David Lindo: The Urban Birder

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes – Marcel Proust


David Lindo, also known as The Urban Birder came to the San Francisco Bay Area yesterday to do a talk about his experiences birding around the world in urban centers, most notably in his hometown of London, England, where he is a well-known featured bird expert on television and radio. Lindo spreads the gospel of practical nature. Meaning, you don’t have to travel to exotic locations to find rare and delightful bird species. Instead, birds are wherever you are, and “all you have to do is look up”, he says.

David Lindo - Male Varied Thrush in San Francisco

David Lindo – Male Varied Thrush in San Francisco

As I briefly stood before the audience to help introduce the program, and looked out into the diverse faces of attendees, it provided a deeply satisfying glimpse into a not-so-distant future Outdoor Afro envisions, where all people engage with the nature all around.

Generously sponsored by Golden Gate Audubon Society , an organization also committed to help more communities connect to conservation, the gathering proved to be a fun, fresh perspective on birding. David shared his personal story of growing up birdy as a youth, begging his working-class mother for his first pair of binoculars. A luxury his family could barely afford. He described the wonder of his special patch of woods, where he spent hours as a child getting to know his local bird species and making up intuitive names for each one. He went on to share through photos, examples of the variety of birds spotted in urban centers. He helped us imagine a skyscraper as a face of a mountain, where one might spot a Peregrine Falcon on its peak, and his humorous use of the Jedi-like “Force” to manifest rare bird species in some of the most improbable places.

Today, I was delighted to take David to see some more of our local birds. The previous day, Audubon staff treated David to a full-day of birding, where he found the male Varied Thrush pictured above, and our famous and rare Clapper Rail. Clay, an Outdoor Afro leader and ecologist joined us on the brief tour of Oakland’s Lake Merritt and Middle Shoreline Harbor Park with panoramic views of the San Francisco skyline and bridge.

DavidLindo_RedWingedBlackBird

David Lindo, A Red Winged Blackbird and San Francisco skyline

Hanging with two people who share deep experience observing birds was a kick for an intermediate like me. David and Clay debated the nuances of plumage to determine species. Is that a Golden Bellied Plover, or an American Plover? (they saw both). Yes, these are two black men from different parts of the world having this conversation, I mused.

While David has observed several hundreds of bird species with all types of people from many walks of life, remarkably, he admitted today was the first time he had ever birded with other black people outside of Africa!
It certainly won’t be his last.
Learn more about David Lindo The Urban Birder and Twitter @urbanbirder

What Happened to the Stars?

Outdoor Afro contributor, Roger Porter reflects on how the night sky in his old Oakland neighborhood has changed, and the key role stars played for runaway slaves and in African antiquity.
There are theories that credit ancient Egyptian advanced knowledge of astronomy for helping to create the Great Pyramid of Giza, the oldest of the Seven Wonders, and known for 3,800 years as the tallest man-made structure in the world. It is said that the Egyptians were able to accomplish this feat by aligning the corners of the massive stone structure with the burning stars that served as the chief architect for the project.
When I was a little boy my family used to live on 90th Avenue in deep East Oakland, CA. There were eight of us: my brother, sister, mother, uncle, aunty, two cousins, and I living in an old pink two-story house. Even though the pink paint was peeling, the structure was falling apart, and we lived in the middle of a notorious ghetto, I still consider the years that I spent there to be the most joyous of my life.

Oakland, CA

Summertime was the best.
I remember going to the corner store and buying 10 cent Otter Pops and Jolly Ranchers, water balloon fights, cold pineapple Crush sodas, and young girls playing double-dutch.
I also remember going out on the porch at night, looking straight up into the open expanse and having my older cousin extend his fingers to the sky and point out every constellation.
“That’s Orion’s Belt right there! Oooh and you see that? That’s the Big Dipper.”

night sky

There would be shooting stars, twinkling stars, and little stars right next to stars that looked huge by comparison. But today, when I look up in the night sky above Oakland, there only seem to be a few points of scattered light.
It is said the reason for this may be light pollution—which basically means that all the new street lights and traffic signals that have been installed over the past 25 years, in addition to all the new light bulbs burning in all the newer homes, produce a tremendous accumulative glow that prevents people in an urban metropolis from seeing the stars.
It makes me wonder how runaway slaves might find their way under this new sky with so many the stars blanketed in man-made light?  What would those brave souls who followed the North Star for  hundreds of miles do if they knew that their descendants wouldn’t even be able to see the very thing that guided them to freedom?
It saddens me that the once electric, urban summer sky now seems blank and generic. I miss the constellations; that old house in East Oakland, and youthful  innocence. I suppose it should make me feel a little better knowing that even though I can’t see the stars they are still there—but it doesn’t. For if we cannot see them then they are as good as gone.

