Thursday, March 31, 2011

Utah Birder Profile: Jerry Liguori

Jerry Liguori
Salt Lake City, Utah
How did you get into birding? Did you or do you have a birding mentor? Did you have a “spark bird”?

I first noticed birds when I saw a cardinal in my yard...I couldn't believe its brilliant red color. But it wasn't until late in high school when I got hooked...I watched a bunch of vultures spook off a deer carcass and float over my head, and I was captivated by their buoyant flight for such a large bird. I had a birding mentor in college named John Rokita, he taught me bird banding, rehabilitation, bird calls, taxidermy, and much more.

How long have you been birding?

28 years seriously, a bit longer casually.

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

I don't do much general birding at all. I spend most of my time birding along the foothills of the Wasatch looking for fly-by migrants. Most people know me as a hawk enthusiast, and are surprised when I identify a passerine by call or shape. I am constantly looking into the sky for birds whenever I am outdoors.

Where is your favorite place to bird in your Utah? In the U.S. (or your country)?

In Utah, it is Farmington Bay, I love the winter raptor watching. In the US, there are many favorites ...Whitefish Point, MI is special, the Goshute Mts. hawk watch is a great place to spend some time, anywhere in CA, WA, OR, NM, or AZ, but my favorite place is along the Wasatch Mountains because it is my home.

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

Several, I will say that Bountiful Peak is amazing for watching the fall migration.

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

Out by Park Valley Utah.

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

Absolutely a watcher and a student, I don't keep life lists and I don't chase rarities. I do keep a yard list that I discovered is the biggest in the state but I could care less...I just enjoy keeping a yard list, it is fun and makes me aware of what is in or over the yard.

What kind of birding equipment do you use?

I use Zeiss 7x45 Night Owl binoculars, they are from 1994 but are still amazing! I have a pair of Zeiss 7x42 Victory FL binoculars and love them too. I typically carry a camera when I go birding. I never really got on with scopes because I don’t like to carry or travel with them, and my eyes take too long to re-focus after using one.

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

This sounds crazy, but I remember where I took every photo I have, and I have tens of thousands. But I can't remember some names of birds, I guess if it is important to me, I remember it. I use eBird, but not as much as my friends who run the eBird project would like (but I will be better about it in the future).

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

 I'd like to answer that but I really couldn't, I have a ton of memorable sightings.

Any good backyard birding stories or amazing backyard bird sightings you can share?

Absolutely the juvenile gray-morph Gyrfalcon....couldn't beat that for me. Flew right along the hillside as I was shoveling my driveway, wish I had my camera nearby because the bird was gone by the time I frantically ran in the house and up the stairs to get it. I have a few neat sightings from my yard.

Which birding publications and websites do you read and recommend?

I recommend the ABA's Birding magazine. Cornell's website has an amazing depth of information. I don’t recommend publications that reward photographers by publishing their nest shots or pictures of birds being harassed.

Which is your favorite field guide and why?

I don't really have one. I'm lazy, so I never even take them off the shelf. The Sibley guide is great. I have learned more from him in the field than I have from his guide though.

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

I'd like to say my two books, but that would sound self-serving. I would say The Raptors of Europe and the Middle East, The Wind Masters, and The Birder’s Handbook.

Do you have any formal bird-related education background?

Yes, Ornithology, and general Biology classes, etc.

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? 

People say I am an expert at raptor identification. I guess I'm also decent with shorebirds, passerines, and a few other things. I'm not a big fan of the term "expert", it has an implication that someone knows it all or does not make mistakes. I will say this, it takes a lot to be an "expert". It is more than memorizing field marks, there is so much more to identifying birds than that, and applying that knowledge correctly in the field is a whole 'nother ball game. That is one of the most important things a birder can learn.

What future birding plans do you have?

To watch birds for a few days at The Grand Canyon.

Are you involved with any local or national birding organizations?

 A few casually, but I'm a bit of a hermit.

What is your nemesis bird?

I don’t have any… I've never chased a bird. But I will chase a rare raptor if one shows up within 2 hours of my home.

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

No, but if you asked me that 15 years ago I would have pages worth.

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

My wife Sherry is a birder and a Biologist.

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

Comic books (I love silver age Marvels), hiking, golf, cooking, chess, I am a sci-fi and old time radio fanatic.

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

 A Red-tailed Hawk, I just love them and have always been partial to them.

Anything else that you would like to humbly brag about?

I would never brag in "public". I did watch birds with Roger Tory that was pretty cool.

Total life list?

I really have no idea, I'm sure my North American list is pretty extensive though.

Most exotic place you've gone birding?

Mexico, Alaska (in the middle of nowhere).

Your mission in life as a birder? 

To publish more articles and share information. To continue to donate to bird conservation.

