Natural History Journey Begins

I having been birding for several years now and have gone through many phases of birding. From the learning phase to listing phase to Big Day phase to traveling phase and everything in-between. Except as readers know I skipped the “chasing” phase, which I sometimes regret because of the social aspects of “chasing”. But through every phase it was about birds. Well it’s time to make a change. And start what I’m calling the Natural History Journey.

Mike has often pointed out other natural things besides birds but I never took an interest. With my limited time in the field I wanted to spend as much of it as possible with birds. This on hindsight was probably wrong.

But it is time to make a change. Several things probably contributed to the need to change. Maybe Mike’s constant telling me to look in a certain tree for a bird and I didn’t know which one he meant. Or maybe recently seeing extinct species at the National Natural History Building. Or reading about the loss of land in our bird’s winter homes.

But probably the realization that all natural objects are related.

And I need to know what those objects are and how they interact.

Natural History Journey
Seriously, about the only relationship I know between a tree and bird are in the Midwest Yellow-throated Warblers breed by water with an abundance of Sycamore trees. A large Sycamore in my “backyard”.

 

A Yellow-throated Warbler obviously not on a Sycamore Tree. No light green, smooth bark. See, I’m already learning.

This blog’s focus will still primarily be on birding but will also discuss other organisms I discover on my Natural History Journey. Like trees, shrubs, butterflies, moths, insects, rocks, and anything else I find interesting in nature.

So bear with me if you already know these things and if not, hopefully I’ll peak you interest.

But first I have to return the “unnatural” rental car I used for work last week.

I should have checked at lunch…

The following probably would have made a good Facebook post. But as followers know I disdain a bird photo or species report without a story behind it. Even a few details to liven up the story. So I’m still going to do this as a blog post versus a FB post.

Most of my posts take between 1.5-2 hours. But this one is going to be similar to what I see on other blogs. Short and to the point. I have set the timer on the iPhone to 30 minutes and off I go. We’ll see if I think it holds up to my usual standards.

Yesterday morning wasn’t anything special. I worked on a future post concerning juncos in Colorado and headed off to work. Upon arriving I did the usual scan of the plant’s retaining (or is it retention??) pond. I have seen most of the expected waterfowl on the pond including a Red-necked Grebe during the outburst a couple of years ago.

Yesterday Morning I Added a New Species to the Pond

The scan produced 7 Greater-white Fronted Geese on the edge of the pond.  They were hanging out on the spot usually taken by the Canada Geese.

That’s right, just like a FB you are getting photos of the Greater White-fronted Geese from my iPhone. Did you miss my Birding Backpack post where I state I don’t carry my camera?

I watched them for a few minutes, getting an accurate count, and headed in to work.

And in the Afternoon I Added One More

Jump several hours later and I’m heading home. I scanned for the Greater White-fronted Geese but they weren’t to be seen. But to my surprise there was a little white goose!

A Ross’s Goose took me by surprise. But considering that geese are turning up everywhere this winter I shouldn’t be.
That’s right, why take the time to enlarge the photo when I can just stick it on the webpage? I was hoping the photo would show the size difference between the species.

Not everyday I can add a couple of species to my work list. Of course I don’t actively pursue my work list so it isn’t very large.

Now what if I had gone out and checked at lunch???

There I did it under 30 minutes. Of course that isn’t counting the time to get the photos from the phone to the blog. And no photo editing, proofreading, verb usage check, SEO check, highlighting, etc. Sorry if there are a few errors. I’ll stick to the longer format unless I think I have something someone else would like to chase.

Birding Backpack – What I Carry to the Field

BushWhackingBirder’s third most popular post describes my Birding Paraphernalia, the gadgets I carry in the field. Along those same lines I’ll review what I carry in my Birding Backpack.

First, I should state my definition of a Birding Backpack. A Birding Backpack is not a backpack used in the field, though it could in a pinch. It’s a backpack that’s always packed and ready to go.  Just pick it up and head out the door.

Birding Backpack
My Birding Backpack is ready to go!

