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Saturday, April 23, 2022


 It's been quite a winter, quite a spring. Peaks and valleys, highs and lows. As I look back, I can honestly say that I have rarely had quite such a goose to my energy, focus, and happiness as being involved in the revival of Bird Watcher's Digest (now BWD Magazine). We wanted to shorten the name, even as we enlarge the magazine. In my mind, BWD stands for Bird Watcher's Digest, but I decided it also stands for  

Birds Wonder  Delight

and THAT's what we are all about. 

In my new position as Advising Editor, have been working, writing, editing, painting, contacting writer and painter friends, building networks of talented contributors. You'll my fingerprints all over the July/August issue! It's tremendously exciting to know it's coming out so soon.

 I had to paint the first cover, of course--and it's my 30th for the magazine! I wanted it to be a surprise, but this little painting has work to do, wooing subscribers past, present, and future, so here it is, ta-daa!

I was so ate up about painting the first cover on our new redesigned full-sized magazine that I had to throw the first try away. Aaack! Second try came out better than I'd hoped, whew!  I guess I worked out all the gremlins on that hapless first try.

Curious: would you buy a commemorative fine art giclee print of this? I'm considering offering one for sale in the July/August issue. Price $75 (includes shipping) Let me know in the comments section?

The cover story, about Henslow's sparrows, is derived from a piece I wrote, longhand, on a jet to South Africa, and had saved ever since, wondering what I'd do with it. There's nothing like having to sit in one place for 21 hours to get your thoughts down on paper. I wrote all night and into the next day, since sleeping sitting up is not in my repertoire. 

And there's nothing like losing a magazine that was a huge part of your life, to help you understand what it meant to you. After 35 years, I was not going to let it go down without a ripple--or a fight. We all felt that way. We have fought hard to bring it back, on every front.

I can't tell you what a joy it is to work with Editor Jessica Vaughan, Advising Editor Dawn Hewitt, Photo Editor Bruce Wunderlich, Social Media Sarah Clark, designer Lisa Coe, Web Coordinator Shanna Lukes, and our two fabulous publishers, Rich Luhr and Mike Sacopulos. We are a lean, mean, no-nonsense team with ONE focus, and that's making the best birding magazine we know how.
Those first four names (with mine, the fifth) should be familiar to our subscribers. We're aiming for continuity, and improvement too. This is our big chance to change what needed to be changed, drop what needed to fall away, and focus on excellence in the magazine. Please give us a try!

I am delighted to tell you that BWD's subscriber portal is now up, de-bugged and running smoothly.  There is a tremendous amount of tech knowhow and work encoded in that sentence. Here's a salute to Rich, Mike, Isaac and Shanna, who've been sweating for many weeks to get the subscriber base imported, and to get us to this heady point.

At, you can 



check the status of your existing subscription.

If you were owed issues by Bird Watcher's Digest when it ceased operations in December 2021, BWD will give you a complimentary equivalent subscription to our new publication. You will receive the number of issues left outstanding, up to a maximum of six (one year's worth). Curious about your status? Look it up at the link above. 

Here's to love, dedication and perseverence; to good literature, fabulous photography, and beautiful bird paintings. No other birding magazine has consistently featured art on its cover, and I am committed to bringing you the best bird art possible. BWD Magazine is your one-stop shop for all that, and we are SO proud to bring it back!

Because our social media accounts were deleted and must be built back from the ground up, it would mean a lot to us if you'd follow us on Instagram:

and Facebook

Thank you for your support--it means the world to us to see the subscriptions start coming in. We have so many Birds, so much Wonder, such Delight, to share.

Hope Is a Calf, Hope is a Bird

Wednesday, April 6, 2022


Beeches dance in the greening woods. Their leaves are frozen as if being blown by an invisible west wind. On the east slopes where they get some sun, their leaves are still russet; deep in the hollers they have bleached to ghost white. That doesn’t make sense to me, but it’s what I’m seeing. Sometimes the things that don't make empirical sense are the interesting ones. 

Not the cattle I was watching, but I found this photo from April 30, 2015, that shows those fresh calf-whites so beautifully. Oh, I love seeing little calves pop against the spring grass! 

