Friday, November 30, 2012

"The Birder" the Movie Coming Soon?

The Birder is a comedy that is six years in the making and looks to be a lot of fun.

Starring a hilarious cast that includes Tom Cavanagh, Mark Rendall, Cassidy Renee, Jamie Spilchuk, Graham Greene, and Fred Willard (among others) this looks to be a great film to if not attract new birders, at least provide a good laugh at ourselves as birders.

"THE BIRDER is an intelligent and witty comedy about a mild-mannered high school teacher and avid birder who plots revenge against a younger, hipper rival, after losing the Head of Ornithology position at the local park."

I don't know too many details beyond this but there is a Kickstarter fund started to get the film completed. It has been filmed and is in post production.

I hope this becomes a finished product!

Produced by Gerry Lattmann of Toronto, Canada.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Long Lost Lifers

Image Source: Wikipedia
On 26 May 1983, I was sitting in my ninth grade class when my science teacher and birding mentor pulled me out of class.  We went outside and he showed me a Mountain Quail that he had discovered under the foundation plantings at the school.

I'm a bit embarrassed to say that this is still the only Mountain Quail I have ever seen!

Which leads me to wonder, should life birds expire at some point?  Since it has been almost 30 years since I saw this bird, what does it mean for me to have it on my list?  Surely I can't say that I really know this bird.

Since I moved away from Oregon after high school, and am only back to the West Coast for infrequent visits, I've got several other long-lost lifers from that era on my list.  Mountain Quail is my oldest long-lost lifer, but I've got a couple others from the early 1980s, including Short-tailed Shearwater from my first pelagic trip in 1983, White-headed Woodpecker and South Polar Skua from 1984.  In reviewing my ABA list, there are at least 10 birds on there that I've only seen once, back in the 1980s!

In the 1990s, I was chasing more ABA rarities--so perhaps I can be forgiven for only ever seeing one Black-tailed Gull (VA, 1995) and Siberian Accentor (ID, 1997), but a full review of my ABA list shows 19 birds on there that I only ever saw once, back in the 1990s.  A few of them aren't even all that rare!

There are many other birds that I've only seen a few times.  I hesitate to even count up how many species I haven't seen for the past ten years (but now that I think about it, I'm going to have to do it!).  But what do you think?  How long can you keep a bird on your list without seeing it again before you should remove it?  Back in Y2K some people decided to start over with their lifelist, and started keeping a new Millenium List.  I'm not sure I'm ready to do that (he says, clinging to the memory of that Mountain Quail!).  But what about you, do you have any embarrassing long-lost lifers, birds you are embarrassed to admit you've only seen once a long time ago?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

New NatGeo Birding App for Birders!

Press Release from the National Geographic Society:

"Starting Thursday, November 29th, National Geographic Birds: Field Guide to North America will be available in the App Store for iPhone users at the price of $9.99. Just in time for the holidays, National Geographic is thrilled to debut the new app that will make the perfect gift for bird enthusiasts.

 The app, the most comprehensive of its kind, will feature 955 species as well as over 700 bird songs and calls. Based on National Geographic's best-selling birding book, Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th edition, the feature-rich app includes illustrations, detailed species information, extensive search functions, and similar species comparisons. Birders of all levels will appreciate the list-making and note-taking features, as well as the games designed to test their bird identification skills. The "My Journal" section allows users to track their sightings and share them with friends, family, and fellow birders. The illustrations, done by the North America’s finest bird illustrators, offer an in-depth look at every species with on-screen annotations to assist in quick and accurate identifications. In addition, an expansive library of bird songs and calls from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides yet another tool for positively identifying birds—anywhere from your backyard to the most remote backwoods."

Here are some sample screen shots:

You can look forward to a review of this app in the very near future from For more information about birding apps, please visit our Birding App page.

The Fun of Late-Fall Florida Birding

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Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Around late October, migration starts to wind down here in Central Florida. I have to admit, when I start seeing Yellow-rumped Warblers, I get a little sad. But in reality, November can be quite exciting with some wonderful birding. Temperatures drop a little, so I can bird without sweat, my "warbler neck" heals, and wonderful birds make their presence known around the state. Of course, there are wonderful birds to be seen everywhere in November, so Florida is not unique, but I love late fall in Florida. I'll concentrate on the perching birds I've been able to enjoy in late fall.

