Blog posts I found enlightening* last week:
* Including but not limited to: entertaining, challenging, informative, inspiring, alarming, and/or simply speaking to me.
For the week ending 21 May 2011 I’ve Filter’d Out:
Golden Eagle vs Raven
Alex Lamoreaux, writing for The Nemesis Bird
I don’t follow the NFL enough to know who typically wins, the Ravens or the Eagles, but this photo-essay has nothing to do with football. It’s got everything to do with being in the right place at the right time to see a pretty amazing altercation. Nice shots!
While driving up a canyon road into National Forest land a few days ago, where I was going to be doing a Flammulated Owl survey that night, I spotted an adult Golden Eagle flying along the cliffs walls to my right. I quickly jumped out of the car to start taking photos, meanwhile a group of Common Ravens had also spotted the eagle and were hot on its trail. The following series of photos shows one of the more daring ravens going after the Golden Eagle.
Every shade of Green
Mike McDowell, writing for The Digiscoper
I’ve only been to Wisconsin once in my life, but Mike’s regular posts and spectacular photography allow me to know the Pheasant Branch Conservancy like it was my own patch. And I’m not over-exaggerating when I say Mike’s photography is spectacular – click through to discover for yourself, if you haven’t already.
American Redstarts and Chestnut-sided Warblers are the dominant wood warblers at Pheasant Branch Conservancy right now, which signals only a few weeks remain of spring migration in southern Wisconsin. From lime to emerald, most every shade of green is represented in the spring woods. It may not be quite as breathtaking as fall’s fiery colors, but it has a newness and crispness that’s unique during the month of May. By June, the darker summer greens will begin to take over the forest landscape.
A Close Look At How Egrets Eat Crawdads
Steve Creek, writing for Steve Creek Outdoors
There’s no need to clutter a post with words when five images can tell the story, and what beautiful captures they are. Plus, who doesn’t love a post about crawdads, especially when they’re the main course?
When the Great Egret catches a Crawdad I notice that it moves it around in its beak making sure it is crushing every part of it.
Cornell Lab teams victorious in World Series of Birding!
Hugh Powell, writing for Round Robin
A round up of the Cornell Lab’s experience at this year’s World Series of Birding, including a look to inspirational competitors.
We covered a lot of ground to get 144 species, but we were even more inspired by some of our competition—particularly the Monarchists, who limited their route to just half of Cape May itself. Their team features some of Cape May’s very best birders, and they were able to coax 115 species from a route less than 20% the length of ours. Their focus on skill, observation, and thorough coverage—building a rich list from intimate knowledge of a place and its birds—is the most compelling aspect of the Carbon Footprint approach, and one that anyone can emulate, in whatever patch of ground or window of time we have available.
What makes a real conservationist?
Laura Erickson, writing for Laura’s Birding Blog
The beginning of what could be a very long, but a very important, look at what makes one a conservationist.
You know you’re a REAL conservationist when you:
How quickly a week goes by! I intended to actually finish a post or two but wound up spending my free time out birding and shooting birds (photographically, that is), never quite mustering the discipline to sit in front of keyboard and monitor outside of the workplace. On the plus-side, new county bird for my home county with a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. On the minus side, instead of offering my own wit and wisdom, I’ll point you to a few of the posts that enlightened* me this week.
* Includes but is not limited to the following: entertained, challenged, taught, inspired, called to action, and/or I simply connected with.
For the week ending 14 May 2011 I’ve Filter’d Out:
Fight The Mustache Power
Seagull Steve, writing for Bourbon, Bastards and Birds
Humor-laced observations and reflections from a seasonal field biologist, you cannot really go wrong with that. Especially when they range from current legislation to the state of your facial hair.
Monday. The worst day of the week. For unemployed people like myself, it is probably the smuggest day of the week, because we can keep the Perpetual Weekend going. We can drink too much the night before, we can go birding in the morning, or preferably both. The possibilities are endless, really. However, we do have sympathy for our poor friends who have to return to their corporate prison cells for the week, so Monday does carry a somber air at times.