Now some will argue you only need binoculars and maybe a notebook. I try to minimize my life but I’ve found I need a few more items than just binoculars. Thus the Birding Backpack.

I have used a Birding Backpack for several years. The time saved is what I most like about it. Especially on mornings I go owling. And that it ensures I don’t forget anything I’ll need on the day.

So what’s in my Birding Backpack?

Just the basics. I don’t want it ending up like the lady’s purses you see on TV. You know the kind that weigh 50 pounds and has everything.

No, my backpack is light and simple.

The sixteen items in my backpack. Which caught me off guard since I thought I had 8-10 things.
  1. Notebook
  2. Camera
  3. Field Guide
  4. Basic First Aid Items
  5. Utility Knife
  6. Extra Camera Batteries
  7. Extra Camera Memory Card
  8. Sunscreen
  9. Insect Repellent
  10. Orange Safety Vest
  11. Flashlight
  12. Extra Gloves
  13. Pens and Pencils
  14. Super Glue
  15. Compass
  16. Vaseline

Total Weight = 10 pounds

The list has been stable over the years. The only “recent” addition was the super glue after the 2014 Costa Rica trip. Several of the “What to take to the Tropics” lists said take super glue, so I did. And it stays in the backpack still unused.

You’ll notice binoculars are not on the list. They, along with my spotting scope, are always in the car just in case I come across something during the day.

Of course I add food and drink as needed for the day. They aren’t listed since they aren’t permanent parts of the backpack.

What should I discard from the backpack?

What am I missing?

Bushwhacking Birder Quick 2016 Recap

Since it appears to be a tradition for bloggers to pick their annual favorites, here is my 2016 recap on a few of my favorites.

2016 Recap – My 3 Favorite Photos

This might be the only White-eyed Vireos photo I ever get since they never sit up for photos. Johnson County Park 4/24/16
Mountain Bluebird – Fruita section of the Colorado River State Park – 12/7/16
Probably my new favorite species since I can never seem to see Carolina Wrens. Northern Flicker – Driftwood SFA – 7/25/16

2016 Recap – My 3 Favorite Adventures

London in April with my wife. What else to say?
An adventure I haven’t had time to post. American Dipper – Veltus Park, Glenwood Springs, CO 12/7/16
Far and away the best thing I did in 2016, two USGS North American Breeding Bird Surveys. Shelby County, IN 6/12/16

2016 Recap – My 3 Highest Viewed Blog Posts

In July I wrote a short post on The World’s Smallest Dove that continues to be viewed.
One of the first posts I wrote back in December 2013 which keeps getting viewed – The Laura Hare Preserve at Blossom Hollow.
2016 Recap
The winner by far this year was the October post on the Red-tailed Vulture I initially thought was a Red-tailed Hawk but was a Red-shouldered. Just proves people like the macabre.

2016 Recap – Best Blog Posts – Other Bloggers

I got this from a link in a blog post. Not the pretty side of birding – Rare Siberian Accentor attracts hundreds to Easington car park. Not noted here but I think this is the twitch where the crowd got ugly when they only got 10 minutes to view the bird.

A post by the Wanstead Birder was the funniest blog post I read all year – Rocking. I just kept laughing.

The last paragraph of the Birding dude ‘s post on the Tough Going For Birds Sharing The Beach At Cupsogue County Park sums up my feelings about the state of birds and birders. Enough said.

Bird Baldness Follow-up

I need to follow-up on the red-tailed vulture post from early October. I knew people, including myself, enjoy something a little different or odd. Like Bird Baldness. That was proven as this was far and away my most viewed blog post. It was linked to a couple of different sites including Facebook and that brought in additional views.

Species of Hawk

Since there were more views I received more responses. A couple which corrected me and clarified the species of hawk as a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk. In the field I original thought it was too small for a Red-tailed Hawk. But since it seemed to have problems I thought it was a smaller Red-tailed. I should have looked closer.

