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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Birds before Work

This morning during my early morning walk, the friendly neighborhood Great Horned Owl was calling from the top of a pine tree at the end of my block. As I watched it, the bird flew across the street into a neighbor's backyard. A nice way to start the day.

On my walk along Perkiomen Creek, I was startled by a large bird fly away low along the creek, then climb steeply to clear the trees. It was beating its wings quickly and in the early morning light mostly showed dark wings with a white-trailing edge to the wing. Common Merganser.

Arriving at work this morning, a tom Wild Turkey was displaying out in the open near the edge of the woods. Three hen turkeys were shuffling around just inside the woods.

All in all not a bad way to start the day.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Ivory Gull Twitch

I woke up this morning to news that an Ivory Gull was being seen in New York, about two and a half hours from my home. Having daydreamed about seeing this rare Arctic gull for years, there was nothing to do but to jump in the car with my nine-year old (if they can open school late for snow, I can cancel it for a day to show my 4th grader an all-white gull that eats dead seal carcasses left by Polar Bears!). We arrived at the designated spot and followed a half dozen birders on foot for about half a mile. And there it was, a beautiful white bird, sitting on top of a telephone pole, with 40 birders standing around below it. After 20 minutes, it flew off, circled around, and came back a couple times--landing on a piling, picking up part of a dead fish, and flying off again. Amazing. I wasn't ready for the colors on the bill--red, orange, yellow, green, blue. If you live on the East Coast, this is a good bird to chase. Since these birds are declining, possibly due to melting of Polar ice caps due to global climate change, and possibly due to mercury poisoning, there's no telling how many opportunities we'll have to see these birds. They almost never get this far south. (Photo: Phil Jeffrey)

Also in the area, and at one point in the same binocular field, a wintering Snowy Owl. As one birder commented, its not very often that you see a bird that makes a Snowy Owl look off-white--but an adult Ivory Gull sure does that. Some birders have seen this Ivory Gull pick at scraps of a duck killed by this owl, so its quite a scene there on the banks of the Hudson River 20 miles north of NYC.

My 4th grader was happy to see the gull, as well as her second Snowy Owl, and to play in the snow for a little while. She read her autographed Kaufman guide half way home. Hopefully she'll remember this twitch, and feel a connection to the Arctic wildlife that need our protection.

More on this bird:
Phil Jeffrey
The City Birder
Jersey Birder

Saturday, February 24, 2007

False Advertising?

Originally this post was a criticism of the ad copy for Ivorybill Hunters, Geoff Hill's new Oxford Press book about looking for Ivory-billed Woodpeckers. However, upon further reflection, I've decided its time for me to follow Rule #2, a Fergus Family rule my parents came up with after watching Walt Disney's Bambi--ie, if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.

In the spirit of that rule, I think I'm done commenting on the whole Ivory-billed Woodpecker saga--and I want to apologize to anyone who I have disagreed with about this issue. The lines seem to be drawn, I don't see too many people changing each other's minds about this, and resulting conversations seem to mostly generate ill feelings. To the degree that I've contributed to that, I apologize. While I believe in always searching for and standing up for the truth as it can be best determined, I do not believe in using truth as a weapon to attack others. To the degree that I have done that, or have made others feel attacked, I apologize. We may disagree, but I apologize for doing so disagreably. I aspire to be better than that.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

New Species for the GBBC

So far we've added three new species to the Great Backyard Bird Count for the first time this year. I've wanted to get Lesser Prairie Chicken on the count for the past three years, and we finally got a sighting reported this year from Oklahoma. This year we were finally able to update state checklists, which allowed us to (finally!) record the Falcated Duck that has been returning to Oregon each of the last few winters. Also, this year we were able to add the two Pink-footed Geese that have been hanging out near Newport, Rhode Island.

Hopefully there will be more new additions as we continue to sift through the records and drum up reports of birds still not submitted yet to the count. We are accepting reports from last weekend through February 28, so there is still time to submit your bird sightings online (here).

Winter Wren

I've been practically living with my computer surgically attached to my body for the last week, while working on the GBBC. Besides the birds at Peace Valley Park on my way to work, and the birds at the feeders at work, I haven't been having enough bird encounters lately.