Prairie Warblers are back
Christopher Ciccone, writing for Picus Blog
Stunning photos of one of my favorite birds. All I can say is, “Nice shot, man!” Seriously, do yourselves a favor and take a look.
Each year, I spend a few evenings trying to photograph the Prairie Warblers that nest just a mile or so from where we live. This afternoon, I think I had my best “sitting” yet with these bright little warblers.
Rev. Bachman’s Lost Warbler
Nate Swick, writing for 10,000 Birds
As Nate observes, Bachman’s Warbler certainly falls into that second-tier of extinct birds, but its long-term significance cannot be overstated.
The species is said to have never been common, a description I’ve always thought is added too liberally to long-gone species almost as a convenient declaration of helplessness in the face of its eventual demise. A shrug of the shoulders toss off. What can you do? After all, it was never common. But it was present, and in a place and time that suggested that it would always be so, if in small numbers. Certainly warblers have faced long odds before. Why is this one different?
The Fascinating Migration Pattern of the Rufous Hummingbird
Robert Mortensen, writing for Birding Is Fun
Way back in the day I used to take static eBird maps and animate them, so I have a deep appreciation for anyone digging into eBird’s publicly-accessible database (via the map room) and doing the same, and most definitely when they reveal migration routes that are unexpected.
As it turns out, Rufous Hummingbirds in Utah in Spring are not regulars. This struck me as odd, so I began to explore the eBird sightings maps and a whole new world of understanding appeared before my very eyes. Everything about this hummingbird migration is odd! It migrates so dramatically different than other birds. The series of animated maps below may help answer some questions, but it sure raises a heck of a lot of other questions too. You’ve just gotta check this out…
Randall Munroe, writing for XKCD
While not strictly in the ecology, conservation, ornithology, and/or birding environments I usually peruse, this applies everywhere.
But you don’t become great by trying to be great. You become great by wanting to do something, and then doing it so hard that you become great in the process.
A while ago I realized my time spent reading blog posts vastly outweighs my time spent writing them. Not a bad thing, really, there is a lot of good writing and photography going on in the blogosphere. In fact, I regularly find pieces that entertain, teach, inspire, or call to action, I connect with pieces that reassure my attitudes or take me out of my comfort zone. They calm me down while it picks me up — wait, that’s something else altogether, but you get what I’m saying.
And here is, as Monk would say, the thing: I often have posts saved in my reader (Google brand, if you keep track) for months, just sitting there so I can revisit them for the information the contain, to get another laugh from a particularly funny story (especially those that hit too close to home), to ogle the stunning eye candy once again.
But why keep these to myself? Shouldn’t I pass them along a little more formally than passing them to my Facebook friends (most of which probably never check them out anyway). So I’m embarking on something new: a feature that presents a few of the posts I saved during the past week, ones that I’m confident will improve your day should you decide to click through.
So, without further ado, here is the inaugural edition of . . . well, a currently unnamed feature that will have a (hopefully) clever name in the future.
For the week ending 06 May 2011, and listed in no particular order:
Bill Schmoker, writing for the ABA blog
If for no other reason, you’ll want to visit for Bill’s consistently amazing photography. But the other reason is they’re amazing photographs of owls.
Towards the end of April I visited an old favorite Great Horned Owl nest in a neighborhood NW of Boulder. The nest is situated in a cottonwood snag across a ditch from a popular walking trail and has two chicks this year. It affords nice, clear views and the owls are super tolerant, as they have to be with the constant stream of humanity, dogs, strollers, bikes, etc. flowing by every day.
When It Rains Birds
Bryan Pfeiffer, writing for The Daily Wing
A lyrical account of migration along Lake Erie — find out what you’re missing by not being there.
Ah, the vernal desire, the explosion of insects, the eruption of flowers, the struggle for existence, the great rush north of migrating birds. Nowhere is it more dramatic than along the shores of Lake Erie.
Yeah, Lake Erie, not far from Detroit and Toledo. Here warblers pour from the skies like manna from Heaven. Shorebirds pile up and pound mud like sewing machines on their great journey to the Arctic. Rare birds – I mean really rare stuff – are hardly rare here; they are to be expected.
