Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Long-time followers of this blog may have read my poem that won an award from Cornell's Celebrate Urban Birds program a couple years ago. Anyway, it's got a bit a of Halloween theme to it, so I wanted to share it again:

(A true story about my strangest day of birding at the Granite Reef Recreation area along the Salt River near Mesa, AZ at the foot of the aptly named Superstition Mountains)

As if being woken by a nightmare
I vaulted from my bed
Before a Saturday sunrise
With birding lust in my soul
I was compelled, if not hypnotized to go
Leaving my beautiful bride and brood in bed at home
Foreboding of a strange and mysterious birding day.

Steamy night mist still clung about
As I strolled the river bank
Then a sliver of sun peeked over the mountain
Transforming the clouds so dark
Into eerie pumpkin and plum
The mist rushed into the rushes
And disappeared with the masked-faced Sora.
Hunchbacked Night Herons
Stared down ominously from above.
Cloaked with blackened hoods
Piercing sangria eyes
Demon gargoyles guarding, silently watching.
A warning perhaps
Dare I venture on?

A rustling sound in the bushes ahead
Perhaps a warbler or towhee I’d see
I crept and approached with sneaky stealth
Only to find two lovers
Bodies intertwined in passion
Their expectation and mine of solitude
Broken and violated.
I fled the other way.

A looming large dark figure
Roosting in a mesquite grove
Summoned me to come forth
I crawled on hand and knee
And knelt at the base of the tree
Awed to be so close
To see its naked head
And gnarled beak
The stench was nauseating
Yet it was first to vomit
A hairy black mass
Covered in yellow-green slime
Passing inches from my face
The revolting pile landed at my feet
This vulture king had come here to die

Turning from this place of death
Only to face mine near
I had stepped into a ring
Of wild and ferocious javelina
Nestled and hidden in the undergrowth
The boar snarled and bore his tusks
It stamped and shook its head
Then charged!
Super-humanly high sprung I
And shimmied up a puny tree
That should not have borne my weight
To wait and wait and wait
Overcome with fear I stayed
The peccary finally waddled off
I slipped silently down the tree
I fled the other way.

This dark and damp and dangerous day
How much longer could it last?
How much longer would I last?
Was I beckoned forth to die?
A happy omen I begged of the Divine.

The buzzing beating of hummingbird wings
Just feet away from where I stood
Myself half concealed in the flora
My gaze and feet transfixed
It flashed a brilliant pink throat
A war cry sounded from its tiny frame
Then darted toward my face
Was this to be my end?
This little David
And I the giant to be slain?
Yet I overcame the urge to cower
It softly perched so pleasantly
On the brim of my hat
For eternal seconds
It searched my soul
Then zipped merrily on its way.

The sun now gleamed and warmed the earth
Vermilion Flycatchers danced in the tree tops
Theirs was a redness that brought joy, not fear
A Canyon Wren sang its cascading song
The hellish curse was broken
I lived to share the tale.

Check out fellow Utah birder, Shyloh Robinson's Halloween Costume...the bird on his shoulder having eaten out the birder's eye.

Red-shafted Northern Flicker in Flight

One of my favorite birds to see in flight is the Red-shafted Northern Flicker. I've been trying for months to capture their in-flight beauty. Luckily, I was able to get some half-decent flicker photos at my lunch hour birding patch recently. I took the pictures and made the fun composite image shown above...a la Crossley ID Guide. The primary flight feathers show an awesome shade of orange both on top and from below. Check out the cool spotted belly and flanks and the strong woodpecker bill. It sports a lovely crimson mustache and a black chest plate. The only photos I'm missing now are of the brilliant white rump patch.

I really appreciate that eBird allows us to enter the common and identifiable subspecies of birds, which results in maps that we can separate into subspecies too.  Amazing what we can learn by this.  Just check out these Northern Flicker maps:

This first map shows everything reported to eBird as a Northern Flicker - pretty solid coverage of North and Central America.

The Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker is commonly understood as being that eastern flicker, but the west coast seems to get many of them, all the way up into Alaska.  What I find interesting is the absence of reports of Yellow-shafted Northern Flickers in Mexico and Central America.  There are other subspecies of Northern Flicker found in Central America, but wow! reports of Yellow-shafted south of the U.S. border?!

