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.