In one of the games I play to keep my brain moving forward, I’m gunning for 7 woodpeckers today.  I’ve got pileated, red-bellied, red-headed, yellow bellied sapsucker, hairy. The sapsucker and the red-headed are real scores. I identified both by their sounds: the sapsucker drums an irregular staccatto tattoo that no other woodpecker does.  Tak-a-tak, tak-tak, tak...The red-headed yells QUEERK!! like no other woodpecker. And now all I need is downy and flicker to complete the complement of 7 possible species here, or in Ohio overall. Unless I'm forgetting one, those are all the woodpeckers possible in my state, and I can get them all on one hike from door to door! Nerdy? Maybe. I prefer to think of it as "tuned in." As the day wears on, I'll eventually get the downy and flicker right in my yard, but it would be cool to get them all here at the overlook, about 3/4 mile from my house. SEVEN WOODPECKERS IN ONE WALK.

 I stand for 15 minutes watching, through binoculars, a dot that is a black cow lying in a still,  seemingly morose heap on a distant hillside--one I really can't reach from my high hilltop perch. I know she must have a calf to be lying down like that. By angling around I finally spot a little black bundle with a snow-white forehead lying behind her. That's the calf. You'll never see white like that on an adult cow unless they've just been shampooed for the county fair. But the freshly laundered whites of calves are unmistakable. The tiny calf is motionless, lying on its side. 

My worst self immediately leaps to the small rock of possibility that the calf was stillborn, and, my mental state being what it is, and being a writer after all, I cook up a tragic scenario. The bereaved mother might have cleaned her calf's little body and, with nothing more to do, lay down next to it to grieve. My better self argues No! it’s only sleeping, you ninny! The business of being born is hard work. I keep watching, and listening for woodpeckers. Finally, after I’ve counted all the woodpeckers there are to count, (stuck at 5) and walked back and forth along the fenceline, shifting my gaze from side to side, looking for any movement, the calf raises its  head, revealing an orange plastic tag in its left ear. Not only is it alive, but the farmer has already met it, pierced its ear, proclaimed his ownership. The calf is not dead. The cow is not morose. There is no mission for me here. I can now get on with my life, and my springtime walk. 

The mother cow no longer looks sad to me; she is Easter itself. All that, from the waggle of a little calf’s head. 

I’m a fixer, for better or worse, a helper. As I paced back and forth at the overlook, I was already sketching out a plan of action to see if I could help the calf. Why can’t I just look and not touch? I pondered this as I hiked the rest of my loop, the hike that kept me sane while my kids were babies, the hike that still sets me right in the morning. 

As I drew close to the house, already thinking about the mile long to-do list I was about to tackle, I saw a little figure on the porch. I recognized it as the same American goldfinch I had spotted last evening, huddled on the back patio near the sliding door. Last night, I had crept up to open the patio door from inside, hoping to capture it, only for it to fly away, weakly.  If they can get away, they don't need you yet.

Now, here it was on my front doorstep, and it was breathing so hard I knew it was actively dying. Over the course of the winter I’ve seen six such goldfinches in my yard. This was the seventh. I’d been able to catch two, and both died within hours of being taken in for treatment—wasted to skin and feathers and bone. I don’t know what they had—I was guessing salmonella—but the antibiotics I’d tried hadn't worked. There was no eye swelling that might have indicated Mycoplasma, the awful house finch disease that had me nursing 30 goldfinches back to health last winter. So I'd never tried Tylan on them.

Here we go again, I thought. You’ve come to both doors, as plain as pleading for help. What is it that makes a bird do that? Is it knowing where to come? Figuring that the human who lives in the house and puts out the seed every morning might know what to do? I think back to last spring, when not one but two blinded goldfinches fluttered down to the patio on different mornings while I was having breakfast there. They landed right in front of me and Curtis, seemingly waiting for us to take them in. We did. They lived to fly again, after three weeks of rest, abundant food, and the antibiotic Tylan. 

I made a little video of the goldfinch so you can see what sad shape it was in. If you can see a bird breathing, it is in extremis. There is a video going around on the Internet of a hummingbird asleep and "snoring." Isn't that cute? To someone who knows birds, an audibly breathing bird, one whose bill is opening with each gasp, is in a heap of trouble. It's neither cute nor sweet nor charming. It's sick. So goes cute stuff on the Internet, sometimes.

I've perfected a move I call The Gentle Cobra. Here it is in action. Very slow, soft, and silent, until the final grab. Boom. Bird is yours.

I took her right inside and gave her Tylan with a dropper. I kept her in a small plastic Critter Keeper while she was so weak she didn't need to move around. She seemed a lot better by nightfall. The next morning she was so much livelier that I fixed her up a hospital cage in the foyer.  Here she is about midday the next day, just before she went into the cage. I gave her another slug of Tylan with a dropper, and of course put it in her water dish. Tylan-laced water will be her only water source for the next three weeks. 

