Monday, March 25, 2013

Field-friendly bird sequence
Sparrow and Finch-like Songbirds

Sage Sparrow
Sage Sparrow, Malheur NWR, Oregon, May 26, 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.

There are many sparrow and finch-like birds. Many grosbeaks, finches, and buntings are quite colorful. Some of the females, however, are streaky and brown--as are many of the sparrows. All share a thicker conical beak for eating seeds. Many are familiar backyard and feeder birds.

Longspurs, sparrows, weavers, finches, buntings, juncos, and others make up this varied group.

Lapland Longspur
Lapland Longspur, Newport, Oregon, September 14, 2008 by Greg Gillson.

Black-headed Grosbeak
Black-headed Grosbeak, Forest Grove, Oregon, August 12, 2009 by Greg Gillson.

Lazuli Bunting
Lazuli Bunting, Hillsboro, Oregon, July 6, 2007 by Greg Gillson.

Spotted Towhee
Spotted Towhee, Beaverton, Oregon, February 19, 2011 by Greg Gillson.

House Finch
House Finch, Bend, Oregon, June 13, 2008 by Greg Gillson.

American Goldfinch
American Goldfinch, Forest Grove, May 2, 2012 by Greg Gillson.

House Sparrow
House Sparrow, Beaverton, Oregon, February 16, 2011 by Greg Gillson.

Monday, March 18, 2013

eBird best practices
Be an eBird advocate: Share your lists!

I started eBirding just over 2 years ago. eBird, as a phenomenon, is probably unprecedented. I rank eBird right up there in importance to birding with Peterson's first field guide, email birding lists, and the recent abundance of low-cost powerful digital cameras.

How can I best share eBird with others? One way is that when I go birding with others I send them the eBird checklist by means of a "share." When they accept the shared list it adds the birds to their eBird lists. If they haven't signed up for eBird yet, perhaps my shared list will entice them to do so. After all, it is simply a name, location, and email to join the eBird community.

When leading a pelagic trip I use best practices to create smaller-area lists (harbor, near shore, 5-20 miles, and chum stop as separate lists). Then I share the lists and all observers then have their list show on the map at the same location flag, rather than a dozen lists in slightly different places, if they submitted their lists on their own.

Is there a way you can share your lists or otherwise become an eBird advocate?

I'm an eBirder. Are you?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Thank you, Joseph, Oregon!

Joseph, Oregon sits below the Wallowa Mountains
Joseph sits over the rise below these Wallowa Mountains. February 2, 2013 by Greg Gillson (camera phone).

Last month I visited Joseph, Oregon. The "excuse" was a rare Siberian bird called a Little Bunting. Though I and most others who chased this bunting in the remote NE corner of Oregon never saw the rare bird, we had a good time and saw other winter specialty birds of the area.

You are to be excused if you have never heard of Joseph, Oregon. It has a population of barely 1000 and is quite isolated in the corner of Oregon next to Idaho and Washington state. This rural community feels the impact of the economy like most other small towns that formerly relied on agriculture, stock animals, and timber. But it has reinvented itself as an artistic location for bronze works. The city also sponsors four festivals, July-October: a rodeo in July, Bronze, Blues, and Brews in August, Alpenfest in September, and an Oktoberfest.

Rather than a closed community wary of outsiders, Joseph is friendly and welcoming--even to forty or more birders per day that descended upon the town during the first couple of weeks following the report of the Little Bunting.

The area where the Little Bunting was seen was in the middle of the residential area of town, maybe 6 blocks long and 3 blocks wide. Most of the side streets had 3-4 inches of snow on them. Birders would spread out and wander from one backyard feeder to the other in an effort to locate birds, keeping an eye out for the bird.

As I walked down the snow-covered residential street with my binoculars and camera dangling from my neck I heard: "Have you seen the bunting?" This was the greeting I received several times over the course of 2 days. The greeting wasn't from other anxious birders searching in vain. No, it was from local residents, pulling up in their vehicles beside me. Typically, I'd stay and talk with them 5-10 minutes--stopped in the middle of the road with their windows down. If I said the men were in flannel shirts and driving big pickups with country music on the radio, would that be stereotyping? Nevertheless, that's how most of the locals appeared. Traditionally, many birders tend to dress sloppily in layers and old beat-up cars--again a stereotype (however, in recent years there have appeared what might be called "Yuppie birders" with fancy clothes, cars, and expensive optics). There was a definite difference in cultures here--but a friendly one

"There's another bird feeder just down the street," or "My feeder is just down the street, be sure you stop by and look," or "I think I may have seen the bunting at my feeder a couple of day's ago, but I'm not sure." Friendly.

"Welcome birders!" read the sign on the coffee shop. As if we were an expected convention group or there for one of the town's festivals. Except for the coffee shop, the birders visiting during the two or three weeks following the Little Bunting sighting probably didn't bring much income to the town. Most restaurants, gas stations, and motels were 10 miles away in the larger town of Enterprise.

But with all the "no trespassing" signs and people who never greet you as you pass on the street in the major towns of western Oregon, this welcoming small town was a joy to visit. Thanks, you residents of Joseph, Oregon. It was a joy to meet you and your beautiful town.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Anna's Hummingbird territorial display

Anna's Hummingbird display
Anna's Hummingbird singing, Cooper Mountain Nature Park, Beaverton, Oregon. February 15, 2013 by Greg Gillson

Anna's Hummingbirds rival Great Horned Owls for earliest nesting bird in the Pacific Northwest. Unlike other hummingbirds, this resident year-round species is the only one regular in the United States in winter (a resident race of Allen's Hummingbird lives on the Santa Barbara islands group off southern California) Many Anna's Hummingbirds lay eggs in February in the Pacific NW. The males don't help with nesting duties or raising of the young. They are just "trophy husbands," providing a pretty face and some DNA for the next generation.

By mid winter the males are claiming territory for their "singing." These are the only North American hummingbirds that sing. The song is an insect-like buzzy noise: "beez-zee-zee-zeeb-zee," etc. from a high perch. It's kind of like some of the starling's buzzy, squeaky song notes, but reduced in size to a large insect.

I was so happy to find a male singing recently in some winter sun. The angle was just right for the black throat feathers to refract sunlight back in a metallic rosy hue and provide some great photos in a natural (non hummingbird feeder) setting.

Another male hummingbird flew into the blackberry tangle. It didn't quite have the full breeding gorget. So, perhaps it was a younger bird. It stayed quietly inside the protection of the tangle. The singing male became more agitated and flew and behaved in a stylized way.

The territorial bird rose quickly straight up 70 feet or more--nearly out of view, like it was on an elevator, levitating, keeping it's body level to the ground. Then it dove at high speed toward the ground and angled toward the interloper in a J-shaped flight. It made a popping squeak or chirp at the lowest point of its flight quite near the invading hummingbird. Then it continued up about 20 feet and hovered in place for about 3 seconds, completing the J-shaped flight path. Then it rose again and repeated the same display flight several times. I was able to get the photo below as it hovered briefly at the end of its J-flight.

Hovering Anna's Hummingbird
Hovering hummingbird in display flight.

The popping chirp noise in the display flight is probably made by the tail feathers. If I hadn't seen the bird and associated sound, I would not have known what it was. The sound was similar to the bark of a chipmunk or squirrel or even some kind of insect sound (if it was summer instead of winter).

At any rate, a sunny winter day, a great series of photos, and interesting behavior I had never observed before. Birding at it's best!

Singing Anna's Hummingbird
Victorious hummingbird has vanquished the interloper.