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Overly Dramatic Painted Bunting

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As cool as it is to do work in south Texas during spring migration, things like worm-eating warblers are really distracting when one has serious deadlines looming.

Things have been quiet on the blog and a little bit on the podcast front because I have been knee deep in a fun project with several partners including Swarovski Optik, Princeton University Press, South Texas Nature, Alamo Inn Bed and Breakfast and Birds Eye Birding and well, even poor Non Birding Bill. Here’s  snippet of some footage I’m putting together for a program Clay and I going to do about it at this week’s ABA Convention (it looks better if you watch it in HD):

So what’s been occupying my brain? A web series which will premiere May 8, 2014 on my YouTube Channel. It will air once a week for 8 weeks. All the bird footage in each episode was digiscoped by Clay Taylor and me. And on top of that, all the birds in each episode are a clue to the series theme. If you correctly guess what the theme is, you will be entered into a drawing for a Swarovski Spotting Scope (and a few other prizes).

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Each episode is only 5-10 minutes long and features a digiscoping and birding tip and a little bit of info about some of our favorite places for birding and designed to be something you could watch on a break at work–so safe for work viewing for sure.

One of the challenges that Clay and I have filming this is that most if it is outdoors and “pretending” to be digiscoping in great places like South Padre Island during migration. That’s when we had the above scarlet tanager fly in front of us. Of course you’re going to digiscope that…but do I have an episode that it will fit in based on time of year and the series theme? And aren’t we supposed to film some dialog?  Ah well.

Despite all of the challenges, this project has incorporated all of my favorite things: birds, travel, working with good friends and colleagues and stretching all of my creative muscles. Here’s a preview if you haven’t seen it yet:

If you could share the trailer on your various social medias, I’d appreciate it.  I’m hoping this opens  the door for other bird series (whether by me or others) to show up on YouTube or other venues. If you want to make sure to not miss one of the 8 episodes, subscribe to the YouTube Channel.

The drawing for the scope winner happens in the 8th episode.

I have to give some major props to poor Non Birding Bill, he’s had to travel along with me for help. He even travelled with me to the Rio Grande Valley…during spring migration.

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It’s weird that so much of my life is on the road and I have a passel of good friends he’s never met in person and with this project, he’s had a chance. It was also fun to run into the likes of Greg Miller (aka Jack Black’s character in the The Big Year movie). Here’s Greg trying to wow NBB with birds as Estero Llano Grande State Park. Bill did concede that the pauraques were cool.

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Oh and speaking of pauraques, you know how they’re always a possibility at Estero near Alligator Lake? They’re currently tucked further back and there are babies! How many birds can you make out in the above photo?

Clay and I had been warned that the birds were tucked a bit. We were trying to find them when one just kind of ambled out and was stretching wings. The bird suddenly noticed Clay and I staring at  it in awe and then it scurried behind a yucca–I had no idea those things could scurry. We grabbed our scopes to try and digiscope it, making sure to stay on the trail. We had to practically hand to be on all fours to see her from the trail, but Clay found her lurking way back. With the naked eye, she looked really puffed out. I wondered aloud, “Is she incubating eggs since she’s puffed out like that?”

Clay got the scope on her and said, “She’s not puffed out, those are chicks!”

Sure enough, she had two chicks snuggling out from her breast–how cool to see that!

Alas, pauraques do not fit into the series theme for the show…maybe this show will be good enough that I can get another series commissioned?

 

 

Birdchick Podcast #168: Bird Pictures

Here’s a link to an Audubon article that ticked me off because at first glance I thought it made digiscoping look like a joke. But it brings up a bigger questions of what is a photo and what is art. Examples of photos that have been manipulated green heron contest winner or blue heron and bald eagle photo.

Here’s an article in Audubon about what qualifies as natural as they had to disqualify a great photo because it was technically manipulated.

 

 

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Birdchick Podcast #167: Owl Rides A Train, Oil Spill

 

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Yep. Another oil spill. Follow National Audubon on Facebook for the most up to date info.  Here’s a petition.

Owl rides a train from Scotland to the UK.

Eagle flirting gets out of control.

Ravens to be culled in favor of spotted owls.

Worst bird bander ever?

Stinky cuckoo is not the worse parasite ever.

Birder movie reviews.

