Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Field-friendly bird sequence
Swimming Waterbirds

Canada GooseCanada Goose, Forest Grove, Oregon, 3 May 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 Swimming Waterbirds are those primarily web-footed birds most-frequently observed swimming. Oh, most are strong fliers, but they search for food while swimming and spend a great amount of time swimming and sometimes diving under the water.

Included families: geese, swans, ducks, loons, grebes, cormorants, coot, alcids.

Hooded MerganserHooded Merganser, Hillsboro, Oregon, 7 January 2010 by Greg Gillson.


Clark's GrebeClark's Grebe, Forest Grove, Oregon, 5 July 2010 by Greg Gillson.


Pelagic CormorantPelagic Cormorant, Newport, Oregon, 9 August 2008 by Greg Gillson.


American CootAmerican Coot, Forest Grove, Oregon, 7 February 2009 by Greg Gillson.


Tufted PuffinTufted Puffin, off Newport, Oregon, 10 August 2008 by Greg Gillson.

Monday, March 19, 2012

BirdsEye Bird Log: "Killer App" for eBirders!

In the 1980's and 90's technologists were looking for that "killer app"--that one program or application that people couldn't live without--that would make people buy computers. Spreadsheets, email and the World Wide Web certainly contended for the title of killer app. No one could have foreseen that the killer app of text messaging on a telephone--of all things!--would displace the personal computer!

Last week I turned in my pre-2000 Nokia cell phone ("candy bar" shape, external antenna, tiny monochrome LCD display, no games). It still works fine, the battery has never been replaced. I've never dropped or lost it. When it would ring I would joke that it must be a wrong number, which it was about 75% of the time. It lasted so long because I rarely used it. I didn't call or receive calls very often, and texting was so difficult that anything more than "ok" or "no" was all I usually replied--I never initiated a text message. It was just an emergency phone.

So what prompted me to buy the latest Andoid Smart Phone?

The BirdsEye Log eBird Application!

The BirdsEye Log app lets you enter your eBird checklists from the field, in real time. What's the big deal? The app uses GPS to find your location on the map with eBird hotspot locations and your personal locations shown. Select one of these or create a new location, with a name selected by Bird Log based on your location, or choose a name of your own.

Start the app when you begin birding and add species and numbers as you go. See more of a species already entered? No problem, either scroll down to the bird in the list and edit your number or add additional individuals by entering the additional numbers and the name again. Bird names auto-complete, but you can also use the bander's 4-letter code. This is quick and easy!

Some birders are even using the app to enter past trips, though I prefer the larger keyboard of my laptop and using the eBird web site.

This app is going to prompt you to enter more eBird checklists. It will locate precisely your incidental sightings. You're going to find yourself stopping randomly at good-looking habitat and making a quick 5 or 10 minute survey of birds. This app will make tracking multiple stops during your day's birding so much easier!

Amazingly, it will work even if you are out of range of any cell towers. Then just save the results and submit the checklists when you are back in range!

It is not perfect, of course. I suspect that it will not plot your midpoint for traveling transects. So you may have to move your plotted positions later. You cannot edit the position of previously submitted checklists from the app. You have to do that from the web interface for eBird. There are a couple other things that the app could use. Buy a car charger, because the app will be on longer and using the GPS feature of your phone, which uses battery power.

The Android version of BirdsEye Log has been out for a couple of months, with generally good reviews. The iPhone version is just out. Cost is $9.95, which I understand is a high price for Smart Phone apps. But I think it's worth it.

BirdsEye demo from the creators.

March 12, 2012 review by Scott Simmons.

February 9, 2012 review by Dan Tallman.

(BirdsEye Log entry screen image obtained from the Google Play marketplace for Android.)

Friday, March 16, 2012

Where should I go birding in April?

Spring migration starts slowly, but by the middle of April every day seems to bring in new species. Not only are there the first flycatchers, vireos, warblers, Western Tanagers, and Black-headed Grosbeaks, there are thousands of shorebirds coursing their way north on the outer beaches and mudflats and inland pond edges!

Where to go birding? It's so hard to decide!

One of the rather uncommon species to migrate through the Pacific NW in spring is the Solitary Sandpiper. Its spring migration window is very narrow, primarily the last week of April and first week of May. Its preferred habitat during this time is flooded farm fields, ditches, and shallow marshes.

