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New Footage of Imperial Woodpecker [Distribution]

October 26, 2011

Imperial Woodpecker in Flight

New Study Analyzes Only Known Footage of Vanished Imperial Woodpecker
Insights on probable extinction of ivory-bill’s closest relative

For release: October 26, 2011

ITHACA, N.Y.—The largest woodpecker that ever lived probably went extinct in the late 20th century in the high mountains of Mexico, without anyone ever capturing photos or film of the two-foot-tall, flamboyantly crested bird. Or so scientists thought—until a biologist from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology tracked down a 16-mm film shot in 1956 by a dentist from Pennsylvania.

The footage, which captures the last confirmed sighting of an Imperial Woodpecker in the wild, has now been restored and used to describe the species’ behavior and its habitat—determined by tracking down the exact filming location during a 2010 expedition. The research appears in the October 2011 issue of The Auk, the scientific journal of the American Ornithologists’ Union, and the cover features a painting of the woodpecker adapted from the film.  (You can link to the Auk article here.)

“It is stunning to look back through time with this film and see the magnificent Imperial Woodpecker moving through its old-growth forest environment, and it is heartbreaking to know that both the bird and the forest are gone,” said Martjan Lammertink, lead author of the paper along with four Cornell Lab staff and two Mexican biologists.

In the 85-second color film, which is available for viewing at www.birds.cornell.edu/imperialfilm, a female Imperial Woodpecker hitches up and forages on the trunks of large Durango pines. The bird’s extraordinary crest of black feathers curves up over her head, shaking as she hitches up the tree and chips at bark with her long, pale bill. As she launches into flight, the bird shows a long pointed tail, long wings, and a powerful, fast flight.

The film was shot by William L. Rhein, a dentist and amateur ornithologist from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, who went to Mexico in 1953, 1954, and 1956 specifically to film and record the sounds of the Imperial Woodpecker. He finally succeeded in filming the bird in 1956, shooting the footage hand-held from the back of a mule, while camping in a remote location in the Sierra Madre Occidental in Durango state. No sound recordings were obtained of the species by Rhein or any other recordist. In a 1997 interview with Lammertink, Rhein commented that the Imperial Woodpecker was “like a great big turkey flying in front of me.” Rhein died in 1999 at age 89.

In March 2010, Lammertink and Tim Gallagher of the Cornell Lab launched an expedition to find the site where Rhein made his film. With the assistance of Oscar Paz and Manuel Escarcega of the conservation group Pronatura Noroeste, the two interviewed local residents about the Imperial Woodpecker and explored a few remaining old-growth forests in areas inaccessible to logging. The fieldwork was by funded the Neotropical Birds initiative of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and The British Birdwatching Fair – Founding Global Sponsor of the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme.

The expedition turned up no evidence that Imperial Woodpeckers are still alive. Only residents in their late 60s or older remembered the Imperial Woodpecker, and no one reported seeing any of the birds after the 1950s. “Even in the rare remnants of uncut forest, we found evidence of hunting and saw old-growth forests being cut and burned and planted with marijuana and opium poppies,” said Gallagher.

The entire range of the Imperial Woodpecker lay in the high country of the Sierra Madre Occidental—a rugged mountain range stretching some 900 miles south from the U.S.-Mexico border—and the Transvolcanic mountains of central Mexico. The species largely vanished in the late 1940s and 1950s as logging destroyed their old-growth pine forest habitat. Imperial Woodpeckers were also frequently shot for food, to use in folk remedies, or out of curiosity.

One interviewee reported that logging interests in the 1950s actively encouraged the extermination of these birds, saying that they were destructive to valuable timber, and actually supplied poison to smear on the birds’ foraging trees. Similar poisoning campaigns had been waged against the Mexican wolves and grizzly bears in these mountains, and both of these subspecies are now gone.

The Imperial Woodpecker was the closest relative of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, which suffered a similar decline from habitat loss in the southeastern United States and Cuba. A 2005 study by the Cornell Lab reported the rediscovery of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Arkansas, but subsequent region-wide surveys did not find evidence of a surviving population.

At www.birds.cornell.edu/imperialfilm, visitors can view the original Rhein film (plus a motion-stabilized version), the Auk article, a feature article in the Lab’s Living Bird magazine, slide shows of the 1956 and 2010 expeditions, and hear commentary from the film maker William L. Rhein.

