Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Migration Continues

I've had the great fortune to be able to get out into the field quite a bit in the last week. Radar returns at night have shown very heavy migration movement lately and the birds in the nets back that up.

New species for the fall are showing up in numbers. Ovenbird, Swainson's Thrush, Red-eyed Vireo and all the flycatchers have been increasing in abundance this week.

 Mourning warblers have been fun to work on daily. This male looks like he has a bit of attitude but he was calm during processing.
Northern Waterthrush is a pretty common migrant in spring and fall. Caught this one in a forest/grassland edge, not near water which is more the case usually.
Sparrows move through this part of Minnesota mostly in the month of October but we do see some early movers like this Lincoln's Sparrow.
The highlight of Sunday's banding was not one but two Yellow-throated Vireos. In spite of the cool temps and off and on rain we had some nice birds but none was as exciting as this bird.

The weather for the next 2-3 days looks to be poor for field work. Rain and wind are predicted until Saturday. Another glitch in the system is that the National Weather Service Doppler Radar in Chanhassen, MN has be shut down for maintenance (they're replacing the radars base). Not sure we'll be able to check night migration for a week or so. Might have to go outside and just listen.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Fall Migration is Ramping Up

Had a chance to spend 4 of the last 5 days banding out at one of my sites and boy was it fun. Thursday the 29th was sunny, warm and windy so I only caught one bird before I bagged it and went home. Friday was better with 6 birds for the day. Saturday was perfect as far as conditions go. It had the 3 Cs of banding: cloudy, calm and cool. My friend Amber was there to help and we end the day with 30 birds of 14 species including 5 species of warbler. Took Sunday off and headed back out this morning. Not as busy as Saturday but we (help from Amber  Chris and Laurie) did get 12 birds. We also had some nice flyovers from things like Common Nighthawks (~40), American White Pelicans, and any number of migrating songbirds that weren't low enough to hit our nets.

Here are a few pictures from the weekend:

 We don't handle a lot of Mourning Warblers usually but did get both this male and the female below. It's always fun to walk up to the net and see lots of yellow.
 Ageing these birds can be a bit tricky so we tend to spend a little more time with them than some of our regular captures like chickadees and catbirds.
 A common summer resident around here is the Blue-winged Warbler and we do catch a few of these both during migration and breeding season.
 A very common summer resident is the American Redstart. This male has just molted in its plumage for the winter.
While I was away from the banding site I caught a photo this visitor on my trail camera that monitors the site. A small set of antlers still in velvet will being changing in the next couple of months.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Birds Crossing Gulf of Mexico in Big Numbers

This is a radar image of the Texas gulf coast. From the returns it appears that there are large numbers of birds arriving along the coast today. The surprising thing to me is that it is midday so these are probably birds that have been flying all night just getting to land. If anyone is in the area and can get out, it would be interesting to know if this is an indication of a true "fallout" of migrants.

If nothing else, it means that those of us to the north can still expect a big influx of birds sometime in the next week or so I would imagine.

Texas birders - you out there?

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Water is a Magnet for Birds

After a slow few weeks of activity in my yard, i was amazed today when I had a crowd of birds hanging out most of the day and it all had to do with water. I have a heated birdbath on my deck and as soon as I filled it up today the birds came in like nails to a magnet.

The first birds in were a flock of robins that had been in a neighbors yard. There was such a competition for a bath that some of the birds got belligerent.
Even birds can be bullies I guess.
 A couple of cardinals waited their turn with patience.
Lots of American Goldfinches took advantage of the water. It also looks like they are beginning their spring molt. A few of the males are showing patches of black feathers on their foreheads.
I was very happy to finally have some Pine Siskins show up in the yard. I know a few friends who have had them for a while but today was the first I had them around.
One Cedar Waxwing showed up and only stayed a few minutes.
I even had this Northern Flicker come in to take a turn in the birdbath. All in all I ended up seeing 18 different species of birds in the yard today. I hope they stick around a while longer, they made it sound like spring .

Sunday, November 11, 2018

How Many Field Guides Do You Own?

 Let me start by saying 2 things. First, I cannot answer the question posed in the post title. I have more field guides spread through my house than I can count. I have a hard time getting rid of books in general but field guides are never disposed of. Second, I LOVE field guides, including from places I may never visit. I prefer guides whose illustrations are paintings and not photos. I know not everyone agrees. The first field guide I ever owned was the Golden Guide to Birds and it served as the "textbook" for my first field ornithology class.

I still have it.

When I heard there was going to be a seventh edition of the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America I was excited to see what was new because this is the guide I carry in the field. At first glance it is very similar to the previous additions, it covers all of North America, it is a bit larger than many guides, it is heavy by field guide standards and a Bald Eagle is featured on the cover. However a closer looks shows some significant advances. Here is how the publisher describes it:

About Field Guide To The Birds Of North America

ï Paperback:†592 pages
ï Publisher:†National Geographic; 7 edition (September 12, 2017)

This fully revised and updated edition of the best-selling North American bird field guide is the most up-to-date guide on the market.

