Friday, December 30, 2011

American Wigeon portrait

American WigeonAmerican Wigeon, Beaverton, Oregon, 15 November 2011 by Greg Gillson.


A previous post on American Wigeon.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

How eBird makes you a better birder

In my previous post ("eBird revisited: one year later") I discussed how eBird is an essential birding tool for you, even if you decide not to submit your own sightings.

Adding your own personal sightings to eBird contributes to citizen science, makes your sightings valuable beyond your own enjoyment, and makes eBird that much better.

However, the way eBird is structured when submitting observations gives the one submitting a better understanding of bird status in the area being reported.

You see, when you submit your list of sightings from a field trip, you choose from a checklist of birds that are expected in that specific county during that specific month. If the bird isn't on the default checklist, then it is considered rare by local experts. If you then switch to the "Show Rare Species" checklist, all birds ever recorded (in any month) in the county are listed. If your bird is not on this list, either? Then it is likely a first county record! You select "Add Species" and type in the name.

But there is more. Every species ever recorded in the county has a filter number for each month of the year. If you report more individuals of a selected species than the filter considers "normal" you are notified that you have seen an unusually high number!

A third option for checklists that you can turn on or off is the ability to "Show subspecies." This option displays on the checklist such things as Red-shafted Flickers, Slate-colored Juncos, Myrtle Warblers, but also subspecies local experts deem worthy of recording. Thus, you can learn of important regional subspecies in the county you are reporting. If a certain subspecies isn't on the list? Try "Add Species" and look to see if it exists on the eBird master species list.

eBird works very hard to make sure the data collected is accurate. Thus, any time you record a high number of individuals or a species not on the default checklist, eBird asks you to confirm and give comments. This is the place to write a brief description or add a photo or photo link. Every location in the world has a volunteer local expert that reviews these unusual sightings. They tag unusual species as likely correctly identified or possibly not by what you say in your comments and a personal email, if necessary to gather more information. These expert Reviewers can help you with status and ID questions.

You can, of course, add comments for any species, rare or not. eBird's "Comments" section allows you to record age and gender data as well as breeding bird codes. Besides simply noting presence ('X') you are encouraged to estimate numbers of individuals. Instead of recording just the highlights, you are encouraged to record every species. Rather than a day's list, eBird encourages you to record species in more and smaller areas.

All of these things will make you a better birder.

Rebecca in the Woods started eBirding in September 2011. In October 2011 she wrote: How eBird is making me a better birder.

Nate Swick of the Drinking Birder also tells How eBird makes me a better birder.

We're starting a new year. This is the perfect time for you to start entering your field birding sightings. No more excuses! Become an eBirder in 2012.

Monday, December 26, 2011

eBird revisited: one year later

It was just a year ago when I wrote my first blog post about eBird (What is eBird?), the citizen science and personal listing program sponsored by Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society.

eBird may be most simply described as an online checklist program. It allows one to input their bird sightings and keep track of their lists. All sightings are pooled from around the world and the data is accessible both to the user and to any interested person, scientist or hobbyist. (Read About eBird from their own web site.)

About the same time as my post, Dave Irons, over on the BirdFellow blog wrote about eBird, too (The eBird Conundrum). I recommend reading all the comments, as you can see how the program has grown and improved over the years. Read especially Shawneen Finnegan's comments (Comment #9). Of those who weren't as excited about eBird, they were concerned with the possible time and effort of changing the way they birded and entering their sightings checklists.

Everyone is missing the point!

Forget entering data for a minute. (Anathema!)

Without you ever entering a single personal checklist...

eBird is an absolutely indispensable real time world-wide bird status and distribution tool.

How do I emphasize this sufficiently? eBird is tracking the location and abundance of every bird in the world. Right now. From Abdim's Stork to Zosterops (species). Ten-thousand species plus thousands of field identifiable forms (subspecies, species pairs, "spuh's" (Empidonax sp., gull sp., etc.), and even exotics).

The world-wide aspect is just over a year old now, so obviously the bulk of users (because of the 6 year head start) are in North America and New Zealand. But use is increasing throughout the world.

Birders in California lead the way with nearly 15,000 checklists submitted each month (based on November 2011 rate)! Ottawa, New York, Texas, and Florida led the pack in November 2011. The number of checklists submitted in California has nearly doubled in one year (8500 to 15,000 per month in November of both years). Brian Sullivan, one of eBird's founders, reports that about 80,000 birders have submitted at least one checklist to eBird; 6,000 birders are regular contributors right now. A recent article in PLoS Biology (eBird: Engaging Birders in Science and Conservation) estimates that the 2011 total will be 1.7 million checklists from 210 countries! Every new checklist submitted--whether historical lists from the past, or this morning's field outing--increases eBird's accuracy and usefulness.

The maps generated by eBird are often better than those appearing in field guides. Maps can be made at the resolution of individual months (or any requested block of months or years). Frequency is shown on the maps at large scales by latitude-longitude blocks until you zoom in to see the individual details of each and every sighting.

So, even if you have decided not to contribute your sightings to eBird, the useful information about where birds are being seen today is such that every birder would want to search eBird each day. What can you find out? Here are two items you may find useful. 1) eBird Alerts: Sightings of birds you haven't seen ever or just this year in a specified county or state emailed to you. 2) Rare birds (ABA Code 3 and above) nationally emailed to you. 3) Weekly frequency and abundance bar charts for every bird in a birding hotspot or county where you may plan to visit. 4) Maps and details of any species in the world showing actual sightings in the last 30 days. Oops! That's four useful items.

I suggest you go to and explore for yourself and see what you've been missing!

My next post will tell you why you should submit sightings to eBird. No, not because it contributes to citizen science, helps the birds, and makes the world a better place. Rather, I will show how eBird makes you a better birder!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Orbital rings

Western GullWestern Gull, Beaverton, Oregon, 15 November 2011 by Greg Gillson.


On adult gulls the skin around the eye is often colored brightly. This can be a clue to identification. The hue and intensity can change with breeding condition or other factors.

Typical adult Western Gulls have yellow-orange orbital rings.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

eBirder interview: Robert Mortenson

Name: Robert Mortensen
Blog: Birding is Fun!
Home town: Bountiful, Utah
How long birding? 7 years
How long eBirding? 6 years

Why is eBird important?
eBird is important to me personally because I can keep track of my bird sightings and I love to be able to see the comings and goings of the various species in my personal birding patches and in my backyard. eBird is important to bird science and conservation and I believe it will continue to be more and more relevant to science and politics. eBird really is the best tool to understand bird distribution and migration patterns, which in turn tells us which habitats are most critical.

