Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Birds I hope to see in Ohio - Midwest Birding Symposium

In my excitement to attend the Midwest Birding Symposium, I scoured eBird to create for myself a list of birds that I can hope to see.  I ran a report in eBird to show me all the bird sightings for September for the Lakeside area and adjacent counties.   Then I downloaded the data into Excel so I could view it on a week-by-week basis and focus on the middle two weeks of September.  Then I narrowed down the list so that it only shows my potential life birds.  After that, I sorted the bird species by the frequency reported, to create this silly little probability chart:

This chart establishes the list of species I need to study.  Using my arsenal of birding field guidebooks I hope to be prepared to identify them correctly in the field.

Now, I am open to advice from birders familiar with this area that can steer me in the right direction or tell me that my chart is completely useless.  This chart is based off of fellow eBirder sightings only, so it may not be perfectly accurate - we just need more eBirders!!!

I plan on birding intensely on Friday and Saturday mornings before the presentations begin.  I understand that the Symposium organizers have volunteer bird guides stationed at local hotspots.  I hope that they too can help me.  If you are planning to attend and think you can help show me the ropes, please let me know!

P.S.  I only need 14 birds to hit the 400 Life Bird mark, which is likely to happen during the Midwest Birding Symposium.  It will be an exciting time!  Come and see the life bird dance for yourself when I hit 400!!!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Great Kestrel Count 2011

This weekend! 

Where will you be looking for Kestrels?

Please email me your Kestrel photos and experiences to be posted here!

Click on the logo-link below or in the sidebar for details.

Monday, August 29, 2011

A new lifer! Pine Grosbeak

As a Scoutmaster, I go camping almost every month...and I love it! My family really enjoys camping too, but we've had a hard time working in a weekend of family camping this summer.  Finally, this last weekend, we took the whole kit and caboodle up to the Monte Cristo campground in northern Utah. This is very near the area Kyle and I had gone on the 4th of July to see the Purple Martins and Williamson's Sapsuckers.

While we were unloading the family minivan at our campsite, I heard bird calls I didn't recognize. Of course, I had my binoculars harnessed to my chest and quickly put them on the birds. Well, I'll be...A life bird, Pine Grosbeaks!

That evening and the next morning especially I enjoyed watching several Pine Grosbeaks, males, females, and even juveniles. We had the camera with us, but the distance was too much to get any quality photos.  Oh how I longed for a digiscoping rig!  I'd like to thank the Utah birder/photographers who allowed me to share their quality photos below so you can have a glimpse at the beauty and awesomeness of this mountain bird.

Pine Grosbeak - female - photo by Paul Higgins
Pine Grosbeak - male - photo by Tim Avery
This campout also yielded a couple firsts for my Utah bird list:  Red Crossbill, Clark's Nutcracker, and Golden-crowned Kinglet.  There were also plenty of other mountain specialty birds including: Flammulated Owl - hooting at night and even into the early morning, Stellar's Jay, and Mountain Chickadee.  I also enjoyed Brown Creepers and a Purple Martin fly-over.  There were of course other common birds too.  Not bad for a family campout, wherein birding was secondary!

Below are some maps to help you understand the range of the Pine Grosbeak.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Where do the Woodpeckers go?

While birding my lunch-hour patch, I saw a Northern Flicker and it struck me that I hadn't seen one in awhile.  My trusty eBird records confirmed that I hadn't reported one from my patch since the first week of May.  Where have they been these last couple months?

Even in my yard, our Downy Woodpecker (that was such regular visitor that my 4-year-old named her "Elizabeth") has been missing for a few weeks until just a couple days ago.  Where had she been?

My theory - before looking at any eBird information - is that the woodpeckers escape the heat of the valley floor and head for the coolness of the wooded hills and mountains.

eBird abundance charts indicate lower observations in the month of July.  But, is that just because birders are birding less?  Looking at eBird sightings maps on a month-by-month for the Boise and Salt Lake areas also shows fewer sightings of woodpeckers in the summer months.

