Friday, December 28, 2012

eBird best practices
Get to know your local Reviewer

In the last year eBird acceptance and participation continues to increase--at least it seems so to me. Most birders know what eBird is; many are using it.

As you bird in different areas you are likely to see some unusual species or high numbers that trip the eBird filter. Soon thereafter, you get an email with the subject: "Question about your [bird name] observation in eBird." Rather than shuffle these off to your spam filter (kidding!) look at these emails from eBird Reviewers as a chance to get to know an expert in an area.

OK, first off, it is possible that the local Reviewer is NOT the most expert person on the bird status of that county. But they were the most expert to volunteer to be the eBird Reviewer for that county. So, when Oregon started getting eBird Reviewers, I was initially given about 12 counties. However, 5 of those counties were in NE Oregon--a rural area with few birders. I had books on status of birds in the area, but there were many species whose status I was uncertain. I was so happy when local NE Oregon Trent Bray agreed to be Reviewer for those counties.

That leaves me with 5 counties in NW Oregon. I consider myself the expert in one of those counties, and have considerable experience birding in the others. Nevertheless, Mike Patterson in Clatsop County is the local expert in that county. He expresses no interest in being eBird Reviewer for his home county. I don't blame him; it is a bit of work that you have to take from someplace else (like actually watching birds).

Mike sometimes gives me "status updates" when he disagrees with where the filter levels are set. One of his observations was that the filter levels seem like they were set by someone from "out of town." Of course, that's true. The county filter levels were set initially with state-wide status and then refined from there--several counties lumped as one, then individual counties spit from them. There is always more work to be done. Reviewers will be happy to reset filters if you suggest reasonable limits. But each species in each county has it own filter settings.

Another observation that Mike made was that the filter levels seemed set for "average" birders rather than the actual county status. Yes, true. Hard-to-identify species generally have their filter numbers set to trip at a lower number than the actual status. For instance, I set Thayer's Gulls in Lincoln County, Oregon to trip with perhaps 10 birds, when over 50 are sometimes possible. However, inexperienced birders can easily misidentify hybrid Glaucous-winged x Western Gulls (perhaps the most common winter gull along the northern Oregon coast) as Thayer's. In such a case, I mark in the Review Tool as "unexceptional" tallies of Thayer's Gulls from birders whose expertise I know. But I am also able to look at the whole list and see if they have all the gulls in the correct proportions. If I don't know the person and the numbers of other gulls don't seem right, then I send them an email ("Question about your [bird name] observation in eBird") asking for more details. As an eBird Reviewer I can tell a lot about a person's expertise by looking at their list and number of species.

Now that I've gone off on a tangent, let me bring it back to you getting to know the Reviewer. This is important: when you are entering your sightings into the eBird checklist, every time the automatic filter says something like "That's an unusual bird! Are you sure?" a real person (eBird Reviewer) will be looking at the record to verify it.

If you don't leave any comments the Reviewer will send you an email asking for more details. We want plumage and behavior descriptions. However, if you can add just the clinching field marks you used to your comments when entering the sighting, that's often enough that the Reviewer doesn't have to send you an email to get clarification (not that the Reviewer minds--that's their job).

There is a "canned" message, but most Reviewers will personalize it. Some Reviewers don't like to "lead" a report by suggesting an alternative bird, but I see nothing wrong with saying: 'you reported this bird which is very rare here at this time of year, yet your list is missing a common look-a-like bird. Could it have been the common bird, instead?' Something like that. Or, 'wow! That's a high number. Can you verify that it isn't a typo?'

Most (but not all) eBird Reviewers are willing and happy to share their knowledge. When they contact you to verify one of your sightings, look at it as an opportunity to learn status, distribution, and ID of local birds. Be open to suggestions (not defensive), ask questions, get to know your local Reviewer and improve your birding!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Where is summer?

Depressed Meadowlark
My trip to the beach last week produced some good bird sightings. By that I mean that I saw some birds I hadn't seen for a while and that I was delighted to see. What I didn't mean was that I saw these birds very well. I felt like I needed a flashlight to go birding at noon.

Well it is winter. At 45 degrees latitude you subtract 23 degrees (tilt of earth on axis) in December. At NOON the sun is only 22 degrees above the southern horizon. Add layers of dark drizzly clouds. Make it damp and foggy. It always feels like dusk in winter. Not dawn--that implies that if you wait it will get lighter. No, dusk. You better look now because it will be too dark to see if you wait.

I love Oregon--the ocean, mountains, deserts, fields, and forests. I live in western Oregon in the verdant valleys below the temperate rain forests. I love it especially from May-July, when it is sunny and warmer, yet not too hot. Later September and October are nice, too. Frankly, though, even though it is the winter rains that make the rest of they year so pleasant and green, I feel like the depressed-looking meadowlark above... I can't wait until summer!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Field-friendly bird sequence
Thrush-like Songbirds

Hermit Thrush
Hermit Thrush, Lava Lake, Oregon June 12, 2008 by Greg Gillson.
The 13 categories of North American birds listed in the Field-friendly bird sequence: Part II are:

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

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

Included in the Thrush-like Songbirds are shrikes, thrashers and mockingbirds, thrushes and bluebirds, dipper, pipits, larks, tanagers, orioles, meadowlarks.

Medium-sized land birds with generally plump bodies and long tails. The American Robin, Mockingbird, and Meadowlark are familiar representatives of this taxonomically diverse group that have a similar body shape.

Northern Mockingbird. San Diego, California. March 7, 2008  by Greg Gillson.

Western Meadowlark. Malheur NWR, Oregon. May 29, 2010 by Greg Gillson.

American Robin. Hillsboro, Oregon. May 11, 2008 by Greg Gillson.

Western Bluebird. Beaverton, Oregon. March 19, 2011 by Greg Gillson.

Western Tanager. Malheur NWR, Oregon. May 29, 2010 by Greg Gillson.

American Dipper. Klamath County, Oregon. February 17, 2012 by Greg Gillson.

Bullock's Oriole. Malheur NWR, Oregon. May 24, 2009 by Greg Gillson.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Western Sandpiper or Dunlin? Winter ID challenge

Dunlin, October 3, 2004. Forest Grove, Oregon by Greg Gillson.

Both Western Sandpipers and Dunlins can be abundant at times in the Pacific Northwest. In breeding plumage you would never mistake one for the other. From late fall through early spring, however, when both species are in drab non-breeding plumage, with long drooping bill and black legs, many birders have trouble separating them.