How has eBird changed the way you watch birds?
eBird has greatly changed, improved, and enhanced the way I watch birds. I used to be a trip-ticker...just a big list of all the birds seen on a bird outing. Now I count the birds of each species I see and hear. I even pay attention to gender and age if I have learned it for that species. When I take a bird trip, I now break it down into checklists for each stop - and even five-mile sections of highway if its the same kind of habitat.

In what areas has eBird not changed the way you watch birds?
Counting the birds and reporting them in eBird has not diminished in any way my enjoyment and amazement of the birds themselves. The color of Bullock's Orioles, Black-headed Grosbeaks, Western Tanagers, and Yellow Warblers is what hooked me on birding...and they still hook me every time I see them.

How has eBird changed the face of birding?
I think many birders used to keep track of their sightings in their own field guides, notebooks, or on a spreadsheet. I think all of us eBirders now go about birding a bit differently, but for the better. Now our citizen-scientist sighting data can be used and is available for free to the world. I believe that all this data will improve the quality and accuracy of range maps in field guides. We are gaining a greater understanding of migration ranges and for the frequency of vagrant birds in locations outside of their typical range. The information is quickly and easily communicated across the globe through eBird, when in the past, such bird data would have to be collected from each region of the world.

Why should someone start eBirding? What's the incentive?
I started eBirding simply because it was a free online service that did a good job keeping track of my sightings. Then I discovered how it contributes to bird science and it made me feel good. Later I discovered I could play around with the data and have fun learning new things about birds. eBird is also a great tool for birding in locations new to you. You can find out what species are being seen during each week of the year. eBird is really the birders best friend, tool, and resource. I hope all birders everywhere will recognize the personal and global benefits of using eBird, the greatest citizen-science project of all time.

Do you have any personal eBird goals as respect special birding locations or species? I love to track the birds in my local patch and my goal is to have at least one checklist for each week. I feel compelled to eliminate all those hatched/grayed-out columns showing that I missed a week here and there. I also do my best to average submitting at least one checklist a day...even if its only from my own backyard feeders, that data is important. Through my birding blog, I am currently encouraging others to join me in taking the "One-a-Day eBird Challenge." I also use the eBird "alerts" to notify me of birds I have not recorded for the county in which I live. I have a goal to never get an alert email, because I have already seen all of those species. That alert email is actually pretty helpful in letting me know where species are being seen, so I can go there myself.

How do you use eBird data?
One of my favorite ways of using eBird data is making animated maps of bird migration patterns. eBird has some really fancy animated maps that they are creating for many species, but not all species have these fancy maps yet. I take screenshots of the eBird sightings maps and convert them into animated GIF's with Sometimes I look at month-by-month patterns to understand seasonal migration. Other times I look at species expansion over the years...the Eurasian Collared-dove is the prime example.

When I was preparing to go to Ohio for the Midwest Birding Symposium, I looked at the bird sightings in Ottawa County for the middle two weeks of September. I downloaded the data into Excel and from there pared down the list to just the life birds I was hoping to see. Then I sorted the data by the frequency of eBird reports for each species, which gave me an idea of the probability of seeing those species. It worked splendidly and accurately.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Green Heron

Green HeronGreen Heron, Beaverton, Oregon, 15 November 2011 by Greg Gillson.


A previous post on Green Herons.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Where should I go birding in January?

The Coast? Mountains? Desert? Gorge? Sound? Valley? The Pacific Northwest has it all. But sometimes I just can't decide where I should go birding. If I don't plan in advance, I'll end up at the local sewage pond wetlands... again. Not that this is a bad thing, but sometimes I'd like to go to a new place and see different birds.

In this monthly post I ask: Where are you planning on watching birds in the coming month and what species do you hope to see there? Leave your response in the Comments section as ideas for others. While I am looking primarily for birding locations and target species in the Pacific NW, please feel free to mention other places in western North America, or anywhere in the world.

Field trip organizers are also welcome to use the Comments section to announce field trips in the Pacific NW. Be sure to indicate if free or fee and contact information for those interested in attending.

Additionally, I'll list next month's bird festivals, as well. If you organize or regularly attend one of these festivals, what do you especially like about the Festival and what are the target birds? If you know of birding events or festivals next month, leave a comment as well.

As for myself, I like to bird the Oregon coast in January, searching for Rock Sandpipers at Seal Rock or Depoe Bay, and Long-tailed Ducks and Ancient Murrelets from Boiler Bay.

Bird Festivals:

Wings Over Wilcox
11-15 January 2012
Wilcox, Arizona

Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival
13-16 January 2012
Morro Bay, California

St. George Winter Bird Festival
26-28 January 2012
St. George, Utah

Snow Goose Festival of the Pacific Flyway
26-29 January 2012
Chico, California

Winter Bird Festival
28 January 2012
Galt, California

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bath time!

House SparrowHouse Sparrow, Beaverton, Oregon, 6 November 2011 by Greg Gillson.


As winter weather approaches, remember that having a daily source of unfrozen water is more important for survival than food.

A previous post on House Sparrows.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Cosmopolitan Sanderling

SanderlingSanderling, Coos Bay, Oregon, 28 August 2011 by Greg Gillson.


Flocks of small sandpipers chasing the waves in-and-out on the beach--anywhere in the world--are likely to be Sanderlings. Like wind-up toys they run in quick bursts on stiff legs.

Sanderlings are circumpolar nesters in the remote Arctic of both Siberia and Canada. They winter along nearly all the coasts of North America. But that's not all. Some birds migrate south from their breeding grounds through all continents south to southern South America, southern Africa, Australia, and New Zealand! In other words, there aren't too many places in the world where Sanderlings don't visit.

SanderlingSanderling, Coos Bay, Oregon, 28 August 2011 by Greg Gillson.


In the non-breeding season they are pale gray; in the breeding season they have a brownish-red plumage. They can sometimes be mistaken for other shorebirds--even the rare Red-necked Stint. However, as you can see by the top photo, Sanderlings lack hind toes, while most other smaller shorebirds have them.

In the Pacific Northwest, Sanderlings are common on the outer beaches from August to February, less common March-May and July. A few non-breeders may be found in summer, but mostly they are absent from the last week of May to the first week of July. Rare inland, nearly all inland records are from August, during the southbound migration.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Sunshine at the feeder

Lesser GoldfinchLesser Goldfinch, Beaverton, Oregon, 19 November 2011 by Greg Gillson.


A nice surprise at the feeder!

