Friday, December 31, 2010

Birding Goals

At the end of last year I posted my 2010 Birding Goals.  Let's see how I did:

1. Submit a checklist to eBird at least once per day.

641 birding checklists to eBird in 2010 by me, so well over an average of one per day.  While I didn't submit a checklist every day of the year, I still feel I achieved this goal.

2. Be first to record 210 species in Idaho on eBird.

I was the 8th Idaho eBirder to hit the benchmark of 210 species reported to eBird in the little competition I had set up.  It was a lot of fun and it was really good for eBird in Idaho!

3. Add 20 life birds.

This goal was achieved, and then some, as I added 55 life birds in 2010!  Thanks in part to my travels in the east coast during the fall, wherein I added 30 species.  I added 25 life birds in Idaho and so would have achieved the goal anyway.

2011 Birding Goals

1.  Submit 700 checklists to eBird
2.  Add 20 life birds - this will take some luck.
3.  My current Utah life list is at 72 species, so I'm going to shoot for 150 which should be achievable and hopefully will not add any undue stress on my family.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Birder Profile: Kathie Brown

Kathie Brown
Andover, Massachusetts
How did you get into birding?

I don’t know. I have been aware of the birds all of my life and from a young age always knew what a robin, blue jay, catbird, cardinal or mockingbirds was. (These are common birds in CT where I grew up.) I remember even as a child looking at my grandparents’ bird book or my mother’s. I also consulted the World Book Encyclopedia. We had a set of these in our house.

Did you or do you have a birding mentor and can you tell us about that person?

At age 16 I left home and went to live at a Christian Home for Troubled Youth called His Mansion. While I lived there I met a naturalist and ornithologist named Trudy Smith who set up a bird feeder for the residents. When she found out that I liked nature and birds she gave me my first bird guide, Golden’s Field Guide to the Birds. I still have the copy she gave me inscribed by her. The amazing thing about Trudy is that with all her love of the birds, she is deaf and cannot hear them. She was not born deaf but went deaf as a child from an illness. I met her when I was 16 years old and we climbed Mt. Washington together. She maintained her friendship with me all her life and to my utter amazement I found her still alive at 101 years old when I moved back east this year. My husband and I went to see her and she still had her hummingbird feeders set up. I do not think she remembers me anymore but she tried to fake it. I just hugged her and cried. She is truly an amazing woman!

How long have you been birding?

As I mentioned, I have watched and enjoyed birds all my life but I did not begin “birding” until the early 2000’s when I first learned about The Great Backyard Bird Count and later Project Feeder Watch, all administered by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. That is the first time I ever went out on purpose to count and identify birds. Until then I would just observe whatever birds came to my feeders or look for birds when I went to a National Park or other natural area. I started keeping a Life List shortly after I was married. I would write down the date and location of each new species next to the entry in my bird book and I continued to do this until I started eBirding in January of 2007 urged on by Larry from the Brownstone Birding Blog. He challenged all of us bird bloggers to participate in Big January, something I had never done before. It is eBird and my blog that have really turned me into a “birder.”

How often do you go birding?

Just about every day. I am addicted and it seems I cannot see a bird without feeling like I need to count and record it! This is ironic since I hated math in school and failed it so many times, but when I got into college I found that I liked statistics and I aced the course. Until now I considered myself more of a writer/artist/poet and math was my nemesis, now it’s part of my passion! I suppose it is a great cosmic joke on me!

And where do you regularly go birding?

In my own yard as well as on walks, at parks, National Parks, Wildlife Refuges, store parking lots, restaurants, anywhere I feel like it. Sometimes I just pull over to the side of the road randomly to count birds. I submit all my bird counts to eBird because I feel like it does make a difference as it helps them to track bird populations. I have found some of the most unusual birds in unlikely locations by doing this.

Where is your favorite place to bird in your state/province?

Well, I am just getting acquainted with my new state of Massachusetts but so far I like Plum Island, Lake Cochichewick, and the bog near my house. And since I live only 5 miles from the New Hampshire border, I also go birding up there in a location I found through eBird called the Geremonty Drive Wetlands.

In the U.S.?

Sweetwater Wetlands and Whitewater Draw in Arizona, The Great Salt Lake in Utah, and anywhere in Idaho.

in the world?

Well, I haven’t been out of the country except to Canada a few times before I was a birder, so I will say Yellowstone National Park.

Do you have any local birding hotspots that may be yet unknown to other birders that you would be willing to share with us?

I just discovered Lake Cochichewick in North Andover, MA. It is not listed as a Birding Hotspot but I have already found some really cool birds there. I still have more exploring to do around here and hope to discover some more new places, perhaps Harold Parker State Forest will be one of them. In Connecticut I like to visit Lake Hayward near East Hampton. Most of the lake is private but there is a public boat launch on East Shore Drive where one can legally park and observe birds. I recently found a brown creeper and a yellow-bellied sapsucker in the woods at the edge of the lake there.

Where in your state/province would you say is the most under-birded place that may have great untapped potential?

