May 20, 2012

Clay-colored Thrush in Eldorado, TX

Posted at 10:07 pm in Photography | 2 Comments

Yesterday evening (19 May, 2012), my wife and I were slowly driving through neighborhoods in Eldorado, TX in search of common city birds that aren’t always easily located in the arid landscapes of West Texas. We wanted to find things like Blue Jay, Rock Pigeon, and American Robin, for our Schleicher County list. (We’re doing the Texas Century Club, trying to see 100 or more species in 100 different counties of Texas.)

As we drove through one neighborhood, I heard a song that I immediately took for an American Robin. At least until it started throwing in some phrases that most certainly weren’t American Robin. I assumed it was a Northern Mockingbird doing a damn good impression of an American Robin. I noticed a bird sitting on the top of a planter in a front yard that appeared to be the source of the sound. The light wasn’t good and the bird was distant, but I noticed it had a pale throat. I also had a brief impression that the bill was olive-colored, and for an instant, Clay-colored Thrush entered my mind. This thought was so fleeting, so vague, that I immediately dismissed such an absurd notion and wrote off my impression as careless birding.

That is until I turned in front of the house and set my binoculars on a Clay-colored Thrush, in all it’s drab glory. I had left my good camera and telephoto lens at home (of course) but was able to digiscope a number of satisfactory shots.

Clay-colored Thrush

So, where was this masterpiece of thrushdom found? The bird was originally seen in the front yard of 209 E Redwood St, Eldorado, TX. He flew (much to my distress since I hadn’t gotten an acceptable picture at this point) but was eventually refound in the front yard directly across the street, 208 E Redwood St. The thrush interacted several times with an American Robin, foraging beside it and then getting chased off by it at one point.

The GPS coordinates to this location are 30.867886, -100.602359. Here’s a Google map to help as well. It’s not far off Hwy 277. As always, please be respectful and courteous to the neighbors if you go look for the bird.

One possibility that deserves brief discussion is the origin of the bird. Since Clay-colored Thrushes are sometimes the victim of illegal smuggling as caged birds from Latin America, there’s always the possibility when one turns up, it’s not there on its own accord. To this I simply point out that this is a species that breeds in Texas and is rapidly expanding its range northward. It has increasing turned up in unexpected places east of (along the coast) and north of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. There are at least a couple of records to the south of Eldorado in Uvalde County. Add to the fact that the bird shows no abrasion to its tail feathers or wings, and I say its more likely a wild bird than a caged.

To my knowledge, this is the first record for Schleicher County and a very northern record for a species that is rapidly moving north. Clay-colored Thrushes may breed in Amarillo by the time I’m an old man, but for now, it was a very exciting find.

September 18, 2011

eBird Express Version 1.0.5

Posted at 5:53 pm in Birding, Technology | Comments Off

A new version of eBird Express is now available on the downloads page.

Important Note about Taxonomy and Templates

Due to the new taxonomy changes in eBird, old templates may no longer validate in eBird Express. (As one example, if you have a template with “Common Moorhen” included, the new name is now “Common Gallinule.”) If you previously created your own templates, such as a state or county template, you will need to recreate them to use the newest taxonomy. Refer to the instructions on the downloads page for information about creating templates. It’s not hard! Remember that you can use the Verify Taxonomy function to find species with outdated English or scientific names.

New Features

  • The verify taxonomy function has been updated to use the latest global taxonomy from eBird.
  • A new preference (turned off by default) has been added that allows users to reset the formatting of checklist automatically before processing. This can be helpful if you regularly paste information that has different formatting from another program into an eBird Express checklist.

Bug Fixes

  • Comments longer than 4,000 characters no longer cause eBird Express to crash when validation is run.

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July 8, 2011

Green Violetear in Abilene, TX

Posted at 10:59 pm in Birding, Photography | 8 Comments

Today I saw and photographed a Green Violetear at my father’s house in Abilene, TX. It was a little surreal to look out the window expecting to see a Black-chinned Hummingbird and be greeted instead with this colorful monster. This was a first for me in Texas and the United States. I’ve previously only seen the bird in the Mexico, Costa Rica, and Ecuador. It was also a life bird for my wife. Not bad for a day when I wasn’t officially birding.

Anyway, I thought I’d post pictures online before heading off to bed, since I know many people are considering chasing the bird.

Green Violetear

Green Violetear

Green Violetear

May 5, 2010

eBird Express Version 1.0.4

Posted at 8:54 am in Birding, Technology | Comments Off

A new version of eBird Express is now available on the downloads page.

New Features

  • You can now provide only one name for a species — either the English name or scientific name — and the verify taxonomy function will fill in the missing names for you.

Bug Fixes

  • The Reset Formatting function is now more robust and thorough.
  • Fixed a rare problem related to referencing cells in A1 vs. R1C1 row/column format. (If you don’t know what A1 or R1C1 is, don’t worry. This is a user preference in Excel and either setting should work now.)