I would be interested in seeing eBird data that could be sorted by elevation above sea level.  That might yield more clues about where birds are going during the changing seasons.  eBird used to have the option to enter elevation, but I don't see it any more.  I know mapping software is now so good that elevations for pretty much any point on a map can be obtained, so maybe it is no longer necessary to ask birders to enter their best guesses as to their altitude when observing birds.

What has been your experience with woodpecker seasonal disappearance where you live?  Do you have any thoughts or theories? ...or absolute scientific knowledge?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Birder Profile: Nicole Perretta

Nicole Perretta
with Jay Leno
San Diego, California
How did you get into birding? Did you or do you have a birding mentor and can you tell us about that person? Did you have a “spark bird”?

I would have to say it was my grandmother who peaked my interest in birds. She always had a yard full of visiting birds. Occasionally, a Mourning Dove would become stuck in the chicken coop and I was the one to rescue it. Mourning Doves are amazing to behold in hand. Their sky blue eye rings, powdery grey under wings, and iridescent neck spots, are enough to push anyone over the edge. They did it for me, and I’ve not been sane since.

How long have you been birding?

I started birding when I was 9 years old. So um, that's 30 years now.

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

I am a silent birder, I sleuth around like a Hermit Thrush, often heard, but rarely seen in the field. I prefer to bird far from home. I would rather see a bird in its natural habitat, than chase a rarity.

Where is your favorite place to bird?

Anywhere I can see a bunch of new birds at a time. My recent favortie spot was Colca Canyon, Arequipa, Peru. Got to see my first Furnariids, quite a treat!! I travel to Peru every year, as my husband is from there. I look forward to birding new spots every time I go.

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

I'm from San Diego, that place is crawling with birders!!! I doubt any place has been left unbirded, especially after the San Diego Bird Atlas.

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

Sometimes I bird for a cause, like to raise money for the local Audubon Society Bird-a-thon, or for the Christmas Bird Count. During those times, I become a ticker and chaser. Being a mother of two, I just do not have time to chase birds locally. I really only can go birding when I am at the bird festivals away from home. Since I am at home quite a bit though, I have learned to enjoy watching the local birds go about their daily lives.

What kind of birding equipment do you use?

I have kids that like to use my stuff. Therefore, no expensive gear used. I really love my Nikon Monarchs. Really good lighting and light weight too!! I used to have a scope, but it was stolen and I’ve yet to replace it.

How do you keep track of your bird observations?

Since I've had children, I've become very unorganized with my record keeping. I tend to write things down then forget to put in on a master list. I even tried putting them down on an ipod bird app, but lost interest. I have a wonderful hard covered journal that I started writing my life list in when I was nine years old. My last entry was when I was 15 years ago I think. Fortunately, like my bird calls, I can remember every bird I've seen, where I saw it, and the year. Unfortunately, I can not add in my head, so I really don't know what my total count is!

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

Honestly, my favorite bird sighting is always when I see a new bird for the first time. Sometimes you wait years to see something. My first trip to the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival last year, gave me an opportunity to see some epic new birds. I was quite happy.

Any good backyard birding stories?

I like when birds bathe in my bird bath. My favorite for a while was a Wilson’s Warbler that bathed daily. I named him, “Wet Willy”. I had a Rose-breasted Grosbeak and a Palm Warbler in my yard one year, not bad for San Diego.

Which birding publications and websites do you read and recommend?

Birdwatcher's Digest!! Seriously, that is the only publication I receive. I love Xeno-canto for bird vocalizations.

Which is your favorite field guide and why?

I am really digging the smart phone versions of Audubon, iBird, and Sibley. The idea of carrying a 400+ page book on a tiny device tickles me. I also love the fact you can bring up the calls for each bird. Please let me know when any of the Peruvian field guides are available for ipod. I'm getting tired of the bulk!!! However my all time favorite North American guide is National Geographic. I have all the editions. I really like the illustrations and layout, and it was my first discriptive filed guide I ever bought.

