It’s December 13th. It’s the year before a Presidential election here in the United States. And it’s Iowa. What’s that mean? The First in the Nation Presidential Caucuses! Add that to the fact that I’m the honored host of the “I and The Bird” Carnival #64, and you’ve got an apolitically-themed IATB!
So, what are the Caucuses? Very basically, they are the way the Republicans and Democrats of Iowa pick who they’d like to win their party’s nomination for the President. And, as the first caucus in the nation, the candidates, the media, and the pundits all pay attention, often because a win in Iowa is either a springboard to victories in the other states’ caucuses or primaries, or the end of the road for second- and third-tier candidates trying to get their campaign in gear.
And what is the IATB Carnival? “I and the Bird is a carnival celebrating the interaction of human and avian, an ongoing exploration of the endless fascination with birdlife all around the world. It is also a biweekly showcase of the best bird writing on the web published on alternating Thursdays.”
So let’s get to it!
First things first – we always start our events in the US with the singing of our National Anthem (and the Caucuses are no exception!). But, seeing as this is IATB (and seeing as how I’m not going to try and embed music into this post), we’ll start with my entry for IATB #64 – the Bald Eagle, the National Bird of the USA (which happens to be very plentiful in Iowa this time of year, especially here along the Mississippi).
Ok, now that we have things underway, what are you likely to see at the First in the Nation Caucuses when you begin to mill around?
1. Crowds: A visit to one of the caucuses on Caucus night inevitably leads one to find him or herself immersed in a loud crowd, not unlike Jennifer of the Infinite Sphere who found herself out in her kayak with a large flock of White Pelicans. I’d definitely rather be in a flock of squawking White Pelicans than stuck in a crowd of squawking political activists. But that’s just me! Getting through these crowds is never easy, either, with so many people jockeying for your attention. In fact, getting through the crowds is not unlike what Duncan Fraser went through, “bashing” his way through scrub and post-flood thicket on his way to some great birding (including the Satin Flycatcher and the Black-faced Monarch).
2. Rare Visitors: You never know who might turn up at the local caucus, be it a candidate who normally wouldn’t pay Iowa any attention, or that neighbor that you’ve rarely seen out of the house. If you’re the Ecobirder, the rare visitor is the Black-tailed Gull, a bird that is normally found in Asia! Coincidentally, Ecobirder was in Iowa when he snapped those stunning photos (if only the candidates were as photogenic!)! And I have to agree with Ecobirder on the following: “I have to say they have a really great birding community down in Iowa.” And how about a Bullock’s Oriole…in Pennsylvania…in December? According to Cornell, this bad boy should be in Mexico right now (and should never find itself in Pennsylvania at any time of the year). But Drew at the Nemesis Bird saw him (with his neighbors) and has photographic proof! Personally, I’ve never had any luck attracting Orioles here in Iowa… Also, head over to The Feather and the Flower, where noflickster stumbled upon Eastern Bluebirds and Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers (“Not supposed to be here, according to the range maps”), among others. And, as you’d expect from someone who works at the Cornell Lab or Ornithology, tons of great photos and information. Yeah, you heard that right, he works for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Is that a great gig, or what? Does this really count as working? Maybe we can open up a satellite office in Iowa and I can work there? And Peregrine’s Bird Blog was visited by a Hen Harrier! He’s got photos of that, too. And you absolutely MUST see his photo of a Redshank “Walking on Water.” It will be one of the best photos you will see this year – without a doubt! Submit it!
3. Solicitors: Candidates and their campaign workers are often said to be “courting” their voters, but we all know that’s just a fancy word for “soliciting.” And just like the door-to-door kind, it can get pretty annoying. And if you think the solicitation ends the day before the caucus, you’re wrong! People can change their minds right up to the vote, so expect lots of political “courters” and “solicitors” to be working you for your vote. But if you want to see some real old-fashioned courtship, check out Kate at Outside My Window. She’s got a great post with photographs about the “Courtship Flight” of the Peregrine Falcon! Finally, “courting” we can all enjoy!
4. Rousing Speeches: Nothing sells a candidate like moving oratory – about the issues, about the concerns of the people, about the State of the Union, etc. Unfortunately, today’s candidates don’t always inspire like some of our past Presidents have. But, never fear, Pohangina Pete is here! From black swans to dead penguins, from oystercatchers to pheasants, you’ll get lost in his writing and you’ll love the photos. Truly one of the best out there! And please visit John Riutta, the Born Again Birdwatcher. He has a wonderfully well-written post describing to the most minute of details his recent experience spending some time with Bushtits. It is a great post, and you will love the prose!
