September 4, 2013
Article in: Bird Conservation, Young Birders
The Ohio Birdfreaks were so excited to attend the very first EVER Indiana Young Birders Conference on August 24th, 2013.
Rob Ripma (from Nuttybirder.com) and all the SUPER people who put the conference together did an amazing job and the young birder speakers blew us away with their knowledge and passion.
Young birder photo session
There was morning bird banding and a field trip to start off the event. We arrived a little afer those early events (it was around a three hour drive) and brought along a couple extras: a new birder (Jamie) and non-birder friend (Thomas). Both stated they had a wonderful time at the event!
Registering was easy and we checked out the awesome silent raffle and big raffle items. We were amazed at the large amount of donated items to give away to the kids. (you can see the list of sponsors here)
The Ohio Crew
Did I mention that the young speakers were AMAZING? They discussed various topics such as a birding adventure in Costa Rica, birding apps, a history of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker and bird conservation. We were moved to tears when young birder Matthias stressed the importance of taking care of our birds and their habitat so we could continue to enjoy them for years to come.
Eagle Creek Ornithology Center brought in some raptors (that could not be released to the wild due to past injuries) for a birds of prey program. Then Kenn and Kim Kaufman talked about youth birding and inspired the entire room. They graciously hosted an autograph session and as always were personable and approachable – Kim Kaufman’s passion for bird conservation and young birders moves me every time and I’m SO glad they were a part of it! (call us biased because we love them SO very much – but Kim and Kenn are the MOST loving, bird conservation minded people we have ever met and are always willing to share and spread the birding knowledge and love to all!)
The keynote speaker Andy Johnson gave a spectacular talk on shorebird tracking and studies. A student at Cornell University, Andy is doing great work to help learn more about the amazing migration of shorebirds and their populations.
The AMAZING Speakers!
This first Indiana Young Birder Conference could not have turned out better. I anticipate that each year will be bigger than the last and I cannot wait for next year!
Coming up….the Ohio Young Birder Conference (November 2nd) at the Toledo Zoo! Hope to see you there!
August 22, 2013
Article in: Book Reviews
Gardening for the Birds: How to Create a Bird-Friendly Backyard is a wonderful primer for birders who are just getting started with birdscaping (like us) to those who have an already birdy yard they wish to improve on.
The book begins with the basic steps to planning a wildlife-friendly garden and covers what birds need most: food, water, and shelter. Included is a lengthly list of plants useful to birds for nest sites as well as a table showing the dimensions needed for building nest boxes.
Special attention is given to attracting hummingbirds and butterflies including a regional “calendar” of flowers both find most useful. This chart includes pertinent information on light needs, hardiness zones, mature height, flower color, and most importantly, flowering months.
There are several other similar calendars that cover annual and perennial wildflowers, grasses, and a large section on fruiting trees and shrubs.
Further into the book you’ll learn about how to get to know your region and plant your garden accordingly. The author insists on using native plants found within a 100-mile radius of your location.
Information is provided on how to understand your current yard and develop a landscape plan with various habitats mixed in. The author suggests 7 different zones to consider for “an average suburban garden”.
Unfortunately, the book doesn’t include a variety of sample plans to help jumpstart ideas on what plants go well together. There is a basic drawing showing a yard with differing habitat zones, but full plans with lists of plants for each of the geographic regions would have been much appreciated.
The book does cover tips on caring for your bird garden with mulch, fertilizer, pruning, watering, etc. and also how to deal with problems that arise such as cats, nuisance birds, and glass strikes.
The final two sections of the book are plant and bird directories. Each includes wonderful photographs and loads of information. For the plants you will find out what birds are attracted to what as well as the distribution and cultivation of each.
For the bird directory, information on habitat, range, feeding habits, nesting and more is included. A cross-reference of plants the birds use for food and shelter makes it easy to go back to the plant section and read up on what you can add to your garden to help attract the birds you want.
Overall, Gardening for the Birds: How to Create a Bird-Friendly Backyard is jam-packed with wonderful information on a wide variety of plants you can use to attract various birds. While not a complete resource on gardening for wildlife, this book is a great stepping-off point to come up with ideas on planning your bird garden.
One thing I found irritating is the way the page numbers are laid out. They are printed in the spine of the book instead of on the outer edge making it difficult to refer to specific pages. Definitely a design oversight.
Disclaimer: we received this book from the publisher to review on Birdfreak.com. The links are to our Amazon Affiliate account.