Perfect for beginning to advanced birders, it is the only book organized to match the latest American Ornithologists' Union taxonomy. With more than 2.75 million copies in print, this perennial bestseller is the most frequently updated of all North American bird field guides. Filled with hand-painted illustrations from top nature artists, this latest edition is poised to become an instant must-have for every serious birder in the United States and Canada.

The 7th edition includes 37 new species for a total of 1,023 species. Sixteen new pages allow for 250 fresh illustrations, 80 new maps, and 350 map revisions. With taxonomy updated to recent significant scientific rearrangement, the addition of standardized banding codes, and text completely vetted by birding experts, this new edition will stand at the top of the list of birding field guides for years to come."

It's all this and more that will keep the National Geo guide as my go to book in the field. The book is reflective of our new knowledge about bird taxonomy based on DNA sequencing. A geneticist I know said that in 10 years we won't have to buy any new field guides because the taxonomy will be all figured out. We'll see. The new taxonomy has its pluses and minuses. I am excited to see the subspecies maps at the back of the book but the concept of subspecies is still being worked out (how many subspecies of Song Sparrow are there???)  The rearrangement of the order of bird families is something to get used to. If you are good at flipping to specific sections of the guide without thinking about it you may be surprised where you land now.

As a bird bander myself the addition of the Bird Banding Laboratory 4-letter species codes is nice to see though I don't know how many people will use them as shorthand. In some birding groups people get upset if your mention an AMRO instead of saying or writing American Robin. I did find one error in the codes, the banding code for Yellow Warbler has been changed to YEWA whereas the guide lists the old YWAR. I don't know of any other errors.

It is a beautiful book with useful, detailed illustrations and descriptions. I recommend it as a top choice when friends ask for advice about buying a field guide.
You will not be disappointed.

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Purchase Links

National Geographic | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Field Season Comes to an End

Well it was a good year for banding and I got out as much as I could but it looks like the weather is going to keep me away from the banding site for a few months. I did get out on Saturday before it began to rain and actually had a nice morning though it was pretty quiet most of the time. I ended with 11 birds of 4 species. Two birds were retraps (chickadees).


Black-capped Chickadee      5 new  2 retrap
Dark-eyed Junco                  1 new
American Tree Sparrow        2 new
Northern Cardinal                 1 new

I especially liked getting the Am. Tree Sparrows. I think they are just beautiful!
These really say "winter" to me. They are tough little birds.
The bicolored bill is always a good field mark.
And of course the junco is the most common sparrow here in the winter. This male had quite a bit of stored fat so he may not be quite to his winter vacation spot jut yet.

I'll keep posting bits here and there. The Christmas Bird Count is coming in a little over a month. Northward migration will begin in January.

Remember, year round there are always birds migrating somewhere in the world!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Splendor of Birds

In celebration of "The Year of the Bird" on the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, National Geographic has published a 500+ page book of photographs and paintings called The Splendor of Birds.

The Splendor of Birds is a collection of images from around the world as seen in National Geographic Magazine over the last 130 years. These images in this book are divided into 4 chapters that are organized chronologically. There are short introductory essays at the beginning of each section and they reflect what was happening at National Geographic during each time period and how birds played a role in the mission of the magazine.

When I had a chance to look through the book the first time I was impressed by the variety of images. Being a bit of a photographer myself, I could appreciate the time and effort many of the photos required especially in the days of physical film. The paintings included in the book are from some of the great bird illustrators of the day. The turn of each page presented images that ranged from spectacular to ordinary.

As I browsed through the book I tried to think of how I would describe it to someone. Was it art?, history?, photography? all of the above? It certainly could qualify as a coffee table book, something as much for display as it is for perusing. I realized that after looking through the book I had lots of questions. How were the images chosen? Was there a common theme beyond "birds" that described sets of images. Why were the time periods arranged the way they are? I couldn't make a connection between that chronology and other events that might have made the periods relevant.

There is a feature of the book that I like and that is a variety of facing pages labeled "Now and Then" where the picture on the left is an older photo of some bird and the picture on the right page is a more modern image of the same species. The comparison aspect is a nice touch.

However the more I looked through the book the more criticisms I had.

I found the captions of many of the images too small and less than informative. It would be nice to have more context about many of the images. Some of the images included are more focused on people or places than birds. Many selections feel as if they were chosen randomly and I  didn't find the book to have a good "flow" in it's presentation. Finally, for a book that costs $75 I would want a book that would draw me back over and over again to get a deeper appreciation for it's content. I don't know if this is that book.

So, would I recommend this book? That depends. I certainly think many people would enjoy this book and having a collection of beautiful images  to look at again and again might just be the thing when you're in the right mood. Is it worth the cost? I believe that is something that each reader must decide for themselves. Am I glad I have it? Yes and you might be too. If you are curious, it would be worth your time to look this over and see if it resonates with your love of birds.