Red-shafted Northern Flickers don't seem to comply with any immigration laws. What I find interesting is that eastern North America doesn't even show any reports of vagrant Red-shafted Northern Flickers. They also only make it down to southern Mexico, and not into the rest of Central America.

I understand, due to comments on previous blog posts, that Northern Flicker Intergrades are more common in the great plains of North America than either of the "pure" subspecies. Is that the same for you folks on the west coast?

Fascinating information gathered by eBirders like me and you!  Make sure to give all of those Flickers out there a second look and report them in eBird by subspecies if you can.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Enthusiasm for birds is contagious

Posted by Heidi Ware

As November approaches, yet another season of migration banding at Lucky Peak is coming to an end for me. Not only was this my fourth season working with the Idaho Bird Observatory, but it is also my first semester of Grad School at Boise State. In the midst of all these new changes in my life, over the past two months I began to realize just how much things had changed in my attitude as a birder as well.

Sunrise on the last day of songbird banding for 2011
I apologize in advance for the “photography” that will regularly be a part of my posts.

These pics are from my cell phone :)

The famous Tennessee Warbler
This huge change in my thinking was really brought home to me on September 26. The crew at IBO always tries to convey our enthusiasm for the birds to our visitors, but on that day I suddenly noticed that the excitement of the crowd had kicked up a notch. The reason? We had just caught a Tennessee Warbler! (a rarity in our western state) The whole crew was gushing about this bird: “Look at that white belly!”, “Wow, look at that dark eyeline!”, “Aw, what a cute stumpy tail!”…soon the visitors joined in: “Its back is so green!”, “Its chest is so yellow!”, “Beautiful!”

Now, no offense to Tennessee Warblers, but when you’re catching male Townsend’s Warblers (or even just a Nashville Warbler) on the same net run it’s a little surprising that the crowd of mostly novice or non-birders was WAY more excited about this dull greenish-yellow bird than any of the others.

Tennessee vs. Orange Crowned Warbler
In fact, I remember many times when I received a lackluster response from visitors to very similar Orange-crowned Warblers. I may have even said similar things to people about the body color, the eyeline, etc. And it’s not like I said Orange-crowned’s were boring, but what my comments lacked were the “aw’s”, the “wow’s” and the “!!’s”. (It’s amazing what a few exclamation points can do!!)
some of the Tennessee Warbler crowd that day
I learned from the response I saw that day, and soon I began to pay more attention to what was particularly interesting about each bird, and what I might have been taking for granted. I thought about how a simple change in how I look at and think about each individual bird could make a huge difference in how I pass on my knowledge and enthusiasm about birds to those around me. I took cues from the kids who visited, and remembered back to the first time I’d seen these species. I know that a female Yellow-rumped Warbler was my favorite bird the first time I visited the banding station in 2008….but why? It’s those sorts of things that I forget sometimes. I know birds are cool, but sometimes I forget the simplest reasons why:

The surprise of white on a Yellow-rump’s tail: (photo by Robert Mortensen)
The candy-corn orange of a White-crown’s beak:
Birds’ clear eyelids that flash in from the side:

This season I realized one of the important aspects of birding and banding that I enjoy, but often don’t consciously appreciate. At the banding station we see all sorts of people: elderly Audubon Society members, mountain bikers trying to keep good time, parents with kids, hunters scouting for elk, a kindergarten class…They all bring such a unique perspective to what we do. And when we spend time with people who understand and enjoy birds on a completely different level than ourselves, we learn something! We can learn just as much from a 3 year old who only knows that birds’ feet tickle her hands as we can from someone who’s been birding for 30 years and knows every warbler chip and flight note. That’s the great thing about getting to work at the IBO, and I think birding in general, is the great mix of ages, birding skill, and life experience that everyone brings. Every time I hang out with a new group of visitors, my enthusiasm and love for birds is refreshed, and changed, by sharing the experience with others.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Bostick Syndrome

Posted by Rob Fergus

The Big Year screenplay writer Howard Franklin and director David Frankel have done the sport and pastime of birding a huge favor by providing us with the character of Kenny Bostick, perhaps the best example yet of someone suffering from an obsessive compulsive birding disorder.  In fact, so that we don't have to point to real living people as examples of this disorder, I think it is fitting to now call that disorder Bostick Syndrome.