Well, there are a lot of birders in the state of Massachusetts from what I can see but I also see many areas that look like they would be good birding spots but no one seems to bird there. Since I have only lived here for 2 months I will have to get back to you on that! In Connecticut there are many untapped areas, especially the Northeast corner of the state where there is little birding data. I also travel to Maine quite a bit and while many people bird the coastal areas few bird the interior sections like Androscoggin County, Franklin County, Somerset County or Aroostook County. To me, birding these under birded areas are the most crucial for there is little data coming into eBird from these locations. I would rather bird these areas than the more popular sites because I feel like I am doing more good. I took a trip to Kentucky earlier this year to visit my son and in that state I would say Christian County. I counted 29 species of birds when I was there in March but it is a great birding area and I was only there for 4 days. I spent most of my time visiting my new grand-daughter but did manage to squeeze in a few minutes of birding here and there. Since then only a couple of new species have been added to the count I made!

How would you describe yourself as a birder? A “watcher”, a “lister”, a “chaser”, all of the above, or something else?

I would say a watcher and a lister. I have only rarely chased down a species one of which was a wandering juvenile stork that showed up in the Phoenix area while I lived in AZ. A stork in the desert is indeed a rare sight!

What kind of birding equipment do you use?

I use Eagle Optics Ranger 8 x 42 Binoculars that my sweet husband bought for me and the Nikon D80 digital camera with a 70-300 mm zoom lens.

How do you keep track of your bird observations?

For my own pleasure and to benefit the birds by submitting my bird counts to eBird. I enjoy being a Citizen Scientist! I also use all of this information in my birding blogs. I love to write about the birds and how I experience nature. I love to share my passion.

What is your favorite bird sighting and what is the story behind it?

I would have to say it is the first time I ever saw Sandhill Cranes. In 1986 my husband and I moved to Idaho from Connecticut. We had never lived out west before and in 1987 we took a trip to Yellowstone National Park for our 10th Anniversary. On our way there up through Island Park we saw these large gray birds in the field alongside the road. They looked to me like ostriches though I knew that could not be. Back then we had a Nikon FG 35 mm film camera and we pulled over and took pictures. It wasn’t until we entered the park and were able to ask someone that I discovered they we sandhill cranes. I was enthralled with them then and I still am. They are amazing birds and I love the “garrooing” sound they make when they call to one another. It is so wild sounding and it tugs at my heart.

Which birding publications and websites do you read and recommend?

Bird Watcher’s Digest, Living Bird, All About Birds, eBird, Whatbird

Which is your favorite field guide and why?

I have Sibley, Kaufman, Peterson’s, Audubon’s, National Geographic, Golden, and now Stokes. I like them all and consult them all but if you were going to take them all away from me except one I would probably opt for Sibley’s and plead for my old Golden Field Guide to the Birds. Kaufman would be my 3rd choice.

Which three books from your personal birding library would you recommend?

The Big Year, Of a Feather, and Kingbird Highway.

Do you have any formal bird-related education background?

A little. I took the Tucson Audubon’s Important Bird Area class in the fall of 2006 and participated in surveying a one mile transect of Sabino Canyon with three other women for the rest of the 3 years that I lived there.

What future birding plans do you have?

To learn as much as I can. I was going to take a birding course through the Tucson Audubon but we moved away right before it started.

Are you involved with any local or national birding organizations?

I am involved with The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Tucson Audubon. I am considering joining the ABA now that Jeffry Gordon is the new president and it looks like there may be some positive changes going on. I was always too intimidated by it before.

What is your nemesis bird?

It was the Elegant Trogon but I got that in Cave Creek Canyon right before I left AZ so I’m not sure right now. I’ll have to find a new nemesis I guess!

Anything about your family you’d like to share with us?

My youngest son is serving in Afghanistan right now on the front lines. He is in a very dangerous area and I pray every day that he returns to us safely. Watching the birds helps me to feel at peace and find joy and whenever he sees an unusual bird he tells me about it. All my kids know that their mom is bird crazy. I have tried to convert them but so far no takers. I am working on the next generation now! I have 4 children and 4 grandchildren. I have been married to my husband, Gus for 33 years. He very patiently puts up with my birding and blogging and even accompanies me on some trips. He had to buy himself his own camera as we soon discovered that having me ask him to “shoot that bird right over there…oh darn, it just flew away,” didn’t work.

Outside of birding, what are your other interests or hobbies?

I like art, poetry, gardening, painting, sculpture, homeopathy, hiking, horses, dogs, reading, and writing my blog. I love my family and my friends.

If you were a bird, which species would you be and why?

I would be a brown creeper or a western meadowlark. They both live in habitats that I like. I love how sweet and subtle the brown creeper is but I also like the beautiful song of the western meadow lark and how it is compelled to sing its song to the sky. I feel I am like each of these birds. I am torn between wanting to be unobtrusive and quiet in the woods or get out on the fence and sing my heart out for everyone to hear. I think I bounce back and forth between these two personas.

