Wednesday, June 26, 2013

App Review: Audubon Birds for iPhone by Green Mountain Digital Reference

Smartphones are great. Not just in the overall sense, but for birding they are indispensable, which is funny because I rarely see people get theirs out for anything while I go birding (perhaps it is an age thing, since many birders I run into are older). They are also not cheap.

Ok, in the grand scheme of things the cost for a birding app of $15 - $20 is minimal compared to what you get out of it, but psychologically it is hard to drop that much money on something that you can't really browse beforehand (yeah, yeah, there are 'lite' apps of them I know) and that is not a real, substantial thing like a book. I understand. So when I looked around a few weeks ago and saw one on sale, I jumped at it.

I am fully aware of the number of unupdated apps
This is the Audubon Birds iPhone app by Green Mountain Digital Reference. You can get the full app like I did, or there are other more specific apps (like California or Central Park in New York).

Monday, June 24, 2013

Damon's Birds for the Week of June 16 - Jun 22

I am very happy because today is one of those summer days where those great loud thunderstorms come through. They always make me feel like home. Not that we didn't have storms like this in Kentucky, and Arizona certainly did have their monsoon storms blow through, but the east coast summer storms that can pop up through any afternoon are just somewhat different. Maybe it is the feel in the high humidity, or maybe it is the way the thunder rolls through the sky, but it reminds me of listening to it bounce off the buildings through my courtyard facing window in college.

The storms were moving in from the west, not south, so it is unlikely that they would bring many birds with them (I can always hope for a raven blown in form Appalachia though). But I always look outside, just in case we have some different visitor bird hunker down in my yard after the winds pick up. And I did find one! Ok, after watching for a few minutes I saw it was just a Song Sparrow, but it is always good to challenge yourself to find a bird that at first is only some leaf movement.

The tree of the Song Sparrow just minutes after I saw it
Also the Song Sparrow was moving and flying a bit differently than they normally do, so it got me hoping that it was some fun exotic bird. I guess the sighting of a Tropical Kingbird in Philadelphia gets me thinking like that.

Yeah, about that Tropical Kingbird? I am totally going to go and try to find it, but I heard about it on Saturday morning and then I was gone in New Jersey until today and then worked today. Now whether to get up early and try to beat the traffic or wait until my youngest takes a nap?

Week 25 Paul's Update (Lynde Conservative Area)

I broke one of my longest no birding periods (a birding fast if you will) with a short outing on Friday at Lynde Shores Conservative Area in Ajax, Ontario. My spouse was flying into Pearson Airport and I had volunteered to pick her up and, seeing that I was headed into Toronto anyways, why not stop by a conservation area near the lake for a while? I took a quick look at eBird to see what I might find and there was a recent report of Purple Gallinule, Black-billed Cuckoos, and a Red-necked Grebe at Lynde Conservation Area. I hadn't been to this particular conservation area before, but it looked like a nice place for a morning walk with a mix of woods, open shrubby grassland, and a large marsh all set on the shore of Lake Ontario.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Immaturely Funny Bird Names: Australian Edition

I've said this before: by far the most popular page on this blog is Immaturely Funny Bird Names. I did a sequel to it with Immaturely Funny Bird Names: European Edition which, while not quite as popular, is slowly gaining in popularity! And while here at The Year of Birds we are mainly a blog about birds, birding, science, and reading and stuff, I am not above pandering to the whims of the internet audience. So here we have another entry in the series:

The Most Immaturely Funny Bird Names: Australian Edition

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Oregon Birding IV: Succor Creek State Park

After spending two days of being overwhelmed by the number and diversity of birds in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and surround areas, I wasn't sure I was ready for any more birding. Not only that, but birding can be fairly tiring and would I be able to get up at 5 a.m. to go birding? That early morning start would be a necessity, with daily highs in the low 90's and my guess that more birds would be active in the pre-10 a.m. morning. Given my limited opportunity to bird Oregon, I decided I would head off to Succor Creek State Park and have a look around.

