Sunday, January 31, 2010

Article I wrote in Eagle Informer!

The Eagle Informer is a monthly community events magazine that has kindly printed a second article that I have submitted to them.  Since most of you live outside of the Eagle, Idaho zip code here it is:

Great Horned Owl - Photo by Shon Parks taken along Spring Valley Creek

"Daddy, I see its yellow eyes!"  exclaimed Anne with binoculars pressed to her glasses as I boosted her up on my shoulder.  These words were spoken with amazement and wonder while looking into the dense brush at a Great Horned Owl camouflaged on a tree branch along the creek in front of our home.

Anne is probably a lot like most seven years old girls.  She is a big fan of the Disney Channel and she loves cats and horses.  That Sunday afternoon, she announced that birds were her "third favorite animal" and that she wanted to go see some of them with me.  Shocked that she would willingly step away from Hannah Montana and those wacky twins Zack and Cody and go birding with me, I jumped at the opportunity.  "Put your boots on and let's go!" 

It really was a gorgeous day.  The sky was blue as blue can be.  Snow still remained on the ground up here in the foothills just north of Eagle. Birds are surprisingly abundant this time of year.  We watched a black-headed rufous-flanked Spotted Towhee scratching for food in the tree litter.  Dozens of Dark-eyed Juncos, lemon-faced American Goldfinches, and White-crowned Sparrows flitted all around us.  A tiny Ruby-crowned Kinglet sounded "jidit jidit jidit" from a nearby naked willow.  A cute black and white Downy Woodpecker with a brilliant scarlet notch on its nape zipped up and down the tree.  Darling little Black-capped Chickadees chatted "chicka-dee-dee-dee" as they bounced from branch to branch.  We even saw a rare bird in Idaho, a Rusty Blackbird.  Ahh...a dad and his daughter, breathing fresh air and enjoying the outdoors.  We soaked in the precious moments together!

Many organizations are promoting programs right now to give kids a break from the brain-numbing rigors of television and video games.  I support their message.  I invite parents everywhere to find a way to spend some quality time with their children outside every day, no matter the weather.  Adventure awaits.  Love will blossom.  Life lessons will be experienced and shared.  Memories will be made.

Will you accept the challenge?

Looking for some ideas of outside things to do with your kids, check out these websites:

Birding Laughs: Zebra Finches Playing Guitar

I think that finch playing guitar with a twig rather than a pick has some real musical talent!

Thanks to 10,000 Birds where I discovered this link!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Birding Spring Valley Creek Trail - Avimor

I set out yesterday morning for a couple hours of birding up Avimor's Spring Valley Trail on a quest to find Avimor's first official Brown Creeper.  I also hoped to see over-wintering Canyon and Rock Wrens and just maybe a Chukar or two.  I struck out on all four!  But seeing my second ever Winter Wren certainly made some of it up. 

I also had one of those delightful birding experiences when you are in the middle of a mixed flock and birds are zipping all around you and they don't seem at all bothered by your presence.  There were at least a dozen Black-capped Chickadees, half a dozen Ruby-crowned Kinglets, hordes of Dark-eyed Juncos, and Song Sparrows and I was right in there with them.  I just love hearing and feeling those wing-beats!

I took the picture above from the top of a rocky outcropping where I usually find the Chukar, Canyon and Rock Wrens.  I was facing toward the northwest.  Our winter snow was obliterated by recent rains and 40 degree plus temps.  Three Red-tailed Hawks circled in the morning sun making their trademark cries.  Probably the same family group that nested here last spring.

The bird habitat is really impressive and this area seems to stay birdy all year.  With sage, bitter, and hackberry brush on the slopes, willows and cottonwoods mingled with hawthorn along the creek, and almost constantly running water it is indeed a birding oasis.  Spring will bring nesting Lazuli Buntings, Bullock's Orioles, Western Tanagers, Black-headed Grosbeaks and Yellow-breasted Chats, so be prepared for flashes of color!

Above is a shot of the creek below me.  Below is the rocky slope facing south-east. Good Chukar country.

Nest Box Update:  Thursday night, while I was taking a young man and his father working on his Eagle Scout project around looking at good nest box locations, we observed a Red-Shafted Northern Flicker at the hole and on the roof of the Screech Owl box we installed back in November.  Maybe Flickers will use it this year!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Discoveries in Winter Birding

One of the cool things about birding in the winter is being able to find those things that are hidden by Spring and Summer foliage... like nests!  Every year I am amazed at where I find nests.  There are certain bushes or trees that you just come to know at your favorite birding haunts.  I am surprised when I find a nest in one of these trees or bushes...where the nest was hidden in plain sight.

Here is an example of one of my favorite nest discoveries.  This is a tree right next to one of Avimor's gravel trails, just on the east side of Spring Valley Creek.  You can see the soccer field of Foothills Heritage Park in the background.  I have walked by this tree dozens of times, but recently I discovered a small nest in it.  Can you see it?