Anything else that you would like to humbly brag about?

Well, I am working on trying to count birds in every county of every state before I die. It’s a huge goal I know but I am getting there. With all this moving around and travelling it makes it a bit easier. I was inspired by eBird when they put up their news bulletin about the most wanted counties and I discovered there are some counties in the USA that they have little to no birding data from.

Total life list?    389

Most exotic place you’ve gone birding?

SE Arizona where I lived for 3 ½ years. Now that I have moved back east I realize just how exotic it was!

Your mission in life as birder?

1. To count as many birds as I can for eBird, especially in places no one else wants to bird
2. To make a difference for future birds by helping to preserve bird habitat.
3. To educate others about bird and birding and bird populations
4. To try to encourage others to preserve bird habitat so that our children and grandchildren will be able to see and enjoy the birds that we do now.
5. To learn as much as I can as fast as I can about birds
6. To learn to bird better by ear
7. To share this love and this passion like Trudy Smith shared it with me!

You can continue to follow Kathie's birding adventures on her blog Kathie's Birds

Birder Profile is a weekly blog segment at "Birding is Fun!" spotlighting a fellow birder.  If you would be interested in sharing a little about yourself and your birding experiences, please send me an email.  Is there a birder you'd like to see featured?  Please nominate that person by sending me an e-mail too.  Enthusiasm for birding is the only prerequisite!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

On the Seventh Day of Christmas...

my true love gave to me...

Seven Swans a-Swimming

Swans appear so graceful and magnificent that it is easy to see why the ancients linked them to immortatily, even believing that some gods descended from swans.  Old Celtic and British myths mention how loved ones are turned into swans.  Since King Edward of England in 1304 took his vows of knighthood over two white swans decorated with gold nets and crowns, swans have been associated with royalty.  They still appear in royal emblems.

The Act of Swans, passed by Parliament in 1482, limited ownership of swans to landowners, provided they marked the swans to show ownership and kept them on their lands. If a swan went off the owner's land, the owner had a year and a day to find it and bring it back to his property. Under the act, all swans in open and common waters belong to the crown. The law provided that, on the River Thames, the Company of Vintners and the Company of the Dyers could own swans on the open waters of that river provided that the swans belonging to the Dyers were marked with a single nick on the bill and those of the Vintners marked with two nicks on the bill. Unmarked swans are the property of the crown. While the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act protects all swans and makes it illegal to kill them, the Queen still technically owns all the swans in Great Britain, except for those in the Orkney Islands where the swans belong to the people.

Swan meat is supposed to be quite tasty and from ancient times to the nineteenth century, roast swan was on the menu for the king's Christmas dinners and other royal banquets. Since the nineteenth century, the turkey has replaced the swan as the bird of choice for fall and winter holiday feasts.
With its close connection to royalty and royal holiday feasting, the choice of seven swans as a gift for this high born lady from her lover is appropriate.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Thanks to and from which I gleaned much of the information I have shared for the last seven days. Additional thanks to the great photographers out there whose pictures I borrowed from Google Image Search.

Friday, December 24, 2010

On the Sixth Day of Christmas...

my true love gave to me...

Six Geese a-Laying

One of the oldest domesticated birds and one of the post popular birds to eat on Christmas day during the 18th century, especially before turkey became so popular.

The goose was a symbol of the solar year and also fertility.

It is interesting to note that the geese given in this song were "laying", which means females laying eggs, and possibly not meant for table meat.  Goose eggs are very rich tasting, but are high in cholesterol, but those in 16th century wouldn't have known or cared about that.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

On the Fifth Day of Christmas...

my true love gave to me...

Five Gold(en) Rings

I know that most ladies out there would really love jewelry for Christmas and five rings of gold would probably be a special treat, but it turns out that the 5th Day of Christmas was not for you! 

This is yet again a reference to birds...some beautiful and delicious birds at that.  Ring-neck Pheasants. Pheasants are native to Asia and were brought to Europe sometime around the time of Alexander the Great and they became very popular game birds.  They seem to do pretty well in most environments into which they are introduced and can be found across most of the nothern United States.  They seem to avoid regions like Arizona and the most of the southern states, probably due to heat and humidity.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

On the Fourth Day of Christmas...

my true love gave to me...

Four Calling Birds

I had a fascinating honors History of Western Civilization class in college that focused on "Rhetoric" and even though I took the course as a very underqualified freshman, its impact on me has been lasting.  The professor, Dr. Gideon Burton, commented once that languages eventually climax and then deteriorate until they become new languages.  My personal opinion is that the English language was at is best in the period between 1770 to 1850 and has then commenced its decline. 

This "Four Calling Birds" situation is a perfect example and evidence of how easily we mess up our own language.  The song was originally "Four Colly Birds".  Colly, colley, collie, coaly all mean black, like coal.  This stanza of the songs was about blackbirds, not beautiful singing birds!  But I guess "Calling" birds sounds better when words like "colly" become archaic and the general public doesn't know what it means.