A very general statement of status in the Pacific NW follows. Western Sandpipers are abundant spring and early fall migrants throughout, with a few wintering along the immediate coastline and Puget Sound. Dunlins are abundant spring and late fall migrants, and common winter visitors wherever there is open water and wetland shores coastally or inland.

The problem with mistaken identification occurs from November through March when primarily only Dunlin are expected inland. Even in larger bays on the coast and the shores of Puget Sound, where a few Western Sandpipers may be found in winter, Dunlin are far more numerous than Western Sandpipers, November through March. Reports of large flocks of Western Sandpipers inland during the winter are likely in error, though singles do occur from time to time, west of the Cascades. There are going to be occasional exceptions to the status stated, but this warning is one to follow: be careful identifying Western Sandpipers after early October (and until early April) in the Pacific Northwest--they are much more likely to be Dunlin.

Western Sandpiper non-breeding plumage
Western Sandpiper, September 6, 2008. Forest Grove, Oregon by Greg Gillson.

The accompanying photos show juvenile Dunlin and Western Sandpiper mostly molted into their nonbreeding plumage. Now Dunlin are bigger, 8-1/2 inches long compared to 6-1/2 for Westerns, but that's not always apparent if there is nothing to compare with. Least Sandpipers are barely smaller than Westerns, and may be found more regularly in late fall and winter. So if there are any of those present, Dunlin will look much larger. Killdeer should appear approximately twice the size of Western Sandpipers, while Dunlins should be about 2/3 the size of a Killdeer.

Dunlin appear rather smooth brownish-gray throughout, including the head and across the breast. They appear almost hooded.

Western Sandpipers are paler gray and a bit more streaky and contrasty on the crown and back, with white throat and breast with perhaps a few streaks coming down from the shoulder. The pale eyebrow and face contrasts with darker ear coverts.

In flight both are similar in appearance with thin white wing stripe on the tips of the greater secondary coverts, and drooping bill. The voices aren't so different that you'd notice right away and remember. So pay special attention to the throat and breast. And remember... Dunlin are more likely in winter than Western Sandpipers, especially inland.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

eBird best practices
Enter your old field lists

I have kept notes and bird lists of my outings ever since I started birding. At times my notes were prolific and daily. At other times my notes were sparse to non-existent for months or years. Thus, besides entering my recent sightings into eBird the past 2 years since joining, I have gone back to enter older sightings.

Because on my early birding lists I didn't usually record starting time and effort, I had to enter many of these checklists as "incidental." I started birding in November 1972. My first bird lists with enough data to enter into eBird began in 1975. I have now entered all my bird lists from then to mid-1987. This includes the period from August 1979 to December 1984 when I lived in Ventura, California. I am number 12 on the Ventura County all-time birding list, with over 200 complete checklists and 286 species.

I had to be careful, though, that my lists were all from one small area. One can add county lists or even state lists, but these are invalidated from eBird checklists and public output. They would still show up on my personal lists, though. I have decided that if they don't fit neatly in eBird "rules" that I won't enter them. So, some of my traveling lists and big days were not entered unless just individual noteworthy birds on incidental lists not recording all species. So, exact date and exact location.

Of course, I pretty much have forgotten the details of many of these sightings. Thus I am unable to add additional details when eBird flags the sightings as unusual. This has given me an opportunity to get to know the various eBird Reviewers around the country--a topic for a future post!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Forest Grove Christmas Bird Count - December 22, 2012


Birders of all skill levels sought in Forest Grove, Oregon, on December 22 

FOREST GROVE, OREGON (November 10, 2012) - This year’s Forest Grove Christmas Bird Count is Saturday, December 22. You are invited!

The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is a census of birds in the Western Hemisphere, performed annually in the early Northern-hemisphere winter by volunteer birdwatchers. The purpose is to provide population data for use in science, especially conservation biology, though many people participate for recreation. (Wikipedia)

Although overseen by the National Audubon Society (, volunteer counters do not have to belong to this organization. It is free to participate.

Forest Grove’s 15 mile diameter count circle includes Hagg Lake in the west, Jackson Bottom Wetlands in the east, Bald Peak in the south, and Roy in the north. Participants are encouraged to spend the whole day afield counting birds, but partial day counters are permitted. They are assigned an area to cover and they do their best to record all the birds seen and heard in their areas, recording bird species and numbers, time spent, and distance traveled by car or walking. Assignments can be in town, farmland, forest, or wetlands, mostly driving in some count areas or mostly walking in other count areas. There is also an opportunity for owl listening in the early morning before sunrise. Feeder watching, for those living within the count circle, is another way to participate—just record the birds coming to your feeder and the time spent actually watching.

Unlike recent years this count isn’t competing for the date with other popular local CBCs. Tillamook’s count is December 15; Sauvie Island’s count is December 29; Portland’s count is January 5. This should allow the count to pull in some experienced birders from nearby areas. But, really, bird watchers of all skill-levels are welcome and desired. Many birders got their first taste of bird watching by attending a Christmas Bird Count. Beginners are paired with more experienced birders—no pressure, this is meant as a fun day of birding.

Meet at Elmers Pancake House (390 SW Adams, Hillsboro) at 7 a.m. (earlier if you wish to order breakfast) to receive your assignment. Spend the day counting birds in a small group. Bring your results back to Elmers about 4:30-5:00 PM. When all are back there is a countdown—a fun, informal count of all species seen. Most participants record 50-70 bird species in their areas. The count as a whole often records 110+ species.

Dress warmly with waterproof hiking boots (or an extra pair of shoes), drive and park carefully, bring a sack lunch. Bring binoculars, spotting scope (if you have one), cell phone for communicating with count compilers to report and learn of any rare birds!

 If you wish to get an area pre-assigned contact Greg Gillson, otherwise just show up at Elmer’s at 7:00 a.m. the morning of count day.

Contact (email preferred):
Mary Anne Sohlstrom (503) 463-9540
Greg Gillson

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Field-friendly bird sequence
Flycatcher-like Birds

Western Kingbird
Western Kingbird, Hines, Oregon May 24, 2009 by Greg Gillson.
The 13 categories of North American birds listed in the Field-friendly bird sequence: Part II are:

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

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

The tyrant flycatchers of the Americas are the largest family of birds in the world with over 400 species. They perch upright, have an ample tail, and a rather large head with wide, flat bill. They are mostly colored in greens, yellows, grays, and browns, the Vermilion Flycatcher being one notable exception. They often remain motionless for extended periods of times and then sally forth to snap up flying insects and return to the same or nearby perch.

