Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Where In the World? We're Headed to . . .

. . . the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, "Together we aspire, together we achieve."

That's right, we'll be enjoying a yet to be determined number of days and nights at the very bottom of the Lesser Antilles. Or off the coast of Venezuela, depending on how you look at it. My glass is double-full, I see both!

Map courtesy WorldAtlas.com

The quiz questions were designed to slowly help you narrow in on the single location that matched the suite of clues. OK, "designed" is a bit strong, let's just say it "worked out." Let's check out where I was hoping the questions would guide you. Each one should have cut out several possibilities, but I won't list all of them here.

First, remember I was planning to go somewhere "exotic." That should have pointed you away from the U.S., though you never really know: Big Bend in Texas, the Sonoran Desert . . . we live in a richly diverse country, with amazing habitats and exotic species, at least to this New Yorker. But here are the boundaries:

1. Climate
The average temperature in October is reported to be between 76* - 80*F, average rainfall in October is approximately 6.7 inches.

Hopefully this made you think sultry temperatures and fairly frequent rainfall. Probably somewhere tropical or subtropical.

2. Topography
The land is primarily mountains and plains. Naturally occurring wetlands include freshwater marshes, mangrove swamps, lagoons, and marine ecosystems.

Well, that seems to describe most tropical countries, but now we know there's a coast. Mangrove swamps? Clearly somewhere tropical or subtropical.

3. Geographic Location
We will not cross the equator.

That lops out a whole lot of locations, we can focus on tropical locations north of the equator. But I never did limit our destination to the western hemisphere, but that seemed to distract nobody.

4. Culture
The official language is English. We will need passports and to figure out the currency.

Cuts out many more countries, but there are several that require passports and have English as their official language - Jamaica and Belize are excellent deductions! As was T&T.

5. Economy
The infrastructure is excellent, including an international airport, an extensive network of paved roads, modern hospitals, and reliable utilities. At least in the cities.

I'm not sure that disqualifies anywhere at this point, does it? But at this point we know we're looking for an English-speaking, non-American location with a tropical/subtropical climate that boasts a coastline and mangroves lying north of the equator. A few Central American and Caribbean countries certainly qualify. There are probably some African or far eastern countries that fit (but I'm not sure which, and you all seemed to have figured out we're staying in the western hemisphere).

6. Climate
October is both in the wet season and the hurricane season, though we're not really worried about the latter. If we're lucky we won't worry much about the former, either.

In addition to being smack dab in the "Hurricane Belt," Puerto Rico is a US territory: no passport or currency exchange required. The Hurricane Belt factor also eliminates Jamaica, Belize, the U.S. Virgin Islands . . . well, everything except a small handful of islands in the very southern portion of the Caribbean. So, we're left with those choices and perhaps a few islands in the Pacific (that likely don't fit all of the previous criteria). By now you can safely surmise Trinidad and Tobago. All of the other Caribbean, Central American, or northern South American possibilities don't meet all the criteria.

7. Geology and Heritage
Geologically this country belongs to one region, but geographically it's considered part of a different region.

Trinidad and Tobago fits here: geologically part of the South American plate, but culturally considered part of the Caribbean Islands.

8. Flora and Fauna
There are over 400 bird species on the official checklist (466 to be precise). Only one is endemic.

There are a few other islands that have a single endemic, but not over 400 birds on their checklist. Not to mention they don't meet the other criteria.

A hearty congratulations to Nate of The Drinking Bird, not only for correctly pegging the location by the fourth clue, but naming the sole endemic I'll be targeting on our trip (among the other 465 birds, of course), the Trinidad Piping Guan. I hope to be posting about an encounter sometime in late October.

I didn't offer a prize at the outset - I'm not a big proponent of extrinsic motivation, so kudos and thanks to all who participated. But I feel I should offer something to the winner.

So, Nate, if you email me your mailing address I will happily send you one (1) postcard from the islands, replete with a personalized message written by me,* postmarked from T&T.

* Disclaimer: I may pawn off the actual writing of the message to my daughter. She may also choose the postcard. I will pay for the card and the postage.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Where in the World? Is That Your Final Answer?

Earlier I mentioned we've chosen an exotic location to visit this fall, but instead of blatantly disclosing it I turned it into a guessing game.

We're five clues into the hunt and there have been some excellent deductions. For this last round of the contest I've added three more clues which may help identify the mystery location. Have a read through and either try a guess (if you haven't already), confirm what you wrote before, or make a last minute switch, as you see fit.

1. Climate
The average temperature in October is reported to be between 76* - 80*F, average rainfall in October is approximately 6.7 inches.

2. Topography
The land is primarily mountains and plains. Naturally occurring wetlands include freshwater marshes, mangrove swamps, lagoons, and marine ecosystems.

3. Geographic Location
We will not cross the equator.

4. Culture
The official language is English. We will need passports and to figure out the currency.

5. Economy
The infrastructure is excellent, including an international airport, an extensive network of paved roads, modern hospitals, and reliable utilities. At least in the cities.

6. Climate
October is both in the wet season and the hurricane season, though we're not really worried about the latter. If we're lucky we won't worry much about the former, either.

7. Geology and Heritage
Geologically this country belongs to one region, but geographically it's considered part of a different region.

8. Flora and Fauna
There are over 400 bird species on the official checklist (466 to be precise). Only one is endemic.

There it is. Call your lifeline, spin the wheel, and lock in your answer in the comments! Answer comes tomorrow.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Earth Day Wrap-up

Earth Day 2009 turned out to be beautiful in the Southern Tier, at least how I remember it. Yes, I usually record the weather conditions when I am out birding. But on that particular morning I must have been in a more experiential and less data-driven mindset because I have no details. And too much has happened in between, too many other bird lists with weather conditions, so I can't remember a thing about that morning, other than I didn't get wet. It must not have rained.

I grabbed my coffee and headed outside for a few minutes of listening. I didn't expect it to be quiet, I expected birds, frogs, toads, dogs. Closing my eyes to deeply listen showed how much man-made machinery my brain tunes out. The steady hum of traffic from I-86, sirens and car horns from the town, someone running a generator nearby, neighbors heading off to work.

Northern CardinalNorthern Cardinals may duck out of sight, but
their calls are an unmistakable part of our yard.


The birds, thankfully, were at the forefront. Cardinals, titmice, chickadees, nuthatches - the usual suspects in full song. Recent arrivals augmenting the soundscape, Tree Swallows, Chipping Sparrows, phoebes, and blackbirds. Siskins still buzzing, there must be nests around. I'll be watching for fledglings in the weeks to come.