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

You know, I love Princeton Press (plug plug). Just about any book they make is awesome. Birds of Peru, the Crossely Guide, and any other of thier series. I collect field guides, so it is hard for me to single any out.

Do you have any formal bird-related education background?

Nothing formal or academic. I've worked as a bird banding technician, point-counter, private collection aviculturist, zookeeper and avian incubation and hand-rearing technician at the San Diego Zoo, wildlife rahabilitator, and bird illustrator. The birds have given me a good education.

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 do not belive it is possible to be an expert really. Birds challenge us dialy. I used to think I knew a lot when I was young, I don't think that anymore. Ok I probably can ID accipiters with confidence, then again, I once encountered a bird which may have been a hybrid Coop/Sharpy. I even had it in hand, and took photos and I still get confused by it.

What future birding plans do you have?

To Bird in Ohio!!!!!!

What is your nemesis bird?

Swallow-tailed Kite, then again, I have not been to the south.

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

Mean birders that take life too seriously. Not everything is a contest…

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

They've given up on me long ago. I think one of my sons may end up being a birder, we'll see.

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

I’ve been a falconer for 20 years. Actually, this sums up why I do not have time to do just about anything else. I am also a wildlife artist.  Visit

"Hidden Prey” American Kestrel 9 x 12 Watercolor on illustration board by Nicole Perretta
Any funny birding experiences you could tell us?

Well the funniest have been when I've called birds in. Once, I was birding with my bird-a-thon teammates, and we went to find California Quail for our list. We got out of the car, walked a little ways into the field, and my teammate Leslie said, “OK, call them.” So I called. We heard nothing but rustling in the bushes ahead of us, so I shrugged and called again. The rustling got closer. I called another time, and out exploded two male California Quail that flew straight toward my face. Of course, once they saw five people standing where an intruding quail was supposed to be, they made an immediate 180 turn in mid-flight and flew back into cover. We were laughing so hard we almost fell over.

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

When I was a child, I made up a bird that had legs and feet like a Secretary Bird, wings of an falcon, a tail of a swallow, and was rainbow colored. Maybe I should be that bird? I think if I could be a bird for a day, a Merlin would be fun. As long as I did not get munched by something larger, chasing sparrows at mock 10 would be thrilling.

Anything else that you would like to humbly brag about?

Hey did I mention I was on the Ellen Show and Jay Leno, twice for my bird calls? I can do 160 bird calls now. Video clips of Nicole Perretta online.

Total life list?

Let me get back to you when I figure that out. My world list is much higher than my US list. I've been to Mexico, Canada, Peru and Italy and only a handful of states.

Most exotic place you’ve gone birding?

Peru and Copper Canyon, MX.

Your mission in life as birder?

Enjoy every bird I see.

Come meet Nicole in person and listen to her presentation which will amaze and entertain you at the Midwest Birding Symposium, Sept 15-18 in Lakeside, Ohio.

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

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

One Birder's View on Hunting

Recently, when reviewing Pete Dunne's Arctic Autumn and I mentioned it contained "the most well thought out, logically written, and both intelligently and emotionally engaging essay on hunting ever written."  This subject has remained forcefully in my mind.  Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's personal challenge this year of only eating the meat of animals he himself kills has also been running in my consciousness as I ponder this subject.  Back when I was a Boy Scout, my Scoutmasters instilled in me the principle, "If you kill it, you eat it."

Below are some excellent thoughts and discussion points shown as quotes or paraphrases from Pete Dunne, taken from Arctic Autumn.  Thought I don't focus on it here, in his book, Pete Dunne shows a deep understanding and respect for those who chose to be vegetarians on principle.  Paraphrasing and taking quotes out of the context of the full story makes them a bit less powerful (so buy the book and read it!) and I hope not to skew any of Pete's intended message:

Our modern system "reduces humans from predators to carrion feeders" (carrion being defined as food killed by someone or something else).  Most of us are dependent upon "store-bought subsistence".

