Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What is Birding?

Vincent Mistretta recently had a thought-provoking post asking: Is there a difference between "birding" and "bird photography"? He goes on to explain that they "are NOT the same thing" as they generally require completely different preparation and frame of mind in the field. I get where he is coming from and agree with his explanations, yet I see "bird photography" as being one of the many fun activities under the greater birding umbrella. Rather than try to separate various bird related activities into separate hobbies or professions, I think of them as interrelated activities as part of the greater whole of "birding". From professional scientists studying minute details to the young child feeding birds in the backyard...from the obsessive Big Year lister to the patient and dedicated bird artist...these are all birders in my mind.

Maybe its because I personally enjoy and appreciate each of these birding activities that I feel it all belong under one umbrella. I'm sure you could come up with several more categories that fit under the umbrella of birding. When I think about the popular birding/birdwatching magazines, they share from all of these genres of birding. As Vincent suggested, certainly the mindset or focus one has in the field may be different for each activity, especially when a group is involved. I am surprised at how many of these activities can be done simultaneously.

There are of course extreme enthusiasts within each of the elements of birding. And there are some people who might claim to only belong to one of the categories and separate themselves - take themselves out from underneath the birding umbrella if you will. I suppose it doesn't really matter how people define themselves. I'd just hate to see a bird photographer feel excluded from wonderful world of birding in which he or she rightly belongs. I'm all for greater unity, cooperation, and inclusiveness, because each aspect of birding is fun!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

ABA Auction - Original Bird of the Year Artwork

Just in time for the holidays, the American Birding Association (ABA) is auctioning Louise Zemaitis's original colored pencil of "American Kestrel at Tikal". I had the good fortune of meeting Louise at the Midwest Birding Symposium. This artwork is all the more special in that it is the symbol of the first ever ABA Bird of the Year. How collectible is that?!

Another nice aspect of this auction is that half the proceeds will go to American Kestrel conservation and the other half will go toward advancing the ABA's mission. The starting price is $1000, so go talk to your rich uncle about buying it for you. Or if you know potential donors that are passionate about kestrel or falcon conservation, encourage them to bid on this fantastic piece of art and ABA history as a donation to the cause. Click here for the auction site. I'll be tracking the auction with the gadget in the sidebar. A couple other really cool items will be auctioned off by the ABA soon too. You won't want to miss it!

Jinx Birds

Posted by Rob Fergus

I have a better than average record chasing rare birds, and yesterday I was finally able to see a Pink-footed Goose, a bird I've chased and missed and not chased several times over the years.  That leaves just one big jinx bird missing a profile on my ABA list, my biggest jinx bird so far...Slaty-backed Gull!

The jinx probably started in high school in Oregon.  There weren't any records for the state, but I would dream about finding this bird.  One time I almost convinced myself that I found one in a downtown Portland park.  But it was just youthful wishful thinking.  Then when I went off to Utah for college, what started showing up every winter during the early 1990s in my old stomping grounds?  Yeah, that's right, our good buddy the Slaty-back!

My very first week in Texas, back in April 1995, I was hitting the Upper Texas Coast for the first time, enjoying the shorebirds at Bolivar Flats, when a woman with a big camera lens tried calling my attention to a dark-backed gull in a gull flock on the beach.  I did a quick look and didn't see anything, so I thought the unknown birder was just confused.  But then there it was--a dark-backed gull with the brightest pink legs I've ever seen!  As I was getting another birder on the bird, a jogger with a dog upset the whole flock and they were gone!  Ugh!  There weren't any Texas records of Slaty-backed Gull until several years after that, but my gut tells me there's a good chance that's what I had on the beach that day...slipping through my fingers.  People, keep your dogs from running through the gulls, please!  And what ever happened to those photos, mystery birder?

I've since chased Slaty-backs in Pennsylvania, just 30 minutes from the Audubon office where I worked.  Got there 20 minutes too late.  I'm also probably the first person to miss the bird that was in Ithaca, NY a few years ago.  It was there the day before, and several days after I was there.  But on the one day I was visiting the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, we dipped on it at the campus compost pits twice and at the traditional roost on the lake at dusk.  That was a long drive home to PA after missing that one!