Pine SiskinPine Siskins are sticking around later than usual this
year, and in high numbers throughout the region.


And with promising migration weather rolling in for the weekend, the day list is sure to explode soon (hint: because I'm writing this after the weekend, it did! Shhh, more on that to come.).

Location: Prospect Hill - Home
Observation date: 4/22/09
Notes: Conditions: not recorded.
Number of species: 18

Mourning Dove 2
Northern Flicker 1
Eastern Phoebe 2
Blue Jay 3
American Crow 3
Tree Swallow 4
Black-capped Chickadee 7
Tufted Titmouse 2
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1
American Robin 8
Chipping Sparrow 5
Song Sparrow 4
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored) 11
Northern Cardinal 2
Red-winged Blackbird 3
Common Grackle 1
Pine Siskin 1
American Goldfinch 6

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(http://ebird.org)

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Where in the World? Day Five

Earlier I mentioned we've chosen an exotic location to visit this fall, but instead of blatantly disclosing it I turned it into a quiz. Yes, I'm one of those annoying parents, one that rarely answers a question directly when I can get the kids (mine and others) to figure it out themselves.

Previous clues are listed below along with today's additional hint. I'll keep going for at least five clues even if someone guesses correctly, then as long as it takes for someone to figure it out. Each day (or so) I'll post the full set of clues for your convenience - the suite of characteristics should eventually lead you to the right place.

1. Climate
The average temperature in October is reported to be between 76* - 80*F, average rainfall in October is approximately 6.7 inches.

2. Topography
The land is primarily mountains and plains. Naturally occurring wetlands include freshwater marshes, mangrove swamps, lagoons, and marine ecosystems.

3. Geographic Location
We will not cross the equator.

4. Culture
The official language is English. We will need passports and to figure out the currency.

5. Economy
The infrastructure is excellent, including an international airport, an extensive network of paved roads, modern hospitals, and reliable utilities. At least in the cities.

If you've got a guess, or want to provide interpretations, post in the comments!

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Where in the World? Day Four

Earlier I mentioned we've chosen an exotic location to visit this fall, but instead of blatantly disclosing it I turned it into a quiz. Yes, I'm one of those annoying parents, one that rarely answers a question directly when I can get the kids (mine and others) to figure it out themselves.

Previous clues are listed below along with today's additional hint. I'll keep going for at least five clues even if someone guesses correctly, then as long as it takes for someone to figure it out. Each day (or so) I'll post the full set of clues for your convenience - the suite of characteristics should eventually lead you to the right place.

1. Climate
The average temperature in October is reported to be between 76* - 80*F, average rainfall in October is approximately 6.7 inches.

2. Topography
The land is primarily mountains and plains. Naturally occurring wetlands include freshwater marshes, mangrove swamps, lagoons, and marine ecosystems.

3. Geographic Location
We will not cross the equator.

Culture
4. The official language is English. We will need passports and to figure out the currency.

If you've got a guess, or want to provide interpretations, post in the comments!

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Where in the World? Day Three

Earlier I mentioned we've chosen an exotic location to visit this fall, but instead of blatantly disclosing it I turned it into a quiz. Yes, I'm one of those annoying parents, one that rarely answers a question directly when I can get the kids (mine and others) to figure it out themselves.

Previous clues are listed below along with today's additional hint. I'll keep going for at least five clues even if someone guesses correctly, then as long as it takes for someone to figure it out. Each day (or so) I'll post the full set of clues for your convenience - the suite of characteristics should eventually lead you to the right place.

1. Climate
The average temperature in October is reported to be between 76* - 80*F, average rainfall in October is approximately 6.7 inches.

2. Topography
The land is primarily mountains and plains. Naturally occurring wetlands include freshwater marshes, mangrove swamps, lagoons, and marine ecosystems.

3. Geographic Location
We will not cross the equator.

If you've got a guess, or want to provide interpretations, post in the comments!

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Radar Ornithology

Regular readers may have noticed my somewhat-regular postings of continent-wide radar images over the past of couple of weeks. These images provide a visual aspect for many birds on migration: since many move at night this is a great way to "see" them. At least indirectly.

"Radar ornithology" is the practice of using Doppler radar to track migrating birds (and, in truth, other airborne objects like bats, insects, and even pollen). There is an excellent tutorial available at Clemson University Radar Ornithology Laboratory, but here's the bottom line: radar shows where birds are moving, in what direction, and estimates of how many are aloft. If you combine those features from the radar with the the weather forecast you can make reasonable predictions about what a morning of birding will produce: does it look like new birds will be arriving overnight? Will they fly right past your area, leaving a paucity of birds in your local habitats? Will a weather system drop the majority in your region (the fabled "fall out")?

Yes, with some meteorological acumen you can determine whether you should call in before the work day begins or if you should save your sick days for another time.

There are several blogs that use radar to comment on migration, some provide interpretation and predict what your morning should look like. I'm not skilled enough to predict fall-outs or where the best locations for your morning birding might be, but I enjoy commenting on what's going on at the moment.

And here's another excellent resource I hope to use more often: friend and science-blogger Paul Hurtado recently reminded our local listserve that he archives radar each night. I find the still images I've posted are an interesting snapshot of that moment in time, but Paul's dynamic loops make migration come alive. Instead of seeing birds aloft, you can watch them explode into the air at sunset, then descend in the morning hours.

Here's a 24-hour loop, starting at 3:00 PM, 23 April through 3:00 PM today (24 April 2009).


video

If the presentation looks goofy it's because I messed with the aspect ratio.

The blue, circular blobs that appear a few seconds into the loop are the beginning of nocturnal migration. If you look in the map's header there is a clock divided into "night" and "day" to orient you temporally. Because last night was so active it's easier to peg when evening begins by the explosion of blue on the map rather than looking at the clock.

There are a few storms in there, look at the greenish-yellow lines over Lake Michigan and another across Illinois-Kentucky-Tennessee. These dissipate over Pennsylvania and New York by the end of the loop, but as the evening progress you'll see some green mix in with those blue blobs of migration (look specifically across the gulf coast, northeastern Florida and coastal South Carolina, in eastern Kansas and western Missouri): those aren't rain, they represent a huge concentration of birds!

You can find these archives at Paul's radar site, an amazing resource to explore. Hopefully much of May will look like this, but selfishly with more activity over the northeast.

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Where in the World? Day Two

Earlier I mentioned we've chosen an exotic location to visit this fall, but instead of blatantly disclosing it I turned it into a quiz. Yes, I'm one of those annoying parents, one that rarely answers a question directly when I can get the kids (mine and others) to figure it out themselves.