July 29, 2013
Article in: Book Reviews
Hummingbirds and Butterflies (Peterson Field Guides/Bird Watcher’s Digest Backyard Bird Guides) provides a large amount of information from two of the nation’s backyard wildlife experts. Bill Thompson III and Connie Toops have teamed up to help backyard gardener’s enhance their landscape specifically for two of the most popular winged creatures around: hummingbirds and butterflies.
The book includes a lot of know-how into getting your yard, no matter the size, primed and ready for attracting wildlife. Specific lists of preferred types of plants are included by region for hummingbirds and butterflies separately, although naturally there is some overlapping.
The most common butterfly and hummingbird species are covered in a field guide-esq format with range maps, identification marks, behaviors, and more. Unfortunately, the caterpillar forms of the butterflies are not included, which would have been much appreciated.
There are a few drawings of layouts for possible garden arrangements although more would be nice. It is impossible to include a specific garden layout for any particular yard, but I always enjoy looking at how other people arrange various flowers, shrubs, and trees to create beautiful tapestries of colors that flow well together.
Overall, Hummingbirds and Butterflies is jam-packed with information about how to attract these energetic and colorful creatures.
Disclaimer: We received this book from the publisher to review on Birdfreak.com. The links are to our Amazon affiliate account where we earn a small percentage of sales generated.
July 3, 2013
Article in: Backyard Birding
Stacia and I have recently completed construction on our house. With a new house comes a new yard and with a new yard, new yard birds!
But first I must backtrack a little. Calling it a yard is quite misleading at this point. A year ago, the landscape was a field of corn. No grass, no shrubs, no trees.
Last weekend we planted twenty trees, most being Norway and Colorado Blue Spruce and one each of Honey Locust, American Linden, and Magnolia (‘Saucer’).
It would be interesting to read the thoughts of the area birds. One day there are just weeds and bare ground and the next day rather large trees have appeared like magic.
A Vesper Sparrow investigated each Blue Spruce and welcomed the setting sun with his wonderful song.
The spruces are going to be part of a wind break, as we get an unnatural amount of wind. We plan on adding more trees next year, although they will be much smaller.
Our most prevalent bird (besides Killdeer) so far is the Horned Lark. Every day I hear their tinkling song and especially in the early evening. They like to forage in the corn and weed stubble.
The “yard” favorite has been the nesting Western Meadowlarks. Technically, they are a bit down the road but frequent the ditch in the front and the farm fields adjacent to us.
Our first morning at the house I was awakened by their beautiful song, making it the official “1st yard bird”.
However, I have had trouble getting good photos as I most often hear one singing and then he flutters over the soybeans and becomes hidden away again. I did manage this power pole shot.
We have big plans of turning our landscape into a bird sanctuary. It will take many years but we are off to a great start.
It is going to be a wild summer and blogging will continue to be on the light side.
I’ll be tending to the trees, planting the lawn, staining the porches, planning next year’s garden . . .
But I hope to post updates on the progress and get photos of any birds that show up.
Bella keeping watch over the land
June 25, 2013
Article in: Book Reviews
Warbler identification has often been a bane to new and experienced birders, albeit a colorful one. Many brightly colored males are easy enough to identify when provided a nice look.
But good views are often not the norm and in the fall many warblers plumage becomes a much duller version of their spring counterparts. Mix in young birds and identification can become downright frustrating.
The Warbler Guide by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle is the most comprehensive guide to becoming an expert on warbler identification.
There are so many wonderful features in The Warbler Guide it is best to start with the section called “What to Notice on a Warbler” which covers the various parts of warblers and what you should observe.
Color photographs show details of eye-lines, wing-bars, bill size, contrast, color, cap, rump, breast, etc.
A rather large section covers “how to listen to warbler songs” and has sonograms for all the warbler songs. The song finder chart organizes warbler songs into categories such as “trilled”, “buzzy”, “clear, etc. with descriptions and comparisons to similar songs.
The “visual finder guides” provides several views of the warblers: face, side, 45 degree, underneath, east, west, and fall plus all the undertails. These provide a great tool to narrow down identification quickly and to use as a study aide.
How did I use this book?
I started with a warbler I am fairly knowledgeable about, the Yellow Warbler, and studied the entire section. Then I chose a warbler I have never seen but want to, the Worm-eating Warbler.
