Adam Welz's Weblog

back in Cape Town – some birds @ Intaka Island

Posted in ALL BLOG POSTS, birds & birding by adamwelz on July 24, 2008

Hi All

I’ve been back in Cape Town for a few days – just long enough to realise how exhausted I am!

I’ll be carrying on with this blog, with more pics and observations from my mega-trip to the USA and, of course, the same from South Africa and everywhere else.

Don’t have time to write much now but you can have a quick squizz at this picture I took a few hours ago at an artificial wetland called Intaka Island, here in Cape Town. This bird is called a Sacred Ibis because, yes, the Egyptians used to worship them. They’re rather common around Cape Town, but were unknown in these parts until a few decades ago. Humans changed the habitat to suit them by making farms and fields in the landscape, and they colonised the area by themselves by moving down from the north. They like feeding in soggy lawn areas and mucky barnyards.

Hope you’re all well!


USA ’08 trip: Bird list

Posted in ALL BLOG POSTS, birds & birding by adamwelz on July 20, 2008

Hi All

am back in Cape Town and slowly getting my head into what I need to do next.

So as to bore you all backwards, here’s my bird list from my nearly 3-month trip to the US. I did not spend that much time seriously birding as I had work to do and people to see, but nonetheless managed a fairly respectable total of 281 species (free-flying wild species positively identified by sight, including 4 introduced species). In addition, I unambiguously heard but did not see (or did not see well enough to see well enough to confirm field marks) another 4 species (Ruffed Grouse, Wood Thrush, Clapper Rail, Warbling Vireo) and saw in the hand (mist-netted) 2 species which I did not see free-flying in the wild (Yellow-breasted Chat and Swainson’s Thrush).

I haven’t gone through all my notes, so I may have missed a species or two, but will edit the list appropriately if I find extras. There’s at least one Phalarope I still have to ID from some poor photos, and I have a sneaky feeling about one or two more shorebirds buried in the notes. With the species I saw during my shorter trip last year, and when I lived in Alaska in 1991, I have well over 300 species on my US list now, but probably not yet 400. I’ll work out my total USA list sometime (perhaps never) and post it.

I birded in California, Alaska, Texas, Michigan, New York, Connecticut and a tiny bit in New Jersey. Big dips (birds I wanted to see, looked for, but missed) include Greater Roadrunner, American Woodcock, Upland Sandpiper, Blackburnian and Cerulean Warblers. Next time!