A favorite place I like to go in April to view Solitary Sandpipers is Killin Wetlands, west of Portland 20 miles at Banks (C-3 on the Columbia Loop Guide of the Willamette Valley Birding Trail). Other target species here then include usually visible American Bittern, making their odd pumping noises, and clattering rails, both Sora and the Virginia's Rail.

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:

Olympic BirdFest
March 30-April 1, 2012
Sequim, Washington

John Scharff Migratory Bird Festival
April 12-15, 2012
Burns, Oregon

Birding and Blues Festival
April 13-15, 2012
Pacific City, Oregon

Godwit Days Spring Migration Bird Festival
April 19-25, 2012
Arcata, California

Dubois Grouse Days
April 27-28, 2012
Dubois, Idaho

Point Reyes Birding & Nature Festival
April 27-29, 2012
Point Reyes Station, West Marin, California

Sunday, March 11, 2012

eBird best practices
Keep locations separate and small

One of the key features of eBird is the ability to map birds by precise location. Thus, each time you change locations or habitats it is best to start a new list. Locations can be as small as you want. In general, traveling lists should be less than 5 miles. Carry a notebook and keep track of these smaller birding locations, and remember to record birding time and distance!

Instead of trip lists, divide your birding into discrete units. You may even want to divide up larger birding areas into discrete areas as well. For instance, Malheur NWR with 50 miles between some locations should be broken into smaller birding units. Separate your birding lists into Headquarters, The Narrows, Buena Vista, Benson Pond, P Ranch, Page Springs, Frenchglen, Diamond, Round Barn, etc. Any unusual species seen while traveling between stops can be recorded as a "Casual Observation," located exactly where you saw them.

More information on this topic can be found on the eBird site, Location! Location! Location!.

Read all posts about eBird

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Merlin at Tulelake

MerlinMerlin, Tulelake, California, 18 February 2012 by Greg Gillson.


More photos from the Winter Wings Festival in Klamath Falls, Oregon, last week, February 17-19, 2012. (See previous posts.)

After chasing the Common Redpoll in Tulelake, California, Brian Sullivan and I spotted this Merlin on a fencepost. Using the car as a blind, Brian drove while I photographed out the window.

Did you know that falcons have round nostrils? It's true! See the upper photo.

See a previous post on Merlin (Black Bullet.) The subspecies in this previous post is the Black Merlin (F. c. suckleyi), while the bird in today's photos is the Taiga Merlin (F. c. columbarius). The Prairie Merlin (F. c. richardsonii) is very pale.

Which photo do you like better?


MerlinMerlin, Tulelake, California, 18 February 2012 by Greg Gillson.


Thursday, March 1, 2012

The bill: an overview

The bill, or beak, of a bird assists them in eating. Different bills are best used for different kinds of foods and feeding methods. Specific scientific families of birds eat similar foods and have similarly shaped bills. Thus, the shape of the bill is key in beginning to identify a bird correctly.

For instance, Hutton's Vireo is a small green bird with an eyering and two wingbars. In plumage, habitats, and some behaviors, it is very similar to some Empidonax flycatchers, but the bills are quite different!

Again, beginners are sometimes confused by their first Spotted Towhee, thinking it must be related to the somewhat similar-looking American Robin. But one look at the bill and a birder in-the-know will quickly see that the bills are quite different, with the robin having a generalist bill and the towhee a seed eating bill.

Gulls and terns are similar and in the same family. However, the bills of terns are sharp-pointed, the bills of gulls are strongly hooked.

An American Goldfinch--bright yellow with a black cap--has a small conical seed eating bill. Carefully observing that, one would not confuse it with the insect eating bill of the Wilson's Warbler, also bright yellow with a black cap.

Every bill of a bird can be described using standard terminology. A birder should attempt to learn these terms and the correct meaning. In this regard a textbook on ornithology would be of great use.

Characters of the bill:

In addition, some birds have other features of the bill such as gular sacs, rictal bristles, nostrils in a fleshy cere or nostrils in a tube.

Here is a web site that may be helpful:
Bird External Anatomy from an ornithology course at Eastern Kentucky University.

Future posts will discuss bill shapes more specifically.
Artwork of bird beaks used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license (CC-BY-SA). Author: L. Shyamal.