The article in the Auk—”Film documentation of the probably extinct Imperial Woodpecker (Campephilus imperialis)”—by Martjan Lammertink, Tim Gallagher, Ken Rosenberg, John Fitzpatrick, and Eric Liner of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and Jorge Rojas-Tomé of Organización Vida Silvestre and Patricia Escalante of Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM)—analyzes the film and provides details about the 1950s expeditions of William L. Rhein and the 2010 Cornell Lab follow-up expedition.

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Contacts:
Tim Gallagher: (607) 254-2443; 
twg3@cornell.edu
Martjan Lammertink 011 54 93751 609785 (cell phone in Argentina); jml243@cornell.edu

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Filter’d Out #14 — 18 [Hatchings]

September 4, 2011

Continuing my summer clearance sale of the the most enlightening* bird and nature blogging from 2011, here we are with August’s offerings. Good stuff not slated for the discount rack, that’s for sure. It may be the dog** days in the outdoorsosphere, but man, the bloggers were productive.
* Including but not limited to: entertaining, challenging, informative, inspiring, alarming, and/or that simply spoke to me.
** Did you know Sirius, the dog star, is responsible for all that hot weather? I knew it wasn’t our fault! Unless the satellite radio company is behind it all?

For the weeks covering 01 through 28 August 2011 I’ve Filter’d Out:

Catching gulls on Sable
Rob Ronconi, writing for Sable Island Gulls
I’m not just highlighting Rob’s post, but his entire site. Why? Not because I’m lazy (though this strategy is giving me an idea), but because the enlightening part is more than just a post. It’s an interaction between you and researchers that will lead to a better understanding of gull movements. From the site:

Rob Ronconi, a postdoctoral researcher working with Professor Phil Taylor, captured gulls during the breeding season to track them with electronic tags and mark them with coloured wing- and leg-bands. The purpose is to study how gulls interact with offshore platforms and vessels, and to learn more about the year-round movements of these birds.
This research relies on reports of banded birds spotted by bird watchers, beach goers, offshore workers, fishers, and keen observers anywhere. Sightings throughout the year will help researchers to map out the home range and migration routes of Sable Island gulls.

A Birder’s Guide To … INDOCTRINATION
Felonius Jive, writing for 10,000 Birds
Converting the unwashed masses to the bird side is always a good thing. Mr. Jive (Dr. Jive? That’s way too cool!) offers suggestions.

I am proud to say that over the years Seagull and I have managed to inadvertantly make people more aware and appreciative of the birds around them. The number of times I have heard beautiful women whisper in my ear “When I see a bird, I think of you” is now countless, and I assure you, it does not get old. Some of these people have gone further…they have become birdwatchers, birders and biologists. My reach and influence is far-reaching now, and I believe both birders and the birds themselves benefit.

Tough Shorebirding Season At Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge…
Andrew Baksh, writing for Birding dude
Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is renowned for shorebirds. Not this year, due to water levels. Andrew explains what’s going on.

The East Pond, is usually where the action is at and it requires careful management in monitoring the water level. Every summer, the water needs to be drawn down to provide mudflats for thousands of migrating shorebirds who use the pond as a critical stopover to rest and feed as they try and gain enough fat to continue the long journey to their wintering grounds. . . . The last few years, there have been some difficulty with the water level, but this year has been a total disappointment!!! According to a few veteran birders, this year was the worst they had ever encountered and we are talking about folks with well over 20 years birding Jamaica Bay.

Gray-hooded Gull At Coney Island Beach Brooklyn NY…
Andrew Baksh, writing for Birding dude
One more from Andrew: an Überrarity arrived at Coney Island this summer, and I’m not talking about the binocular- and scope-toting midwesterners that cruised the boardwalk the first week of August. They arrived after the discovery of a certain Gray-hooded Gull, only the second record from the U.S.

. . . later this afternoon Shane called to let me know he was going back to the site where the bird was seen. Minutes later, I was putting my work on hold, grabbing scope, camera and binoculars as I raced out to the truck. Shane had re-found the bird!!! Muttering words that would make sailors blush, I battled the dreaded traffic down the Belt Parkway . . .