So, Mr. are on notice.  Now that my attention is not being divided by the formerly missing goose, I'm coming for you next!  Why don't you just make it easy on yourself and show up at the Spruce Run Reservoir boat ramp just up the road from my house here in New Jersey.  You know you want to!

I'm sure I'm not the only birder out there with a jinx bird.  Anyone else care to share theirs?

Review: Falcon Finale

This was an enjoyable read. I thought it was fun to have a well-crafted murder mystery in the context of a birder. Jan Dunlap kept my attention with each chapter ending in a cliffhanger; demanding that I read on. I was able to guess about mid-way through "who done it" based on one simple clue, but enjoyed the ride to the end of the book which had a couple other twists and turns that caught me off guard. Dunlap nicely developed believable characters that I liked, hated, or wondered about. It has just the right amount of birder-corniness that I enjoy - the main character is after all named Bob White.

This is the fourth book of Jan Dunlap's birder murder mystery series. Since I missed the first three books, I'll have to go back and buy them.

You can buy Falcon Finale online for as little as $11.21. A nice holiday gift for the birders in your life that enjoy curling up with a good book. For more about her and earlier works, check out

Thanks Jan for sending me a copy of your book for review at "Birding is Fun!" You've certainly added another dimension to how to have fun birding!

Monday, November 28, 2011

The American Bittern and the Art of Observation

by Scott Simmons
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
American Bittern Blending with his Surroundings
American Bitterns are one of my favorite birds.  I love them in part because they are so hard to find. They tend to stay hidden in cattails and bulrushes while searching for fish, reptiles and amphibians, and their coloration is wonderful camouflage for them.  So every time I see one, it's a real sense of accomplishment for me. My search to find and photograph American Bitterns has taught me a little about the art of observation.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
American Bittern out for a Look Around
Earlier this month my dad and I were at Viera Wetlands, and we saw what looked like the bill of a bittern sticking out of the top of the reeds. As we approached, it disappeared.  So we waited, and waited. Eventually, we saw a beautiful American Bittern stalking something in the reeds. We watched for about 10 minutes, and he became progressively more bold, sticking his neck up so that we could have almost a full view of him.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
American Bittern
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
American Bittern
(notice how he can point his bill up while looking down)
The experience was one of the most thrilling experiences of the day, but it reminded me of the need to be careful about finding and observing birds.  Here are some "rules to live by" when searching for birds:
  1. Know about the habitat of the birds you want to find.  Since we knew where to find the bird, we paid special attention to areas where the bittern may be hiding.
  2. Know when to look for the bird.  The eBird website has valuable information here.  It tells me that the American Bittern is found most commonly at Viera Wetlands between October and April.  So I knew in November there was a decent chance of one being there.
  3. Learn bird calls.  If you recognize the "ker-plunk!" sound of an American Bittern, you'll know to stop and watch.
  4. Look for movement.  When we saw only one section of reeds moving, we knew it wasn't the wind. The bittern was on the move.
  5. Walk/drive slowly and quietly.  I suppose this goes without saying.  It's easy to walk right by birds that are good at hiding, and it's easy to spook them with noises.  Take the time to be observant, and look at the same area from several vantage points.
  6. Stay concealed as much as possible.  If you can remain behind a tree or other obstacle, you wil be less threatening.  Staying low to the ground also helps.  For some birds, staying in your car is less threatening than leaving it.  I stayed in my car to photograph this bittern.  If I opened the car door to get closer, I suspect that the bittern would have crouched out of view or flown away.
  7. Be Still.  When we see the bird we're looking for, we're often quick to move our camera or binoculars up to our eyes.  But sudden movements even as small as this can cause the bird the bird to fly away.  If I'm anticipating finding a bird, I raise my camera up almost to chin level so that I don't have to make any quick movements to get the camera to my eye.   
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American Bittern in Flight

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Birder Thought Process

Posted by Pat Bumstead

Looking out my kitchen window a few days ago, my eyes nearly bugged out of my head. I had company, majestically perched atop my feeder pole. Needless to say this was the only bird in the yard at the time.

This beauty sat on the feeder pole for 32 pictures, then moved over to the poplar tree for 3 more to show off the markings on his back. (Measuring bird movement in minutes is so last year...)

Finally he moseyed over to hide himself in the spruce tree, to sit and watch the cats in their run, which is thankfully fenced on top.