Roger Porter is a writer and educator from Oakland, CA USA whose first book, “The Souls of Hood Folk,” is available at lulu.com. He has a degree in English from UC Berkeley and an MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College. He describes himself as “An average everyday man from East Oakland who writes about average everyday hood life.”

June’s Bird of the Month

While standing on extremely long, thin, pink legs and sporting an elongated delicate-looking bill, this month’s bird appears to be the epitome of elegance and refinement.
This month’s Bird of the Month is the aptly-named Black-necked Stilt.

“Delicate”… “Elegant”… “Refined”…that is, while they’re undisturbed. But, when disturbed near their feeding or nesting ground, other words come to mind to describe the Black-necked Stilt. “Excitable”… “Noisy”… “Confrontational”…are more descriptive of this bird when it perceives a threat of some type. Intruders (including birdwatchers) are likely to be “dive-bombed” and scolded persistently while in the Black-necked Stilt’s territory. It feigns attack with its loud, sharp and grating…”yek-yek-yek-yek”…alarm while circling overhead!
There aren’t many Black-necked Stilts in Indiana, but from what I’ve read and observed, they seem to be making inroads in the Hoosier State. I’ve seen a few of them while visiting Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area down near Linton, Indiana and I’ve noticed that, on IN-BIRD, Black-necked Stilts have been regularly reported at this great FWA. And even though considered rare here in Indiana, these distinctive birds are easily identifiable when seen, with their sharp and contrasting black and white color pattern.
While flying, the legs of the Black-necked Stilt trail “far” behind, because of the extreme length of their legs. As a matter-of-fact, stilts have the second-longest leg length in proportion to their body size than any other bird, exceeded only by flamingos.
WHAT A WONDERFUL BIRD!

Douglas “Birdman” Gray has been birding almost all of his life. He grew up on a family farm near Clarksville, Tennessee, where they grew crops ranging from apricots to wheat, and most things in between. They also raised chickens, guineas, pigs, horses, and a cow named…….Apples. Doug’s grandfather identified the birds they would see daily on the farm.
Doug now resides in Indianapolis and works in Parenteral Engineering with Eli Lilly and Company. Most of his current birding takes place in Indiana, with a concentration on Central Indiana, where he leads bird walks for “Backyard Birds”. Doug can be reached at 317-255-7333.

Monta Ellis as Landscape Canvas


Photos of a large tree tattooed on the chest of Golden State Warriors guard Monta Ellis on the Tattoos by Randy Myspace page are making a big stir today.
Thanks to urban forester Kemba of Urban Releaf for the initial sharing! The tat has now inspired her to recruit Monta to help plant trees in the local community!
Read more

May’s Bird of the Month

Springtime is the hardest time for me to select a BOTM. The great spectacle of spring migration is going on, and so many wonderful birds are making “First of Year” appearances on my Year List. All of these birds, many of them plumaged in the fullness of their breeding glory, really make selecting hard for me. But, try I must.
Once again, as I reflect on my birding over the last month, one bird does indeed stand out in my mind. It actually wasn’t the bird singly, but it was the situation in which I’d seen a group of these birds. This month’s Bird of The Month is the Fox Sparrow.
In Indiana, of the 30 or so different types of “sparrows” that one can see in the course of a typical year, the Fox Sparrow isn’t the most well known. It’s not that this is a rare bird; it’s just that they tend to be a bit shy and don’t hesitate to hide when they sense the possibility of being observed. They also aren’t very well known because they’re generally only in Indiana 6-8 weeks over the course of a year. (3-4 weeks in the early spring and 3-4 weeks in the late fall).
However, when one does find themselves in a position to observe this bird, you will see a relatively large and chunky sparrow. A sparrow that is heavily streaked on the chest, with those streaks converging into a dark spot at the chest’s center. You will also see that the bird is aptly named, as the coloring of this reddest of sparrows does indeed resemble that of the Red Fox.
This sparrow isn’t known to congregate in flocks. Matter of fact, that is the reason this bird stands out in my mind and is elevated to the BOTM. While birding a few weeks back, I found myself amongst about 20 or so Fox Sparrows. I’d never experienced a group even half that number before with the Fox Sparrow. I believe one of the reasons folks fall in love with birdwatching and birding is that you get surprised by what you see and come across every now and again.