A previous post on Lesser Goldfinches.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Horned Grebe

Horned GrebeHorned Grebe, Hagg Lake, Washington County, Oregon, 1 November 2011 by Greg Gillson.


In autumn, Horned Grebes move from their breeding grounds to deeper ponds and lakes south or coastally to winter wherever deeper waters remain ice-free. Two birds were swimming and diving right under the floating dock at Hagg Lake on November 1, allowing me really great looks at 10-15 feet away.

Where can you find them right now?

Map of Horned Grebe sightings in the Pacific NW in eBird, October-December 2011.

A previous article: ID Challenge: Horned and Eared Grebes in winter

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Anna's Hummingbird in flight

Anna's HummingbirdYear-round resident Anna's Hummingbird, Beaverton, Oregon, 6 November 2011 by Greg Gillson.


Even though I recently sang the praises of the new National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds (6th Edition), it didn't help with the identification of the hummingbird outside my window. Though I knew that the hummingbird was likely an Anna's Hummingbird, the NatGeo6 hasn't changed its artwork of Costa's Hummingbirds since the first edition. Frankly, this field guide doesn't help with the separation of female Costa's and Anna's Hummingbirds.

That's why I have many field guides, and specialty guides too. No book can be all things to all people. And even if one field guide was superior, there's nothing wrong with variety.

In his book, the Kaufman Field Guide to Advanced Birding, Kenn Kaufman has a chapter on hard-to-identify hummingbirds.

Perhaps because I rarely go to places with any hummingbirds but Rufous and Anna's, I've always had trouble with female hummingbirds of the Anna's/Costa's/Ruby-throated/Black-chinned type--in other words, hummingbirds that look very similar to the one depicted above.

So I spent some time recently observing the hummingbirds at the feeders outside my window. I practiced observing tail feather shape, facial pattern, and inner primary width--with the help of my camera. I feel a bit better prepared now in case some unexpected female hummingbird pops up (as they can do in the autumn of the year). Better prepared, yes, but I still would hope that a future rare hummer at my feeder will be an easier to identify male!

Map of winter range of Anna's Hummingbird in the Pacific NW based on eBird data.

A previous post on Anna's Hummingbirds.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The wing

Black-footed Albatross, off Newport, Oregon, 15 May 2011 by Greg Gillson.


The wing of birds is analogous to the arm of humans. This is most evident on longer-winged birds like the albatross above. They have a shoulder, elbow, and wrist. They have similar bones--a humerus in the upper arm, and radius and ulna in the lower arm. The hand, or manus, is composed of several fused hand and finger bones--it's more like one long finger.

Primaries are attached to the hand. Primaries are numbered from inner to outer, P1 to P10 in the photo above. Birds have from 8-11 primaries, depending upon species. In general, most non-Passerines have 10 primaries; most Passerines have 9 primaries.

Secondaries are attached to the ulna. Secondaries are numbered from outer to inner. Birds have a variable number of secondaries depending upon the length of the wing.

Primaries and secondaries are called the flight feathers of the wing, or remiges. (The tail with its retrices, are also considered "flight feathers.")

True tertials or tertiaries are feathers attached to the humerus, the bone from shoulder to elbow. They are not considered to be flight feathers, or remiges. Very long-winged birds have more tertials than shorter winged birds. Some bird families, including shorebirds and gulls, have modified tertials that are longer and distinctively marked.

In many smaller birds the humerus is so short as to be lacking separate tertial feathers. However, sometimes the inner 3 secondary feathers on passerines are called tertials when differently shaped or colored than the other secondary feathers.

Black-footed Albatrosses have 10 primaries, 25-29 secondaries, and numerous tertiaries or tertials.


Western Gull, Beaverton, Oregon, 17 February 2009 by Greg Gillson.


Most gulls have 10 primaries and 24 secondaries. They also have some true tertial feathers.


Vaux's Swift, Forest Grove, Oregon, 22 September 2009 by Greg Gillson.


Vaux's Swifts have 10 primaries, but only 6 (or 8, if you count very tiny) secondaries.

The very different lengths of the parts of the arm cause different styles of flapping.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

More details on the upcoming Forest Grove CBC

Hooded OrioleHooded Oriole, Gaston, Oregon, 26 December 2009 by Greg Gillson.


Many birders got to see this wonderful rare bird at a private feeder, in the tiny burg of Gaston, soon after it was found on the Forest Grove Christmas Bird Count (CBC). My feeling is that there should be time available for each group to go "poach" a rare bird or productive area for an hour or so, outside of their assigned sector (count area). See the previous post (Forest Grove CBC: Join us December 17).

Each sector has certain "target" species that they should try to find, as they may only be found in that sector. Some sectors are mostly driving, some mostly walking. As of this time, all sectors are available and open to request. We need sector leaders, responsible to read the map, track the mileage and time, count all birds seen or heard, and take less experienced ones along for a fun day.

All volunteers should contact me, Greg Gillson, at, and let me know what sector you prefer. Please consider being a sector leader.

If you live in the count circle (Roy to Gaston, Forest Grove to west part of Hillsboro) we need feeder watchers. Just keep track of all birds coming to your feeder and keep track of the time you spent watching. Most Anna's Hummingbirds are reported from feeders. If a Hooded Oriole comes to visit, well, one can dream!

Forest Grove Christmas Bird Count, Saturday, December 17, 2011.
Meet at Elmer's Pancake House, 390 SW Adams, Hillsboro, Oregon at 7:00 AM (earlier if having breakfast).

Sector 1)
Northern Forest Grove, NW Hillsboro, Verboort, Roy. Mostly driving.
Target birds: Peregrine Falcon, Prairie Falcon, Herring Gull, Thayer’s Gull, Glaucous Gull, Mourning Dove, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Anna’s Hummingbird, Acorn Woodpecker, Northern Shrike, Horned Lark, Common Raven, American Pipit, Cedar Waxwing, Western Meadowlark, Brown-headed Cowbird.

Sector 2)
Southern Forest Grove, Gales Creek, Stringtown Road, Gales Peak, David Hill. Driving and walking.
Target birds: Redhead, Great Egret, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Northern Shrike, Common Raven, Western Bluebird, Brown-headed Cowbird, Lesser Goldfinch.

Sector 2A-optional)
Roderick Road. Steep, rough logging road walking up to 5 miles into clearcuts/forest.
If enough people, assign to separate group, otherwise include in Sector 2.
Target birds: Ruffed Grouse, Blue Grouse, Mountain Quail, Barred Owl, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Hairy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Hutton’s Vireo, Gray Jay, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Brown Creeper, Hermit Thrush, Townsend’s Warbler, Red Crossbill, Evening Grosbeak

Sector 3A)
Hagg Lake (West side) and nearby areas. Site guide. Driving and walking.