Previous clues are listed below along with today's additional hint. I'll keep going for at least five clues even if someone guesses correctly, then as long as it takes for someone to figure it out. Each day (or so) I'll post the full set of clues for your convenience - the suite of characteristics should eventually lead you to the right place.

1. Climate
The average temperature in October is reported to be between 76* - 80*F, average rainfall in October is approximately 6.7 inches.

2. Topography
The land is primarily mountains and plains. Naturally occurring wetlands include freshwater marshes, mangrove swamps, lagoons, and marine ecosystems.

If you've got a guess, or want to provide interpretations, post in the comments!

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Migration Map: Everywhere But Here

Midnight EDT, we're just flipping over to the 24th of April. Migration is exploding everywhere from the midwest to the Atlantic. Really, check out the dark blue over eastern Kansas across Missouri to central Kentucky, and especially across the Gulf coast - while we're all sleeping, they're all on the move!



Except over the northeastern states. Pennsylvania, New York, New England, we're as bare as the day I was born (I assume, I don't have many memories of that day). Winds are coming from the west-northwest, but will be shifting to the south. That will give those blue pixels a tailwind to ride. This weekend should be good in the southern tier of NY!

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Where In the World?

Way back in 2008, specifically the last day of 2008, I wrote a fairly long post bidding farewell to the old and ringing in the new. In that post I mentioned an overt desire to travel somewhere new in 2009, somewhere I've never been. Here's what I wrote:

There is a definite satisfaction in seeing new things where you are, but I am overtly jonesing for a trip somewhere exciting in 2009. I'm thinking South America -- Peru, Brasil, and Ecuador are jumbling in my brain, but for no real reason - if you have suggestions, please leave them in the comments. Requirements are lots of amazing birds to be found without hiring a tour guide or armed sentries, relatively cheap travel, lodging, and food, and reasonable entertainment for a bird-friendly wife and daughter. (full post here)

I'm happy to say a location has been selected, plans have been locked in. Vacation time has been blocked on the work calendars. Our trip isn't until October so I have lots of time to scour bird books, travel guides, web sites, and pick the brains of those that traveled before us. I've already started, I'm that giddy about it.

So, where are we headed? I could just tell you, but where's the fun in that? How about a quiz? First caveat I must pass along: although I specifically targeted S. America in my post, anywhere from Antarctica to Zimbabwe was on the table. So, here's the first clue:

Climate - average temperature in October is reported to be between 76* - 80*F, average rainfall in October is approximately 6.7 inches.

If you're already hankerin' to guess a specific location or a general region, let 'em fly in the comments, though be warned I may or may not verify correct guesses just yet. I'll post additional clues every few days . . . until I finally burst with excitement.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I Have Never Seen . . .

Note: I'm not a Daily Kos* reader but I serendipitously found my way to a post that prompted me to pause, even with Earth Day already at the forefront of my mind. These thoughts help keep perspective on what Earth Day is all about, and why it shouldn't be restricted to a single day, but constitute a lifetime.

* As Donald Shimoda put it, "I'll quote the truth wherever I find it, thank you."

I have never seen...

  • A bison throw a cigarette butt out a car window
  • A flock of geese rip the top off a mountain
  • A seal cause an oil spill
  • A hippo drive a Hummer off a dealer's lot
  • A lemur leave the faucet dripping
  • A raccoon go out for the evening and leave all the lights in the house on
  • A bobcat fight legislation to lower smokestack emissions
  • A songbird sing "Drill Baby, Drill"
  • A panda dump raw sewage into a river
  • A pride of lions so dependent on oil that they're willing to wage war over it
  • A slug . . . claim that our biggest worry is global cooling
  • A gorilla fail to keep its tires properly inflated
  • A salmon pollute a stream with mercury
  • An elephant claim that his God says it's okay to pillage the world's natural resources willy-nilly because pachyderms are the "chosen ones"
  • A lizard mock public transportation
  • A penguin claim that the melting polar ice caps are no big deal
  • A crocodile think up new ways to go overboard on plastic packaging for portable electronics
  • A Yangtze River dolphin do much of anything lately


Full post is here, on the Daily Kos site.

UPDATED: A Cool Green Science post that came through my reader also warrants inclusion: We Don't Need Earth Day. We Need An Earth Generation. With points like this it's definitely worth a read:
  • We need a generation that doesn’t see natural landscapes and the services they provide as an inexhaustible dumping ground, but builds those services into the financial equations of development and wealth.
  • We need a generation that looks for beauty in grasslands and mountains, not just on LCD screens and netbooks.


Full post is here at Cool Green Science.


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The Broad-wings of Spencer Crest

Happy Earth Day! I can't think of a better day to post about a pivotal moment on my birding calendar that occurs each spring.

Spencer Crest Nature Center hosts a breeding pair of one of my favorite raptors, the Broad-winged Hawk. While many birders in the northeast count May as the prima donna of the birding calendar I side with April when Broad-wings, specifically that pair, return to Spencer Crest.

They were the birds I was most hoping to encounter during my visit last Saturday. Sometimes you see them on the drive in, perched on a large snag that stands on the west side of Amelia Pond. Sometimes you hear their high-pitched call as you step out of your car. Sometimes you watch one flush overhead as you walk the trails through the woods, and sometimes you miss them altogether.

About thirty-five minutes into my walk I was just entering the woods when I heard a single cry of a Broad-winged coming from a stand of White Pines. Scanning those tall trees didn't help, as I continued down the trail a bird suddenly flushed and disappeared. Not a great look, but at least one was back. That confirmation is what I was hoping for.

An hour later I finally saw one as I stood at the intersection of two trails, about quarter-mile from where I first heard the hawk. A largish bird, at least compared to the woodpeckers and creepers I'd been watching, landed on a large branch high above me, but in plain view.

Broad-winged Hawk
I moved quietly, stealthily shooting a series of pictures, at least in my mind. I was probably like a lumbering elephant in the bird's eyes, but it was kind enough to stay for a bit. I checked how much space remained on the card, discovering I only had space for eleven more images. Typical. If I tried to swap out the old card for the empty one in my pocket it would flush. So, with a handful of perched shots already completed I waited patiently for an action shot.

Broad-winged Hawk in flight
After several minutes it flew, but only a short distance to a neighboring tree. Just what I was hoping for - a chance at a flight shot. Unfortunately, only one of my shots came reasonably close to being in focus. No National Geographic cover, but the details allowing identification are there - the broad, alternating black-and-white banding on the tail, the dark trailing edge on the upper wings. Small consolation considering the head is completely absent.

