Briefly Noted: ‘The Armchair Birder Goes Coastal’

John Yow has followed up The Armchair Birder: Discovering the Secret Lives of Familiar Birds (Feb, 2012) with another handy bird book written in an anecdotal style called The Armchair Birder Goes Coastal: the Secret Lives of Birds of the Southeastern Shore (The University of North Carolina Press, May 1, 2012) which is a true wonder for birders, authors and others who want to know more about specific birds and their habits than the encyclopedic bird guidebooks present.

Yow writes with a lot of humor and insight. In the Anhinga entry, for example he starts off by saying, “Thought it’s seldom the most riveting aspect of bird study, I think in this case we better start with nomenclature. Nobody seems very happy with the name ‘anhinga.'”

He’s right about that. In Florida, we preferred calling them Snake Birds because they swam (or walked) under water with nothing but their long necks above the surface, looking like snakes with bills. Others called them Water Turkeys, though I have to agree with Yow in saying they look very little like turkeys.

In this book, we’re not talking mockingbirds and meadow larks. Think about what you saw on your last trip to a Southern beach or swamp: Black-Necked Stilts, Reddish Egrets, Wilson’s Plovers, Browm  Pelicans, Forster’s Terns and Black Skimmers. Illustrated with black and white drawings, this book is not for the vacationer with a short-term “what’s that” curiosity. The well-known photo-illustrated guidebooks will do for that. Yow writes for the reader who has time to sit a spell and watch and listen.

Author Janet Lembke is spot on when she writes,  “Infusing stories, observations, and musings, Yow makes it easy to learn about these fascinating birds. This book might well lead ‘armchair birders’ to become active birders, and eventually, conservationists.” There’s so much more to a bird than simply knowing what it is, and this book delivers the secrets that it usually takes a while to discover on your own.


contemporary fantasy for your Kindle

E. B. White and a swan named Louis

“Even today, White’s book continues to foster the conservation efforts he deeply believed in. Each year, the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge receives numerous letters from young readers who inquire about Louis and seek information about the refuge and the trumpeter swans.” – Marcia Melton, in “E. B. White’s Montana and ‘The Trumpet of the Swan,'” Montana – The Magazine of Western History, Spring 2012

Most of us remember E. B. White (1899 – 1985) primarily for his children’s books Stuart Little (1945), Charlotte’s Web (1952) and as co-author (with William Strunk, Jr.) of The Elements of Style (1959). But a book that grew out of his 1922 trip to Montana in a Model T Ford when he was 22 is not only equally notable but demonstrates how well-told stories about the natural world can influence young readers to help protect the treasures they first discover in fiction.

“Montana made a lasting impression on White,” writes Marcia Melton in her feature article in the current issue of Montana – The Magazine of Western History. Fifty years later, that impression was still strong enough to lead to The Trumpet of the Swan about a young cygnet who had no voice. Even though White worked for a while on a Montana ranch and saw a lot of scenery, he never saw a swan and never visited the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge where his story is set. (He knew how to do research.)

Red Rock Lakes NWR photo

Founded in 1935, the refuge is in the greater Yellowstone area near the Centennial Mountains and the headwaters of the Missouri River. According to the refuge’s website, “A very shy bird by nature, the trumpeter swan is the subject of intense study in an attempt to learn how to ensure their survival. Rescued from near extinction, trumpeters breeding in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, including Red Rock Lakes, have grown in number from a low of only 200 birds in 1932, to a success of more than 500 in recent years.”

As Melton notes, the swans were heavily hunted in the 19th century and early 20th century for meat, quills, down, and feathers. Fortunately,  by the time White’s book was published inn 1970, the insanity of hunting wild creatures into extinction kept us from losing the swan. However, the bird still faces threats, as The Trumpeter Swan Society informs us, from illegal shooting, power lines, lead poisoning, and habitat loss. The Society, with the help of numerous volunteers, is one of the trumpeter’s strongest allies.

When White accepted the National Medal for Literature for The Trumpet and the Swan in 1971, he said “Only hope can carry us aloft, can keep us afloat. Only hope, and a certain faith that the incredible structure that has been fashioned for this most strange and ingenious of mamals cannot end in ruin and disaster.”

