Monday, December 29, 2008
Eyes Upon Me
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Wishing you happy holidays and a fantastic 2009. -Bill
Sunday, December 21, 2008
iBird Explorer for iPhone
■ Plays the songs and calls of almost any species of bird in North America. And it’s loud enough to attract the bird right to you! (Use responsibly! To their credit, iBird Explorer's web site includes the ABA Code of Birding Ethics.)
■ A visual icon-driven search engine for identifying species by color, shape, habitat, location, etc. (Cool concept- haven't tested it much yet, though.)
■ Hand-drawn James Audubon quality full-sized color illustrations with both perching and flight views (Well, John James wouldn't be my first choice of comparison, but we get the idea...)
■ Multiple professional photographs of every species in numerous plumages, sexes and seasons (Nice idea, and an area that should grow in future releases. Will this end the age-old arguments of illustrations vs. photos in a field guide?)
■ Identification and behavior information so extensive it covers everything from what the bird eats to the color of the eggs it lays (A little Birds of North America-style info- always good. Speaking of which, how about a BNA app??)
■ Full color range maps for every species (Did Paul Lehman have a hand in these, too?)
■ Detailed Wiki pages for every bird (Welcome to Web 2.0!)
■ Lifetime updates (you never need to buy another guide because we push out any changes we make for free) (Could be the single best feature of guides like this vs. paper books.)
■ Additional illustrations covering other plumages including seasonal, fledgling, juvenile, etc. (The more the merrier. Wonder if Sibley &/or Kaufman are thinking about this format?)
■ Many new photographs. (Can you ever have enough?)
■ Sighting/Observation list feature based on eBird.org. You’ll be able to record all the details of any observation or sighting then upload it to the popular eBird database where you can have your own account. (I think this is a must-have feature on any web-enabled smart phone or Windows Mobile device!)
■ Synchronization with Whatbird.com user accounts. (Don't know what this is but I'm sure users will be happy.)
■ Quizzes and identification tests, puzzles and word games. (I'm all for anything that might engage kids more or make road trips a little less boring.)
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Google Mapping a CBC Circle
Recently, I had correspondence from Chris Hill who decided to use Google Maps to set up his count circle territories, citing the ease of sharing the maps and for the potential of letting others add to the map, too. The only hitch seemed to be getting a good 7.5-mile radius circle drawn- Google Maps has line & polygon tools but not a circle generator. Curious, I did a search and it turns out that you can import a .KMZ file that Google Earth generates into Google Maps- easy directions are posted on the Google Lat Long blog. Ba-boom- the best of both worlds. You can work up your circle &/or territories in Google Earth, import it into Google Maps, and then share the URL with whomever. You can even embed the Google Map in your blog or other web page- see below.
Basically, here are the steps, summarized from Bootstrap Analysis and then adding the step of importing the .KMZ file into Google Maps. First, you've got to get the Lat/Long coordinates of the count circle center. You can get this by hovering your pointer over the spot in Google Earth and noting the coordinates, or you can get the coordinates that are on record with Audubon through the compiler's page (although many of these aren't too accurate, having been estimated from paper maps, often not at very good resolution. National Audobon is requesting updated count center coordinates and descriptions-see here.)
If your Lat/Long is in minutes/seconds then you will need to convert them to decimal- easily done here. (Note that if you acquire the coordinates from Google Earth they will already be decimal if you set that format in the preferences- also the default setting, I think.)
Then you link to the free KML Circle Generator, plug in your center coordinates, and set the radius to 12,070.08 meters (the equivalent of 7.5 miles.) This will return a link that you follow to download a .KML file which will open in Google Earth as a nice circle demarking your count boundary. Right-clicking on it and selecting "Properties" (or "Get Info" on a Mac) will let you re-name it, change the color, change the thickness, change the opacity, etc. Then, if you want, you can use the line, polygon, and placemark tools to further divide and/or organize your circle. I also put a placemark at the count center. Now you've got a collection of map elements that you can save as a .KMZ file by right clicking on the folder and choosing that option.