Check it out in the bend of the branch where younger branches shoot out.  This is a tiny tea-cup size nest.  I originally discovered this nest location in October when I was preparing for the Avimor Big Sit.  It used to be lined with feather down, so I think it was a hummingbird nest.  See that tuft pulled up in the back? It looks like birds have started pulling from the nest, perhaps to build another nest.    I'll watch it again this Spring and Summer and see if any birds reuse it.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

210 in 2010: eBird Idaho - Week Four

Species Leaders:

1.  Terry Gray 83
2.  Charles Swift 80
3.  Cheryl Huizinga 79
4.  David Lawrence 75
5.  Robert Mortensen 65
6.  Denise Hughes 62
6.  Darren Clark 62
6.  Lewis Ulrey 62
9.  Steve Butterworth 58
10. Jonathan Stoke 56

Checklist Leaders:

1. Robert Mortensen 108
2. Jackson Whitman 67
3. Lewis Ulrey 59
4. Cheryl Huizinga 28
5. Charles Swift 24
6. Jonathan Stoke 23
8. Steve Butterworth 22
9. Denise Hughes 19
10. Cyndi Coulter 18

eBird Tips:
Some Good Questions about how to use eBird
eBird Range Maps
eBird Frequently Asked Questions

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Review: B is for Bufflehead

I won an autographed copy of B is for Bufflehead by photographer Steve Hutchcraft from Larry Jordan's "The Birder's Report" blog when he had a super fun Bird Butt Shot photo contest.

I'm delighted to receive this book as I have four kids between the ages of eight and two years old, with my two youngest girls currently learning the letters and their associated sounds.  We've already read it together a dozen times.  My kids love the funny sounding names of the birds.  They especially like to giggle at the Blue-footed Boobies, both their name and their picture. I too enjoy reading them this book as I learn interesting things about each of the species it mentions.

Each letter of the alphabet is featured in both its upper and lowercase forms which is great for kids to see the difference.  The photos are attractive and really seem to engage my kids.  You can tell this book was compiled by a good daddy who knows the interests and attention spans of children.

My eight year old son particularly liked the "Who's who Challenge" (pictures of baby birds featured earlier in the book as adults) near the end of the book.  He surprised me in doing very well recognizing almost all the birds that we see locally here in Idaho.  (Maybe he's a closet birder.)

The end of the book has additional interesting info for older children and adults to enjoy.  I particular like the "Fun Feathered Facts".  As an occasional bird walk leader, I always like to throw out interesting tidbits about the birds we are seeing to the group to keep them intrigued.

This is the perfect gift for anybody with young children or grandchildren.  The colorful photos will delight kids, help them learn their letters, and hopefully inspire them to be birders one day. It comes with a hardback cover with pretty sturdy pages for little kid fingers.  It is list priced at $19.95 and I see online pricing as low as $14.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

eBird Checklists: Questions and Answers

After much prodding and much to my delight, my birder father-in-law has started using eBird!  He called me the other day with some really good questions which some of you may also have. So I thought I'd share...

Question:  "I went birding to two places this weekend, but I also tallied what I saw on my 55 mile drive there.  How should I enter them into eBird?"

Answer:  At the two locations you should be able to enter an "Area Count" which are the most thorough and most useful types of observation checklists, but often the least selected types of observations by eBird users.  Try out the Google Planimeter to estimate the acreage of the area you observed.  Enter all the species you saw and identified to the best of your ability, as well as the quantities of each species.  You could enter a traveling count for the birds you tallied in your drive.  eBird does recommend traveling counts of 5 miles or less, so you could actually break down that route and have come up with 11 different checklists.  When making a "Traveling Count", I really make an effort to start a new checklist when the habitat changes too.

Here is a screen-shot of the observation types you can submit to eBird and each has a brief explanation:

Question:  "If go to one place several times a week, does eBird want a checklist every time I go? 

Answer:  Absolutely.  That is some of the best and most useful data for scientists.  Even submitting checklists from your backyard feeders every day is important and beneficial.  I often submit two or three checklists from my backyard everyday.  One from the morning before I go to work, one at lunch time, and one after I get home from work.  They may only be 10-20 minute observation periods, but the information is useful and it will be fun to see the long term data results.

Question:  Does entering checklists from the same location several times a week, or even per day make it appear that there are more of one species than there actually are?"

Answer:  The data is broken up by day and could possibly be broken down to the minute.  Submitting a checklist for the same Ring-necked Ducks you saw the day before doesn't effect the quality of the data. 

If you go birding with someone, to avoid double-dipping the quantities of birds seen, you can use the "share" tool rather than having both birders enter separate checklists.  You can edit the shared list to remove or add species that you saw and your birding buddy did not.

Question:  What if I am driving down the street and I see a Bald Eagle fly over?  Should I enter that into eBird?