Today, on my morning walk, a pair of Winter Wrens caught my attention as they called back and forth to each other as them moved along the woods between the hike and bike path and Perkiomen creek near my house. These little brown puffballs are a joy to watch as they flit about. And they may have helped keep me from harm. By stopping to watch them, I narrowly avoided a very slippery patch of black ice on the path, that would have almost certainly caused me to tumble had I been marching along at full speed!
(photo:Melissa Whitmire)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

GBBC Photo Gallery

Two years ago we started a Great Backyard Bird Count photo contest as a way for people to share pictures of their favorite birds seen during the count. If you got some nice bird photos this past weekend, consider sharing them here. Otherwise, just drop by to see what others are sharing at the GBBC photo gallery. (photo: Margaret Heslin).

New GBBC Records

The Great Backyard Bird Count is setting all new records for participation this year. As of 2:00pm EST today, we have a new record of 61,678 checklists submitted--breaking the previous 2000 record of 60,999 checklists. We also have a new record for the number of individual birds counted, currently over 8.6 million birds.

Many states, provinces, and territories have already submitted record numbers of checklists. As of this afternoon, they include Arizona, British Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, New Brunswick, North Carolina, Nunavut, Quebec, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Several other states are close to breaking their checklist records.

It's still early, and a lot of unusual sightings are still under review, so it would be too early to declare that any state has broken their historic all time species counts, but it looks like that will happen for a good number of states as well.

Thanks to everyone for submitting their counts. While the count is now over, observers have until February 28 to submit their counts online.

Post script (2/22)
--As of this morning, 29 states, provinces, and territories have broken their records for checklist submissions. For a comparison, last year only 19 were able to do so.

Monday, February 19, 2007

GBBC Update--Feb 19

As of 1pm this afternoon, we have 41,072 checklists submitted to the Great Backyard Bird Count, up 40% from last year at this time. Still a long ways to go. We're also showing reports of 567 species (though some of those are actually species pairs or other non-species). Some of the more interesting reports--a huge flock of blackbirds and grackles reported in DE has raised eyebrows. Also 450,000 robins in Florida, where there is a huge winter roost this year.

And my very own favorite, after two years of trying, we've finally got a report of Lesser Prairie Chicken for the very first time on the count.

There are still a lot of species missing from the count. If you have seen a species not already reported for 2007 on this list, then make sure to report it online!

A few more hours to get out and count some birds. Have fun!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

GBBC Update--Feb 17, 2007

The 10th Great Backyard Bird Count is rolling along nicely. As of 9pm EST this evening, birders had submitted 17,210 checklists and reported over 500 bird species--up over 50% from the number of submissions last year at this time in the count.

New York leads the pack with numbers of checklists submitted (1115), followed by Georgia (987), and North Carolina (961). Cities reporting the most birds are Charlotte, NC (133), Durham, NC (100), and Tallahassee, FL (98).

There are still over 100 species reported last year that haven't been reported yet this year. You can see which species are still missing by looking through the species list here. Species with an asterisk have been reported this year. Birds without an asterisk (sort of like Plain-bellied Sneetches) are still missing from the count. If you've seen one of these missing birds this weekend, make sure to report it. Or if you know where one of these missing birds is, head out and see it tomorrow or Monday, then report it!

Whatever you do, please report any and all birds seen each day this Friday-Monday to

International GBBC

I've had several people email with desires to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count from outside of the U.S. and Canada. While the official GBBC website and database can only handle sightings from the U.S. and Canada at this point, feel free to post your International GBBC counts here as a comment! Hopefully in future years, we can get a more official way to share International GBBC counts.

A U.S. serviceman from Iraq sent me this list from CSC Scania:
European Collared Dove--19
House Sparrow--73
White-cheeked Bulbul--4
Black-winged Stilt--1
Carrion Crow--1
Rock Dove--1
Hooded Crow--1
Crested Lark--1
Unidentified bird of prey--1
Unidentified wren-like bird--1

Lets hear it for our International GBBC participants!

GBBC--record setting pace

Just over a day into the Great Backyard Bird Count, we're on a record setting pace for numbers of checklists submitted. At 10am EST on Saturday, we had 8491 checklists submitted. Last year at this time, we only had 5130 checklists in by now. In 2000 we had 6804 checklists in by this point. So keep it up, head outside, see some birds, and report them online here.