Save the Birds – With Doppler Radar
Wendee Holtcamp, writing for Miller-McCune
Wendee connects British WWII-era radar operators and a bottomland hardwood forest in Texas, and you’ll feel as though you are among the live oaks, trumpet creepers, and palmetto thickets.
During World War II, England established radar stations along its coastline, providing early warning when the fighters and bombers of the Luftwaffe were crossing the English Channel. On more than one occasion, unidentified radar signals caused widespread panic among British radar operators. When these mystery echoes appeared, which was always at night, they resembled small aircraft heading toward the coast of Britain. Sometimes masses of these echoes covered the radar screen, but they always vanished by morning, and no attack ever followed. The British military started calling the false returns “angels”. . . .
For most people who have ever visited a national park, it’s easy to come away impressed with the general idea of preserving great examples of nature. Just standing in a wild place like Yosemite, the Everglades, or Acadia can thrill us to our core. But it’s harder to put specifics to the value of the public owning chunks of land from every major biome. Is there a reason why the government should manage young pine forests in Michigan, or arid stretches of Colorado, or remote Pacific islands?
Seabrooke Leckie, writing for The Marvelous in Nature.
I mentioned excellent writing and photography can be found in the blogosphere, creating posts that teach, inspire, challenge, and so on. This post is typical of Seabrooke’s contributions: it intertwines it all.
Like any thoughtful Significant Other would, Dan brings me gifts regularly. But unlike the usual bouquet of flowers or similar traditional items that most women probably get, my gifts are from nature, and perhaps the more thoughtful for it. I’ve had a little collection of such items on the shelf in my study, and when Dan brought me another the other day I decided I’d put them all together for a blog post.
Yes, I am way behind in publishing posts to this blog. I’m going to skip giving excuses this time (and in a bit of forewarning, I’m not even going to mention how pathetically slow I am anymore) and just get to the nitty-gritty.
This is for you eBirders out there.
Well, that’s not true. This is for anyone wanting eBird data to work for you, and you don’t even have to contribute. You can depend on the kindness of those more obsessive-compulsive birders who do.
Zachary DeBruine has released three Google Gadgets that tap into the eBird database to let you, the birder, find out what’s been seen in your defined area. The first gadget allows you to pick a place, like your home or favorite patch, and it displays on your Google page what’s been reported. The other two gadgets let you choose which species to show, or which to ignore: a “wants list” and a “needs list.”
So, check out his blog, Birdventure, and use eBird to easily find out when that rarity shows up within driving distance of your armchair!
(OK, an aside, just between you and me: maybe this will motivate you to contribute, as some of the birds you observe may be needed or wanted by some of your neighbors. Spread the wealth!)
It’s only natural, I think, to notice new things, especially when they occur where you spend a lot of time. Put an extra bottle of wine in our rack and I’ll find it before entering the kitchen. Sweep the garage and I’ll think I’m in the wrong house. Move a few sticks from the brush pile to the fire pit and our backyard loses all balance.
That last example, while generally being true, is also meant to say I spend a lot of time in our yard, and as a birder, a lot of that time is spent looking at whatever birds happen to be around. I track them by entering them into eBird, so I know the Snow Goose flocks I’ve been counting for the last few days are right on time. Though they may be seen anytime during the month, the big peak usually passes overhead during the second week of March, when the lion and lamb are still wrestling to control our weather.
Tons — literally and figuratively – of geese flew over last night, a flight that continued this morning. But there was a stranger among them, a bird I haven’t recorded from our yard before: a “blue-morph” Snow Goose.
Before I go any further, I apologize for the darkness of that image. I didn’t think to change my camera settings when it dawned on me that I should be taking photographs. Click on the image for a larger, and hopefully clearer, version.