The Phainopepla of the Southwest deserts is blackish with a crest. Waxwings also are similar in general shape and behavior to flycatchers, also with a crest.

Cedar Waxwing, Forest Grove, Oregon, August 1, 2009 by Greg Gillson.

Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Cooper Mountain Nature Park, Beaverton, Oregon, May 8, 2012 by Greg Gillson.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Where should I go birding in November?

By November most of the summer visiting birds have migrated south to their wintering grounds. But the late fall sees an influx of waterfowl and raptors.

Additionally, some rare species can show up in November. I remember one November when a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and Tricolored Heron--both Oregon rarities--were a few miles apart on the Oregon coast. There are often a few surprises to be found for those searching.

This is perhaps the time to clean your bird feeders and get them ready for winter feeding. That rain falling now may soon be snow!

Taking advantage of the influx of raptors there is at least one bird festival in the Pacific Northwest this November. Please let me know if there are others.

Where are you planning on watching birds in the coming month and what species do you hope to see there? Are you a field trip organizer? We want to hear what you offer (fee or free). Leave your response in the Comments section as ideas for others.

Birding Festivals:

Frasier Valley Bald Eagle Festival
November 17-18, 2012
Frasier Valley, BC

Thursday, October 11, 2012

eBird best practices
Don't be casual!

The most useful checklists to submit to eBird are complete checklists (every species detected is listed) and every species counted. If at all possible, you should accurately track observer effort--mileage and time. As you use eBird, more and more of your checklists will be as these.

The two main categories of effort-based lists are "Stationary" (you birded from a single location and didn't move more than 100 feet or so) and also a "Traveling" count. Traveling counts can be walked or driven (or both). Traveling counts are recommended to be 5 miles or less. If you change habitats, change to another checklist. On the other hand, if you are traveling through miles of identical habitat then it is not necessary to change checklists after 5 miles (think mono-species grasslands or pelagic trips). No eBird checklist should cross county borders. eBird Reviewers are instructed to weed out long trip lists that span county borders or multiple habitats. Thus, if you enter such lists the data will not be used in the maps and bar charts. But they will appear in your personal lists.

Sometimes, though, you see a noteworthy bird when you aren't birding. Or, you are entering sightings from years past--before you started eBirding--that lack effort information. This is the time to enter an "incidental" (renamed from "casual") list. You may or may not enter a complete list.

I've used incidental checklists when entering old year lists that listed only a new county bird for the year and location. I used an incidental list today. I was driving to a birding location and noted 35 Turkey Vultures on the way. I pulled over and used Bird Log to enter the exact location.

Some birders balk at creating multiple lists for one birding excursion, for instance, while doing a Christmas Bird Count or Migration Count or even a Big Day. However, when you think about it, you are really birding intensely at only a few discrete locations, and then you see a few other noteworthy birds en route that will be entered on individual incidental lists.

An old eBird article that uses the obsolete term "casual" observation is here:

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

NW rarity: Tropical Kingbird

Tropical Kingbird
Tropical Kingbird. Newport, Oregon. October 6, 2012. Photo by Greg Gillson.
This past weekend I was along the coast when I received word of a nearby Tropical Kingbird. I arrived just before sunset as the last rays of the orange setting sun illuminated this bird.

A native of Mexico and Central America, breeding birds barely reach SE Arizona. Thus, many birders in the Pacific Northwest are surprised to learn that this bird is regular along the coast of the Pacific NW every October and November. Typically, a half dozen or more are reported from the Oregon coast every autumn.

Each year members of this species undertake a post-breeding dispersal that brings them along the coast of Texas, the Rio Grande, northern Baja, and the West Coast from California to British Columbia. A few birds then also winter in southern California.

To find these birds in the Northwest look in open areas along the immediate coastline. Estuary edges, golf courses, parks with open areas and scattered trees, and vacant lots in town are all habitats where you might find this rare bird. They perch in the open on wires and trees, often quite still for long periods, as in the accompanying photos.

In the Pacific NW they are similar to Western Kingbirds but the yellow breast extends higher and the head is not as pale gray down onto the upper breast as the Western Kingbird. Tropical Kingbird has a blackish notched tail, while Western Kingbird's square black tail has contrasting white outer tail feathers.

Tropical Kingbird
Tropical Kingbird. Newport, Oregon. October 6, 2012. Photo by Greg Gillson.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Where should I go birding in October?

Birding in October is excellent in the Pacific Northwest. There may be a couple of storms, bringing the first heavy rains of the season, but the weather is generally moderate, now that the hot days of summer are over.

A few Neotropical migrants may remain into the first weeks of October. There may be a few juvenile Black-headed Grosbeaks still hanging out at your feeder. The last of the Violet-green and Barn Swallows are heading south. Flocks of chickadees may harbor some late warblers--even rarities.

This is the time of year to search among the Pectoral Sandpipers at the grassy edges of your local wetlands for a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper or other rare shorebird.

The last of the fall pelagic trips occur in October. This is the best time to head out on the ocean for South Polar Skuas and Flesh-footed Shearwaters.

October brings the arrival of numerous sparrows--Golden-crowned, Lincoln's, and Sooty Fox Sparrows, among others.

I've always wanted to visit some hawk watches in the mountains. This is the perfect time, at least, early in the month before the weather turns bad in the mountains. Certain days may have hundreds of hawks streaming by: Sharp-shinned and Cooper's, Merlins, perhaps a Goshawk, Golden Eagle, or a rare Broad-winged Hawk.One such location is Bonney Butte near Mt Hood, east of Portland. Hawk Watch International counts raptors there. The public is welcome. You know, this just might be my year to visit!

Bird Festivals:

Bridger Raptor Festival
October 5-7, 2012
Bozemen, Montana

Birdfest & Bluegrass
October 13-14, 2012
Ridgefield, Washington

Friday, September 21, 2012

Field-friendly bird sequence
Aerial Landbirds

Common Nighthawk. Malheur NWR, Oregon. May 30, 2010 by Greg Gillson.
The 13 categories of North American birds listed in the Field-friendly bird sequence: Part II are:

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

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

Aerial landbirds include nightjars, hummingbirds, swifts, swallows. These birds generally feed on the wing. In other words, while flying. All eat insects, though hummingbirds also feed on nectar.