6. Weirdos: Yeah, not very politically correct, I know. But it’s true! Some of the strangest people you’ll ever meet are hardcore politicos. And, because some of the candidates themselves are pretty weird, you can bet you’ll run into their weird supporters, too. Now you know how Monado at Science Notes felt when she stumbled upon this “mutant” starling. Is it half-albino? Quite possibly. One thing’s for sure, like some of the fringe elements you’ll find at the caucuses, this bird just doesn’t “fit in” with your everyday Starlings! And what about pigeons? They are sort-of the “outcasts” of the birding community, aren’t they? Most people don’t like them, most people don’t want them around, and most people give them fun little nicknames like “rats with wings.” And, birders rarely spend their time photographing them. Well, Wanderin’ Weeta has a post up that is sort of an ode to pigeons (or, possibly better entitled an “appreciation” for them), with some great photos (including sunrises and sunsets). No one should consider pigeons any less of a bird ever again!
7. Fascinating People: Yes, there are weirdos, but on the flip-side, you can also meet some very fascinating people. Often times, the candidates themselves are pretty fascinating (even if you don’t support them for office). And, if you ask me, nothing makes a person more fascinating, or more captivating, than being well-traveled (or by simply being from somewhere that I’ve never been). And, let’s face it, politicians get around. Plus, many of them came from, or have traveled to, places I’ve never been. How lucky! Of course, when it comes to birding, the most fascinating birds are often the ones you have to travel to see (what’s common for me may be extraordinary for you, etc.). For example, Greg Laden has some photos of the White-Browed Sparrow Weaver. Never heard of, much less seen, one? That’s because they live in Africa. So while this bird may be a regular for Greg, it’s absolutely fascinating to me. And he’s done a great job with his post, too. And check out Rick Wright, who went to Guyana and scored photos of the Laughing Falcon and the Bat Falcon. I’m truly envious! More birds that I’ve never heard of! Finally, check out James’ tracking down of one of the rarest birds in Africa, the Pygmy Spike-Heeled Lark. The post is also wonderfully full of information on a host of other birds found in and around the Arusha National Park area. Fantastic information and tons of photos! Someday, I need to travel to these spots and see all these birds for myself!
8. Diversity: Although Iowa is not the most diverse place on Earth, you are guaranteed to see people of all colors, creeds, and…ilk… at the Caucuses, as at this point in the game, there is usually a candidate for everybody. Another place to find diversity? 10,000 Birds’ Charlie Moores’ latest submission: 16 photos of 8 different birds. Now that’s a full post! He also tells a compelling story about his day birding in Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in California, as well as comments on the roughly 10+ species he saw that day. As always, the photography is more than spectacular.
That gives you an idea of what you can count on if you show up at the Caucuses. But, of course, the real stars of the show are the candidates themselves. So, what can you expect or not expect from the candidates themselves, should they choose to show up at your Caucus site?
1. Do Not Expect Royalty: As a general rule, Americans don’t like royalty. We pride ourselves on having kicked out the vestiges of the monarchy years ago. And, because the candidates are chosen in the Caucuses by hand-raising and other direct forms of democracy, you aren’t likely to find too many “royal” figures hanging about this time of year. That said, birders love royalty, and the next entry is trying to capitalize on the fact that most visitors here will, in fact, be birders. Without further ado, I give you Richard Guthrie’s “Good Prince Eider.” As Richard notes, “WHEN HE GROWS UP, HE WILL BE A VERY HANDSOME KING.” Good luck, Prince.
2. Do Expect Good Grooming: What Americans do like in a candidate is one that is good-looking and well-groomed. Nobody likes a slob! Plus, if a candidate looks good, you figure he/she pays attention to the details. That’s what you want, right? Well, no bird looks better than a lovebird, and GrrlScientist has a fascinating piece about lovebirds, including pictures! GrrlScientist looks into the old nature vs. nurture argument and it makes for compelling reading. Wouldn’t it be nice to know whether some of our more corrupt politicians are so corrupt because of nature or nurture? Fascinating. And, honestly, when out in the wild, can you argue with the beauty of a Great-Horned Owl? Patrick Belardo has a great photo of one, and much more (is that a Red-Tailed Hawk, too?) while he wonders (aloud) whether his readers have had enough of his New Mexico posts! I don’t think so! Plus, I believe one of our candidates is from New Mexico, so I’m sure he’s proud to have New Mexico featured so prominently.