Apparently blackbirds baked into a pie in medieval times were a delicacy.  But which blackbirds?  Ravens, crows, starlings? Or does it refer to the bird known in England as the Blackbird that is not even related to the blackbirds most of us know, but more closely related to the American Robin, but not all related to what people in England know of as a Robin.  Confused yet!  Yeah, so is our language.  Bah humbug!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

On the Third Day of Christmas...

My true love gave to me...

Three French Hens

Chickens were domesticated anciently and have been on the menu for a long long time.  No one knows if this song referred to a specific breed, but this site suggests that Crevecoeur, Houdans and the La Fleche varieties (pictured above) would have been common about the era when this tune originated. 

Hens symbolize motherly devotion and roosters sometimes represent the resurrection of Christ.  Jesus employed the metaphor of a hen gathering her chicks to express the love he had for his people.

Monday, December 20, 2010

On the Second Day of Christmas...

My true love gave to me...

Two Turtle Doves
Christians view the dove as symbol of the Holy Spirit. The world today sees it as a symbol of peace. For centuries doves have symbolized love and fertility. Roman and Greek mythology has them too. Whether it is true or not, it is a commonly held belief that doves mate for life and as such are symbols of true love and fidelity.

During the middle ages these doves were more likely to have been kept in cages as pets rather than eaten. Interestingly, Turtle Doves are migratory whereas Rock Pigeons and Mourning Doves are not so much. You can find Turtle Doves in northern Europe from April to September, but due to habitat loss, they are quickly declining in numbers.

To learn more click here.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

On the First Day of Christmas...

I posted these last year, but thought I'd do it again...

My family celebrates Christmas in the traditional Christian sense, celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. While my understanding is that Jesus was most likely born in the spring, I have no doctrinal problem honoring his birth on a different day. My family also celebrates Christmas in the materialistic secular way common to most in America with Santa Claus and hordes of gifts.

I really love birds, religion, history, eating food, symbology and etymology and the well known Christmas carol "The Twelve Days of Christmas" has all of that bundled into one nice present to me! The birds mentioned in this centuries old tune have had attached to them all kinds of symbolism, from Christian to pagan fertility rituals, from simple romantic gifts of love to the rudimentary and basic food sources.

Over the next few days, take a look with me at the birds in The Twelve Days of Christmas. It may just help you solve the next Dan Brown novel or at least answer a few questions on Jeopardy.

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...

A Partridge in Pear Tree
The partridge mentioned here probably refers to a Red-legged Partridge from France, which looks a lot like close relative to a Chukar to me. The Partridge has been used a symbol of Christ and of truth, but also its opposite, Satan and evil. Greek mythology even hints at a connection between partridges and pears. Pears and pear trees have their own historical symbolism of enduring love and masculine virility, but it could be that the transition from French to English just messed it up a bit as the French word Partridge is "Perdrix" pronounced pear-dree. The entire family of partridges are good eating, I am told, and the Reg-legged Partridge was probably on the table as part of the feasts during the holidays. (click here and here to learn more)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Birder Profile: Phil Slade

Phil Slade
Stalmine, Lancashire, England, UK

How did you get into birding? Did you or do you have a birding mentor and can you tell us about that person? Did you have a “spark bird”?

My birding started when as a family we used to go camping to the great outdoors for weekends and holidays in the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District. It was then I noticed different birds to those I was more used to in the urban environment where we lived at that time. I didn’t have a mentor as such but the local birders at the time (and there were a lot less then) were very helpful. In the early days the then common Yellow Wagtail sparked my imagination, so it is ironic that the same species just thirty odd years later now occurs in much fewer numbers and is on a list of threatened species.

How long have you been birding?

About 30 years overall birding with about 25 years of those as a bird ringer/bander, plus spells of photography in between and during those times.

How often do you go birding? And where do you regularly go birding?

I am now retired so going birding, ringing and trying to include bird photography takes up three or four days a week but I often make that 7 half days so that I can pursue my other interests, update my blog "Another Bird Blog" and see my family. I have a couple of local patches I favour for birding, one of those is part of Morecambe Bay which is internationally important for the numbers of waders and wildfowl that use it in winter, at migration time or for breeding. My other local patches are inland ringing sites where the consistency of ringing effort is all important, both to me and to the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) who sponsor UK ringing.

Where is your favorite place to bird in your area? in the world?

As above, anywhere in Morecambe Bay especially in the Spring and Autumn. On a world scale I just love birding the Mediterranean, especially Menorca, in early Spring or Autumn.

Do you have any local birding hotspots that may be yet unknown to other birders that you would be willing to share with us?

Birding is now such a popular hobby in the UK and there are so many birders in my local area that local birding hotspots can’t remain unknown or undiscovered for long. Having said that, on a daily basis I am often first in a given location and birding is so unpredictable that the either the presence of other birders or the fact that someone may have searched the same spot earlier doesn’t put me off.

Where in your area would you say is the most under-birded place that may have great untapped potential?