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Eastern Phoebe
By the time November comes, Eastern Phoebes are here in full force, and their wonderful calls can be heard in most places I visit.  These are easily the most common flycatchers we get to enjoy this time of year, but we also get a smattering of other wonderful flycatchers that "belong" farther west but wander over to Florida to delight birders across the state.

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Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
The first of these that I've been able to see this November is a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. One has been hanging around the Shiloh area of Merritt Island, and it has been very willing to be photographed.

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Vermilion Flycatcher
A Vermilion Flycatcher also made an appearance at Orlando Wetlands Park about a half-hour from my home. Unfortunately, the park closed in mid-November, so those that didn't make it there before it closed (like me) will have to hope that it sticks around until it opens again in February. The photo above was taken in February of this year after it spent the winter there last year.

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Say's Phoebe
There has also been a Say's Phoebe hanging around the west side of Lake Apopka. When I went there to see it, it eventually appeared on top of a pole barn a fair distance away, and that's the only place it would show itself. At first I was frustrated by its uncooperative nature, but now I figure that since it flew way out of its way so that I could drive less than an hour from my home to photograph it, I should stop complaining.

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Ash-throated Flycatcher
And just this past weekend, I found what I believe to be an Ash-throated Flycatcher on the east side of Lake Apopka. I'm actually not fully convinced of this bird's ID yet. Hopefully it will stick around and let me see it from the front, especially the underside of the tail, this weekend.

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Western Kingbird
Nov. 30th update.  This morning I added a Western Kingbird!  It was first seen the day this posted, and I made it out there this morning to find it.

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Clay-colored Sparrow
Sparrows have been a lot of fun for me this November. Chipping Sparrows start arriving in October. And this year I found my first Clay-colored Sparrow at Mead Gardens about fifteen minutes from my home.

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Savannah Sparrow
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Swamp Sparrow
Savannah, Swamp and Song Sparrows also grace us with their presence, much to my delight.  To me, there's nothing drab about brown.

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Nelson's Sparrow
In the Shiloh area of Merritt Island there's a place where Nelson's and Saltmarsh Sparrows are pretty reliable. I had the chance to find both there, though the only photos that turned out were of Nelson's Sparrows. These are quite possibly the prettiest sparrows I've ever seen.

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Grasshopper Sparrow
Just a couple days ago I went to Lake Jesup, also about 15 minutes from my home, and I was able to get my first photos of a Grasshopper Sparrow. Grasshopper Sparrows certainly could compete with Nelson's Sparrows for the prettiest sparrow I've seen.

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Snow Bunting
And while not technically a Sparrow, I'll include here a Snow Bunting that decided to make an appearance at the Canaveral National Seashore.  It's been hanging around one of the parking lots where people can access the beach. I saw it on Thanksgiving morning when my daughter and I decided to make sandcastles on the beach before dinner. I was there to be a dad, not a photographer, so I didn't try to walk around and get a better angle on the bunting.

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Marsh Wren
Carolina Wrens are here all year-round, but usually sometime in October we start getting House, Marsh and Sedge Wrens.  I'm particularly fond of wrens, especially Marsh and Sedge Wrens, and I love hearing them even when I can't see them.

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Sedge Wren
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Red-breasted Nuthatch
We've had Red-breasted Nuthatches showing up in Central Florida in very unusual numbers.  It's common to find Brown-headed Nuthatches among the pines here, but Red-breasted Nuthatches have been so fun to find.

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Brown-headed Nuthatch
So I've decided that I love November birding in Florida.  It's about as fun as birding gets for me.

Scott Simmons

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Common Redpoll Irruption

Common Redpoll, photo by Lew Ulrey, Boise Idaho
Recently, all across the blogosphere and listservs, birding folk have been reporting Common Redpolls, a bird I had never seen before. I've unsuccessfully chased redpolls a few times and as such it has become a nemesis bird for me. They've made brief appearances at feeders in the greater Boise area over the last couple of days. I begged each reporter to keep an eye on them for me and to let me know if they were sticking around.

On the way back from a job site up in Avimor, in the Boise foothills, I decided to drive along the creek and checkout any flocks of finches for redpolls. Directing my loaner Swarovski EL Swarovision 10x32's into a tree where I saw some small goldfinch-sized birds I was delighted to instantly see four Common Redpolls! Life bird #445. Also my 300th species for the year!