More about the gull can be found on Peeps, A DC Birding Blog, Anything Larus, and a host of other accounts. Just check The Google.

Bad Beetle Karma
Bug Girl, writing for Bug Girl’s Blog
Not about birds, not about an insect that birds eat, but about a bug that we have a hell of a time keeping off the native plants we offer the birds. Turns out, we’ve been doing it wrong. The things you learn from “research blogging” posts.

Beetle bags contain a combination of lures–the bright yellow color mimics flowers, there’s a feeding attractant, and also a female sex pheromone. It is the buggy equivalent of a giant flashing neon sign advertizing a message equivalent to “FREE SEX ORGY AND ALL YOU CAN EAT BBQ WINGS + BEER”.

A lot of beetles come to the trap–but less than 25% of the beetles attracted actually go into it.

BWCA Tower Case: The Ruling!
Laura Erickson, writing for Laura’s Birding Blog
I’m a sucker for courtroom flicks, 12 Angry Men to A Few Good Men, To Kill a Mockingbird to Inherit the Wind, Primal Fear to My Cousin Vinny. Could this be the case that becomes the next big courtroom drama? Who would play Laura? Would they call it “The Tower Kills”? Tune in for the exciting conclusion!

Last year, AT&T asked Lake County for a permit to construct a communications tower just off the Fernberg Road, near Ely. . . . Lake County approved the project, but then the Friends of the Boundary Waters sued under the Minnesota environmental rights act, asking that AT&T be allowed to build a tower in the area no taller than 199 feet. I testified on their behalf regarding a tower’s potential impact on birds.

Listening to the Predawn Morse Code
Bill Thompson III, writing for Bill of the Birds
Posted on August 10th, Bill reports on listening to the flight calls of songbirds winging their way south in the dark. Yes, it’s been fall for a few weeks already, and you may not have even noticed!

I was up very early this morning—before light—and when I stepped outside, the still morning darkness was broken ever so slightly by the Morse code of migrant birds overhead, whispering their contact calls to their fellow travelers.

Science at work: How many kinds of Red Crossbills are there, anyway?
Wesley Hochachka, writing for Round Robin
I was going to post a piece about Red Crossbills after hearing Craig talk about them at a conference in 2009 — I even took notes! Sadly, I never did write the post, and now I know why: I was subconsciously waiting for someone like Wesley to do it right.

The world is full of amazing “radiations” of birds—that’s what evolutionary biologists call groups of closely related species that have evolved amazing diversities of plumage, size, bill shapes, and habitat requirements. Craig (Benkman) has spent decades studying crossbills, and having known him for many years I think that he probably lives, thinks, and dreams crossbills (and it wouldn’t surprise me if he sprinkles pine nuts on his breakfast cereal too). Right now, we recognize two species of crossbills in North America—but Craig’s work shows ecological grounds for the possibility that there are many species of crossbills coexisting right under our noses.

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Filter’d Out #08 — 13 [Hatchings]

August 28, 2011

Huh, looks like I inadvertently took off the the past couple of months from blogging. To be more accurate, I took off from summarizing other people’s blogging. So let’s jump right in with a summer clearance sale, the most enlightening* blog posts from summer 2011! First up, the June through July window.
* Including but not limited to: entertaining, challenging, informative, inspiring, alarming, and/or that simply spoke to me.

For the weeks covering 20 Jun through 31 July 2011 I’ve Filter’d Out:

American Robin
Chris Petrak, writing for Tails of Birding
I certainly succumb to the adrenal rush of seeing something new and unusual, but I also enjoy slowing down and appreciating, really appreciating, the common and the familiar. If you don’t have a kid or a camera (two devices that do that automatically), Chris does it for you, but not by cajoling, encouraging, or pleading with you to look around, but by simply and eloquently passing along what he sees.

The natural habitat for the American Robin is the great primeval forests. Those forests have almost completely disappeared. The robin remains, having accommodated itself to the changes we have made to the landscape. When trees were planted around homes on the great grassland prairies, the robins moved in. But if there are no trees, then a bush will do – or a stone wall, a building, a fence, or even the ground.