This morning from my back porch I was able to count more species than yesterday--including a flyby Lesser Black-backed Gull and the wintering Northern Mockingbird defending the holly tree. Since every day is different, submit a checklist for your yard each day this weekend so we can get an average count that more accurately depicts bird abundance in your area.

Friday, February 16, 2007

GBBC Help--Counting Flocks of Birds

eBird has a great online guide to counting flocks of birds (Bird Counting 101)--worth taking a look at if you are concerned about accurately counting large flocks of birds for the Great Backyard Bird Count.

GBBC Help--Finding Zip Codes

To enter bird sightings for the Great Backyard Bird Count, you need to know your zip code. While you are sure to know the zip code of your home, what about the zip code of your favorite birding area? How do you find that?

Its as easy as can be. Just head to the zip code search tool online here, and zoom in to find your favorite birding area. Each zip code is colored to make it easy to see exactly what zip code your favorite birding area is in.

GBBC Starts Today!!!

It's finally here, the Great Backyard Bird Count. I started the morning looking out my window at a frozen wasteland of an urban backyard. Only birds present: 10 European Starlings and 8 House Sparrows. The Northern Mockingbird that has been defending our holly tree, nowhere to be seen. No Mourning Doves on the lines. No House Finches or Dark-eyed Juncos at the feeder. Oh well, I did a count, and submitted it online.

On the way to work, I stopped by Peace Valley Park. I thought the lake would be entirely frozen, but no, there is still a small patch of open water. Best birds were a pair of Redheads floating out with the Common Mergansers and a pair of Hooded Mergansers. There was another small dark diving duck too far away to see for sure what it was. I'll have to go back again later. Meanwhile, when I got to work, I submitted another checklist for the park.

Here at work, I'm watching the feeders. Once I've got the high count for each species, I'll submit another checklist from here.

I love the GBBC! Tomorrow I'll take my kids out for a little bit before heading back here to the office to run GBBC support all day. The ground is covered with snow. Its bitter cold. But there are still birds out there to count!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Better than TV--Backyard Wild Kingdom

With snow covering the ground, our feeders at work are loaded with birds--dozens of juncos and white-throated sparrows at a time on the ground. Yesterday there were over 20 cardinals at once in the snow. Today, while I was watching the action, a young Cooper's Hawk swooped in and scattered all the birds. It landed in a bare tree and preened for a few minutes. Finally, a young white-throated sparrow took off out of a nearby holly tree, and the hawk bolted after it. The sparrow hit an upstairs window, and before it could hit the ground, the Cooper's Hawk had grabbed it in mid-air not five feet from me just outside my window, and landed in the snow with the sparrow in its talons. We considered each other for a moment, and the hawk flew off carrying the hapless sparrow. Amazing!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

GBBC in the Blogosphere

Lots of bloggers are getting in on the GBBC action. Look for more posts as we get closer to the count, and enjoy the GBBC experiences of these folks as they post throughout the weekend. I look forward to reading about everyone's GBBC fun! Meanwhile, check out these GBBC posts:

Bootstrap Analysis
Birds Etcetera
Got Serenity
Sox Fan Zone
A DC Birding Blog
The House & Other Arctic Musings
10,000 Birds
Journey was the Destination
All About Home Schooling
Blog de Purée
Doc's Sunrise Rants

There are over 433 posts currently listed at Blogsearch. While you're composing your own GBBC blog post, cruise on over to hear the latest NPR story about the count (here).

Great Backyard Bird Count this weekend

This weekend is the Great Backyard Bird Count! We've been busy the last couple weeks at work lining things up, and we're almost ready to go. For the first time ever we have regional reviewers to check up on unusual reports of birds in every single state and Canadian province and territory. Today I've been blitzing state birding email lists with information about how their states did last year, and urging folks to get out and see more birds this year. More birders+more birds=more fun! That's the equation for GBBC success!

So, whatever else you do this weekend, head out to your favorite birding area, check out the birds in your yard, and report the birds from both places each day at the GBBC website. Then spend some time on the website checking out the nifty maps and up-to-date reports on the birds being seen in your area and across the country. Take your friends and family out and have some fun!