Reading Melton’s article about the man who wrote a story about a young swan named after Louis Armstrong who finds his voice in the form of a trumpet at a store in Billings, Montana, reminds me of the strength of a writer’s “act of faith,” as White calls it, and how that faith can be carried far and wide on the winds on white wings.


Contemporary fantasy set in Montana

Flying with Ravens – Friday afternoon magic

from Jupiter Images
“Robert, Maistó (Raven) has reminded me that you must not confuse him with common crows. They are greedy, self-serving birds that eat too fast. According to Maistó, the ‘caw’ sound we associate with crows is more of a belch than a call.” — David Ward in “The Sun Singer”

“I have fled in the shape of a raven of prophetic speech.” — Taliesin

“They slept until the black raven, the blithe hearted proclaimed the joy of heaven.” –Beowulf

When you fly with Raven and/or imagine flying with Raven you must have a sense of humor. Prepare to be mocked, mimicked and satirized in every possible way. Accept this, for it shifts your consciousness rather like getting hit in the face with a feather pillow and refocuses your attention on your inner journey. When you pretend to be flying with Raven, you are flying with Raven.

Synchronize your flight with Raven’s flight and you will go within, dying to the exterior world so that dreams and magic are paramount. Alchemists call this stage of the great work “blackening” and often represent it in a variety of morbid death’s head and graveyard drawings. While flying with tricksters, you will in time see the humor in this.

To synchronize your flying with Raven, resist the urge to fly like a common crow and shout “caw caw” at the people in the world below. Observe and you will see that crows soar with bent wings and that ravens fly like hawks, flapping and then soaring on horizontal wings. Keep your hands straight and, if you must say anything, shout “crrrruck crrrruck.”

Ravens are keepers of secrets and they will escort you into the void where the mysteries are contained or they will bring you messages from the spirits of darkness with knowledge to impart. Sometimes, to emphasize your re-focused attention, Ravens will change into something else and expect you to follow suit.

While your encounter with Ravens stops the world as you know, it can be confusing. In terms of mythology and animal totems, Ravens are fun loving and fast moving and it’s best to be adaptable. However, flattery will get you everywhere. Inform them that you know that even mainstream science believes Ravens have more intelligence and insight than crows or, for heaven’s sakes, magpies. Figuratively speaking, the diverse Corvidae family has its share of black sheep.

When you see Raven in your dreams, magic is afoot–or, actually, awing–and it’s best to fly wherever it takes you. Whether you are a garden-variety author, a seeker, or a shaman, an open-ended, nonjudgemental experience with Raven is the key to power and mystery from (depending on your belief system) the astral, inner, or spirit world.

Meditations and magical flights with Raven can turn into a carnival of colors and changing seasons and laughter out of which–when you fear all is lost in the great chaos of the moment–meanings begin to appear clear and cold as black ice. Smile, laugh, and go with the flow; otherwise insanity is a risk–and that’s no joking matter.

Truth be told, Ravens have done their best to drive me crazy. They see it as a benefit–part of the initiation, so to speak–and a prelude to greater mysteries. I’ve told them they are quite full of themselves and their only defense is to laugh and tell me I fly like a baboon in heat. (I really don’t know what that means and haven’t wanted to ask.)


Each purchase benefits Glacier National Park

Golden Eagle’s Gift

Píta, the Golden Eagle, leaned forward into Wind’s gentle breath and came to him on soft wings. David looked up to the outstretched legs uncomprehending like a lamb, tagged, docked, weaned and newly out of the pen into greened up spring. When the talons closed around his head, he saw pain and brighter light, then a sudden upward thrust of great wings pulled him free of the world.

Safe beneath the shadow of those wings, vision came to him as a pure chaos of cloud, as talons dangling above his head as from a mirror, as glimpses of earth. He was almost air. He heard elk mating, stones disturbed on high ridges beneath his feet, water clear and cold. The sky carried snow’s scent.

Manna flung back to heaven, he was limp and drugged by height and claws, his hands and arms flapped uselessly beside him, slightly feathered and somewhat wing. Blood trickled into his eyes and mouth.

He spat salt, choked and felt himself bank southward.