It was still dark and the air cool as I headed off the next morning. As I drove along, I had a fly-over of a large nocturnal (but unidentified, dammit) bird, which snapped me out of my early morning haze. Soon after, a hen Ring-necked Pheasant shot across the road in front of me. Bird number 1 for the day! I headed south of my hometown, Nyssa, past Adrian and off into the high desert that borders Idaho. The drive would first take me past an area that is typical high desert, sagebrush and some junipers, and into a fairly large canyonlands region formed from volcanic rocks. It would be about 15 miles of bumpy, dirt road to reach the state park.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Week 24 Paul's Update (Bluebird)

I have only one bird to report on this week. My Dad and his friend, Doug, took me fishing last Sunday on Unity Reservoir. Doug drove the boat (Thanks Doug!) and my Dad kept baiting my hook (Thanks Dad!) and I spent several hours fishing and looking for birds.

It was a really nice morning. We saw grebes and hoards of swallows. There were a few duck fly-overs (mallards), geese in the distance, and a merganser or two as well. To top it off, we saw an Osprey, a Bald Eagle, a Red-tailed Hawk, and an American Kestrel. We might have even seen some Turkey Vultures!. There was also an eagle fly-over that had me thinking Golden Eagle for a few moments before we decided it was a juvenile baldy. But alas, there were no new birds until I got back to shore and found a bird box. "Who is living here?" was my first thought, and soon an incredibly blue bird emerged. I don't mean a vibrantly blue bird, but instead one that was blue all over. It was clearly a Mountain Bluebird.

Damon's Birds for the Week of June 9 - June 15

After the type of week Paul had last week, I knew I had to do something to kick myself back into competition, so this week I took a quick trip down to south Florida to pick up a bunch of birds. Oh, wait, no, I still am stuck in the Mid-Atlantic, but at least I got down to Maryland to mix it up!

I was feeling good too, because just from a small stroll around the neighborhood and my drive down to Maryland I saw 29 species of birds. Note, I wasn't actually birding, just going around my neighborhood and driving on the highways. Granted, none of them were new, but there were some oddities of the list like me not seeing any Red-tailed Hawks on my trip (but dozens of Osprey) and my brother questioning my Tree Swallow identification in the twilight of the Eastern Shore of Maryland (he would not write it down in my book).

Friday, June 14, 2013

Friday Music and Surprising Birders

I find it interesting to figure out if famous or semi-famous people are birders.  Sure, there is a Wikipedia page about this (filled with mostly biologist types), but I like to try to find them in the wild through field marks. For example, my favorite baseball writer is Rob Neyer and I've read his work for 17 years now (dammit, that can't be right...yet it is!). I've read all (but one!) of his books, including the ill-fated Feeding the Green Monster. Hell, I have that book in actual physical copy!

Sure, you can get it now in paperback, but it was difficult when it first came out.
In that book Rob talks a little about birds and birding in such a way that you know he is an actual birder (he even says some nice things about Starlings). Maybe one day I'll interview him for this blog about that and go birding with him (he does live in Oregon, though in the civilized part and not the part that Paul is from).

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Oregon Birding III: Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

It was our second day of birding in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (MNWR) and I wanted to get a good early start, so my Dad and I took a morning walk through the town of Frenchglen. We saw many of the same birds from the day before (crows, blackbirds and swallows galore), but on the way back to the hotel I noticed a smallish, robinish bird bobbing its tail in a juniper tree. This was odd and so I investigated it further to find a Say's Phoebe (1) and, soon after that, I saw Common Nighthawks (2) circling through town. I watched one for a while and it landed in a tree.

Common Nighthawk taking a break

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Oregon Birding II: Trip to Frenchglen

Once when I was in high school, we took a biology class field trip out to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (MNWR). We were told that there were lots of birds around, but beyond that I don't remember much from our trip there. Mostly it was a good excuse to get out of class for a day.

I do remember that there are supposed to be a lot of birds there, so, while I was on my trip to Eastern Oregon, I strongly hinted to my parents that it would be fun to take a trip down to MNWR for a day to see what birds we could scare up. They were amendable to this idea and even booked a hotel room for us in the little town (population of a few dozen maybe) of Frenchglen. We headed down on Wednesday morning with the plan of looking for birds on the way, staying the night and then driving to MNWR proper the next morning.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Oregon Birding I: Owyhee Canyon

I am in Oregon for a few days visiting my parents; what a great opportunity to see if I can find some different birds! After quick look or two at eBird and remembering what birds I used to see when I lived here, I figured I could probably add to my list. There would be pheasants and quail, perhaps some shore birds, and who knows maybe I would see a Chukar or some other exotic desert bird? I figured I could probably see 20 or, if I were lucky, 30 new bird species.