Finally, go to Google Maps and choose the "my maps" option. Select "create new map", and give it a name. Right above the name there are two links- "collaborate" and "import". Choose the import option and find your .KMZ file wherever you saved it. Google Maps will pull the circle and whatever else you created in Google Earth to your new custom online map. You can further edit it in Google Maps with the line tool, polygon tool, placemarks, etc. I haven't explored the feature much, but using the "collaborate" link lets you give editing privileges to others. Once your map is ready and saved, you can use the print, send, and/or link options to share it with others.
Anyway, another great, free way to share and collaborate with your fellow counters or other organized birding tasks requiring maps. Lots of CBCs still to come- good luck & have fun out there! Update: I've got all of the Boulder CBC territories on my Google Map but they don't all show up on the little embedded version- click on it to get to the bigger version with all territories, navigable between pages 1 & 2 of the map. ;-)
View Larger Map
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
My team of hardy birders (below, from left: Yours Truly, Connie Kogler, Dave Alcock, Mike Freiberg, and Dan Maynard) went up in the Boulder foothills to an open space park called Betasso Preserve. Our second bird of the day also turned out to be our best- a very chilly Brown Thrasher subsisting on Russian Olive berries bordering a horse corral. Beyond that the birding was kind of slow but we had some nice montane species and it was priceless to walk a 3-mile loop in a typically busy mountain park with the only tracks before us in the snow belonging to deer, squirrels, and rabbits.
Once we wrapped up in the mountains, we descended to warm up, re-group, and get a bite to eat at The Original Pancake House in Boulder. The host took pity on us and produced a huge complimentary apple pancake to nosh on while waiting for the rest of our orders.
Re-stoked and warmed up, a few of us headed back out to surmount the mesa in the midst of the Valmont Reservoir complex, lakes warmed by a power plant nearby and often chock-full of great birds. Divers like Double-crested Cormorant and Western Grebe overwinter here in small numbers, the only location in the count circle for such species that would normally depart for warmer climes. Unfortunately, the combination of relatively warm water and very cold air (about -5 F by then) produced very foggy conditions. Still, we gave it a go, sometimes glimpsing birds through quick gaps in the fog like a raft of about 75 Red-breasted Mergansers. Earlier in the day, a team had covered the territory from inside the fenced complex (permission and chaperone required from Xcel Energy) but had missed seeing any of the Western Grebes that should have been out in the fog. Fortunately, from our higher vantage we could hear at least one give its kree-kreeee call- tick it!
I'd like to thank everyone who braved the cold to participate in the Boulder CBC. We were able to add one new species to the all-time list (bringing it to 206) with a Great Black-backed Gull, and other highlights included Western Bluebird & the aforementioned Brown Thrasher (each the 11th time on count day), Lesser Goldfinch (9th time), Eared Grebe & Hermit Thrush (each for the 5th time), Lesser Black-backed Gull (4th time), and Brown-capped Rosy-Finch (3rd time, complimenting Gray-crowned's 14th appearance.) Next year will be the 100th aniversary of the Boulder count, which was first run on Dec. 24, 1909. It's going to be big so make plans to join us on December 20, 2009! Meanwhile, there's plenty of time to join another count this year- you can find one on Audubon's Find a Count Circle page.
Monday, December 08, 2008
Sunday, December 07, 2008
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Cooperation is Cool
Last weekend, however, I ran into an uncommonly cooperative Harlan's Hawk (harlani subspecies of Red-tailed Hawk.) I knew I was in business when a jogger with a dog stopped directly underneath the perched bird and it didn't flush- Cool! Not only was it tolerant of such direct approach, but it made 4 forays into a field with tall grass & weeds, staying down long enough each time for me to re-position with the light behind me to get flight shots as it came back up to the cottonwoods over a bike path to peer some more into the field. Definitely the most cooperative Harlan's Hawk I've run into so far. A few of my hawk-pro friends agree that it is a 2nd-year bird (born two summers ago), having retained the outer 4 juvenal primaries (7-10) and a juvenal secondary #4. Those feathers, being older, are bleached a bit. Otherwise it's dark eye and plumage are typical of an adult intermediate-morph Harlan's Hawk.