Crow solves an 8-step puzzle:

 

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Create Your Own Birds and Beers

Monday night I stumbled in from what was a six hour Birds and Beers with 42 attendees! I love that the event gets that many birders out on a week night, but the challenge hoisting such an event is that I don’t necessarily get to talk to my old friends who show up and last night I don’t think I talked to all the new people. I’m fortunate in that I have Curt Rawn to help out but man oh man, Birds and Beers is almost getting too big.

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Here’s a photo of a restaurant full of happy birders at Grumpy’s. I get requests to do them all over–both the Twin Cities and in other states. There’s no reason why people can’t host their own Birds and Beers. It’s easy, all you need is a social savvy host and the right bar or pub. I have some guidelines listed on the Birds and Beers page but I thought I would repost them here:

How to host a Birds and Beers:

1. Find a bar or pub that does not have loud live music or tvs blaring sports. Call ahead and alert them to what you want and find out if they have a slow night like a Tuesday or Thursday and ask what their parking situation is like–we have some great places in my neighborhood, but parking can be tricky.  Tell them you want to host a large gathering of bird watchers and that you will bring them 16 – 24 people between the hours of 6pm – 9pm to gather, have a bite to eat and drink a beverage or two. Those numbers are based on the average attendance of our Birds and Beers here in Minnesota.  Our rare lowest number was 8 people showing up.  Our two largest events hosted 52 people for the Crow Roost edition and 97 at the Biggest Week in North American Birding Festival edition (those are extreme). Make sure the bar has a server who can handle a crowd that will shift around.

2. Let people know about it.  Ask your local birding listserv if you can post it there.  Ask if you can post it on your local Facebook birding page.  Create an invite page on Facebook and encourage other birders to let their friends know.  See if your local news paper will mention it.

3. This is the key ingredient for whoever hosts it: as people arrive, get the their names (don’t hesitate to provide name tags). Watch as people arrive, you’ll figure out who is shy and who is chatty.  Make sure shy people don’t linger outside the group not talking to anyone, find out their interests and try to bring them over to another birder who shares that interest, or make sure they sit next to chattier folks.

4. The host should run as mediator with the server. Find out the server’s name, let them know they can come to you if they are getting overwhelmed or if the kitchen/bar gets backed up. You can announce it to the group. Let the group know that if they are having an issue, they should let you know and you talk to the server. It helps to have a mediatory because large groups are hard on one server.

5. At some point, pause to allow for introductions. Don’t let everyone tell their life story, but maybe go around the group and have people say their name, what part of town they are from and say what brought them to the group. Some people may have  questions about finding birds, someone may have a tour they are leading, someone may have a research project and need volunteers.  This is the time for them to provide that information. Remind everyone to tip the server well!

6. Let everyone feel welcome. We all enjoy birds in different ways, some of us are hardcore listers while others have heard of this birding thing and want to see what it’s about.  Make sure everyone feels welcome and can learn from each other.

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7. Just because “Beers” is in the title doesn’t mean that’s the only thing you can have: whiskey, wine, tea, coffee and soda are all good.

8. If you start a Birds and Beers, let me know–I think that’s awesome!

 

 

 

 

 

Birdchick Podcast #166: Sibley, Eagles and Whatnot

What’s news in Minnesota? Eagle gossip. Also, this photo taken by Joseph Scrimshaw at a truck stop disturbed me:

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I don’t know if you guys know this…but some dude named David Allen Sibley released a revised bird book and was in the Wall Street Journal.

Ugh.  More snowy owl madness.  Here’s a crazy shot of one in Louisiana and Project SnowStorm has to delay their maps because some guy decided to be a jerk because he legally could in Pennsylvania.

Hey, want to track those migrants? Here’s a cool real time map of wind, you can see what conditions are like all over the world to find out if birds are on the move and where they might congregate. Don’t forget BirdCast or BadBirdz migration radar.

A really cool fundraiser called Champions of the Flyway.

This winter has been hard on some of the ducks that spend it on the Great Lakes.

Check out Lang Elliot’s woodcock page.  And if you are on Facebook, follow Lang Elliot–he’s a cool dude.

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So I Got A Second Edition Sibley

One thing birders have been talking about like crazy for the last few months is the news that David Sibley was updating his popular field guide The Sibley Guide To Birds and we’ve all been aching to see it. Mine arrived from FedEx on Friday.

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Personally, I am far more interested in this update in app form than I am in book form. I asked Sibley when the app update will be coming and he said,  ”The app revision is in progress, and it will be a major overhaul with all of the new art, text, and maps from the revised book, but still no firm completion date. It will be at least a couple of months more.”