Sector 3B)
Hagg Lake (East side). Mostly walking up to 6 miles of trails and park area.
Target birds for all of Hagg Lake: Eurasian Wigeon, Greater Scaup, Common Goldeneye, Ruffed Grouse, Common Loon, Western Grebe, Horned Grebe, Eared Grebe, Spotted Sandpiper, California Gull, Herring Gull, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Hairy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Common Raven, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Brown Creeper, American Dipper, Purple Finch.

Sector 3C)
Logging Roads on Scoggins Creek Road above Hagg Lake. 2-1/2 miles driving logging road and walking another 3 miles of rough logging roads.
Target birds: Blue Grouse, Mountain Quail, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Barred Owl, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Hairy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Hutton’s Vireo, Gray Jay, Western Bluebird, Hermit Thrush, Townsend’s Warbler, Red Crossbill, Purple Finch, Evening Grosbeak

Sector 4)
Patton Valley. Mostly driving.
Target birds: White-tailed Kite, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Ring-necked Pheasant, Mourning Dove, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Northern Shrike, Common Raven, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Western Bluebird, Townsend's Warbler, White-throated Sparrow, Purple Finch.

Sector 5)
Spring Hill Road, Laurelwood, Bald Peak, Dixon Mill Road (both sides), Firdale Road. Mostly driving.
Target species: Ruffed Grouse, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Northern Shrike, Western Bluebird, Hermit Thrush, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, American Pipit, White-throated Sparrow, Brown-headed Cowbird, Lesser Goldfinch.

Sector 5A-optional)
Metro’s Chehalem Ridge property on Dixon Mill Road may be assigned to a separate team with special permission to enter.

Sector 6)
Fernhill Wetlands and surrounding areas. Walking and driving.
Target species: Trumpeter Swan, Wood Duck, Eurasian Wigeon, Gadwall, Ring-necked Pheasant, California Quail, Western Grebe, Horned Grebe, Great Egret, Bald Eagle, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, Merlin, Wilson’s Snipe, Mew Gull, Ring-billed Gull, California Gull, Herring Gull, Thayer’s Gull, Western Gull, Mourning Dove, Northern Shrike, Common Raven, Marsh Wren, Western Bluebird, American Pipit, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Lincoln’s Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Western Meadowlark, Brown-headed Cowbird, Purple Finch, Lesser Goldfinch.

Sector 7)
Jackson Bottom and surrounds. Lots of wet walking if Jackson Bottom is not flooded, otherwise mostly driving.
Target species: Trumpeter Swan, Wood Duck, Great Egret, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Ring-necked Pheasant, California Quail, Wilson’s Snipe, California Gull, Herring Gull, Anna’s Hummingbird, Northern Shrike, Marsh Wren, Western Bluebird, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Savannah Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow.

Sector 8)
Forest Grove. Walking in town. This is the official "poaching" team. After covering town last year, Tim Rodenkirk and I poached at Fernhill Wetlands and Hagg Lake. Combined with the early morning owling we did, we ended the day personally recording 91 of the 117 total count species.
Target birds: Merlin, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Anna’s Hummingbird, Acorn Woodpecker, Brown Creeper, Cedar Waxwing, Townsend’s Warbler, White-throated Sparrow.

Forest Grove CBC: Join us December 17

From December 14 to January 5, birders at thousands of locations across the Americas will count early winter birds in prescribed areas from dawn to dusk. For over 100 years the National Audubon Society has sponsored these Christmas Bird Counts (CBC). Read the History of the Christmas Bird Count on the Audubon site.

In Forest Grove, Oregon, volunteers will meet at 7:00 AM on Saturday, December 17, 2011, at Elmer's Pancake House at 390 SW Adams (near the corner of First Street and Baseline Avenue) in Hillsboro, Oregon. There birders will be divided up into car groups and sent birding in one of 8 sectors of the count circle. Everyone should meet back at Elmer's about 5:00 PM where you turn in your count forms and count fees are collected (yes, $5 per person is collected to help defray publishing the data in a special issue of American Birds). You may stay for a count-down dinner (each person buys their own), where the species seen are informally tallied.

I started helping organize the Forest Grove CBC two years ago. I was guided by two thoughts. First, I was vacationing in Arizona one winter and decided to attend a count near Phoenix that regularly tallies nearly 200 species--many species I highly desired to see. However, I was assigned to a group in a rural area of cotton fields with very few birds. When we finished covering our area by noon? Our leader had us do it again, with very few additional birds. All the while, I could see the greenery along the nearby river with all the birds I so desired to see but which was "not our area." Second, I knew the Forest Grove area so well. At the countdown dinner I realized that the birds that were missed that day were not hard to find--in fact, I knew exactly what tree and bush or part of the stream these missing birds hung out in. I figured if each team concentrated on finding these hard-to-find, but usually present, birds, then the common birds would take care of themselves. Counts since implementing this idea 2 years ago have exceeded the high count of all previous years.

This led me to redesign the count in such a way that teams could cover their area fairly well by noon, and "poach" in other team's areas for good birds--just keep track of where you were. I recommend teams "poach" at Fernhill Wetlands or Jackson Bottom Wetlands during the day. There is a good turnover of waterfowl at these locations, and many other sparrows and smaller birds hiding in the marsh. I also divided up Hagg Lake into three sectors rather than one. The special resident birds here are hard to find and quiet, and found no where else in the count circle. To help in this regard, I created sector material for the sector leaders specifying each sector's target birds and where to find them.

This year Christmas Day falls on a weekend and, unlike the very first CBC, few counts these days are actually scheduled for Christmas Day. That means most counts will be either December 17 and 18th or December 31 and January 1. Forest Grove isn't one of the "glamor" counts in Oregon. So we'll have lots of competition for our volunteer counters.

My next post will tell you why you should join us and what you might see.

Western Bluebird

Western BluebirdWestern Bluebird, Champoeg State Park, Oregon, 8 November 2011 by Greg Gillson.


I stopped by Champoeg State Park recently, and was able to photograph this Western Bluebird using my car as a blind.

This bird is banded, probably in concert with the Prescott Bluebird Recovery Project, which builds bluebird nest boxes and monitors populations locally in the northern Willamette Valley.