It only stayed in the new spot for a minute, then bolted to parts unknown. One of the last images before the card filled shows the bird energetically launching from the branch in a crazy, sideways posture. Obviously one that it didn't hold for long.

Broad-winged Hawk in flight
It is something to see a kettle of these small buteos as they ride thermal to thermal on migration, and seeing a river of them moving over Corpus Christi or another fall hawkwatch must be an unparalleled event. But the two individuals who call Spencer Crest their home is my tipping point in my time line of spring migration - now the floodgates can open. I'm now primed for the vireos, warblers, thrushes, and others to make their appearance.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Earth Day Activity: Get Out and Listen

A recent post title from Cool Green Science, the conservation blog from the Nature Conservancy, caught my eye: Earth Day Idea: Get Out and Listen!

Here's an excerpt:

Here’s my idea for how to celebrate Earth Day: get up (early if possible), grab your coffee or other beverage of choice, go outside, sit in your comfy outdoor chair, close your eyes and listen!

The idea is to listen to the sounds of the Earth. And, since I’m a bird guy, I recommend you listen to the voices of the birds wherever you are.

What a great idea, I love the simplicity. Step outside, settle down for a few minutes of deep listening, and tune in. For the majority of us it won't all be pristine. From our yard I'll certainly be hearing some early morning traffic, an airplane gunning its engines in a pre-flight check, and our obnoxiously loud aerated-septic system.

But through it all, or above it all, the American Robins will be cheery-uping from all directions, Eastern Phoebes will be calling back and forth, Pine Siskins, American Goldfinches, and Purple Finches will be clamoring from the evergreens. The sad cooing from the Mourning Doves, the punctuated calls from the American Crows and Blue Jays, the whistled "see-saws" from the Black-capped Chickadees, all of them will make up the natural symphony of our yard. And who knows which recently arrived migrants will be joining them.

I can't imagine a better way to start Earth Day, I know I'll be inspired to carry that vibe throughout the day, throughout the year.

Read Dave's full post here, and let me know: what will you be hearing from your yard?

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Storms Trump Migration

Here in the northeastern U.S. we've had a dreary day. Gray skies, rain, wind, more rain. Unfortunately, that means less in the way of migration, probably both on the inbound and outbound migrants. The radar map at 10:30 PM EDT shows intermittent rain across our region, but to our south: whoa, look out! Lots of birds hitting the air from northern Florida across to Texas . . . and beyond.

Hopefully this gets the neotrops closer to our area, but it looks like it won't be tomorrow.

Which is fine, I still have a few birds that are around but I haven't found yet. You've been warned, Hermit Thrush, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and Yellow-rumped Warbler. I'm after you . . . .

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The Trickle Continues

Most of Spencer Crest Nature Center's property is wooded, but it's that time of year where sunscreen would have been appropriate for a walk in those woods. It got warm quick, enough so I had stripped down to short-sleeves for most of my walk. That may sound quaint to more-southerly readers but around here it's a "first of the year."

That said, back to my point. In my previous post I mentioned woodpeckers were hammering on nearly every tree, the most numerous was the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. I readily and happily admit they are my favorite woodpecker - the one I'm most confident in identifying by their unique drumming pattern. They have that slow, uncertain tapping that peters out at the end, exactly like they've run out of energy. "Whew," I imagine they say, "I'm winded."

Yellow-bellied SapsuckerOne of many male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker hammering
on his tree. Each drum garnered a handful of responses -
either auditory or, in some cases, a physical encounter.


Sapsuckers, the only completely migratory woodpecker in the east, are back in force. They were drumming from every direction, vocalizing quite often, several times ending in chases involving both males and females. Exciting to watch, but I'm not sure the birds were enjoying themselves. While that bout of drumming clearly has a pay off, at this point in the season it seemed to attract the physical presence of another sapsucker that chased it away.

Tree trunks that weren't claimed by a woodpecker were used by other species. Can you find the bird in this photograph?

Camouflaged BirdI promise you there is a bird in this picture.
Click the image for a larger version.


If you're not seeing the bird against the tree trunk, here's a clue to give you a search image:

Brown CreeperA Brown Creeper, one of many encountered on my walk,
searches for insects while working its way up a trunk.


Brown Creepers called, they sang, from all corners of the forest. I spotted them over and over as they flew from the higher reaches of one tree to the base of the next, then probed for insects as they spiraled their way towards the uppermost branches. For the record, a flushed creeper has never nearly killed me, something I can't say for the equally cryptic woodcock, snipe, or grouse. I can handle a small bird flying a dozen feet (or more) away, a game bird flushing from underfoot is truly heart-stopping. On this trip I only heard Ruffed Grouse booming from a good distance away, and two of them at that. This was one of the very few times I've encountered them at Spencer Crest.

While I was photographing the sapsuckers and creepers I noticed there was only one other species in the immediate area, a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches. They repeatedly visited the backside of a thin tree, I assumed there was a cavity on the other side. I checked but didn't find anything obvious. They appeared agitated so I quietly moved away, shooting a few images as I left. It wasn't until I reviewed the photos I noticed the male was carrying a berry of some sort. Too early for chicks, but I do wonder what type of berry it is.

White-breasted NuthatchWhite-breasted Nuthatch carrying food . . . but to whom?

Here's the full list from my trip, my counts are very conservative. I'll post the results of next weekend's trip, who knows what new migrants will arrive between now and then.

Location: Spencer Crest
Observation date: 4/18/09
Notes: Surprised no Hermit Thrush, RC Kinglet, YR Warbler . . . conditions: 66*F, 40% cloud cover, light breeze, 0 precipitation.
Number of species: 33

Canada Goose 4
Mallard 2
Ruffed Grouse 2
Broad-winged Hawk 1
Mourning Dove 2
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 6
Downy Woodpecker 5
Northern Flicker 1
Pileated Woodpecker 2
Eastern Phoebe 4
Blue Jay 6
American Crow 1
Tree Swallow 11
Black-capped Chickadee 12
Tufted Titmouse 4
White-breasted Nuthatch 6
Brown Creeper 7
Eastern Bluebird 2
American Robin 8
European Starling 2
Cedar Waxwing 4
Eastern Towhee 3
Fox Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 14
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored) 8
Northern Cardinal 4
Red-winged Blackbird 14
Common Grackle 10
Brown-headed Cowbird 10
House Finch 2
Pine Siskin 1
American Goldfinch 4

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2 (http://ebird.org)

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

They're Trickling In

I did a little research this weekend. Not of the professional type, the kind I spend my weekdays focused on. This research was for a bird walk I'm leading next weekend.

