ABA's Bird of the Year: Evening Grosbeak

Last year the American Birding Association introduced their Bird of the Year campaign to highlight a species in trouble.  We got stickers to place on our binoculars, scopes, computers, phones, etc.  Something that could show we are members of the ABA and talk about birds that might need some extra protection and help.  This year, the program is expanding, thanks to some help from Robert Mortensen, founder of Birding Is Fun.

Here was last night's official announcement of 2012's Bird of the Year.  I love this video so much:


Adorbs, Jeff!

So, if you are a member of the ABA, you will be getting your latest issue of Birding with the stickers included.  The stickers are supposed to be made of more durable stuff than last year's sticker and they feature the artwork of the fabulous Julie Zickefoose!

Since I use my iPad for bird programs at the park and I need stickers on mine to separate it from the park iPads that's where I placed one of mine, as well as on my Swarovski scope.  The ABA also has suggestions for other things that you can do for evening grosbeaks (whether you are an ABA member or not):

  • Report our Evening Grosbeak sightings to eBird, and participate in events such as Project FeederWatch, Great Backyard Bird Count, and the Christmas Bird Count. Our sighting reports are very helpful to bird science and will enhance our understanding of why, when, and where Evening Grosbeaks move.
  • Introduce friends and family members to birding. A gift package of a bird feeder, a starter bag of wild bird seed, and a field guide is a great way to do it! Help them learn to identify their feeder birds and keep an eye out for Evening Grosbeaks.
  • Get outside. And in the process, check out all the other birds that share the world with us.
  • Get involved. Join your local bird club. Volunteer with local conservation organizations.
  • Go to www.aba.org/join to learn how to get involved in the American Birding Association.
  • What type of conservation projects can you think of that would benefit Evening Grosbeaks? Email us BoY@ABA.org

Maybe I'll submit one of my iPhonescoped photos.  So, why should we have some concern towards the evening grosbeak?  According to recent studies from data collected by Project Feeder Watch, the overall population of evening grosbeaks has decline by 50% between 1988 and 2006...and no one knows why.  This used to be a common winter feeder bird.  Some years you would see more than others, but even I haven't seen that many the last few years and I live in a place where I should be able to find them easily.  I was excited when I got the photos of evening grosbeaks in this post on a January trip to Sax Zim Bog and realized that it had been a few years since I'd seen one of these birds that looks like a goldfinch on steroids.  It's a good idea to not take what used to be a common bird for granted, so let's keep an eye on it.

The ABA also has some fun events planned throughout the year that includes a photo contest to show how you used your ABA sticker, a chance for members to show off their evening grosbeak photos, and a media contest--submit artwork, media regarding the evening grosbeak as well as a blog carnival. Check out the Bird of the Year page for more information.

Sweet #Birding Camps For Kids

The American Birding Association still has space left for kids on their cool camps this summer...if they'd allow adults who act like kids, I'd LOVE to go on one of these.  Check 'em out and if you know a kids who would love to do this, try to help get them there: Project Puffin Hog Island Audubon Camp: Coastal Maine Bird Studies for Teens Jun 19-24, 2011 Audubon's venerable camp in coastal Maine, now co-sponsored with ABA, includes field identification, bird song recognition, conservation practices, and the opportunity to observe Audubon's seabird conservation field research.

ABA Young Birder Camp Colorado June 25-July 2, 2011 This repeat of last year's wildly successful camp will feature Jennie Duberstein, Bill Schmoker, and Liz Gordon as new counselors and incredible field trips from mountains to plains with Colorado experts like Birding editor Ted Floyd and Winging It editor Bill Maynard.

ABA Young Birder Camp Lower Rio Grande Valley July 9-16, 2011 This year's traveling camp takes us to the Texas tropics with field trips from Zapata to South Padre Island, all along the Rio Grande. Known to birders (and butterfliers) worldwide, "the Valley" offers incredible species diversity with camp programs and field trips hosted by some of the best known regional experts.

Victor Emanuel Nature Tours' Camp Tejano Jul 8-20, 2011 This ABA co-sponsored camp offers a unique summer program centered on the wildlife-rich ecosystems of the Texas Hill Country, Big Bend National Park and the Davis Mountains.

Seattle Audubon Society's Cascades Bird Banding Camp Aug 15-19, 2011 This co-sponsored camp will focus on the basics of net placement, extraction & handling, aging & sexing, with special emphasis on molt to age birds.

Visit the ABA site for camp contact details.




Birding and Listing

Okay, how can someone look at this photo and still say that birding is geeky? Seriously, going up a mountain with your digiscoping equipment is geeky? That's my buddy Clay Taylor from Swarovski. He and Bruce Webb took me out in Utah to help me get to my goal of 500 birds.

