I'm not doing a big year--just wanted to say that because so many people start them now, but I'm not one of them. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I applaud those who want to, if it trips your trigger, go for it. It's not what I like about birding. I tried the digiscoping big year for a fundraiser, but I just don't have the drive to chase and I'm fascinated by those who do.
Speaking of big years did you see that the guy doing the "Biking For Birds" ended 2014 with 617 (give or take a few depending on records committee acceptance) and 17,830 miles on a bike. Now that guy has drive...or should I say pedal? Hoo boy. There's part of me that looks at that and things, "Yeah, birding for a whole year, on my bike (two things I love) that would be cool."
But I also like sleeping in, dinner with friends, not biking in pouring rain, sipping a bit of scotch late into the night while watching John Wayne in the Quiet Man next to Non Birding Bill on the couch...I do not have the will power for a big year, even as I type this an ivory gull is a mere 7 hours away and I have a 48 hour window to twitch it before I have to fly to an undisclosed location to do a bird survey for work, but I'm choosing to stay home, take a day to relax before work and sharing some chicken pot pie with non birding friends.
I did do a little bit of birding on New Year's Day. I checked the BirdsEye app on my iPhone and saw there was a Townsend's solitaire reported not too far away in a cemetery and people were seeing snowy owls around the Minneapolis/St Paul Airport.
NBB tagged along for the car ride. There was a solitaire in a cemetery in 2013 and that was a fun challenge to pick it out among the headstones and I thought it would be a fun bird to pick out. Although, there were already some birders milling about waiting for it show. They had staked out a spot that it would periodically return to and there were taped calls (literally a boom box was used). And I instantly lost interest in the solitaire. I'm not 100% against using taped calls--they have their time and place. But a stake out bird that's been getting called a lot, a boom box played to loud...just not how I wanted to see the bird. We tried driving around the cemetery for other potential spots then gave up on it and headed to the airport.
I drove down cargo road to where the bird is generally reported. With all the snow, the owl would be a challenge to find. We saw other birders scanning, they hadn't found it yet. Just as we were about to head out, I noticed a small building with what looked like a wedge of snow. I pulled over, grabbed my binos and said, "Ah, there it is."
I have the binos to NBB and got my scope out of the trunk. While I was doing that, NBB posted this photo and caption to his Facebook page:
He asked, "How did you see that?"
"It's what I do," I said. "This is what I look for on bird surveys."
"You were driving!"
"I just looked for the anomalies," I said.
But it's not just a matter of it being what I do. The secret that many birders know, especially the ones who like to look for owls is that we are looking all the time. We are coming up empty 90% of the time. We never tell people when we don't see the owl, only when we do see the owl. That coupled with the number of times I've been to the airport and looked for snowys, knowing where they are likely to perch and knowing what all the buildings look like give you an idea of when some thing white is on a building that isn't normally there.
But I think that the puzzle part of it is what I enjoy most about birding. Finding the hidden the owl, figuring out where the solitaire is going to pop up in the cemetery. Noticing that a large eagle has a dihedral shape and bang, it a golden eagle. I should be into gulls since I like puzzles so much...but not yet.
If big years are your bliss, have a great time. I will admire your determination while I sleep in.
Someone apparently did a study confirming what many of us suspected about male and female birders...we're passionate, but different.
Speaking of which, I have an article in the current ABA Birder's Guide on how women can pee in the woods standing up. Yes. I tested everything.
And now for a funny woodcock video:
Good news on the Vikings Stadium. 3M is set to step in an test out a film to prevent bird strikes. This seems hopeful.
World's oldest living wild bird is back and ready to mate at 63 years of age. That is one heck of an albatross. Cool video of a peregrine diving after pintails.
Can owls swim? Kinda. Especially when forced into one of the Great Lakes by a peregrine falcon.
Here's the Nissan ad that pissed Sharon off.
For cleansing purposes, a budgie that can sing like R2D2:
One of the cooler places I visited this year was the Winter Wings Bird Festival in Klamath Falls, Oregon on the California border and not that far from Crater Lake. For some, this might be a bit of a challenge to get to, the nearest airport is Medford, Oregon about an hour and a half drive through a mountain. If you aren't used to snow...consider renting a vehicle with four wheel drive.