Look at the "cumulative energetic price tag" of meat and food.  Getting as much food as possible directly from nature avoids the mass-production, slaughter, packaging, preservatives, shipping, etc. Deer are abundant enough - more economical pound-for-pound than beef.  More energetically efficient and environmentally friendly than meat (or even produce) in the store.  Modern agriculture has wiped out millions of acres of prairie and forest.

"I find, when I sit down to a meal of grilled venison chops, supported with vegetables purchased from the local farm-stand two miles from our home, that I feel just a little bit better about my place on this planet.  I feel a little more honest and a little more directly connected and a lot more ethical at such times than I do when I'm eating out of the store."

Sophie the vegetarian: "Do you respect the animals you kill?" 
Dunne:  "Respect is the moral foundation of hunting.  Without it, hunting is just killing animals."  He then explains his hunting preparations, selecting the hunting location, not making mistakes, etc. which he does out of respect for the animal whose life he takes.

"So I hunt in order to eat? No.  That's as wrong as saying I hunt in order to kill."  

"Hunting is not 'playing' predator. Hunting is being predator."

Why Pete hunts:  "I'm actor in the drama."  "It is the most real thing I do."  "Communion." "The communion between predator and prey does not die with the dying." "The animal who gave its life will become part of our body."

Below are some passages of scripture that have greatly influenced my opinion (much more so than my personal practice unfortunately) of hunting and eating meat:

"Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly; And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine. And whoso forbiddeth to abstain from meats, that man should not eat the same, is not ordained of God; For, behold, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which cometh of the earth, is ordained for the use of man for food and for raiment, and that he might have in abundance."

"...the fulness of the earth is yours, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which climbeth upon the trees and walketh upon the earth;  Yea, and the herb, and the good things which come of the earth, whether for food or for raiment;  Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart;  Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul.  And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess."

The key words from the above scriptures, even for the non-religious, are "thankfulness", "use sparingly", and "used with judgement, not to excess."

Here are my concluding thoughts:

Uncles on both sides of my family are avid hunters, but my dad isn't a hunter, so I never became one.  I've never been opposed to hunting for food.  Killing for the sake of sport or trophy greatly disappoints me.

There is a real joy and satisfaction that comes from eating that which you have grown in a vegetable garden or from fruit bearing trees, plants, vines, etc. I felt this deeply as a kid working the family garden. That joy and satisfaction is not felt when the produce is simply purchased from the supermarket.  I imagine that a similar experience is felt when eating the meat provided by your own skill, with thankfulness for the life given to sustain your own.  Perhaps there really is something to Thomas Jefferson's wish for a strong agrarian society...connecting man more deeply to nature somehow makes us better people.  I recognize the economic benefits and the wonderful increases in technology due to our society's ability to "specialize".  But shouldn't "specialization" have reduced the overall "cumulative energetic price tag"?  What if every family, regardless of occupation, still had a garden and hunted for a bit of sustainable food? That would allow us all to be a little more self-sufficient.  I see that providing endless benefits and solutions to many of society's and nature's ills.

It is time for me to stop being a hypocrite when it comes to what I eat, how I get it, and how I live what I believe.  Pete Dunne may have convinced me to become a hunter... and a gardener too.  I want to commune more deeply with the earth and with God.

What are your thoughts on this subject?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Penitent Plea

There is a growing division in our country, and in the world. This divisiveness even invades the birding world at times...often with a provocative topic or statement thrown out with the hope of stimulating traffic to our blogs.  We are increasingly fanatical in our expressions.  We've ratcheted-up the rhetoric.  Our words too often espouse hatred.  Compromise is now considered a curse word.  Partisanship is at an all time high.  We are treating each other like enemies.  Many now look at the government like it is our enemy.  We ignorantly assign to those we oppose heaps of heinous and evil motives.  No one can prosper in this environment.