Friday, February 09, 2007

Drawing Birds

Drawing the Motmot has a great recent post about how to draw birds. Don't you wish you could draw birds too? Turn of the computer, grab some paper, head outside (or to a window), and get started!

Birding is for lovers

National Audubon has a Valentines Day page dedicated to bird love, and to human couples who met through birding. While birding can be a source of discord in a relationship, in the best of worlds it can also bring people together. They don't call enfatuated couples love birds for nothing!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Bird Killer Granny

Birders across the country are disgusted by a Newsweek article about a grandmother who buys a gun and kills a cardinal that has been attacking her glass windows. Some have even wondered if this is a spoof--since it seems clearly to be in bad taste and an over-the-top response to a minor nuisance. Others are determined that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should fine the granny for willfully violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that protects all native birds.

I wanted to look into this a bit, so I started looking for this granny--Walda Cameron of Goshen, New York. I did find her address at an online campaign contributions site for a Democratic judge (here). She also wrote a NIMBY letter to the editor of a local paper against a proposed asphalt plant. She also donates to charity. Finally I found her phone number. Other than that, not a lot more about her online.

Of course, before phoning or sending a note to the bird-killing granny, we should all take a deep breath. While this granny clearly lives in a glass house, and admittedly does cast stones, at least at birds, we don't want to create a tempest in a teapot and wouldn't want our own responses to be as over-the-top as her original misguided shooting and ill-begotten celebratory article. Walda made a couple big mistakes, and I'm sure she isn't getting the response she thought she would get to her article. And bloggers are Googling her personal information. Public shame is a more powerful punishment than anything the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can dish out. I'll bet it isn't fun to be her this week.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Googling the Ivory-billed Woodpecker?

John over at Birds Etcetera is using Google to determine the importance of various terms and people in the Ivory-billed Woodpecker debate. Unfortunately, this approach probably doesn't mean very much. For instance, by Googling the terms Ivory bill Texas he gets 199,00 Google hits, while Googling Ivory bill Arkansas only gets 147,000 hits. Likewise, Googling Ivory bill Sibley gets 76,900 hits, Ivory bill Audubon gets 124,000 hits.

Unfortunately, this probably has more to do with the overall significance of the search terms in general use, rather than how they are related to the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. As an example, Ivory Bill Tomato gets 144,00 hits, Ivory Bill Dishwasher gets 58,000 hits, and Ivory bill porn gets 288,000 Google hits. Are these results more likely to tell you that the IBWO is obscene, or that the Google hits results don't mean much?

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Whooping Crane deaths in Florida

The recent storms killed all of the young birds in the experimental flock that had recently arrived from Wisconsin. It is entirely possible that severe storms associated with global climate change may increasingly threaten the Florida birds, as well as the wild flock that winters on the Central Texas coast. You can spend millions of dollars trying to save these birds, but with small populations, chance storms and other events like this are a huge threat. That's why it is important to keep populations of birds from getting to small, and a the real reason that we should be concerned about Cerulean Warblers, Greater Sage Grouse, Rusty Blackbirds, and other species that are seriously declining. Its a travesty that the Bush Administration refuses to list some of these species. Once their populations get even smaller, they will be harder to save, and even more threatened by freak storms or other events.

In managing endangered species, the question shouldn't be "how small can the population get" before we have to step in to help it, but "how can we get even more birds than we think we need, so they can make it through freak events like this?" Its like when you learned to drive a car--you shouldn't be seeing how close you can drive to the edge of the cliff, but how far away from the cliff you can get.

H5N1 in England

This is the first time HPAI H5N1 has been found in poultry in England, infecting turkeys on a farm in Suffolk. We'll have to see if it is found in wild birds in the area. Still a lot we don't know about how this might be transmitted across Europe. Earlier this winter there was an outbreak in Russia and Hungary.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Scattering the flock

Today at work I took a few minutes to help with our office Project Feeder Watch count, and suddenly all the Mourning Doves and juncos bolted from the ground around the feeders. I knew something was in the area, and a few moments later a young Cooper's Hawk swooped up into the tree above the feeders. It perched there for several minutes, glancing all around, as the Blue Jays called loudly from other nearby trees. Its great to see these impressive bird-eating hawks scatter a flock...kind of like a T-rex scattering a heard of hadrosaurs, but on a smaller scale. Very fun way to start the morning.
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