Saturday, August 31, 2013

Swarovski Bird Blogger Summit 2013 - RI & MA

Swarovski Optik invited a handful of bird bloggers to visit their North America office in Rhode Island recently. It was really cool to tour their facility and see the extreme level of customer service they provide. Thanks to Clay Taylor and Dean Capuano for being such gracious hosts. Fellow bird blogging guests included our very own J. Drew Lanham, Sharon & Bill Stiteler, Paul Riss, Drew Weber and Nina Cheney. A group of bird bloggers is a dangerous combination, but we sure had a great time just talking about birding and trends in birding. Future posts will have more about the birding we did on this trip.
Dean Capuana leading a tour of the Swarovski Optik facility. Non-Birding Bill obviously bored about any talk related to birding is making sure the second hand is moving on the clock.
One of the most impressive things I learned about Swarovski Optik is the incredible lengths they go to to keep our optics pristine and functioning. If you send your binocular or scope in to them for service or even a tune-up, they literally strip it down and inspect, adjust, and replace if needed about every part. They run the optics through a battery of test to insure perfect performance.
Above the staff's workspace is a vent helping maintain the dust-free environment for assembling and repairing high performance optics.
When you buy Swarovski products, you are not just buying premium optics, but a lifetime of premium service. We saw a lot of really old and well-used optics still being maintained for happy Swarovski customers.
I'm not sure how long Swarovski had yellow binoculars, but Non-birding Bill certainly wants a pair.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Birds of the Prairie - A Photo Essay

With the excitement of all the warblers, waterfowl, and shorebirds that pass through during migration, I often overlook the incredible birds that make our prairie landscape come alive.  The scenery here will not take your breath away, but the beauty is so quiet, so subtle that you could miss it.

Once you get out and start exploring this land you see a whole new dimension to this beauty: the birds. Even the sparrows do their part to add to the diversity of the prairie canvas.

Grasshopper Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow
Clay-colored Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
One does not need to go afoot in the tall grass to see amazing birds. Looking up at telephone wires while cruising down dusty roads will showcase a whole new group of birds as they sing their unique songs from on high.

Western Meadowlark
Even certain shorebirds call the prairie their home and ocassionally show themselves.  Though they seem out of place, they add to the richness of prairie's beauty.

Marbled Godwit

Marbled Godwit enjoying the strong prairie winds

Wilson's Snipe

Upland Sandpiper
As you approach the many prairie potholes that dot this landscape, you see yet another layer of beauty - the birds of the marsh.  Some of them lurk in the cattails or the short-grass marshes.

Marsh Wren
Sedge Wren
Others boldly proclaim their presence as they splash the marsh with color and fill the air with their beautiful songs.

Red-winged Blackbird
Yellow-headed Blackbird
The prairie would not be the same without the sights and sounds of these magnificent birds.  For those of us who also call the prairie our home, hearing the melodious song of a Western Meadowlark or a Bobolink stirs up fond memories of growing up in a land of tall grass, rolling hills, and cattail marshes.  There truly is no place like home.

Josh Wallestad writes about his birding adventures with his 6-year-old son, Evan, at A Boy Who Cried Heron.  

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Review: New Zealand Bird Books

Greg the famous flightless Takahe on Tiritiri Matangi
Back at the end of 2011, I was able to spend a week in Auckland, New Zealand for a conference (Facebook album).  Since it was my first trip to this magical place, I was anxious to see as much as I could.  Fortunately, since eBird had gone global, I was able to identify some good birding locations around Auckland, and slip out of the conference early in the morning, at lunch, or in the afternoons for some good birding by bus around town.  I also managed two trips out to Tiritiri Matangi--an island refuge where they have been able to establish populations of many birds that have been almost wiped out on the mainland.  I also managed a pelagic trip out into the Gulf of Hauraki to see tens of thousands of seabirds, including the newly rediscovered New Zealand Storm Petrel.

Endangered Sickleback on Tiritiri Matangi
Before I review the two bird field guides I used down there, let me first review the birds.  In a word, spectactular!  If I could use another word, it would be unbefreakinglievable!  If you haven't been to New Zealand, start saving your pennies.  Or just sell what you have to and go.  It is as amazing as you might expect, and then some.  My only regret is that I didn't full on quit my job so I could have spent more time there, rather than just baling on my classes I was teaching at Rowan University for a week.  Ok, I also regret  not having a better camera at the time, as there were so many great opportunities to take stellar shots of amazing birds--but hard to manage with a point and shoot through binoculars.  And I also regret not making the huge effort it would have taken to see a wild kiwi (though I did get some good video footage of one at the Auckland Zoo).