No political party or faction thereof has a corner on the market of truth, correctness, nor righteousness.  Government is necessary for the preservation of a good society and the environment that sustains life.  Liberals are not our enemies.  Conservatives are not our enemies.  We are all the brothers and sisters of the human race.

Quelling debate is not my goal.   Civil discussion is essential about the size and power of government and the constitutionality of laws, and hundreds of other issues.  My hope is that we can suppress the hateful tone of our dialogue.  Unfortunately, there will always be people that will make us their enemy and we may have to defend ourselves, but hopefully we can do so in manner that pacifies rather than provokes.  

It all comes down to loving our fellow man.  If we're motivated by love, we will be more moderate and judicious in the words we use, in the way we treat each other, in the way we respect all forms of life.  Let us appreciate the diversity of opinion and remember to amicably agree to disagree on some things.  We can even poke fun at each other's points of view in a friendly manner.  Let us listen more and shout less.

I recognize my own past offenses in this regard, especially when discussing politics, and I humbly apologize.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Birder Profile: Bridget Stutchbury

Bridget Stutchbury
Toronto, Ontario (academic, suburban home)
Cambridge, Springs PA (research and nature home)

How did you get into birding?

I got a summer job as a field assistant at the Queen’s University Biology Station in southern Ontario to study Tree Swallows. I was a junior at Queen’s University but had NO experience with birding. I started going on regular early morning birds walks – talk about a rookie!

How long have you been birding?

My first bird walk was in 1983 – so almost 30 years now.

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

Not as often as I would like to! Perhaps a dozen times per year, and either when traveling on business (scientific conference, birding festival) or locally (Ontario, Pennsylvania). Though I do extensive field research on birds, I find I don’t have much time for recreational birding (until I retire, that is!)

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

“Watcher” – I do research on bird behaviour and am fascinated with seeing new, unfamiliar behaviours and/or wondering why the bird acts the way it does (what is the benefit, in terms of reproduction or survival). Bird social behaviour is amazingly complex and sophisticated, and I never tire of watching even common birds likely chickadees.

What kind of birding equipment do you use?

I have a 20 year old pair of 10x42 Leicas that are as good as new, viewing wise.

How do you keep track of your bird observations?

During research we often spend hours watching individual birds (or even radio-tracking them to really follow them around) and record our observations on paper, on GPS, on video (for nest watches) or even on a tape recorder.

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

My favorite sighting was the first time I saw a male Scarlet Tanager “tend” to his demanding mate who was waiting high in the forest canopy. I was doing a research project on tanagers to look at movements off the territory within a continuous forest versus movements across fields between forest fragments (e.g. do fragments isolate the pair). This led to a neat observation and a new study. Male tanagers are tentative in approaching a decoy and playback (beside a mist net) and this male had been slowing descending from the canopy, getting almost down to net level and thus potentially “catchable”. It was agonizing to watch, waiting to see if he would suddenly dive at the decoy in a fit of aggression. Just when I thought he was about to make his move, I heard a soft sound from above “pew, pew, pew” and he immediately flew up to the canopy to join a female tanager. I had heard this sound once or twice before, but never realized it was a tanager. The female quivered her wings frantically, like a begging nestling, and within a minute the male had found a juicy caterpillar to feed her. He repeated his delivery of treats to her five times in the next ten minutes. We later did a whole study looking at mate feeding by male tanagers and used DNA testing to see if females cheat on their males (yes, though not as much as other migratory songbirds).

What is your favorite backyard bird story?

My favorite backyard bird story is about a feather, rather than a whole bird. We had been studying Acadian Flycatchers in the forest near our farmhouse. To keep track of how much the male versus female of a pair was feeding young at their nest, we put little colourful paint marks on the wing tips of the parents. That October, when we were cleaning out the bluebird box in the field by the house, we found a mouse nest that contained a feather with faded red paint on the tip. The feather came from a male Acadian that had nested about 300 m inside the forest! Did the mouse really go that far to get nesting material? Or, did the male Acadian molt his feather near the forest’s edge? We’ll never know!