Champoeg was a town between Portland and Salem, Oregon. In the early 1840's the rapidly increasing number of settlers met at Champoeg and voted to set up a local provisional government. Up until that time both the United States and Great Britain jointly occupied the Oregon Territory, with the British Hudson Bay Company having a presence at Fort Vancouver (near present day Vancouver, Washington). Relations were friendly-enough between American and British subjects (and French-Canadian, Spanish, and Russian fur trappers), but there was really no "government" to speak of for the American settlers. This provisional government ruled until 1848 when Oregon became an official territory of the United States. Oregon became a state in 1859. In December 1861 a huge flood swept away the town of Champoeg and it was never rebuilt.

A previous post on Western Bluebirds.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Learning about birds... at your feeder

Spotted TowheeMale Spotted Towhee, Beaverton, Oregon, 27 November 2011 by Greg Gillson.


For improving one's birding skills, Kenn Kaufman (Kaufman Field Guide to Advanced Birding) recommends a bird feeder as a learning tool. Even a common species observed closely over time can teach about age and gender differences, molt and plumages, hybridization, and individual or population variation. Learning how to observe these items on common birds will let us more quickly and accurately identify rare birds--a source of joy and excitement for many birders.

Earlier this year I learned something very interesting by observing the birds at my feeder. Although perhaps not surprising, I observed a subspecies of Spotted Towhee not previously documented in western Oregon. I wrote about it here: (Barely spotted towhee gets super spotted visitor).

Now that I am attune to this particular ID challenge, I was ready today when I again spotted an unusual towhee visitor to my feeder. The top photo shows a resident male Spotted Towhee, typical of those found in western Washington and Oregon, the so called Oregon Towhee (Pipilo maculatus oreganus).

The ID of the above bird is straightforward. Compared to all other populations it has fewer spots on its scapulars and wings. The rufous sides are darker than other populations. Finally, the spots on the undertail are very small, perhaps restricted to only the outermost tail feathers of each side of the tail.

Compare the bird above with the bird below, seen about 15 minutes apart in the same tree--photographed through my very dirty window!

Spotted TowheeMale Spotted Towhee, Beaverton, Oregon, 27 November 2011 by Greg Gillson.


This bird is paler orange on the side and undertail coverts. It has more and larger spots on the scapulars and wings. Obviously, the white tail spots take up more than half the tail and are spread out on at least three of the outer tail feathers.

This bird matches one of the "Interior" forms of Spotted Towhee. The new National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, Sixth Edition has range maps showing the various subspecies of Spotted Towhees.

Without a specimen to measure fine variations, it is only speculation as to which exact subspecies may be represented. And due to individual variation, even a specimen may not be unequivocally decisive in this matter. However, it is sufficient to separate the Pacific form (to which the Oregon Towhee belongs) from the Interior form to report this to eBird. In fact, birders in Washington are noting the winter influx of the Interior form of Spotted Towhees into western Washington where, as in western Oregon, they were previously undocumented.

These new winter distribution records are found, not from scientists studying specimens or conducting field research, but by amateur bird watchers at their backyard feeders!

What's in your feeder?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Brambling chase

BramblingBrambling, Scappoose, Oregon, 26 November 2011 by Greg Gillson.


It's been several years since I "chased" a rare bird outside of my home county. ('Chase' means to drop everything and try to go see a rare bird found by someone else, often far away.) Last year I worked on a County Big Year, setting a new record by seeing 199 species in tiny Washington County, Oregon. So I went looking for every unusual bird seen locally last year. This year I did more "relaxed" birding, with no numerical goals.

It took me a while to remember the last bird I chased outside of my local county. It was a Northern Wheatear on the coast in September 2009. I did get several good photos of this rare Eurasian (even rarely Alaskan-nesting) thrush-like bird.

When I heard of the Brambling (boldly-colored Eurasian finch) Friday afternoon in Scappoose, I was under the influence of cold medication and didn't really care. By evening I had convinced myself I felt better and would leave at dawn and join the chase! It was only 20 miles away, after all, and it was supposed to be sunny! There are only 11 previous Oregon records of Brambling. All prior records were birds that were found at residential feeders and most remained several days or longer. This one was in a wetlands with flocks of other sparrows, so would likely be more of a challenge to refind...

It was just starting to get light when I pulled into the parking lot at 7:20 AM. But it was a gloomy, cloudy day, not sunny as forecasted. For such a rare state bird I was surprised no one else was there yet. Where was Russ Namitz, who is working on a state Big Year this year?

I walked down the path toward the green shed where the bird was seen yesterday afternoon. There were 3 birders gathered near the shed. They had walked in from the other side. The three birders soon built to five. No joy. No bird. We were prepared for a long wait.

Photo above by Marlene Gillson just after we'd seen the bird!

At 8:10 AM, after we'd been waiting there by the shed about 30 minutes without success, a birder approached. It was Lona Pierce, who had discovered the bird yesterday. She didn't make it to us when she stopped and pointed and said, "There it is!"

True enough, we all got brief looks as it appeared in a hawthorn tree above the blackberries. I snapped off some quick photos, but none were very good. It was so dark that I tried flash, but that always makes birds look so horrible. Then it was gone.

Over the next hour and more, additional birders came. Some names I remembered, some I did not. Sadly, I am better at identifying birds than bird watchers. I think the following birders were present: John Gatchet, Bob Stites, Scott Carpenter, Don Wardwell, Henry Horvat, and Lona Pierce were the others I believe saw the bird. Birders that showed up later were Jay Withgott, Shawneen Finnegan, Dave Irons, Liz Gordon (wife of American Birding Association president, Jeff Gordon), Diana Byrne, Jim Danzenbaker, and several others. By the time I left, about 9:30 AM, the bird hadn't returned.

My other photos of the Brambling are linked here.

The complete area checklist from eBird.

Declining Barn Swallows

Barn SwallowBarn Swallow, Hillsboro, Oregon, 12 May 2010 by Greg Gillson.


You'd think that the warming climate that is thawing out the northern latitudes would make Canada more desirable to Barn Swallows. Sadly, that doesn't seem to be happening. Instead, the November 2011 issue of Birding magazine has an article explaining that Barn Swallows have been proposed as an endangered bird in Canada.

Barn Swallow frequency on roadside Breeding Bird Surveys in Canada fell 82% from 1966 to 2009. In the US, the population as a whole fell 15% during the same period. But, as in Canada, the most severe declines were on the East and West coasts. This isn't some far away problem. Right here in the Pacific Northwest, Barn Swallow populations fell 65-75% in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, from 1966 to 2009.

What does it mean? No one yet knows, but with the proposed listing in Canada it is starting to get attention.

You may find a previous article on Barn Swallows here.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Cinnamon Teal

Cinnamon TealCinnamon Teal, Beaverton, Oregon, 8 November 2011 by Greg Gillson.