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January 31, 2010

eBird Express Version 1.0.3

Posted at 6:59 pm in Birding, Technology | 1 Comment

A new version of eBird Express is now available on the downloads page. For those who really pay attention, I’ve made the version numbers a little simpler going forward by using 1.0.3 instead of 1.0.0.3. (I don’t think I’ll run out of numbers with three digits anytime soon.)

New Features

  • Support for eBird’s new random protocol.
  • Added a user preference (turned off by default) to delete the original data file after processing for eBird. (You can always recover this file from the recycle bin if you see that you need it again.)

Bug Fixes

  • White space characters like tabs and carriage returns in the checklist notes and comments for an individual bird could cause a .csv file to fail when uploading to eBird.
  • Number of observers and duration are now required for all but casual checklists.

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July 16, 2009

A Day in Cambridge

Posted at 10:41 am in Photography, Traveling About | 1 Comment

a church in Cambridge

On July 10th, we went to Cambridge for a day at the Museum of Zoology at Cambridge University, the Sedgwick Museum, and dinner at the famous Eagle Pub where Watson and Crick frequented during their time working out the structure of DNA. The entire album can be seen in the gallery.

My favorite picture of the day was the ceiling at the Eagle Pub. During World War II, U.S. and British airmen would leave notes on it using lighters, candles, and lipstick.

ceiling of the Eagle Pub

I would write more but I’ve gotta run as we’re headed out the door for an extended weekend of birding.

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July 14, 2009

Class by Morning, British Museum by Afternoon

Posted at 7:28 am in Photography, Science, Traveling About | 2 Comments

My next installment of photos are up in the gallery, consisting largely of Amy and I’s short trip to the British museum on July 9th. In addition, I wanted to share a writeup about what the day was like. One of the requirements of the course is that we keep a journal each day. While I can’t promise to share this information every time (due to the time constraints), I wanted to give a picture of what a typical day is like.

Class in the Morning

In class this morning, Dr. Maxwell covered many of the most important naturalists of the 18th and 19th centuries. I especially found the French naturalists and the events surrounding the French Revolution fascinating as I know so much less about them than I do the same period in England. For example, I found it fascinating that the French scientists changed the name of the Kings Garden to Plant Garden (Jardin de Roi to Jardin de Plantes) in order to try and survive the French Revolution and the anger directed towards the king and the nobility. Dr. Dowler talked more about museums, how they acquire specimens, set goals and policies, and the role and responsibility of a curator.

Getting Too Smart For Our Own Good

After lunch Amy and I took the subway to the British Museum, getting off at Russell Street. It was here that I learned a valuable lesson about being a visitor in other people’s country. If you see a bunch of British people doing something a certain way and think to yourself that you have a better solution, you are, quite simply, wrong.

Here’s what happened. After getting off the tube, we followed a herd of people and found ourselves at a lift (elevator) that was absolutely packed with even more people trying to squeeze on. “Let’s take the stairs,” we said. The fact that not a single person had opted to do the same should have been our first clue. Perhaps 11 stories later after taking one enormous, never ending, twirling staircase (that lacked even a single flat section) we understood why.

The British Museum

The British Museum itself was incredible, if just a touch overwhelming. (You can steal some really nice stuff given a few hundred years.) We didn’t really have enough time, but I actually think that was a good thing. Everyone knows my attention span isn’t always the greatest, and I actually think having a shorter amount of time helps me take in a lot of things without going a little stir crazy.

Amy at the British Museum
Amy at the British Museum.

We spent most of our time looking at fairly early cultures in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Assyrian, and some Greek and Roman artifacts. There were many stunning objects, either for their significance in what they said about the culture that produced them or the quality of the artwork. For example, there were some Roman Egyptian paintings around the turn of the common era (0 A.D.) that showed a level of sophistication in their shading and use of light that were seen again until the Renaissance. You look at these things and could literally imagine the real flesh and blood of these people walking around in the room with you.

Another exhibit that struck me was some of the religious practices of the Egyptians. One contained mummified cats, which were held in cat-shaped containers and elaborately adorned, not unlike sarcophagi of the Egyptian pharaohs. In some cases, the cat had its neck broken before being entombed. The Egyptians apparently believed that animals (not just cats but lots of different animals) acted as intermediaries for certain gods. Another practice included small human figurines placed inside people’s tombs to assist with work in the afterlife. Initially, tombs contained only one or two of these figurines, but over time the number increased. At the height of this practice, 401 figurines were buried with a person — one for each day of the year plus 36 overseers to manage all the workers.

The Rosetta Stone

Of course the main thing that we went to see was the Rosetta Stone. Not that it’s that impressive to behold or that we can understand any of the languages on it. Rather the significance is really impressive.

The Rosetta Stone

I also got a handful of really cool pictures of random people looking at the Rosetta Stone. This first is of the crowds that never stop trying to press in and get a closer view.

