Sunday, April 29, 2007

Spotlight on eBird

Not my spotlight, though, a more prominant organization: CNN! I will eventually spotlight eBird as I use the program almost religiously. All of my current checklists are (eventually) entered, and I'm slowly uploading historical checklists. Let's face it, they weren't doing anyone, not even me, any good sitting isolated in Thayer's Birding Software on my hard drive. I felt somewhat obligated to get them into a central database when I was leading the project, but seeing how far eBird has come in a short time, it's more than that.

And now eBird has gained the attention of the national media with this short video starring current co-project leader Brian Sullivan (Chris Wood is the other co-leader). Exciting stuff!

One pet peeve: I can't help but notice, but apparantly nobody outside of the Lab can spell the project right. It's eBird, not E-bird, not Ebird, not eBirds . . . just eBird. Is it that difficult?

Friday, April 27, 2007

BioBlitz Update

The best I can say for the moment is, "More to come!" I just have to find the time to do so.

These are the last few moments I will have computer access for a few days so a real recounting of my "miniblitz" won't be available until next week. The good news is I did manage to spend some time yesterday morning patrolling the yard, mostly "blitzing" what I know: the birds. During my "Area Search," the eBird protocol I was following, I recorded all birds seen/heard, as well as a not-so-meticulous inventory of plants I could identify.

I had a few questions about the BioBlitz procedure while I was birding (should I count birds that are flying over, but not in, my area? If I know a plant is here, but not yet emerged enough to really identify, should I still count it? Should I count our dog, cats, and aquarium fish?), but I pushed them out of my head before I suffered from paralysis by analysis. I simply enjoyed my time outdoors, especially since I was encountering several "first of the year" yard birds: Eastern Towhees, Brown Thrashers, Tree Swallows, Field Sparrow, and the like.

More on my experience soon!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Earth Day and a BioBlitz

It may be the BioBlitz that never was. Or at least the slowest, most piece-meal effort that shouldn't rightfully be called a "blitz." I can hear two questions, so before I venture into the "why," here's some background as to "what."

A BioBlitz, as described by Wikipedia, is an inventory of all living organisms in a specific location during a 24-hour period, and is ultimately a scientific undertaking. It's a quick-and-somewhat-dirty census of everything that lives in an area, typically a public area such as a park. Often it is a group that participates, providing more hands, eyes, and ears to uncover the variety of life, plus the members often come from a variety of backgrounds and interests, providing expertise in identifying their findings.

This year, in honor of National Wildlife Week (21 - 29 April), Jeremy at The Voltage Gate organized the first Blogger BioBlitz, inviting anyone blogging about natural history in any form to inventory a familiar place and submit the results to a common database. Most importantly, get outside and enjoy nature, and blog about your experience. That, incidentally, is my primary motive: be outside and in the moment. My first reactions, fueled by what my daytime job entails, were geared toward data quality, data entry and accessibility, and other various aspects I've dealt with when working on eBird. Happily, a lot of talented individuals are involved and not only thinking about issues like that, but are addressing them as well.

So that's a "BioBlitz" and the goal of the "Blogger BioBlitz." I had planned to participate as this would get me outside and focused on things other than birds (I keep a a yard list of birds), and I was planning to entice Reina (my daughter and curious naturalist) and Donna (my wife and professional botanist) to join me. Together we'd all discover more about our yard.

The best, and it now seems only, time available all week would be the first day, Saturday. However, you all know about the best laid plans. The morning was out as I was leading a birding trip in Ithaca, so we had a few hours in the afternoon. And then other "things" came up, all important, and took up the rest of the day. We did spend some time gardening so I managed to find a few things, but if it wasn't a bird or plant it pretty well went unidentified. Sigh.

Sunday evening, while playing "restaurant" with Reina, I managed this non-digiscoped shot of a Northern Flicker foraging on our lawn.