This festival is strong on photography, I was there for some digiscoping workshops and though while I was there the sun wasn't as cooperative as I would have liked, the views were still well worth it.
Going through all of my digiscoped images, I didn't really do justice to all of the bald eagles one can see in Klamath. If bald eagles are your spirit animal--this festival is for you, this place is lousy with eagles and the landscapes offer a great background to get shots. There was one particular eagle I was hoping to see. I noticed on the Winter Wings Facebook page that there had been sightings of an adult bald eagle with "diluted plumage." We went out scouting with a local guide for our digiscoping field trips and sure enough he helped us locate it.
I do enjoy going for a chase to see a rarity but I found it particularly fun to sort through the hundreds of bald eagles to locate this particular bird.
For birders in the eastern US who are looking for ways to rack up some western lifers, this festival is ideal. Above is a golden-crowned sparrow but you get all sorts. Even I got a couple of lifers on this trip.
The town locals really seem to get into the festival. Because it was so rainy, going out to digiscope wasn't always an option and many people opened up their homes and bird feeders so my classes could keep their cameras dry while getting pictures of birds.
But I think where this festival really stands out is the opportunity to bone up on raptor identification. There aren't many places where you can have a dark-morph red-tailed hawk soaring with an immature bald eagle and adult golden eagle. This place really gives a variety of raptors in a variety of plumages and you really get a great chance to study the difference.
On top of raptors, there's quite a waterfowl concentration here with loads of opportunities to see tundra swans, snow geese and greater white-fronted geese. The Klamath Basin has struggled with a water shortage the past several years so I'm not sure how that's going to impact the numbers at future festivals...or of western migrating waterfowl.
Due to the extreme drought the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge doesn't get the water it needs and the waterfowl that rely on it during migration are forced to move elsewhere. I'm not sure how much that will affect the festival. There are plenty of other birds but it's rough when we can't be reasonable about our water usage and spare some for waterfowl that rely on it during migration.
We did cross over into California to Lava Beds National Monument. I was bummed that the trails to the petroglyphs were closed because some people had gone in and vandalized it but I had my scope so I was still able to see and digiscope quite a few of the petroglyphs which was pretty cool. Petrolgyphs are all up and down this rock formation as water levels have shifted over the years, so enjoying with a spotting scope or binoculars is not a bad way to go.
So if you're looking for a fun February getaway for some western birds, put this festival on your list, especially if you're a photographer (and that includes digiscoping). I say that because I had one guy try to argue with me that digiscoping was not photography. Yes, it is, dude with the big lens, it's just a different technique.
I will warn you that this isn't the warmest festival one can go to in the winter (though compared to Minnesota in February, it was downright balmy) but the views more than make up for the chilliness.
The downside to birding becoming mainstream...it gets covered in a very cringeworthy segment on TMZ.
More on ortolans and poaching. Thanks, Craig!
Hey, remember last March when we were all excited to see the new and improved Sibley Guide to Birds Second Edition and there were some color issues? I'm happy to report that there has been a second printing and I would say that it is safe to purchase this one of a kind bird guide.
Mine just came in the mail and it's clear that the publisher listened to people's concerns which included the reds were too dark, the font too light to read and some of the greens were a little off.
The first page I went to when the second edition came out (both times) was the scarlet tanager page. That was the first clue that the reds were off with the first printing. With the newer edition the scarlet tanager is brighter. Not as bright as the app, but it works for me. Now many people said that they didn't mind the darker reds--they know a tanager despite how dark it looked in the book. But if you have a Sibley, you want that guide for the harder to id birds and that's where the reds need to be better.
So if you were holding off on purchasing the new Sibley, now is the time to purchase it--the Second Edition includes more than 600 new painting and 111 rare species were added. There are many additional notes on how and where to watch for birds and flight patters. Some taxonomy is still out of date--but isn't it always with field guides? There is no Ridgway's rail in this edition.