Douglas “Birdman” Gray has been birding almost all of his life. He grew up on a family farm near Clarksville, Tennessee, where they grew crops ranging from apricots to wheat, and most things in between. They also raised chickens, guineas, pigs, horses, and a cow named…….Apples. Doug’s grandfather identified the birds they would see daily on the farm.
Doug now resides in Indianapolis and works in Parenteral Engineering with Eli Lilly and Company. Most of his current birding takes place in Indiana, with a concentration on Central Indiana, where he leads bird walks for “Backyard Birds”. Doug can be reached at 317-255-7333.

April Bird of the Month

By Douglas “Birdman” Gray, Outdoor Afro Contributor
As I reflect on my birding experiences over the last month, I’m greatly challenged once again to select a “Bird of the Month”. I’ve had some wonderful experiences while birding over the last month. Not only have I bird-watched with some great friends, but I’ve also seen some birds that have a certain…“WOW!”…factor about them.

This month’s bird? I have to go with the American White Pelican. This is a compelling choice because, and I could be wrong, but I don’t think there have ever been so many American White Pelicans reported in Indiana in a single month. Indiana’s renowned birding expert, Dr. Lee Sterrenberg even said, “Indiana is currently awash with American White Pelicans.”
These pelicans were indeed reported in many locations, and in good numbers. There were at least 12 individual birds that showed up at Eagle Creek Park. There were also places like Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area in Linton, Indiana and other locales that had counts in the “hundreds”.
From a habitat perspective, pelicans are usually associated with seashores and coastal regions, so some may find it strange to have a “pelican” here in the Midwest. However, the American White Pelican will indeed hang out around large inland lakes and rivers, even here in the Midwest.
White Pelicans
And what a great bird this truly is. The American White Pelican is indeed one of the largest birds in all of North America. It can weigh up to almost 30 pounds and has a wingspan that can exceed 9 feet (that’s actually a foot more than that of the great Bald Eagle).
American White Pelicans are very distinctive in their appearance. Even non-birders can easily recognize them because of their massive size, extremely large beaks, and bright white plumage (except for black on its wings that is usually only seen during flight, or whenever the bird spreads its wings).
I believe there are still some American White Pelicans hanging around. If you get the opportunity, head out and try to catch sight of this magnificent creature. I still haven’t met the person who after seeing one doesn’t say…“WOW!”
And thanks to Marty Jones for the great photographs!

Douglas “Birdman” Gray has been birding almost all of his life. He grew up on a family farm near Clarksville, Tennessee, where they grew crops ranging from apricots to wheat, and most things in between. They also raised chickens, guineas, pigs, horses, and a cow named…….Apples. Doug’s grandfather identified the birds they would see daily on the farm.
Doug now resides in Indianapolis and works in Parenteral Engineering with Eli Lilly and Company. Most of his current birding takes place in Indiana, with a concentration on Central Indiana, where he leads bird walks for “Backyard Birds”. Doug can be reached at 317-255-7333.

December’s Bird of the Month


Douglas “Birdman” Grey, Outdoor Afro Contributor
As one who spends a lot of time outdoors, I’ve noticed that nature seems harsh at times. Even with birds, their lives can sometimes seem brutal. And some birds even appear to be equipped with “Weapons of War”. Keen and intense eyes, swept-back wings, sleek aerodynamic bodies, razor-sharp talons and menacing beaks.
But the Bird of the Month for this month, doesn’t possess any of these weapons of war. This month’s bird is the common, but not so commonly known, Ruddy Duck.
When it comes to ducks, we as humans typically consider them to be …”cute”. We are usually introduced to ducks even before we can speak. They animate our baby books. They cover our baby bibs. They float in our baby baths. They’re symbols of cheer for us, usually from an early age. And this is probably because they’re just so ding dang …”cute”.
The Ruddy Duck is an odd bird but it is, in my opinion …”cute”. I find the rattling sounds this bird makes during courtship a bit odd … but cute. During the breeding season the male’s bill turns a bright blue. I find a blue bill on a bird a bit odd … yet cute. They have an odd looking spiked tail, which is often times held straight up, which makes them look even more …”cute”.
While checking out a very large retention pond a few weeks back, I noticed a number of different species of waterfowl out on the water and among them were about 80 or so Ruddy Ducks. I spent almost an hour observing them, all the while thinking, “Awwww…those Ruddys…they are just soooo cute!”
(Just then a Bald Eagle swooped in, snatched one right out of the water, and carried it off for consumption. The life of birds can seem brutal at times.)