I watched them for a few minutes while still inside my truck. Then I wanted a photo, so I carefully slipped out of the truck with the spotting scope and iPhone. Suddenly, a Northern Shrike darted into the tree after my Redpolls. It missed, but my Redpolls took off while a flock of A. Goldfinches began mobbing the Shrike. So, no photos, but pretty cool to see a life bird and always cool to see a Shrike. A great Idaho eBirder, Lew Ulrey snapped the shot above at his feeder yesterday and he was a gentleman allowing me to share his photo here.

Common Redpolls do appear to be having an irruption year into the lower 48 states along with Red-breasted Nuthatches, Evening Grosbeaks, Crossbills, and Pine Grosbeaks.
Common Redpoll sightings from eBird for Fall 2012
Tomorrow I head north, up to Hells Canyon (Lewiston, ID - Clarkston, WA) for some fishing with my dad and some friends. Folks in that area having been reporting a couple Snowy Owls and a Gyrfalcon. I'd be happy to get a couple more life birds this year!

The Birds of November

To me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of birdwatching is the camaraderie. You may only have met someone five minutes ago, but if you happen to share a great bird sighting with them, you have something in common and will remember them for years. Who among us has not struck up a conversation with a perfect stranger because you heard them say "juvenile plumage Swainson's hawk" instead of just calling it a hawk?

Another perk to our hobby is having a group of like-minded friends who understand why you're doing the crazy-lifer-bird-dance when you finally tick that nemesis off your list. And they understand both 'nemesis' and 'list' because they have their own.

Watching a new birdwatcher fledge into a full blown birder, however, is the best part of this hobby for me.

Five years ago Calgarian Daniel Arndt wasn't particularly interested in birds, although he has always felt the strong pull of nature. Then he saw a Western Kingbird in Mexico, and was blown away when the guide said that bird spent his summers in Alberta.

Now he is outside every possible minute, puts hundreds of miles on his car looking for birds, has lists of lists, various smart phone apps, reports to eBird regularly, writes for a local bird blog, leads bird tours and takes some outstanding bird photographs. He also has a B.Sc. in Natural Science, and another in Geology, both from the University of Calgary.

Dan is more than willing to come to the aid of a friend when she has absolutely nothing to blog about. November is a frantically busy month for me. I haven't been birding in weeks, and while attempting to take pictures of the Pine Grosbeaks in my yard recently, discovered my old auto-focus camera is no longer inclined to focus on anything.

While I've been swearing at cameras and stuck in front of a computer, Dan has been taking some gorgeous photos of birds in Alberta. This seemed to be the perfect time to show off his work. You can see more of his photos on his Flickr page.

American Three-toed Woodpecker

American Tree Sparrow

Bohemian Waxwing

Boreal Chickadee

Common Redpoll

Great Gray Owl


Mountain Chickadee

Northern Hawk Owl

Pine Grosbeak

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Snow Bunting

Snowy Owl

Townsend's Solitaire

White-winged Crossbill

And you thought we didn't have any birds up here in the winter...

Monday, November 26, 2012

more Birding App Survey Results

When we asked which apps birders use to "find" birds using eBird data, this is what we learned...
We also asked which apps birders use to learn bird sounds. Here are the most popular apps for learning calls and songs.
Then we asked which birding app features are most important to birders...
Finally, we asked which birding app features birders find the least important...
To wrap up these birding app surveys, the final question was, "What app features do you dream about having?" Here are a few of the responses...
  • Ability to quickly connect with birders nearby to alert them of birds in the immediate area that might be rare or uncommon 
  • The dream app would be one that can ID a bird by call 
  • 1) artificial intelligence for visual and audio identification 2) voice command to enter eBird checklists 
  • Illustrations of younger birds, molting birds, ducks in eclipse... basically, all the ways a species may look when it isn't an adult male in breeding plumage. 
  • recording a sound in the field and having the analyze it for similar sounds 
  • I dream of having an app that can id a bird purely by sound 
  • The ability to search and submit sightings to eBird, with bird songs, taxonomic lists of most common birds to the area, photos/drawings, and recorded calls.

What did you learn from these survey results? Anything seem interesting or surprising? Let us know in the comments.