Red-throated Loon
Pacific Loon
Common Loon
Eared Grebe
Red-necked Grebe
Western Grebe
Clark’s Grebe
Pied-billed Grebe
Least Grebe
American White Pelican
Brown Pelican
Brandt’s Cormorant
Pelagic Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
Neotropic Cormorant
Least Bittern
Great Blue Heron
Great (White) Egret
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
Tricolored Heron
Cattle Egret
Green Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Glossy Ibis
White-faced Ibis
White Ibis
Roseate Spoonbill
Mute Swan (introduced)
Trumpeter Swan
Gtr. White-fronted Goose
Snow Goose
Canada Goose
Brant (Goose)
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Wood Duck
American Black Duck (poss hybrid w Mallard – many seen, none absolutely sure 100% Black)
Mottled Duck
Northern Pintail
American Wigeon
Eurasian Wigeon
Northern Shoveler
Blue-winged Teal
Green-winged Teal
Greater Scaup
Harlequin Duck
Long-tailed Duck
White-winged Scoter
Surf Scoter
Common Goldeneye
Barrow’s Goldeneye
Common Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
California Condor
Mississippi Kite
Cooper’s Hawk
Northern Harrier
Harris’s Hawk
Red-shouldred Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Swainson’s Hawk
Bald Eagle
Crested Caracara
American Kestrel
Plain Chachalaca
Wild Turkey
California Quail
Common Moorhen
American Coot
Sandhill Crane
Black-bellied Plover
Black Oystercatcher
American Oystercatcher
Black-necked Stilt
American Avocet
Greater Yellowlegs
Spotted Sandpiper
Marbled Godwit
Black Turnstone
Western Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Baird’s Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Wilson’s Snipe
Black-legged Kittiwake
Bonaparte’s Gull
Laughing Gull
Mew Gull
Ring-billed Gull
California Gull
Herring Gull
Glaucous Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull
Thayer’s Gull
Western Gull
Heermann’s Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Black Tern
Caspian Tern
Common Tern
Forster’s Tern
Gull-billed Tern
Arctic Tern
Least Tern
Black Skimmer
Pigeon Guillemot
Marbled Murrulet
Feral Pigeon (introduced)
White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove
Inca Dove
Common Ground Dove
White-tipped Dove
Red-crowned Parrot
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Groove-billed Ani
Eastern Screech-Owl
Barred Owl
Lesser Nighthawk
Common Nighthawk
Common Paraque
Chimney Swift
Vaux’s Swift
White-throated Swift
Anna’s Hummingbd
Rufous Hummingbird
Allen’s Hummingbird
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Buff-bellied Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Ringed Kingfisher
Green Kingfisher
Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Acorn Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Nuttall’s Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Red-breasted Sapsucker
Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet
Eastern Wood-Peewee
Pacific-slope Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Black Phoebe
Brown-crested Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Couch’s Kingbird
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Loggerhead Shrike
White-eyed Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Yellow-throated Vireo
Blue Jay
Steller’s Jay
Green Jay
Western Scrub-Jay
Gray Jay
Black-billed Magpie
American Crow
Northwestern Crow
Fish Crow
Common Raven
Horned Lark
Tree Swallow
Violet-green Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Cave Swallow
Purple Martin
Oak Titmouse
Tufted Titmouse
Black-crested Titmouse
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Carolina Chickadee
Black-capped Chikadee
Brown Creeper
White-breasted Nuthatch
Marsh Wren
Bewick’s Wren
House Wren
Carolina Wren
American Dipper
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Eastern Bluebird
Varied Thrush
American Robin
Hermit Thrush
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher
California Thrasher
Long-billed Thrasher
American Pipit
Cedar Waxwing
European Starling (introduced)
Orange-crowned Warbler
Blue-winged Warbler
Northern Parula
Yellow Warbler
Golden-cheeked Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Townsend’s Warbler
Prairie Warbler
Black-Throated Gray Warbler
Yellow-throated Warbler
Kirtland’s Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Prothonotary Warbler
Worm-eating Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Hooded Warbler
Wilson’s Warbler
Louisiana Waterthrush
Western Tanager
Scarlet Tanager
Indigo Bunting
Painted Bunting
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Black-headed Grosbeak
Eastern Towhee
California Towhee
Spotted Towhee
Olive Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Grasshopper Sparrow
Seaside Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Lincoln’s Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
White-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Lapland Longspur
Baltimore Oriole
Orchard Oriole
Altamira Oriole
Eastern Meadowlark
Red-winged Blackbird
Brewer’s Blackbird
Common Grackle
Great-tailed Grackle
Boat-tailed Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Bronzed Cowbird
American Goldfinch
Lesser Goldfinch
House Finch
Purple Finch
Common Redpoll
House Sparrow (introduced)

Photos will be posted as I get around to going through them.



“Sizzle” – movie review

Posted in ALL BLOG POSTS, random bits by adamwelz on July 15, 2008

Hi All

Randy Olsen asked me and a few dozen other bloggers to review his latest movie, “Sizzle”, which is being launched into the world more-or-less now.