You can continue to follow Jerry Liguori's work and adventures at Utah Birders.

Birder Profile is a regular 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!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

New Yard Bird!

Upon arriving home from work this afternoon, and having parked the family minivan in the driveway, and opened my door, I immediately heard a rising zhreeeeeeeeet that I think sounds like a tent zipper.  I knew what it was and I was anxious to see it.  This wouild be a new yard bird for me in this my Bountiful, Utah home.  (Do you know what it is yet?) 

We have this standing rule in our household (well its my wife's rule anyway) that before I can look at birds in the backyard after work, I must actually enter the house and kiss my wife (something about putting her first in my life, even before birds).  So, I dashed in, gave my wife a quick peck on the cheek, grabbed the camera and exclaimed, "Gotta go. New yard bird!"

"It figures," Jessica responded with feigned disgust but an understanding twinkle in her eye.

There on the nyger feeder was a rather tiny bird with a sharp pointed bill.  It is kinda plain and light brownish, kinda like a female House Finch, but with a hint of yellow in its wings. (Now do you know what it is?)

Pine Siskin - Bountiful, UT -  Yard Bird #31
Even if you are not a Big Lister, keeping a list of yard birds is a blast.  Everybody should do it!  Keeping your list of yard birds on eBird is even better.  eBird keeps them organized for you and it helps bird science.  Over time you can really see patterns of the comings and goings of birds to your little oasis.

Other backyard birding notes of recent days....

The neighborhood not-so-wild Wild Turkey
The neighborhood Wild Turkey is still around.  Yesterday I was dumping some old left-overs into the compost container when a sudden noise startled me.  There was the Turkey just two feet away from me.

I recently put up a suet feeder and everyday when I come home from work a sweet little female Downy Woodpecker is there fattening up for motherhood.

The Dark-eyed Juncos show up whenever it snows, which is still once a week here in Utah.  They are singing when they visit.  I just love the song of the Junco.

It's fun to live in Utah where I get both American Goldfinches and Lesser Goldfinches at my feeder.  In Idaho we had occasional Lessers in the area, but never at my feeder.  In Arizona, I only had Lessers.

The Western Scrub Jays seem to have set up a nest in our front pine tree.  It's really a dense tree.  Either that, or they are raiding House Sparrow nests for food.  Time will tell.  They also seem to enjoy the peanuts I put out for them.

Monday, March 28, 2011

eBird Utah!

The Idaho birding listserv, IBLE, regularly reports the County Big List #'s mentioning the most recent species seen and what the total is year-to-date.  I kind of miss that.  I don't know that anyone one in Utah is tracking or publishing that information.  Then I realized that eBird has that reporting functionality built in.  You can click on the "View and Explore Data" tab and then on "Arrivals and Departures".  From there you can filter by country, state, and county and see what the county total is for number of species as well as in what order the birds were reported.

Below are the current rankings of the counties in Utah on eBird.  The number represents the number of species reported year-to-date (YTD) as of today.

Utah 143
Washington 142
Salt Lake 123
Davis 119
Box Elder 115
Cache 108
Duchesne 83
Weber 71
Millard 63
Tooele 62
Morgan 60
Uintah 52
Juab 50
Wasatch 50
Grand 44
Summitt 40
San Juan 37
Sevier 26
Sanpete 23
Garfield 17
Kane 15
Beaver 9
Daggett 7
Rich 2
Carbon 0
Emery 0
Iron 0
Piute 0
Wayne 0
Counties with less than 50 reported species YTD are shaded in blue.

One of the inherent weaknesses of eBird data and maps is geographic coverage, especially out west where there are millions of acres of uninhabited wilderness.  Large centers of populations have more birders and therefore more reports and more species seen.  Some Utah counties certainly need an eBird Champion! One person reporting birds from these less-birded counties can make a huge difference.  Perhaps when you are planning a birding outing in Utah, you might want to pick one of these counties and give it a little bit of eBird love!

Utah is a huge beautiful place and discovery is awaiting us!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Review: Birdchick Blog & Podcasts

A couple of years ago I discovered the wonderful world of birding blogs.  One of the first birding blogs I found and enjoyed was by Sharon Stiteler.  I appreciate her enthusiasm for birds and birding which rings through on her writing.  Aside from her own fun birding adventures and photos, Sharon often shares interesting birding news and video clips.  She's recently started posting podcasts on her blog a couple times a week which are also available at iTunes.  Each podcast episode lasts about a half an hour and features Sharon bantering humorously with Non-Birding-Bill (NBB) while relating interesting things going on in the birding world.  These regular podcasts are fun to listen to and they're informative.  Her interview with Richard Crossley was really a good one.  I just wanted to share something that I thought was pretty cool and exciting in the online birding world.  You can also follow @Birdchick on Twitter and on Facebook.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Utah Birder Profile: Ryan O'Donnell

Ryan O'Donnell
Logan, Utah

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”?