Nightjars include mostly crepuscular birds such as nighthawks and whip-poor-wills. Hummingbirds and swallows are well-known. Swifts are so adapted to flight and their feet so weak that they are unable to perch on wires, branches, or the ground. Thus they only rest by clinging to crevices in cliffs, the inside of hollow trees, or chimneys.

Vaux's Swift. Forest Grove, Oregon. July 6, 2007 by Greg Gillson.

Rufous Hummingbird. Forest Grove, Oregon. April 21,2010 by Greg Gillson.

Barn Swallow. Hillsboro, Oregon. September 8, 2007 by Greg Gillson.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Ring-necked Duck showing the neck ring!

Ring-necked Duck showing neck ring
Ring-necked Duck.
The ringed neck on Ring-necked Duck is hard to see in the field. Instead, the ring on the bill, peaked crown, pale gray sides and black back, and the vertical white stripe on the side of the breast are more obvious marks.

This duck was named for the chestnut ring between the black chest and purple-sheened head. This photo I took last May shows it quite well.

Late winter is a good time to see these birds in fresh plumage. Then you may look for the neck ring, especially on sunny days.

A few years ago the BirdFellow blog tackled this question.

We have also discussed this bird in more detail in At the pond... Ring-necked Duck.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

eBird best practices
Keep track of breeding birds

Yellow Warbler on nest. Malheur NWR, Oregon. May 25, 2009 by Greg Gillson.
One of the features of the "comments" section you can use when recording birds in eBird is tracking breeding evidence.

A bird on a nest, a bird carrying food to feed to nestlings, very recently fledged young that can't fly far, a bird feigning injury as a distraction display, a blackbird dive-bombing your head. All these are evidence of breeding birds.

As yet eBird doesn't have an output for showing breeding evidence. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't enter such notations. Breeding status may be shown in future update to eBird. However, you can request a download of your data that will show breeding, if you want to investigate your sightings in the future.

Why should you record breeding codes if eBird doesn't output that data yet? Well, for one, observing breeding behavior and searching for nesting evidence is fun! It makes you more aware of what the birds are doing.

For a list of breeding codes and meaning, and for more details, see the eBird page on breeding birds.

Other posts discussing nesting birds.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Field-friendly bird sequence
Miscellaneous Landbirds

Pileated Woodpecker. Beaverton, Oregon. February 4, 2012 by Greg Gillson.

The 13 categories of North American birds listed in the Field-friendly bird sequence: Part II are:

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

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

Pigeons, cuckoos, kingfisher, woodpeckers, jays and crows make up this category of odds-and-ends. It seems that no matter what alternative one uses to classify birds, there are always some that don't seem to fit with others. These are generally larger birds; they don't have musical songs; and don't fit into the previous categories we discussed. Most are fairly distinctive and familiar--even to non-birders.

Rock Pigoen
Rock Pigeon. Portland, Oregon. February 19, 2011 by Greg Gillson.

Belted Kingfisher. Forest Grove, Oregon. November 6, 2004 by Greg Gillson.

Black-billed Magpie. Frenchglen, Oregon. May 25, 2009 by Greg Gillson.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Where should I go birding in September?

Fall migration is in full swing. Unlike spring, fall migration is more relaxed... and the weather's better. Plus, the number of birds is doubled as the young-of-the-year--both local residents and distant migrants--join their parents at your favorite patch.

If you've never been to Malheur NWR, in SE Oregon in September, perhaps you should check it out. For one thing, there are far fewer biting mosquitoes and flies in fall than in spring and summer. It may be a good time to drive up the Steens Mountain to see if you can find Black Rosy Finches. One of my favorite memories from fall at Malheur was having a picnic lunch on the lawn at Headquarters while a vagrant Brown Thrasher hopped nearby on the lawn.

Where are you planning on watching birds in the coming month and what species do you hope to see there? Are you a field trip organizer? We want to hear what you offer (fee or free). Leave your response in the Comments section as ideas for others.

Birding festivals:

Puget Sound Bird Festival
September 7-9, 2012
Edmonds, Washington

Chelan Ridge Hawk Migration
Saturday, September 8, 2012
Pateros, Washington

Saturday, August 11, 2012

eBird best practices
Accurately track distance and time

In September 2010 the eBird developers wrote: "As we develop eBird, we're continually walking the line between building better tools that birders want to use, while maintaining our focus on collecting useful scientific data in the process."

All data submitted to eBird is valuable. However, when you combine your bird list and species numbers seen with effort--distance traveled and time spent--you make eBird data the most valuable it can be. These effort-based observations allow eBird to make the frequency and abundance charts that are such an informative part of the "Explore Data" function of eBird.

Estimate how far you walked to the best of your ability. Keep track of when you start and stop. Add that to your bird list and you've got it! If it isn't convenient to do it every time you submit a checklist to eBird, just do it when you can--every little bit makes eBird data that much better!

For more information read the eBird post: Effort-based observations enable powerful data analysis.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Molt in American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch
American Goldfinch on teasel. May 2, 2012, Forest Grove, Oregon.
I have heard--on more than one occasion--that American Goldfinches got their bright yellow spring "breeding" plumage from abrasion of their darker "winter" plumage attained in the fall. But this is wrong.

The American Goldfinch has a spring molt from the tan basic (non-breeding) plumage in the fall to the bright yellow alternate (breeding) plumage. This molt strategy is called Complex Alternate. (The "complex" part means that after the juvenile plumage there is another molt not repeated in later molt cycles.)

A 1977 article in Condor says that "the prenuptial molt of the body plumage is unique to the American Goldfinch." It explains: "other cardueline species acquire the breeding aspect through abrasion."

What this means is that all other cardueline species--finches, other goldfinches and siskins, rosy-finches, and crossbills, evening and pine grosbeaks (but not rose-breasted, black-headed, or blue grosbeaks, which are in the cardinal family)--have only one molt per year, in the autumn. This molt strategy is called Complex Basic. Every fall they molt from basic to basic with no change in plumage pattern or color, other than fresh new feathers.

From reading Steve Howell's book on molt, though, some Lesser Goldfinches also have a Complex Alternate molt strategy--at least in the SW deserts.

American Goldfinches, and Lesser Goldfinches in the SW deserts, delay breeding until August. Thus they have enough time to have a prealternate molt before the breeding season.