Perhaps the places just a few miles inland that tend to be under watched in favour of coastal locations, the honeypots, where bird migration can be more obvious.

How would you describe yourself as a birder? A “watcher”, a “lister”, a “chaser”, all of the above, or something else?

I think I am just a normal birder who gets intense pleasure out of my close involvement with birds and wildlife in general but I am definitely not a “chaser” or a “lister”.

What kind of birding equipment do you use?

I use Zeiss 10x40 bins, a Leica scope and a Canon 500D + Canon 400mm, but as a mobile birder with all that weight I tend to dump the scope in favour of the camera/lens combination.

How do you keep track of your bird observations?

I use a page-a-day diary for everyday birding and transfer most sightings to the BTO BirdTrack database when I remember. For obvious reasons all my ringing data must be entered without fail into the BTO IPMR (Integrated Population Management and Reporting) system. Each year in the UK over 1 million birds are ringed and processed, a feat which amasses a huge amount of data used for scientific study purposes. I hope my efforts and contribution add something to this immensely valuable database.

What is your favorite bird sighting and what is the story behind it?

That is a very difficult question because over the years birds have given me such simple but also diverse pleasures and insights into the natural world that it is perhaps slightly unfair to the birds themselves to single out favourites. If pushed I might mention finding a first for Lancashire UK, a Whiskered Tern, catching and ringing Redwings and Fieldfares each autumn, or maybe photographing common birds like Meadow Pipit and Wheatear on my local patch.

Which birding publications and websites do you read and recommend?

I tend to follow blogs and sightings web sites based near to my home as they have bang up to date information. This isn’t so that I can go after other birder’s sightings, more to give me a flavour of what birds other people are seeing and when they see them. I also follow blogs and web sites from places in the world I have been.

Which is your favorite field guide and why?

The Collins Bird Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe, because as the authors themselves claim, it is the most complete guide of its type.

Which three books from your personal birding library would you recommend?

1) The one above 2) The Snow Geese by William Fiennes 3) Birds of The Western Palearctic by Cramp and Simmons (out of print)

Do you have any formal bird-related education background?

None, I don’t think it is necessary to enjoy or participate in the world of birds.

If a fellow birder had a question about a bird, do you consider yourself an expert (or at least proficient) on any specific family of birds?

I’d hate to be considered or called an expert. I may have some particular expertise because of my involvement with bird ringing and the fact that I am a Ringing Trainer, but show me a birder that doesn’t make the odd mistake with identification of a strange or distant bird or a ringer that doesn’t occasionally age or even sex a bird incorrectly.

What future birding plans do you have?

I am looking forward to going to Egypt in 2011, a new destination, and whilst it isn’t strictly a birding holiday I am packing bins and camera gear because I have already done some Internet research on what I may see. Also I hope to get to Menorca again in May, but otherwise it is continue as before with local birding and ringing.

Are you involved with any local or national birding organizations?

In the UK I am a member of the BTO, an organisation that does uniquely valuable work, one that every birder should support in both monetary and participatory ways; unfortunately many don’t. Strangely I think the BTO itself does not insist for instance that every ringer should be a member.

What is your nemesis bird?

I don’t have one, if I miss a bird it doesn’t bother me because there will be another one along sooner or later and birding is just a fun hobby, not life or death.

Any birding related pet-peeves you’d like to vent about here?

There is too much emphasis on listing, ticking and chasing birds while all around us bird populations fall and species disappear. Remember, Nero fiddled while Rome burned.

Anything about your family you’d like to share with us?

I am immensely proud of my children and grandchildren but only one of them is a birder – so far.

Outside of birding, what are your other interests or hobbies?

Keeping as fit as possible by swimming. Also as a means of keeping as fit as possible, I try to walk a good deal in the course of birding adventures. Blogging - about birds of course. Holidaying with my darling wife. Family. Reading when I have time.

Any funny birding experiences you could tell us?

Lots -usually involving the personalities encountered and the related antics I have witnessed whilst involved with the birding scene -but it would be very indiscreet to relate those stories here. Often watching the birders is as entertaining as watching the birds.

If you were a bird, which species would you be and why?

A long distance migrant that gets two summers, no winters, and enjoys exotic places but is also long lived. What about an Arctic Tern?

Total life list?

I haven’t a clue; I don’t keep a list but as I have done some birding in India, Sri Lanka, Canada, Mexico, West Indies, Spain, Menorca, Majorca, Gambia, Tunisia, Malaysia, Greece, Kenya, Cyprus, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England I guess it must be several hundred.

Most exotic place you’ve gone birding?

Five times in India, a wonderful country. I highly recommend it.

Your mission in life as birder?

To contribute to a greater understanding and appreciation of birds while at the same time making it fun and enjoyable.