Answer: Certainly!  If birding was not your primary objective and you were just passing by and you only saw it for a few seconds, I'd recommend you submit it to eBird as a "Casual Observation".  All you need to do is report where, what time, and what you saw.  If everyone was doing this, we would have a better understanding of bird distribution and range.  A caution however!  Don't sell your birding effort short...often people enter "Casual Observations" when they could with a little more thought enter Traveling, Stationary, or Area counts.

For more information about entering eBird checklists check out these links to eBird:
Submitting Checklist of Birds
How can I make my checklists more valuable?
What data are appropriate?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Idaho Birder: Poo Wright-Pulliam

Poo Wright-Pulliam
Hailey area, Idaho

How and when did you get first get involved in birding?

I used to use the “Reader’s Digest Wildlife of North America” to identify any wildlife I would see, my first successful bird I.D. was an Oregon Junco in the fresh new snow of the winter of 1989 in our yard. I didn’t become a fanatic until June of 1995 when I kept asking a friend that birded (Patty Provansha) about different birds I had seen; the final straw was when I’d seen a Loggerhead Shrike?! Patty replied “OK, here’s the deal! I’ll give you a book, you identify 100 birds, properly, and I’ll throw you a bird party!” Properly meant- write the date, location and what it was doing in the book so she could make sure my ID was right. I received that book, The Golden Guide to Birds of North America, on June 15, 1995. By the end of September I’d found my 100th bird- the Audubon’s race of the Yellow-rumped Warbler. Perfect! Soon to follow… ADDICTION!

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

I’ll be forever grateful to Patty for changing my life, she has made this challenge to many people and I have in turn made it to many. My mentors though, (I have two) would be Brian Sturges and Larry Barnes. Brian has birded here locally since the 70’s and gives so freely of his expertise; he’s also passed on many opportunities to me so I could help others learn about birds. Larry teaches for CSI and does bird outings and I try to go on as many as I can (one to Texas was a true highpoint).

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

Any time I’m at a window or in a car or outdoors I’m birding or listening for birds. I regularly bird at Silver Creek Preserve; my friends Kathleen Cameron, Jean Seymour and Dave Spaulding have been doing a monthly count there since June of 2004 for Fish and Game. Otherwise I’m just looking as I drive often taking the long way home just to see who might be out there.

Where is your favorite place to bird in Idaho? In the U.S.? in the world?

The whole Wood River Valley including Silver Creek Preserve. I haven’t birded much outside of Idaho but Texas and Alaska are fun. Outside the US I’ve only birded on the Baja, the drive down but mainly in Loreto. At one time in December you can be looking at Blue-footed and Brown Boobies, 4 species of plovers, 10 sandpipers, 3 egrets and 4 herons right there in or near the arroyo in town!

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

As above, the whole Wood River Valley including Silver Creek Preserve. We have a lot of high altitude birds even in winter that can be seen and we have much diversity.

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

Totally addicted and fanatical! My two great-nephews call me “Hogbottom”, after a mythical character from the Spiderwick Chronicles that always yells “BIRD” when a bird flies by. I do the same but at least I don’t eat them like he does ;)

What kind of birding equipment do you use?

My main bino is a Brunton Epoch 8.5x43 but I also like my little Alpen Apex 8x32 (light and a great field of view) and my Alpen Pink 10x42 (it supports Breast Cancer Awareness), I have my original Swift 8x42s that I keep in my car for emergencies. My scope is a Bushnell Premier 45 degree angle lens (better for more people to view with).

How do you keep track of your bird observations? And why?

My main list is in my original Golden Guide that Patty gave me but I now have a more detailed list in my Life List Book from Cornell. I also am a daily lister in my yard on my Project FeederWatch Calendar and I keep all my trip lists and field drawings in my Rite-in-the-Rain Birders Notebooks with a set of color pencils. Why? Because I just can’t help myself!

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

I had been birding for about a year and a half and was still figuring out what food to put in my feeders. Watching my new friends pick and choose soon taught me that their favorite was the black-oil sunflower seed and that woodpeckers love suet blocks. I hadn’t yet learned that millet mixes could easily be thrown on the ground because it seems to be favored by ground feeding birds like sparrows and juncos.

On December 27, 1996 I still had one feeder full of “Songbird Mix” when early one morning I looked out to see an unusual bird sitting there. I knew I had never seen it before and at first glance I thought it might be a varied thrush, it had a black eye-stripe with a buffy brow but it was too small. I had thumbed through my bird books enough to know that the beak was also too small, more like a warblers. Its back was striped like a sparrow, and I was confused! I poured over page after page of almost every bird book I had and found nothing that matched.

I called a friend on the phone and tried to describe it to her when she came up with an idea. ”You’re an artist, why don’t you draw it!” Brilliant! I quickly put pencil to paper but only got the head the first time. Fortunately this sweet little bird came back several more times and all told, the drawing was a total of about five minutes but was enough to identify it in a book I had been given on the birds of Alaska. Only one birder friend was able to make it to my house to confirm my sighting but the little guy had left. Lucky for me, after I had drawn the bird I also photographed him and everyone was waiting to see the pictures. The next morning three more birders were at my window in hopes of a sighting. The bird did not return to my yard but was found again ½ mile away in January of 97 and he stuck around for more than 1200 birders from all over the country to see him. He was Idaho’s first Siberian Accentor and that single bird thrust me into the birding world with gusto where I met so many wonderful people as they all came to see him…I knew I wanted to be a part of this group called “birders”!