I still don't know for sure what she has, but it's extremely responsive to Tylan (my drug of choice for Mycoplasma). It makes me wonder if she and all the other six goldfinches that have turned up sick in my yard have had Mycoplasma, but it's just not manifesting in swollen eyes this year. If that's the case, that could be why I can't even begin to catch them until they're literally dying--because, weak as they become, they can still see to get away from me. 

That said, her right eye was slightly inflamed. I strongly suspect Mycoplasma gallinae, just presenting differently. Her miraculous recovery argues for that as well.

On this, her fourth day in treatment, she is ricocheting around the cage like a completely wild and well goldfinch. Just 17 more days of treatment, and then she gets to go back outside. By then, it'll be spring for sure.

Hope is a calf, hope is a bird. 

They'll Rise Again

Sunday, April 3, 2022


 Back in the early 90’s, Bill and I were doing yardwork on an impossibly balmy and sweaty April morning when my mother-in-law Elsa called us, absolutely frantic. New neighbors had moved into the old house next door. There, a pair of lovely women named Mrs. Best and Mrs. Bole had lived and gardened in beautiful harmony for decades. Their yard was a shady paradise of blooming trees and flowers. But all that was soon to change. On this gorgeous spring day, Elsa looked out her kitchen window and was horrified to see her new neighbor ripping Mrs. Best and Bole's blooming daffodils out by the fistful and throwing them in the alley. It was his yard now and he didn't want daffodils, apparently. Why would you want daffodils? Just frippery. An annoyance.

 I understand a lot about the natural world, the one that works the way it's supposed to. The world of humans I will never comprehend. To be honest, I don't want to understand a thought process that leads to behavior like that. Life's too short.

 Elsa was in tears. “Julie!! You’ve got to come get these bulbs and plant them out at your place! They’re all special ones, too! I can’t let them die!” She didn’t have to ask twice. Bill and I raced the 18 miles into town and picked up several grocery bags that Elsa had already gathered. They were full of sad, wilted daffodils in full bloom. We picked up every one of them from the alley, where they'd have been pulverized by passing cars. I hope that guy wondered about the three of us, down on our knees, undoing what he'd just done. He probably just thought we were saps. People who'd run around saving caterpillars, or sick birds. He was right. Saps.

As soon as we got them home I drenched the plants in cool water, and apologized profusely.

Bill, who hated injustice and waste and suffering, asked where he should dig. I spun around and pointed to a place up by the vegetable garden and the fire circle, and that good man dug a deep trench about 20' long. In it we tenderly placed the bulbs and watered them in. It wasn't long before their leaves shriveled away, but we knew that wasn't the end of them. They would come back next spring.

And oh, they did. They didn't bloom much that first spring, but in successive springs they have put on a show. And like Elsa said, they are all special ones, not a dud in the bunch. I particularly love the white one with the strong yellow trumpet. And of course the fried egg ones, and the frilly scrambled egg ones. I love them all. 

Now they live here, on Indigo Hill, in a sanctuary for lost, beautiful things. They seem happy here. I have beaten the wisteria and trumpetvine back off them, year upon year. Now, with the clearing I've done, I can mow all around them. They're safe, and nobody's going to rip them out, ever again. 

Feel free to doubt the intelligence and depth of soul of some humans, but never doubt the resilience of plants. 

I'd love to let that end the post, but my life's in a blender, and I posted this from my phone--a first for me. I probably won't get back to the blog for a bit, so  I'm going to mention my next speaking engagements here.


On Saturday April 9, I'll give TWO talks to the Delaware Master Gardeners in Waldo, Ohio. I'll appear along with the amazing Jim McCormac, whose talk is a pictorial trip around Ohio, with a diverse cast of our most beautiful and fascinating flora and fauna. 
Jim points out that Waldo is the home of the G & R Grill, and the world's most famous fried bologna!

I'll deliver my new Guerilla Gardening talk, which is a history of my relationship with my land, and the past three years' intensive habitat reclamation efforts (ack, I already need to update it with the latest!). In the afternoon, I'll give my Saving Jemima book talk, as dessert.

I have been insanely busy, preparing my most special plants for a little plant sale at my table. I really hope to find homes for some fantastic tuberose bulbs, orchids, Achimenes, evening primroses, fuchsias...oh my!

The public is welcome!

 For registration and further information, go here: 

On the evening of Monday, April 25, 2022,  I'll give a garden talk and sell plants for the Morgan County Master Gardeners at the beautiful McConnellsville, Ohio, Opera House. For more information, please call Sarah McDougal, Adult Services Coordinator, Kate Love Simpson Library 740-962-2533

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