Here goes:

The film opens with Randy Olsen, or, more precisely, Randy Olsen playing a simulacrum of something like himself, on a mission. As a scientist-turned-filmmaker, he’s really worried about climate change, and really impressed by the impact that Al Gore’s famous film has made. One thing bothers him about “An Inconvenient Truth”, however — it’s all Al Gore and no scientists. He thinks that what we need now is a global warming film with real academics up front. One problem: The movie money men don’t agree with him. Penniless and desperate, he quickly lands up with worse than second best; a couple of entertainingly clueless producers (who can’t tell Scientologists from scientists) and an argumentative, tardy, low rent film crew (who drive a Hummer, no less).

Randy & Co. travel the USA, flipping between mockumentary and documentary mode, interviewing both mainstream global warming scientists and global warming skeptics in roughly equal measure. (One of the skeptics, a Dr Chillingarian, is so bizarre he can only be real; think shiny transvestite crossed with central American serial killer, weird sunglasses, a midday champagne habit, lots of peer-reviewed publications, military decorations, an Honduran honorary consulship and you’re somewhere close. The film is worth the ticket just to see him.) As their journey progresses things come unstuck. The film crew interrupt Randy’s interviews, the skeptics are more compelling than the ‘reality-based’ mainstream global warming scientists, and the spokesperson for a big environmental group that Randy hopes will save the day for his film is utterly, excruciatingly, hopeless with the facts and figures that matter.

Randy, down in the dumps, thinks the game is up. His film will never be finished – he simply does not have the material he needs. It’s up to one of his crew members to remind him that the story of global warming is a human story, not a science story. It’s about people, their feelings, and how their lives might be affected by rising sea levels, hurricanes, droughts and so on. The crew end up in New Orleans, still rather unrepaired years after Katrina, and find these human stories, real, poignant and compelling.

The message? Forget the simple recitation of facts and figures — they won’t change anyone’s mind. Ground the facts and figures in personal, powerful, emotional experience, and you might get somewhere.

At least, I think that’s what the message is. Olsen’s previous film, “A Flock of Dodos”, showed how mainstream evolutionary biologists were being blindsided by communication-savvy, characterful, ‘Intelligent Design’ propagandists, and “Sizzle” is another attempt to wake them up to their media mediocrity. But “Sizzle” is perhaps too complex a beast to convey the value of clear communication, unless it aims to make the point by itself failing to consistently put a well-framed and credible message across.

The movie is a poly-faceted genre intersexual; part-comedy, part-documentary, part-mockumentary, semi-ironic, sometimes-serious, fragmentarily-‘real’, segmentially-acted, and so on. I was somewhat cast adrift while watching, distracted between message and meta-message, bounced up and down around in-jokes, in-your-face-jokes and seriously-not-jokes. Although where it ends up, with the real stories of New Orleans, certainly is compelling and believable, I am still unsure how Katrina actually is connected to global warming, or if what the mainstream scientists say is credible – the waters are so well-muddied by the skeptics. (And Dr Chill is so odd that he visited me in my dreams even before I went to sleep, scrambling my brain even further.)

What was missing for me was a strong thread to follow throughout the film, and as a result I found myself feeling a bit flat in between the ‘good bits’. Randy’s journey is clearly intended to be that thread, but I was not invested enough in him to want to follow him too closely through all his complex misadventures. I think the reason for this feeling was that the film doesn’t show very much of his initial struggle to get the film funded – one failed meeting with the suits is all it takes for him to fall in with his limp-wristed Tweedledum and Tweedledummer production crew, and from then on his character seems completely overwhelmed by events, tossed about on the seas of fate, rather than struggling valiantly to succeed against all odds.

Randy’s character, in other words, is not a hero but a bit of a nebbish who is saved by his crew. Heroes are so much easier to root for, vote for and go to war for.

The final verdict? Worth seeing. Worth, particularly, discussing, as it raises issues about climate change and environmental communication that are often avoided, and it has some really good laughs. Worth, also, another edit. Randy’s doing a very valuable thing by raising issues of communication in the scientific community, I want him to carry on, but this film could be sharpened somewhat.