An explanation of the process is a bit complicated, but the results are spectacular!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Evening Grosbeak, ABA's Bird of the Year 2012

Every May when the maple trees flower in western Oregon, flocks of Evening Grosbeaks descend to lowland backyards to eat the blossoms and newly forming seeds. At times, hundreds of birds may quickly empty the bird feeders of black oil sunflower seeds. Despite their locust-plague-like arrival at the feeders, they are so active and cheerful, and presence usually so brief, that all backyard bird feeding enthusiasts I know love hosting Evening Grosbeaks each spring. During the rest of the year, only small numbers of Evening Grosbeaks may show up occasionally at feeders.

These large finches are found throughout the year in the conifer forests. Flocks of nomadic birds follow the ripening cone crops, appearing for a brief time and then moving on.

Evening Grosbeak female
Evening Grosbeak female

The females, like the one shown above, have a bold black and white patterned wing. Even thought the body color is primarily gray, the subtle coloration and yellowish "shawl" over the neck is quite attractive.

I think of the males, not as yellow with dark heads but, rather, as a smokey blackish-brown fading gradually to yellow on the the lower breast and belly. The white secondaries against the rest of the black wing, create quite an impressive wing patch--both overhead in flight and at rest.

The common call is a rather loud slightly descending (or rising) whistled chirping: "cheer," or "chree" either clear or buzzy. Birds seem to give these calls constantly. Flocks flying over the forest canopy or through a residential neighborhood are quickly given away by the chorus of calls.

Evening Grosbeak male
Evening Grosbeak male
Is it just me, or does the head of the male Evening Grosbeak look an awfully lot like the football helmet insignia of the Minnesota Vikings--the yellow blaze appearing quite similar to the horns, and the thick bill reminiscent of the face mask? That bird in the back above looks like a linebacker ready to sack the quarterback. Ok, maybe not. Must just be getting close to football season....

The Evening Grosbeak is the American Birding Association's 'bird of the year' for 2012. Though formed primarily to cater to birders most interested in listing and rare birds, the association is now making a concerted effort to involve all birders, of all levels. You should check it out.

To learn more about the Evening Grosbeak, the American Birding Association, and the Bird of the Year program, click on the ABA BOY insignia below.
ABA Bird of the Year

Friday, August 3, 2012


Canada Goose chick
Canada Goose. May 29, 2012. Forest Grove, Oregon.

Even if Canada Geese have become pests in some areas, they can still be cute. There were actually two chicks hiding under mother's wing. Only this one was brave enough to peek out at the world.

Monday, July 30, 2012

A Tale of Two Nests

Nests of Brandt's Cormorant and Double-crested Cormorant
Nesting cormorants--upper left Double-crested; lower right Brandt's.
Photographed at Newport, Oregon on July 21, 2012 by Greg Gillson

Take a close look at the cormorant's nests. Do you note that they are constructed differently?

According to The Audubon Encyclopedia of North American Birds, the Brandt's Cormorant (lower right in front) builds a nest of marine plants, mosses, and grasses in a circular nest. On the right hand side of the upper piling are two fuzzy brown Brandt's Cormorant chicks.

On the left side of the upper piling is a nest of Double-crested Cormorant. Notice that is is built of "sticks and weed stems, lined with leafy twigs and grass."

There is actually a third species, Pelagic Cormorant in this photo. See the dark form up on the bridge just above the upper right hand Brandt's Cormorant? That's where they build their nests. On natural substrates they build nests on "remote and precipitous cliffs" of seaweed, grass, and rubbish.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Xantus, Scripps, and Guadalupe

Scripps's Murrelet. 2007 off Newport, Oregon by Greg Gillson.
The American Ornithologists' Union this month split Xantus's Murrelet into two species (see my Oregon Seabirds blog article: Guadalupe and Scripps's Murrelet).

The origins of these names are not all that familiar to birders. Who were Xantus and Scripps? And where is Guadalupe?

John Xantus (1825-1894) fled to the United States from Hungary in 1851, escaping the unsuccessful war of independence from Austria. Soon he joined the US army, stationed in Riley, Kansas. There he developed an interest in natural history (in that age this evidently meant shooting mammals and birds, and collecting eggs and plants for museums). In California he collected "massive amounts of materials," including many fishes, for Spencer F. Baird at the Smithsonian. He made an expedition to Baja California, Mexico, in 1859, using Cabo San Lucas at the very tip of the peninsula as his base for collecting. (See also this biography of John Xantus). Xantus's described to science the murrelet that came to be named for him. Xantus also collected the hummingbird named for him by George Newbold Lawrence. Fifty-two species of plants, molluscs, lizards, insects, birds, and fishes were named for him. Xantus described to science many birds including Hammond's Flycatcher, Spotted Owl, and Cassin's Vireo (The Audubon Encyclopedia of North American Birds. 1980. John K. Terres.). Xantus eventually returned to Budapest, Hungary as a naturalist.

The murrelet type that Xantus originally described breeds primarily on Guadalupe Island, or Isla Guadalupe, about 150 miles west of Baja California, Mexico, and about 250 miles SW of Ensenada. (See Biology and conservation of Xantus's Murrelet in Marine Ornithology. 2006. Carter et al.).

In 1939 Green and Arnold described two forms of Xantus's Murrelets, including one breeding on Anacapa Island, California. They named the type specimen for Robert P. Scripps, on whose yacht they traveled to visit Anacapa. The Scripps family made their fortune in the newspaper industry in the Midwest, and most retired to San Diego. In 1903 E.W. Scripps and his older half sister, noted philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps, provided funds to help create the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California.

Recent research has discovered that both the Guadalupe and Scripps's Murrelets breed on the San Benito Islands without significant interbreeding. They have different calls and different facial markings. And now they are considered separate species.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Field-friendly bird sequence

Barn OwlBarn Owl, Hillsboro, Oregon, 22 October 2009 by Greg Gillson.


The 13 categories of North American birds listed in the Field-friendly bird sequence: Part II are:

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

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

Raptors are birds of prey that hunt other birds and animals. They have strong beaks and claws. Many can be seen soaring high overhead, while others hunt low from a concealed perch.

Raptors include vultures, hawks and eagles, falcons, and owls.

Bald EagleBald Eagle, Tualatin River NWR, Sherwood, Oregon, 6 July 2010 by Greg Gillson.


Peregrine FalconPeregrine Falcon, Hillsboro, Oregon, 29 April 2010 by Greg Gillson.


Turkey VultureTurkey Vulture, Newport, Oregon, 12 September 2008 by Greg Gillson.