As most of you likely know, Snow geese come in two morphs, white and blue, which are strikingly different and easy to recognize in the field. As far as I can tell, this is not only the first blue-morph bird that I’ve identified from the yard this year, it’s the first I’ve recorded from our yard, period. That seems a little weird because although most Snow geese are white, some 10% of the eastern population are blue. I’ve watched thousands of Snow geese, likely hundreds of thousands if not more, pass overhead throughout the past decade, and if every tenth bird (on average) is blue, why haven’t I seen them? Do birds of a feather really flock together? I don’t think that’s right, on coastal Virginia I’ve found blue geese mingling in with predominantly white-plumaged flocks. Most of the Snow geese, come to think of it, pass over under the cover of darkness, maybe that’s when the blue geese arrive in our area. Most likely, maybe I’m simply not paying as close attention as I think I am, but that goes against my premise that novelty stands out.
OK, I hear you. Some of you are calling me out on another front, saying, “Mike, wait, that’s not even a blue goose!” and you’re right, it’s an intermediate.
It turns out there are as many as 7 recognizable plumage types in adults, leaving behind any notion of a cut-and-dry, black-and-white (or white-and-blue) separation. On the whiter shade of pale you have “Type 1″ birds, which are pure white with at least seven black primaries, yielding the classic white-body-black-wingtip Snow Goose look. “Type 7″ birds, the pure blue morphs, are on the other end of the spectrum with all gray underparts with small amounts of white or pale around the unmentionables. OK, I’ll mention the area: around the vent and between the legs and tail. (Don’t you feel dirty for just reading that?)
The bird in the photo clearly doesn’t fit into either category (again, apologies for the poor quality of the photo). As near as I can tell, this bird is a “Type 5″ based on how far the dark plumage extends onto the underparts from the neck — in this case, back to the sternum. A “Type 4″ bird would be dark only to where the neck joins the body while “Type 6″ birds are dark all the way to the legs. In case you’re wondering, the most common intermediate form is “Type 3,” in which wings, back, and flanks are mainly dark, but underparts remain white.
So, if I’m right, I can add a “Type 5″ bird to my yard list, but feel free to offer your thoughts — am I right? Regardless, you can bet I’ll be watching more carefully for the other five “Types.”
Of course, more examples of blue-morph Snow geese can be found online.
First things first, if you are in the Ithaca, NY area on 28 February, consider attending the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Monday Night Seminar which will feature Richard Crossley.
“Past, Present and Future”
A story told in a Yorkshire brogue through a camera lens that loves color and art. Tales of lessons learned while growing up in the wild British birding scene – from travels around the world to living in Cape May. With humor and depth it highlights the thoughts behind the revolutionary ‘The Crossley ID Guide’ series . But is changing how we look at books and birds enough? ‘Hell, no’ says Richard. Come listen to his past, perhaps it will change your thoughts on the future!
The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds
When I received a review copy of a this new field guide I immediately lost my next half hour, absorbed completely in paging through plate after plate of birds found in the eastern U.S. and Canada. Since then I’ve been able to not only evaluate it on my own, I solicited impressions from my Bloggerhead Kingbird teammates at the Super Bowl of Birding, from folks at the workplace (turns out there are a lot of people with an interest in field guides at the Cornell Lab), as well as a few with only a casual interest in birding and birds. What follows are my thoughts along with their comments.
The first thing I noticed, and the very first observation by most everyone who I talked with: “Wow, this is huge!” Some wondered aloud whether Crossley intended this as a coffee table book. Furthering this speculation they pointed to the plates: they are, if nothing else, eye-catching. But it’s clearly not a coffee table book, it’s got “Guide” right there in the title, and it’s the second-biggest word on the cover (next to “ID”) so the intent should be obvious.
After spending a little time with this guide, a simple, direct statement sums up the general consensus: “This is wow!”
In addition to being huge in the “Does Size Matter?” department, it’s huge in the “This Is a Pivotal Moment” sense, specifically in the approach used to present the birds. It’s not a stretch to call it a landmark guide: Crossley set out to create a new kind of field guide to birds, one he feels represents birds as they are observed in the field. To a large degree, he has succeeded, and his guide deserves a spot on your book shelf alongside other excellent field guides.
The book is not large by accident. A big book means big pages, which equals usable space, which means you can include more images, ones that are appropriately sized. And this guide is all about the images, they are described as the “heart and soul,” so there are lots of them with plenty of space for presentation.