Which birding publications and websites do you read and recommend?

I read WildBird and Birder’s World. Not being to computer-literate yet, I have IBLE and this website on my favorites list and I occasionally check Cornell’s website if I have questions. But I have IBIRD on my Iphone and it fun!

Which is your favorite field guide and why?

My most used guides are Nat. Geo, Sibleys and Kaufmans. I have just about every guide because I like to do a lot of cross-referencing but these three seem to be the best with Sibley’s beautiful paintings and Kaufman’s exceptional digital work so you can see more field marks, Nat. Geo is just a given.

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

Living on the Wind by Scott Weidensaul (breathtaking…let’s go moon birding!), The Kingbird Highway by Kenn Kaufman (I could relate to the era and his passion), Bird Track and Sign by Mark Elbroch and Eleanor Marks (just adds to the fun of watching), Birds Do It, Too by Kit and George Harrison (the amazing sex life of birds) and anything written by Pete Dunn (a good sense of humor can only add to a great day of birding).

Do you have any formal bird-related education background?

I took the Cornell Home Course-Seminars in Bird Biology (it has since doubled in size and I would like to take it again) and a Master Birders class directed by Kent Fothergill in 2004 (my class project was to start the count at Silver Creek Preserve that the 4 of us continue today).

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 probably know more about songbirds but really I think I just know more about local birds, I have to do a lot of homework when I travel out of the area but I’m always looking through the books at all the birds so know many by sight.

What future birding plans do you have?

Maybe someday a trip to Costa Rica but I’d like to cover Idaho on the Birding Trails too.

Are you involved with any local or national birding organizations? If so, which ones?

I’m in my 14th year with Project FeederWatch and a member of Cornell Lab. I also am an Audubon Member, I will join in on the fun with Golden Eagle events and Prairie Falcon functions and trips but I don’t know that I’m a real member (we don’t have a group in the Wood River Valley).

What is your nemesis bird?

The Great Gray Owl! I saw a silhouette one night in Eastern Idaho but each time we go to see the local one in the Stanley Basin it’s not there…every time they go without me, they see it.

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

I’m lucky enough to have a sister that started birding about the same time I did, we didn’t know this about each other for a while and it has since brought us much closer. We are now dragging our other sister in…slowly but surely!

Any funny birding experiences you could tell us?

I once took a whole bunch of pictures of a bird at my feeder that I didn’t recognize, just in case…you know. I finally figured out it was an immature robin!

Anything else that you would like to humbly brag about?

Unusual birds like to land in my yard, I have a great yard list!

Total life list?


Most exotic place you’ve gone birding?

Loreto, Baja Sur, Mexico

Your mission in life as birder?

To share my passion with everyone who will listen, they teach us so much about our world and they are just so breathtaking and uplifting.

Poo also has her own birding business website: Check out the YouTube videos and the Pink Binoculars supporting Breast Cancer Awareness.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

eBird: County Big Year Lists

A popular annual all-year-long birding event in Idaho, and perhaps in many other states, is the County Big Year List.  Starting on New Year's Day, folks scramble across the state to be the first to list as many species as possible.  The excitment continues for a couple of weeks until we hit the point of diminishing returns.  Enthusiasm for listing slows as we all wait for Spring.  Spring migration gets us going crazy again adding birds to the County Big Year List.  Big Year List excitment slows again during mid-summer breeding and then ramps up one last time during Fall migration.  Trying to be the first to contribute a species to the County Big Year list is fun, as is seeing how we did as a county from year to year.

Diligent self-sacrificing volunteers maintain the official County Big Year Lists on spreadsheets for most of Idaho's 44 counties.  One central compiler maintains the master list on  It's a lot of work, but these great volunteers seem happy to do it.

Now if I could just convince every single birder in Idaho, and every birder who visits Idaho, to use eBird, we could all save ourselves a bunch of time; time better spent birding rather than gathering and entering data.  eBird automatically does all the work that hundreds of folks spend countless hours managing.

Check out this wonderful eBird feature under the "View and Explore Data" tab called "arrivals and departures".

Choose your State and County of interest.  You could run the "arrival" report by state for overall state totals.

ViolĂ !  The County Big Year List!  Automated and easy to use and access by everyone!

I challenge birders everywhere to make eBird their official County Big Year List.  Sightings only count if submitted to eBird! 

Yes, that does break years of convention.  There are probably a lot of folks that really do enjoy compiling the county lists and there are other bird census data websites and software out there.  I don't want to hurt any feelings.  It's just that eBird seems to have the best North American platform and its is absolutely free! There may be great birders out there that are computer and internet illiterate, but hey those great volunteers can continue serving the birding community by helping others enter eBird checklists.  For those that enjoy the number crunching and list compiling, you really do get the same thrill using eBird...even more so, I'd say.