By Lynne Arrowsmith

Douglas “Birdman” Gray has been birding almost all of his life. He grew up on a family farm near Clarksville, Tennessee, where they grew crops ranging from apricots to wheat, and most things in between. They also raised chickens, guineas, pigs, horses, and a cow named…….Apples. Doug’s grandfather identified the birds they would see daily on the farm.

Doug now resides in Indianapolis and works in Parenteral Engineering with Eli Lilly and Company. Most of his current birding takes place in Indiana, with a concentration on Central Indiana, where he leads bird walks for “Backyard Birds”. Doug can be reached at 317-255-7333.

October’s Bird of the Month

By Douglas “Birdman” Gray, Outdoor Afro Contributor

As I reflect on my personal birding over the last month, I have to say it was a very good month. My last 30 days ofbirding reinforced something I’ve shared with folks before, “September is my favorite month for birdwatching in Indiana.” The month of May is probably most folks’ favorite birding month. With many migrants passing through not only singing, but also in their full breeding colors, it’s easy to understand why.
It was such a good month that I’m sitting here scanning my Month List, and I must confess, I’m having a somewhat difficult time picking out a “BOTM”. I’ve seen some GREAT birds! But alas, I must choose so, here we go.
This month’s Bird of the Month is the American Avocet.
This long-legged shorebird has a striking black and white pattern on its back and sides. It also sports a long, up-curved bill that makes it one of our most unique looking birds.
We don’t get many chances to see this beautiful bird in Indiana, but at least one has been fairly cooperative over the last 3 weeks down at the Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area (GPFWA) near Linton, Indiana. If you have an opportunity to visit GPFWA and possibly see this wonderful bird, I think you should take that chance. Even if you go and do not catch sight of this particular bird, I think you will find the trip well worth it just because of all the other cool birds you will surely see. Without a doubt, GPFWA is one of the premier birding spots in the entire state.
I find it interesting that while we don’t get many chances to see American Avocets in Indiana these days, historically the bird was known to nest in Indiana. The famous John James Audubon, whom we can consider the father of modern day birding, once rose up early one morning to approach some Avocets that were sitting on nests near Vincennes, Indiana. He wrote back in June of 1814, “Lovely bird, how unsuspecting, and yet how near to thine enemy…” (Here we must excuse ourselves and leave Audubon to his early work as he shot five Avocets. We must remind ourselves that in those days, before good photography and good binoculars, shooting birds was the only way to examine them in detail…. and we must also remember that there was a time when these birds were probably so plentiful, that thought was never given that they would ever become a rarity. Let us always consider the importance of conservation.)
September!!! What a great month to bird. My second favorite month? October!!! I look forward to next month…

Lynne Arrowsmith

Douglas “Birdman” Gray has been birding almost all of his life. He grew up on a family farm near Clarksville, Tennessee, where they grew crops ranging from apricots to wheat, and most things in between. They also raised chickens, guineas, pigs, horses, and a cow named…….Apples. Doug’s grandfather identified the birds they would see daily on the farm.
Doug now resides in Indianapolis and works in Parenteral Engineering with Eli Lilly and Company. Most of his current birding takes place in Indiana, with a concentration on Central Indiana, where he leads bird walks for “Backyard Birds”. Doug can be reached at 317-255-7333.

Black Surfers!


By Paul Richardson

“The sport of kings”

I am pretty sure some of you have heard that phrase before, but did you know that in some circles, it also refers to the sport of surfing? Earliest reports say that the first recorded observation of people surfing was 1779 in  Hawaii. While I am not trying to steal Hawaii’s thunder on this one, I think there’s a pretty good chance that somewhere else in the world around that time others were “surfing”. In any event, as far as the “written” history is concerned, Hawaii is the birthplace of modern surfing.