So That’s Why They’re Called Waxwings
Minnesota Birdnerd, writing for Minnesota Birdnerd
Mr. Birdnerd’s post about waxwings caught my eye for two reasons: I’ve also been seeing/hearing waxwings everytime I turn around, to the point I thought I might be suffering from some unknown medical condition. Good to know I’m not alone, though it now opens the Chatty Cathy questioning: are there more around? If so, why? If not, why does it seem like it? And so on. Second, the waxy bits on waxwings are really awesome, and seeing them in a Wayne’s World “Extreme Close-up!” fashion is exponentially awesome.

Lots of the Cedar Waxwings we handle don’t show their namesake waxy tips on the wing secondaries. This fellow however was in full display mode. I’ve personally been seeing and hearing more CEDWs lately than usual. There should be lots of young mixed in with any flocks that may be around.

Fantasy Birding?
Zugunruhe, writing for The Z Bird Birding Blog
This one caught my eye because I had a couple of thoughts of using eBird as a platform to create a couple of virtual birding “games.” The super-secret ulterior motive was to entice more eBirding (on the work-front I always held my prescribed mission as to increase submissions), but also to have fun with birding when you couldn’t be out birding. More on my thoughts later, but what do you think of Zugunruhe’s idea?

Anyway, I just had a thought that it might be possible to set up a fantasy birding league based on eBird submissions. (OK, yes, I know real birding is way better than fantasy birding. No need to bring that up.)

The State of the Web
The Oatmeal, writing for The Oatmeal
OK, this one has nothing to do with birds, nature, or anything really related to what I usually read. But without the Internet I wouldn’t be posting my favorite blog posts, so this is relevant. And frickin’ hysterical.

You’ve changed, Internet. It’s like I don’t even know you anymore.

What am I doing with my life?
Paul Riss, writing for Punk Rock Big Year
I’m not the type to commit to a big year, but I am the type that will commit to reading about other people’s big years. Paul has taken us along on many birding trips, but here’s a trip into his soul. Those types of posts always make for good reading.

It seems crazy. It is crazy. There are so many times when I just think, “Stop it, stop being so weird and just be a normal person. Normal people don’t do this.” And believe me, when I’m standing ankle deep in ice-water in 70km/hr winds with watering eyes that pretty much instantly freeze up, 800km from my wife and kids, I can’t help but think I’m wasting my time here.

Denali National Park
Chris, writing for Slow Birding
Denali. That’s all I need to see and I’m hooked. Any post about Denali National Park, Alaska is golden. Especially when photos capture the majestic landscape.

When we arrived at the signs we only found a golden eagle taking sticks to a large nest site. Soon after we were fortunate to see a pair of gyrfalcons circling nearby but very high overhead. We walked a bit further down the road and found some more signs. As we walked up a male gyrfalcon flew down towards us, and then circled briefly before flying about 300 yards back up the mountain where it perched. We had lunch while we waited hoping it would fly down closer to another perch that was obvious because of the white bird poop splattered below it.

The Reputation Paradox
Nate, writing for The Drinking Bird
Not all birders admit it, but birds are not all they think about. They think about other birders. Like any other activity that attracts more than one person there’s that issue of perception: how do my peers perceive me, and what do I think of them? Of course there are the vain superficial judgments, but the one that matters is trust. Not many birders broach the subject, and I think Nate’s willingness to do so is noteworthy.

As birders, it’s well known that the only thing we have to our name in this community is our reputation, one painstakingly built over years of convincing sight records and personal interaction. It is devilishly hard to get to the point where people are going to trust you on matters as complex as, say, to use a particularly pertinent example, hybrid herons. It is sadly way, way too easy to lose all that good will with a simple post that turns out to be wrong, or, at least, it’s too easy to be worried that that could happen. This is, of course, nonsense.

Introducing the Birder Jargon Project
Nate, writing for The Drinking Bird
More from Nate on the sociology of birding: how we talk. In a laudable effort to be inclusive, Nate offers to decipher the lingo unique to the birding community.

Birders have a language, a dialect maybe, that’s really only immediately comprehensible to other birders. We’re all aware of it. We talk about it often amongst ourselves, in the self-deprecating manner of those who realize that their avocation is seen as quirky among the general public. We nurture it, adding regional nicknames for birds and bird behavior to the greater birder dictionary for those to use beyond our circle of friends and colleagues. And we all remember how difficult it was to get those bits of birder jargon into our heads when we first picked up binoculars.