Robert's take-aways:
  • I'm not surprised by Birdseye and Audubon Birds being the most used to find birds with eBird data. They both perform that function very well and accurately. 
  • I am surprised the Audubon Birds is the most used app to learn bird sounds. I think this due to the affordability of the app. Larkwire is probably the most intensive app specifically created for this purpose and an app I am very fond of, so I'm glad to see it getting noticed and used.
  • I'm not surprised that bird sounds are the most important app feature for birders as that and portability are the major features that make app more desirable in the field than paper field guides.
  • I am surprised that more birders want photograph in apps than illustrations. Interesting!
  • Not that much importance for the alphabetically list of birds. Funny. I use that all the time.
  • I also wonder if sharing digiscoped photos and connecting to social networks won't increase over time or if that utility is dead on arrival.
  • There seems to be a theme to the dream birding app features...ability to identify birds by the device recording or listening to the call. That would be pretty cool!
For more Birding App Survey information, please check out the page dedicated to that purpose.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

It's a crossbill winter!

Here in Cincinnati we're excited because crossbills have dropped down from the north for a winter visit (and it's not even winter yet). Both Red and White-winged Crossbills are being reported daily at local cemeteries, so since Matty was off school Wednesday, we headed up to Miami Cemetery to see what we could see...

A White-winged Crossbill was waiting for us when we got out of the car! 
We didn't even have to look for the birds. As soon as we stepped out of the Jeep, three White-winged Crossbills flew in the huge Eastern Hemlock tree right next to us. Their chittery flight chatter gave them away, and we quickly focused in on them with binocs. This was a life bird for Matty, so he studied them carefully. "Wow! You really can see their crossed bills!" was the first thing out of his mouth. "I know..." followed out of mine. We watched them in silence as they moved from cone to cone, separating the bracts and extracting the seeds with their tongues. "Wow..."

While we watched them, we tried to figure out how they were cracking open the cones to get to the seeds. We could see them working the bracts apart, but had no idea how they were using their crossed bills to do it. Later that night, I got a few of my birds books down to see if I could find out. The answer was easy to find and was in the first book I opened. Bernd Heinrich, in his book Winter World, offered an explanation. He wrote that a crossbill's upper bill is two centimeters long and crosses over a one-half centimeter shorter lower bill. To open a cone bract, the bird inserts a partially open bill into a bract, then closes its bill. When closed, the bill tips separate the bract laterally by about 3 millimeters, just enough for the bird to open its bill slightly and use its barbed tongue to dip in and grab the seed (Heinrich, Winter World, page 37).

Eventually, Matty went off looking at tombstones and did a few rubbings to try to figure out dates and names on the oldest and most weathered stones,  and I did a quick sketchbook entry to record our day. We had been to Caesar Creek earlier for a picnic lunch and had seen lots of birds, but the White-winged Crossbills stole the show. In 2009, White-winged Crossbills showed up for a while in Cincinnati, and it was exciting too, but this year, the irruption seems bigger. I can't wait to see what else winter brings!

...sketchbook entry completed in the field. It was very warm that day...65 degrees F. 
To round out the post, I did a quick watercolor of one of the White-winged Crossbills we saw that day. I can't wait to get back out to see if more of these interesting birds are around. If you haven't done so already, you might want to pop over to the ABA Blog to read Nate Swick's post, "Help Monitor the Red Crossbill Invasion" (click here). You also might like Jim McCormac's post (click here) for a photo of a White-winged Crossbill's long tongue as it nabs a seed.

Happy birding, everyone!
      Kelly from Red and the Peanut

Saturday, November 24, 2012

A Fleeting Moment

One of the great enjoyments for me as a relatively new birder is the thrill of seeing and observing new species.  I love to sit and observe, learn the biology if you will.  One of my mentors in photography calls this "putting in your time" and I think that is a very good description.  The best photographers are visual communicators and you can't possibly be a good visual communicator unless you understand the intimacies of your subject.  The best place to start with wildlife is learning the biology.  

A few months ago I had this little fellow visit my feeders.  Fortunately I was home at the time and was able to make my way outside quickly with my 600mm lens in tow.  It ends up this Yellow Shafted Northern Flicker was only around for a few hours.  My observation time with him was only about 15 minutes and I have not seen him again :-(.

Looking at the top image, you will notice the underside of his tail is yellow.  These are in part what are referred to as "flight feathers".  There are 2 easily distinguishable species of Northern Flickers in the U.S.  The yellow shaft which finds itself in the eastern half of the U.S. has yellow flight feathers while the red shaft found in the west has red flight feathers.  The other major difference between the two species is their mustache!  You will notice on the bird above that there is a black mustache coming from his beak.  In the red shaft variety, this mustache is red and in the yellow shaft variety the mustache is black.  Its amazing what you can learn from a short visit by a new species in your own backyard!