The first rule of bird watching is that no bird shall go unidentified, particularly one this obliging. Raptor identification can be quite a challenge, so I thought I would share the birder's thought process in case you're ever in this situation. It went something like this.

Holy Crap!

Camera! Camera!

Binos! Binos!

Wait is this bird injured? Whew, no it's just wearing some of its lunch.

OK I think this is either a juvenile Cooper's Hawk or a juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Oh wait - it could be a juvenile Northern Goshawk...

Juvenile raptor identification? Hmm. I'll think about it over lunch. Maybe a liquid lunch.

Fortunately a fellow birder dropped by in the afternoon. I pulled up the pictures on my computer and we got down to the serious business of identifying my hawk.

Eyes: Cooper's straw colored, Sharpie and Goshawk yellow. Well that helps.

Breast: Cooper's and Goshawk heavily streaked with brown, juvenile male Sharpies have dark brown streaking. Thank you so much.

Tail: Cooper's is rounded, Sharpie is squarer than Cooper's, Goshawk is wedge shaped and all have white bands. Moving along...

Back: Cooper's is brown with white spots, Sharpie is brown, Goshawk is mottled brown. Oh look, is that Black-billed Magpie out the window? A nice, clear black and white bird?

Oh right, the hawk. That's a fairly noticeable pale eyebrow - let's work on that.

Pale supercilaries on Coopers, Sharpies, Goshawks...

Location is often a good clue, except that all three are found here. Oh wait, it's November so the Sharpies have (probably) migrated. We'll eliminate them.

At this point we had a variety of bird books spread across the table, had scrutinized every photo, and killed a lot of time. We were running out of field marks to check, and then we looked at the undertail coverts.

Cooper's is entirely white, Goshawk is white streaked with brown. EUREKA! I had photos of a juvenile Cooper's Hawk.

This whole process took two of us a great deal of time, pouring over bird pictures, scrutinizing every body part on the bird, explaining to each other what worked, what didn't and why. Juvenile raptor identification can be brutal - it couldn't have been much more complicated if we were trying to design a jet engine from scratch.

Is this a great hobby or what?!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Birder Profile: Robert Ripma

Robert Ripma
Carmel, Indiana
My family has always been into birds. My mom had feeders up at our house when I was growing up and would point out the common feeder birds to us. My younger brother took a strong interest in the birds when he was only 10, but at the time I honestly couldn’t have cared less! We took a lot of family vacations through the years and much to my disliking, birding was always included. Two trips changed all of that. The first was a trip to Fort Myers Beach, Florida. I became fascinated by the herons, egrets, and shorebirds that were seemingly everywhere in the lagoon by our hotel. After that, I began doing some Christmas and Spring Bird Counts with my mom and brother. The trip that really pushed me over the edge was to Magee Marsh in northwest Ohio. We took this trip after my freshman year in college, and I have been birding nonstop ever since. It seems like much more than 10 short years ago that I started birding!

I go birding a few times a week, mostly at Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis, IN. My absolute favorite spot to bird in Indiana is Goose Pond FWA in the southern part of the state. It is an 8,500 acre restored wetland that consistently attracts unusual wetland birds, including Indiana’s first state record Roseate Spoonbill in 2009! Picking a single favorite spot in the United States is really tough for me. I have been to so many wonderful places and love birding in Florida, Texas, California, and Alaska, but my favorite spot has got to be southeast Arizona. To me, the hummingbirds are what pushed Arizona to the top. There is nothing like sitting at an array of feeders watching 10 or more species of hummingbirds zipping around! I would have to say that Hawaii is the most exotic place that I have been birding. My wife and I went for our honeymoon, and I’m excited to go back in two years!

My all time favorite bird sighting involved a Kirtland’s Warbler at Magee Marsh in Northwest Ohio. It was the first day of an Indiana Audubon field trip that I was leading, and I had taken some group members over to another park because the amount of birds on the boardwalk at Magee was low. While out hiking at the other location, I received a phone call from another member of our group letting me know that there was a Kirtland’s on the beach trail at Magee. We got back as fast as we could and joined a huge group of birders that were attempting to relocate the bird. It didn't take long before the Kirtland’s was back in sight. As we stood there watching it, it seemed to be oblivious to our presence. It actually came so close, that at times, neither my wife or I could not get my camera to focus on the bird!