Raptors of North America has an excellent web page that shows the differences in the two hawks. After reading the webpage and looking at the photos, it was evident it was a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk.

rtha-head-4 Bird Baldness
The most evident field mark demonstrating it’s a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk are tail bands. Red-shouldered Hawks have fewer bands and the dark bands are wider than the light-colored bands. Red-tailed Hawks have more bands and the light-colored are wider.
rtha-head-6
Red-shouldered Hawks have brown streaks or spots on their chest as opposed to the Red-tailed Hawks belly bands. The spots are pretty evident once I looked.

Bird Baldness

Now onto possible problems with the head. I found a few websites that might have the answer. Most dealt with Blue Jays but I think the information applies to this hawk.

A couple of explanations:

  1. Juveniles undergoing their first prebasic molt.
  2. The baldness may result from feather mites, lice, or an environmental or nutritional factor.

On Cornell Lab’s Project Feeder Watch they have a good article describing unusual birds. Most of the bald birds reported are Blue Jays which “may be juveniles undergoing their first prebasic molt, which produces the first winter adult plumage.” Most of the birds grow their feathers back within a week.

The article goes on to state “If you notice a bald-headed bird of another species, it could be the result of an abnormal molt. Staggered feather replacement is the normal pattern for most birds.” That is what I think is going on with this hawk. I’ve been back a few times but haven’t encountered it. But I’ll keep checking and hopefully catch up to it.

If interested here are a few links concerning bird baldness. They each contain other links as well.

Nature Nut Lady

Tails of Birding

3 Years Old

The blog turns 3 this month.

birthday-3 3 years old

 

I know the way to accomplish something and to make it succeed is to be in sync with your audience. Which I’m not to a degree. I could probably have a larger audience if I chased and reported on the latest rare bird. Or spent more time getting good photos instead of enjoying birds. But that isn’t me.

 

We had just moved to Indiana when I started this blog. I had originally planned to start while we lived in Illinois but the decision to move delayed the start.

The timing worked out well as the intent of the blog then and still is to demonstrate that you can find most regional birds in a small radius of your home. If you just look.

So I had the chance to explore a new area and report on it.

Along those lines I rarely see change. Though I do occasionally see people like Greg of gregandbirds looking for shorebirds at a local athletic fields. But what I mostly see are people still birding the major spots in their areas or travel to other “good” spots. Maybe they are birding lesser known areas but it doesn’t show up on listservs or eBird. For a perspective I think is spot on check out Ven Remsen’s comment about eBird Hotspots in response to this ABA blog post.

I still wonder how many birds are out there but since people don’t seem to want to bushwhack (explore) their local territories we’ll probably never know. Most times it appears birders all congregate at the same area.

In 3 years of repeatedly birding the Atterbury FWA – Johnson County Park area I have seen 196 species. Throw in the rare visit to Eagle Creek and the number is closer to 205. The first three years of birding the Starved Rock area of Illinois I saw 218 species. The numbers are probably comparable since I saw 10 species of gulls plus all the regular terns and herons at Starved Rock. It can be done.

I understand people want to see birds. They go where birds are being reported. But the point is that you can see the vast majority of those same birds in your immediate area without much travel. I’m talking within 10-15 miles of most homes. If you just look.

Take the occasional trip to a different habitat in your state, country, the world. They’re fun and add to your understanding of birds. But for regional birds that much travel isn’t needed.

Sooner than later I’m going to have to address what I see as the shortcomings of eBird, Facebook, ABA, and other birding media. I think they have done more good than bad but all have a self-interest in perpetuating the idea you must drive and travel to see that elusive rare bird or work on building up a huge life list. Which I think in the long run does more harm than good.

Do you know the closest spot to see find the different regional species?

Undertail Patterns – Useful for ID

I’m basically a generalist. There are few things which I want to become an “expert”. When it comes to birding I want to know the key points, including status and distribution, to be able to positively ID a species. But I don’t spend hours going over molt and plumage. One of the things I do periodically review to help ID species is undertail patterns, especially on Warblers.

Last Saturday I met up with Mike and we basically caught up on the week because there weren’t any migrants moving at the local park. Just quiet. As were my next couple of stops. I made a final quick stop at Atterbury before the rains of the afternoon hit. The last two weeks Mike and I had commented on not hearing Indigo Buntings for some time.