Bostick Syndrome (formerly obsessive compulsive birding disorder) may be characterized by a compulsion to bird despite the harmful consequences to their individual health, mental state, or social life.

The causes of this syndrome remain to be determined.  Contributing genetic or life history factors are currently unknown.  There is also currently no known treatment for this syndrome, and the current prognosis for anyone diagnosed with Bostick Syndrome is not good--as it is frequently fatal to marriages, careers, and other respectable middle-class American lifestyle expectations.

Friday, October 28, 2011

This week's Best in Bird Blogging

Downy Woodpecker workin' for its lunch - photo by Robert Mortensen
This foray into the multi-author blogging world at the beginning of October had me as nervous as a Gadwall during duck-hunting season, yet as excited as a male Song Sparrow during mating season. I wondered, "Is the birding-blogosphere already saturated with multi-author blogs?" There are so many online choices to steal away our attention, but I figured that just maybe there was still enough room for one more central location where one could find excellent quality bird-blogging. I have just been delighted with the quality of posts that this team has delivered this month...wonderful and engaging writing and fabulous bird photography.

My basic criteria for inviting folks to the BiF! team was simple...did I like following their blog? and does the blogger consistently convey that "Birding is Fun!"? Yes, there are dozens of other great bird blogs out there that I also enjoy following, but many of you are already writing for other multi-author blogs. If you are ready to ditch those big bullies, you can come on over to join our team ;-)

I express my profound gratitude to the BiF! Contributors.  You guys are awesome!  Thank you dear readers for continually coming back to "Birding is Fun!" and sharing our joy of birds and birding.  Thanks to all of you who share our posts in the various social network venues!  Because of you, earlier this week BiF! broke into the FatBirder Top 50 and the Nature Blog Network "Birds" Top 10.  

"Birding is Fun!" will only get better from here, so please stay tuned!

From the BiF! Contributors:

Dan Huber - Bluebird at the Barn
Greg Gillson - Golden-crowned Kinglet
Greg Miller - Who's the Best Birder in the World?
Kathy Brown - Brown Creeper
Kelly Riccetti - Owl Close-ups (a couple posts)
Ken Schneider - Our Local Eagles Have Landed
Kimberly Kaufman - Banding Together for the Good of the Birds
Lillian Stokes - Top 10 Reasons there are no birds at your feeders
Laurence Butler - A Time for Reflection
Mia McPherson - Turd Birds; errr...I mean Sage Thrashers
Pat Bumstead - Hmm. Uhh. Wha?
Rob Fergus - 20 Bird Minimum Daily Requirement
Rob Ripma - A few minutes with a LeConte's Sparrow
Scott Simmons - Blue-winged Teal and Common Yellowthroat
Steve Creek - A Belted Kingfisher on a Foggy Day

Other Bird Blogs I enjoyed and tweeted this week:

Alex Vargas - Blue-throated Bee-eater...a colorful sacrifice
David Sibley - Does technology make birders lazy?
Greg Neise - Do they get it?
J. Drew Lanham - Birding while Black -- Does it really matter?
Nate Swick - Variegated Moss-plucker
Phil Brown - Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Ron Dudley - Strange Encounter with a Northern Harrier and a Junco
Sharon Stiteler - Birdchick Podcasts
Tim Avery - Sea Ducks