Anyway, now that you've decided on a New Zealand trip, what bird books should you take?  Before my trip I scored a review copy of Ber van Perlo's Birds of Hawaii, New Zealand, and the Central and West Pacific (Princeton University Press, 2011).  This is one of the Princeton Illustrated Checklists, and I took it in my back pocket everywhere.  It was very handy in a small size, and it had every bird I could expect to see, so it was very useful--especially since there aren't that many land birds in New Zealand, there weren't usually a lot of confusing species to have to separate!  These Princeton Illustrated  Checklists feature small but very serviceable illustrations, with brief species accounts and range maps on the facing page, a standard field guide layout we became comfortable with almost 50 years ago with the publication of the original classic Golden guide (dang, I still love that old guide!).

Typical two-page layout of the Princeton Illustrated Checklist to the Birds of Hawaii, New Zealand, and the Central and West Pacific.

Since this book covers all of the Pacific, it could be a good choice if you are also going to visit other islands some day.  The drawback is, there will always be a lot of birds to look through in order to figure out which birds are supposed to be where ever you are birding.  The maps help a lot with that--though I did find that with the seabirds, the range maps for many species may not have been completely accurate.  But more on that later.  Meanwhile, this was a great little book to carry around!  You can also learn a lot about the distribution of birds in the Pacific with this little book--I especially liked the illustrated checklist to each region at the front of the book, where you can see a thumbnail of all the endemic species grouped by island group.  Very cool.

Paradise Shelducks in a park in Auckland. 
I really liked this book, though there were a couple of issues I found.  First, the birds are labeled with numbers on the plates, and in at least one instance (Australian Shelduck and Paradise Shelduck) the numbering was wrong--almost causing me to not realize I was seeing the endemic Paradise Shelduck when I first found it in a park in Auckland!  Secondly, New Zealand is a wet place at times.  Especially on a pelagic trip.  I got thoroughly soaked going out to Tiritiri Matangi island and on the Hauraki Gulf Pelagic trip.  The binding of this guide, which was tucked in my pocket, did not survive the pelagic trip.  I was able to save the book by carefully drying out the pages, but the binding was toast.  That said, as I sit here holding my broken and wrinkled copy of this book, it brings back some great memories (though not of puking on the rough seas out in the Hauraki Gulf!) and I still really like this book.

So why am I reviewing two New Zealand bird books?  Well, I'm a book junkie.  And when I saw a copy of Barrie Heather & Hugh Robertson's The Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand (Viking, 2005) at the Auckland Zoo, I just had to have it.  So that was my other bird book on my trip.

In almost every way the Heather and Robertson guide is a very different book than the Princeton Illustrated Checklist.  The checklist is small (thinner than the old Golden guides at 7.3 x 4.9 x 0.7 inches and 14.4 ounces) while the field guide is big (3/4 the size of Big Sibley at 8.5 x 6.2 x 1.3 inches and 1.9 pounds).   If he checklist is formatted like the Golden guide, this one is more like a hybrid between the Golden guide and Howell and Webb's Mexican guide.  You still get the maps and species accounts across from the plate illustrations, but the illustrations are larger.  And you also get a separate text section with very detailed species accounts covering the distribution, population size, conservation, breeding, behaviour, feeding, and a bibliography for each species!  That's a lot to love!

Typical two page spread of The Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand.  In addition to these large illustrations, maps, and facing text, you also get a larger often multi-page species account for each species.

Others have called this the definitive field guide to the birds of New Zealand.  I won't argue with that.  It is amazing.  The illustrations are more detailed than the checklist, and the maps seemed to be more accurate, especially for the seabirds.  The only, and seriously for me it is the only drawback I could find with this book, is that it is so big that it isn't as easy to use and lug about in the field.  While I often had the checklist in my jeans pocket, the field guide lived in my backpack.  Granted, that spared it from a lot of the water that almost K.O.'d the checklist, and perhaps that's a good thing!