Which birding publications do you read and recommend?

I have been getting Living Bird for years – lots of excellent photos and natural history.

Which is your favorite field guide and why?

Sibley – detail is awesome!

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

Weidensaul – Living on the Wind is one of my favourites.

Do you have any formal bird-related education background?

Yes, I’m a professor at York University, Toronto. Though, after hearing about my field research and summers ‘chasing birds’, many of my friends and family do not consider that I have a “real” job!

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?

Songbirds are the focus on my research.

What future birding plans do you have?

Though I spend lots of time doing research on birds, I’d love to spend more time on recreational birding trips (birding for fun!).

Are you involved with any local or national birding organizations?

Cornell Lab of O, American Birding Conservancy, and scientific ornithological societies (AOU, Cooper, Wilson, AFO)

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

I wish birders were more outspoken about conservation issues.

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

My husband was an ornithologist at the Smithsonian Institution; our teenage daughter loves nature and is talking about going into biology.

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

I enjoy doing crewel embroidery, sewing detailed pictures of birds, for friends and family. My favourite works were on tree swallows, blackburnian warblers, ruby throated hummingbirds, and most recently bobolink. Very relaxing (and birdy!)

Come meet Bridget in person and listen to her presentation "The Bird Detective: Investigating the Private Lives of Birds" at the Midwest Birding Symposium, Sept 15-18 in Lakeside, Ohio.

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

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Review: The Atlas of Birds

The Atlas of Birds is an inspiring potpourri of bird information! This book was not written for just birders, but for everyone.  It is not an encyclopedia on every known bird species, but more of a coffee table book providing a beautiful glimpse at the wonderfully diverse world of birds: where they live,  how they live, how people interact with birds, and relevant discussions about the need for bird conservation.  The maps, illustrations, and photographs are really cool and invite you to read on.

This would be a great book to have in every school across the world to galvanize youth toward the love of birds and nature.  

It lists for $22.95, but you can get it online for as little as $14.89.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Birder Profile: Connie Toops

Connie Toops
Marshall, North Carolina, 
In her own backyard
where she enjoys 
planting for wildlife
How did you get into birding?

My father was a serviceman for an electric utility in Ohio. He enjoyed birds, but had no formal education about them. One day he brought home a male Kestrel that had been electrocuted when it landed wrong on a power pole. In hand, it was the most beautiful creature I’d ever seen! Another time he found a Common Loon that had mistaken a rain-soaked country road for a river and landed there during a storm. It couldn’t take off again, so Dad brought it home, and we kept it overnight. Then we delivered it to an Audubon sanctuary with a small lake, where it was released unharmed. Seeing the loon close-up, with its intricate feather patterns, awesome bill, and the fire of wildness in its eyes was like opening the door to a magic place within me.

How long have you been birding? 

Watching birds since second grade. “Professional” interest in birds since early 1970s.

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

I watch birds every day at my home in western NC, with an interest in behaviors, seasonal changes, and unusual sightings.

Where is your favorite place to bird in North Carolina?

In NC, my home in rural Madison County, which is similar habitat to the Great Smoky Mountains.

In the U.S.?

Too hard to choose one place! Top three include: Florida Everglades, Bosque del Apache NWR in New Mexico, Klamath Basin NWR in northern CA-southern OR.

In the world? 

Galapagos Islands and Midway Atoll NWR in the North Pacific Ocean.

Laysan albatrosses nesting at Midway Atoll NWR, photo by Connie Toops, used with permission.
Male great frigatebird, Midway Atoll NWR, photo by Connie Toops, used with permission
Do you have any local birding hotspots that may be yet unknown to other birders that you would be willing to share with us? 