I give all of you Big Year List compilers a giant e-hug and thank you for your years of dedicated service to your fellow birdwatchers.  Within a decade or two, I can't imagine that anyone will be doing them that same way anymore.

Just another reason to be an eBirder!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Updated Avimor Bird Guide & Hotspot Map

I have updated the Avimor Bird Guide to include several more bird species that have been seen here and two new features.  First, the months, according to eBird, that one would most likely be able to see the particular species here.  Second, a map on page 3 of the best places to go birding at Avimor.

1.  Spring Valley Creek Greenbelt - a paved or improved trail from the Avimor Water Reclamation building to Foothills Heritage Park.

2.  Foothills Heritage Park - this grassy park is surrounded on all sides by riparian areas, cottonwoods, and willows.  We have planted hundreds of native plants, so watch this are get birdier over the years.  This is also a great place to view butterflies during their season.  There are concrete walks and sandy trails around this park.

3.  Spring Valley Creek Trail - this is a single-track dirt trail enjoyed by hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders.  After three miles, you connect to the historic Cartwright Rd.  The terrain is not terribly difficult, but there is some up and down and rocky areas.  Near the beginning of the trail is a large grove of trees that are very birdy.  Down the trail is some steep rocky areas where Chukar, Canyon Wren and Rock Wren have been seen.

4.  Chinese Well Riparian Area - marshy wetland with a stream and some large trees and willows.  As you go up the slope westward the habitat gets more rocky and birds take advantage of the hackberry trees for food and nesting.  Gray Partridge have been seen here several times.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Range Map Revolution?

How accurate and useful are the range maps in our favorite birding field guides? 

This question came to my mind recently.  Out of curiosity I decided to compare eBird's Bird Observation Maps to the range maps found in my four field guides: Sibley, Peterson, Nat-Geo, and Birds of Western North America: a Photographic Guide. I also referred to the range map on Cornell's All About Birds online Bird Guide.  I found some interesting results.  Take a look with me at a couple of species:

For the Rusty Blackbird all of the range maps were pretty good when comparing them to eBird.  Sibley's had the nice feature of showing a "rare" range that covered the areas where Rusties have been seen.  Many of the field guide range maps only show winter and breeding locations which appeared accurate, but not as useful as Sibley's or eBird's.

The next species I looked at was the Ruby-crowned Kinglet.  All of the field guides, but Sibley's, show the Ruby-crowned Kinglet being absent from the northern midwest and Great Lakes areas...well, perhaps not "absent" per se, but not shown because they only occur there during migration.  A look at eBird's map of Ruby-crowned sightings indicates a pretty strong presence of Ruby-crowned Kinglets in those states, so I wonder if it is during migration only.  eBird's map of the Ruby-crowned Kinglet's range is limited by the number of observations submitted and therefore shows very little presence in central Nevada and through the Dakotas.  The field guide range maps vary in whether this kinglet is a winter or year-round resident of Nevada, but they do show its presence covering the entire state.  As far as the Dakota's and eastern Montana go, the field guides all indicate less Ruby-crown presence, so perhaps eBird's map is pretty accurate for that region.

Looking at the Long-billed Curlew, eBird shows a much larger distribution than the maps in the field guides, again with the exception of Sibley's.  Surprisingly, Sibley's map almost mirrors eBird's while the others seem to really focus on traditional breeding and winter ranges.

To review:  I have really started to rely on eBird's maps, over my field guide maps, to learn where species are likely to be found.  The strength of the eBird map of sightings is that it shows where birds have actually been "seen", not just where they are "probable" or "possible".  eBird is constantly being updated, so the maps will always be up to date.  The weakness of eBird's maps is that they are 100% dependent on us submitting our sightings.  Regions of North America that don't get birded very often may not show the bird being in those locations when in reality they do exist there.  As more people start using eBird and we start using it better, and we make efforts to bird in under-birded areas, eBird's maps will just get better and better.  Based on my three species case studies, of all the field guides, Sibley's has the most accurate or at least the most useful maps as compared to eBird's maps of actual least for the purposes that I use range maps.

All this brings me to my next question....How do you use the range maps in your birding field guides?  Knowing how birders use their range maps will certainly help field guide compilers in the future.

I have used mine for predominately two reasons.  1) When I am going to a new place I like to thumb through my field guide and write down a list of all the birds that are shown in that area during the season I am going there.*  2) When confirming a new species I have just seen to make sure it was within the "right" range.

I would argue that range maps in field guides are primarily used by birders to know if it is reasonable that a bird is found in a certain area.  While perhaps factually interesting, range maps only showing winter and breeding distribution do little service to the average birder's purpose at looking at them.  It will be interesting to watch the range map revolution resulting from eBird over the coming years.