Each species has numerous photos including distinctive views and similar species. Maps and graphs show distribution and timing of migration as well as where subspecies are located. Lastly, several sonograms show the species various songs as well as similar bird songs.
Example of sonograms
If you just end up paging through all the species, you may get overwhelmed. But if there are species you want to learn more about or one you recently saw, I’d start there. The more at-home learning you do, the easier field identification gets.
And this book isn’t really made for the field but as a before or after identification study guide.
The Warbler Guide is a must-have book for every birder. It is comprehensive, easy-to-use, and absolutely gorgeous.
Disclaimer: we received a copy of this book from the publisher to review on Birdfreak.com. The links are to our Amazon affiliate account.
May 29, 2013
Article in: Birding
New this year at the Biggest Week in American Birding was something unique and fun – a bird tattoo contest! A crowd of bird-tattooed folk showed up along with many spectators to see who would win the big prize – an awesome pair of EO Ranger binoculars from Eagle Optics!
Three judges were on hand to see who had the best bird tat: Paul Riss (Punk Rock Big Year), Sharon “Birdchick” Stiteler, and Rue Mapp from Outdoor Afro. A very cool group of judges. Two runners up received Birdchick’s new book: 1001 Secrets Every Birder Should Know.
Not just bird tracks – crossbill feet!
The big winner had Ivory-billed Woodpeckers on his chest! Now THAT was cool.
Later that evening we attended Paul Riss’ talk on his Punk Rock Big Year, inspiring all people to love birds and the awesome movie he is making about his big year. Paul blows all typical sterotypes about birders out of the water. His talk included clips from his movie – which we cannot WAIT to see!
In 2011, Paul Riss embarked upon a journey. The journey would last 365 days and it would take him into every possible place in Ontario, Canada that a wild bird might possibly be. The journey was a Big Year, and Paul documented his effort in some pretty serious detail. Why? There are a few reasons. Mostly to try and change the stereotypes of what a Birdwatcher is. You know, the people in Tilley hats thing. There’s nothing wrong with that birder, but not all birders are created from that mold. Secondly, he wanted to see what it was like to make a documentary film. The third reason was to bring this very enjoyable past time to a younger generation. And last, but not least, to make people aware of how fragile and important our winged friends are to the environment. – Biggest Week in American Birding
Birders come from all walks of life and have many different interests, personalities, and looks. Birding is for everyone and the best part of the program was seeing that passion for birding is universal and there is no specific “type” of person who loves birds. We have witnessed elitism in birding but I think it is dwindling; helped along by people like Paul Riss.
Paul is doing exactly what we hope other birders will do. No, not tattoo their body and make a documentary about it. That’s Paul’s thing. But bird and spread birding love no matter who you are or what “type” of person you might be!
Dakota with Paul Riss in 2011
May 28, 2013
Article in: Bird Conservation
During the Biggest Week in American Birding, the Birdfreak team attended a talk by the folks from Balloons Blow . The family started cleaning beaches in their home state of Florida over 18 years ago. On their weekly beach cleanups they find a lot of debris that can harm wildlife. In 2012 alone, they found 979 balloons.
Photo by Kim Kaufman
Why focus on balloons?
Large balloon releases seem harmless – you may even read that they are biodegradable. The people at balloonsblow.org have been gathering evidence for years that this is not the case. They can take years to break down. Unfortunately, balloons have a very harmful effect on wildlife – especially birds and marine life. (Impacts on Wildlife and the Environment)
Balloons are used to celebrate places, people and events – and they sometimes thought of as environmentally friendly – but there is growing proof that it just isn’t true – the photo evidence is quite clear.
We are taught all our life that littering is bad. Many people know about the harm in using single serve containers, Styrofoam and plastics – but there isn’t much information on the harm of balloons and the ribbons/attachments that go with them.
So what can we do?
If you hear about a balloon release – speak up! Contact them – spread the word about it. Many people just don’t know that it’s harmful. You can also report a balloon release here.
Make the promise that you or your group/school/organization will use other celebratory alternatives.
When your school/town/company/group (of 10 or more), makes the promise, we will have a tree planted in its name in the ecologically important Boreal Forest. Also, with your permission, we’ll share your environmentally-conscious decision on Facebook and Twitter.
May 17, 2013
Article in: Photography
A Killdeer displaying a “broken-wing” to distract us from his mate’s nest.
We stumbled upon him and after a couple photos, took a wide detour around the nest.