Birder Profile is a weekly blog segment at "Birding is Fun!" spotlighting a fellow birder.  If you are interested in sharing a little about yourself and your birding experiences, please send me an email.  Is there a birder you'd like to see featured?  Please nominate that person by sending me an e-mail too.  Enthusiasm for birding is the only prerequisite!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Neighborhood Birding

Great Horned Owls are pretty common in my Boise foothills neighborhood and can be seen most of the year.  Winter is prime time Great Horned Owl viewing here as they are roosting in the trees right along the entrance into my neighborhood and there aren't so many leaves to hide them.  We've been watching one on the very branch pictured above for the last month, but recently a mate has been found very nearby.  This is the time of year when they seem to hook up and often are sitting on a nest before the snow melts.
 Another nearby Boise foothills neighborhood has been hosting a Western Scrub-Jay which are very uncommon in the Boise area.  I went there with my wife and youngest daughter to find it.  I asked Claire, my three year old, to help me find the bigger blue bird.  Her reply was "That's too boring."  Her boredom however was overcome in seconds when we came upon a flock of Wild Turkeys!

After searching for the Western Scrub-Jay for an hour without luck, we were all bored and called it day. 

That's just the way birding is...sometimes there is boredom and disappointment, but almost always there's a surpirse...that's why Birding is Fun!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Chasing Idaho Winter Birds

American Kestrel at Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge
Saturday morning, my father-in-law, Lynn Davenport joined me and my minivan full of kids on a trek through the rural countryside south of Nampa, Idaho in the area locally known as Dry Lake.  The goal was to find large flocks of Horned Larks, sift through them and find the recently reported Snow Buntings and Longspurs which would be life birds for me.  Warmer weather and rain had melted much of the snow and nary a bird was seen in the fields...well, we did see a few American Kestrels , Red-tailed Hawks, and a Belted Kingfisher on the power lines and poles.  With heavy fog and not much going on in the greater Dry Lakes area, we decided to check out nearby Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge.

Lake Lowell with a little ice at Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge
Stopping at the north dam and boat ramp turned out to be a fantastic alternative to finding Longspurs and Snow Buntings as we found another life bird for me, a Pacific Loon!  It was just beyond the ice and gave us great views through Lynn's spotting scope.  It was educational to identify this winter plumaged bird's characteristics and narrow it down to a Pacific Loon while studying our Sibley's and Stoke's field guides.  Without a digiscoping rig and with bad light, I didn't even try to get a photo of it.  I'm glad that other Idaho birders have been out to confirm the sighting and identification of our Pacific Loon.

We also scoped thru this flock of gulls looking for rarities.  There were loads of Ring-billed, California, and a couple Herring's in the mix, all special in their own right, but not uncommon.

Being that we had my four kids with me, we were delighted to have a Bald Eagle perched on a cottonwood tree near the road and all the kids were able to see it.

Cooper's Hawk - that gave chase to House Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos
A Rough-legged Hawk was also a nice addition to our morning list of wonderful birds.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Who wants some Costa Rica Birding?!!!

Kathleen Cameron of Majestic Feathers Tours, teaching on the bus in Costa Rica.
Photo by Linda Milam.
 One special birder and talented photographer that I was delighted to meet in my home state of Idaho is Kathleen Cameron. She was also the winner of my first photo contest with her amazing capture of a Bohemian Waxwing!  I attended her impressive presentation to the Southwestern Idaho Birders Association in which she shared her experiences of birding in Costa Rica as well as the critical connection many of our North American birds have to Central America.

Kathleen's love of Costa Rica has inspired her to arrange and lead birding tours there, along with her Costa Rican partner Edwin Ramirez.  And they are not just birding tours...they are much much more.  I am personally planning a trip with Kathleen and Edwin in the next year.  I've invited Kathleen to share information about her tours with readers of Birding is Fun!  If you are thinking about a Central America birding expedition, please consider a tour with Majestic Feathers Tours.  Here's why...

Majestic Feathers Tours
Where Adventure, Avian Science, and Beauty Merge

Can you imagine the thrill of seeing 380 to 427 species of birds in 12 days of birding? Well imagine no more by joining a Majestic Feathers birding tour with Edwin Ramirez in Costa Rica! Edwin is a native of Costa Rica and has 20 years of guiding under his binocular strap! By arranging our itinerary so that we bird in seven different life zones we accomplish species numbers like these and get you into out of the way places to see endemic birds, shy forest species, and a myriad of others. Edwin’s skill as a guide and naturalist are suburb as noted by many of our past tour participants. (Check out testimonials here)


Join us in Costa Rica to explore Tropical Dry Deciduous Forest, Rainforest, Cloud Forest, Lower and Upper Montane habitat, Subalpine Paramo, and Mangrove Forest.  Because of the variety of habitat we bird you will likely add: Snowcap, and Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Silvery-fronted Tapaculo, Timberline Wren, Buffy Tuftedcheek, Flame-throated Warbler, Volcano Junco, Golden-browed Chlorophonia, Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager, Sunbittern, Jabiru, Antpittas, Tanagers, Tryannulets, Trogons and hundreds more!


