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August 31, 2010

Prepping for Earl and Beyond...

Hi,

Just a quick post about what Earl might do to the East Coast...

EARL_400_2010-08-31_135906.jpg

Any questions?

If you're in the path of this puppy, now is the time to PREPARE and make plans to get out of Dodge if need be.

Stoic self-reliance is all well and good until your roof gets torn off and you realize that you have literally gone from the top of the food chain to the bottom... If the forecasters/authorities tell you to evacuate... Boogie!

I'll try to watch the behavior of the birds for as long as I can, but if the time comes to exit stage left, color me gone. Meep! Meep! (Now that was a compound mixed metaphor!!!)

See you by those well-stocked feeders...

CapeCodAlan


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August 30, 2010

Little Brown Bat, Turkeys, Landscaping Update, Next Contest

Hi,

Saw something last night that I haven't seen in years - a little brown bat... I don't know if it's the landscaping I've been doing (more about that in a bit) in the backyard, or just by happenstance. But quite frankly, I don't care. He was cute, his flight was flitty, and he was eating bugs... That's my kind of a winged mammal. I called for Mrs. CCA and the camera, but of course by the time she arrived on the scene, the bat was gone. Natch.

The turkeys on the other hand were just a tad more persistent...

Turkeys on railing resized_IMG_0625.JPG

Yup, that's all seven of them... fat and happy on our ramp railing. And there is nothing quite like the experience of having people drive by the house, stop, backup, stop again, and take pictures of the turkeys. Oh goody...

Concerning the homestead landscaping update... I'm not sure if it's the routing of the backyard jungle (and the teaming masses therein) that attracted the bat or kept the turkeys oh so content, but the work goes on regardless. Here is what it looks like now...

tree line resized_IMG_0604.JPG

(Click here for a larger version of the above photo.)

Pretty much it's civilization 90% of the way to the boundary line. Here's another look from the front of the house...

side of boat resized_IMG_0609.JPG

(Again, click here to see a larger image...)

Keep in mind that before I started, it was difficult to even walk to the right of the boat. My philosophy is, "If it's green and you can walk it and mow it without ducking or twisting... Score!!!!!!"

Onward...

We need us another contest... Gipper took the last one... (Harry, do you have that new feeder up yet? Pics would be cool... But a link to a video would be even more cool! ;)) Kidding aside, we need another contest... We need something challenging, but not impossible. Preferably, the question would involve birds, but not necessarily. I definitely don't want a contest that can be solved with a simple Google... No, reasoning/research are good things... Hmmm... Let me think about this one...

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan

P.S. Both Mrs. CCA and I have noticed that the yard is quite a bit larger than it used to be... Maybe the time has come for a lawn tractor... Be afraid, be very afraid!


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August 29, 2010

Taming the Backyard Beast

Hi,

Not a pretty picture, is it?

Backyard jungle resized_IMG_0568.JPG

Here's the story behind the mess... Our house was built about 30 - 40 years ago, and the original owners decided to take a shot at composting. So far, so good. They also decided to plant a tree line along the back perimeter of the yard. Again, no harm, no foul. But... as time progressed, the fine art of composting escaped them (dear friends by the way), and the compost heap simply became a sizable pile of leaves and grass trimmings with a bunch of branches thrown in for good measure. And what looked like a quaint tree row grew into an unruly tangle of overhanging branches and vines... In short, by the time we took ownership, a noticeable part of our backyard was human persona non grata.

And so, over time, the epic battle ensued... At first we hired a professional landscaping crew to knock down the erstwhile composting heap and do a general cleanup, and then I went at the snarl. I discussed the situation with neighbors Pat and Cynthia, and we arrived at the conclusion that we should keep the trees, but trim back to civility. And that's what we've been doing...

Backyard jungle looking at Howard_resized_IMG_0564.JPG

(Note that we still give the birds plenty of shrubbery protection within close proximity of the feeders. But the fact remains that it's our yard too.)