Red-tailed Hawk among the wispy clouds - photo by Robert Mortensen

The Joy of Birding

Posted by Scott Simmons
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
Common Yellowthroat I found when birding with my son
Since this is my first post for Birding is Fun, I thought I'd use this first post to introduce myself and my passion for birding and bird photography.  I've been fascinated with birds as long as I can remember.  I remember distinctly, when I was only about 5 years old, seeing a roadrunner from our car in Arizona.  It was mesmerizing to see.  A few years later when we lived in Virginia, I learned about Pileated Woodpeckers, and I just had to see one.  I remember walking through the woods near where we lived determined not to finish my hike until I saw one, and I remember the joy I felt when I did.  At that time, I went birding simply for the joy of it. I had no goals, no hopes of seeing a certain number of species in a year, and no plan to find birds that weren't yet on my list.  I just enjoyed birds, their beauty and their behavior, and I went birding with my father simply to enjoy nature.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
Pileated Woodpeckers are still one of my favorite birds
Over the last 3 years or so, all that has changed.  I have devoted myself to learning about birds and birding; I now read books on the subject, both to allow me identify birds more reliably and to help me find more them.  I now have goals to see a certain number of species before the end of the calendar year.  I log every species I see on eBird so that my hobby can benefit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  I'm dedicated to birding, and most of my non-birding friends think I'm a little weird because of it.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
Reddish Egret, a near threatened species
I believe strongly that these are valuable practices that can improve your joy of birding by allowing you to have a better experience of more birds and also contribute to science and conservation.  But I often have to remind myself of that day when was mesmerized by the roadrunner in Arizona--my hands and nose pressed against the window glass determined to soak up the sight of the roadrunner running near our car, wondering if there might be a coyote near by.  At that moment, birding was not about numbers--it was about the beauty of nature and the opportunity I had to soak it all in.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
Osprey,  They may be common, but they're still beautiful, and a joy to watch
This past Saturday I went birding with my son.  We went to Orlando Wetlands Park near where I live.  My son isn't a birder like me--at least not yet.  He was more interested in looking for alligators and throwing rocks into fire ant mounds to watch the ants swarm around the rocks.  He walked ahead of me and scared off a couple good photo opportunities. I didn't see one bird I hadn't seen a hundred times before, but it was a great day.  I was out in nature with my son like my dad had taken me out into nature when I was his age.  And it wasn't about the numbers; it was about experiencing nature simply for the joy of it.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Birding Is Fun, Even If You're Not A Birder

Posted by Pat Bumstead

No pressure. That’s how I approached this wonderful opportunity when Robert asked me to write for his blog. Sure I’m the only Canadian on his list, and it’s a big country up here, but no pressure.

However, I wouldn’t be much of a bird watcher if I didn’t like a challenge. I’m very flattered to be writing for this blog, and looking forward to seeing what comes out of my pen. Imagine my surprise when my first post turned out to be about a non-birder.

My husband of many years does not consider himself a bird watcher. To him, a duck is a duck, unless of course it's larger, then a goose is a goose. Thus are all grebes, coots, mergansers and other waterfowl except swans (they’re white), neatly categorized.

He can however, identify the birds that visit our yard, including female brown-headed cowbirds that flit through occasionally. He can point out the differences between a downy and a hairy woodpecker. He knows enough to yell CAMERA at top volume when an unusual bird is at our feeders.

He came home from the golf course one evening very excited because he had 'gotten an eagle'. My birding brain kicked in first, and I was trying to figure out how someone could hit one of the bald eagles on the course with a golf ball. He was unimpressed by my lack of congratulations, but by the time my non-birding brain woke up, the moment had passed. He never even thought of the connection.

On a recent fishing trip, all he came home with was pictures.

When we're travelling, one of us is always looking for birds while the other one is just enjoying the drive. Occasionally though, the vehicle comes to a sudden halt while I’m gazing out the window, off in bird land. One blisteringly hot day last summer, we were driving slowly along a gravel road as I was looking at a large flock of shorebirds. Suddenly the pedal hit the mat, and I whipped my head around. This is what my non-birding husband hit the brakes for.

About a hundred yards from the road were five - count 'em - five ferruginous hawks. Most birders are overjoyed to see just one of these threatened raptors, and we had five. Once I commented on how rare a sighting that was (okay, maybe I said it more than once). He managed to bring it up in any number of conversations, even with non-birding folks.

Does a person have to be interested in all birds to be a birder? Can he retain his 'a duck is a duck' mantra and still think birding is fun? Don't even get me started on what he calls the various gull species, although by now he probably just uses the 'S' word to see the steam come out of my years.