You can see more at



Houston frounce-infected Red-tailed Hawk babies: Update

Posted in ALL BLOG POSTS, birds & birding by adamwelz on July 11, 2008

Hi All

just got of the phone to Cathy Horvath – and heard some good news.

Hous (aka Houston 1 or just plain Houston), the young Red-tailed Hawk who was fostered in with the Astoria/Triborough Bridge Red-tails, is standing and ate by himself yesterday. I filmed this incredibly sick bird being recaptured a few days ago and in such bad shape that I doubted he’d even make it though the day alive. His frounce lesions were huge, he was extremely skinny and so weak that he lay on his side in the carrier.

Here’s Houston 1’s mouth on 5 July, the recapture day. The frounce lesions are the disgusting cheesy growths in his mouth. Note also the discoloured tongue. Bobby’s ‘caption’ for this photo was “In addition what you can see in his mouth there is much more down his throat , under his jaw, and in his crop that we can feel which makes his case much worse than Hous ” 2 ” . This is why he is so thin presently. He has a hard time swallowing anything solid so Cathy is mixing him up a meal in a blended smoothie type which is tubed into his crop. He’s also getting flagyl, sprartrix, and baytril .”

Houston 2 is also in much better shape. The frounce lesions have almost gone, is eating alone, and jumping around in the cage. The multi-drug approach seems to be working.

Both birds are not yet out of the woods, but for now it’s looking good.



PS You can read more on the Astoria hawk saga at

two young Harris’s Hawk, Santa Ana, TX

Posted in ALL BLOG POSTS, birds & birding by adamwelz on July 10, 2008

but the birds are. I’m still running around in New York frantically trying to finish my film, hence the dearth of recent blog posts, but I’m feeling guilty about it so here are two recently fledged (i.e. still screaming and curiously un-scared of people) Harris’s Hawk. Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Texas, 28 May 2008. One of my most special finds of my trip down there.

Hang in there – I’ll have more words and images up late next week.


R I P Houston 3

Posted in ALL BLOG POSTS, birds & birding by adamwelz on July 1, 2008


Dear Friends

Spoke with Cathy Horvath this morning, and have sad news to report. Houston 3, the silly young Red-tailed Hawk that I helped rescue from the traffic, has died. (See blog post below for more on that.)

The bird, along with its older siblings, Houston 1 & 2, had come into the Horvath’s care after coming down in dangerous situations near the nest. Houston 1 has been released into the foster care of the Triborough Bridge Red-tails, but Houston 2 & 3 remained with the Horvaths as, when they were taken there, they were not yet well flighted-enough to be released near their rather dangerous nest site.

The Houston ‘father’ bird was found on the ground some days ago obviously unwell and unable to fly. He died shortly after of Frounce (in the Horvath’s care) after which the Horvath’s realised that his kids, 2 & 3, were also infected, and began treatment.

Frounce is a nasty disease caused by a protozoan that likes living in the crops of pigeons. It is therefore likely that Houston 2 & 3, and their father, became infected from the same pigeon, probably caught by the father and fed to 2 & 3 while they were still on the nest. The Horvaths do not feed pigeon to their birds.

So now the only one of that family of Red-tails left in the Houston St area is the adult female. When last seen she appeared healthy. A question remains as to whether Houston 1, the one fostered out to Triborough, is also infected with Frounce. He has in past days seen acting strangely, as in lying down, but seemed in good health yesterday. It is possible that he’s clean, as the putative infected pigeon may have been brought to the nest by the male after 1 had already flown, but he must be carefully watched.

Houston 2 is apparently not yet cured but holding up so far.



PS More on the Houston Hawks at Donna Browne’s blog,

PS A friend in China tells me that my blog is blocked by the state Internet Police. (You know you’re talking about something important when you get banned – like birds and birding!) Don’t you just love totalitarian regimes and censorship? I get so tired of hearing of all the ‘progress’ made in China without talk of the costs, the massive environmental costs and the costs in terms of basic human liberty.