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.
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:
I would have taken more photos but after being caught in a heavy downpour I decided to put the camera away.
May 8, 2013
Article in: Birding
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
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.
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
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!!
May 7, 2013
Article in: Young Birders
Kicking off the Biggest Week in American Birding (Friday May 3rd) the Ohio Birdfreaks along with new birder and Ohio Young Birders Club member Jamie attended the opening gathering at the Maumee Bay Conference Center. After introducing some of the key people that make the event so great (including the super hardworking staff at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory) everyone was off to mingle and talk.
We decided to walk the boardwalk just next to the Nature Center in Maumee Bay State Park. Jamie found life birds galore – a stunning view of a Blackburnian Warbler, Palm Warblers, Yellow-rumped Warblers and a very large number of Yellow Warblers. A Swainson’s Thrush, some White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows added to the excitement. We also found an Eastern Screech-Owl hanging out near a nest box (word is that the Mrs. was inside the box).
At 7:30 we headed upstairs in the lodge to see none other than our good friend and awesome Ohio Young Birder Kristina “Catbird” Polk. Kristina writes a blog we enjoy called wild@heart. And did we mention that she is amazing?
(Kristina is the one with the cool hat)
The basics about Kristina:
Kristina Polk is a 17 year old birder from North Ridgeville Ohio, whose passion for birds began as an interest in wildlife photography. She is a long time vegan and is compassionate towards all life, including the birds she’s gotten to know through birding. She also enjoys art in all forms, including sketching and writing, and uses these hobbies to channel her love of wildlife. Additionally, Kristina volunteers in spring and autumn at Black Swamp Bird Observatory’s bird banding station. She is attending the University of Wyoming next fall to pursue an education in wildlife biology. – Biggest Week Bios
What else we know about her? Well…she is a great writer (Here is a link to an example from The Eyrie – ABA’s young birder blog – Worlds Away)
She is compassionate about all animals, a great speaker and an inspiration to all future conservationists. The best thing about her is that she makes others feel what she feels – love for nature. And of course we love her because she LOVES catbirds.
The talk was great and we are always happy to hear one of her talks. All-in-all a great start to our Biggest Week activities!