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 greg@thebirdguide.com, 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 ebird.org.

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."