Monday, February 18, 2013

Most misidentified birds?

What would you guess are the most misidentified birds in the Pacific Northwest?

That's a question I tackled on the Birding is Fun! blog last week. There I present 10 birds or bird-pairs or trios that give beginners trouble.

Two weeks ago I presented information on one toughie--the reddish form of Song Sparrow in the Pacific Northwest in "Song Sparrow or Fox Sparrow?"

In the future I'll be writing ID articles for these ID's that give many problems--not because they are rare, but actually common. Check it out: "10 most misidentified birds in the Pacific Northwest."

Friday, February 15, 2013

Bohemian Waxwings in juniper

Bohemian Waxwings, all photos at Enterprise, Oregon, February 2, 2013 by Greg Gillson.

In early February I visited Enterprise, Oregon, in the remote NE corner of the state. I saw several species of northern birds I hadn't seen in several years: Common Redpolls, Pine Grosbeaks, American Tree Sparrows, and Bohemian Waxwings.

The waxwings were in a group of about 150 birds, but often broke into smaller flocks of 50 or so, then reconverged. They seemed very flighty--they would fly into junipers in small groups to feed on berries until all 150 birds were present, then suddenly they would all dash off in a fright, to repeat the comeback in a few minutes. However, most of the 50 American Robins would stay in the trees feeding the entire time. Eventually the waxwings chose a low tree right along the road where our group could view and photograph them from inside the car at just 8-12 feet! We spent nearly an hour with this feeding flock of birds as they stripped the tree of its berries.

Bohemian Waxwing

There seemed to be no limit to the number of berries each bird ate. How they could still fly I do not know. The juniper berries are actually fleshy cones of this conifer. The alcoholic drink gin is flavored with these berries. Several central and northern European dishes are garnished with juniper berries.

Bohemian Waxwing

Like their southern cousins the Cedar Waxwings, Bohemian Waxwings are fawn brown with black mask, black throat, and wispy crest. In both species the blackish tail is terminated with a bright yellow band. Waxwings receive their name from the red waxy tips of some of the secondary wing feather shafts. Waxwings have a high-pitched buzzy call or trill, but no real song.

Waxwings feed on flying insects in the summer. It is not unusual to see groups of birds flycatching over a small stream or lake shore. In the fall they switch to berries and fruits as large as cherries.

Bohemian Waxwing

If the shape and flight style of Cedar Waxwings are like starlings, the larger and darker bellied Bohemian Waxwings are even more so.

Another waxwing, the Japanese Waxwing breeds in Russia and winters to Japan and Hong Kong. In appearance it seems half-way between Cedar Waxwing and Bohemian Waxwing with yellow belly and rosy under tail coverts.

Bohemian Waxwing

If you want to know what undertail coverts are, there is likely no better example than the Bohemian Waxwing with its cinnamon-colored undertail coverts. In this species these coverts are extremely long, extending nearly to the end of this bird's quite long tail.

Bohemian Waxwings occur in Europe, Asia, and western North America. Locally, they breed from just below the Arctic Circle to central British Columbia. In winter they move south through Idaho and eastern Washington, and are regular in winter only in NE Oregon. However, keeping true to their Bohemian ("gypsy") name, they roam widely to the south in some winters, usually in flocks. Sometimes a single individual or two will join with a winter flock of Cedar Waxwings west of the Cascades.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

American Wigeon

American Wigeon
American Wigeon at Commonwealth Park, Beaverton, Oregon on January 21, 2013 by Greg Gillson.

Your local city park with a pond may allow you better photos of ducks than a wild, isolated area. One recent day this winter the sun was shining brightly so I went to such a local city park. I didn't realize it at the time, but it wasn't a school day. Screaming kids, joggers, dog walkers, a few fishermen. It didn't matter. The wildlife here was well used to the hubbub. The only thing that disturbed them much was when an adult Bald Eagle flew over. Then the 5 Greater White-fronted Geese that have adopted this park for the winter chased the eagle off to the north, honking and bombing it. That's something I've never seen before!

This city park habitually holds 150-200 American Wigeon and is a great place to look for Eurasian Wigeon in winter. I've had up to 6 males and a female here at one time at this little park. Oddly, this winter Eurasian Wigeons have been hard to come by, and none were spotted this day.

Wigeon were briefly flushed to the lake by a passerby on a leash. This photo was taken as the birds flew back from the lake up onto the bank to graze on the lawn again. Click on the photo for a view of about double at 1200 pixels wide.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

eBird best practices: list building

eBird is designed to automatically show your lists (county, state, year, life, etc.) as you enter your bird sightings. In fact, even if you're not a lister, eBird could turn you into one--especially a county lister!

What about past sightings? Well, as we discussed in Enter your old field lists, you may enter older sightings and field lists, adding species to your lists that you may not have seen recently. The point comes, though, when you have entered all your old lists and some species are still missing that were never in your field notes, or you just have too many old lists to enter and you get tired of waiting, and you want to enter just your list of bird species ever seen, without entering every individual bird you've ever seen.

eBird is not designed (yet) just to enter bird lists without exact date and location. But I know that you will be tempted to enter your state or county life lists without knowing exactly where or when you saw the bird. In other words, you are going to "cheat" and enter a dummy field list.

Since I know you're going to do it, I'm going to tell you how... without messing up the data integrity of eBird.

 If you want to enter a life list for an entire state you can do so by submitting data in the entry called "Select an entire city, county, or state." If you enter only the state and country into the required fields your list should automatically be considered invalid because the location is too imprecise for eBird. There are two additional steps that you can take to flag these dummy lists. These steps must be done if you are submitting a dummy county list. Add a comment in the comments field that the list is a dummy for listing purposes. Change the date to January 1, 1900. That is the earliest date eBird accepts without special request.

If you do these three things an eBird reviewer will know to block the list data from eBird: 1. submit as a county or state only without a specific location, 2. add a comment that the checklist is for listing purposes only, and 3. make the date January 1, 1900. The birds in such a blocked list will not be added to eBird's abundance bar charts, but they will still show up in your personal lists.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Field-friendly bird sequence
Warbler-like Songbirds

MacGillivray's Warbler
MacGillivray's Warbler, Hayward, Oregon, May 16, 2008 by Greg Gillson.
The 13 categories of North American birds listed in the Field-friendly bird sequence: Part II are:

Swimming Waterbirds
Flying Waterbirds
Wading Waterbirds
Chicken-like Birds
Miscellaneous Landbirds
Aerial Landbirds
Flycatcher-like Birds
Thrush-like Songbirds
Chickadee and Wren-like Songbirds
Warbler-like Songbirds
Sparrow and Finch-like Songbirds
Blackbird-like Songbirds

A beginner should be able to quickly place a bird they see into one of these categories.

Kinglets, vireos, and warblers are included in this group of birds that are small with short thin bills. They are often found in trees seeking out insects. They are primarily colored in yellow, greens, black, gray, and white.

Warbling Vireo
Warbling Vireo, Malheur NWR, Oregon, May 25, 2009 by Greg Gillson.

Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler
Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler, Forest Grove, Oregon, April 29, 2011 by Greg Gillson.

Golden-crowned Kinglet
Golden-crowned Kinglet, Beaverton, Oregon, October 13, 2011 by Greg Gillson.