Red-tailed HawkRed-tailed Hawk, Hillsboro, Oregon, 6 December 2008 by Greg Gillson.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Where should I go birding in August?

 Hot and dry. That is August in the Pacific Northwest. Thus, birding in late summer is often concentrated around finding water where birds concentrate.

Even more than July, birding in August revolves around shorebirds at quickly-drying inland marshes and high tide roosts along the coast.

Another cool location is the high mountains. Access to alpine areas in August may provide you with views of many birds moving upslope to cooler wetter areas. It has been several years now, but I love camping in the park-like pondersoa forests on the east slope of the Cascades and making day trips to various surrounding areas to find wonderful birds amid snow-capped mountains and blue skies. Use the Oregon Cascades Birding Trail brochure as your guide.

If you want to get away from the heat, a pelagic trip at this time of year is often cool and frequently misty--at least in the mornings. Trips offshore at this time of year feature Long-tailed Jaegers, Sabine's Gulls, Arctic Terns, and Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels, along with the regulars like Black-footed Albatross, Pink-footed Shearwater, and Rhinoceros Auklets.

I'll be attending the 26th annual Oregon Shorebird Festival, August 24-26. The Bird Guide, Inc. will be hosting the pelagic trip for the Shorebird Festival, something we've been doing for several years now (sorry; no more spaces available!). The Friday and Saturday night presentations are top notch. Friday's speaker is Noah Strycker, speaking about his Antarctic adventures: "Among Penguins." Noah has subsequently completed walking the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada. He's been busy! The field trips are led by knowledgeable and friendly local birders. Dawn Grafe, with the US Fish & Wildlife Service, has ably and cheerfully organized this Festival for several years. Attendance is only 60-100 persons. You shouldn't miss it!

Where are you planning on watching birds in the coming month and what species do you hope to see there? Are you a field trip organizer? We want to hear what you offer (fee or free). Leave your response in the Comments section as ideas for others.

Birding festivals:

Southwest Wings Birding and Nature Festival
August 1-4, 2012
Sierra Vista, Arizona

Oregon Shorebird Festival
August 24-26, 2012
Charleston, Oregon

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Wrentits in northern Willamette Valley

This spring and summer there have been several scattered reports of Wrentits in NW Oregon outside their historic range. Could the sightings and heard-only reports be correct? Possibly. On the other hand some might just be weather balloons.

Reports have come from North Portland, Sauvie Island Wildlife Management Area, Hagg Lake, and Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge. Thus far, all these reports from well-birded areas are unverified--descriptions are incomplete and others can't find them the same or next day. That's a problem for me. I'll tell you why.

Wrentits are sedentary to the extreme. Their home ranges are a tiny 2-1/2 acres--a few hundred feet across. Pairs of birds mate for life and are never far apart (Terres, 1980. The Audubon Encyclopedia of North American Birds). Both sexes sing throughout the year--a very loud and unique bouncing ball whistled trill. On the rare occasions when birds have been found pioneering new areas they are rather easily and repeatably detected.

The range of Wrentit in Oregon hasn't changed all that much in 200 years. Historically, they were found along the immediate coastline in salal bushes under the scrubby shore (lodgepole) pine, from California to the Columbia River. They have never crossed the Columbia into the state of Washington, even though regular on the Oregon side of the mouth of the river. In winter they sometimes can be found a few miles inland into clearcuts. They also occur in the SW area of the state near Medford in low-elevation chaparral of the Rogue Valley, and in low numbers into the Klamath Basin.

Recently (the past 50 years or so), their inland population has inched northward through the Umpqua Valley to the eastern edges of the southern Willamette Valley in Lane County. A population has also crawled northward on the western edge of the Willamette Valley, from Finely NWR near Corvallis in the 1970's to Grand Ronde of Yamhill County.

There are three known isolated outposts north and east of this range. Birds were detected in the late 1990's near Lebanon. Birds this century colonized the Sandy River delta near Gresham. Birds recently arrived at Minto Browns Island Park in Salem. Especially is this last location hard to fathom. Birds either hopped across miles of city streets or somehow crossed the Willamette River. This from a species that refuses to come out of cover and is loathe to cross a single lane dirt road!

Of course, birds had to get to these new outposts by crossing miles of unsuitable and even dangerous (for a Wrentit) habitat. Thus it is possible that some of this year's out-of-range reports may be correct. I take comfort in my present skepticism, knowing that if birds really are present at these new locations they won't stay undetected for long.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

eBird best practices
Add comments for rare birds

One of the great things about eBird is the data quality standard and review of unusual bird reports.

When submitting a checklist to eBird you are asked to verify unusual sightings. Perhaps there was a typo and you accidentally entered a high number or wrong species. However, don't just mark the checkbox verifying the entry is correct as you intended--give a reason.

You see, every time the automatic filters indicate you saw an unusually high number or unusual species, a real person reviews your list. Rather than waiting for the Reviewer to send you an email asking for more details, provide the details in the comments for any species that eBird flags as unusual. If you don't provide comments in your checklist and then don't respond to the eBird Reviewer's email request for more information, Reviewers have no choice but to invalidate your record.

Now it may be that the number you saw was just barely over the threshold, or the species is generally rare but your bird is a known rarity. In this case the Reviewer will simply verify your sighting from within eBird and your record gets accepted to the pubic database.

Whenever possible, the Reviewer is a local expert on the birds of the area. If they deem that your sighting is unusual enough, they will want more details. Plumage, behavior, habitat, songs and calls all help verify a locally rare species. Provide as much information as you can. Of course, digital photos are ubiquitous these days. Even a blurry photo from your camera-phone can help establish the identity of a species.

On the other hand, perhaps the species is expected, but in much lower numbers than you reported. Explain any reason for unusually high numbers.

Now the filter settings aren't perfect. The Reviewer is able to change the settings to more accurately reflect reality. If you think a species or high number is being flagged too sensitively, add a note to that effect to your comments as the Reviewer will read it. On the other hand, if you entered a bird you thought rare, but the filter accepted it without challenge, then you might also drop an email line to your Reviewer.

Reviewers are assigned by counties, though most reviewers are responsible for more than one county. They can help you with ID questions, status and distribution. They are a good resource for you to learn the local birds. They may suggest that you saw a more common bird. But remember, no one can change your records but you.

So, what happens if the Reviewer doesn't overturn the automatic filters and accept your report?