Creating A “Social Field Guide”
Dave Irons, writing for BirdFellow
The Internet continues to change how we do almost everything, so why not change how we use a field guide? Why stop there, why not change how we create a field guide?

The time has come to tap into and harness our collective knowledge and create the field guide that no single author or small group of authors can produce. The term that describes this process is “crowdsourcing.” Using the online platform that BirdFellow has created, any member of the birding community can make meaningful contributions to our base of knowledge about birds. Perhaps it’s an ID tip, or an interesting behavior that you’ve observed. Maybe you have a photo of a bird in a strange transitional plumage that stumped you in the field. The BirdFellow Social Field Guide provides a forum and respository where these can be shared and used by other birders.

Courtship on the Tundra—Spoon-billed Sandpipers [Field Report]
Gerrit Vyn, writing for Round Robin
Earlier I Filter’d Out Gerrit’s post as he headed towards the Spoon-billed Sandpiper’s breeding ground. So, what’s he found since he’s arrived? One of the brilliant things about the Internet and blogging: sharing in near real time, no waiting for the post-season wrap-up.

So far, filming Spoon-billed Sandpipers has been difficult. Skittish, sparsely distributed birds, challenging weather, and poor light have contributed to far more filming failures than successes. But this evening was one of those that makes up for all of the long hours, frustrations and hardships you endure on a trip like this. With calm winds, gentle evening light, and a confiding pair, the conditions were ideal.

#59 Field Tip: Birds at 2, 5 and 10 o’clock!
Adrian Binns, writing for Birding with BiNns
Getting your own binoculars onto a bird is one thing, but guiding your buddies to the same bird? “Herding cats” comes to mind. Here’s another handy tip from Adrian about how to accomplish this seemingly-simple-in-theory but seemingly-impossible-in-practice feat.

“Check out the Oriole at 2 o’clock!” Does this mean to go home for lunch and come back in a few hours? Of course not! Clock directions provide handy points of reference to share the location of a bird in a tree.

A Mystery Sound
David Sibley, writing for Sibley Guides
For the past six or so years I’ve been listening to birds as part of my everyday job. Therefore, anything to do with bird sounds rouses my interest, especially when an acknowledged expert on North American birds — same guy who wrote the field guide that is sitting not too far from you right now – confesses he doesn’t recognize a bird call from his backyard. Plus, I love a good mystery.

Sitting at my desk today I was roused by a bird call that I did not immediately recognize. This is a very rare occurrence for me, especially at my house where I spend many hours every day, and I know the birds that are here very well. As the seconds went by I focused more of my attention on the sound, got up to open the window wider, thought over the possibilities, and still I came up with nothing.

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Filter’d Out #6 & 7 [Hatchings]

June 19, 2011

It’s like a Father’s Day extravaganza: two weeks worth of enlightening* blog posts! Of course, I’m making up for missing last week, so it’s not really anything above and beyond, just a few I missed but are still worth your time.
* Including but not limited to: entertaining, challenging, informative, inspiring, alarming, and/or that simply spoke to me.

For the weeks ending 11 and 18 June 2011 I’ve Filter’d Out:

Top Ten Birding Accessories
Jonathan Lethbridge, writing for The Crow Council
If you’re engaged in serious birding you’re going to need equipment. Jonathan highlights the most useful tools, each of which a must for (most) birding outings.

4) Dull, boring looking clothes. Essential for any birder. You should be dressed in mute shades of green or blue. Nothing else will do. You need to exude dullness. People should look at you and involuntarily yawn. If you are out birding and pass someone only to have them fall asleep a few yards later, you know you have got it right. On a serious note, just make sure whatever you have is suitable for the conditions, and not bright red. And whatever you do, don’t buy camo, it is totally unnecessary and makes you look like a twat.

Pieplow Made Me Do It
Ted Floyd, writing for The ABA Blog
Remember this post’s title, it’s a phrase that may become part of the new lexicon in birding circles. After reading Nathan Pieplow’s recent post on describing bird sounds, Ted puts the advice into practice.