At this point, the job is about 80% done, and whenever my eyes cross from looking at this computer screen, or it gets to be dinner time, I head out to the yard for some rehabilitative hack and slash with the whip, saw, choppers, and rake. (Ya know... That last sentence seems a bit awkward...) Regardless, the yard is shaping up...

trellis_resized_IMG_0566.JPG

(Note that a good chunk of the butterfly bush needs to go. Consider it done.)

I guess all this leads up to the question, "What to do with the yard when we actually gain control of it?" Well, I've been thinking...

  • We could just plant grass and call it done.
  • Then again, some sort of long narrow garden might be interesting.
  • Perhaps a greenhouse or shed?
  • I'd like to take a crack at real composting using those revolving drums.
  • A platform for a gazebo or tent would be fun.
Things to think about I guess...

See you by the spiffy feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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August 26, 2010

Decennial Spinal Melt Down, Mixed Seed, and "Gipper's" First Video

Hi,

About once every ten years I pull a muscle (or muscles) in my back. As I'm also a pretty avid fitness buff who focuses on core stuff like the lower back and the side stomach (ext. obliques), when I strain something, I strain something big. We talking, "breath-taking" pain. We're talking "I-might-not-have-witnessed-God-but-I'm-pretty-sure-I-gazed-upon-His-shoes" pain. Seriously, this was pass-out type pain. I've suffered broken bones, had root canals, endured chemical burns, been beaten unconscious... Still nothing compares to a few days of sporadic, roaring back spasms. Toss into the mix virtually no sleep and you done got yourself a ringer...

But that got me to thinking... How do folks physically handle mixing heavy seed? (We get ours from a family friend who owns a seed business. Our paths have crossed for 35 years and so there's a loyalty there. He drops off the seed in one bag, the mix in another, and then we chew the proverbial fat for half an hour. Fair enough. Later, Mrs. CCA and I will manually mix the two blends and get what we want...) But, what if you can't do that. What if it just so happens that you've blown your back out like I did and the "bending and mixing" routine just don't play in Hoboken? (Do you remember the story of "Bedroom-Bound Ibuprofen Bill Ready for a Backboard"?) A suggestion... Check out the following mixes... Last I heard, the first four "flavors" are still available. (Don't you dare give me guff if they're out... My back is still screaming! Do you remember Linda Blair in "The Exorcist"?)

Onward to much happier stuff... Our friend Harry "Gipper" Morris has to some great degree wrestled his HD Flip Video into some sort of submission. (See the comments section of an earlier post. Here's his first flick, and it is a beauty! (It already has 31 views on YouTube!)

Harry says that those are Eurasian Collared Doves... They sure have great flight characteristics. Thanks Harry, I really am feeling better already.

Recovering by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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August 23, 2010

Summer Nor'Easter

Hi all,

Well, I finally got my wish... The heat is gone, it's pouring out, and the wind is whipping... In short, it's perfect for clamming! Unfortunately, it isn't perfect for computers. We've had at least half a dozen brown outs, and we may have lost our main battle tank - a dual monitor graphics beast which now can't even see my home network. (U.P.S. be derned!) Anyway, this will probably be a quick post - my machines are dropping out from under me. I hope this video of an unusual summer nor'easter here on Cape Cod survived two crashes...

Keep in mind that we live in a sort of a large gully, and are protected by trees. The weather is a lot worse than the video portrays. (No doubt we'll have a few branches down, and we may lose our power for a time. Still, we're ready. (We make it a point to have enough non-perishable food on hand for a week of lost power, though I'd be amazed if this storm was anything more than a nuisance.))

Whoops, we just had another power dip... Signing off...

No doubt we'll be raking up by the feeders...

CapeCodAlan

P.S. It looks like our streaming live Web cam is going to be down at least until tomorrow. After that, I can tear into our little old Cape Cod network and see if I can't figure what's going on...