I just moved into my first house in September so I don’t have all that many yard birds yet. The best so far have been four warbler species, American Redstart, Black-throated Green Warbler, Palm Warbler, and Yellow-rumped Warbler.

I’m pretty much a Vortex/Eagle Optics guy. I have Eagle Optics Ranger ED 10x42 binoculars and a Vortex Razor HD 20-60x85 spotting scope. I also take a lot of photos with my Canon 50D and 100-400mm zoom lens. Since I lead a lot of hikes and field trips, I always carry a laser pointer to easily point out birds to the participants.

My primary birding list is kept electronically. I have a digital checklist that a friend of mine created that covers the AOU area. I also submit all of my sightings to eBird. I participate in eBird because I feel that it is a great way to keep track of all of your sightings while also contributing a significant amount of data for research purposes.

I think the best source of information on birds is in the Birds of North America from Cornell. I subscribe to their service and reference their material all of the time. I also enjoy reading Birding from the ABA. I have always used the Sibley Guide to Birds. I have the Eastern and Western versions as well the complete version that I like to call “the big Sibley”. It’s also had so much use that the spine of the book is covered with masking tape. It is the guide that I have always used so I am very comfortable with it and can pretty much flip to any species without having to use the index. I have also recently started to refer to the Crossley Guide. I find it to be an interesting book that allows you to get many different angles and perspectives on a species. The only birding app that I have right now is BirdsEye which uses sightings from eBird. I have a lot of fun looking over the sightings of rare and unusual birds, especially right before I go on a trip. I have so many awesome books that I refer to on a regular basis that is it tough to just pick out three to recommend. I think that many birders struggle with shorebird identification so my first recommendation would have to be The Shorebird Guide by O’Brien, Crossley, and Karlson. Another great reference for a tough group of birds is Gulls of the Americas by Howell and Dunn. The final book that I would recommend is not a reference guide but a story that is a must read for everybody not just birders. Kingbird Highway by Kenn Kaufman is one of my favorite books of all time and the book I would most highly recommend to all birders!

I have a degree in marketing from Indiana University. I would consider myself very knowledgeable about all birds that typically occur in eastern North America. When you ask what future birding plans I have, my wife laughs, mostly because I’m always birding, whether it’s looking out in our yard, while I’m driving or walking outside, or at a local park. Most of the time, my binoculars aren't more than 10-15 feet away, and I find a way to go birding on all vacations. The only other definite plans that I have are trips to St. John in the US Virgin Islands, southern California, and northwest Ohio for warbler migration in 2012. I don’t have a nemesis bird right now, but my last one was a Clapper Rail. That bird took me forever to find!

I am very involved with the Indiana Audubon Society. I am the current Treasurer and will be the Vice President in 2012. Through the Indiana Audubon Society, I helped establish an Indiana Young Birders Club that has some really exciting plans for 2012! I run a website called with my brother Eric. Our goal is to build up the largest directory to birding sites in the United States and around the world. There is also a blog associated with the site where you can read all about our birding adventures and see photos we've taken.

My mission as a birder is to teach as many people about birds and birding as possible. I really enjoy introducing birding to as many people as I can, especially kids! Over the past few months, I've had the opportunity to speak in four different school districts in central Indiana, and I've recently made contact with a few others as well. I also do many other presentations and programs around Indiana to expose people to birds.

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

Now up at the ABA Blog

Please visit the ABA Blog to learn how to get the official American Kestrel ABA Bird of the Year Badge for your website or blog.

Friday, November 25, 2011

This Week's Best in Bird Blogging

My favorite bird photo of the week had to be Dan Huber's snoozing Eastern Screech OwlDan also had really nice posts each day this past week and they are all worth checking out. Please visit Nature Observances for more of Dan's fantastic bird blogging.

As I type here, I am trying to overcome the lethargy caused by yesterday's gluttony. Dang that sweet potato crunch that I just love...way too much! The Mortensen's had a nice Stray-Dog Thanksgiving with some fun neighbors who also didn't travel "over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house". We had lots of laughs, delicious food, and of course grateful hearts for our bounteous blessings. I hope that you similarly enjoyed Thanksgiving.