Despite growing up in the city, I feel like I've always been interested in the natural world. In fact, my first word; before "mom," "dad," or anything else; was "bird." A few years after that, I remember being impressed with my father's knowledge of the natural world. He wasn't a biologist, or a birder, or a hunter. He worked (and still works) in automotive insurance. But he loved nature, and as a young child, I noticed. I remember, at an age of less than ten - maybe five? - hearing a bird sing in my front yard, and having my dad tell me it was a chickadee. I was fascinated that he could give a name to that sound, and even tell me what the bird looked like, just by hearing it. I wanted to be able to do that. So in a way, Black-capped Chickadee was my hook bird.

In 2006, I was working in Washington State and moved in with a coworker and excellent birder, Casey Richart. Just as I had been impressed with my father's ability to identify a chickadee by its call, I was impressed by Casey's ability to identify a raptor from what seemed like miles away. Casey and I went birding several times, and I learned a lot from those trips Casey would probably qualify as my birding mentor. It was while birding with Casey that I realized that birding is not just a matter of memorizing the field marks pointed out with little arrows in the field guides, but that it is a skill that can be honed for a lifetime: learning the subtle differences in how a hawk holds its wings, recognizing the difference between chip notes of sparrows, or learning to tell the sex and age of birds. Birding was a hobby that would challenge me as long as I cared to let it.

How long have you been birding?

My interest in birds has been slowly growing since I was a kid, but I usually consider the start of my birding to be 1999, when I took an Ornithology course at the University of New Hampshire, where I was working on my Bachelor's degree.  That was the first time I took trips specifically to look for and identify birds.

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

I go birding about once a week on average, usually a weekend afternoon.  But I'm always paying attention to the birds around me, so you could say I go birding every day.  Most of my birding is done pretty close to home, around Cache Valley, because I think there is plenty to see here and I'd generally rather spend my time looking at birds than driving.  Some of my favorite local spots are Rendezvous Park, the Logan Fish Hatchery, Sue's Ponds (Logan River Wetlands), the Logan Polishing Ponds, and Benson Marina.

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

In Utah, my favorite place by far is Lytle Ranch and the adjacent Beaver Dam Slope, in the southwest corner of Washington County.  Not only are there many species of birds that are only found in that part of the state, but it is an excellent place to find vagrants.  It is just such a biologically unique place.

My favorite place in the world is anywhere I haven't been, especially if no one else has been their, either.  I recently returned from a trip to Jordan, for example.  It is relatively little known as a birding destination, so several of the birds I saw were species that were not known to occur in the country at that time of year.

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

In Cache County, I think Rendezvous Park (including parts of the adjacent Logan River Golf Course and the Logan River Trail) is only starting to be recognized as the hotspot that it is.  It is very convenient, being located right on the edge of Logan, and it is a relatively intact segment of lowland riparian habitat in a valley that has been largely converted to agriculture and urban areas.  The river and the golf course give it a range of habitat types.  Highlights from that small city park in the last three years or so have included several Northern Waterthrushes, a White-throated Sparrow, a Black-and-white Warbler, and a Mississippi Kite, among others.

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

This is a big state, but most of the population (and thus most of the birding) is concentrated along the Wasatch Front.  Anywhere away from there is underbirded, except maybe Washington County.  I think the Colorado River and its tributaries, for example in the Grand Staircase-Escalante area, are underbirded and probably hold more rarities than we know, especially vagrants from the south.  For example, a Canyon Towhee and a Thick-billed Kingbird have been seen in that area in recent years.  I also think the southeast part of our state, including the Moab area, is under-birded.  Same with the northwest part of our state. 

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

All of the above and more.  I'm certainly a lister.  I like to keep track of the birds I've seen.  eBird has been a big part of that, and keeps many lists for me automatically when I enter my sightings.  I don't often chase (or «twitch») birds, but I will chase a lifer if it's within a few hours' drive and likely to stick around.  I'm also a bird photographer and I've recently started recording bird sounds, a «bird recordist» I guess.

What kind of birding equipment do you use?

My binoculars are Nikon Monarch 10x42.  I use a Nikon spotting scope.  I always have at least a point-and-shoot camera for digiscoping rare birds, and usually my SLR as well with an 80-400mm lens.  In the last year I’ve been recording some bird sounds, too.  For that, I use an Olympus LS-10, usually with an Audio Technica AT835b shotgun microphone.

How do you keep track of your bird observations?

I use eBird exclusively and extensively.  I think it is the most powerful birding «software» out there, and it is completely free.  More important than that, it immediately makes my observations part of a global network that helps birders find more about birds and helps ornithologists learn more about their abundance, distribution, and migration.  In that way, I feel that every birding trip contributes a small part to bird conservation.

