpolished behind the scenes footage > > >

Panties! Panties! My Blogdom for Pink Panties!

•Thursday, 2 September 2010 • 1 Comment

I have to confess my profound consternation over the fact that one of the top search engine terms leading to my blog includes the word “panties” And it serves as no consolation that the number one (by grand margin) search term on the list reveals what lies beneath the panties. It has been suggested that I should capitalize on that interest somehow, and that suggestion grows more appealing with every blog hit . . .

Anyway, I cannot coerce anyone into appreciating the beauty and science of birds, for that is all too apparent to me and so much so that it is even difficult for me to objectify. So at this moment I lay to rest any efforts for carefully chosen words, elucidating images, and technical minutia. Here I choose rather to provide the restless web-surfers with just what they are asking for:

Boris shares a secret with Victoria. Don’t you wish that you could too? 28 July 2010

Aviary Visitor

•Tuesday, 31 August 2010 • Leave a Comment

On Saturday morning, I was roused from slumber before 7:00 AM by the unnerving machine gun style alarm calls of the Bulbuls (of which there are now four free-flying in my living room). I stumbled off of the sofa, peered out of the window, and looked for a cat. I did not see one, and yet I heard a panicked rush of aviary birds, and Bulbuls were still firing away in a relentless, distressing ensemble. So I crouched down and tried to find their line of sight, and then I saw the threat. It was a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) perched on the fence. By Sunday morning, I knew to grab my camera when I heard the Bulbuls’ call to arms. He had returned, and even with an accomplice, I noticed as they fled.

The beam on which I hang laundry to dry doubles as a perch for a young Cooper’s Hawk. The yellow irides and breast plumage striations indicate that this visitor is a juvenile, and I surmised from body shape that he is not a Sharp-shinned Hawk. 29 August 2010

Young Cooper’s Hawk comes again > > > > >

Juxtaposition II: Democrats –they eat like birds

•Monday, 12 July 2010 • Leave a Comment
© Action Press/Rex Features/Stern via [info]drugoi Orphaned image (?)

© Roman © unknown Photoshopping artist [original], submitted by Roman

. . . Not that there is anything wrong with that!

Happy Summer Solstice!

•Monday, 21 June 2010 • Leave a Comment

This shot delivered me from some of the May Gray/June Gloom doldrums.

Lesser Goldfinches (Carduelis psaltria) at Balboa Park, 22 May 2010 (spotted when I went to see the “All that Glitters” exhibit)

The Egret with the sway catches the prey . . . maybe

•Tuesday, 2 February 2010 • 1 Comment

When I was last in Florida, I enjoyed a few marvelous moments of unexpected urban birding. As I was heading back at the end of the day, I spotted a Great Egret (Ardea alba) just outside of the hotel where I stayed.

This would make a fine advertisement for the hotel. 15 December 2009, at the corner of S. Hamden Dr. and S. Gulfview Blvd.

More sway, this way > > > > >

Tiresias, the blind singer

•Friday, 15 January 2010 • 6 Comments

While his name is Tiresias, I do not expect him, after being transformed into a woman for a finite time, to report that the female Zebra Finches enjoy sex 10x more than the males. Tiresias is not only blind; he hatched without fully developed eyes. This is a case of congenital unilateral anophthalmia or perhaps more accurately, sesquilateral anophthalmia.

It is not that he is “searching with his good eye closed“, 23 October 2009

On the left, Tiresias exhibits primary anophthalmia, as there seems to be no ocular tissue at all. One of Tiresias’s sisters and clutch-mate was born with bilateral primary anophthalmia, and she lived for less than one month, before passing away of what I suspected was an unrelated or else only secondarily related condition. Tiresias’s other four siblings do not exhibit any signs of ophthalmic abnormality.

On the right, Tiresias exhibits secondary anopthalmia. Ocular globe tissue is observable and deeply set in the orbit, and there is even a functional eyelid, as can be observed in the video posted below.

I have not yet concluded whether or not this development is a semi-eye or a quasi-eye. At first, I was convinced that he could detect light to some extent, but lately, I am not so sure. I think that he is aware of me when I approach his cage, but not by sight (and probably not by clairevoyance of his namesake), rather by alarm calls of his relatives.

See more! > > > > >

Spice of Life

•Friday, 15 January 2010 • 3 Comments

Himalayan Greenfinch (Carduelis spinoides)

Saffron’s day out, 25 October 2009

His name is Saffron (and to avoid confusion, at least in my mind, I refer to the Saffron Finches as the “Flaveolas.”) He was purchased at Bird Crazy about 4 years ago, at a significant discount owing to his flightless condition, after a broken wing. That does not mean that he cannot appreciate some free-roaming in the bird room.