Firstly, the acceptance or not of a reported bird is not a reflection of you as a person or as a skilled birder. It doesn't mean you didn't actually see the bird you reported. It does mean that the bird was unexpected and you provided insufficient documentation to sway the decision. I have invalidated my own records when entering lists of birds from years long past because of lack of written details in my notes about an unlikely species.

Secondly, your list of species is always available to you, whether correctly identified or not, whether the Reviewer validated it or not. Remember, all records stay in the system and can be reviewed again. Invalidated records can be accepted and accepted birds can be reviewed and invalidated later.

What will happen though, is that your invalidated record will not appear on the public eBird maps and bar charts for abundance and frequency. Your records are available, though, to researchers, along with the Reviewer's comments, so they can make their own decisions.

I hope this provides some insight into the data quality of eBird and how providing comments on your checklist can save time and effort and help a Reviewer come to a good decision about flagged records.

More information:

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Nesting Western Bluebirds

There is just something special about Western Bluebirds. Whether I see them in rural farmlands or mountain clearcuts, they are always a joy to see. They are small and unassuming.They have a soft, cat-like "mew" or "bew" call. Even though the males are blue with rusty breasts, the colors aren't gaudy.The female's colors are even more muted. Everything about this bird is understated.

Several local birders noted the presence of these birds this spring in a clearcut along a logging road in the Coast Range above Hagg Lake, west of Portland, Oregon. While I was primarily looking for forest species like Hermit Warblers, Gray Jays, and Sooty Grouse, I spent some time watching the bluebirds and finally noted where they flew up to a snag at the edge of the forest. There they had a nest in an old woodpecker hole. These photos were taken May 29, 2012.

A couple of years ago I wrote a post on Western Bluebirds in the Willamette Valley and how they've made a remarkable recovery since the low point in their population about 40 years ago.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Field-friendly bird sequence
Chicken-like Birds

Ring-necked PheasantRing-necked Pheasant, Harney Co., Oregon, 27 May 2007 by Greg Gillson.


The 13 categories of North American birds listed in the Field-friendly bird sequence: Part II are:

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

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

Chicken-like game birds are well-known to all. Small bills, strong legs, and plump bodies are typical.

Chicken-like birds include grouse and quail, pheasants and turkeys.

California QuailCalifornia Quail, Malheur NWR, Harney Co., Oregon, 24 May 2009 by Greg Gillson.


Ring-necked PheasantRing-necked Pheasant, Malheur NWR, Harney Co., Oregon, 24 May 2009 by Greg Gillson.


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Where should I go birding in July?

July usually has pleasant warm weather in the Pacific NW. It's one of my favorite times to visit the high Cascades. Those master singers, Hermit Thrushes, give their symphonic flute music in the pre-sunrise forest gloom. And I could search burns in the high alpine forests for Black-backed and American Three-toed Woodpeckers.

Amazingly, adult shorebirds are already coming back from the Arctic. Nesting duties done, the adults start back for their wintering grounds. The juvenile birds will spend a few more weeks feeding on the abundant insects in the Arctic. Then they, too, will head south, guided only by instinct, and join the adults on some Central American beach or marsh.

If it gets too hot inland, I will head to the cold foggy beach. The Brown Pelicans and Heermann's Gulls undertake a post-breeding reverse migration of sorts. After they breed in Baja, they come north along the coast to feed in the rich waters of the California current, north to British Columbia, before heading back south in November.

There seems to be no bird festivals held in July in the Pacific NW.

Those are my ideas. What about you? Where will you be going in July? Where do you recommend?

Are you a field trip organizer? We want to hear what you offer (fee or free). Leave your response in the Comments section as ideas for others.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Those cursed Yellow-headed Blackbirds!

This spring saw an unprecedented migration of Yellow-headed Blackbirds into my home county in NW Oregon. There were Yellow-headed Blackbirds everywhere I went this spring!

It's true. They were seen just before I got to the wetlands.... They were seen moments after I left.... Sometimes both. And sometimes they were even seen at the same time I was there, but across the marsh!

I knew it was bad when a non-birding "friend" text-messaged me:
Saw my first yellow headed blackbird here @ Tualatin Refuge... I didn't even know yellow head blackbirds were in Oregon.
Then the next day:
Oh Greg... Wish you were here @ Fernhill... Guess what I saw? I had my cam this time. Can't believe back to back days for this... Cool.
Sure, Byron, rub it in.

I chased reported Yellow-headed Blackbirds at Tualatin River NWR, at Fernhill Wetlands, at Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve. My mistake might have been not chasing the 2 birds reported at Emma Jones for several days in April--even if this wetlands park is officially closed to the pubic....

Yellow-headed Blackbirds are rather common marsh birds west of the Mississippi and south of the boreal forests, wintering to southern Mexico. However, in the Pacific NW they are common in the Great Basin lakes, but not so much west of the Cascades. We discussed this bird in What is that black bird with the yellow head? back in July 2009.

It's not like I haven't seen Yellow-headed Blackbirds before--even in my home county. But it has been a couple of years. But my birding this spring was making good progress at seeing most of the expected annual migrants. I didn't want to miss an "easy" one. Besides, eBird tells me that Steve and Joe keep pushing ahead of me in county year bird species this spring.

April and May came and went, and reports of Yellow-headed Blackbirds ceased. So I gave up. However, on the final day of May I finally saw a Yellow-headed Blackbird! It wasn't a very close bird. It wasn't a bright adult; it was a first year male. But I managed a documentation photo (translation: really bad photo).

Monday, June 11, 2012

eBird best practices
Use the Hotspots

The concept of a "hotspot" in eBird is fairly simple and powerful, but sometimes eBirders are confused by exactly what it means and what it does.

A hotspot is simply a public birding area. It must be publicly accessible and a place where more than one birder frequents. It can be a park or refuge, a beach or wetlands--anywhere known to birders as a specific location to stop and watch birds. Note that it does not require the location to have lots of birds. In fact, it could be a place where birders stop for a single species.

All observations submitted by all observers at a hotspot are pooled, and you can view the weekly abundance and frequency bar charts for this one area just as you would for a state or county. Thus, to add to the data you would choose the hotspot off the map when submitting your list. You can then have these hotspots available in your "My locations" list of personal birding locations.

Be careful, though! If there is a hotspot for "Birder's Park," yet you create your own personal location in "Birder's Park," eBird does not combine them. This could happen if you were the first to submit a list to "Birder's Park" as a personal location, and someone later recommended it as a hotspot. Thus, if you bird a public area that is not already a hotspot, you should "recommend" the location be a hotspot when you submit your list.