The images are meant to portray the birds as you would see them in the field, and they do. Photos of each bird, in various plumages and from various angles, are displayed on a background photo that depicts where you would commonly encounter that species. Eastern Bluebirds are portrayed in a meadow, Wood Thrushes in an open-understory deciduous forest, Sanderlings on a sandy beach with waves crashing in the background, Chipping Sparrows on a golf course (I don’t golf, but I still understand the habitat type one would expect to find them), Carolina Wrens are perched on downed logs with a tangle of Virginia Creeper, Eastern Phoebes patrol a backyard. The arrangements of many photos in different poses, arranged like you see them in the field, was appreciated by both beginning and experienced birders.
And while everyone appreciated the richness of the plates, everyone remarked on their “busyness,” that they were visually overwhelming. However, I found this became less of an issue as I spent more time with the book, like something you must habituate to. A few commented on the usefulness of some of the included photos, as they are too small or an unidentifiable flight shot, and that’s true if this were a typical field guide. In Crossley’s portrayal, however, they serve as views you are likely to get in the field, and there are clues to be gleaned, such as the “giss” (General Impression of Size and Shape) of the bird. As more than one put it, better too many pictures than too few, even if it becomes a “Where’s Waldo” of the bird guide genre (this will rapidly become an overused analogy, but it fits). Some lamented for more flight shots as some species are lacking them altogether, meaning key field marks — underwing or tail patterns – are missing.
The biggest complaint about the large images: oftentimes only two species can be directly compared without flipping pages back and forth. You can compare Lesser and Greater Scaup as they are on facing pages, but you cannot compare all three scoters. So, while the size and general busyness seem to hinder its use to identify something in the field, this lack of direct comparison hinders it’s use while studying at home.
The text is somewhat brief for each species, but what’s there was well-received. Most importantly, no one pulled out anything blatantly incorrect or misleading, and I found the style is very readable, often relating descriptions one would expect listening to a trip leader in the field. Stilt Sandpipers are described as “long-legged so tips like an oil-derrick to feed,” American Redstarts “often fluttering ‘butterfly-like’ as it drops down to catch insects,” descriptions that textually paint an image that the still shots cannot capture. Some wondered if the text was too jargony in places, and if some of the descriptions would be understood by all audiences, such as a Western Sandpiper described with “. . . a neck on steriods . . . “.
Similar to the text, no one noted gross inaccuracies on the maps, though a couple wished the presentation stretched all the way to the west coast, even if the book’s focus is on eastern birds. Having access to the whole range is useful in learning about the species’ distribution.
The size is a plus in allowing the desired presentation, but that hinders its use as a field guide (meaning, specifically, a guide to use in the field). While it would be cumbersome to look up a bird as it flits around in the bush in front of you during a hike, it’s ideally suited for pre- and post-game review. It’s the sort of guide to study before going in the field: the images and text are designed to give you experience with birds you have no or limited experience with, or observe something new with species you regularly encounter. It’s also the sort of guide to study upon returning from a birding trip. Habitat associations, behaviors, and plumages that you may have observed are presented and therefore reinforced as a way to identify that species in the future. And while you probably don’t want to take it along on a trail, you very well might want it in the car waiting upon your return.
Crossley states the audience is everyone, from novice birders to experts. Beginning and intermediate birders will certainly benefit from the presentation, advanced birders will have their issues and pet peeves. There’s the layout: birds are not presented in the expected taxonomic order, but grouped by physical and habitat similarities — something that makes more sense in the field experience, but which doesn’t map with how you’ll encounter the order in other places, such as other field guides, when searching on eBird, or on other checklists. More than one person commented on the unusual group names, such as “Walking,” “Swimming,” and “Flying Waterbirds,” “Aerial Landbirds,” and “Miscellaneous Large Landbirds,” titles not usually found in traditional guides. New birders will adopt this categorization more readily than those entrenched in more-universal terms, and some remarked these casual groupings didn’t fit in with an otherwise serious guide.