Our tours are unique in that we are able to bird on both public and private land, we alter our route when our guide is notified of a rare bird alert. Additionally beyond the tours dates that we announce, we also offer tailor made tours for families or groups of birders that contact us asking for shorter or longer trips. We also offer Natural History tours, and tours that combine birding and other nature based recreation in Costa Rica; fishing, scuba, zip lining, and surfing! We can make your dream trip to Costa Rica a reality!


A quick comparison of prices with other tours of the same length as ours will quickly reveal that our Costa Rica tour is priced on average at $1,500 less. In several cases the higher priced trips of other tours do not cover the extensive habitat that we bird. Birding tours can be found for prices below ours, but a close consideration of the itinerary often reveals that one hotel is utilized as “base camp” and day trips from this location result in fewer birds seen and more time on the road. Flexibility is an issue with many of the lower priced trips as is accessibility to the most productive birding habitat. Our price makes your dream trip to Costa Rica a more affordable reality!

White-throated Mountain Gem

Majestic Feathers is in partnership with the Foundation for the Protection and Conservation of the La Paz River and Forest and a portion of your tour fee goes directly to forest restoration and to funding corridor connections in this cloud forest preserve. To date, 100 acres of forest have been restored and in the future the final corridor connection will establish a land bridge allowing animals to move all the way from the Arenal Volcano National Park to the Los Alpes Private Forest Preserve. The corridor connection in the La Paz Forest will result in 2,000 acres of connected forest benefiting Tapirs, Pumas, Ocelots, Resplendent Quetzals, and many, many more species.

Majestic Feathers, Where Adventure, Avian Science, and Beauty Merge, a birding tour with us will bring all of this and more to you.  Join us you’ll love it if you do!

Kathleen Cameron
Organizer of Majestic Feathers Tours with Edwin Ramirez

There are still some open slots for tours in March 2011.
The February tour is already sold out, so hurry!

To get more information about Majestic Feather Tours, please email Kathleen here.  Visit their official website here. You can sign up to be on her mailing list for future tour info as well. Tell her you read about her tours at Birding is Fun!

Photos in this post belong to Kathleen Cameron and were used with permission.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sudden Change of Plans

Quick side note:

Dawn Fine, the goddess of the birding blog world, was kind of enough to spotlight Birding is Fun! over at today!  Thanks Dawn!  Check out her personal blog here!

Western Scrub-Jay I photographed in Sandy, Utah earlier this year.
 Many of you know that I have recently taken a new job that has had me traveling the east coast, especially Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas.  Our company repairs foreclosed homes so the bank can sell them.  My job was to hire local remodeling contractors to do the work and then oversee the execution of our unique system in turning these homes around in record time.  We had planned to move to the Raleigh, NC area right after Christmas.  Well...the company I work for, Aspire Design, had a position open up in Salt Lake City and they asked me to fill it.  I will now be one of two liaisons and troubleshooters between my company and our main client with which we have repaired over 6000 homes in the last couple of years in 36 states.

This new role comes with a huge advantage to my family as I won't have to be on the road away from them.  I will get to enjoy the familial bonds every night and weekend, and thus be home for all the kids' school and extracurricular events.  Both Jessica and I have loads of extended family along Utah's Wasatch Front and it is only a five hour drive to see our parents and family in the Boise area.

So, while I am disappointed that I will be missing the spring migration of eastern warblers, I am excited to get to know Utah's birds, birding locations, and birders. 

By the way, there is a great new multi-author blog called Utah Birders that is definitely worth checking out.  You can also follow them on Twitter @UtahBirders.

If you are not already following Melissa Mayntz's Backyard Birds Utah, you should be!  She is an exceptionally talented writer I enjoy reading and is the power behind all things birding and wild birds at  She can be followed on Twitter to @AboutBirdies.

Because of the holidays and our big family move, birding and bird blogging may be taking a backseat for a couple weeks.  I have some great Birder Profiles scheduled to post each Thursday as well as a rerun of seven posts discussing the birds and their symbolisms as mentioned in the Christmas classic song "Twelve Days of Christmas", so stay tuned!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Birder Profile: John C. Robinson

John C. Robinson
San Francisco Bay Area, California

How did you get into birding? Did you or do you have a birding mentor and can you tell us about that person? Did you have a “spark bird”?

My entry into birding began by taking the Ornithology class at Iowa State University in 1979. At that time, I had no interest in birds and really did not want to take the class as I was more interested in wolves and fancied myself studying wolf biology for the rest of my career. Well, that all changed during the first 15 minutes of the class!

I’ve had many mentors over the years, but during my time at Iowa State I would have to point to my Ornithology professor, Dr. James J. Dinsmore. He recognized the talent in me and gave me the rare opportunity (as an undergraduate student) to teach the Lab portion of the Ornithology class in the three years following the year in which I took the class myself. So, I took the class in 1979, and taught the Lab portion of the class in 1980, 1981, and 1982. My spark birds are, in chronological order, the Rufous-sided Towhee (now the Eastern Towhee), and the Louisiana Waterthrush.  I have been birding for 32 years now.