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

It is so hard to pick just one.  I love pelagic birding, so my favorite bird trips would be those I've taken on the open ocean.  But I think the sighting I'm most proud of would be the Mississippi Kite I spotted in Logan.  Although it was not accepted by the state Bird Records Committee because of the brief duration of the observations, I know that I saw the first of that species documented in Utah, and I'm pretty happy about that.

What is your favorite backyard bird?

My most rare backyard bird was a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak that showed up for a day last spring.  But my favorite regulars are the Dark-eyed Juncos.  I love the variety of different subspecies, some of which can be quite challenging to identify.

Which birding publications and websites do you read and recommend?

The only birding publication I subscribe to is Audubon Magazine.  For websites, I highly recommend eBird for learning about bird distribution and keeping track of your observations.  If you want to learn about (or share!) bird sounds, the place to go is Xeno-Canto.  It has tens of thousands of bird recordings from around the world, mapped, dated, identified, and described.  I don't think I'll ever buy another bird cd again.  To learn about Utah birds specifically, I go to often.  I also find the rare bird photos at Surfbirds to be addicting, and a good way to keep up on rare birds being seen around the country.

Which is your favorite field guide and why?

For birding in Utah, I'm torn between Sibley (western edition) and National Geographic (western edition).  Sibley had been my favorite for many years, but it is due for an updating.  I think the latest edition of the National Geographic guide tops the Sibley with its more accurate maps and inclusion of more rarities, and lacks nothing in the accuracy and quality of the drawings either.  Some of the older National Geographic editions had less accurate drawings of some species, but these have almost all been replaced in the latest edition.  Sibley shows more poses and plumages of the birds, however.  I usually carry either one of these in my car, and consult the other one at home.

Which three books from your personal birding library would you recommend to other birders

«Hope is the Thing with Feathers: A Personal Chronicle of Vanished Birds» by Christopher Cokinos.  An engaging and inspiring account of how and why we lost the species of birds that have gone extinct in North America.  Many birders don't think much about the species that are no longer here – they aren't even shown in most field guides.  But these are an important reminder of what can happen if we don't speak out for the species we love.

«Of a Feather: A Brief History of American Birding» by Scott Weidensaul.  It is fascinating to me that this hobby of ours has such a colorful history full of drama.  This book puts our pasttime into a historical context in a style that is fun and informative.

«The Big Year» by Mark Obmascik.  I understand this book has recently been made into a movie.  This is the tale of a competition between three interesting characters, and famous birders, to see the most species in North America in a single year.  Reading this book made me want to see more birds, a sign of a good birding book.

Do you have any formal bird-related education background?

I took one semester of Ornithology as an undergraduate at the University of New Hampshire.

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'm better at birding by sight than by sound, although I'm getting better at sounds.  So, I consider myself to be more of a relative expert in the tricky visual identifications.  I particularly enjoy spending time sorting through large flocks of gulls.

What future birding plans do you have?

The next big birding trip will be my first pelagic out of North Carolina this summer.  I'm looking forward to seeing some new tubenoses, like Black-capped Petrel, Cory's Shearwater, and several species of Storm-Petrel.

Are you involved with any local or national birding organizations?

I'm involved with the National Audubon Society and especially with my local chapter, the Bridgerland Audubon Society.  I currently serve on their Board of Trustees and I am their Field Trip Coordinator.

What is your nemesis bird?

I can't think of any species that I should have seen by now but I haven't.  In Cache County, Gray Partridge was a nemesis bird that I finally found last fall.  I suppose American Bittern is a peristing nemesis bird for Cache County, but they are not very common here.

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

Active birders that read birding listserves but never post their sightings.  If you don’t want to be involved in the community of birders, that’s fine.  But if you are taking advantage of the community of birders without contributing to that community, well, that’s not too cool.  If you appreciate reading about other people’s findings, share your own once in a while.  It doesn’t have to be an amazing find, just share a trip list or the latest activity at your feeder, at least.

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

My parents, brother, and sister all live in Seattle, where I grew up.  My fiancee Stephanie is also a birder, but perhaps keeps the hobby to a more reasonable level than I do!

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

Bird photography combines my two favorite hobbies, birding and photography.  I’ve recently gotten into recording birds sounds, as a natural extension of birding and my desire to learn to bird by ear better.  (

I am a graduate student, and for my research I study the conservation genetics of Northern Leopard Frogs.  I’m also very interested in amphibians and reptiles, and I’m always watching for them when I’m birding and vice versa.

Any funny birding experiences you could tell us?

I have a friend who, in addition to her life list, keeps a list of species that have pooped on her.  She was excited when I found a large flock of Bohemian Waxwings on the campus of Utah State University, and was jealous when another friend received a small aerial package of digested fruit seeds while we were watching them.