Crossley’s guide has its roots in a rapidly-growing approach, that which focuses on the “General Impression of Size and Shape” as a method for identification (see “The Shorebird Guide,” for example, which Crossley co-authored). As I already paraphrased from the preface, Crossley “wanted to create a book that replicates the world of birds as I see it,” and as you go through each species you’ve got two things working towards this goal: text that read as though Richard is standing next to you in the field as you observe the bird, and images that represent what you are likely to see in the field. While this guide probably won’t, and shouldn’t, replace your current favorite, it will exist comfortably along side it.
The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds
$35.00 / £24.95
7-1/2 x 10
10,000 color images.
Many thanks to all those who offered comments, including: Andrew Baksh, John Beetham, Christopher Ciccone, Jacob Drucker, Corey Finger, Jay McGowan, Kevin McGowan, Reina Powers, Nathan Senner, Nathan Swick; sincere apologies to anyone I didn’t credit.
Also, thanks to Princeton University Press for providing a copy to review.
Just about a year ago I posted the follow to this blog:
Friday morning, as this is posted to the Whole Wide World, I’ll be on my way to Massachusetts. After driving east for six hours, interstate after interstate, I’ll reach the outskirts of Boston where I’ll meet up with five guys I’ve never met. We will then commence to bowl.
I should clarify that I don’t mean the ancient sport of kings. No, my casual use of “bowling” is the more active but less known world of competitive birding, in this case a challenge known as the Super Bowl of Birding.
This year, history repeats itself and I am saying the same thing with one notable exception: this time around I’m meeting up with five guys I have met before (check out the introductions of the 2011 Bloggerhead Kingbirds, starting here). But for today, I’m remembering last year’s event, mostly because I never recounted the high points of the birding, only the team members. But I’m short on time, so welcome to my first-ever, bulleted-list Flashback Friday!
- The afternoon before the big day Christopher treats us to near point-blank looks at a Northern Saw-whet Owl. Killer photos, if not for all of the branches.
- We then visited Jason, a friend of Christopher, for near point-blank looks at a Chaffinch. It makes a brief appearance, enough for good looks and bad photos, then is pursued by a Sharp-shinned Hawk. Happily, we were not the last ones to see it alive, the Chaffinch returned to the feeder a few days later. (Read more from Jason about hosting this rarity at Brewster’s Linnet.)
- Watching a small group of waterfowl illuminated by the city-glow to pick out American Coot, the only one we hoped to encounter. Mallards, Hooded Mergansers, Mute Swan also ticked. Spirits soar, a good start in the pre-dawn!
- Standing in 4*F temperatures, attempting to call in an owl in the clear stillness. Any owl. Nate finally coaxes a single screech-owl to respond, Great Horned and Barred go unrecorded. Spirits dip as low as the mercury.
- Civil twilight overlooking a bay yields more waterfowl, including Common Eider, Greater Scaup, Gadwall, Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser, and more.
- On Nahant we find Brant, two scoter species, loons, grebes, and gulls, along with backyard birds such as Black-capped Chickadees, titmice, White-breasted Nuthatch, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Cardinal and sparrows. Northern Mockingbird and Carolina Wren also found.
- Peregrine Falcon picked up on Gloucester where we expected, but no unusual gulls picked out at the harbor. A Black Scoter cleans up the scoters.
- Niles Pond, a gull hot spot, was not so hot when we arrived. Hardly any gulls, let alone white-winged gulls.
- A hoped-for King Eider missed on the way to Cape Ann, but we do find Purple Sandpiper, Dunlin, and Red-throated Loon.
- On Cape Ann we add Yellow-rumped Warbler, alcids including Dovekie, and Black-legged Kittiwakes. Great looks at the kittiwakes, momentary looks at the Dovekies (in fact, I didn’t see them at all).
- A Turkey Vulture soars overhead as we drive through Ipswich.
- At Salisbury Beach we add Song and Savannah Sparrows, Horned Lark, Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier.
- Ending the day at Plum Island we miss Northern Shrike and Short-eared Owl, but add American Kestrel, Snowy Owl, and Iceland Gull.
- Revisiting several sites to try for better looks at Dovekie, to find the King Eider, and to add what we can to life lists.