I was asked to lead the bird walk for the annual conference of biology professors from two-year colleges, hosted this year at nearby Corning Community College. Coincidentally, my wife is a biology professor there . . . nepotism at its best! That, and they know I work cheap.

As the radar indicated on Friday night, and as Kenn Kaufman predicted for his corner of Ohio, short-distance migrants that winter in the southern U.S. would continue to arrive, but don't expect an influx of neotropical birds just yet.

Song SparrowSong Sparrow numbers swelled, so much so
that they tied for most abundant species.


Right on target: there were some new arrivals to the party, and birds that showed up earlier in the week were more numerous. Obnoxiously numerous, in some cases. There were a couple of species that I heard no matter where I stood (yeah, I said it, Song Sparrow).

Red-winged Blackbird, maleMale Red-winged Blackbirds have been back for a
few weeks but they're still proclaiming territory.



Red-winged Blackbird, femaleFemale Red-winged Blackbirds are a new arrival. Now the males aren't
just staking their turf, they're interested in catching the eye of the fairer sex.


All told, I spent nearly two hours trolling around Spencer Crest Nature Center, my old stomping grounds. Barron and I used to spend many weekend hours, and the occasional weekday morning, peering into every corner of the 220-plus acre property. But when we moved 30 minutes away I adopted a closer location -- our yard - so I haven't been back for any serious birding in a while. It was like revisiting the neighborhood where you grew up, everything looks mostly the same. In those cases you don't recognize any of the people, but happily I recognized all of the residents and spring visitors.

Eastern TowheeMy first Eastern Towhee of the year, one of several that
shouted, "Drink Your Tea" as I passed through scrubby fields.


I tallied 33 species over my mile and half walk which, like any good birding trip, crossed a variety of habitats. I meandered through old fields, upland deciduous forests, wetlands, the open water of Amelia's Pond, my
expectations shifting as I crossed from one to the other. Common Yellowthroat and Field Sparrows not yet in the old field, but Song Sparrows everywhere. Woodpeckers seemed to drum from every tree in the woods, but no tanagers or warblers, not yet. I didn't find a Hairy Woodpecker, but found all other expected species: Red-bellied, Downy, Pileated, Northern Flicker, and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

Edges, as they always are, were productive. Between the old field and the woods I came across a song that rang familiar but unidentified. It sounded like a finch (House? Purple?) but not quite. Too sparrow like.

Eastern Fox Sparrow, Red formThe "red," or eastern, form of the Fox Sparrow. These birds
always come across as a thrush x sparrow hybrid to me.


A-ha! Fox Sparrows are passing through our region now, and one was singing up a storm.

Eastern Fox Sparrow, Red FormStrike a pose: Fox Sparrows are such cool looking birds, here's a second shot.

There were a couple additional interesting sightings, more from the trip tomorrow.

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Migration: Yes and No

Radar is showing birds are moving across the eastern U.S. tonight, as of 11:45 EDT, but you wouldn't know it standing outside our place. All I hear is Tupac. Or Notorious B.I.G. Or Snoop Dog . . . ah, hell, I can't tell my west side from my east side.

We've got mild temperatures, no real breeze to speak of, clear skies, and not a prayer of hearing a flight call.

Continental base reflectivity shows a good movement
occurring from the Mississippi River east to the Atlantic coast.

Kenn Kaufman articulates what I think we'll wind up with here in the Southern Tier of NY this weekend: the departure of some of our wintering birds, such as Dark-eyed Juncos, and an influx of short-distance migrants. We're still a couple weeks from neotropical birds dripping from the trees, but hopefully this weekend we'll see newly-arrived sparrows, Hermit Thrushes, Yellow-rumped Warblers and the like.

I find this image interesting:

Base velocity from Binghamton, NY, 11:45 PM EDT.

This is base velocity, not reflectivity, meaning it shows movement rather than mass. The orange-red-yellows are moving away from the radar station, the blue-greens are moving towards it. The gray is essentially neutral, so if you follow the gray area you create a line perpendicular to the movement.

Another way of saying that: draw an arrow from the blue-greens pointing towards the red-oranges, that's the direction the birds are moving.

This image shows the movement primarily to the east, slightly northeast, not the due north you'd expect. They are called northbound migrants, not eastbound, after all. But take into account winds, which have been coming out of the west and northwest all day, likely affecting the direction the birds move.

Tomorrow should hold some new birds, assuming my neighbors crash sometime before dawn. Or at least turn off the stereo.

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Young Birders Event at the Cornell Lab

This just in . . .

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is excited to host The Cornell Lab Young Birders Event, which will be held August 6-9, 2009 in Ithaca, New York. The Young Birders Event aims to bring together teenagers with a passion for birds who are interested in pursing a career with birds. The young birders will meet people who have successful careers that involve birds in a variety of ways from ornithological researchers to tour leaders, to audio specialists and computer scientists. High school aged young birders are invited to fill out our application form and return it for review by May 10th 2009. Ten young birders will be selected and notified in mid-May. Please share this information with any young birders you know!

The Young Birder’s Event will feature:
  • two days of field trips
  • presentations by Cornell Lab of Ornithology staff including professors, researchers, and students who will share various ways to incorporate birds into a career
  • eBird and field notes workshop
  • specimen preparation workshop
  • sound recording workshop
  • tour of CLO including the Macaulay Library and Museum of Vertebrates
  • dinner with CLO Directors and Staff
Details are on the eBird News page. It's a great opportunity, if you're not a young birder, please pass it along to any you may know!

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Major Migration

Looks like there is a widespread movement of birds across the eastern US tonight, as of 9:50 EDT. The storm system stretching from the Texas panhandle to southwestern South Dakota appears to be suppressing movements in the midwestern corridor that has been so active the last few nights. The high pressure system centered over the Great Lakes should mean settled, calm weather in the northeast, in this case extending down to the Gulf coast.

Current winds in the Southern Tier of NY have been out of the north, but have been virtually non-existent over the past couple of hours. Current base velocity maps, which show direction of movement, from south of us (State College, PA) and east (Binghamton, NY) show birds are heading in a northeasterly direction.

All in all, in our region it's a good night to migrate, new birds should be ushered into our area tomorrow. I didn't make it out this morning (poor time management skills hindered that), but tomorrow is more likely.

What's going on in your area?