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

I'm not sure I could pick a species, but I'd definitely be a migrant.  I love to travel, and I love to travel to hot places.

Anything else that you would like to humbly brag about?

I'm proud of holding the record for a Cache County, UT Big Year, with 242 species.  I'm looking forward to doing another county big year after the next time I move to a new county, but I don't plan on doing another one here.

Total life list?

749.  The latest addition was a Lesser Kestrel in Jordan.

Most exotic place you’ve gone birding?

I've birded in three countries outside of North America: Costa Rica, Colombia, and Jordan.  I think Jordan is probably the most exotic in terms of the proportion of species that were new to me and in terms of how rarely it is birded.  Colombia was pretty close as well, and some of the parks we visited in the Magdalena Valley felt very remote.

Your mission in life as birder?

I would like to some day be skilled enough to be paid to lead bird trips to exotic places.  I would also like to teach other people around me appreciate the beauty and diversity of birds so that they value them and their habitat.

Birder Profile is a regular 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!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Review: Peterson Birds of North America for iPhone & iPad

Scott Tuthill
Guest Birding App Reviewer for Birding is Fun!
There is no more venerable name in birdwatching than Roger Tory Peterson (RTP). The 1934 launch of his simply named "Field Guide" revolutionized bird identification through it's "Peterson System". Notably pioneering the approach of pointing out those few differentiating marks that can readily
identify a specie in the field while looking at it through binoculars -- of course with a RTP Field Guide in hand. Fast forward now 77 years. Appweavers, Inc., led by Nigel Hall,  has taken up the challenge of adapting the RTP field guide for use on modern smart phones and tablet devices. The question this review will attempt to answer is: "How well did they manage to put a RTP guide into a smartphone and make it usable in the field?"

In my case I ran the just released Version 1.1 of the application, downloaded from iTunes, on my iPhone 4. The application weighs in at a rather hefty 701 MB which, while large as iPhone apps go, should easily fit. Because of this relatively large size, however, you do probably want to download it over WiFi or via syncing with your PC rather than a 3G connection directly to the App Store.

First,  it is important to note that Appweavers, through partnership with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, is using the exact same content as found in the print versions of the guides. The plates, the text, and the maps are exactly the same and will be familiar to all who have ever used RTP guides, which is most of us, I would guess. There has been no loss in information in squeezing the guide into a smart phone. In fact, you get even more as I will point out later.

Second, so how well does this app provide you with a "RTP Field Guide in your pocket?". I have always thought the ideal field guide should fit in your pocket to allow both hands on your binoculars, to lug your scope up to the top of a hill, or cradle that warm cup of coffee in the morning. Then, when needed, you should be able to pull it out, quickly find the page you need, and have it present you with the right information to help you make an identification. Appweavers has done a stunningly good job at this and I would feel confident using this app in the field. No more standing on a windswept roadside with a larger paper field guide held between my legs, or tucked in my waistband because I don't have a pocket big enough, or buried at the bottom of my backpack. 

Here is how it works.

When you start the app the home page presents you with 32 icons representing common groupings of birds. For example, Warblers, or Woodpeckers. You tap the desired icon and are taken to the first plate in that group. You can then flick back and forth through the plates looking for the bird or birds of interest. Through a very creative and easy to use interface the whole screen is used to display the plate. And if the birds just look a little too small to see the field marks, no problem. Double tap the screen and it will zoom in on that part of the page. Another double tap will zoom back out to the whole page. It was amazing to me how well this mimics leafing through the pages of a traditional field guide. Even better? The wind can't blow the pages around on you. With gloves on you might have a problem as the touch screen does not respond well to gloved hands.  This is an iPhone issue in general, not a application issue.

Once on the plate of interest a tap on the bottom of the screen brings up a menu to access additional information for the birds on the page. [By the way, though this application works with the iPhone in both portrait (long edge up) and landscape (long edge sideways) orientations, I found the portrait orientation to be most useful. You may find it the other way.] One tap brings up the text associated with the birds on that plate. Another tap brings up the range maps. This in itself is a wonderful and useful improvement over the traditional challenge of finding the range map in the back of a RTP field guide (the older ones at least) while not losing your page with the plate and text. With the app interface it is very easy to toggle back and forth between the plate, the text information, and the range maps. And, in general, the interface Appweavers has created for the Peterson application is the most elegant, innovative and useful I have seen in an iPhone application. For instance when you tap on a specific bird on a plate all the other birds on the same plate appear to go out of focus so you know which bird you selected. Selection of individual range maps is accomplished via a unique sliding filmstrip tool.