* I have since learned that most refuges have a pretty good checklist already, or at least the state does. This old method I used was a waste of time...except that I got familiar with my field guide and it filled me with wonder of all the potential birds to see.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Birding on the Boise River

This morning's Idaho Statesman Outdoors section features a full page of photos of birds found along the Boise River and a couple other birding articles with comments from Golden Eagle Audubon president Pam Conley.  The online version isn't nearly as exciting, but all the photos should show up in the online photo gallery soon.

210 in 2010: eBird Idaho - Week Three

Species Leaders:
1.  Cheryl Huizinga 79
2.  Terry Gray 76
3.  David Lawrence 73
5.  Lewis Ulrey 61
5.  Darren Clark 61
7.  Charles Swift 60
8.  Denise Hughes 59
9.  Steve Butterworth 54

Checklist Leaders:
1.  Robert Mortensen 82
2.  Lewis Ulrey 43
3.  Jackson Whitman 41
4.  Cheryl Huizinga 28
5.  David Lawrence 21
6.  Charles Swift  16
6.  Jonathan Stoke 16
8.  Steve Butterworth  15
8.  Denise Hughes 15
10.  Cyndi Coulter 13

eBird Tips and Benefits:
*  Are you currently using other software to track your bird sightings?  You may be able to upload them directly into eBird.  Click here to learn how.
Using eBird Species Maps by Robert Mortensen
Using eBird for Big Day planning by Robert Mortensen

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Birding Laughs

Thanks Denise Hughes for frowarding this to the SIBA group.

Review: Field & Stream Pack

I received this Field & Stream hip-pack from my birder father-in-law a few years back for Christmas.  It has seen many adventures with me as it totted my field guide, notebook and pen, mosquito spray, and usually a bottle of water.  Its been saturated with water and covered with mud a few times, but as you can see from the photo, it has endured the wear and tear very well.   

I can't find this exact pouch for sale anywhere online, but if it is typical of Field & Stream products, than I am a fan.  There isn't anything too fancy about it.  Its got different pockets and clips.  It is easily adjustable around my waist which seems to expand and contract on a regular basis. 

I have just started using a vest when birding and my little pack here as been relegated to holding two or three field guides in my truck.  In recent months I have been birding field-guide-less; forcing myself to look harder and take better field notes of new birds, but I hope to be able to continue using this little pack for many years to come.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

more Great Horned Owl photos at Avimor

I decided to take the long way back to my office after lunch today so I could search for a Winter Wren that I had previously seen here at Avimor.  No luck there, but I did see our pair of Great Horned Owls near the Avimor entry.  This time they much closer and without nearly as many branches impeding the view.

Birding Idaho: Gold Fork Hot Springs

My family decided to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day and diversity by finding the greatest diversity of bird species we could!  Not really, but sort of.  We decided to head up to the Cascade area, about an hour north of Avimor, to Gold Fork Hot Springs.  The kids and I had been there with birding-Grandpa the day after Thanksgiving, but mommy had not been there yet.  I was happy to make the trip as this location is very reliable for a few bird species I have not seen in other places, so we did do a little birding along the way.

The highlight bird of the trip had to be the Bald Eagle right next to the highway at eye level while driving over the bridge over the Payette River right in the town of Horseshoe Bend.  We later found two more Bald Eagles on rocks down in the River just north of the little town of Gardena.  My kids were even willing to look away from their DVD for a minute and were truly fascinated and awestruck by the sight of Bald Eagles up close. 

Other great birds of the day were:  Northern Shrike, Rough-legged Hawk, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Mountain Chickadees, Gray and Steller's Jays, and the three American Dippers.  I was able to add several birds to my Idaho 2010 list and it was a beautiful day and wonderful time with the family.  Ya can't beat that!

White-tailed Junco

We've had this white-tailed "Oregon" Junco in our backyard the last couple of days.  I've tried and tried to get a great photo, but this is the best yet.  That solid white tail really stands out and is quite beautiful.

Junco's are known for their white edge dark middle tail feather pattern.  This little guy either was missing his middle tail feathers or he has a dose of leucism that shows up in the tail feathers...or perhaps it is the mysterious new species the "White-tailed Junco"!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Idaho Birder: Danette Henderson

Danette scoping great birds at Malheur NWR

Danette Henderson
Boise, Idaho

How and when did you get your start in birding?

I just started birding a little over a year ago. My sister was talking often about the birds she would see in her yard and she bought me a bird feeder. I started to pay more attention to the birds in my yard. Then a couple of specific instances really sparked my interest. I walk my dogs almost daily in the foothills north of Boise. About this time last year I kept noticing a black and white bird perched on a tree. I had no idea what the bird was, but daily it would be in the same spot. I took a pair of nearly non-functioning binoculars to try and get a better look at the bird. I tried to figure it out with a very basic guidebook and looking on the internet. About this time my 8-year-old daughter was very interested in memorizing bird sounds from a book she had recently received. She was obviously quite “taken” with this challenge so I thought it would be great to check out our local Audubon chapter. We went to an evening meeting where I finally figured out the foothills bird was a Northern Shrike, got a field trip schedule and was hooked.