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Silent Migration

I spent some time outside tonight listening for nocturnal migrants. One yippee dog from the east, lots of peepers from a neighbor's pond to the west, situated almost a quarter mile away -- man, those little guys are loud - but no birds to be heard from overhead. I'm sure they're aloft tonight, but apparently inaudible from our yard.

As of 11:00 PM EDT the continental map is flush with activity. That midwestern corridor (Texas - Dakotas) is the place to be, like last night. Birds are in flight across the Gulf coast, Florida, and South Carolina. There appears to be a line of birds coming into the Florida Keys from Cuba. Not too much in the midAtlantic due to the stormy weather across Delaware, Maryland, and eastern Virginia. Closer to (my) home, there appears to be some movement over central/eastern New York, which could bode well for us out here in the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes.

Base reflectivity at 11:00 PM EDT from Binghamton, NY
(70 miles east of our place).

Winds have been coming from east-northeast most of today, this evening they shifted to come from straight north. Perhaps that slowed migration, perhaps the birds are moving around our hill, perhaps they're at a higher altitude than I can hear. But based on the radar, they're up there.

The Binghamton, NY radar image shows a widespread flight of birds, I interpret this to mean there should be birds above us here in "Elm" (we're covered in the grayish wash west of the blue). If the birds are moving north (base velocity shows the birds are actually moving northeast), maybe I should be more concerned with what's coming south of us.

Base reflectivity at 11:00 PM EDT from State College, PA
(105 miles southwest of our place).


State College, PA radar also shows birds in the air, base velocity shows the birds heading due north. I'm not comfortable predicting what to expect in the morning, other than you can expect me to be out searching our hill for newly arrived birds. I hope you'll be greeting some, too!

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The Big Debut

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is on the eve of the release of the new All About Birds site, but also of something special (more on that in a moment).

Yesterday, after watching a preview of the new All About Birds site, Rick Bonney (Director of Program Development and Evaluation) reminisced about a meeting that took place some five-plus years ago. Like Rick, I remembered John Fitzpatrick sketching his vision of the Lab's web site, which included a series of "doors and windows" that allowed visitors to delve deep into information about each species and to easily move to additional pages for continual discovery. Within those rooms was a treasure trove of information, regularly updated and improved as our knowledge of each species expanded. It looked great on paper, but the functionality and architecture of the site had to be carefully designed, painstakingly developed.

"What you guys have done is commendable," Rick concluded. "You've actually done it."

All About Birds is just what the title implies: information on everything from how to approach bird identification, how to attract them to your yard, what gear to choose to enhances your experience, and my one-click bookmarked favorite: accounts of 500+ species that occur in North America. The pages attract 500,00 unique visitors a month, and still growing.

For a few weeks now the Communications team has worked furiously to create pages that are more robust, more user-friendly, exploding with useful content . . . and tomorrow, it goes live. I will be anxious to hear your impressions - we've been collecting input from users for months now via the Lab's Round Robin blog. I'm not officially involved in developing these new pages, but as a wannabe educator I'm curious to know your thoughts - privately, or in the comments here.

And now something special: I'm probably letting a cat out of the bag, but one thing you won't see on the new pages is the Lab's familiar logo, affectionately called the "Everybird." Tomorrow we're rolling out a new logo, a new "brand."

The "Everybird" will be retired over the next few months, replaced by a new identity - something I find fascinating. Though I've been passionate about science writing since my college days, recently I've developed an appreciation of the art of communicating through symbols, emblems, fonts; by what's conveyed behind the words. I was not part of the team that worked with the outside company on the logo, but I've been keenly interested in the couple of staff meetings where we discussed the ideas.

That's all I'll say right now, but I am very interested in your thoughts on the Lab's new logo.

So, a request: please drop me some feedback about the new pages and about the new logo, either here in the comments or by email (noflickster AT gmail DOT com). Comment section preferred, I'd love to see some discourse among readers, but if you don't want to go public, private email works, too. Call the neighbors, wake the kids, I'm interested in a wide variety of opinions. Blog about it, or point your visitors here to drop comments. Seriously, and thanks in advance.

And in the meantime, if you're sentimental, especially if the "Everybird" conveys "Cornell Lab of Ornithology" without needing any words, read this 2005 interview with Peter Parnall, the designer of the "Everybird."



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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Migration Map: Midwest is Hoppin'!

With the exception of a single Spring Peeper and a light rain there's not much to hear in our backyard this evening (as of 11:15 PM). I was hoping to hear some evidence of migration in the form of a few flight calls; nothing doing.


But looking at the continental radar map one thing stands out: the corridor connecting southern Texas and North Dakota is lit up like a Christmas tree. "Fly-over country" takes on a new meaning in this situation: those birds are flying now, but will descend at dawn, visible to early-morning birders. I envy the "fly-over people"!

A weather system is hindering migration in our region, northeastern Ohio, western New York, and northern Pennsylvania. Another system on the Atlantic coast seems to be suppressing movement there, as is a line of storms in southwestern Florida, there doesn't seem to be much coming into the Florida Keys from Cuba.

But the midwestern states . . . wow!

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A Great Evening

On a whim I stopped at Stewart Park, in Ithaca, on my way home this evening. While the portion that abuts the southern end of Cayuga Lake is mostly open grass with picnic tables and other park-like facilities, there is a patch of bottomland forest that hosts woodland birds. Among those woodland birds are a pair of Great Horned Owls who nest in a tall Cottonwood tree. If you know where to look you can often see the female snoozing while incubating the eggs.

Great Horned Owl in Cottonwood cavityA photo from early March, the female sits inside the crevice - a cozy nesting site.

April in NY is late in their breeding cycle. Recently I was thinking the eggs must have hatched by now, and voila! a post to the local listserve mentioned three chicks could be seen in the cavity. I wasn't in a huge rush to get home so I stopped, hoping to photograph three cute baby owls peering out of the only home they've known.

I found the tree easy enough, but didn't see anything resembling an owl. While photographing some debris at the bottom of the crevice, trying to make it into the back of an owl head, a birder approached and asked if I saw the chick.

"I'm not sure, but I think I'm looking at the back of a head, I think . . . "

"You're going to get a great picture," she cut me off. "Look there."

There was an unmistakable baby Great Horned Owl about 50 meters away from where we stood.

Great Horned Owl chickA branchling Great Horned Owl, likely the first day out of the nest.

We didn't stay long, it didn't move much. A slight swivel of its head, a slow blink of the eyes. After a few minutes we backed out of the woods, leaving the owl its privacy. Plus, I had one more stop to make.