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August 22, 2010

Video Formats and Insanity

Hi,

Well Gipper, (to borrow from the Kinks) Ya really got me goin'! Let me back up... Long-time reader Harry "Gipper" Morris and I have been trading comments for some time about the Flip Video and how to get its MP4 files to talk with Windows Movie Maker (WMM) on XP (and Vista) machines. Talk about a hornets' nest! We've got more OS versions, WMM versions, and CODEC versions than we know what to do with. (As a matter of fact, I spoke to this on another blog. Note the "EDIT"s.) So, in a moment of madness, I thought I'd make three versions of the same video starting with the MP4 that came off our new Flip Video. First, the original in MP4 format...

Next comes the same vid in AVI format...

And finally, there is the WMV...

Observations and thoughts...

  • First, sorry about the differently sized windows. I'm pretty sure that that was my fault on the YouTube end. Each was handled as 640 X 480 in the conversion process.
  • All said and done, they look pretty good, at least to me.
  • When it came to file conversion, I didn't mess around. I used a free third-party app named "Any Video Converter 3.0.7". However, I cannot stress too strongly the fact that I've been eyeball deep in PCs since before the day of the original IBM PC. (My first computer had 2K of RAM and the first IBM PC had yet to be invented.) Sooo... If you find the need to use an app to make file conversions, check out the blog link above, preferably with the help of a seasoned hand. Just be careful. If you get into trouble, I'll do what I can, but eBirdseed.com and CapeCodAlan aren't in the software business... At least not yet. And no matter what you do, always have a good backup.
  • I was surprised about file sizes... The original three minute MP4 was about 10MB in size. The converted AVI and WMV were roughly double that. Considering that the max free SendSpace is 300MB, and the max free Youtube time is 15 minutes, the limits become rather obvious.
  • I hate to say the following, but maybe I'm approaching this all backwards. Perhaps I should focus on finding a replacement application for Microsoft Windows Movie Maker that can handle the native Flip Video MP4 output vs. trying to tweak the vid file into a format that makes WMM happy. (I just hate to leave Microsoft apps!) I'll look into it. (Grumble grumble, grumble...)
Ya see that Harry... You've got me grumbling to myself - I'm going crazy I tell ya...

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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August 20, 2010

Little Bird Books, Copyright Laws, and the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon

As you may have heard (at least if you read this blog), Mrs. CCA likes to hit the yard sales and estate sales. Today was no exception. She headed out early and brought back a couple pieces of pottery along with a couple quaint little 5½" by 3½" 50- to 100-pg. books...

red and blue books_400_IMG_0532.JPG

They're nothing hugely special - 1931 and 1941 editions by Frank G. Ashbrook. Still, cute nonetheless. Here's a couple of pages that discuss/illustrate the Red-winged Blackbird... (EDIT: Below is where I initially placed a couple of cute pages... But whoops! Upon further examination of copyright laws, you'll have to buy the books to see the pages. For a very nice explanation of book copyright law and a link into the copyright renewal database, click here.) Anywho, I don't think David Sibley needs to be worried, but still the tiny tomes are fun.

Also, it's interesting to note that a name and address was in one of the books, and a bit of research tracked that person from Attleboro MA, right back to Cape Cod, less than 3 miles from where I sit at this moment. It's no great surprise really, but it still does ring of "The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon".

Having fun by those legal feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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August 19, 2010

Stupid Birds!

Whoa!

Don't yell at me because of the title... That exclamation is copyright Mrs. CCA. It has to do with the winged beasties and their sometimes most uncivilized or uncooperative behavior. It has to do with the crows who leave old pieces of bread in the bird bath (which makes the water turn fetid). And it certainly has to do with birds who simply refuse to pose before the camera.