As they say "But wait, there's more". Many birdwatchers soon discover the hobby is as much about "bird listening" as "bird watching". Appweavers has advanced the concept of a field guide by smoothly integrating bird songs into the application. From the plate screen tap on a bird, it's name is displayed at the top of the screen so you know what you selected, tap on the bottom to bring up the menu for more information, tap on the speaker icon and it will play the song for that bird. Want to quickly compare the song to another bird on the page? Just tap on that bird, it's name is displayed, and its song starts playing. Is the bird on the next plate?  No problem. Just flick to the next plate, tap the bird, and the song starts playing. When done with songs just tap on the speaker icon again to turn it off. This integration of audio within a field guide really is a revolutionary step and represents what can be done using a smart phone platform. You just can't do this with a paper field guide.

Also in the "But wait, there's more" category, Appweavers has also included links to photos of specie bird nests, a useful Similar Species listing to help you through the process of sorting out what you might have seen, and a specie Quick Facts sheet. And, if double tapping on a full plate does not zoom in enough on a bird drawing, there is also a separate section where you can go to see even more enlarged sections of the plates. A quick comparison I made showed these enlargements were just as big, if not bigger, than the plates in a printed field guide. And, if you want, you can link out to your own photo's of the specie that you have in your iPhone.

Beyond the identification field guide functionality Appweavers has also provided useful extras in their app. You can record your daily sightings and your life list as well as search through them. They also have provided a selection of useful and interesting articles to birdwatchers.

Full Screen Plate View
Tap this part of the Screen to bring up a menu of additional information icons.

All in all Appweavers' Peterson app for the iPhone is an extremely well executed implementation of the RTP Field Guide. Not only does it present the Peterson System but extends beyond it where you would expect and does so with a user interface that is simple and fun to use. I can easily see where this will take the place of a printed field guide. And, since you always have your phone with you, it is even more useful for those chance encounters when you would not have a traditional field guide with you. Obviously, you do need to make sure to keep your phone charged. A necessary evil for an electronic field guide and one area where the traditional paper field guide retains its advantage.

When you head off to the App Store be aware there are several "Peterson Field Guide" apps. This one is by Appweavers, is called "Peterson Birds of North America" and has an American Robin as it's app icon as pictured here. It is currently priced at $29.99. Though this price is a bit more than the current list price for a printed field guide remember it also has all the birds songs included which are usually only available at an extra cost beyond a printed guide. The Extra's section of the app also includes all the text from Steve Howell's Peterson Reference Guide to Molt in North American Birds which is a $35 list price book.

Finally, I also installed and played with this application on a iPad 2. Though an iPad is not the type of thing I would take out into the field with me it certainly can be used around the house for feeder watching and the like. The app takes advantage of the iPad's extra screen area by presenting the plates and text side by side on the screen if you hold the iPad in landscape format. (Landscape = long edge sideways. And, the application works much better in landscape on an iPad than on an iPhone.)  Flick to a new plate and the text follows. Double tap on a bird, the plate zooms in with the unique focus/out of focus display and just the text for that specie is displayed. Tap on the speaker icon and the song for that bird is played. The extra screen space certainly makes for a more comfortable usage experience but the iPhone implementation is just fine.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Review: Hawks at a Distance

Standing atop Lucky Peak, on the east end of the Treasure Valley, overlooking the city of Boise, I got my first taste of hawk-watching.  There the crew of the Idaho Bird Observatory counts hawks in migration.  I was amazed and very impressed at the skills of these college aged "kids".  They could call out an identification of a bird of prey a mile away.  "How do you do that?" I exclaimed!  Identification, for these young but experienced hawk-watchers, was the easy part.  The ability to explain to me how they knew the bird was the hard part.  Jerry Liguori has found a way to communicate to birders of all ages and skill levels how he can identify hawks at a distance.  He provides us with a study tool that is the next best thing to being with him atop a ridge near a hawk flyway.

Having just reviewed the Crossley Guide, I can't help but notice a strong similarity in the method and instructions on how to use "Hawks at a Distance".  It really is a study guide, not a typical field guide.  Each species has its own section that starts with a stunningly beautiful close-up photo and some text, but then right away gets down and dirty with dozens of distance photographs.  All of the photos are nicely scaled to a consistent size for ease of comparison and they really do look like what you see through your binoculars.  Ligouri captures all the lighting and angles in which you could possibly see these hawks.

In one evening, I pretty much read the entire book.  Now I'll have to go back and study each species.  I am so delighted with the all of the new identification clues I have found herein that I have not come across in any other writings on hawks; not only clues about the birds themselves, but how to look at them.  I appreciate the bold font highlighting key points of wisdom.  The forward by Pete Dunne is excellent and sets a great tone for what is to follow.  The "Shape Guide" in black and white in the back is a fantastic learning tool helping you focus on shape as well as the light and dark contrast rather than on the color.  It should be noted that this guide is about hawks at a distance in flight, not perched.