Fellow Horseheads residents, bloggers, and nature enthusiasts Jan (of Scattered Seed) and George (of I Love Trucks) happened to drop by Sapsucker Woods this afternoon. We got to meet face-to-face and talk birds, birding, and about a Great Egret they found over the weekend, a good sighting for our area. They let me know it was still around, assuming it's the same bird, but not in the same expansive marsh near Watkins Glen where they originally found it. Now it was near "the Domes," the sports complex owned by Elmira College, which happens to be less than two miles from Horseheads Marsh and less than one mile from our house. Easy enough to stop for a look.

Thanks to their great directions I found the bird almost immediately. My only delay was explaining to the trooper what I was doing and why - the NY State Trooper station is less than a mile from the Domes, too.

Great EgretGreat Egret foraging along Catharine Creek, obscured by branches.

Great Egrets are uncommon in Chemung County, NY, something I base on eBird submissions and my own experience. In the past six years I've only recorded one, a fly-over at Horseheads Marsh in August. (Incidentally, through eBird I discovered there was another sighting, farther south, on that same date - perhaps the same bird winging it's way to an evening roost in Queen Catharine's Marsh near Watkins Glen?)

Regardless, all other observations from our area are late summer or fall sightings: post-breeding dispersers and migrating birds heading south. A spring sighting is certainly interesting, and I suppose the bird will continue on its journey as soon as the weather is conducive to migration.

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Monday, April 13, 2009

Oops, I Did It Again

Yes, I cheated again. We published a second post on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "Round Robin" blog. This one, titled "How to See a Sound That’s a Half-Second Long," gets into flight-calls a bit more and talks about using spectrograms to "see" sound.


Find out more about this image, including what it sounds like, at Round Robin.

If you missed it, the first post, "Let's Go Biding! . . . At Night . . . Blindfolded," serves as an introduction.

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The More You Know . . . .

From one of my absolute favorite blogs, The Futility Closet (self billed as An idler's miscellany of compendious amusements), comes this nugget:

GREAT CRESTED GREBE is typed entirely with the left hand.

I bet you not only didn't know that, you never even considered the concept. And now that your brain has processed that miscellany (or is it a compendious amusement?), you're stuck with it. You're welcome!

As long as I brought it up, it's worth subscribing to The Futility Closet for quirky, interesting, and varied short breaks from the daily grind. You're welcome for that, too!

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Radar map, 23:21 12 April 2009Radar is showing birds are on the move Sunday night, primarily in front of a storm front stretching from western Georgia to eastern Iowa. The blocky, dark blue line is the front connecting those two regions, the brownish wash and circular blues are birds in the air around 11:30 PM (EDT). If I'm reading this right, coastal Texas appears to have a pretty thick migration right now, as is South Carolina and Michigan. Sadly for me, not much benefiting the Southern Tier of NY tonight.

Red-tailed HawkOne of many Red-tailed Hawks taking to the skies this Sunday afternoon.

We spent the weekend at my folks place in Rochester, NY, and it was a typical April day for Rochester: deceptive. From inside it looked beautiful, sunny, bright, warm. Standing outside, however, was only sunny and bright. Temperatures stayed in the 30's (*F), wind was constant and strong. That's nothing for us locals, after an outdoor easter egg hunt we hit a local park. The "usual suspects" were all there, including an impressive amount of woodpeckers, ranging from Downy up to Pileated. A few "First of Year" species made appearances: Winter Wren, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and Louisiana Waterthrush.

American Tree SparrowAn American Tree Sparrow takes flight, soon to
be headed to its northern breeding grounds.


Back at the house the feeders were filled with "undesirables." Dozens of House Sparrows, Brown-headed Cowbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Common Grackles covered the ground, the hopper, the suet. On the desirable side, Pine Siskins continue on the nyjer feeder, White-crowned, and Song Sparrows mix among the ground-feeding species, a single Field Sparrow sang nearby. Siskins are actually breeding in the area, as are crossbills, trees are flowering, skunk cabbage is exploding. Renewal, growth, circle of life . . . it may not feel like spring, but it is.

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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Nocturnal Migration

First, I hope you checked out my guest post, co-authored with Lewis Grove, at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Round Robin last week. The next post should appear this evening or tomorrow about spectrograms. Somewhat dry, but with audio of flight calls (!), then we can get into the fun stuff. Hopefully we'll be able to post some "predictions" of migratory events during the spring, but we'll definitely run a series of species-specific posts to help you learn some common flight calls and others about flight calls in general.

That said, tonight looks pretty good across portions of the eastern US, at least as of 10:30 PM. Compare these two maps, one what the radar looked like at 7:00 PM (EDT), the second just over two hours later.

Radar Map, 1900 hoursRadar Map, 2118 hoursThose two greenish blobs over the mid-west (Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas) and a bit farther east (Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana) represent storm systems, and are present in both maps. Then there are those circular blue blobs, a few present over the southeast in the first map but many, many more in the second map. Those are radar stations picking up objects in the sky that are not weather. They are birds, possibly bats or large insects, but the majority are birds.

The brownish washes seen across western New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan and interspersed in other areas, are less-active areas of migration - but migration nonetheless.

Looks like a good night to go out and listen for flight calls, even better, for listening for flight calls while training low-powered optics on tonight's full moon. Perhaps you'll see some shadows crossing the face of the moon while hearing calls dripping down from birds on the move. I'm heading outside now, let me know if you see/hear anything!

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Around the Pond, In the Pond

A walk around the backyard is something that keeps me grounded. At least I like to think so. I'm not comparing our quarter-mile loop to Darwin's Sand Walk, but I do know it calms my mind, teaches me new things about our habitat, and (most importantly) allows my daughter and I to engage nature as a team.

Pond View with Barron14-year-old Barron still accompanies us on our walks.

We've been curious about where our resident American Crows have nested - somewhere across the street in a stand of pines we assume, based on the numerous times we've watched one fly in that direction carrying a stick. Reina noted they're still flying in that direction, but not carrying sticks. Must be done building, egg laying can't be too far behind.

American CrowAmerican Crow, perhaps retreating to its nest site.

The first round of migrant birds are back in force, and many of them caught our attention yesterday. Song Sparrow songs came from every corner, each the same as the others (they speak the same language) but completely different (they each have a unique voice). Our Red-winged Blackbird, which we like to think is the same as previous years, perches atop his favorite spruce and keeps rivals away. Soon the females will return and, being polygamous, he'll use his song to attract a few.

Dark-eyed Junco numbers increase daily, we counted more than two dozen under our feeder. Best of all the Eastern Phoebe is back, even checking out his nest from last year, and some of our native plants are returning.