It's that latter complaint that elicits today's "Stupid birds!" post. Consider the mediocre (at best) photograph below...

bun_resized_IMG_0531.JPG

Let me backtrack a bit... I was thinking about setting up for a nice closeup of the hummingbird out on the deck (we're talking cover of Nat Geo stuff), but decided against it because I didn't have time to wait for their appearance. Instead, I chose the downey that has been mauling our regular feeder. So I went through the usual rigmarole of setting up the tripod, adjusting the camera just right, focusing on where the woodpecker normally perches, fiddling with the Canon's control knob, etc. And I swear, at the exact moment when everything was just right, the hummingbird showed up on one of its own feeders. Not wanting to miss that special shot, I scrambled to re-orient the DSLR only to have the hummer depart just as I was ready to snap that award-winning photograph. Stupid bird. Alrighty then! Repeat process in hunt of Woody W. My reward for that second prepping was nada, nothing, zipoid. (Though the ruby-throat did a couple of encores just to tick me off.) Finally, I gave up and took the image above. Stupid birds.

I know it's anthropomorphizing, but you'd think that given all the seed we've doled out to those creatures, they'd make nice just once in a while...

See you by those irksome feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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August 17, 2010

Blessed Rain

Hi,

Man it's been hot here. This has been a miserable summer. (If I've mentioned this before, forgive me - I'm going crazy from the heat.) This morning we had a wonderful little storm...

rain_resized_IMG_0519.JPG

Granted it only alleviated the heat just a tad (it's roughly 90 degrees here in the computer room down on the Cape), but at least it was an emotional victory. What is it about the heat here this time around? I wouldn't say it's excessively humid, but it's cramped, still, shadowed, and unkempt - sort of like a subway heat - heat that is unkind to suet in the morning and late afternoon.

I imagine/hope that there is some kind of yin/yang reciprocity for our discomfort... Perhaps we've earned an easy cool winter filled with expansive crisp stuff. (Truth be told, we'll probably start shoveling snow November 1 and stop April 1... Fate, like Steven Wright, has a strange sense of humor.)

For many years now, I've tried to convince Mrs. CCA that eventually we should move up to Caribou ME. I lived there off and on for a couple of years. It was desolate, silent, brutally cold in the winter... but oh so beautiful. (The down side is that that part of the country has a "black fly season"... Ughhh!) Still, five or ten acres with our own log cabin would be perfect, and the aurora borealis is sublime.

Returning back to reality, I'd just settle for another blessed rain storm.

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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August 14, 2010

More Crow Action and Thoughts on Cameras

Hi,

Ah yes... Nothing like crows and cams!

Take a look as a crow grapples with a tangle of old crackers...

resized_cropped_Crow with crackers sequence_IMG_0502.JPG

Which way to go?

resized_cropped_Crow with crackers sequence_IMG_0503.JPG

Getting ready to fly...

resized_cropped_Crow with crackers sequence_IMG_0504.JPG

Oops...

resized_cropped_Crow with crackers sequence_IMG_0505.JPG

l(a

cr
ac
ke

r
fa

ll

s) one l

iness

(apologies to e.e. cummings...)

resized_cropped_Crow with crackers sequence_IMG_0506.JPG

Once again, this series of pics was taken using the "Sports" setting of the EOS... I simply set the camera up on a tripod, adjusted the focus, plugged in the remote shutter, and then let fire in the "Full Auto" or "Burst" mode. I really like this camera and would highly recommend it.

And speaking of cameras... Our little eBirdseed.com streaming bird cam has done yeoman's work for at least a year now, but maybe it's time to think of something new... Something better. Here are the goals for the proposed video:

  • Have a camera that continues to stream live 24/7
  • Introduce a system that doesn't foul up the existing network
  • Is of higher quality than the current setup
  • Is portable with a range of 100 feet or so
  • It should be able to withstand the worst weather
  • Avoid if at all possible exposed cables
  • Use solar power as part of its energy source
Anyway, those are just some ideas... Please feel free to chime in.

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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August 13, 2010

The End of Summer in Sight?

I hope the summer is winding down! This has been, without a doubt, the hottest, most oppressive, most miserable summer I can remember. Right now (late night) it's 61F outdoors. Hallelujah! Granted, summer has given us some beautiful stuff...

petunia_resized_IMG_0485.JPG

But enough is enough. And given these temps, heaven help us if a hurricane puts Cape Cod in its cross hairs - we'd probably be talking about something on the scale of the storm of 1938. Oh goody.