What does eBird tell us about the status and distribution of Cinnamon Teal in the Pacific NW?

You may be interested in visiting the eBird page on Cinnamon Teal in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.

The quick-view weekly bar chart shows that Cinnamon Teal can be found somewhere in the Pacific NW all year, they are regular February through November, and most frequently observed April through June. Digging deeper, the 'Frequency' tab shows that nearly 10% of all birder's checklists report Cinnamon Teal the week starting May 15. The 'Abundance' graph shows two peaks in average number of birds per checklist--both in May and in August-September, after the young-of-the-year are out and about. Finally, the 'Average Count' when birds are detected, shows that when you do see Cinnamon Teal in the Pacific NW you can expect to see an average of about 20 individuals from mid-August to mid-September.

Looking now at the map of sightings, one can see that Cinnamon Teal are widely distributed in the Pacific NW, away from the mountains and extensive desert or grasslands lacking water. They are less common on the immediate coast. If you switch to the winter month of December, sightings are restricted to the valleys west of the Cascades with unfrozen water. Switch to the current month of the year and you can see all sightings within the last 30 days highlighted in orange rather than blue.

Click on any of those orange flags to find out details about the sighting and click on 'checklist' to see that observer's full list of species for that date and location.

Read a previous post on Cinnamon Teal.

Monday, November 21, 2011

eBird tutorial: finding Pinyon Jays

Pinyon JayPinyon Jay, Best Western Ponderosa Lodge, Sisters, Oregon, 27 May 2009 by Greg Gillson.


Throughout most of its range, the Pinyon Jay is found in pinyon pine and juniper woodlands. Thus, this species reaches its northern limit in southern Idaho where a few pinyon pine exist. However, there is an isolated pocket of Pinyon Jays in central Oregon, found in juniper and ponderosa pine. Why it is found only here, when this habitat is widespread in the Great Basin, is unknown. These jays occur in large noisy flocks throughout the year, and are highly nomadic.

This post will serve as a tutorial of how to use eBird to create sightings maps.

First, point your web browser to

The eBird Welcome page appears as follows (click on the image below to bring up a larger view):

Next, choose the "View and Explore Data" tab to bring up the following screen (click on the image below to bring up a larger view):

To create species maps and abundance bar charts limited to a certain area, choose "Bar Charts." Then you are asked to choose your location. We want the Pacific Northwest, so we choose Idaho, and then, holding down the CTRL key, select Oregon and Washington too! Then select "continue" at the bottom of the page (click on the image below to bring up a larger view):

What this has done is create a monthly bar chart of annual bird abundance for the combined three states (click on the image below to bring up a larger view):

Scroll down to Pinyon Jay and click it to bring up that species' information. Here you can change the date range and location, down to a specific county within a state. Looking at the bar chart, you can see that Pinyon Jay is present all year in the chosen range (Idaho, Oregon, and Washington), but harder to find early in the year (click on the image below to bring up a larger view).

Now click on the map button or tab to bring up the map below (click on the image below to bring up a larger view):

The map shows Pinyon Jay abundance in latitude-longitude blocks in two areas of southern Idaho, and central Oregon, with a smattering of sightings in the Klamath Basin of south-central Oregon. As you zoom in closer, these blocks are resolved into the individual sightings markers.

If you zoom in on the Central Oregon sightings, you'll notice a bunch of sightings near Sisters, Oregon. If you click on the sightings marker, the specific information comes up: date, number of individuals seen, location name and observer. Sightings within the last 30 days are shown with orange markers, older sightings are blue. Let's look at what I've selected (click on the image below to bring up a larger view):

I switched the Google map from Terrain view to the Satellite view, and zoomed in to an area of town. Then I clicked on one of the markers, whereupon the information about that sighting location is revealed. Here it is, then. This marker is located at a place called "Best Western Ponderosa Lodge" in Deschutes County, Oregon. The date was 4/4/10 and 21 Pinyon Jays were reported here. The observer? Why, Best Western Ponderosa Lodge! What?!!! Why not? Yes, someone at the Lodge signed up to eBird perhaps simply to "advertise" the birds you can find at their motel!

Is this "legal"? Of course! While eBird would like each observer to contribute more than just one checklist, one is better than nothing. Remember, eBird includes sightings not just from scientists and fanatical birders, but also elementary school science classes, backyard birders and, yes, even motels! Now that's what I call Citizen Science!

Can you really find Pinyon Jays at this motel? Well, I did! See the caption for the Pinyon Jay photo above. Also note that another visitor to the motel recorded Pinyon Jays there in June 2011.

A recent new addition to eBird is the ability to click on the word "checklist" next to the sighting report to see all the other birds seen at that location that day! So, for instance, also found were ponderosa pine specialists like White-headed Woodpecker and Pygmy Nuthatch. And, yes, Eurasian Collared-Dove has invaded there, too.

Friday, November 18, 2011

eBird embeds photos to checklists!

A great new feature added to eBird is the ability to add photos to your checklists.

Using the HTML IMG tag, you are allowed to link and display an image from your online photo gallery, whether from Flickr, Picasaweb, or other web sites. eBird asks you to restrict your photos to about 400x400 pixels.

These show up when displaying checklists. For instance, if you go to eBird and the "View and Explore Data" tab, "Range and Point Maps," and type in "Green Heron," selecting November 2011. You can see the map of sightings and zoom into NW Oregon area. Click on the flag in the Beaverton area and the details of my 11-15-2011 sighting from Commonwealth Lake. Then click on the checklist link.

Up pops my checklist for the day with several embedded photos, including the Green Heron.

For more details, see the eBird site and the article eBird Update--Now embed photos in your checklists!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Golden Grebe

Pied-billed GrebePied-billed Grebe, Commonwealth Lake, Beaverton, Oregon, 15 November 2011 by Greg Gillson.


The sun unexpectedly broke out this afternoon. So I ran out to a local city park before sunset. What leaves are still on the trees are mostly golden yellow. This makes for colorful reflections on waterbird portraits.

Other posts featuring Pied-billed Grebes.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Western Sandpiper

Western SandpiperWestern Sandpiper, Gearhart, Oregon, 6 August 2011 by Greg Gillson.


In the winter, flocks of small sandpipers chasing the waves in-and-out on the beach are likely to be Sanderlings. However, during spring and fall migration, nearly any shorebird may be found on the beach.

These "peep" (small sandpipers in the genus Calidris, named for their peeping calls) are Western Sandpipers.

I took this photo near sunset while on a picnic at the beach this summer.