However, it truly is a magnificent book and I'm happy that the publishers took the time to give David Sibley's illustrations the proper printing they needed. That man knows how to communicate bird id so elegantly with his brush strokes. So much hard work went into this book and I think that's what made the first printing so disappointing, it's truly a thing of beauty to see Sibley paintings how they were meant to be seen.
I would be wary of purchasing this guide online because you wouldn't be able to tell if someplace like Amazon would ship you a first or second printing. When you have the book in hand, look for the copyright page (the back of the title page) and look for "Second printing, July 2014." You could also go to page 541 and look at the scarlet tanager.
No word yet on when there will be an app version. My guess is that is on the back burner since they clearly worked hard to get the second printing of the second edition where it needs to be to make all us picayune birders happy.
I've been asked if people can trade in first printings--I have no idea. You would have to take that up with whoever you purchased your guide from or the publisher or the company that printed the book (note photo above: Knopf or Scott and Nix). Who knows, maybe the first printing could become a collector's item? I would love it if I could get my first printing autographed with a, "Whoopsie, David Sibley." Or even better, "Are you happy now??? David Sibley" on my second printing.
Popular comic xkcd ponders the question of "Where do birds go when it rains?"
Eating a small bird called the ortolan bunting: French tradition or some weird fetish?
You need to vote (once a day) for your favorite birding spot in the US. I don't want to tell you how to vote, but dang it, how is the Rio Grande Valley not in the top ten??
It's an owl stuck in a car's grille...again.
Interested in the new ABA rules and changes to your listing? Visit this.
Duluth had a lot of migrants hit windows and cars.
I recently had the opportunity to do some birding in Portugal while I was there for a meeting (it's was incredibly kind of the organizers to schedule birding on top of work). However, this was European style birding which meant we were going to go for as many birds as possible and not really focus on digiscoping. The birds were often far away, this is what my friend Clay describes as "bird spotting" and really reminds me of what I do for some bird surveys. Don't get me wrong, I love the chance to see some new birds and I get that birds are not necessarily the most cooperative of subjects, but the digiscoping opportunities were few and far between and that's what I really enjoy in the field.
That's not to say that Portugal didn't have its birding charms. I flew in and out of Lisbon (which constantly reminded me of the movie Casablanca). As we crossed the bridge from Lisbon to Alcochete, I noted large, whitish birds that weren't quite egrets. My buddy Clay was with me and asked, "Hey, Shaz, see the flamingos?"
I know flamingos have to be somewhere in the wild, and I saw some far in the distance in Kazakhstan years ago, but I think Out of Africa and various nature documentaries had me believing that Africa is the only place for them, not some European country. Yet, there they were, plain as day in all their comic finery, honking like geese.
We held our meetings at the bed and breakfast called Quinta da Paraia das Fontes and the grounds were chock full of common European birds. Through some kind of work miracle, I've managed to be in Europe several times in the last two years and I'm finally getting a handle on the common calls. Crested larks were all over the place and I knew the call right away (it's a three note chirp that to me sounds like their announcing their name, "Crested Lark! Crested Lark!" Two of the coolest birds we saw which were big distractions to the meeting as they foraged outside the windows were firecrest and waxbill. There was no way to digiscope them, but I drank in their presence with my binoculars.
One of the birds that amused me most on the hotel grounds was the spotless starling. It looks and sounds like the very common European starling but this time of year that bird shifts plumage to be covered in spots...not the spotless starling. Woo-hoo, life bird!
One evening we birded the shores of Atalaya. We had a tip that while the tide was out we could get some good shorebirding in...and we did, we trudged about a mile away from our vehicles, over shallow channels to take in all the birds. We saw several flamingos who were color banded and we took note of the numbers so we could turn them in later. However, while we were enjoying the excellent light and birds, someone from our group radioed to us that the tide was turning and we should think about heading back to the vehicle. When no one moved, he radioed again, "Guys, come back now."
We reluctantly packed up our optics and trudged through the mosquito swarms and vegetation to get to the channel...which was now quite deep. As those with longer legs strode ahead of me, I noticed Tim Appleton picking up chunks of wood and then what looked like an ancient sea worn cooler. "Why is he doing that?"