So we have to wait for that one. Based on how much work has been added to the guide, I imagine that we will have to purchase a new app or at least pay for an update to the old one. And looking at the new Sibley…I’m ok with that. There’s a lot of work that went into this guide and well, being in the arts community, I like paying artists.

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Now, the book: it’s beautiful…and bigger. My kitchen scale puts my old Sibley at 2 pounds 10 ounces and the new Sibley comes in at just under 3 pounds (that’s no big deal cause we’re not supposed to take it out in the field but study at home, right?). But that increase in size includes larger images, updated maps, updated illustrations, revised taxonomy (yeah, cause that’s constant), more text on identification tips of tricky species as well as habitat and foraging behavior. Check out the above bluebird plates and note the addition of a sketch to differentiate bluebirds based on tail length, I love those additions. This is almost like having a Sibley guide with his personal field notes in there. The font is a little on the small side and considering the average age of most birders, that might be an issue for some.

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There are 600 new paintings, some include the addition of 111 rare species but others include really cool touches like finding nightjars in the dark. There’s a lot more to this book to truly help someone figure out what they are seeing not only based on field marks but with habitat. I am overwhelmed at the amount of work Sibley has put into this guide by not only doing all his own illustrations, but writing the concise text as well.

There have been rumors about color issues. The first edition of Sibley had some people saying the birds were too bright and the reds too vibrant, that never bothered me. Early reviews of this second edition said the prints were too dark. In The Nature Travel Network review plates being too dark was brought up as an issue, Sibley even defended the colors in the comments section and felt that he and the reviewer may have had a difference of opinion. So the first thing I did with the new Sibley was check the reds by going to the tanager page. The scarlet tanager looked dark to me. As I was looking at that, a second package with another new Sibley arrived from FedEx.  Somehow I ended up with two review copies.  I opened it hoping that maybe I had been sent two different printings.

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Above is a comparison. From left to right we have my old Sibley and then the 2 new Sibley guides on the scarlet tanager. To my eye, that red in the new guides looks too dark for scarlet tanager. Non Birding Bill looked over my shoulder and said, “Yeah, but what else can you mistake a tanager for? Even I know that one.”

Funny thing is, I had just gotten an email that morning from someone in Wisconsin telling me that scarlet tanagers were perhaps back early because they saw two but they had black chins (and no they couldn’t have been cardinals because they didn’t see the crest).  Sigh.

I thought that maybe this was just the tanager and I was being too nit picky and I’d look at different sorts of reds. I headed to the red-shouldered hawk plate. It seemed dark too. I have a Sibley raptor poster framed in my bedroom and the company that produced that went to great pains to give true color to Sibley’s original plates. Here is a comparison:

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On the left is a clip from my Sibley poster and on the right is the red-shouldered hawk page in the new Sibley. Where it reads “orange bars” in the book, it looks brown to me. The poster image of a red-shouldered hawk is what I think of when I see them on sunny or cloudy days in the wild. I think this is strictly a printing issue and is one of the reasons why I’m more interested in the Sibley Guide as an app than I am as a book.

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Here’s a comparison of yellows for those interested, with my old Sibley is on the left and the new Sibely is on the right. The yellow seems a bit more on the green side in my new edition, but it is slight and doesn’t bother me. When the book hits stores on March 11, 2014 I’m going to check a couple of my local stores and see how their versions vary from mine.  I contacted the publicist and asked if I got an old copy but she said the two that I have should be what will be in stores next week.

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But apart from some picky issues with the color, there’s far more to appreciate in the second edition, especially with the expansions of separating tricky species. Check out the handy empid comparison above (for those who haven’t grown to dislike flycatchers as much as I do). There was some of that in the original, but the new guide has more comparisons with text explanation as well as paintings. And very useful info about where you can find certain species foraging.

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Here’s another fun chart that’s been added–a time table to help you identify woodpeckers by drumming sounds. I love these little details.

So overall–I think this guide will always be a go to book for identification in North America, especially with the addition of rare birds found up in Alaska. I think in this printing some of the plates are darker than I would like them to be–especially the red and rust colors. I think this is a guide best purchased in person so you can see if this printing bothers you. But overall this is still one of the best tools out there for someone wishing to take their birding watching to another level.