What else can we learn from this photo above?

The sandpipers have partial webs between the toes that you can see in these photos as a wedge at the base of the toes. The presence or absence of this feature is important to note for identifying certain rare Asian stints (name of peep in Europe and Asia) that show up from time to time in the Pacific NW. The abundant Least Sandpiper has unwebbed toes--practice seeing this field mark with these two common species so you are better prepared when something unusual shows up!

Sanderlings do not have hind toes. You can clearly see the small hind toe on the one raised foot of the Western Sandpiper above.

There are three bright, colorful, and crisply-plumaged juveniles on the right, one disheveled dull-backed adult on the left with chevrons on the sides of the breast. Most adults start migrating back to the wintering grounds several weeks before the juveniles. This photo was taken during the period of overlap in early August.


Western SandpiperJuvenile Western Sandpiper, Gearhart, Oregon, 6 August 2011 by Greg Gillson.


You may also like:

ID challenge... Western Sandpiper and Semipalmated Sandpiper

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Advanced birding means learning the basics

When we learned our native tongue we grew into it slowly. We spoke it at home. We slowly added vocabulary through primary school. There comes a point in middle school, though, when we are finally taught the parts of speech--nouns and verbs, how to diagram a sentence, etc. At the time we thought this unnecessary--we already knew how to read and speak--so what's the point? Learning the parts of speech and how words go together to form sentences is especially important if we try to learn another language when we are older. To advance to learn another language, or to use our native tongue properly, in all circumstances, we go back to basics and learn the rules.

Most of us came to bird watching the same way. We started slowly at first, perhaps at a home bird feeder. Then we moved farther afield and added more species. But there were always a few birds that escaped our attempts to put a name on them. Perhaps it is those streaky sparrows that give us trouble, or female ducks, or immature gulls. Like language, in order to advance in birding, we need to go back and learn the basics. We don't need to memorize more field marks (build a bigger birding list or "vocabulary")--we need to learn how to look at birds and how they are put together.

Advanced Birding, 2011 by Kenn Kaufman.
Birding Essentials, 2007 by Jonathan Alderfer and Jon L. Dunn.
Birding Basics, 2002 by David Sibley.

The books above are quite similar, all excellent, and all serve the same general purpose... to teach us how to advance in our bird spotting and identification skills. But notice that "advanced" to these authors is synonymous with understanding the "essentials" and the "basics" of identifying birds.

For argument's sake, let's define an "advanced birder" as one who can quickly and accurately identify nearly every bird seen... near or distant, well-studied or barely glimpsed, or even heard-only. (There are, of course, some individual birds that even experts can't name after extensive study, but we're not talking about those right now.)

Identifying nearly every bird you can see is not about memorizing some secret and subtle field mark. First and foremost, it is about learning the basics of how to look at birds and "understanding what you see and hear," as is the subtitle of Kaufman's book.

Like a toddler learning the parts of the face, a birder needs to intimately understand the parts of a bird, including feather groupings and names. These are often called "topology" in the introduction of many field guides. As Kaufman says, "understanding the visible structure of the bird may do more than anything else to enhance your skill at identification."


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Best North American field guide... again!

There are 3 worthy North American field guides. But the one I carry with me on trips, the one I turn to first, has been updated to compete strongly with the others. Yes, with its 2011 printing, Jon L. Dunn and Jonathan Alderfer did it again with the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, now in its 6th Edition!

The back cover advertises: "America's #1 Bird Guide Just Got Even Better!". While I don't necessarily agree with the grammar, I agree with the thought.

You may argue that The Sibley Guide to Birds is your favorite. Fine. That was an amazing book when it first came out, and is still a strong contender. The songbirds shown in flight in that book still haven't been matched by any other guide. But when Sibley's guide first hit the market in 2000, the National Geo was in its 3rd Edition with just over 800 species shown, matching the 810 in Sibley. The 5th Edition of the National Geo was a complete make-over, and this 6th Edition is also a redesign--now with 990 species (including 92 Accidentals and Extinct)!

While many of the illustrations in the National Geo are familiar through all versions of the book, this 6th edition claims 300 new art pieces in addition to all the changes in the 5th Edition! Averaging over 3 illustrations per species (as opposed to 8 for Sibley), the National Geo's bird illustrations are larger and more detailed than Sibley's. I noticed many new illustrations, including standing and close-up head views of jaegers. I notice the goatsuckers no longer have "shrunken heads" as those illustrations were re-done. Many of the warblers were re-drawn. The comparison views of the foreheads of Tundra and Trumpeter Swans are a great new ID illustration.

This new edition places helpful identification text next to the illustrations, making it similar to the arrows and text in Sibley. This seems to add almost 50% more identification text than the previous edition of this guide. Imagine having an expert write additional ID comments next to each illustration in your field guide. Wow!

Following the lead of The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America the new National Geographic guide also heavily stresses field identifiable subspecies, with 59 maps showing subspecies in the main text, and an additional 37 subspecies maps in the appendix.

The subspecies are especially helpful for the white-cheeked geese, carefully delineating range and plumages of the various populations of Canada Goose and Cackling Goose--something birders really need, based on the amount of confusion I have witnessed among birders.

The maps are updated, too. The 3-color maps of the 5th Edition (breeding, winter, year-round) have been replaced with 6-colors (adding 3 different colors for migration: spring, fall, both). Hurray!

The new edition also adds more voice annotations. For instance, previous versions of the guide did not list the distinctive calls of swallows and some shorebirds (Red Knot, Surfbird, Rock Sandpiper)--it does now.

Finally! We now have a field guide that shows North American seabirds correctly and completely! It is updated with rarities and subspecies that may actually be separate species. The illustrations of wing molt in Wilson's Storm-Petrel was a nice surprise.

A new feature is a quick-find index on the front cover, and a visual index to bird families on both front and back covers. These will help newer birders find birds and learn the taxonomic sequence.

All the way around, this is a great field guide. In fact, compared to previous editions (especially the 4rd Edition or earlier), this seems like a brand new field guide to hit the market!

Related: A review of the new Stokes guide.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned KingletGolden-crowned Kinglet, Cooper Mountain Nature Park, Beaverton, Oregon, 13 October 2011 by Greg Gillson.


On a recent slow drive with my window down I heard numerous Golden-crowned Kinglets in the lowland woods. Although some birds will remain through the winter in the snow-covered mountains where they breed, most move down-slope or southward for winter.