I guess the best we can hope for is something along the lines as the following from Emily...

As imperceptibly as grief
The summer lapsed away, --
Too imperceptible, at last,
To seem like perfidy.

A quietness distilled,
As twilight long begun,
Or Nature, spending with herself
Sequestered afternoon.

The dusk drew earlier in,
The morning foreign shone, --
A courteous, yet harrowing grace,
As guest who would be gone.

And thus, without a wing,
Or service of a keel,
Our summer made her light escape
Into the beautiful.

The heat isn't over just yet, but my money is on Ms. Dickinson...

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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August 10, 2010

Contest Winner and Answers to Video Questions

Hi all,

First of all, hats off to Harry "Gipper" Morris for winning our latest contest... There were three questions:

  • What was the 37th state to join the U.S. union?
  • In what year did that state join the union?
  • And what is that state's bird?
And the answers were/are:
  • Nebraska
  • 1867
  • Western Meadowlark
For his effort, Harry receives a $60 "Squirrel Buster Plus" feeder and a round of applause! Well done "Gipper"!

Now, about those pesky video questions... Harry asked the following... (My answers are in blue)

  • Can we talk camera stuff? Absolutely!
  • How much file space does your Flip Video camera use for a 1-minute video? Just the same as yours (I measured...) 35.16 MB. That's an AVI standard. (Do you really want the pixel math?) And if you take 35 MB/min and multiply that by 60 minutes, you get roughly 2 GB, or the standard amount of space on an old Flip cam. If you want HD, you'll need to step up to a 4 GB model. In comparison, my Olympus F-120 movie feature uses 35.0MB. That seems like way too much to be useful in sending to a friend or something. While it's do-able to send huge amounts of video info this way, for the "Average Joe" there's a better way... Save the vid to the computer, edit it in something like Windows Movie Maker, and save it as a WMV file. (More below.)
  • I saw the prices of the Flip Videos HD, 2nd generation cameras, and their prices have come down a way from last year. Ah, the dilemma of technology... When is "good enough" priced right before becoming obsolete?
  • Still thinking about buying one. Lot's of questions about how to use it, programs, transfer files, etc. I'd highly recommend the purchase. Understand that there is a sharp learning curve, especially if you're not comfortable with drives and folders, importing files, etc. It's not that it's terribly difficult, but it is foreign.
Now... About transferring large video files. As mentioned above, programs like Windows Movie Maker can compress the video by a factor of five to ten into a WMV file. The difference being that AVI files are really meant for hard drive storage and WMV files are more tailored to the Web and streaming. Still, WMVs hold their own...

But the real beauty is that a free service such as sendspace will let you upload your 30 minute WMV file (300 MB max), and then you can give your friends access to the download information. Granted, it takes a bit of time, but it works... Slick aye?

Congrats again to Harry!

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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Beautiful Female Mallard and End of Contest... But...

UPDATE: Contest closed... We have a winner! See next post!!!

Hi,

First the duck...

400_EXCELLENT female mallard duck with feet under water.JPG

Is that stunning or what? We like the "below-the-waterline" feet. Once we really figure out what we're doing with our new camera, we could be downright dangerous.

Onward...

Well, our video contest ended without even an entry. Bummer. No great surprise really... Many folks are still uncomfortable with video, video editing, and stuff like YouTube. Add to that the stifling heat, and... Well, there you go. Not a problem... But... Here's the next contest, same prize as before - a $60 "Squirrel Buster Plus" feeder.

prize_re_sized_2010-07-26_013354.jpg

And the contest is this... Answer these three questions: What was the 37th state to join the U.S. union, and in what year? Also what is that state's bird?

Rules?

  • First completely correct answer sent in as a comment wins
  • eBirdseed.com employees and their relatives cannot enter
  • Only entries from the continental U.S. will be valid. eBirdseed.com will pay for prize shipping
  • All decisions by the eBirdseed.com judges will be final

See you by those ever-competitive feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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August 7, 2010

New Hummingbird Video

Hi,

Check out the latest hummingbird video!