This Week's Best in Bird Blogging from the BiF! Contributors:

* Pat Bumstead shares another guest blog post at Bird Canada. Check out Whoopers in Flight and read why the photo is so special.
* Mia McPherson has two really nice posts: Low Light Images and More Rough-legged Hawks.
* Kathie Brown has gorgeous fall photos (some birds included) from the northeastern United States. Lovely!
* Steve Creek has some eye-catching images of a Cedar Waxwing eating amazingly colorful berries.
* Scott Simmons had another great week of posts; everything from Egret and Heron identification to a little American Kestrel Bird of the Year love. But my favorite post came last Sunday featuring the Loggerhead Shrike Meets the Grasshopper. Check out all his posts as your scroll back through the week.
* Jeremy Medina posts a short and sweet profile of the Black-crowned Night Heron.
* Rob Fergus finally chased down a Brant, surely to help maintain his Minimum Daily Requirement.
* Rob Ripma discusses his need to Satisfy a Birding Craving. I think most of us can relate.
* Kelly Riccetti is an amazing artist and she often shares her process. I just love her subtle and simple Dark-eyed Junco watercolors.
* Greg Gillson presents a great tutorial on finding bird species using eBird with the Pinyon Jay as a case study.
* Lillian Stokes shared a week of Wild Turkey photos. Fun!
* Ken Schneider relates stories and images of his website's namesake and signature species: Rosyfinches.
* Laurence Butler captured some wonderful images of Arizona birds included a Harris Hawk and also shows the differences in a appearance of an Anna's Hummingbird at different light angles.

More of this Week's Best in Bird Blogging:

* You can't go wrong with any of Ron Dudley's bird photography awesomeness shared over the last week.
* The folks over at The Nemesis Bird have some excellent posts this week too.
* Yesterday Dawn Fine shared an awesome video on nature and gratitude on her blog. It is worth all 10 minutes!
* Cynthia White's four woodpecker photos are awesome and took me back to my AZ days.
* Maybe I'm a little late on this, but I really enjoyed looking at the winning photos from the last Great Backyard Bird Count.
* I appreciated Blake Mathys' post at the ABA Blog about how its okay to say "I don't know" when it comes to bird identification.
* Jim Braswell had some sweet Raven close-up images. I haven't yet developed the skill for capturing feather details of black birds on camera.
* Janet Hug's Barred Owl photo is amazingly beautiful!
* Anna Fasoli also had a nice series of owl photos.
* I used to Hate Birds by Jen is another fun birding blog to follow!
* On the aforementioned subject of Shrike prey impalement, Jill Wussow also has some cool photos too.
* Linda Rockwell continues to tantalize me with her bird photos from the Rio Grande Valley Bird Festival, while the Birdchik, Sharon Stiteler makes me covetous with photos of birds in Israel.
* Nate Swick had a Selaphorus Double-header in which he had homeruns. Congrats!
* Birds Calgary has curiosity perking photos of a Goldeneye removing an egg from the tree cavity nest.
* The Punk Rock Big Year has a series on tattooed birders entitled "You're a birdwatcher?". Fascinating!

Winter Duck Identification

Every winter, I seem to have to relearn my ducks.

On a recent visit to my lunch hour birding patch, when I first arrived, there was a single brownish duck out on the pond mixed in with the coots. No crisp plumage males were with it to clinch the identification quickly and easily. The i.d. threw me off for some time. I admit that I didn't recognize the species by name and had to open up my field guide once I got back to my car. NatGeo6 is the field guide I had with me at the time, and it helped me identify it as a female Ring-billed Duck.

Same lunch hour, but about a half hour later, the Ring-billed Duck had flown, but there was a different brownish duck. You'd think this i.d. would be easy enough for me, but this one threw me for a loop too. The sharp contrast of the head to the body, right at the neck, along with the yellow eye pointed to Redhead, but the heads wasn't as bright as I'm used to seeing and the body color just wasn't right. When I got back to the office, I pulled out my Stokes guide which is the only field guide I have that shows Redheads in eclipse plumage. That white along the wing is actually part of the folded lighter colored flight feathers as you can see the wing partially stretched out. This dude was in a weird stage of molt that led to some confusion on my part, even though I think I have the right identification.