A few evenings ago my kids and I were exploring Walden Ponds, a bucolic birding spot in Boulder County, Colorado. We were in the buggy back end of this sprawling complex of marshes and woodlots, listening to the sounds of early summer in the foothills of the Rockies: twittering Violet-green Swallows and chattering Bullock’s Orioles; harsh Western Wood-Pewees and a querulous Black-billed Magpie; and a dispirited Warbling Vireo.

How to Prepare for An Exotic Birding Tour: Study the Birds
Laura Kammermeier, writing for The ABA Blog
Traveling somewhere exotic, where the sights and sounds are unfamiliar, can be fairly nerve-wracking. Now imagine you’re headed there specifically to focus on the local birds, most (if not all) are new-to-you. Laura provides tips to prepare, both from her experience but also from a handful of well-traveled birders and guides.

While ‘normal’ people may fret over transportation and logistics, money or safety, or fear of forgetting something important, like underwear or toothpaste, I suspect that the prevailing anxiety among ABA members is the unwelcome fact that we’ll be unable to identify the hundreds of new bird species that will parade in front of us the next seven to fourteen days.

Few things get a birder’s goat more than being rendered impotent at bird identification.

AOU to leave Mexican Duck in limbo
David, writing for 10,000 Birds
A hallmark of excellent writing is when you find yourself caring about an issue you didn’t know you should care about. David has a knack of probing into and explaining classification dilemmas and what they mean with all-too-uncommon clarity.

When the American Ornithologists’ Union publishes its annual North American checklist update next month, many birders will be disappointed to see that a proposal to re-split Mexican Duck (Anas diazi) from Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) has failed. The Mexican Duck, as its name suggests, is native to Mexico and parts of the southwestern United States, and unlike the Mallard, the Mexican Duck does not have a showy male breeding plumage; both sexes are brown throughout the year. Once considered a separate species, the Mexican Duck was lumped with Mallard in 1983 after studies indicated a high degree of hybridization, and that is where it’s remained ever since.

What do you think? Do you prefer stability and certainty, or would you rather make changes to our lists early and often? And while we’re at it, what’s your experience with Mexican Ducks and Mallards in Mexico, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas?

What I’m Doing
Mike McDowell, writing for Mike’s Birding & Digiscoping Blog
Birding locally, thinking globally returns Mike to his “zen with nature,” something that we would all benefit from.

There’s a fable about a powerful king who assembles his sages and asks them to render an object that will make him happy when he is sad and sad when he is happy. They ultimately forge a ring for their king bearing the inscription “This too shall pass.” For me that object is a bird. When I visit a woods or prairie filled with birds I know I’m generally seeing them at their best, which is how I like to capture them with my photography. Before I was a serious birder, however, I had no idea how much trouble birds are in. As the naturalist matures, it’s a rather depressing moment when realizing all is not so well.

# 56 Field Tip: Study the Bird, Not the Book
Adrian Binns, writing for BIRDING with BINnS
The latest in Adrian’s series of tips for birders and bird watching, one that is bypassed all too often.

Out in the field, when you see a bird and you do not know what it is, it is tempting to immediately look in your field guide and try to identify it. Don’t do this! Instead, study the bird in your binoculars or scope for as long as possible, before opening a book or IPhone.

Finding Help for the Spoon-billed Sandpiper
Gerrit Vyn, writing for Round Robin
Gerrit is on assignment in eastern Russia to record the natural history of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, one of the most endangered bird species in the world. While the photos and information are of the focal point, posts like this highlight one of the beneficial aspects of blogging: instead of waiting for the summary and slide show upon his return, we’re right there with Gerrit as he documents the expedition.

Our destination for this project is the village of Meynypil’gyno—about 500 people living on a long gravel spit at the edge of the Bering Sea. Nearby is the largest known core breeding area of Spoon-billed Sandpipers, where at least 12 pairs bred last year. We arrived in early June, just before the males arrived to begin their courtship flights and nesting.

Flammulated Owl Surveys Near Island Park, Idaho
Anna Fasoli, writing for Speed Birding
Flammulated Owls are always interesting to come across, whether in real life or vicariously through someone else’s experiences. And though the description of an environment so different from my local birding patches is worth the read, I find myself more stunned (horrified? enamored?) by the photos presented by Anna, which are not of owls.

