Sunday, January 31, 2010

Baltimore Orioles in the dead of winter!

A column in today's Evansville (IN) Courier & Press reports on some January Baltimore Oriole sightings:

Wow. That's noteworthy! Brock's Birds of Indiana mentions just one January record for Baltimore Orioles:

"Although most winter reports occur in December (eight records), one January and four February records also exist."

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Birds jamming on electric guitar

Birds jamming on electric guitar!

Cool YouTube video:

My all-time favorite song about birding/birdwatching

There have been quite a few pop/rock songs about birds, but I can’t recall too many about birding/birdwatching.

When I lived in Urbana, IL, there was a local band called Hum. They had a national radio hit in the 1990s, a song called “Stars”. But my favorite Hum song is titled “Why I Like the Robins”. It’s about someone waiting for migrating birds to return from the south.

The song begins with the following lyrics:

The distance outside of you comes into focus, collapses away lovingly
Hands to the glass and eyes to the sky and glued to the south, she waits to see
She's looking for birds she met last fall
Who said they would come back different than all
She's waiting for six who know about sound
Who promised to come back upside down

Great band! Great song!!

If you’d like to listen to “Why I Like the Robins”, go to the following URL and click on the “play” arrow in the upper right hand corner:

"Turkeys", a poem by Galway Kinnell

Wild Turkeys are one of my favorite bird species. There are a LOT of them near my present home in southern Indiana. And for two years there was a flock of turkeys in my neighborhood in Urbana, IL. I wrote a Thanksgiving essay about this latter group of turkeys that appeared in the 11/29/09 edition of the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette:

Anyway, I was reading through the the January 18 issue of the New Yorker and stumbled across a poem about one of my favorite birds. Thought I would share it with you all:

"Turkeys", a poem by Galway Kinnell

UK's Big Garden Birdwatch to assess impact of harsh winter

This weekend the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is conducting its annual Big Garden Birdwatch ( People across the UK will devote an hour to counting the birds in their gardens (i.e., yards), and reporting the results to the RSPB.

The big buzz in this year’s Birdwatch has to do with weather. The UK has experienced its worst winter in 30 years. The Birdwatch may show how the harsh winter has affected wildlife. As a writer in the Independent notes: “The results are likely to give the first true indication of the scale of winter mortality among the commoner songbirds which visit gardens, particularly the very small species which are especially vulnerable to cold, such as long-tailed tits and wrens, and perhaps robins.”

Here are a few newspaper articles that discuss this weekend’s Big Garden Birdwatch in the context of the UK’s harsh winter:

Friday, January 29, 2010

British bird-feeders may be splitting species

From New Scientist magazine:

"The friendly bird-feeder could be an evolutionary force to be reckoned with. British people who feed birds are contributing to the evolution of a whole new species of blackcap, new research suggests."

Thursday, January 28, 2010

If you think a crow is giving you the evil eye…

"Wild crows can recognise individual human faces and hold a grudge for years against people who have treated them badly. This ability – which may also exist in other wild animals – highlights how carefully some animals monitor the humans with whom they share living space."


Reducing aircraft-wildlife strikes at airports - a survey

Just wanted to point out the following request...

Dear fellow birding enthusiasts,

As a lifelong birder and professional aviator for over 16 years, I am conducting a nation-wide study on the level of community support for the mitigation measures used at airports to reduce the wildlife strike hazard to commercial aircraft. Getting input from different regions of the country is necessary to gauge whether there are regional differences due to varying bird populations or possible high profile incidents involving wildlife strikes on aircraft.

Responses are submitted electronically to a database that does not identify users, so your answers will be completely confidential. Findings will be released only as analyzed data or summaries in which no individual’s answers can be identified. Please take a few moments to share your opinions and experiences. I appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to contribute toward this important research about community views on wildlife mitigation measures at airports.

The survey can be accessed at: https://www. surveymonkey. com/s/XTVS225

If you would like a summary of my findings, please send me your e-mail address at kennedym2009@ Once the study is complete, I will e-mail the summary to you.

Best Regards,
Matt Kennedy
Graduate student in Aeronautical Science
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Kinda like a scene from Hitchcock's "Birds"

Coming back from the grocery store tonight I was driving north on Pete Ellis Drive, approaching the stoplight at 10th Street. While stopped at the stoplight, I happened to look to the west and saw 500+ crows perched in the trees at the old Hinkle Farmstead (2920 E. 10th St). I'm not sure if they spent the night roosting there, but the light was starting to fade. Kinda looked like a scene from Hitchcock's "Birds".

These birds are getting a little too close to home...

A very predatory week

This has been quite the week for seeing predators taking their prey. Maybe the light snow cover makes mice and voles easier to see – more contrast than when the rodents are scurrying through drab brown grasses?