Endemic Brown Teal on Tiritiri Matangi
I loved both of these books, and would recommend getting them both if you are going to New Zealand.  You are going to love the birds down there, and the field guide gives you lots and lots of info about them that you will want to know after you've first seen and identified them.  But that little checklist is good to have when you are out and about, for a quick ID look up!  But whatever book or books you take, just take my first recommendation and go to New Zealand.  Once you've sat in the presence of the tranquil Brown Teal or the otherworldly Takahe or any of the other spectacular birds down there, you will be infected and will never be at peace until you can go back!  So on second thought, maybe you should just stay at home and enjoy these birds by reading these books.  Nah!  Go!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Orange-fronted Parakeets

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Orange-fronted Parakeeet
Earlier this month I visited Acapulco, MX.  I wasn't there for birding, but I had several opportunities to look for birds around me .  There was a small flock of Orange-fronted Parakeets that could be seen throughout the day.  It seemed like every morning I got up around 7:15 am to find them flying from where they were roosting, and then I'd see them at least once throughout the day.

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Orange-fronted Parakeeet
We have several species of parakeets in Florida, all escaped pets.  To my knowledge the only place where this species can be found in the U.S. is in the Miami area. So it was nice to see some of Mexico's resident wild population. Orange-fronted Parakeets are found in lowlands and foothills of western Mexico down to Costa Rica.  They can be seen in forest canopy and edges, open woodlands, and even in trees along city streets. They feed on seeds, flowers, fruits and invertebrates.

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Orange-fronted Parakeeet
These birds were pure delight to watch.  Their noisy interactions, particularly in the morning, I found delightful.  Their playful and social behavior was also fun to observe.  At times they seemed genuinely affectionate with each other.

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Orange-fronted Parakeeet
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Orange-fronted Parakeeet
Scott Simmons

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Hummer Chase

The definition of insanity is said to do the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. The same could be said of someone trying to take hummingbird pictures with a point and shoot camera.

Earlier this month, I was preparing supper one evening when I glanced out the window and saw movement in the garden. I grabbed the camera and charged out onto the deck. Six mourning doves who had been quietly eating at the deck feeder immediately took flight. The whistling of their wings as they erupted in turn startled me, and I nearly dropped the camera. When my heart rate returned to normal, I began to look for my visitor.

I don’t have hummingbird feeders in my yard. What I offer is a hummingbird garden, with masses of flowering plants chosen with them in mind. The star of the garden is the Monarda, or Scarlet Bee Balm. Each August during the fall migration I get one or two of these zippy visitors spending a week or so feasting on the multitude of blooms. This year I decided I should take some pictures. 

Mindful of the birding basics, I got the binos first to see just who my visitor was. I was delighted to discover I had a female Rufous Hummingbird – yard bird #109! Normally I get Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, so this was a real treat.

These little flying miracles hover, fly backwards, shift sideways and fly straight up and down. Everything in their lives is quick, including eating. No sooner did I manage to find the bird with the camera than it was gone. I won’t even tell you how many fuzzy hummer pictures I ended up with, or how many birdless flower shots I had to go through when editing. 

Every evening for just over a week I spent hours on the deck, often blindly firing off photos when I thought I saw the bird. Persistence paid off though, and I did eventually manage to get some photos of Ms. Rufous that are actually in focus.

Finally she alighted on a branch to have a long 10 second nap and then a good preen. My shooting finger was sore when she finally flew away, and I swear my camera was smoking.

During my deck sojourn I realized I actually had three hummingbirds. At one point a male rufous took a flying bath in the sprinkler, and although I wasn't aware of it until I started editing photos, this obliging female Ruby-throated actually sat still for a photo op.
I may have to dig out my husband’s vegetable garden and plant more bee balm. This is FUN!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Vultures, Birds that we fear - Good or Bad? - BUITRES LAS AVES QUE NOS DAN MIEDO-¿MALAS O BUENAS?

Queridas y queridos amigos de Birding is fun, cuantas veces nos hemos planteado si las aves carroñeras son importantes o solo son aves sanguinarias y que dan malas noticias.

Dear friends of Birding Is Fun, how often have we wondered whether the carrion birds are important or are just bloodthirsty birds that give bad news?

Parece ser que cuando se alimentan fueran carniceros asesinos en un banquete sangriento, pues queridas y queridos amigos son nuestras colaboradoras en proteger el medioambiente, son realmente artistas de la limpieza de la Naturaleza.

It seems that when they feed, they are murdering butchers at a bloody banquet. But dear friends, they are our partners in protecting the environment. They are truly the artists of the cleansing of Nature.