3. Do Not Expect Them to Sit Still: Candidates are constantly on the move. If it’s not going from caucus spot to caucus spot, it’s heading out after the votes to the next state and the next campaign stop. Of course, as all of us birders know, birds don’t sit still, either. How many birds would I have on my blog if they all just sat still and let me take their picture? Then again, half of the fun of birding would probably be gone… But every once in awhile it is nice to get a bird (especially a lifer) to just sit still! Lucky for Trevor, that’s just what happened with this Eastern Spinebill. “Although I’ve seen it quite a few times, I haven’t been able to get any individuals to sit still long enough for me to focus the camera. Until my recent visit to the Australian National Botanic Gardens, that is.” Now that’s satisfaction!
4. Do Expect The Quoting of Polls and Studies: Politicians love to quote polls that show them on top – or rising fast – and they love to cite “empirical” studies that bolster their ideas or deflate the opponent’s ideas. The problem is, their opponents can usually find a poll or a study that alleges to stand for the exact opposite. Plus, the “studies” are often biased and not very entertaining to read. But not in the bird world! Check out Ed Yong’s post on the study of the so-called “human language gene” in birds, especially zebra finches. Apparently, this gene, when mutated, causes speech impairment in humans – but the same gene in birds also controls their ability to pick up new songs (or variations). Very cool and very informative. And how about this study discussed by Nick Sly from Biological Ramblings? The cited paper “demonstrate[s] the widespread use of a feeding mechanism in shorebirds known as surface-tension transport. The shorebirds draw a small prey item within a drop of water up the bill, without the assistance of suction or movement of the tongue. Instead, they utilize the surface tension of water to wick the droplet up to their mouth by slightly spreading their mandibles.” Supplemented with pictures, another well-done discussion on an absolutely fascinating study.
5. Do Expect Successful Candidates to Ham It Up For the Cameras: Face time is a must! You can expect they’ll all try to get as much face time as possible – photo ops and interviews! But who cares about political interviews? The Birdist has an interview with an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker tracker! It’s a wonderful post and very informative! That’s the type of interview I like to read. Considering the extinction, the rediscovery, and the skepticism regarding the rediscovery that surrounds the Ivory-Billed, the interview will be enjoyable for all birders (plus, it’s extremely well-done!).
So, that’s the First in the Nation Caucuses! Any questions? Lots of candidates, lots of loud, screaming (possibly weird) people, and lots of fun, right?
I should warn all you would-be caucus-goers, though. Getting to caucus sites in Iowa in January is not always the easiest (or safest) thing to do. Why? Because the weather very rarely cooperates. For one, you can usually count on a heavy dose of snow, like The Ridger found not long ago in his neck of the woods. While driving may be perilous, birding can be exquisite, as you can see from his many photos of frost covered trees, as well as crows, juncos and blue jays! If it is snowing on Caucus day, and you absolutely can’t take the car out, take my advice: go birding! And, as T.R. notes, the best places are often right in your backyard with no (or minimal) driving required! As T.R. laments, don’t let these places go to waste! Someday, you (or the place) may no longer be there!
If you do make it to the Caucuses, go with a friend! It’s much better to share these types of experiences with others, as Tai Haiku notes in his post on sharing snipes with children and their mother (in a situation that would leave me unbelievably annoyed). As Tai states, however, sharing ends up being pretty fun. You won’t regret it!
Finally, if you aren’t able to Caucus in Iowa this year (as it may require significant traveling for most of you), get involved in other ways. Make phone calls, go door-to-door, or blog about it! Getting involved is always a great way to help out a cause that you feel passionate about – just ask David Ringer, who participated in a bird count at Caddo Lake! He’s got photos, he’s got Google maps, and he’s got tons of information. John at a DC Birding Blog is also imploring you to get involved with bird counts! He also has information on how you can get involved locally. And, when you consider how important bird counting is – understanding how and where birds are living, understanding how our lifestyles and that of a changing earth affect the birds (by increasing or decreasing their numbers) – you realize how worthy a cause it is. Get involved!
Well, that’s it! I want to first and foremost thank 10,000 Birds for giving me the honor of hosting IATB. It was a lot of fun and I hope to do it again in the future!
I’d also like to thank all of the contributors who submitted posts. Without you, there is no carnival!
And, one final thing before I go: Please visit the links! That’s the point of the carnival. Plus, I promise you won’t be disappointed! We have lots of great posts and lots of great birders to get acquainted with.
Thanks for stopping by!
PS – Please tell me about any broken links! Moe[at]IowaVoice[dot]com.