INBU
My first sighting of an Indigo Bunting in over 3 weeks. Even in the rain the ID is pretty straightforward. Unlike the next species. Atterbury FWA 8/27/16

As the rain started in earnest I was getting back in the car when a small yellow bird went flying into a nearby tree.

I initially thought from the size and coloring it was a Yellow Warbler since they breed in good numbers in this area. But the eye seemed a little too big. Could it be a Wilson’s Warbler?

This is where Undertail Patterns come into play

WIWA (1)
From this view I’m still not sure of the species. Atterbury FWA 8/27/16

I first came across the importance of Undertail Patterns in Jon Dunn and Kimball Garrett’s Warblers field guide. The drawings show how a warbler would look from beneath a warbler.

Undertail Patterns A
Note the Undertail Patterns of the Yellow Warbler, upper left block, and the Wilson’s Warbler, lower right block. Plates 31 and 32 from Warblers.

Since I didn’t get a definite view in flight or initially on the limb, if I could get a good view of the Undertail Patterns of the bird I could probably confirm the species.

WIWA (4)

WIWA Undertail Patterns
The original and cropped/enlarged photo showing the dark undertail pattern of Wilson’s Warbler. And if you look close you might see a smudge of dark on the crown.

So knowing your Undertail Patterns can be useful in ID’ing certain species.

Note: If you look immediately left of the Wilson’s Warbler Undertail pattern in the plates above you will see Hooded Warblers have an all white pattern. I still don’t know why I didn’t know that

Short Primer on Fall Migration

Every year I forget that late summer birding is composed of long periods of quiet interrupted by short periods of activity. Like this past weekend for example when the birds weren’t singing much, even in the early morning,  Then it dawned on me during Fall Migration the best time to bird is the day before and a couple of days after a cold front. And that doesn’t even guarantee birds will be active since last Saturday was the day after a front passed through.

Weather Map 080616
A passing cold front like last Saturday still doesn’t guarantee the birds will be out in numbers.

The bad thing about Fall cold fronts as opposed to ones in Spring is they don’t come through on a regular basis. Sometimes they will causally drift through every 5-6 days. Other times longer. And the birding can be slow in-between. So a short primer on fall migration.

Very Short Primer on Fall Migration

  1. Shorebirds move the day or two before cold fronts.

  2. Passerines move the day or two after cold fronts.

That’s it in a nutshell.

No use in making it any more complicated. Of course birds move all the time and can be seen on any day.

In 2012 I birded every day in August and on the two days around the passing of the 5 cold fronts I saw 95% of the birds for the month. So in essence I could have birded the best 10 days and would have seen almost all the birds that month.

References

For weather reference I  use a couple of sources to check the passing of fronts.

First I check the 1-3 and 3-7 day forecast maps at NOAA.

1-3 day forecast

3-7 day forecast

Forecast 081516 Short Primer
Doesn’t look like we have another front moving though until next Monday, 8/15.

Next I read the discussion on the local National Weather Service weather page.

Forecast Discusion
I’ve highlighted the Forecast Discussion in yellow on the lower right.
Local Forecast
I read the entire discussion and it’s usually accurate on the passing of fronts.

And that’s it. Now I wait for the next front.

Of course even if there isn’t a front passing you’ll see me out birding!

Birding Paraphernalia – My 5

I’ve recently upgraded the Birding Paraphernalia I carry in the field. Not anything different or special from what others use, but new to me.

Ideally I’d like everything to be in one piece of equipment. Something like a pair of binoculars with a camera, voice recorder, LOUD speaker, phone, and field guide. But since it isn’t here yet I’ll do what I can.

               Binoculars

BinocsI still use and carry the 10×42 Eagle Optics binoculars I purchased when I started birding. I’ve seen other people who only carry a camera but to me a photo is only secondary to getting good looks at birds.

Bridge Camera

Coolpix Birding Paraphernalia
Nikon Coolpix P900

I purchased a bridge camera years ago to document any rarities or things I find interesting. For a definition of a bridge camera check here. I have recently upgraded to the Nikon Coolpix P900 with 83X zoom. I carry it side-saddle and don’t have a problem with its weight.