Here's a lifer Clark's nutcracker. I needed so many basic western birds, it was easy for me to get twenty lifers on a trip--not too many places I can do that anymore. Alas, I only made it to 497, but I'm sure I will hit 500 before the end of the year. I'm going to Rhode Island at the end of July and the Rio Grande Valley Bird Festival in November and there are a few species I can still get in both places. Once I reach 500, I may have to give Ben over at 600 Birds a run for his money...he wants to reach 600 by the January 2010. I'm booked for the Space Coast Festival and San Diego Festival next year already...there are several pelagic species that I need...hm...

There are some challenges to me being a lister. For one thing, I can be kind of picky about how I like to experience bird species. One of the target birds was a black-rosy finch. And the way to find it was to scan the mountainside in the above photo for the flocks. If you're lucky, you might get to see a flock of blackish birds against the snow. But I'd rather have this kind of look at a black rosy-finch. And I don't know how much of an effort I wanted to put up for glimpse of tiny blackish birds.

Bruce, Clay, and I scanned the mountainside for well over an hour. I didn't see rosy-finches but I did get a look at a lifer mammal--mountain goat! Whoot. The longer we were there, and the less we saw the rosy-finches, I decided it wasn't worth it and we moved on. I think I lack the singular tenacity that many listers have and that will prevent me from really getting my list up to where it could be.

Another thing that can slow me down is digiscoping. Take this beautiful black-billed magpie. We have a small pocket of black-billed magpies that live in Minnesota. I've seen them several times and enjoy them. However, this one was perched so perfectly and in such good light that Clay, Bruce and I decided that we couldn't pass it by without trying to photograph it.

When I do see a new bird, like this red crossbill, I want to digiscope the crap out of it too, perhaps spending too much time with the species and "wasting" valuable minutes getting photos missing the chance to see other new species.

Here's a female crossbill--they were so much fun to watch fly in and take apart all the pine cones on the trees. There were so many and they were so close, it almost sounded like a strange bowl of Rice Krispies as they would snap apart the cones to get at the nuts on the inside.

This photo is blurry, but check out that scary looking bill!

You can really see that strange bill that so perfectly designed to get between the teeth on the cones and access the nut meat. And I couldn't just get photos, I had to digivideo the crossbills too:

We found my lifer crossbills when we arrived at the mountainside for the rosy-finches. Clay pointed out the crossbill and we spent quite a bit of time digiscoping and digivideoing them. Perhaps, the rosy-finches were all over that mountain side while we were focused on the much closer trees loaded with crossbills and moved on by the time we went to look for them. No matter, another bird for another day, I always say.

I've always thought that any day with time spent on a boat automatically felt like an adventure, but I think I'm going to have to amend that to include mountains too. Utah is an awesome state and I hope I get to back. The lowlands are beautiful and the mountains spectacular.

Plus, it's fun to be out and about in snow but not bundled up. I had on some pants and a short sleeved shirt and my Keens with no socks and was perfectly comfortable. I think this might finally be my last Utah entry...Have I blogged it out of my system?

Although, I forgot to mention the zip line that was outside of the Cliff Lodge where Amy and I were staying. I really wanted to do it, but I do have a fear of heights. But being the pack animal I am, I knew if I stuck with Amy, she would get my scaredy cat butt up there and on the ride. It was so much fun and I totally felt like a goshawk zipping in for prey--I even held out my feet as if trying to capture unsuspecting prey...

Good times.

Seeing How The Other Half Lives

I think my favorite organized field trip that I took at the 2008 American Birding Association Convention was the Upper Deseret Ranch Field Trip, in part because there was a double Bill for field trip leaders: Bill Fenimore and Bill Schmoker. They are two of my favorite Birding Bills and was excited to watch them as field trip leaders. Fenimore leads trips regularly to Deseret Ranch, so if you are in or near Layton, UT, I highly recommend contacting him for his daily guiding rates. He's pleasant company and he knows the area and birds like the back of his hand--also, it's privately owned by the Mormons and you're really not getting in without him. However, it is SO WORTH IT--absolutely gorgeous.

Here is a life bird that I got on the trip--a MacGillivray's warbler. I decided to see how the other half lives on this trip--I became a lister for this convention. I've always just made little checks in my field guides for new birds and about a week before the con, I decided to count them. I learned that I was 25 species away from 500 birds on my North American bird list--who knew? I also did some research and found that there were close to 40 potential species I could get in Utah. I decided to go for it.

Check out this pack of birders, focused and ready on a cool bird. One of the cool things about going to an ABA event when you are close to a birding goal is that EVERYONE comes out of the woodwork to help you. Even though I was there helping at the Swarovski Booth, some of the Leica guys came over to go my bird potential list and give tips on where to go--heck they even invited me on the flammulated owl posse. The man who organized every field trip for the convention came by to offer pointers on my list, field trip leaders made it there personal goal to get me to my 500--it was wonderful camaraderie and really reminded me of why I love the birding community. Listing is not bad and I wish more listers and casual birders would get along. They are two different types of birding but each fun in their own way.