If you've struggled with the Accipter identification malady like I have, Hawks at a Distance is the cure. By putting in the work to study these photos and internalizing the helpful text explaining what is shown in each photo, you would be ready to join a hawk-watch group and dazzle them with your advanced skills.  Next time I visit a hawk-watch site, I'll be ready, thanks to "Hawks at a Distance!"

Having recently moved to Utah, I've been privileged to read Jerry's blog posts at Utah Birders.

For samples of the book, visit the links below:
Cooper's Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Rough-legged Hawk

I wish to express my continued thanks to Princeton University Press for providing me with review copies of wonderful birding books. You can purchase a copy of "Hawks at a Distance" from their website or on Amazon for as little as $11.50.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Enjoying Some "Everyday Birds"

House Finches on barbed-wire with last year's thistle crop.
A gorgeous American Robin close-up!
Hey, did you hear that the American Kestrel is the first Bird of the Year?  Check out the new ABA affinity program here!
Pair of Mallards on a block wall.
All these photos were taken at my new birding patch in Salt Lake City along the Jordan River Parkway Trail.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

What kind of Northern Flicker?

Northern Flickers are such awesome birds!  I see Red-shafted Northern Flickers pretty regularly in my Utah, Idaho, Oregon and Arizona birding (reporting them on 358 checklists on eBird).  I got to see my first Yellow-shafted Flickers in Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia last fall.  I love to see them in flight with the colorful underwings and their bold white rump.  I catch them eating ants on the ground or screaming at me from the tree tops.  They'll even occasionally visit my backyard bird feeders.  Last year, one flicker unfortunately became the victim of my window, but it granted me some fascinating in-the-hand study of its massive bill, spotted breast, brown and black barred back, and stout tail feathers.  Then I gave it a little funeral.
On Tuesday, I photographed this Northern Flicker at my patch along the Jordan River in Salt Lake City.  I'm always struck by the strong red malar stripe indicative of a male Red-shafted Flicker.  But the red crescent on the nape triggered something in my brain that said "this bird is different!"
Red-shafted Northern Flickers in the western United States don't have a red crescent, but the Yellow-shafted common to the eastern states does.  Male Yellow-shafted Flickers have a black moustache.  So, what in the heck is this flicker showing traits of both types of Flickers?!
This photo shows the orange-ish underside of the tail feathers.  When this bird flew, that reddish-orange color was consistent on the underwings.

The Northern Flicker shown in my photos is either a hybrid (one parent of each) or an intergrade (an intermediate form, possibly the grandchild of a Yellow-shafted).  Pretty cool, huh?!

Moral of the story...give all those flickers out there a second glance.  You might just find a weird one!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

While I was birding...a true story

(Warning! - adult content. No photos and described mildly, but perhaps still not suitable to younger readers)

When I lived in Mesa, Arizona, we weren't too far from Red Mountain and the Salt River and some great recreational areas. Granite Reef Recreation was just five minutes north of my home and a favorite spot for getting started in bird watching.

One Saturday morning I headed out as the sun rose. I was surprised to see a couple of vehicles in the parking lot already as I usually had the place to myself.

"Probably a couple of fishermen" I supposed.

I headed up river on a little game trail, ducking under the overgrown thorny Mesquite trees and trying to avoid whipping myself in the face with salt brush. I heard some sound coming from the other side of a large bush just ahead of me. Perhaps it was an Abert's Towhee scratching at the ground, so very stealthily I crept around the bush to sneak up on it without spooking it.

As I rounded the bush, to my utter shock and dismay I discovered two adult feather-less homosapien bipeds mating canine style on a blanket.

"Pardon me!" I squeaked and turned my eyes from the scene.

As I scampered off as quickly as I was able, I could hear the attractive female golden-crowned double-breasted hip-swinger complaining vociferously to the drab male about his choice of location for their little outdoor rendezvous.

I was embarrassed for them and for myself, though I'm still chuckling...nervously.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Snow Basin Utah - Scout Camp-out and Life Bird!

