Birding

We love to travel to find new birds and participate in a lot of bird counts. We also created a Guide to Birding Field Guides and host a collection of over 200 birding links from all over the globe.

Conservation

While our main focus continues to be birds, we promote other areas of conservation as well. Conserving land not only benefits wildlife, but is hugely beneficial to people as well.

Year of the Young Birder

2013 is officially The Year of the Young Birder! We plan on spending the whole year promoting young birder clubs and sharing ideas on how to help student naturalists become lifelong conservationists.

Ohio | Illinois | Iowa | Michigan | Indiana
Minnesota | New York

Check out the Book Review Library!

Review: Hummingbirds and Butterflies

July 29, 2013
Article in: Book Reviews

hummingbirds-butterfliesHummingbirds 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.

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New Yard = New Birds

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.

Homestead - Corn Cut

Last weekend we planted twenty trees, most being Norway and Colorado Blue Spruce and one each of Honey Locust, American Linden, and Magnolia (‘Saucer’).

American Linden
Linden

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.

Vesper Sparrow

Vesper Sparrow

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.

New Spruce Trees

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.

Horned Lark

Horned Lark

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.

Western Meadowlark

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

Bella on the Back Porch

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Review of The Warbler Guide

June 25, 2013
Article in: Book Reviews

the_warbler_guideWarbler 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.

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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.

Yellow Warbler
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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
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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.

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Birds, Tattoos and Punk Rock Birder Paul Riss

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!
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The big winner had Ivory-billed Woodpeckers on his chest! Now THAT was cool.

Winner
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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!

Check out Paul’s site – Punk Rock Big Year – Also Birdchick’s post – Judging a Bird Tattoo Contest and Outdoor Afros Take on Biggest Week for more on this awesome event!

Dakota with Paul Riss in 2011
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What Goes Up…Must Come Down. Balloons Blow – Don’t Let Them Go

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.

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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.

BalloonPromise

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Phriday Photo – Broken Down Killdeer

May 17, 2013
Article in: Photography

A Killdeer displaying a “broken-wing” to distract us from his mate’s nest.

Killdeer Doing Broken Wing Display

We stumbled upon him and after a couple photos, took a wide detour around the nest.

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Illinois Spring Bird Count – 2013

May 15, 2013
Article in: Birding

Every year members of the Birdfreak Team participate in the Illinois Spring Bird Count, a citizen science project geared at counting birds across the state. County by county, birders try and find as many birds as possible during migration.

This year we found out that some less-covered counties are counting on Sunday instead of the usual Saturday to try and attract more birders for both days. We hope to participate both days next year.

Some of the highlights from our day of counting:

Preening Green Heron
Green Heron

Green Heron

Green Heron

Osprey at Nest
Osprey at Nest

Red-breasted Nuthatch (more of a winter bird)
Red-breasted Nuthatch

Northern Waterthrush
Northern Waterthrush

One of many many Yellow Warblers
Yellow Warbler

Tree Swallows (we had lots!)
Tree Swallows

I would have taken more photos but after being caught in a heavy downpour I decided to put the camera away.

Barn Swallow
Barn Swallow

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Biggest Week in American Birding – Volunteers Help Make it Happen!

May 8, 2013
Article in: Birding

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Saturday morning the Ohio Birdfreaks headed to the Black Swamp Bird Observatory. Though it was tempting to start birding as soon as we arrived, we were signed up as volunteers at the info booth that morning so to work we went!

Ohio Young Birders Club Volunteers
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The three of us (including new birder Jamie) manned the booth to help answer questions and take walk-in registrations. It was amazing to see so many new, seasoned and expert birders in and out of the area. As they came and went, many took advantage of Leica’s generosity as they brewed up some (complimentary) amazing Birds and Beans coffee.

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An large number of volunteers signed up to help during the Biggest Week. It is great to see so many people volunteer their time to help make the event a success!

Pine Siskens at Black Swamp Bird Observatory
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The Birdfreaks will be helping all throughout the week in various locations. But what we are doing is small change compared to what the folks at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory do to make the Biggest Week happen. I can’t even begin to explain how awesome these people are along with each and every volunteer and sponsor of the event.

A BIG THANK YOU TO EVERYONE WHO HELPS MAKE THE BIGGEST WEEK IN AMERICAN BIRDING A SUCCESS!!

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