Kenn Kaufman's Field Guide to Advanced Birding shares some key traits to focus on to aid in waterfowl identification:

Habitat and behavior
Head shape and bill shape
Bill details
Eye color
Leg and foot color
Pattern details on dull-plumaged birds

If you can train yourself to note and/or draw these attributes, you will be much better prepared to identify these ducks. Maybe after a few more years and experiences like this one that force me to study my field guides, I will have integrated the knowledge into my hard drive and have instant recognition of these darn ducks.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving from BiF!

All of us here at "Birding is Fun!" want to wish you and yours the most wonderful and happy Thanksgiving. During this season, we are grateful for the birds, for fellow birders, for cool technology like dSLR cameras, and for social media, like blogs, so we can share our passion with you. Thanks for coming back to BiF! day after day. We love you!

To help celebrate the day, a few of us want to share some Thanksgiving and Autumn themed photos with you:
Wild Turkey by Steve Creek
Robert Mortensen's Bountiful, Utah neighborhood Not-So-Wild Wild Turkey
Our family has named it "Peeping Tom" because it sometimes peeks in on us through the basement windows.
Dan Huber shares Wild Turkey's secondary feather.
Lillian Stokes has these Turkey's in her yard!
Ring-necked Pheasant by Mia McPherson
Wild Turkeys in Deltaville, Virginia. Photo by Robert Mortensen
Pat Bumstead reminds me that the Canadian Thanksgiving is in October - so a belated Happy Thanksgiving to you all up north, eh! Pat shares with us some Mountain Ash Berries below.
Wild Turkey's foraging in the Boise foothills. Photo by Robert Mortensen
A closer look at those iridescent feathers...

Kevin Doxstater shares that this time of year reminds him of his fantastic trip to Bosque Del Apache NWR and he hopes to make a return visit to see and photograph all the Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese.
And finally this from regular BiF! bird photo contributor Paul Higgins:

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Ditching the Mouse for the Birds: A Birding Side Trip from Disney

Posted by Rob Ripma

Earlier this month, I was able to visit Merritt IslandNational Wildlife Refuge for the first time. My wife and I were at Disney World on vacation but set aside a couple of extra days birding along the Atlantic Coast. Merritt Island was the natural choice given everything that I had heard about it from other birders and its proximity to Orlando (~75 minutes away). We were not disappointed!
Merritt Island is One of the Sites on the Great Florida Birding Trail
A Typical Scene at the Refuge
When you visit this refuge, be sure to that your first stop is at the Visitor Center. It is a really cool building, plus their staff is incredibly knowledgeable and provided us with fantastic information about the refuge. As an added bonus, in the fall and winter, the feeders at the center tend to have some Painted Buntings present!

Visitor Center and Boardwalk
After the Visitors Center, head to the Black Point Wildlife Drive for some of the best birding on the refuge. The drive is a one way 7 mile loop that offers tons of opportunities to view herons, egrets, shorebirds, waterfowl, and Osprey. If you are a photographer, this is the drive for you. The birds are so used to the cars along the road that they say very close even when you stop.

Pied-billed Grebe along the Black Point Wildlife Drive
Tricolored Heron along the Black Point Wildlife Drive
Anhinga - One of the Most Common Species along the Wildlife Drive
If you can pull yourself away from the birds for a few minutes, this is also an amazing refuge to view West Indian Manatee. We stopped by the Manatee Observation Deck and didn’t see anything. Luckily, Bob at the Visitor Center had recommended that we stop by the Bairs Cove Boat Launch. We found some manatees immediately and ended up counting at least 10!

For any serious birder, one of the main draws of this refuge is the large population of Florida Scrub-Jays that call this place home. The best place to view this species is along the Scrub Ridge Trail. I saw a couple of Scrub-Jays while I was on this trail, but the mosquitoes were ferocious and drove me back to the car. The best sighting for me along the trail was a Gopher Tortoise that I was able to photograph. It was a lifer reptile for me!

Gopher Tortoise on the Scrub Ridge Trail
While at the refuge, you should be sure to go to Canaveral National Seashore. The fee that you pay to take the Wildlife Drive also covers your admission to the seashore, and you would really miss out on some awesome birding if you were to skip this stop. There are quite a few parking areas that have walkways over the dunes.  These are great places to do an ocean watch from. At this time of year, there are an unbelievable number of Northern Gannets moving offshore.

