Thursday, July 24, 2008

Midsummer Doldrums

Our summer continues at a blistering pace, at least relative to earlier, more innocent seasons. It has, at best, been a trying summer, with more weighty matters than we'd prefer occupying our lives. Such is life, as they say, and as they also say, this too shall pass.

Eastern Phoebe nestlingsWitnessing parental care at its finest by spying on the phoebes
has been an amazing experience. Not that my wife and I don't
try, but I don't know that I'd forage for insects in the rain.

I'm not out birding much, just taking in whatever winds up in the yard. The Tree Swallows and Red-winged Blackbirds that nested by our pond haven't been seen for a couple of weeks, today the Eastern Phoebe's second brood fledged. They were there this morning, teetering over the sides, but gone when I returned home after work. We did see the parents foraging around their usual hunting grounds as we picked blackberries so we figure the young aren't too far away. Empty nest syndrome is settling in fast.

Common Yellowthroat, maleThe most cheer-inducing summer resident in our yard. Watching
a yellowthroat do almost anything, even if it's nothing, lifts my spirits.

The only other evidence of birdlife are the periodic songs of a Common Yellowthroat and a couple of Song Sparrows, and who could neglect to mention the ever-present Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmouse, and Red-breasted Nuthatch.

Song SparrowDuring the quietest times of day you can count on the Song Sparrow to
suddenly break the silence with a reminder that there is life out there.

My only other birding takes place during my car-to-desk (and, obviously, the reverse in the evenings) walk in Sapsucker Woods. The hands-down highlight was a Northern Bobwhite perched on a power line as I headed home last night. First one I've ever seen in New York, completely unexpected. An nice reminder that sometimes surprises are a good thing, I needed that right about now.

Another surprise was that the latest Birding (American Birding Association's magazine) arrived this week, giving my mind somewhere to wander when preoccupations weren't taking over. I guess I lost track of the months, I didn't realize a new issue was due. One article engaged me such that I've now read through it twice: Cameron Cox's "A Different Approach to an Old Problem" (PDF, though unless I'm mistaken there is this online version on the Surfbirds website).

Least Sandpiper, post-bathingNot sure who this is? Check out Cameron's article
for pointers on why this Calidris is minutilla!

The problem is familiar to most birders: the identification of the five common North American Calidris shorebirds: Least, Semipalmated, Western, Baird's and White-rumped Sandpipers. With shorebirds already passing through on their way south Cameron's insights are well worth studying and applying in the field. I'd be interested in hearing from anyone, experienced shorebirders to the uninitiated, who has thoughts on his approach: do you think it will help in the field? Have you tried it, or something similar; what are your experiences?

Finally, if you have a hardcopy of the magazine be sure to take a moment to read a letter to the editor penned by N8 of The Drinking Bird regarding the Internet and Birding (in formal print you'll find him listed as "Nathan"). If your online-only, check out N8's blog post, aka "rant," that turned into the printed word. Of course, you should also read Rick Wright's original piece that started it all, I haven't found an online version (maybe that's intentional, given the topic!) but here's the reference:

Wright, Rick. 2008. Birding Alone. Birding, Vol 40 (1), p. 64.



N8 said...

Thanks for the plug!

I really like Cameron's ideas. When I read the article on Surfbirds, I was floored. I guess I always figured there was a more holistic way to do shorebirds, but couldn't put my finger on it. Cameron explains it so clearly it really feels attainable.

It seems like it takes some time to come to grips with at first, but once you get the hang of it, it opens a whole new world. I'm still working to integrate it into my shorebirding, now I just need some shorebirds to practice on...

Anonymous said...

I love song sparrows. They always serve as a wonderful alarm clock because there is a nest of them in a bush under my window.

drew said...

A wet-faced Least Sandpiper is really something to puzzle over at first. Luckily its yellow legs give it away.

noflickster said...

n8 - Glad to plug your writing, more people should be reading! I'm excited that this "gestalt" method of birding making it to the mainstream, not only in Cox's piece, but in Crossley, Karlson, and O'Brien's The Shorebird Guide and Ted Floyd's new Smithsonian guide. Like Ted alluded to, or flat out said, in his talk at the Lab, those arrows in the Peterson system reduce the "whole" of the bird to just a couple field marks, and most birders don't ever dig deeper. Clearly, RTP didn't mean for birders/watchers to stop paying attention once they saw the field marks, but they're useful as a start.

scienceguy288 - our alarm is robin song, but only because they're closer to our window! Song Sparrows seem to be among the most photographable of birds: common, patient, and tolerant of gawkers.

drew - the Least's legs are a great field mark, I was wishing I had caught one of the other peeps bathing to make a challenging ID. Or maybe a Least that had mud-caked legs!

Thanks for dropping by!

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