The Onion Takes Aim at the Birding Establishment

Posted May 4th, 2007 at 11:16 am in Birding, Humor | Comments Off

I came across a three week old story in the Onion that takes aim at birders, particularly the Sibley Guide. It’s an absolute riot!

Here’s a brief taste, but if you know anything about birding, you’ve got to read the rest of the article.

I don’t understand it. How could it have happened a third time? They’ve had two opportunities to correct it. But there it is, once again. The Sibley Guide To Birds, third printing, page 488: “The dark-eyed junco, a familiar visitor to wintertime bird feeders throughout much of North America, is a species of the junco genus of American finches.”

Mr. Sibley, once again, the dark-eyed junco is not a finch. Its a sparrow. A sparrow.


Apparently the 42 letters I sent Mr. Sibley, his publisher, and his literary agent either went unread or now line the nests of Carolina wrens. I’m not sure what the mans afraid of, especially since I larded these letters with all kinds of reassurances like “its a common mistake” and “I get all those seed eaters mixed up, too” and other things I didn’t really mean.

And if you’re not laughing, me thinks you need a brief primer on what the Onion is…

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Sharing the Joy

Posted May 1st, 2007 at 8:02 am in Birding, Photography | 1 Comment

Another blogger has used (after getting my permission of course) my recent picture of Burrowing Owls that I put up recently.

Says one of the commenters on the post,

Many thanks for the burrowing-owl photo. It brightened my Monday considerably.

It’s nice to see the shot getting wider exposure.

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Colorado Pictures Are Up

Posted Apr 3rd, 2007 at 8:27 am in Birding, Photography, Traveling About | 3 Comments

My wife and ventured to southern Colorado for spring break. I’ve finally gotten around to throwing up the pictures from the trip. They’re heavy on Sandhill Cranes in flight. Why? Because literally tens of thousands of these birds migrate through the San Luis Valley and use it as a staging area on their way back north, and the birds are just about impossible to sneak up on when they’re in the fields feeding. So it’s much easier to take pictures as they fly by.

It was really a magical experience. Most cranes in the world are endangered. These ancient birds haven’t coped well to the changes people have brought. And while it wouldn’t take much too see Sandhill Cranes get in trouble, their populations are currently large and stable. Like all cranes, they’re quite vocal and frequently display towards one another by jumping in the air and flapping their wings. In short, they’re sexy.

Other highlights of the trip included a couple of Burrowing Owls sitting in the rain on the drive up to Colorado, my first Snowshoe Hare (I now understand why they’re in the same genus as our jackrabbits), and an amazing place named the Great Sand Dunes National Park.

I’ll leave you with a selected few pictures. (Click on them to see slightly larger versions in the gallery).

Burrowing Owls

Sandhill Cranes in flight

Sandhill Cranes in flight

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Sandhill Cranes in Flight

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A Magical Day

Posted Oct 8th, 2006 at 2:37 pm in Birding, Photography | 4 Comments

I went birding for a short time with my wife yesterday to the north unit of the San Angelo State Park in west Texas. For those of you that are birders, you’ll understand that there are rare days that are just magical. Yesterday was just such a day.

Ringed Kingfisher

I was hearing a kingfisher chattering in the distance. Not its full machine gun fire call, but just individual chattering notes. After walking through the brush and peering out along the Concho River, I spotted this guy (or rather girl). It’s a Ringed Kingfisher, the largest new world kingfisher that ranges throughout Latin America, barely reaching south Texas. They’ve been straying north, seemingly with greater regularly, with sightings from central Texas. This is perhaps the third sighting and first photographic record for the Concho Valley.

Ringed Kingfisher

Black-throated Blue Warbler

That alone would have made it an incredible day, but the magic wasn’t done. We walked down to a dry spot on the river to try and refind the kingfisher, when my wife pointed out a small passerine bird coming down to the water’s edge. I was somewhat distracted, still looking for the kingfisher. When the bird finally hopped out into view, my jaw hit the ground. A male Black-throated Blue Warbler, one of two regularly occurring U.S. warbler species I’d not seen, hopped in view to get a drink. This is a hard bird to find anywhere in Texas, but when it does show up, it’s usually on the southeast coast. They breed in the northeast and winter in the West Indies, so most migrate down the eastern seaboard and miss Texas all together. As far as I know, this is the first record for the Concho Valley.

Black-throated Blue Warbler

I’ve also put up lots more pictures of both birds in the photo gallery.

When it was all said and done, I’d seen a couple of highly unlikely birds within the span of 15 minutes. When you least expect it, birds can really surprise you.