This is not “unknown”, but the Blue Ridge Parkway in the area from Asheville, NC, north to Craggy Gardens and on to the Linville Falls area, is a wonderful place to go birding, especially for Neotropical migrants, during spring and early summer.

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

(This is just across the NC state line in SC.) Congaree Swamp National Monument, near Gadsden, SC.

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

A watcher and one who savors bird behavioral observations.

What kind of birding equipment do you use?

Leica binoculars, Nikon digital SLR camera

How do you keep track of your bird observations?

I tallied a life list for more than a quarter-century, but stopped. Now I keep trip journals. I note dates, places, and species seen in the appropriate birding guides.

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

Years ago in northern Mississippi, my husband and I watched a Red-bellied Woodpecker pounce on a house sparrow that had just died. It flew off gripping the sparrow with its feet, as a raptor would carry prey. After it landed in a nearby tree, it pecked into the sparrow’s skull and ate the brains. Who knew?!

Which birding publications and websites do you read and recommend? 

Which is your favorite field guide and why?

Peterson Field Guide to Birds of NA - Recently updated, great layout with maps, text, sounds, excellent bird ID art, easy-to use format.

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

Peterson guide (above), Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman (Houghton Mifflin, 1996), Peterson Backyard Bird Guide: Hummingbirds and Butterflies by Bill Thompson III and Connie Toops (Houghton Mifflin, 2011)

Do you have any formal bird-related education background?

BS in Natural Resources, Ohio State University.

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?

Proficient: bluebirds, hummingbirds

What future birding plans do you have?

Hope to return to Midway Atoll in May 2012, also maybe next year, a return to Trinidad.

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

Gardening for wildlife and growing a big food garden.

Any funny birding experiences you could tell us?

It’s a bit long to repeat here, but I wrote a humorous essay in Good Birders Don’t Wear White: 50 Tip from North America’s Top Birders (Houghton Mifflin, 2007) that recalls the prominent role a rose-breasted grosbeak played on my first date with my now-husband Pat.

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

Laysan albatross. I like their lifestyle.

Anything else that you would like to humbly brag about?

During a freelance nature writing/photography career that began in 1978, I’ve written and been the principal photographer of the following bird-related books: Hummingbirds: Jewels In Flight, Bluebirds Forever, The Enchanting Owl, and Birds of South Florida. I’m currently writing Midway: A Guide to the Atoll and its Inhabitants.

Your mission in life as birder? 

Continue to advocate on behalf of birds and the Earth.

You can meet Connie Toops in person and attend her presentation along with Bill Thompson III at the Midwest Birding Symposium on Sept 15th-18th in Lakeside, Ohio.  Won't  you join me there!

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

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Review: Birds of Hawaii, New Zealand, and the Central and West Pacific

All I can say is:  FINALLY!  Hawaii finally has a user-friendly bird guide book.

You see, back in January 2005, my wife and I had a wonderful trip to Hawaii on-the-cheap.  I think we spent less than $1000 total.  My wife's sister and her family lived on Oahu while my brother-in-law served in the Army as a Blackhawk Helicopter pilot.  We got a great deal on round-trip airline tickets, we stayed at their apartment for free, they drove us all over the island, and we saw and did so many cool things that I already can't wait to go back.  Usually after a couple days of vacation I am ready to go back to the routine of life, but not when we were in Hawaii.  I could have stayed much much longer enjoying paradise.

Though I was still very new to birding, I was anxious to see Hawaiian birds.  I searched online and in book stores, but found only a couple of books to help me prepare to see Hawaiian birds.  Neither book was all that useful, nor user-friendly.  They just weren't anything like the Sibley guide I had recently started using.

Princeton University Press, brilliantly has created a series of "Illustrated Checklists" for birds in far-flung locations around the globe.  The name of the series is appropriate as they don't try to be exactly like the field guides we love and enjoy in North America and Europe.  However, these illustrated checklists are perfectly usable for the birding tourist.