Well, my first day here was Tuesday and, after pouring my first cup of coffee, I noticed some weird looking doves feeding in my parent's driveway. I had to refer to my book to find out that they were Eurasian Collared Doves (1). Weird, I didn't know they were even here. Then a California Quail (2) came sauntering through the yard and a Black-chinned Hummingbird (3) buzzed by. I hadn't even taken my pj's off yet!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Damon's Birds for the Week of June 2 - June 8

Holy crap, I will not even compare my week to Paul's. It is summertime here (not quite summer yet, but summertime at least) and the migrations have already passed through, so except for a few rare straggler birds everything is pretty much boring here in terms of new birds. So basically I have three activities I can do:

1) Try to soak up the last few birds that I should have gotten already.
2) Go to new locales to find birds that are not in the Delaware Valley.
3) Go chasing after rare birds as they pop up on eBird.

Ok, I tried #3 earlier this week. Yeah. Paul is doing #2 now and dropped an insurmountable lead on me unless I actually get to travel this year. But his trips are only a few and only every now and then, so it isn't like he is actively using that strategy for new birds. So this week I got to just look around my normal haunts for birds that are here but I just haven't seen yet. And, hey, I got three! If I get three birds a week around my  normal haunts this summertime I will be happy.

Week 23 Paul's Update (Oregon)

This was a good week of birding for me. I visited my parents in Oregon and took the opportunity to look around for a few birds.


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Birding from Airplanes

I flew home yesterday. No, not my actual home in Peterborough but my home in Oregon where I grew up. Anyways, I was looking for birds around the Buffalo airport and it was a bit difficult; a Starling or two and a Ring-billed Gull were all I could find. After a quick email exchange with Damon about the poor birding opportunities in the airport, he challenged me to start my "Birds seen while on the airplane list". Challenge accepted!

My first flight from was Buffalo, New York to Minneapolis, Minnesota. We would be flying over the Great Lakes, so the birding possibilities seemed quite good. Shorebirds, waterfowl, maybe some high-flying warblers? Who knows?! However, before the birding starts we need some ground rules. For example, should I only count a bird while the plane is in the air? Does seeing a bird while waiting at the gate or taxiing count? I understand from Damon that these questions have been kicked around for awhile and are at the root of several heated arguments, though Damon and I are both of the "If you are in the plane, it counts" category. With that, let's let the plane birding begin.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Rain Geese

There have been reports of a few Snow Geese at the Heinz Wildlife Refuge, so I had to go and see for myself. Yeah, I know, I’ll see hundreds of them in the wintertime, but it is nice to go on a little quest to find something every now and then. And besides, there was a white one, a blue one, and one that was a little of both, so that is cool (I’ve always been fond of the blue form).

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Magazine Review: BirdWatching

We took the family to the public library yesterday and, while I was watching the littlest of our kids, my wife found a birdwatching magazine for me. It was cleverly titled BirdWatching and sported a cool photo of a hummingbird on the front cover. I decided it would be ok to take a look at it, but was wary lest it contained a lot of campy birdwatching stories and lame tips for how to get the perfect photo. I actually wasn't quite sure what I was to find between its covers, but my curiosity got the best of me. We brought it home that April 2013 issue and I read through it last night before I went to bed. Here are my impressions of this magazine!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Week 22 Paul's Update (Whip-poor-will)

The birding seems like it about to change: the weather is becoming warmer, there are more leaves on the trees, and many migrants have now come and gone. With that in mind, I headed off on Wednesday one last time to Darlington Provincial Park with hopes of seeing a shorebird or warbler (or two).

Damon's Birds for the Week of May 26 - June 1

A nice little week I had! I'm all moved in and I took a trip over the Memorial Day holiday to South Jersey where I got a whole morning to myself to go birding. I bookended a birding walk with trips to Cape May Point, and was rewarded with some birds that I was going to eventually get anyway as well as a Black Scoter and Oystercatcher.

I'll tell you, going to Cape May Point around 6:00 a.m. is a wonderful experience. There are only a couple people around (a couple of people fishing and one jogging) so the birds like the Oystercatcher aren't scared off like later in the day when there are hundreds around. The water is a beautiful dark blue only punctuated by an odd black duck with orange on its head or the many seabirds flying around. Now, these seabirds were all gulls and terns, but there are many of those that I don't have! Sadly, they were all too far out for me to get a good look (especially with my binoculars), except the obvious Herring Gulls and Laughing Gulls. I did get a good identification of Common Terns later in the day from the same spot.