I would also add that the people we encountered on our first bird outings played a significant role in our start into the “birding world”. All of the people on the outings or folks we would run into at birding locales were incredibly generous with their enthusiasm and knowledge! I really appreciate the experienced birders taking the time to foster the education of “newbies” like me.

And finally, we watched the BBC series hosted by David Attenborough “The Life of Birds”, I must have said “that is amazing”, “no way, that is crazy” and “can you believe it” a thousand times.

I bought a pair of decent binoculars and really started paying attention to birds in October of 2008.

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

I feel like I am always looking out for birds. In my backyard, driving around town, and whenever I am walking or running in the foothills. In the past year we have spent many weekends exploring different areas in the “Idaho Birding Trail” guide. Some of my favorites have been Birds of Prey National Conservation Area, the Boise Foothills, CJ Strike, Ted Trueblood, and my backyard. Last spring our family went to Malheur Oregon three times in the spring, it was a wonderful place!

Where is your favorite place to bird in Idaho? In the U.S.? in the world?

I haven’t really been doing this long enough to pick a favorite spot in Idaho. We spent 2 weeks in Cape May, NJ to witness fall migration, it was an amazing experience. We were also in Baja Mexico early this summer and the birds were spectacular. I am looking forward to visiting more of Idaho next year – I have yet to bird in Northern or Eastern Idaho.

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

I don’t know if it would be considered a “hotspot” but it is a great place. On Bogus Basin Rd., 12-Mile Rd. (just past the 12 mile marker on the East side) there is a dirt road. It is a super place to walk and watch and listen for birds.

How would you describe yourself as a birder?

An observer and student. I love “birding” for a variety of reasons. Although I have always spent a considerable amount of time in nature, I have never observed it on this level. Not knowing what you might see or learn every time you head out the door is a very exciting prospect. Then to come home and read about some new species you have seen or behavior you have observed is just thrilling.

I do list what I see, for several reasons. I think it is a great way to improve your understanding of bird behavior/patterns, it will be fun to see changes over time, and it serves as a reminder of what I have experienced over the year. I have always wanted to collect something – I feel like a bird list is a collection of my encounters with amazing creatures (and it doesn’t take up space or need dusted).

What kind of birding equipment do you use?

My husband just surprised me with Swarovski 10 x 42 binoculars about two weeks ago (that was first time I have ever cried over a gift!) and a group of family members went in together on a spotting scope recently.

How do you keep track of your bird observations? And why?

I use an Excel spreadsheet for Idaho species for the year (because Jay and Heidi had created it for their competition – thanks!) and I write down what I see if we are birding for the day. I post to IBLE because I think it is a great way to share information. I also just started using eBird because I think it is a wonderful way to individually contribute to large-scale data collection.

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

That is a tough question; this week it was the Northern Goshawk I saw in the Boise foothills. Overall for the year it was probably from a trip my 9-year-old daughter and I took to several National Parks this fall. We were resting on top of a challenging hike in Zion National Park when a man stated, “look at that bird behind you” – we were so excited to see perched 30 feet behind us was a California Condor. We were hoping to see them later in the week in the Grand Canyon. It was a beautiful (ok, Condors aren’t exactly beautiful, maybe amazing is more like it) sight. He was marked #99 and we later researched and found out he had been fostered by Condor parents in Idaho at the World Center for Birds of Prey.

Which birding publications and websites do you read and recommend?

I read IBLE posts daily. It is a wonderful way for a new birder to hear about great places to visit, learn about species, ask questions, see pictures, etc. I also look at info on, Cornell University sites, ABA publications and website. I should also mention the Idaho Birding Trail guide put out by Fish and Game, we used that all of last year to learn about new and great places to visit.

Which is your favorite field guide and why?

Sibleys, I have others that I carry around in the car with me but I always pull out the Sibleys first.

What do you have in your home library birding reference set?

Sibleys, National Geographic and Petersons field guides. I have recently added a few specific guides – sparrows, shorebirds, warblers to try and supplement. After my visit at the landfill today it looks like I might need to invest in a gull guide – whew! They can be confusing.

Do you have any formal bird-related education background?

No, but I am just starting a home-study course from Cornell.

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?

No way! But I do like when my “non-birder” friends ask me what bird they saw or what birds are flying around us while we are out trail running in the foothills. I like to be able to put a name with the bird they are curious about.

What future birding plans do you have?

To get out as often as possible, learn more about the birds I am seeing, and occasionally take a trip to bird somewhere new.

Are you involved with any local or national birding organizations?

The Golden Eagle Audubon and Southwestern Idaho Birders Association have so many wonderful, knowledgeable members. The field trips we attended and participation in the Christmas Bird Count last year really helped get us even more excited about birds. I also belong to Cornell Lab of Ornithology and participate in their Project Feeder Watch and use their curriculum for science activities with my daughter. I also belong to the American Birding Association.

What is your nemesis bird?