 

 

Phone

Yes, I carry a cell phone. An iPhone 5 company issued if you need to know. I use it for playing bird calls, a portable field guide (book form is in the car), eBird app, and voice recordings.

Speaker
Aud Mini and iPhone 5

 

Speaker

I recently purchased an Aud Mini by iLuv (Ultra Slim Pocket-Sized Portable Bluetooth Speaker) to replace my aging Speaker and Nano 3 combo. On the occasion I want to play a bird call the phone just isn’t loud enough. The $13 speaker is the same size as the phone and has good volume. And at $13 when I lose it, and I will, I won’t feel so bad.

Small Notebook

I still carry a pocket-size notebook to record species, take notes, or sketch something interesting. A Piccadilly 3″ x 5″ lined notebook from Half Price Books. After birding a location I use The Phone to record the data from the notebook on the eBird app. I don’t use the eBird app in the field since I find it distracts from birding. The same can be said for cameras since people seem spend more time looking at the photo they just took than birds.

Extra – Spotting Scope in Car

Now I don’t carry a spotting scope with me very often, especially since I have the High Zoom bridge camera. But it is never far away in the car.

So there you have the 5 pieces of paraphernalia I carry while birding. Not counting the backpack which is a different story altogether. But it usually stays in the car.

So what do you carry?

World’s Smallest Dove?

One of the blogs I follow is Jem Babbington’s The Birds of Saudi Arabia. Periodically he has a picture of a Namaqua Dove, one of the world’s smallest doves. I play along at home so I looked up the dove in The Birds of Europe, which covers the Western Palearctic, an area that encompasses Europe and Northern Africa.

The description of the Namaqua Dove had photos comparing it to other species to show its small size. And I was intrigued. Was it the world’s smallest dove?

Namaqua Dove A
The description of the Namaqua Dove in The Birds of Europe comparing it to a Budgerigar and a House Sparrow!

So if it’s that small, is it the world’s smallest dove?

First some perspective.

The most numerous dove in the Eastern US is the MOURNING DOVE.

Mourning Dove: length = 12″ Wingspan = 18″ weight = 4.2 oz.

MODO
Mourning Dove

The introduced EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE is a little larger than the Mourning Dove and is also seen in the Eastern US.

Eurasian Collared-Dove: length = 13″ Wingspan = 22″ weight = 7 oz.

ECOD
Eurasian Collared-Dove

Now the COMMON WOOD-PIGEON I saw in London is much larger.

Common Wood-Pigeon: length = 16″ Wingspan = 28″ weight = 17 oz.

COWP
Common Wood-Pigeon

Now before I researched the smallest dove and after encountering it in Texas and Florida, I knew the COMMON GROUND-DOVE native to North America was pretty small.

Common Ground-Dove: length = 6.5″ Wingspan = 10.5″ weight = 1.1 oz.

P1140703
Common Ground-Dove

Which makes it even smaller than the NAMAQUA DOVE.

Namaqua Dove: length = 8.5″ Wingspan = 12″ weight = 1.4 oz.

By Charlesjsharp (Own work, from Sharp Photography, sharpphotography) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Namaqua Dove By Charlesjsharp (Own work, from Sharp Photography, sharpphotography) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

So what is the World’s Smallest Dove?

As with most things it all depends. By mass the PLAIN-BREASTED GROUND DOVE native to the New World is the smallest at .9 oz.

Plain-breasted Ground Dove: length = 5.8″ Wingspan = ?” weight = .9 oz.

By Leoadec (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons - world's smallest dove
Plain-breasted Ground Dove By Leoadec (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
At 5.5″ the DWARF FRUIT-DOVE native to New Guinea is the smallest by actual length but is a stockier bird.

Dwarf Fruit-dove: length = 5.5″ Wingspan = ?” weight = 1.7 oz.

I couldn’t find a photo that wasn’t copyright protected. Here is a link to a photo on The Internet Bird Collection.

So there you have it. Once again curiosity leads down many paths.