There were some familiar birds around, like cedar waxwings. I wasn't paying much attention as everyone was watching them and Fenimore came over to me and said, "Sharon, these birds are so close and a great shot, can you get a photo?" I think that because I was so focused on getting as many species as possible this trip that my digiscoping suffered a bit for it. Thanks for the reminder, Bill.

It cracked me up that super colorful birds like this western tanager always managed to be just out of reach for a great photo...

...but the brown birds like this nesting cordilleran flycatcher were up close and almost seemingly eager to pose.

But where many of the birds lacked color, the Deseret Ranch landscape more than made up the palette. I sat in the back of the bus with Father Tom (well known Texas birder and one of the organizers of the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival that I'll be going to this fall). FT and I had both been on the owl posse the night before and were both operating on three hours of sleep but each kept pointing out the magnificent views and colors of the landscape.

For lunch, we stopped by a mountain stream to relax. The stream was made up of freshly melted snow and ice in the surrounding mountains. It was 90 some odd degrees out, so after lunch, I stepped in the water.

It was toe numbing cold, but felt so, so good.

Here's a golden eagle chick. Golden eagles in Utah were about as common as bald eagles in Minnesota. It was fun to scan the cliffs for patches of white--indicating lots of poop and raptor nests. We also found a prairie falcon aerie too. You really felt like you were on some sort of adventure riding around in these mountains.

Funny Moment In Sundance

One of the funniest moments I witnessed during the ABA Convention was at Sundance Resort. Our field trip had the option of wandering the property or taking a 45 minute chair lift ride to get a lay of the land. I opted to do the chair lift--despite my fear of heights but I had WildBird on the Fly with me and Gail (the woman who is in charge of repairs at Swarovski) with me to keep me focused on the natural beauty.

The view from the chairs was spectacular and many were aiming their cameras to get the mountain landscape and even try to get shots of birds flitting around the tops of trees, including western tanagers.

I was watching the birders in front of me snap photos and watching the people on the opposite chairs. Some on the other chairs were leisurely reading, others were coming up with mountain bikes to ride down the side of the mountain, and others were on their way up for a hike. I noticed a young attractive couple coming towards us on the opposite chairs. They were completely decked out in skin tight spandex bicycling wear. The birders in front of me were aiming their cameras towards the mountain vistas. The young woman of the biker pair struck a pose worthy of a sage grouse. She puffed out her chest, stretched out her arms and stuck one of her shapely legs high in the air, the chair moving her right into the birder's field of view of the camera. The birder put down his camera, and young attractive bike girl relaxed her pose and said with a disappointed giggle, "Oh, I'm sorry, I thought you wanted a picture of me!" while her male companion shook his head.

Watch Where You Step!

I helped out at the Swarovski Optik booth at the American Birding Association Convention. I was out with a couple of the guys from the booth--Clay and Bruce. As we were going down a mountain road, Clay put on the brakes and said, "That looked like an interesting woodpecker!"

We found a place to pull over and walked in. I was hoping for a Williamson's sapsucker, but we weren't seeing anything but robins. Bruce picked up a stick and started pounding a nearby tree, doing his best sapsucker territorial drumming. We heard some soft drumming and eventually found:

...a three-toed woodpecker. Not a lifer, but always a cool woodpecker and fun to see it outside of Minnesota. Clay then said, "Hey, Bruce, check it out." and pointed to Bruce's feet.

From Clay's excitement, we thought there was a snake. We looked down and couldn't really see anything, Clay kept pointing and then Bruce finally saw it. It's in the above photo with Bruce. Can you see it? Don't worry if you can't, I was there and can barely see what Clay was point to. Here is a hint:

There in the center of that circle is a tiny young robin! We had been there for several minutes, watching the trees, talking, banging sticks against trees and yet this young robin stayed stock still, using it's fledgling coloration to camouflage with the surrounding vegetation. I wanted to digiscope it, but the young robin was too close to focus in my scope, so I had to back up a few feet:

"You can't see me!" Fresh from the nest and already this bird knows what to do, instinct told it to just sit and hide, and the big lumbering creatures would move past, hopefully without stepping on it. It was strange that we did not hear the adult robins give their warning and freak out call. We could hear that they were busy feeding another fledgling nearby. Since we'd seen the woodpecker, we decided to move along and let the young robin be and commence to learning how to care for itself under the tutelage of its parents.

On our way out of the woods, I found a second fledgling. Like its wise sibling, this young robin also stayed stone still as I walked past. Moments like these always make me wonder how many birds (especially owls) have I walked past when focused on something else. How many birds have been just a foot away and I just didn't see it?