Northern Flicker casting a wary eye. © Mike Powers 2007

It appears I won't get the solid block of time I hoped for the Blitz, the best I'm hoping for is sporadic periods in the evenings throughout the week. I'll still be outside and enjoying nature, so happily I will enjoy the journey intended by Jeremy's concept, I just won't reach the final goal. I take comfort in knowing that the journey is really what it's all about, and of course, there's always the second annual Blogger BioBlitz!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Spring Field Ornithology - Ithaca Sites

This morning I lead a field trip for the Spring Field Ornithology class, taught each spring at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology by Steve Kress. Steve is Audubon's vice-president for Bird Conservation, but he's reached a milestone at the Lab: he's been teaching SFO for 30 years. The course consists of Wednesday night lectures (an unfortunate term: they're much more fun that what the word "lecture" implies) by Steve and guests, then weekend field trips to local hot spots with a few overnight trips to more distant ones, such as Brigantine, NJ. As an aside, it is amazing how many folks repeat the course voluntarily year after year, and many just for the birding: they quit going to lectures years ago.

Although I've worked at the Lab for (almost) seven years, this is only the second year I've lead trips. I took a four year hiatus after my daughter was born, but this year I'm back. Most of the class headed north to Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge for an all-day or, optionally, overnight trip, Jay McGowan and I lead a group of about 16 who could only commit to a half-day of local sites.

SFO birders at the Ithaca City Cemetery. © Mike Powers 2007

Because the weather had been favorable for migration we decided to first spend some time in Sapsucker Woods (home of the Cornell Lab). Unfortunately, not too much new was around, although we had a long and spectacular encounter with a flock of Rusty Blackbirds, a species that has been steadily declining since the '60s. From there we stopped by the Ithaca City Cemetery where a pair of Merlin have been reported as possibly nesting. Almost immediately one of the group spied a bird somewhat inconspicuously disemboweling a House Sparrow in a large, leafless tree just around the corner from the purported nest.

Female Merlin calling to her mate. © Mike Powers 2007

Feathers slowly drifted past us as we scoped the bird, she simply ignored us as she continued to devour her prey. Eventually, when finished, she called, and we discovered the male had been perching in a nearby spruce when he responded. It's possible these two were the same birds that successfully nested last year in town, just a few blocks away from the cemetery. As far as anyone could recollect, that pair was the first confirmed breeding pair in Ithaca. It's interesting that Merlin breeding in urban areas is becoming more commonplace, and makes me wonder what will we discover over the next few years? It's also worth keeping an eye on any pairs seen at this time of year in our area. And considering I found a male and female earlier this week at Horseheads Marsh I should keep an eye out for a nest!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Here Comes the Sun

The spring and summer of 2006 was the beginning of a transition for our yard. We live on a 4 acre lot bounded by roads to the north and east, a neighbor (through some scrub and deciduous trees) to the south, and a deciduous woodlot to the west. In future posts I'll highlight our far-flung ideas, successes, and failures in our native-landscaping projects, but for the moment all that can wait. Today, even with an impending Nor'easter predicted to dump snow, sleet, and icy rain on us, I can happily know spring is really just around the corner.

The weather is set to turn dark and cold tomorrow, more fitting for mid-December than mid-April, so we took advantage of a relatively mild Saturday to prepare for the landscaping and gardening projects we're undertaking this year. Because it's still early in the season we didn't expect a to see what perennials were coming back from last year's plantings, so we were excited to see this columbine stretching through last year's oak leaves and some remaining snow.

Wild Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis. © Mike Powers 2007

We planted a group of three near our windows (where we also hang a hummingbird feeder), to provide a natural nectar source for the birds. On the selfish side, we're excited to watch hummingbirds feeding from something other than a glass jar and plastic base with phony yellow flowers. All three plants have significant growth, and are happily surviving, maybe even thriving, in spite of the remant snow and ice. We'll see how they weather this storm.

Not enough about birds in this post? Consider this: the genus name Aquilegia is from the Latin aquilinum, meaning "eagle like" (the spurs suggest the talons of an eagle). Also, the common name "columbine" is from the Latin columba, meaning "dove" (the petals allegedly suggest a ring of doves surrounding a fountain).

Post title credit: Here Comes the Sun (1969), The Beatles
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