Tony Corley, BSA Founder

As far as we know the first black surfer in the U.S, or at least on the West Coast, was Nick Gabaldon who lived in Santa Monica. He was born in 1927, did a stint in the military, and then returned to California. In 1951, while surfing at Malibu and apparently trying to pull out of a wave, he ran into the pilings of the Malibu pier and was killed. The timeline from this point gets a wee bit hazy, but somewhere around 1961 or so, history seems to point to Frank Edwards as the next notable black surfer from the Torrance, Redondo Beach area of Los Angeles. Frank is still alive and lives in Northern California; though he no longer surfs (I am working on that).
At this point a few other brothers began coming onto the scene, such as Rick Blocker, and Stanley Washington and including one Tony Corley, who in 1973 (or was it 75?) wrote a shout-out letter to other black surfers which was published in Surfer magazine, the premier magazine on surfing at the time. Predictably, some of the responses were less than friendly, but he did manage to get some feedback from other black surfers. Were these the only ones? Probably not. Solo Scott, Michael McMullin, Rick Blocker, second row standing left to right Rusty White, Andrea Kabwasa Sharon SchafferAs the 70’s roll through we begin to see more black surfers, and even a few in advertisements published in the surfing magazines. Buttons Kahluhilokalani, who is Black and Hawaiian, arrives on the scene in Hawaii, arguably one of the most influential surfers (for insiders) to come around in awhile. By the time we get to the early to mid 80’s the first black woman, Sharon Schaffer, competes on the women’s professional tour and from this point, the momentum has been established.

Sharon Schaffer, Puerto Escondido

The Black Surfing Association was subsequently founded, and today is growing stronger with each passing season. There are a few brothers and sisters surfing up near where I live in Northern California, but black surfers are everywhere; on the islands, the east coast — Jamaica has a pretty strong amateur team, and who knows what is going on in the motherland!
For more information, you can contact the Black Surfing Association or me, Paul Richardson.
Peace, share the stoke,
Paul Richardson
Paul by day is an engineer working in Silicon Valley. When not working, he is a father, husband, loves to surf, read, and in general, be outside as much as he can. He is also a contributing blogger at Oaklandseen.com

Adventures of Owning a B&B – Part 2

“if I have to work for a living, this is not a bad way to do it,”— Rodney

Here is part two of the delightful interview with Rodney, co-owner of Strawberry Creek Inn, located in southern California, posted earlier this week. This interview wraps up a run of posts that contemplate the intersection of personal passion and the outdoors. I hope you’ll enjoy reading this interview about the journey of owning a B&B as much as I did:

Ian and Rodney riding a “Hybrid”

What would you describe as a memorable moment at the inn?

It’s pretty hard to narrow in on a single memorable moment in this business, since what we are basically selling is a collection of memorable moments. The nervous boyfriend who finally finds the right moment during a stay to propose? The time two guests sat across from each other at breakfast with a gnawing feeling of familiarity, only to discover after talking for 30 minutes that one was the kindergarten teacher of the other in another state?

Chocolate Pancakes

The first egg laid by one of our hens? The first snowfall of our first Winter here? We’re actually having a ‘memorable moment’ as I write this: while transporting the new batch of chicks to the yard with the older hens a few days ago, the overhead netting caught onto Ian’s very-expensive diamond earring (because why wouldnt you chicken-farm in diamond earrings?) and flung it into the hay. Unwilling to accept the loss, Ian is now painstakingly conducting an archeological dig in the chicken yard (which may have to be followed by a forensic examination of collected chicken ‘fertilizer’). Memorable moment indeed.

What are some of the challenges of owning and operating a B&B?

I would say the difficulty of finding the time to nurture one’s own needs in the midst of focusing on your guests is a pretty universal challenge for innkeepers. But it must be done! Having to wear so many different hats at the same time can also be quite the challenge at times. The hours are VERY long, and the days are filled with interruptions. It’s not always easy to personally experience all the great activities and events that attract guests to our area. But if I HAVE to work for a living, this is not a bad way to do it.

If someone were to want to open a B&B, what is the most important piece of advice you would give them?

A lot of my advice your readers have probably already picked up from my previous answers:

  • Walk towards your passion
  • Don’t let other people talk you into mediocrity and conformity (‘they only want you to conform so they can then ignore you’, as I once heard Seth Godin say)
  • Think outside the box, the more outside the better. It will help you get your doors open, and you will need it to survive as an innkeeper
  • Have at least one genuine (but honest!) supporter, and check in with them often
  • Listen to (and talk about!) those mild stomach pains and uneasy feelings
  • Crunch numbers relentlessly, without emotion, and with a healthy dose of conservatism
  • Acknowledge and get comfortable with the not-so-subtle difference between a) entertaining carefully selected friends for free and b) asking the general public to pay you for it
  • Accept that there will be ‘haters
  • Try to savor the memorable moments, no matter how fast they go flying by in rapid succession
  • Build in ample time off (there are some good innsitters out there who do nothing but travel to different inns relieving over-worked innkeepers) and maintain focus on your own physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs; and finally…

Take your diamond earrings out before you go into the chicken coop!
We hope you will visit Rodney and Ian at the Strawberry Creek Inn sometime soon. Meanwhile,  you may join their Facebook fan page or follow them on Twitter.