I don’t really think I can have a nemesis after birding for only a year, but the Green-tailed Towhee doesn’t seem to want me to see it! (eBird map of recent sightings)

What is/was your career?

I am a Registered Dietitian but haven’t worked in the field for several years. I have spent the past few years part time teaching in an elementary school. This year I am home schooling my daughter – and loving it.

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

I have a really super husband, one sweet 9-year-old daughter and two frisky dogs (who are usually not invited to go birding!). This Christmas we added Little Lulu, Peanut and Winnie – the Dwarf Hamsters.

Iris at Cape May, NJ

Over the past year or two my sister, sister-in-law and her family and my in-laws all got excited about birding. Over the past year we have spent many weekends piling into the car to go look for birds together. We even spent three weekends all together in Malheur. This past fall we spent two weeks together in Cape May, NJ witnessing fall migration. I love that birding is an activity we are all so excited about and it has us spending much more time together.

Any funny birding experiences you could tell us?

I can’t think of anything that would translate well on paper, but we spend a great deal of time laughing while birding.  I do find several things amusing about this new-found passion. Before birding I would never have:

Said to the family “Hey, how about a family vacation in New Jersey!”

Been able to use "Gonydeal" in a sentence.

Found myself at the Boise Landfill for hours in the middle of winter.

Or, taken my daughter out of school so we could go to a cemetery to see Crossbills!

Great Horned Owls at Avimor

Hookin' up and Hangin' Out. 
Great Horned Owls at Avimor, Photos by Robert Mortensen

Avimor has several Great Horned Owls, each with a distinct color that I am starting to learn.  I hope to soon be able to tell each apart and watch them over the years.  For the last couple of weeks we have had this owl couple hanging out in the trees just north of the Avimor entrance off the highway.  It is likely they are the same mating pair that had the two owlets last year and I am hopeful they will nest nearby where we can watch them again.

Spotting Great Horned Owls in the field can sometimes be a challenge because they are so camouflaged. Take a look at this photo of the trees.  Do you see those large dark blobs?  That's my secret for finding Great Horned Owls.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Using eBird Species Maps

Another cool tool on eBird is "Species Mapping".  I use this tool when I want to go looking for a specific species or when I am simply wondering about a bird's range.  This information is only as good as the people and number of people entering their observations and with time it gets better and better. 

I created this series of screen shots to show you how I use the species mapping tool.  Let's use the example of me wanting to see where Western Scrub-Jays have been seen in Idaho:

1.  First, click on the "View and Explore Data" tab, then click on "maps".

2.  Then enter the species of interest in the cell.  Once you start typing, eBird will begin suggesting species names from which you can select the one you are after.  This helps you to make sure you enter the species name correctly and it makes the whole process faster and more efficient.

3.  eBird then pulls up the default histogram and range map.  I highlighted with red boxes the information displayed, the time period shown and the location.  Notice the buttons with red arrows.  You can click on these to narrow down or expand the location, time period, or even change the species from here. This map gives you a great view of the Western Scrub-Jay's North American distribution.

4.  Now, let's say I want to narrow down the data to just Idaho sightings of Western Scrub-Jays.  Click on the "Change Location" button shown above and it will bring up this screen.  Select the State from the list.  You could even select your own locations if those are your areas of interest.

5.  This brings up a map of Idaho with red markers showing where the Western Scrub-Jay as been observed between 2006 and 2010.  From here, I could click on the "Change Date" button to show just 2010 or I could expand it to include all previous years, or just about any date range I want.

6.  These maps have a great zoom-in tool as well. Click on the little magnifying glass with a plus sign in it.  This allows you to click-and-drag a box over the area you want to zoom into:

7.  You can click on the red markers and it pulls up the details of the observation.  For example, my sighting of three Western Scrub-Jays at City of Rocks National Reserve in October of 2009.

I hope you find the eBird species mapping tool as useful as I have.  And I hope this helps you see why your observations are so important.  Keep entering those bird checklists of your daily sightings into eBird and these maps will become even better tools for birders and scientists alike.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Lunch Hour at the Dump

RL Rowland called me about wanting to try again for the Rusty Blackbird here at Avimor.  He mentioned that he was going to stop by Hidden Hollow, the correct name and perhaps a euphism for the Ada County Landfill, or in my colloquial venacular, "The Dump".  He and others have recently seen Iceland, Glaucous, Glaucous-winged, and Mew gulls there along with the regulars; Ring-bills, California, and Herring gulls.  I jumped at the chance to see gulls with one of Idaho's gull experts and so I used up my lunch hour at the cold, windy, and smelly dump.  But it was certainly worth it for two life birds, Iceland and Glaucous Gulls!

Iceland Gull seen by us today was in this same phase. Photo source.

Glaucous Gull at about same phase we observed today - photo source

We did make it back up to Avimor, but day two with no sign of the Rusty Blackbird.  Bummer!  There were still a bunch of other really nice birds including this Spotted Towhee of which I was able to get a photo.