If you find (by exploring data maps) that you have a personal location ("Birder's Park") but that there is also a public hotspot for the same area, you can edit and merge your checklists for that location into the hotspot. Here's how:
1) Go to "My eBird"
2) "Manage My Locations"
3) Find your location on the list of your locations and "Edit"
4) "Merge" with a location on the map

More on eBird hotspots.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Empid ID in 3 easy steps

I don't need to tell you that flycatchers of the genus Empidonax--Empids--rarely look like the images in the field guide. Humans naturally put more emphasis on color and the face when first trying to identify a bird. That will lead you down the wrong path when it comes to identifying Empids. The bird above is identifiable anywhere in North America just by what you can see in the photo above.  In fact, this bird is in the perfect position for identification purposes! That's a good thing because that's how you often see these birds--above you in the forest gloom, strongly back lighted. Such conditions are the photographer's nightmare, as these poor photos show!

First, of course, you have to identify it as a flycatcher--big head, wide flat bill, upright posture, sits still for a long time then sallies out to catch an insect and then often returns to the same perch. Once you have identified your mystery bird as some type of tyrant flycatcher--the world's most numerous family of birds with over 400 species--your work really begins!

Empids are tiny flycatchers. They are larger than a kinglet, of course, but equal or smaller than a junco, depending upon species. They are drab olive or gray, with obvious white wingbars and an eyering (not strongly marked in the Willow Flycatcher). In the shade the belly often looks yellowish and the upperparts of most species have a greenish cast. But that hint of color often disappears in direct sunlight.

Let's take a closer look at the bird above.

The end of the secondary stack (A) on Empids is obvious from nearly all angles. The primaries (B) stick out from under them. On Empids with short primary extension A and B above would be nearly together. Thus, this bird has long primary extension. Only one-third of the Empids in North America have long primary extension.

[Please note that long primary extension is related to, but not the same thing as, long winged, which is a comparison of how far down the tail the primary tips extend; in other words, B to the end of the tail. You can use that measure, too, but don't get these two different wing comparisons mixed up.]

Next on to the bill. No, I didn't misdraw an arrow pointing to the bill. The line at C in the photo above is parallel to the bill to show how straight the edges of the bill are. Many Empids have strongly convex bills, bulging in the middle. The sides of the bill of this bird is very straight compared to most others in North America. In addition, the mandible on this bird is rather short, and thin at the base compared to other Empids.

Now you can look at the color of the bill. It is mostly dark underneath. Only one species of Empid in North America has more than half dark lower mandibles. Many species have orangish or yellowish or pinkish under-mandibles, some with dark tips of varying extent.

That's it. A-B-C. 1-2-3. Primary extension, bill shape, lower mandible color pattern.

In the Pacific Northwest:
Long primary extension: Hammond's Flycatcher
Long to medium primary extension: Western Flycatcher (Pacific-slope/Cordilleran)
Short to medium primary extension: Least Flycatcher
Short primary extension: Willow Flycatcher, Dusky Flycatcher, Gray Flycatcher

Straight sides to narrow, short bill: Hammond's Flycatcher
Straight sides to narrow, medium length bill: Dusky Flycatcher
Straight sides to narrow, long bill: Gray Flycatcher
Convex sides to wide, short bill: Least Flycatcher
Convex sides to wide, long bill: Western Flycatcher, Willow Flycatcher

Mostly dark lower mandible: Hammond's Flycatcher
Mostly pale lower mandible with dark tip up to 1/3 of length: Least Flycatcher, Dusky Flycatcher
Mostly pale lower mandible with small dark tip: Gray Flycatcher
Mostly or entirely pale lower mandible: Western Flycatcher, Willow Flycatcher

Once you get these first three items categorized, you can go on to other supporting characters such as throat color (yellow, gray, or white) and contrast with breast, eyering shape and color, head shape, tail bobbing or wing-flicking behavior. But if you don't start with the 3 essential ID characters explained above, the other more subjective marks can throw you off. Once you get a wrong first impression based on one of these supporting characters it is very hard to come back to the correct identification on your own!

Of course, on the breeding grounds these birds are incessant morning singers. and it is so much easier to hear these birds than get a good look!

I photographed this Hammond's Flycatcher on June 1, 2012 in the northern Oregon Coast Range at Reeher Camp near the town of Timber.

And now, because I know you really do want to see the face, I present this same bird. Here's looking at you, kid!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Beautiful Birds of Prey Come Back to Skamania Lodge for the Summer

By Skamania Lodge
Summertime is a great season to get outdoors and see many bird varieties up close, including fierce and beautiful raptors. With the beautiful Columbia River Gorge as a backdrop, guests and visitors to Skamania Lodge can observe first hand some of the most magnificent birds in the world and learn about the important role they play in the environment. The Birds of Prey Program is back and will take place every weekend this summer from June 15th through August 25th.

Barn OwlShow times are scheduled for: 5 p.m. on Friday and 11 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. on Saturday. For exact start times, it is recommended that attendees check the Lodges’ online event calendar at:

This is the third year Skamania Lodge has offered the Birds of Prey Program. Guests and day visitors are invited to the Front Lawn of the Lodge to learn the natural history, stewardship and the importance of these amazing creatures in the environment. Volunteers from the Raptor House Rehab Center in Yakima, Wash., captivate audiences with up to eight different raptors, including a bald eagle, barn owl and a ferruginous hawk.

Ferruginous HawkRaptor House is a nonprofit organization that rescues injured wild birds and returns them to the wild. At the Raptor House Rehabilitation Center, the birds receive care from local vets who donate their services and medication. The birds are then placed in flight pens by appropriate species for exercise and recuperation. Once ready, the birds are released in the same location they were found in or a location designated by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The Birds of Prey Program is one of many outdoor activities guests can experience while staying at Skamania Lodge, which is situated in the heart of the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area. There are a multitude of sporting and recreational activities that can be enjoyed right on Skamania Lodge property such as golf, tennis, basketball, volleyball, croquet, biking and hiking. For those who want to experience the natural wonders of the Columbia Gorge, offsite adventures can be arranged through the Lodge’s concierge. These include white water rafting, hiking, climbing, biking, windsurfing, kayaking, fishing and Sternwheeler cruises on the Columbia River.

1131 SW Skamania Lodge Way, Stevenson, WA 98648