Play “peek-a-boo” with yellow finches > > > > >

Cold Case

•Sunday, 10 January 2010 • Leave a Comment

A DC Bird Blogger wrote: “It is important to look up to see birds, but some interesting sights are at your feet, too.” He was referring to ice crystallization patterns, and unless he was trying to back out temperature and humidity from ice microstructure, I do not know for what such curiosity can be considered “important” even if “interesting.” Nevertheless, I do not disagree . . .

Spotted in the backyard of my Grandparents’ winter house in Pagosa Springs, CO, 2 January 2010

The wingspan, or at the least the imprinted wingspan, seems too small for a bird of prey (a reference scale would have been helpful; I estimated that it was about 50 ± 5 cm.). Regretfully, I know nothing of characteristic gait or rather hop lengths of birds. On one side, there is evidence of at least 6 primaries, but that is not particularly elucidating. I guessed, rather uneducatedly, that this was an impression left by a Crow or possibly a Black-billed Magpie, if she held her tail upright, or maybe even a Jay or . . . I really do not have any leads in this case. Is there a forensic ornithologist out there who knows better?

Year of the Black-billed Magpie!!!

•Wednesday, 6 January 2010 • Leave a Comment

The first* (and second) positively identified bird of the New Year for me was a Black-billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia), spotted alongside Hwy 160 on the way to Wolf Creek ski area. And that was the first time, to my conscious memory, to see them!

This was not the first sighting. This shot was taken on the homeward trip just outside of Pagosa Springs, CO off of U.S. Hwy 160, 3 January 2010 © Roman

Maybe it is a sign that 2010 will be for me a year of self recognition and personal reflection? Or perhaps it will be a year of clever caching and scatter-hoarding? Actually, the hoarding part would not be a new phenomenon for me, as I have mentioned, but it would be good to follow the Magpie’s example of short-term hoarding. Or maybe it will be a year of omnivorous scavenging on carrion along the highway, since that is what I saw Magpies doing best.

*Technically, the first birds of 2010 might have been some Sparrows; I heard them, but I did not quite see them clearly.

Can-can: Toucan to Pelican

•Monday, 21 December 2009 • 1 Comment

Last week, I was at the 3rd ICMOBT in Clearwater Beach, FL. There, I finally met Professor Julian Vincent, whom I knew until then only from his text. He is a biologist among mechanical and materials engineers who, after having spent quite some time studying insects, has crossed into biomimetic design. Though he did not include any avian inspirations in his plenary lecture, he did bring to my attention his mechanical analysis of the Woodpecker’s hammering.

When we had some leisure time, I could not resist the magnificent rope tower that I spotted on the playground outside the hotel. Centered on a truncated octahedron, it was like a commemoration of cellular solids.

As I climbed, I imagined that the ropes were trabeculae of the foam interior of the Toucan’s beak; I hope never to be too old for a playground. 14 December 2009, Clearwater Beach, FL

The conference was fine. And after my talk was done and over, I was in the state of mind to appreciate that the locality and the weather were fine as well as the bird-watching!

I see Seabirds! > > > > >

Go, Team Tookie!

•Sunday, 22 November 2009 • Leave a Comment

Having discovered that my mother’s cockatiel, Tookie, is a choreographic prodigy, we contacted Dr. Aniruddh Patel, who led the study of Snowball’s moves. He and Dr. John Iversen of the Neurosciences Institute took an interest in Tookie’s stylistic and selective interpretation of “Teknochek Collision.”

Drs. Ani Patel and John Iversen even came to my mother’s studio Tookie’s territory.

Pictured from left to right: Dr. John Iversen, Tookie, the dance divo, and Dr. Ani Patel; between the three of them, I would guess that mean Social IQ of this research trio is above average. 16 October 2009

Tookie snacked on cookies with us, while we chatted about experimental details and logistics. He did not hesitate to really get to know the people he would be working with.

No white shirts were harmed in the making of this moment!

Tookie looks over Dr. Patel’s notes making clear that he is not only a test subject; he is he is an active participant aiming to be a co-author.

Tookie seemed to have developed an instantaneous, good rapport with the researchers. Team Tookie is motivated and inspirational! Further investigation (e.g. more recordings, to start) of Tookie’s dance magic shall ensue after the holidays. More to come, hopefully . . .

Birds “on the rocks”

•Tuesday, 20 October 2009 • 1 Comment

A few weekends ago, my friends Dave (who was, by the way, the photographer of the wild Cut-throat Finch I posted before) and Misha (who watches girls rather than birds) invited me to go climbing with them in San Bernardino National Forest. Dave had asked me, “Have you climbed before?” to which I replied “I’ve climbed trees.”

nest hole A woodpecker’s tree which I did not climb at San Bernardino National Forest, 3 October 2009

But we were to climb the rocks, not trees.