On the other hand, he's very proud of the fact that he's seen nine owl species and has become rather adept at working that into conversations as well.

He may deny it, but I'm inclined to think he’s a birder and just hasn't realized it yet. If he ever points out a horned-grebe on the water though, I’ll buy him his own birding hat and pass the salt.

As I normally write for my blog at Bird Canada, I should add that my posts here may sometimes stray over into Canadian-ese. I apologize in advance for all those extra ‘U’s’ that might show up.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011 Photo Contest is hosting another bird photo contest and I invite you to participate. I'm trying to decide which photo to enter myself. Below are four photos that I am trying to choose between and maybe you can help me.  Please tell me which is your favorite of these photos in the little poll in the right sidebar. (click on the photo to enlarge) Thanks!

While I was birding...

The last two weekends I spent at Camp Tracy in Millcreek Canyon outside of Salt Lake City.  I was there for Wood Badge, adult leader training for the Boy Scouts of America.  The setting this time of year was about as fantastic as it ever can be.  A Belted Kingfisher watched over this canoeing pond.  American Dippers called and zipped up and down the creek alongside which we camped.  The mornings were crisp and invigorating and the evenings had just that perfect amount of chill to make the campfire all the more inviting. This photo was taken with my cell phone and turned out much better than I expected.

Recently at my lunch hour birding patch, the birds were few and far between, but I came upon of pair of garter snakes.  Check out that forked tongue!

Oh, I did see the usual dozen or so Black-billed Magpies and caught this one in flight.  Whenever I hear Magpies makin' a ruckus, I enjoy going to the effort to find out why.  Today's disturbance was a pretty house cat up in a Russian Olive tree.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I got a lifer! - Surf Scoter

Surf Scoter - photo by Paul Higgins
Fellow Utah birders have been reporting a pair of Surf Scoters being seen from the Antelope Island Causeway. While Scoters do make their way into the interior west every year, I have repeatedly dipped on them....until today!  Paul Higgins' photo above is from Nov 2008, also taken at the Antelope Island Causeway.  The two birds I saw today are in the exact same plumage. Silly me, I had forgotten my camera memory card.  The two Harlequin Ducks are still at the Causeway too.

By the way, I've never really known how to pronounce "scoter".  When I was first getting into birding, I would read it in the field guide and say in mind "scooter" - like the mini-motorcycle.  Then I started saying SKAH-ter. Good ol' Merriam-Webster gives pronunciations online and says SKOH-ter (listen here). Had I really thought about it, I should have been able to figure it out on my own.  After all I have elementary school aged kids.  The "e" after the "t" makes the "o" say its name.

Checking in on my 2011 Birding Goals...I'm still averaging at least one eBird checklist per day, which is good.  Thanks in large part to my trip to the Midwest Birding Symposium, I have added 32 life birds this year, surpassing my goal of 20.  My final goal was to get to 150 Utah birds.  I easily achieved that goal and as of today I've seen 203 bird species in Utah.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Spotted Towhee - another favorite

Now that I've been trying to photograph birds for a year and half, I have a whole new cadre of nemesis birds. Nate Swick recently discussed SSV's (Soul Satisfying Views). Might we add, SSP's (Soul Satisfying Photographs)? The Spotted Towhee has presented me numerous photography opportunities, but I have yet to get one of those stellar photos. My best photo to date is shown to the right in heavy shade. Fortunately, some of my Idaho birding friends shared some great Spotted Towhee photos in the May 2010 photo competition which was hosted on this website. Utah bird photographer Paul Higgins has some fantastic Spotted Towhee photos too. See some quality and SSP's below!

photo by Bob Davis
My first observation as a birder of the gorgeous Spotted Towhee occurred the day before Thanksgiving in 2006 at Boyce Thompson Arboretum.  My birder father-in-law had come down from Idaho to Arizona that week join me in some birding and to feast upon another large domestic bird.  Under a tree, there was a handsome Spotted Towhee scratching in the leaf litter.  Since that day, I've seen one or more Spotted Towhees on about seventy occasions.  Yet, this bird is one that I can never get enough of.  