The size of the Birds of Hawaii book is excellent, just small enough to fit into my front or back pocket of my jeans.  It's thin enough to fit easily into your luggage without additional expense.  The illustrations focus on field identifiable characteristics; simple and accurate.  The maps work just fine, but you will have to get used to the unique color coding system (I'm still campaigning for world uniformity) and you'll have to know your Pacific Island geography.

As the full title states, this book covers a huge swath of geography on the Pacific Ocean, not just Hawaii.  In fact, an internet search gives me clues that this book was perhaps initially published for New Zealand by HarperCollins, but was re-marketed by Princeton U press focusing on Hawaii for distribution in North America.  Don't we birders just love to discuss "provenance"?!

Birds of Hawaii, New Zealand, and the Central and West Pacific would have been the perfect companion (in addition to my wife) for my trip to Hawaii.  I can't wait to go back to Hawaii, and to hopefully visit those other islands covered, and use this illustrated checklist.

List price:  $29.95 (I see that it is available online for as little as $19.72)

I wish to express my thanks to Princeton University Press for providing me a review copy of this guide.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The beloved Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow perched on phragmites - Farmington Utah, June 2011
Since my early childhood, the Barn Swallow has been for me one of the most recognizable and beloved of the migrating birds.  That elegant forked tail - the reason we even say "swallow-tail" to describe other birds and other things.  The iridescent blue back and rufous breast.  The way large numbers of them weave through the sky snatching gnats on the wing and then darting under bridges and over water.  All this was plenty to catch the attention of a curious child.

As a boy growing up in Nampa, Idaho, we had an irrigation ditch that ran right next to our home; the Phyllis Canal.  In the off-irrigation season, we'd dig in the sandy bottom of the empty canal and find hundreds of golf balls - casualties of the local hackers, but veritable treasures for the young boys of the neighborhood.  In the summer, we'd float the canal on inner tubes.  As the canal meandered all through the town it would pass under several bridges.  Usually the bridge was just high enough above the water that we could safely pass under it on our tubes.  There, under those bridges, is where I had my first up-close experiences seeing Barn Swallow nests, eggs, and chicks.  I also remember finding injured or genetically deficient young swallows occasionally in our yard and in each case trying unsuccessfully to nurse them back to health.  Early and meaningful lessons in the circle of life.

Barn Swallow on a wooden post - Boise foothills, Idaho
Barn Swallow in a barn (imagine that!) - Garr Ranch, Antelope Island, Utah
Hirundo Rustica (Latin for country swallow or rustic swallow) is found pretty much all over the world - see eBird world range map.  See below for another animated eBird map based on our collective sightings of the Barn Swallow in North and Central America, as well as the range map from Cornell.  Of particular interest to me are the winter ranges along the west coast and in Florida.

how do i make a gif

My curiosity led me to look at Barn Swallow migration patterns in the western United States.  Take a look at the map below, where I pasted the eBird histograms for each western state.  I think it shows some pretty cool information.  The animated map above shows month-by-month data, but the histograms below show it week-by-week.  I hope one day that eBird might also have the ability to map sightings week-by-week. (Is that too much to ask of a free service?!)
In Utah, I can expect to see my first Barn Swallows in the 3rd or 4th week of March and they are gone again by the 3rd week of November.  When I lived in Idaho, their seasonal tenure was a bit shorter; arriving in the first week of April and gone by the end of October, but Montana and Wyoming both have Barn Swallows for even less time.  While in Arizona, it is possible to see them all year round, except for those first two weeks of February.

Barn Swallow among the phrags and cattails - Farmington, Utah

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Happy Bir(d)thday to Me!

Thirty-four years ago today, while the world mourned the passing of the King of Rock and Roll, little ol' me took my first breaths of mortal existence. Depending on your beliefs about reincarnation, the King may indeed still be me!

So, I thought I'd celebrate my birthday and honor the memory of Elvis Presley here on the birding blog today.  I'm sharing 34 of my favorite bird photos that I personally have taken, in no particular order.