Northern Gannet from Canaveral National Seashore
If you prefer to get away from the crowds (not that there were that many people on the refuge the days we were there to begin with), head for the Peacock Pocket Road loop. You pass through mostly the same habitats as you do on the Wildlife Drive, but there are hardly any people at this part of the refuge. Unfortunately for us, it was raining the whole time we were on this drive, resulting in very few birds.

Hopefully I have inspired you to visit Merritt Island!  And, if you happen to be in the area in late January, be sure to check out the Space Coast Birding Festival.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Review: Audubon Birds - Find Birds with eBird

The National Audubon Society is one of the sponsoring partners of eBird, so I am delighted to see that the Audubon Birds app just came out with an updated version that allows users to "Find Birds with eBird". The impressive series of Audubon Guides apps are developed by the friendly and enthusiastic folks at Green Mountain Digital. With this new eBird integration, they have taken one giant leap, making this digital field guide the most useful app for finding and identifying birds.

Finding birds with eBird on this app is so slick and intuitive. You select your location and then can choose to "Find Birds Nearby", "Locate a Bird" (by species), search for "Notable and Rare" birds in the area, or "Find a Hotspot with Observations".  I put this app through its paces by imagining I was visiting a new city and wanting to find out where the local hotspots were and what birds had been seen in the last 30 days. Everything I wanted and needed was there in this one awesome birding app!

Audubon Birds using eBird data seemed extremely user-friendly to me, but I wanted to find out how intuitive this app really is. So, I tested it out on my non-birding kids: Kyle (10), Anne (9), and Victoria (7). I gave them challenges to use the eBird tool in Audubon Birds to find the most recent and nearest sightings of certain target species. Kyle and Anne were able to find the species faster than I could. It was like second nature to them. The younger Victoria struggled a tiny bit more simply because of less reading experience. However, even Victoria was able to pull up recent sightings of Common Goldeneye...and I rejoiced to see that the two Goldeneyes I had reported at my lunch-hour birding patch earlier in the day already appeared up on the map! With real-time information like that, this is the kind of useful tool that all birders will want.

What's more is that my kids really loved playing around this app and couldn't get enough of it. They, like me, enjoyed the pictures, maps, and the beauty and ease of it all. Cool gadgets like this will interest more kids in birds and nature.

Other new features in this updated version of Audubon Birds include:

* All new photos - 3,150 of them - with a renewed effort to show not just pretty pictures, but photos showing diversity in gender, age, and seasonal plumage.
* A digital personal journal that allows you to track and annotate your sightings. You still need to submit your sightings to eBird the normal way, but I found that on an iPad it is just as easy as on a laptop or desktop computer. By the way, this journal links to your Personal Nature Account on
* You can share your sightings with your friends directly from the app using email or Facebook.

So, all the more reason to own and use the Audubon Birds app and to be an eBirder! I love it.

Audubon Birds is listed for $19.99 in press materials, but is currently on sale for $14.99 on the iTunes until the 30th of this month.

* This app is officially called "Audubon Birds - A Field Guide to North American Birds" in the iTunes store - Click here for my review of an earlier version of Audubon Birds for Android.
* Sightings records in this app are not attributed to eBirders by name as they are on eBird website.
* Peterson Guides also has an app with a "Bird Finder" tool which uses eBird data, but I have not had a chance to see it or test out its functionality.
* The generous people at Green Mountain Digital let me borrow one of their iPads for a day with the app pre-loaded for this review, but no other compensation was provided for sharing my honest opinion.
* Debate will still continue regarding how useful these apps are for identification - photos vs. illustrations. We birders are getting spoiled with this awesome digital stuff and we're now hoping to have apps with both photos and illustrations along with the sounds and calls all in one easy to use place.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Join John Robinson's Free Webinar

Discovering South Africa’s Role Among the World’s Seven Wonders of Nature

On Tuesday, 22 November at 9:00 PM Eastern Time, ornithologist and author John C. Robinson will be joined by South African Tour Operator and owner of Ntaba Tours & Safaris, Robin Mountain, on a webinar featuring intimate images and sounds of South Africa. We will also discuss South Africa’s recent contribution to the list of the “Seven Wonders of Nature”. This webinar will include unique insights about the culture, geography, big game, and birds of South Africa and nearby Zimbabwe and Botswana. We will also let you know all about the world’s Seven Wonders of Nature and why it’s more affordable than ever before to personally witness some of them. I will also share with you a brief description of my universal method for identifying birds by sight and by sound and how you can use these techniques anywhere in the world, whether it’s in your back yard or when you’re just four feet away from a pair of South African lions.