Friday, November 28, 2008
Anyway, my buddy Christian Nunes spotted an intriguing large 1st-winter gull with a very pale head at 6-Mile Reservoir on the north side of Boulder yesterday about mid-day. Fellow larophile Tony Leukering got the call and the two studied the bird enough to realize it was a good candidate for a Slaty-backed Gull. That's a great bird anywhere in the US, but especially rare away from the Pacific coast. Colorado has one previously accepted record of this species (one of 21 gulls on the state list), but I had never previously seen the species, either in Colorado or anywhere else.
Yesterday afternoon I got some distant digicsoped pics of the bird, but today I was able to get much better pics thanks much to the bread and sardine-flinging efforts of anther gull savant, John Vanderpoel. The sticky point seems to be that 1st-winter hybrid Herring x Glaucous-winged Gulls may be nearly indistinguishable from 1st-winter Slaty-backed Gulls. Some young Herring Gulls may share much in appearance, too. Early opinions from several gull experts differ- some whom I deeply respect are leaning towards the presence of Herring Gull genes, while others are leaning towards a "good" Slaty-backed Gull. A couple of online references I'll be sorting through include this Gull ID page and a page with all ages of Slaty-backs from Japan. I'll also rely on my Gulls of the Americas and Gulls of North America, Europe, and Asia in addition to the standard field guides as I look into the case more. In any case, I'm posting these pics for folks to study and form their own opinions of what the bird is or isn't.
Here are some digiscoped profiles:
And here are a couple of flight composites:
Finally, some other shots showing various aspects:
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Monday, November 24, 2008
Noah and the Penguins
Noah Strycker is spending this season in a field camp on remote Cape Crozier, Antarctica, with two other researchers and several hundred thousand Adelie Penguins. Adverse weather, cramped conditions, and isolation are usual. This blog covers day-to-day life on earth's driest, coldest, windiest, most southerly continent.
Noah is a 22-year-old recent graduate of Oregon State University in Fisheries and Wildlife. He is Associate Editor of Birding magazine, columnist known as BirdBoy in WildBird magazine, and a passionate birder, artist, and photographer. Contact him or see more of his work at noahstrycker.com.
Penguin Science research is ongoing. You can learn more about the project at penguinscience.com.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
After the weasel incident, I didn't have to wait too long until the Snow Buntings came along, alerting me by their call. They foraged among the rocks and the wrack piled up on the lake side, offering some great poses. These are my best shots of the species so far.
I took one more detour on the way home, 4-wheeling through snow to the top of Guanella Pass in search of White-tailed Ptarmigans. I see them about every summer when they are brown and mottled to blend in with rocks and tundra vegetation, but hadn't seen white birds in their winter plumage for quite a while. Finding them is harder now that the road to the top of the pass doesn't get plowed (it used to stay open all winter), but I found the right timing this year. I could still reach the top (but a non-4wd car wouldn't have made it), and there was enough snow on the high slopes above timberline to attract wintering ptarmigans. Most were pure white, but a few had a smattering of summer feathers left to molt. The challenge is finding these snowballs on a white mountainside. They like dwarf willows whose tips are sticking out of drifts, providing easy bud picking. This is the only bird I can think of that I usually find by following tracks- while they can easily fly they prefer to walk around and those snowshoe feet leave distinctive trackways. Droppings are also a good sign that you are in an area they like. If luck is with you, a white blob will suddenly move out of your way, and then you're in business. As long as you move slowly, the birds stay very relaxed, continuing their feeding and little vocalizations or snugging down out of the wind to relax. I talk to them as I move around for better angles, figuring that a predator would never be that visible & noisy. I'm sure it would be a comical sight to see me chatting it up with the plump little white birds, plopped down in the snow to get a ptarmigan-eye view while they go about their business.