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A Bird That Moonwalks

Posted Sep 27th, 2006 at 8:25 am in Birding, Nature | 1 Comment

I came across a video highlighting the unique mating system and courtship displays of tiny tropical birds known as manakins. They interesting for forming leks — a place where multiple males will gather and engage in elaborate displays to get the ladies’ attention.

Take a look at this following video. Now for you none birding folks out there, don’t give up on me… The last minute contains a bird moonwalking, and trust me, you’ll want to see it.

It brings back fond memories of a time when I was near the shores of Lake Catemaco in southern Veracruz, Mexico, standing right next to a friend who suddenly found himself look at one of these birds, a Red-headed Manakin. No sooner had he seen it than the bird was gone.

Long-tailed Manakin
Long-tailed Manakin – photo source

I have seen other species in the tropics though. I’m particularly fond of the coveted Long-tailed Manakin. These birds will form leks where males will jump up and down as they call, trying to attract a female. The displays can last 20 minutes.

They’re extremely vocal too, giving a series of varied noises. Two of the most notable are their toledo song and a call that I can only describe as sounding like a baby crying — a descending waaah.

I’ve included them at the bottom of the post. (If you’re using internet explorer, you may have to click play twice due to the new way Microsoft handles the Flash plugin. I won’t get into it).

Toledo Song:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Waaah Call:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

It’s little things like this that should remind us how important conservation is. The life and diversity within tropical rainforests is simply staggering. Even now, after years of study and exploration, it yields new secrets and new beauties.

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Birding Pictures

Posted Sep 4th, 2006 at 10:28 am in Birding, Photography | 7 Comments

I went birding a couple of weekends ago in my old stomping grounds of Abilene, TX where I grew up. It was fun, and I managed to get a number of pictures of birds (and the ever present summer dragonflies of course). While none of them are spectacular, it was nice to get shots of feathered friends, since before owning a telephoto lens they were simply out of reach. You can, as always, find them in the gallery.

I did manage to get three interesting pictures of a Franklin’s Gull (here, here, and here). For birder’s, the reason these pictures are interesting is because of this species similarity to Laughing Gull. Normally, Franklin’s Gulls can be separated by large white tips to the flight feathers (primaries). However, during this time of year, the birds largely lack these, and one could get the identification wrong. These picture show a number of characteristics which separate the two. Note that the white eye crescents are much bolder, the underwing coverts are in flight are largely white (they would have strong brown markings if it were a Laughing Gull), the black on the underside of the primaries is less extensive than Laughing Gull, and the black band on the top of the tail does not go all the way to the edges. This bird shows the necessity of caution in relying on one mark (white to the tips of the primaries) in identifying a bird like Franklin’s Gull.

Ah, the subtleties are what keep it fun!

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The Doldrums of Summer

Posted Aug 25th, 2006 at 12:27 pm in Photography | 1 Comment

I went tried to go birding last weekend. The west Texas heat was so oppressive, and the bird activity so abysmal, that I quickly turned my focus to photographing butterflies, dragonflies, and some other cool stuff.

I’m just now getting around to putting the pictures up. There are some really nice ones, like this guy — a Roseate Skimmer (Orthemis ferrugineas).

Roseate Skimmer -- Orthemis ferrugineas
Roseate Skimmer — Orthemis ferrugineas

In addition to the insects, I also managed to get several nice shots of a really cool reptile, and several of birds. So be to check out the whole album.

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Why Birders Like Birding in Foreign Places

Posted Aug 22nd, 2006 at 10:10 am in Birding | Comments Off

Because of eye candy like this. You just can’t see little buggers like that in the states (though we’ve certainly got eye candy of our own).

And if you’ve never seen the Ben Cruachan Blog before, you should bookmark or RSS it. Getting a dose of bird pictures from down under is fun.

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It’s Just a Flesh Wound

Posted Jul 18th, 2006 at 6:29 pm in Birding | Comments Off

In Florida comes the story of a young White Ibis that’s had some hard times lately.

juvenile White Ibis
juvenile White Ibis (Eudocimus albus) – photo source

It’s been shot with a practice arrow, though apparently no vital organs were hit. Authorities have been trying to catch it for two weeks, with no luck. They’ve given up, but beleive the arrow is working its way out on its own.

“I have captured hundreds of birds,” said Bob Hunt, a volunteer with the Bird Rescue Center in New Smyrna Beach. “You would think this would be one of the easier ones.”

Yes Bob you would think. But perhaps the bird has learned that people aren’t his best friend? Perhaps?

(Hat tip to The Birdchaser.)

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