Birdchick Podcast #165: Owls Again and Eggs

It’s World Sparrow Day soon!

Please everyone, let’s just be reasonable about snowy owls? Maybe? Latest Project Snowstorm update.

Swarovski Optik contest for SLC binoculars. Have a good campfire story?

Endangered kakapo accidentally crushes her egg but wildlife rehabbers fix it with tape and glue.

Photographer Jim Neiger pleads guilty to harassing endangered snail kites.

Funny duck story.

Pelican with a GoPro on its beak.

Places I’ve been recently: Klamath Falls Winter Wings Bird Festival and Alamo Inn Bed and Breakfast.

We talked about a print that I purchase from a  ”tea bag lady” here is here site Orphan Girl Fine Art. Here’s the print I got.

 

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Web Series Teaser

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I’m just back from some epic US travel. I’ve been in California, Oregon and south Texas. Some was bird festival work and the rest was filming for the web series Clay Taylor and I working on for this spring. Here’s a little clip of some of the fantastic footage we got while at Bentsen Rio Grande State Park:

This clip is crazy on several levels: the fact I can get slow motion video with my iPhone and you can see how fast the kiskadee zips in and out of the shot and then watch it hover in slow motion to get the peanut butter out of the suet log is just nuts.

If you haven’t seen the trailer for our series, check it out. It’s not just a nature show, the birds in each episode will be a clue to the series theme. Guess correctly and you will be entered into a drawing for a free Swarovksi spotting scope!

Birdchick Podcast #164: More Owl Controversies!

Mya Rose Craig is an 11 year old lister…she’s already hit 3000 and has optics sponsorship. Now that is what I call an upper echelon birder.

Because, you know, birders don’t have enough to argue about, here’s a totally unexpected development. It’s legal in Wisconsin to trip snowy owls for falconry…and some guy did. Boom! I wrote up my thoughts about it over at 10000 Birds.

There’s a cool contest over at Birds & Blooms for a free trip to the Biggest Week in Birding.

Audubon President David Yarnold on the Colbert Report to talk about culling barred owls in favor of endangered spotted owls.

Interesting behavior documented by Corey Finger of what appears to be a lesbian pairing of Nanday parakeets.

In some excellent news, the wind turbine project on Lake Erie has been halted. There are good places for wind farms but a major migratory corridor like that one isn’t one of them.

Dudes, it’s an albatross live web cam in Hawaii–perfect escape from this long hard, Winterfell like winter.

ABA announces this year’s award winners and my friend Laura Erickson is one of them!

Hey, did you see that we are doing another contest on the blog in the form of a web series? Check out this trailer–you might win a Swarovski Spotting Scope this spring!!

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Crow Coughing Up A Pellet

I periodically do segments on our local All Things Considered broadcast in the Twin Cities. I offered to show them the winter crow roost and the host Tom and his producer Sam were interested. You can listen here and they brought along a videographer who got some terrific footage of the crows, be sure to check it out.

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We had to reschedule the recording at least once because of the cold weather. We are having the sort of winter that Ned Stark would be proud of up here and I didn’t want to take them out to see the roost in sub zero weather. Yeah, I know birders are hardy and we can take it, but I find with newbies and casual birders that they really don’t have as much fun and I’m not into sadomasochist birding for everyone (just a select few). I like to do it when it works with everyone’s schedule and comfort level.

We finally found a day when it was in the 30s and it was a great time.

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I joked with producer Sam by asking if that is how he keeps his microphone warm in winter. He said that this was for wind protection but it looks like a piece of Muppet more than a microphone.

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I know crows are pretty common birds, but I do really enjoy their winter roost–thousands of crows coming in and swirling around at dusk, it’s beautiful spectacle. Not quite a murmuration, but definitely lovely in its own way. And I love taking non birders out and see them be just as awed as I am (if not more so).

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As we did the interview, I tried my hand at digiscoping the crows with my iPhone. I can get some arty shots, but it’s still can’t quite capture the majesty of the roost. However, as I was grabbing footage, I managed to get a shot of a crow coughing up a pellet–just like an owl or hawk would. Watch the crow on the far right:

Several bird species cough up pellets, just not as regularly as birds of prey. I’ve seen gulls, shorebirds, robins and even a scissor-tailed flycatcher do it. In theory, any bird will cough up parts of food they cannot digest from scales, exoskeletons or even berry husks. But you don’t often see other birds do it. Was fun to capture the footage.