Their behavior is just elusive enough that whenever you see one, you feel like you've accomplished something.  Oh, that fiery red eye!  The fantastic black and white contrast and the endearing warm rufous flanks.  Their songs and calls are easily recognizable...a sweet trilly song...and a wheezy-screechy call.    In Spring, the males are more likely to get up on top of a bush and sing their hearts out.  That's when I'll have to try again for some quality photos.
photo by Bob Whitlatch 
I have found Spotted Towhees throughout all of the seasons in Arizona, Utah, and Idaho.  The range map below shows some summer migration into the northern great plains region, which is confirmed by eBird sightings maps broken down by season.  Spotted Towhees are typically a western North America species, but are known to occasionally show up as in the eastern states during Spring and Fall migration.  There are also a few subspecies, but I haven't taken the time to learn them yet.

photo by Paul Higgins
photo by Paul Higgins
Now if I could just get a quality photo of another of my photo-nemeses - their green-tailed and rufous-capped cousin!!!
Green-tailed Towhee that continues to elude the focus on my camera.  This was taken at my lunch hour birding patch.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Birding Before Birding

Posted by Rob Ripma

With this being my first post on, I would like to thank Robert for bringing this awesome group of birders together to collaborate on this blog! I think we are all going to have a great time. I thought I would start by sharing the story of how I got into birding and why it’s now just about all I think about

I started seriously birding ten years ago when I was 16, but I had been unwillingly birding for years before that. For as long as I can remember, my mom had feeders up at our house. She would always point out the usual backyard birds, so I knew most of those from an early age. Sometime in 1993, my mom went out birding for the first time. I didn’t really think much of it back then, but it has come to have an enormous effect on my life. Shortly after, my younger brother, Eric, decided that he wanted to go birding with her. He took an immediate liking to it and began studying birds pretty much nonstop.

That was the point at which the amount of time I would spend birding would increase whether I liked it or not. I didn’t have to go out birding with them around home but on family vacations, I didn’t have much of a choice. One of the first vacations that my family birded on was to Arizona. I never expected to do so much birding on a single family vacation. We started in the Tucson area and took a day trip to Sierra Vista. While the hummingbirds, coati, and scenery were pretty cool at Ramsey Canyon, I was generally unimpressed with birding and couldn’t understand how looking at birds and studying them was even remotely interesting.
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Magnificant Hummingbird
Our next stop was the Grand Canyon. All Eric wanted to do was start birding at the crack of dawn. I thought he was nuts! I had absolutely no interest in doing that and am now sure that I missed some pretty good birds by not going out birding with him.

Growing up, I also missed out on tons of great birding opportunities in southwest Florida. My family took annual trips to the Fort Myers Beach area, and for the first few years I had no interest in birds and birding. Fortunately, the repeated trips to the area slowly started to turn me into a birder. I eventually become fascinated by the large wading birds, especially Roseate Spoonbills! Those family trips in Florida were definitely my first days as a real birder and the first time I ever had an interest in starting to keep a life list.
Roseate Spoonbill
Purple Gallinule
Over the next few years, I continued to bird every once in awhile, mainly on Christmas and Spring Bird Counts, but at that time I never birded on a regular basis. That all changed with a visit to the most amazing spring migration location anywhere, Magee Marsh! For quite a few years, my mom and brother had been telling me about Magee, but I was a teenage boy and had way too much on my busy schedule to actually make time for birding. After my freshman year in college, I headed up to northwest Ohio with my mom, brother, and some of their birding friends. Little did I know, my life would never be quite the same.
Black-throated Green Warbler
Kirtland's Warbler

It was at that point that I completely fell in love with birding. I had never before had such amazing views of warblers, vireos, and thrushes. I was quite simply amazed! The rest as they say is history. I have travelled all over the United States since that time and luckily for me, have made up for the all of the birds I missed in Arizona.

I work for Wild Birds Unlimited, speak to kids at schools and camps about birds and birding, serve as Vice President of the Indiana Audubon Society, and run a birding blog and website called Quite simply, birding is one of the most important things in my life.

I look forward to sharing all of my birding adventures here on!