Crowds around the Rosetta Stone

Looking at the Rosetta Stone

The Enlightenment Room

The last thing that Amy and I looked at was a collection of items in the Enlightenment Room that were in the first holdings of the British Museum when the Crown purchased the collection of Sir Hans Sloan in 1753. This exhibit included many natural history objects (most in fairlypoor shape, small, or fossilized). Also included were other items and books from 18th and 19th century England, placed in shelves along the entire perimeter of the room. Maroon velvet paneling adorned the room’s walls, which was made with wooden floors, a yellow and white ornate ceiling, and gold brass trimmings. The entire atmosphere was of a “cabinet of curiosity” as one might have seen just before the dawn of the modern museum era.

I found myself enthralled by the experience and decided that this was easily my favorite room in the museum. The reason is that it contained two histories. That of the objects themselves — Roman soldier helmets, Egyptian artwork — and that of the people and the entity that had cared to collect these objects in the first place. And as I reflected, it became apparent that every object had a story of how it came to be at the British Museum (or indeed any other museum). I imagine that some of these stories are quite mundane. Others however are not, like the Rosetta Stone itself which was apparently recovered by Napoleon in 1799 in Egypt and captured two years later by British soldiers. I felt that so many of the other rooms and exhibits in the British Museum completely lacked this context. They felt sterile.

Amy and I walked back to our rooms stopping at a cheap place for a dinner of fish and chips.

July 11, 2009

Birding in Hyde Park

Posted at 8:14 am in Birding, Traveling About | 4 Comments

I wanted to share a little more about the birding we’ve been able to do thus far. We went to Hyde Park the other day, as seen in these pictures which I mentioned previously.

I didn’t bring the big lens for bird photography. It’s too darn heavy for a whole day’s trip, and it’s best to photograph birds in small doses if Amy’s with me, as being a spectator quickly gets boring.

There were a few birds however that were extremely cooperative, such as this immature Great Crested Grebe that came up close enough to get a picture even without the big lens.

Great Crested Grebe

Pigeon, It’s Whats for Dinner

Rock Pigeons

We did witness one of the most spectacular events of predation I have ever seen. A Yellow-legged Gull (our life bird) was standing amongst a group of Rock Pigeons that were being fed by tourists. The gull had a small wad of feathers in its bill, which struck me as odd. I asked Amy, “Is that gull hunting pigeons?” Seconds later the gull grabbed a Rock Pigeon in it’s bill, getting a hold of it by the top of the wing near the pigeon’s body, and flew out to the lake where he proceeded to drown the pigeon and ultimately eat it. The struggle took a good five to minutes before the pigeon finally succumbed. It was utterly amazing if a little hard to watch.

Habitat is Key

As any birder can tell you, habitat is the key to finding a diversity of different species, and as one might expect, London itself doesn’t have many open spaces. Hyde Park is great though. Even if a little manicured in places, it has lots of big trees and vegetation along Serpentine Lake that sits in the heart of the park.

Trees like this really gave one the feeling of being in England, sneaking around on the King’s land despite the penalty of death. Of course England has changed in the last 600 years, so such fears were entirely imagined.

Forest at Hyde Park, London Read the rest of this entry »

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July 10, 2009

London Pictures

Posted at 8:36 pm in Photography, Traveling About | Comments Off

Pictures from our first two days are now online.

Our first day we wandered around and ended up in the Wellcome Collection, a museum that has art and artifacts related to the history and science of medicine. On our second day, we went to Hyde Park to get the birding bug out of my system so I could enjoy the rest of my time in London’s museums and other attractions.

I’ve managed to get a couple of really fun pictures too, even if I had to make myself look like an idiot to do so.

Here’s a picture of the train pulling into the station. I used a really slow shutter speed with the camera on my mini tripod. The train’s movement rendered it a blur of color and light.

Incoming Train

After getting off the tube (as they call it over here), I got the following pictures with a sign for London’s Underground (the subway) and St. Pancras Chambers in the background.

London Underground

London at Night

We’ll publish more as time allows.

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July 8, 2009

Crossing the Pond

Posted at 10:20 pm in Traveling About | Comments Off

It’s 3:30 in the morning as I write this, but I couldn’t sleep. There’s a blackbird singing in the dead of night outside my window. And not some two-bit Icterid, Corvid, or Starling that people back in the States call blackbirds. No sir. This blackbird is the real McCoy, as made famous by The Beatles.

That’s right, we’re in England! London to be specific. We’ll be here for two weeks, followed by a week in Paris and a week in Germany.

Jay and Amy

So far so good, though we were in trouble within five minutes of landing. The good folks at customs got a little peeved at us for taking this picture.

Jet lag has been a little hard. We made ourselves stay awake the entire day and that night we slept hard. But now I can’t sleep and I’m finding myself up all night. Amy’s sleeping like a log. Tomorrow’s going to hurt.

As far as pictures go, I’d like to post some while we’re over here, but I may not have a lot of time to get that done. I’ll just have to play it by ear.

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