The photo above was taken on a recent cloudy morning at the nearby nature park. These low-light weather conditions will be frequent through the winter in western Oregon, where I live. At 1/30th of a second, hand-held, 400mm, and 800 ISO, it is amazing I got even one good photo of this energetic little bird. So I'll probably add a flash to my camera for my photo outings for the next few months. Birds look more realistic and three-dimensional with natural light. But without flash my bird photography would be very sparse from late October into April.

Earlier this year I posted a more in-depth article on Golden-crowned Kinglets.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Heermann's Gull

Heermann's GullHeermann's Gull, Seaside, Oregon, 6 August 2011 by Greg Gillson.


Over 90% of the world's population of Heermann's Gulls nests on Isla Riza in the Gulf of California, Mexico. After the nesting season concludes, Heermann's Gulls join Brown Pelicans moving north into the productive waters of the California Current, as far north as British Columbia. They are often seen feeding together, the gulls stealing food from the pelicans.

The eBird frequency chart (below, click for larger view) shows that a major movement of Heermann's Gulls on the Oregon and Washington coasts begin the first week in July. They are most widespread the first week of August and remain common through October. By the end of November, most are gone.

While Grant in his 1986 book "Gulls" says that Heermann's attains adult plumage in the 3rd year, Sibley indicates that Heermann's may take 4 years to become an adult. Indeed, I believe the bird above is in third summer plumage. The primaries and tail are worn but apparently not in adult plumage, the body plumage does have an adult-like aspect. This bird will likely undergo a full molt into adult non-breeding plumage before it heads back to Baja in November.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Guest post at Birding is Fun!

Robert at Birding is Fun! asked me to guest post once each month. So, my posts will appear on that blog on the 11th of each month.

This month's post was on the Northern Harrier and entitled: Blue Circler.

Please check it out!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What I learned about Ruddy Turnstone from eBird

Ruddy TurnstoneRuddy Turnstone, Seaside, Oregon, 6 August 2011 by Greg Gillson.


I don't get to see Ruddy Turnstones very often, especially adults in breeding plumage, like this bird.

They breed on rocky coasts and tundra in the Arctic. In the Pacific Northwest, spring migration is primarily mid-April to mid-May. Adults heading south arrive in mid-July, juveniles arrive in mid-August. By October most birds have departed, though there are always a few that winter, especially on the southern Oregon coast.

Unlike many shorebirds, turnstones in the Pacific Northwest are restricted to the outer coast--they are very rare on inland pond edges.

Thus, I was quite surprised to see the range map in the new Stokes guide. It showed regular migration through the Mississippi Flyway. No other field guide shows that.

So I thought I'd check it out in eBird.

Below is the winter range of Ruddy Turnstone in North America, showing the coastal preference of this species (click on the map for a larger view):

Next is the spring migration during May. Note the birds in the Mississippi Flyway and Midwest:

The exact breeding range is a bit hard to determine from eBird. That is because many birds are still migrating north in early June, and many adults are already heading south in July. Mapping for eBird currently is by month, not week.

The main southward migration is shown below (August-October). Notice again that there is a good migration through the Mississippi Flyway, but also widely in the Northeast and generally everywhere east of the Great Plains:

So, then, the migration range in North America is mostly coastal and the Mississippi Flyway. I learned something I didn't know before! How about you?

Interestingly, this individual bird hung around for several days at the "Cove" in Seaside, Oregon, where others also found and photographed it.

Mike Patterson's photo of this same individual on August 8.

Jen's photo of this same individual on August 8.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Check out eBird Version 3 – The ultimate birding tool

As you may know from reading my blog, I have been using eBird for the past 12-14 months and am totally hooked! eBird is for everyone! In fact, over the next year I will be having monthly posts on how to use eBird--both how to submit useful data and get amazingly useful information out of eBird. My very next post will be "What I learned about Ruddy Turnstones from eBird." In November I will present an eBird tutorial on finding Pinyon Jays.

Thus I am excited to post the following announcement from the eBird team:

If you haven’t been to eBird ( in a while, it’s time for another look. Over the past few months we’ve updated eBird so that it’s easier to use and more useful than ever to the birding community. eBird can help you find birds through our “Alerts” or by exploring our newly revised mapping tools and bar charts. Recording and keeping track of your birds is easier than ever with a completely redesigned data entry system and our automated listing pages (My eBird). Most importantly, you’ll become part of a growing community of tens of thousands of birders around the world whose data are now being used in real science and conservation. Best of all – it’s free!

eBird Version 3 includes:

  • Global scope—enter and explore observations from anywhere around the world
  • Streamlined data entry—getting your data into the system is faster and more customizable than ever
  • Improved range maps—explore interactive range maps for any bird in the world
  • Alerts system—get customized reports about birds of interest to you in a region
  • eBird Top 100—find out how your totals rank among other birders in any region
  • Birding + Science connection—by participating, your data become available to the science and conservations communities

We’re proud of the new developments at eBird, and we hope you’ll take the time to take the new tools for a test spin. Even if you don’t enter data, you can still explore the information submitted by other eBirders. Moving forward we’ll continue to develop eBird as the ultimate tool to serve the birding community, while always ensuring that the data we collect for science is of the highest possible quality. Join the flock, become an eBirder!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Black Bullet

MerlinMerlin, Forest Grove, Oregon, 29 September 2011 by Greg Gillson.


Last week I was able to get a couple of decent photos of a Merlin. These birds tend to be wary and speedy!

While superficially the size and shape of an American Kestrel, in flight the Merlin is a race car to the Kestrel's moped. The Merlin never hovers!

Merlins tend to favor open country where they often hunt from low perches. Even migration is low and direct--hugging the terrain, just over the shrub-tops. When they see their prey (usually other small birds or dragonflies) they pursue in quick, direct flight. They then may take their prey to a perch (top of a telephone pole or fence post in open country) to pluck and eat.


MerlinMerlin, Forest Grove, Oregon, 29 September 2011 by Greg Gillson.


This particular bird is the subspecies suckleyi, formerly called the Black Pigeon Hawk. It is very dark--and heavily streaked below. This race breeds in British Columbia and winters along the coast to southern California.

I have noted this species chasing shorebirds in coastal estuaries and Pine Siskins over coastal sitka spruce forests. Once I noted a flock of Bushtits flying (crawling through the air) over the beach at the south jetty of the Columbia River. Silly birds. A Merlin flew leisurely (for a Merlin) and snatched a Bushtit out of the air without breaking stride.

Other races of Merlins are found September through April in the Pacific Northwest. The Prairie race (richardsonii) is very pale blue-gray, females pale tannish-gray. The northern taiga form (columbarius) is intermediate (see The Sibley Guide to Birds ).