Alex and I have been out the last few nights conducting Flammulated Owl surveys for IBO just a few miles west of Yellowstone National Park. Last night, Alex and I discovered the grid we wanted to head to required a 3.5 km walk in. It is pretty much at the base of the continental divide west of Island Park on a steep slope, and as far as I can see, there is still a ton of snow just above the grid. Not a good sign!

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This and That [Observations]

June 14, 2011

It’s hard to believe spring has blown by and we’re on the cusp of summer. Seriously, do you feel it? In just a few days we’ll cross the solstice and the days here in the Southern Tier Of New York will start getting shorter. Kind of mind blowing, in the “where did spring go?” sense.

I mean, I did spend a lot of time outside birding, I can’t complain about birds I didn’t stumble across as they made their way to their breeding grounds. I spent a lot of time preparing and deploying recording units to capture breeding whip-poor-wills, both Mexican and Eastern. I spent a lot of time peering through a camera lens, fiddling with exposure settings and trying to capture compelling images of what I encountered.

What I didn’t do was spend a lot of time in front of a computer screen. Photos went unprocessed, experiences weren’t cyber-shared, checklists are still unentered. Sound files are being attended to, as quickly as we can, which are a bit sobering to listen to as the Huachucas are currently hosting wildfires on their doorstep: what will become of the Spotted Owls we’ve come to know, and the Mexican Whip-poor-wills we’re meeting?

Nearer to the homestead, hope springs eternal with the promise of life is bursting from nearly every direction, though today we encountered the reality of a depredated nest among several currently successful attempts.  As far as bird identification goes, my confidence in birding by ear continues to take hits this season, this time listening to various (or the same?) trilling birds.

Obviously, lots to talk about. Stay tuned, gentle readers, tales of the spring are coming!

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Filter’d Out #5 [Hatching]

June 6, 2011

Yeah, so I was mostly offline last week, so not a lot of time to cruise the blogosphere. Here are a few standout posts, including two I should have recognized last week, that I found enlightening*:
* Including but not limited to: entertaining, challenging, informative, inspiring, alarming, and/or that simply spoke to me.

For the week ending 04 June 2011 I’ve Filter’d Out:

How Photos Mislead: A Trip Down the Primrosy Path
Dave Irons, writing for BirdFellow
Mystery birds usually achieve that status when they exhibit something unexpected: plumage, a physical feature, behavior. Dave walks us through his identification process when it’s not the bird that conjures the mystery.

Just this evening I received an e-mail from a long-time birding friend that included two images of a “mystery bird” that someone he knows had photographed near San Diego, California. He had circulated the photos to me and two other veteran birders earlier in the evening in hopes of solidly identifying the bird.

Describing What You Hear
Nathan Pieplow, writing for Earbirding.com
Acoustics and bird song is a study that has become near and dear to my heart, and no one covers it better than Nathan. Here he provides six easy steps for describing a bird sound. (Standardization is something that’s becoming nearer and dearer to my heart, and I’m sure the lack of it when describing bird sounds has something to do with that!)

Recently a friend alerted me to a post on the “ID-Frontiers” listserv by Christopher Hill in which he made a statement very dear to my heart:

In this day and age, I’m always surprised at the contrast between the level at which many advanced birders discuss plumage cues and the much more primitive way a lot of us approach sounds. I doubt I could convince many people on this forum of the identity of a vagrant by saying “but it looked just like the picture in my field guide!” (maybe if I repeated it?) but that type of argument is offered much more often, even routinely, in discussions of sounds.

I couldn’t agree more with his argument, which neatly summarizes the raison d’etre of this entire blog. I also wrote a Birding magazine article a few years ago that created a conceptual framework intended to help people describe sounds better. But reading Chris’s comments, I realized that a conceptual framework may not be of immediate use to people hearing bird sounds in the field. What they need are a set of instructions. So I decided to write a few.

Right Place, Right Time – My state White-winged Dove at Jones Beach…
Andrew Baksh, writing for Birding dude
I’m a sucker for stories where the planets align just right, and Andrew clearly had one of those days while visiting a couple of popular New York City area birding sites. (I also like twists and turns, which someone named the “crazy cat lady” provides.)

I must have had a four-leaf clover in my pocket or lady luck decided to blow a little luck my way. How else could one explain the day I had on May 15th 2011.