He blinked until his eyes were clear and there lay the world, horizons shattered and clarified out to uncommon distances. He saw the unseen.

He saw the Mokakínsi, the backbone of the earth, and its seven points of power from the crown of the continent running south shone like suns.

He saw Grandmother standing upon a great wall of rock above Apinákui-Píta, the falls of Morning Eagle, facing east, her arms raised to the sky.

He saw lives unfolding along great rivers that emptied into one ocean and in this land where substantial water is a treasure, the rivers flowed as liquid gold.

He saw ignorant men desecrating Mother Earth.

He saw old men telling stories, the smoke of pipes and camp fires rising to the sun.

He saw the far sides of clouds.

He saw the elements dancing naked as secret lovers.

He saw tomorrow and the day after.

He saw lambs waiting to be born.

He saw the seasons change beneath his feet in a spinning blur of white, then green, then the a rainbow resolving to gold, around and around, with sparkling lights and stirring music and bobbing horses, with laughter and tears.

He saw with absolute clarity that an absolute clarity of objects was a crafted illusion, there were no defined edges, no chasms between viewer and viewed, no spaces between here and there, no times between here and now.

The universe spoke, was speaking with Píta’s voice keeeee his vision clearing keeeee over a clarified world keeeee where he merged with his horizons. Lost in limitless light, he was an ocean of stars, a deep flowing tide of emotion, a flooding river of thought, wave after wave of energy, keeeee keeeee keeeee, heard the light coalesce and there the photons were named Mokakínsi, were named Grandmother, were named this person and that person, were named river, were named smoke rising, were named sun, were named cloud, were named lambs, were named autumn, were named God.

Copyright (c) 2010 by Malcolm R. Campbell, excerpted from “Garden of Heaven,” a work in progress.


An interview with Smoky Trudeau, author of “Observations of an Earth Mage.”

Great Backyard Bird Count – coming soon


Count for Fun, Count for the Future

New York, NY and Ithaca, NY—Bird and nature fans throughout North America are invited to join tens of thousands of everyday bird watchers for the 12th annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), February 13-16, 2009.

A joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, this free event is an opportunity for families, students, and people of all ages to discover the wonders of nature in backyards, schoolyards, and local parks, and, at the same time, make an important contribution to conservation. Participants count birds and report their sightings online at

“The Great Backyard Bird Count benefits both birds and people. It’s a great example of citizen science: Anyone who can identify even a few species can contribute to the body of knowledge that is used to inform conservation efforts to protect birds and biodiversity,” said Audubon Education VP, Judy Braus. “Families, teachers, children and all those who take part in GBBC get a chance to improve their observation skills, enjoy nature, and have a great time counting for fun, counting for the future.”

Anyone can take part, from novice bird watchers to experts, by counting birds for as little as 15 minutes (or as long as they wish) on one or more days of the event and reporting their sightings online at Participants can also explore what birds others are finding in their backyards—whether in their own neighborhood or thousands of miles away. Additional online resources include tips to help identify birds, a photo gallery, and special materials for educators.

The data these “citizen scientists” collect helps researchers understand bird population trends, information that is critical for effective conservation. Their efforts enable everyone to see what would otherwise be impossible: a comprehensive picture of where birds are in late winter and how their numbers and distribution compare with previous years. In 2008, participants submitted more than 85,000 checklists.

“The GBBC has become a vital link in the arsenal of continent-wide bird-monitoring projects,” said Cornell Lab of Ornithology director, John Fitzpatrick. “With more than a decade of data now in hand, the GBBC has documented the fine-grained details of late-winter bird distributions better than any project in history, including some truly striking changes just over the past decade.”

Each year, in addition to entering their tallies, participants submit thousands of digital images for the GBBC photo contest. Many are featured in the popular online gallery. Participants in the 2009 count are also invited to upload their bird videos to YouTube; some will also be featured on the GBBC web site. Visit to learn more.

Businesses,  schools, nature clubs, Scout troops, and other community organizations interested in the GBBC can contact the Cornell Lab of Ornithology at (800) 843-2473 (outside the U.S., call (607) 254-2473), or Audubon at or (202) 861-2242, Ext 3050.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is made possible, in part, by support from Wild Birds Unlimited.