 Please join us for this FREE webinar on 22 November at 9:00 PM Eastern. Even if your schedule is busy, be sure to register for the webinar and we will send you a video recording of the presentation afterwards. Wishing you the best in birds, nature, and the outdoors.


- John C. Robinson

BiF! and the ABA Bird of the Year


Earlier this year, the American Birding Association chief executive, Jeffrey Gordon, announced a fun program called "ABA Bird of the Year". As an enthusiastic new ABA member and a huge fan of the American Kestrel, I embraced the Bird of the Year concept and started a grassroots campaign for "The Great Kestrel Count 2011" held over the long Labor Day weekend in September. Fortunately, the ABA noticed and appreciates member efforts that support the ABA cause. I also recently suggested in a comment to a post at 10000Birds that I had hoped the ABA would do more with the Bird of the Year program. That comment turned into a phone call from Jeff Gordon personally inviting me to help coordinate the Bird of the Year effort for the ABA. One thing is for certain, the ABA administration listens and cares about what members think and want to do within the ABA.

The purpose of the ABA Bird of the Year program aligns perfectly with our vision at "Birding Is Fun!" of sharing the passion and enthusiasm for birds, birding, and birders. I am excited to help out in any way that I can in promoting this.  We hope the ABA Bird of the Year will continue to be a program that is exciting and fun with species that we can all rally around each year. I invite you to use the Bird of the Year as a way to introduce others to the wonderful world of birding. I've already compiled a long list of fun ideas to continue celebrating the American Kestrel this year and for selecting and celebrating the ABA Bird of the Year in 2012. We're open to ideas about how to celebrate the ABA Bird of the Year and want to support member efforts and ideas. We hope to create ways that can involve everyone at whatever level of birding you enjoy.

We welcome your ideas and comments here at BiF!, at the ABA Blog or Facebook, or in emails directly to me or to the ABA BoY email address which I will monitor.

What is your best bird?

Posted by Donald the birder

I have had the great fortune of meeting some new birders recently, and one of the most asked questions I got asked is "What is your best bird?" This was a hard question for me to answer right off the top of my head. After thinking about the question for a while, a few good birding memories popped into mind. I will share some of those memories here.

Thinking back, the best birding memory would have to be when I found a first state record Sooty Tern for Ohio.

Here is a little background on the sighting. During July of 2005, the remnants of Hurricane Dennis passed right over the Ohio valley. While seeing reports on the listservs of sea birds riding on the storm in other states, I decided to post guard at a local reservoir with hopes of finding a stray. I got lucky!

At the time, I didn't have a camera capable of capturing an image, however other birders did. You can see images of the bird on the Ohio Ornithological Society's web page here.

Caution: You are about to see some vintage photos of birds!

In February of 2005, I tagged along on a trip to Northern Minnesota with another birder from Cincinnati to witness the northern owl invasion that year. We also visited the famous Sax-zim Bog. Saw a lot of life birds including, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Black-backed Woodpecker, Northern Shrikes, etc.

Got to see some thirty-something Great Gray Owls if I can remember correctly. Here is a photo of my lifer Great Gray.
Great Gray Owl

Also got my lifer Northern Hawk-owl. Saw 8 birds.

Northern Hawk Owl, MN Feb 2005

And another lifer, Snowy Owl. It was a quick shot and view, as it was near a federal prison in Duluth, MN. The guards were becoming interested in us, so we left.

Snowy Owl

And the highlight of the trip was a chance encounter. While heading back from Duluth, I thought I had spotted a Boreal Owl sitting in a tree on the side of the highway. We were traveling at about 60MPH. The guy driving found it hard to believe it was possible, but it would have been a life bird for the both of us. So, he decided to turn around and go back to see if I could relocate it. I got lucky. It was still there.

Here is a photo I obtained of the bird.

Boreal owl

That trip was probably the coolest (both literally and figuratively) of my birding adventures.

More recently, the best bird I would have to say was a Sabine's Gull (life bird) that showed up at the local reservoir last month. I got to meet many out of town birders and had the pleasure of helping them find a lifer.

Juvenile Sabine's Gull