A few of notes about that vid...

  • First, there are at least two birds here.
  • Second, Isn't it cool the way the creatures turn and look at the camera at the :45 and 1:10 marks?
  • Notice that they ignore the red flower in the background. Smart birds. My hunch is that that flower is hardly the energy source of our 1:4 sugar water.
  • I'm not sure if we're just noticing it, or if this summer has been particularly demanding, or if we simply have a bumper crop of hummers, but it seems like they're draining the feeders every day or two. Be sure to keep an eye on your feeders.
  • The more we use our little Flip Video camera, the more we like it. A quick glance at Amazon.com et al shows that the Ultra HDs are under $200 now. They're at least worth a look. And speaking of cams, don't forget that our video contest ends just shy of midnight today!

See you by those busy feeders,

CapeCodAlan


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August 4, 2010

Crow Behavior

Hi all,

I took the following three photos of a crow landing simply because the act is so amazing. (Also, I've discovered the auto-fire mode of the camera in the "Sports" setting. How did I live without it?)

417_landing_1_of_3_IMG_0431.JPG

417_landing_2_of_3_IMG_0432.JPG

417_landing_3_of_3_IMG_0433.JPG

Lightness aside, I've finally come to a very serious realization - the crows, Mrs. CapeCodAlan, and I have entered into some sort of relationship. It's difficult to explain, but there is clearly communication between us, recognition between individuals (bird and humans)... I know their feeding cycles, and they know my work patterns. They know what side of the house to harangue depending on the time of day and I know where to place their food. There is something symbiotic going on here... something give-and-take. (And don't give me hooey about me being an "Alcoa Hat". Just search this site for "UFO". I'm not very kind when it comes to conspiracy theories.) Here are the facts:

  • We know crows are highly intelligent animals
  • . Given their ability to manufacturer tools outside of their natural habitat (Something that no primate save humans can do, they might rival the great apes. Considering "Koko" that would arguably put the crow on equal intellectual footing with a small child. Cleverness? Who knows...
  • Crows have an extraordinary sense of group or "murder". I remember a window hit by a crow; his compadres simply would not leave the body. It was a sad and noble thing.
  • Crows remember individuals. Oh goody.
  • Corvids learn from each other. (See above... Oh goody2.)
  • When one learns, most learn just by observation.
So here we are. We've got a bunch of intelligent birds who know us, and we know them... perhaps too well. I have no idea where we fit into their social order, and quite frankly, I'm not even sure as to where they fit into ours. This is all becoming too Hitchcockian for me.

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan

P.S. Don't forget our video contest!


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August 2, 2010

Flight of the Osprey

Well...

The wife says that these are two first-year ospreys playing and learning to dive and hunt. I truly have no clue. All I do know is that Mrs. CCA photographed them above dry land in N. Harwich, MA., on 7/31/10.

claws and bent wings_IMG_0315.JPG

Bent wings_IMG_0329.JPG

Wow... Just wow... Look at the deformation of the wings. (And no, these shots have not been Photoshopped.) Is that freaky or what? Now take a good look at the top picture... That weird bump is a function of the "Wing Wrist"... You can see it perform in this following series of images from the same day and same place during a dive sequence:

osprey starts dive_1_resized_IMG_0336.JPG

osprey starts dive_2_resized_IMG_0337.JPG

osprey starts dive_3_resized_IMG_0338.JPG

osprey starts dive_4_resized_IMG_0339.JPG

osprey starts dive_5_resized_IMG_0340.JPG

osprey starts dive_6_resized_IMG_0341.JPG

I apologize for all the images, but this was just too compelling... When time permits, I'll mount these up on our eBirdseed.com photo library for all to enjoy. In the mean time, holler if you don't see the pics you want, and don't forget our bird video contest!

See you by the feeders,

CapeCodAlan


Cornell Ornithology Laboratory: Inside Birding

Cornell Ornithology Laboratory: All About Birding

eBirdseed.com photo library

eBirdseed and misc. references

Other birding references

eBirdseed.com bird cam

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