We parked at the Snow Basin ski resort and hiked for about a mile to a yurt provided by the forest service.  We strapped our packs and gear to sleds and pulled them through the snow.  Another Scout troop was already in the yurt, so we set up our tents some yards away.
The snow was pretty deep, but the weather was warm and the stream was running.  Once we got off the main road, I was regularly sinking into the snow thigh deep, so it was rough and exhausting for me.  The young scouts scampered across the snow almost never breaking through the frozen crust...I don't know...something about pounds per square inch was coming into play and not in my favor.
While we were setting up our tents, I saw this silhouette near the top of the tree just across the way.  As you might well expect, I had my binoculars strapped to my chest at the ready for any birds I might see.  Owing to several recent reports on Utah birding listservs, I've been anxious to see one for myself.  I've even made a couple of quests to see this bird and dipped.  I have studied it in photographs and I've studied its sound.  As soon as I saw it, I knew this tiny ball of feathers was my life bird #374... a Northern Pygmy-Owl!
I knew this owl might be a possibility in this area simply based on habitat, but I had not heard of any reports of them being seen at Snow Basin.  How fortunate I was to have one curiously watching us set up camp!  I watched it dive after some sort of prey.  It was gone for several minutes and then returned to this perch.  The scouts and leaders of both troops were impressed to see it and to know what it was called.  I was delighted!
The lighting and conditions for good photographs was just opposite of what I needed.  The sun was setting behind the bird, it was overcast and I was sinking in several feet of snow with every laborious step.  The photos aren't great, but sufficient for photo documentation.

As we sat around camp that evening, we could a hear a couple of Northern Pygmy-owls hooting to my ears!
The next morning we rolled up camp and spent some time sledding.  Here's one of my scouts in a precarious situation....and here's how he ended up!

Friday, March 11, 2011

The American Robin

A well known, well loved, classic beautiful bird!  

If you think about it, the American Robin epitomizes what most North Americans think of when they consider song birds, nesting birds, and especially bird eggs.  Three states (CT, MI, WI) have it as their state bird.  It is one popular bird!

I love watching them strut the ground feeling the vibrations of subterranean worms.  They cock their heads as if listening or looking with one eye for worms.  What is that all about anyway?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Crossley ID Guide...some additional thoughts

Aside from the purpose and intent of Crossley's ID Guide mentioned in my previous post...

...Here are some things I really like about this bird guide:

1.  The Size Guide - shows bird families together on one page, pictured by relative size.  What a great way to focus on and learn overall size and shape.  Size guides like this are especially helpful for species like gulls.

2.  The best Bird Topography guide I have ever seen.  On four pages, Crossley uses eleven different birds to point out all the parts and pieces.  Most guides only have one or two birds depicted - obligatorily squeezed onto a page.  (Stokes does have nine species on six pages, which is also really well done.)

(click to enlarge)
3.  This guide contains more images of birds than any other to date.  Birds are depicted in close-ups and varying distances, even to specs in the sky.  This is very helpful.

4.  Birds are depicted in probable habitat scenarios.  You can see how they perch, fly, wade, or feed in a natural setting.  This may not be accurate across a birds entire range, but good enough to convey the idea.

5.  Each bird photo shown is there for a reason.  Richard, or his staff, have taken the time to crop and manipulate each bird image.  They wouldn't have gone to the effort without something to teach by each one.  It is up to us to figure out what we can learn from it.  Sometimes another species shown on the same page.  It helps you understand the proportions and relative size.

6.  Crossley doesn't include much in the way of vocalizations, and he even says he ended up including more than he originally intended to.  I agree with Crossley that trying to teach vocalizations through a field guide is of little or no use.  The most effective method I have participated in for learning bird vocalizations was in John C. Robinson's webinars.  He would show his written out mnemonic, sing/say it how he knows it, then play a recording of the real bird call.  Only then was I able to learn the vocalization and see how I could apply it myself in the field.  Now this method of teaching mnemonic and bird vocalizations could be done in a digital format.

Some things I'd like to see improved on the next edition:

1.  Maps - the maps are pretty good, but I still prefer Sibley's map showing migration.  I am still hoping for all field guide creators to use a uniform system for color coding.  I am also still anxious for the day that a field guide author says "I used eBird data to help me create the range maps".

2.  It's kind of weird seeing photos of people in a field guide.  I figure Crossley was paying homage to a few old birding friends or something by including them in the backgrounds.  Its just weird!  (Since writing that, I have heard and read that one dude was a stranger he had known all of 20 minutes, and his daughters are in there too.  Who are the guys on the boat?)

(click to enlarge)
3.  Okay, so maybe a few plates are a little too busy or the background is too strong for my eyes to concentrate, for example the Rufous Hummingbird.  Crossley did say he was going after reality and the reality of nature is that the background can sometimes be busy.  Regardless, I think the plates are eye-catching and artistic and beg me to stare and study them.

4.  I love Rick Wright's idea of making this a digital guide.  I see it being a perfect tool for things like the iPad or other similar tablets.  Cell phone apps would probably be too small to be really useful as a workbook.  Crossley mentioned in his interview on the BirdChick podcast that he one day sees video-ID Giudes.  I could totally see that on an iPad.  Wouldn't that be cool!


I really enjoy this new take on teaching birding skills through a workbook scenario.  The Crossley ID Guide is beautiful, captivating, and a real gem.  You'd better hurry up and get one now and bone up on those warblers!