When I finally got to the channel, I understood. The lads encouraged me to ride it. I took note of my camera and my iPhone in my various pockets and thought, "No effing way."
The guys kept assuring me it would be safe and I said that I'd rather see one of them test out her seaworthy capabilities first.
So the lads gave it a go...you might be surprised to learn that the cooler was not a seaworthy craft. I decided that I would put my camera and phone in the cooler and walk across with the cooler. I stepped in, my feet sank deep in the silty muck. I felt a moment of panic of getting stuck and ever the gentleman, Mark Andrews gave me a hand and helped me across. Meanwhile, other men int the group who were not wearing quick dry convertible pants like I was, dropped trou and crossed in their underwear (side note to the lad who said he did this when I wasn't looking, I have excellent peripheral vision). The water that had only been calf deep earlier was now crotch deep on me. But all of my possessions made it across very dry and my pants though reeking of briny water were soon dry as well.
All part of the adventures of birding.
After the days of meetings were finished, we headed out for a full day of birding in southeastern Portugal near the border with Spain. It was a bleak countryside during the cusp of September and October. Perhaps in the spring it's a lush landscape, but in the fall, it has a dry beauty.
I have to say, birding is quite an elixir for me. The night before we headed out, I tied a few on with some of my fellow participants. We stayed up at the outdoor bar across the road from my hotel until after 3am (a bit to the irritation of bar staff). Our group was meeting at 6am to head out. I slept past my alarm and had to eat breakfast in the car but man o man, I am no longer young enough to pull those sorts of all night shenanigans. But as soon as we got to our destination and the birds kicked in, though far away, I felt better. Nothing clears my head of hangovers, sleep deprivation, anxiety or anything stressful like birds. Birds never disappoint.
OK...that's taking it too far, nemesis birds disappoint until you finally see them.
Though often distant, we really racked up some cool birds including corn bunting, marsh harrier, azure-winged magpie and black-bellied sandgrouse. Our first stop gave me three lifers right off the bat: stone curlew, little bustard and great bustard. We even got to see the great bustards fly and let me tell you, that is a weird bird to see in the air. It's about half the size but the similar shape of an ostrich and glides high above the trees.
The birds may have been far away but our group found a puddle with all sorts of fun, mostly dragonflies. I have a tendency to roll my eyes when a birding trip gets railroaded for dragonflies, but I was desperate to digiscope and well, dragonflies would do in a pinch. The big excitement was in the form of a pair of red-veined darners mating and ovipositing some eggs in the puddle. We set up our respective cameras and noticed a frog next to them. I thought I would play around with filming in SloMo on my iPhone...and got quite q surprise!
I'm not sure what the species of frog or snake is but what a treat to find so much life in one small puddle. Did you notice how the dragonflies saw the snake right before it approached and lifted up right before it was in the frame? Cool.
We stopped for lunch in the town of Mértola and were offered a quick tour of the church and archeological sites. While getting a tour of the church, several of us were immediately distracted by a bird perched just above the alter.
It was a crag martin just hanging out. Half of us lost interest in the finer details of architecture inside the church with this brown bird. Ah birders, we are a funny tribe.
But when they took us behind the church, they showed us the archaeology going on and how the grounds were built over an old Muslim village. As our guide pointed out the reasons why the towns were short who lived where, random pots, jugs and stones were strewn along our walkway. How weird to be able to touch something built and used in the 1100s.
Our guide informed us that as they were excavating the town, they uncovered some roman ruins. That really knocked my socks off.
As the tour continued with the Roman ruins, we could see where parts of the Muslim town built on top of it used old Roman columns to fill in parts of their town. History piled on top of history piled on top of history. How fleeting we all are and who will build on top of us some day?
If you find yourself in Portugal, I would put this beautiful, steep cobblestoned town your list to visit and make sure to sign up for an archaeology tour.
One truly can go birding anywhere and though Portugal was not on my list of places to visit, I'm glad I had the opportunity. If Non Birding Bill had been along, he wouldn't have like the mosquitos along the estuary or the all day birding excursion, but he would have had a good time at some of the historical sites. Portugal does offer something for everyone.