Paseando por los campos de mi tierra Navarra(España),al amanecer los veo sobrevolando los cortados de la Foz de Lumbier, un paraje extraordinario para su observación de nuestra tierra Navarra, aprovechando las templadas corrientes térmicas se elevan sin esfuerzo, formaban círculos en el cielo como de planeadores o tal vez cometas tirados de un hilo invisible.

Walking through the fields of my homeland (Navarra, Spain) at dawn, I see them flying over the cliffs of Foz de Lumbier, an extraordinary place for your observation of our land Navarra. Using the war thermals, they rise effortlessly, forming circles in the sky like gliders or perhaps like comets pulled by an invisible thread.

De repente todo cambia, algo ocurre se lanzan en picado hacia un lugar cercano el Muladar, comienza la bacanal sangrienta, manchados en su totalidad, cuellos rojizos, plumas ensangrentadas y en pocos minutos un centenar de carroñeros, buitres leonados, Alimoches, Corvidos, Milanos y hasta un ejemplar joven de Quebrantahuesos, el trabajo esta completado.

Suddenly everything changes. Something happens and they swoop toward the Muladar (or boneyard -places around the villages where farmers bring their dead animals to be eaten by vultures and other scavengers) where the bloody Bacchanalia begins. Completely stained, red necks, bloody feathers. Within minutes due to the hundreds of scavengers, vultures, crows, and kites, the work is completed.

Hace mas de 30 años en España los Buitres eran abundantes, era suficiente con alimentarse del ganado que moría en los campos, entraba en acción el grupo de UCI (Unidad de Cuidados Intensivos en Hospitales) sanitaria alada.

Over 30 years ago in Spain, the vultures were plentiful. There were enough cattle dying in the field to feed them. They were the ICU action group, Winged Health.

Pero empezó el desastre ecologico, venenos, cazadores sin escrúpulos que practicaban disparos al aire, molinos eólicos, torres de alta tensión etc...

But the ecological disaster began. Poisons. Unscrupulous hunters who shot them out of the air. Wind turbines. High tension towers, etc...

Los Buitres son carroñeros, no son animales diseñados para matar, sus garras apenas son prensiles como un Halcón, son torpes en el ataque por su gran tamaño, ahora si son las perfectas maquinas desgarradoras de cadáveres, son tan poderosos que comen carne en cualquier estado de putrefacción, llenándose el buche que necesitan horas para poder volar.

Vultures are scavengers. They are not designed to kill animals. Their prehensile claws are like hawk's. They are ackwark in the attack because of their size. They are perfect machines for rending corpses. Their digestives systems are so powerful that they can eat meat in any state of putrefaction. They fill their crops so full that it takes hours for them to be able to fly again.

Sabemos por estudios que colaboran en la localización de cadáveres los pequeños corvidos y Buitres menores como los Alimoches.

We know from studies that crows and vultures can assist in locating corpses.

El leonado es el más abundante de los buitres ibéricos, pero no el único. Comparte los cielos de la Península Iberica(España) con otras tres especies bien diferentes: el buitre negro, el alimoche y el quebrantahuesos. Ellos no tienen tanta suerte. Las tendencias de sus poblaciones siguen a la baja. Los especialistas nos recuerdan que se ha ganado una batalla, pero no la guerra por la conservación. Ajenos a las luchas terrestres, los dueños del cielo siguen volando en círculos, buscando nuevos cadáveres, recordándonos que todavía existe una Península Ibérica salvaje y libre.

The Griffon is the most abundant of the Iberian vultures, but not the only one. They share the skies of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain) with three very different species: the Black Vulture, the Egyptian Vulture, and the Bearded Vulture. They aren't so lucky. Their population trends continue to decline. Experts remind us that they have won the battle, but not the war for conservation. Oblivious to the land struggles, the owers of the sky continue circling, looking for new dead bodies, reminding us that there is still a wild and free Iberian Peninsula.

Venerados en las civilizaciones como la Egipcia de los faraones, el Tíbet y la India.

They are venerated in civilizations like Egypt, Tibet and India.
Si te apetece saber mas sobre ellos,colaborar en su protección,hemos formado un grupo Internacional,os dejo el enlace,sera bien recibido cualquier articulo, fotografia o comentario.

If you want to know more about vultures and contribute to their protection, we have formed an international group. Here is the link. We welcome any articles, photographs, and comments.