Marsh MarigoldMarsh Marigold, here emerging from the very edge
of the pond, creates habitat for amphibians.

But what caught and held our attention was something we found in the pond, not surrounding it. What first looked like a small algae bloom a few days ago didn't look like algae today. We're wondering if it's an egg mass of some sort, if you have any ideas, please let us know! (Click for larger images.)

unknown green mass
Unknown green mass
On the floor of the pond, below the second of the green, algae-like clusters, were hundreds (if not thousands) of bubble-like . . . well, bubbles. Or, perhaps eggs scattered along the bottom? Or maybe the vegetation is wickedly photosynthetic? We're grateful for any ideas, either identifying them definitively, guessing what they might be, or definitively excluding eggs.

Unknown objects in pond
Unknown objects in pond
If this helps, we know we have healthy numbers of Spring Peepers, American Toads, and Bullfrogs. Fish-wise, the pond holds many, many catfish, several koi, and one gar. In a very non-naturalist way we've never identified them past those distinctions. We look forward to your thoughts!

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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Road Kill Birding

On my Blue Highway drive to work this morning I came across a possum in the road. I was driving the way I usually do on these roads: slow, eyes flitting back and forth to both sides of the road, one hand on the wheel, the other clutching binoculars. The possum was doing what it usually does on a road: lying there, unmoving, after an unfortunate meeting with a non-birding car.

Turkey VultureThe vulture looking the other way, "Nothing to
see here, no carrion in sight. Keep moving . . . ."

The possum was not what first attracted my attention, it was the hulking bird standing in the middle of the road. I slowed to a stop while opening the window. My hopes of watching the bird pluck at a carcass were dashed, but not before I snapped a few shots of a beautiful Turkey Vulture. In my experience it's not often you get that close to one, at least without being vomited on. In the wild they always seem skittish, keeping their distance from observers.

The bird flushed, circled once, and landed in a tangle of branches directly above the possum. Clearly, this bird was not giving up on the possum easily. I captured a few more shots before leaving the bird its morning meal.

Turkey VultureThe bright red head and yellow bill really
stand out perched on top of the brown body.


As the bird was taking its lap around the field it displayed the diagnostic wing pattern, perhaps the most recognizable field mark of any bird. You can't miss the undersides of the wings as the birds (usually several) circle above you, the leading edge of the wing dark and the trailing edge white, from body to wingtip. Usually those wings aren't flapping, they're held stiff, angled upward from the body in the characteristic dihedral. When it does flap it seems effortless, casual, efficient, and lazy, all at the same time.

Turkey Vulture
This bird reminded me of the wonderment of the feather. Try this: the next time you find a flight feather of any species, preferably one of the long primaries, bend it. It seems stiff, too stiff to flex. It takes a reasonable amount of force to get it to bend, or maybe that just says something about my lack of a weight-lifting routine.


Turkey Vulture
How does the bird bend them so easily? It doesn't seem that the muscles attached to the quill could do that, could the bird do it of its own volition? Or is it something external to the bird, something to do with the flapping motion? So much to learn. And that's the thing about birding, isn't it? There is beauty, wonderment, and a never-ending source of questions to engage you, even watching a bald bird with a red-skinned head stalk a dead animal on the side of the road.

I can't wait for the warblers!

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Friday, April 3, 2009

Here's Looking at You

Anyone who has trained their binoculars or a camera on a bird knows this scenario: you work your way into a position to view the bird, you raise your optics, as soon as the bird is in your field of view it takes off - like it knows you're looking at it.

Well, that's because it does, according to new research published this week in Current Biology. Auguste M.P. von Bayern and Nathan J. Emery found that hand-reared Jackdaws, a crow found in Europe and western Asia, were highly sensitive to the focus of human eyes and their communicatory function.

Jackdaw, courtesy of WikipediaThe Jackdaw, Corvus monedula, knows
when it's the center of attention.


From the paper:

Article summary
Humans communicate their intentions and disposition using their eyes, whereas the communicative function of eyes in animals is less clear. Many species show aversive reactions to eyes, and several species gain information from conspecifics' gaze direction by automatically co-orienting with them. However, most species show little sensitivity to more subtle indicators of attention than head orientation and have difficulties using such cues in a cooperative context. Recently, some species have been found responsive to gaze direction in competitive situations. We investigated the sensitivity of jackdaws, pair-bonded social corvids that exhibit an analogous eye morphology to humans, to subtle attentional and communicative cues in two contexts and paradigms. In a conflict paradigm, we measured the birds' latency to retrieve food in front of an unfamiliar or familiar human, depending on the state and orientation of their eyes toward food. In a cooperative paradigm, we tested whether the jackdaws used familiar human's attentional or communicative cues to locate hidden food. Jackdaws were sensitive to human attentional states in the conflict situation but only responded to communicative cues in the cooperative situation. These findings may be the result of a natural tendency to attend to conspecifics' eyes or the effect of intense human contact during socialization.

Click here for full article (PDF).

Citation
von Bayern and Emery, Jackdaws Respond to Human Attentional States and Communicative Cues in Different Contexts, Current Biology (2009), doi:10.1016/j.cub.2009.02.062

Jackdaw image from Wikipedia.

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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Stepping Out

Dear Feather and the Flower,

You'll probably find out about it elsewhere on the Internets, so let me come clean. The rumors are true. I've been writing with someone else.

It's only platonic, I swear - please know you are still my one and only blog. But I was approached by another blog, we innocently chatted about our shared interest in birds. We hit it off, the attraction was too great to resist; one thing lead to another, and as of today I've published on a different site.

I don't mean to hurt you, but the other blog means a lot to me. And given a chance, I think you would really get along - Round Robin is popular, attractive, intellectually-stimulating, and funny - what's not too like? Give it a try, see what was posted, I think you'll be excited.

Affectionately,
noflickster

ps I know you want the details, so here they are. Our nocturnal flight-call group wrote a piece about nocturnal migration for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's blog. We are planning to contribute more throughout spring migration, we expect topics will range from when and where to listen, their importance in conservation and other fields, and several tutorials to introduce species so you can explore this frontier of bird watching. Please let me know (on this site) or the Lab know (on Round Robin) about your experiences in listening for nocturnal migrants, if you find the posts useful, and so on - we are looking for feedback! And if you blog, please consider promoting the posts to your readers: we'd like to reach a wide audience and hear comments about experiences across North America.

Now, I'm stepping out to see some birds - so I have something to post here before I get in dutch with my own blog . . . .

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