Thursday, January 30, 2014

Product Revew: Sibley Backyard Birding Flashcards

It all started out as a scheme to get my daughter a bit more into birding. She is a great kid and super smart, and she is interested in birds and nature and outdoor stuff, but she has a stumbling block: her twin brother. He is also a great kid and super smart, but when he is interested in something he gets really interested in it, so much so that I think it turns his sister off of it because she sees it as "his thing" (I can't imagine which parent he inherited this obsessiveness from!). It has been like this for years with dinosaurs and, to a lesser extent, animals in general, so it is only natural that it was like this for birds (they are dinosaurs after all).

So I worried that she might miss out on a hobby or activity that she actually likes and is good at. Just to be clear, my daughter is actually pretty good at identifying birds: she knows many common yard birds, can pick up Northern Cardinals, Song Sparrows, and Carolina Wrens by ear and can tell Fish Crows and American Crows apart. She actually is a great birder for her age and is a better birder than many adults. Her twin brother, however, must have gone through his Sibley Field Guide many times and does things like identifying Broad-winged Hawks soaring over his school.

The interest was there, but how could I get her something more that would get her on a more solid footing as her brother (so she wouldn't feel like his junior partner if we were looking at birds)? Her little brother!

My daughter loves to teach my youngest son, so I jumped on Amazon and looked for some flashcards that I could use with my youngest, and my daughter could help me out. It wasn't coincidence that it just so happens that the best way to learn something is to teach it, so while my youngest might learn some birds, my daughter would learn even more.

There were a couple of options for flashcards, but I went with Sibley Backyard Birding Flashcards. This seemed an obvious choice, as I love the Sibley Guide and was assured to have good quality images. So let's see what I got!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Paul's Texas Trip Part 5 (South of Kingsville)

Our plans for the mid-southern Texas gulf coast included: birding the seashores, taking the Whooping Crane tour, and, on our last day a visit to the King's Ranch (which sits outside of Kingsville). They offer tours and it sounded like something the kids would be interested in doing, but alas the tours were running only at 12:30 and 2:00 p.m. What would we do in the morning?

My wife helpfully suggested that I do a bit of research and see if there were any good birding spots close by. After a few minutes of eBird, I had located something good about a half-hour south of Kingsville: Kaufer-Hubert Memorial Park. It is located at the mouth of a small estuary that opens into the intercoastal waters of the gulf and recent bird reports were quite promising. It also looked like a good place for a picnic lunch. Our plans were settled then.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Paul's Texas Trip Part 4 (Port Aransas Day 2)

Our second day in the Port Aransas area (see the first day here) and we had big birding plans. That's right, plans to see the tallest native bird of North America: the Whooping Crane. They overwinter in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, which is a fairly short boat ride out of Rockport, Texas.

We had made reservations with the Whooping Crane Boat Tours, which run on the Wharf Cat (a 80 foot catamaran). While anxiously waiting the departure of the boat, we noticed a Black-Crowned Night Heron sitting on a post in the harbor. Just like that, in the harbor? Anyways, as we pulled out of port, the captain helpfully detailed all of the birds we were likely (and then commenced to view) to see over the next hour as we motored out to the Whooping Cranes. These birds included: Laughing Gulls, Common Loons, Forster's Terns, American White and Brown Pelicans, Double Creasted and Neotropic Cormorants, and Ring-Billed Gulls.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Paul's Texas Trip Part 3 (Port Aransas Day 1)

It was Day 3 (see here for Day 1 and Day 2) of our "Escape from the Canadian Winter by Driving Around Texas Looking for Birds" trip, and we were headed to the Gulf Coast. First, though, we briefly stopped at The Alamo to have a look. The birding was dismal, with only House Sparrows and Rock Pigeons, but the kids had fun and learned something about U.S. history.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Damon's New Year in Cape May, Part 2 (Two Mile Beach to Stone Harbor)

New Years in Cape May happened. I previously wrote about the morning section of the day with a count of 62 birds. How many more birds could I get? Would I get anything to top the Painted Bunting and White-winged Dove? Could I keep up the pace of Paul in Texas? Was the day awesome?

Well, the day certainly was awesome, and as I finished my lunch of Wawa Italian Hoagie and sliced apples and let my phone charge some more I scanned over the dunes of Two Mile Beach, even though it was only Yellow-rumped Warblers around. But I knew some things we were going to see because others in the parking lot had already let out that there was a Snowy Owl just down the beach.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Paul's Texas Trip Part 2 (Texas Hill Country)

On the second of our Texas adventure (see here for part 1), we headed for the hills. The Texas Hill Country that is. Our first stop would be the Hamilton Pool, which is a very large and very blue pool of water at the bottom of a small canyon. In the summer, folks go swimming there but we went to walk around it and I hoped to see some new and interesting birds.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Damon's New Year in Cape May, Part 1 (Trip down and Cape May Point)

I knew that Paul was going to start his new year in South Texas. Damn, that's hardcore birding. Really, if you think about it, where would else you want to start your bird list? There are few other choices; maybe South Florida or Arizona? It was a power birding move, well disguised as "being invited to present at a symposium", and one that would lead to Paul having dozens of birds that neither he nor I would otherwise have any chance of getting. How could I even hope of competing against that? I had no other choice.

Cape May.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Paul's Texas Trip Part 1 (Austin Birding)

Birding can be a bit slow in Ontario during the winter and it's only natural to want to go elsewhere to see birds. Just take a look through any field guide and you start to wonder: could I see these strange, exotic birds that populate the south half of America? So when the chance to go to Texas arose a year and half ago, I jumped at it. Actually I planned this trip mostly to see my cousin, Mark, and his family, who happen to live in Austin and to give a talk at a conference. But it also turned out that this was my chance to go birding: Texas style!

Friday, January 3, 2014

2013 Year of Birds

Happy New Year to all (buon anno a tutti)!

It was a nice year for us here at The Year of Birds, and though we are already in 2014 and looking forward to great things for this year, we are going to take some time to wrap up last year. Paul will be along soon enough with the data analysis (like he did at the quarter mark, and the halfway mark, and the three-quarters mark), but until then here is a short preliminary discussion of our year.