How often do you go birding? And where do you regularly go birding?

Starting out, I went birding about 250 to 275 times a year (I know because I have built a commercial database application, LANIUS Excalibur, that allows me to enter my bird outings and bird observations; all my birding activity since 1980 has been captured). Nowadays, I would say I go birding about 70 to 100 times a year. Generally, I bird mostly within 200 miles of my home. I’ve lived in most places throughout the USA, and so have birded in almost every state. As a birding and natural history tour leader, I have also led trips in Costa Rica, Mexico, Canada, the USA, and South Africa.

My favorite places to go birding include:
1. Cross Creeks National Wildlife Refuge (Tennessee)
2. Modoc National Forest (California)
3. All places in South Africa!

Where in your state would you say is the most under-birded place that may have great untapped potential?

The Sierra Nevada mountains in California has many under-birded locations, many of which are on Forest Service lands. I once managed the Spotted Owl Endangered/Threatened Species program in California for the USDA Forest Service, so I have visited Spotted Owl habitat on nearly all 18 national forests within that state. Lots of under-birded places there!

How would you describe yourself as a birder? A “watcher”, a “lister”, a “chaser”, all of the above, or something else?

An ornithologist, focused on studying the biology of birds.

What kind of birding equipment do you use?
1. Bushnell Spacemaster spotting scope (circa 1980)
2. Epoch (Brunton) Binoculars 10.5 power

How do you keep track of your bird observations?
As mentioned above, I use LANIUS Excalibur, a commercial application I built in 1994. See,, and for more information. I keep track of my bird observations because it is fun, exciting, and it allows me to re-experience those special moments.

What is your favorite bird sighting and what is the story behind it?

Snowy Owl in Tennessee. See the complete story here.

Which birding publications and websites do you read and recommend?

I am a member of the American Ornithologists Union and the American Birding Association. I read The Auk and Birding and visit their web sites. I also spend time on Cornell’s website, especially All About Birds

Which is your favorite field guide and why?

National Geographic Society Field Guide to Birds of North America is what I use in the field (enough info to meet most of my needs) andSibley (the original single volume covering east and west) is what I use at home; I like Sibley’s unique approach to identifying birds.

Which three books from your personal birding library would you recommend?

1. Birding for Everyone – which I wrote. It encourages inner city and minority youth/young adults to experience nature through bird watching
2. The Call of the Wild – by Jack London. This book changed my life in the sixth grade and I have been hooked on nature ever since
3. Sand County Almanac – by Aldo Leopold. One of the best books on environmental conservation and it introduces the concept of a “land ethic”.

Do you have any formal bird-related education background?

First, there is the undergraduate Ornithology class I took at Iowa State University. Also, I graduated at the top of my class in Fisheries and Wildlife Biology and earned a MS degree in that field. Since then, I have published six books on birds, nature, and outdoors.

If a fellow birder had a question about a bird, do you consider yourself an expert (or at least proficient) on any specific family of birds?

I consider myself an expert on most birds found in North America, and on some birds found in South Africa.

What future birding plans do you have?

To never stop birding!

Are you involved with any local or national birding organizations?

AOU and ABA (see above). I sit on the Board of Directors of the ABA. I am also a member of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory in Ohio.

What is your nemesis bird?

That would be the Ruff. It was seen three times in Tennessee when I lived there, and each time I missed it, once by as little as 30 minutes. That was a “Ruff” time

Outside of birding, what are your other interests or hobbies?

Science fiction, hiking, movies, writing.

Any funny birding experiences you could tell us?

On a Christmas Bird Count, we were trying to determine if a bird seen by two separate observers in adjacent areas of the Count Circle should be counted as one or two birds. The bird in question was the Pileated Woodpecker. We finally landed on the assumption it had to be two birds, because Observer #1 kept pronouncing her bird the “Pie”-leated Woodpecker and Observer #2 kept pronouncing her bird as the “Pill”-leated Woodpecker. After a good laugh, we said it had to be two separate birds.

If you were a bird, which species would you be and why?

Louisiana Waterthrush – it is such an interesting bird and a wonderful harbinger of Spring.

Anything else that you would like to humbly brag about?

God has given me the ability to identify birds by sound

Total life list?

Because I don’t believe in competing with others, I never share my life list count publicly.

Most exotic place you’ve gone birding?

South Africa

Your mission in life as birder?

Encourage inner city and minority youth and young adults to become more interested in nature through bird watching.
John C. Robinson is without question a fantastic leader and mentor in the world of birding.  You can continue to follow what John is up to as well as purchase the products and books he produces at his website just bought myself a few items that Santa will be giving me for Christmas!

Birder Profile is a weekly blog segment at "Birding is Fun!" spotlighting a fellow birder.  If you are interested in sharing a little about yourself and your birding experiences, please send me an email.  Is there a birder you'd like to see featured?  Please nominate that person by sending me an e-mail too.  Enthusiasm for birding is the only prerequisite!