Birding at the End of the World
Felicia, writing for OC Warbler
I know this is reaching outside the past week’s posts, but I tragically left it out last week. For me, the title and first two sentences alone are brilliant, in the “I wish I’d thought to write that!” way. The rest of the trip is just as good.

On Saturday, the world was going to end and the righteous among us were to ascend bodily to Heaven. Since we figured we wouldn’t be going, we decided to try birding at Cedar Key instead.

It’s a good thing we did, too: the birding was great. Not amazing fallout day great, but quite good for a day at the tail end of an unusually slow spring migration.

Bulletin: New Splits
Paul Hess, writing for The ABA Blog
Also an extralimital post, temporally speaking, but important to acknowledge. Paul sums up the latest changes in how we classify birds, something to keep up on if you don’t want to date yourself while discussing birds.

The American Ornithologists’ Union “Check-list Committee” has published an online preview of its decisions on dozens of taxonomic and nomenclatorial proposals that will take effect this year if there are no last-minute revisions.

The report includes splits of four species involving ABA-area birds, but none of them adds a species to the ABA Checklist. That’s because each divides a species already on the ABA Checklist from one outside the ABA area. Three other proposals would have added new ABA-area species, but those failed to gain approval.

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Filter’d Out #4 [Hatching]

May 29, 2011

It’s been an intense week here near Lake Cayuga, not a lot of time spent on the Internet, but as always I found a few blog posts enlightening* last week:
* Including but not limited to: entertaining, challenging, informative, inspiring, alarming, and/or simply speaking to me.

For the week ending 28 May 2011 I’ve Filter’d Out:

A Worthy Bird
Ted Floyd, writing for The ABA Blog
Ted takes a look at the presence of a Rufous-collared Sparrow that inexplicably showed up in Colorado, and what it shows about birding in general.

This appearance of this bird compels me to offer to offer two observations about birdwatching—and more generally about the broader endeavor of nature study. My first observation is simply an affirmation of an old truth about all of us who are fascinated by birds and other objects and phenomena in the natural world. My second observation, though, may have some bearing on what I believe is an emerging, wonderful, new approach to birdwatching in North America.

How to Find a Bicknell’s Thrush
Kent McFarland, writing for the Vermont Center for Ecostudies
A few suggestions for finding a high-priority bird for many life lists, coming from someone who should know.

Remember, this bird is highly crepuscular so you have to generally be there at dawn or dusk to hear it at its finest. But in mid June, they are active much of the morning until the eggs are all laid by the third week of June.

Invaluable eBird
Nate Swick, writing for The Drinking Bird
I have a huge interest in eBird, these days mostly from the standpoint of personal use, but I’m always anxious how the birding world — and beyond – use the information. But it’s not just that Nate’s post is nice to hear, but he has a knack for relaying the story in an eminently relateable manner and with a lot of perspective.

It’s amazing to think how far we’ve come. Back in the day all you had was the phone number of a few friends and taking on a Big Year was a testimony to connections and personal experience. The listserv revolution changed that, expanding the circle of contacts and changing birding in as big a way as the invention of the field guide. Now a Big Year birder could cast a wider net with an ear to their email. Now there’s eBird, an online, practically real time record of the birds in the area. For a Big Year birder, it is nothing short of crucial.

Some Red Knot News
John, writing for A DC Birding Blog
By now most birders, most conservationists, and many with a simple interest in nature are aware if the plight of the Red Knot. John had the unique experience of helping biologists band the birds, and reports on the banding efforts.

Last week, I had the privilege of helping with Red Knot banding in Cape May. A reporter from my local newspaper spent some time with the shorebird banding crew recently and filed a story on the current status of Red Knots. Things are still looking dire, despite some New Jersey’s moratorium on the horseshoe crab harvest.

Subsong vs. Whisper Song
Nathan Pieplow, writing for Earbirding.com
Nathan explains those quiet songs you may hear throughout a bird’s annual cycle.

If you listen carefully to birds at close range, you’ll find that quiet, complex vocalizations like these are not uncommon. Often, they are called “whisper songs.” Some more technically-minded birders might call them “subsongs.” Both subsongs and whisper songs are fascinating, but they are not the same thing. Let’s look at the similarities and differences.

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