Here’s a sampling of the bird species I’ve seen this week dining on various hapless victims:

* American Kestrel
* Northern Harrier
* Red-shouldered Hawk
* Red-tailed Hawk
* Cooper’s Hawk
* Merlin
* Eastern Screech-Owl
* American Crow

I had three especially close encounters this week:

* Tuesday afternoon a vole was feeding outside my office window in an area where I scatter bird seed on the ground. Suddenly a crow dropped straight down from a tree branch, pinned the vole to the ground, and dispatched the vole with a quick snap of its bill. It then flew away with the vole in its bill, presumably so that it could eat its lunch without being harrassed by the other neighborhood crows. Very fascinating. This is only the second time I’ve seen a crow catch a rodent. The other time was maybe ten years ago in Urbana, IL.

* Last night I was watching a small rodent foraging for food near the bird feeders (feeders are about ten feet from the patio door). I wouldn’t have noticed the rodent’s movements in the darkness if there hadn’t been snow on the ground. Suddenly a dark shape dropped out of the spruce tree and landed on the rodent. Screech-Owl! I watched as it bolted down the rodent and then flew away. Pretty cool!

* This morning I was walking along the edge of the Indiana University cross country course. I stopped to look at a Mourning Dove all puffed up in the early morning sunlight. It looked very comfortable soaking up the sun’s warming rays. Then a dark shape passed overhead and hit the dove as it vainly tried to escape. Where once there had been a drowsy dove there was now nothing except a few small tiny gray feathers hanging in the air like snowflakes. It was close enough that I could hear the hawk’s wing clip one of the tree branches. It all happened so quickly I couldn’t ID the hawk, but I’m assuming Cooper’s.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a week where I’ve observed so much predatory activity.

Hawk burned in plane crash expected to recover

A hawk was burned in a fiery plane crash in the Chicago suburbs this past weekend. The feathers were so charred that the wildlife rehabilitators have yet to determine the species. Amazingly, it's expected to make a full recovery.

According to the Chicago Tribune:

"A hawk so badly burned during a small plane crash Saturday, Jan. 23, 2010 in Sugar Grove, Ill. that a rehabilitation specialist has not been able to positively identify its species now may make a complete recovery and be returned to the wild. The positive prognosis for the raptor, who has since been dubbed 'Phoenix,' may be the only positive outcome from the crash that killed two Florida businessmen. Their plane crashed in a fireball near Sugar Grove minutes after taking off from the Aurora airport. The hawk may have been roosting for the night in a nearby tree that was enveloped by flames."

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Birding Adventures TV show

A weekly TV show about birding:

From the "Birding Adventures TV" web site:

"Birding Adventures TV focuses on destination and adventure bird-watching. Explore the best exotic birding destinations on the planet; the most unusual, rare and highly sought after bird species; amazing cultures and wildlife. Thanks to our informative, passionate - and sometimes crazy! – host, BATV portrays a unique blend of information and adventure, making bird-watching refreshing, contemporary, interesting and exciting. The program has a strong conservation emphasis and highlights the importance and urgency of preserving the planet’s incredible birdlife. "

Monday, January 25, 2010

UK's Big Garden Birdwatch

The UK's Big Garden Birdwatch (BGB) is coming up this weekend (January 30-31). See:

It's similar to our Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), which takes place from February 12-15 this year. But there are a few differences:

1. The BGB is limited to two days (Saturday and Sunday), compared to four days for the GBBC (Friday through Monday).

2. With the BGB you are limited to just a single one-hour session, on either Saturday OR Sunday. In contrast, the GBBC web site notes: "Count birds in as many places and on as many days as you like—one day, two days, or all four days. Submit a separate checklist for each new day. You can also submit more than one checklist per day if you count in other locations on that day."

3. You can't count flyovers during the BGB ("Do record the ones that actually land – don't record the birds that fly over"). The GBBC lets you include birds in flight.

The BGB web site lists fifteen common garden birds for beginners to look for: All but about three of them would be new life birds for me.

Finally, I've gleaned an interesting factoid from the BGB web site: "We've lost more than half our house sparrows, and three-quarters of our starlings, and your results have certainly helped highlight these dramatic declines." I think they've all moved to my neighborhood. :-)

Singing American Tree Sparrow

Watched an American Tree Sparrow (ATSP) singing this morning while walking on a path through the Bell Trace senior living community on east 10th Street in Bloomington.

I'm familiar with ATSP foraging calls when they are in winter flocks. When you get a flock of 100+ birds doing these calls all at once, it sounds like a breeze blowing through delicate glass wind chimes.

I don't think I've ever heard an ATSP in song before. They breed in Alaska and northern Canada, so I imagine they do most of their singing WAY up north. I wouldn't have been able to pin down what it was if I hadn't seen it singing. It was perched in a small tree, maybe ten feet up.

I'm not claiming it's unusual to hear an ATSP sing in southern Indiana. I don't know if it is, or if it is not. But personally it was a cool experience!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Crafty House Sparrow :-(

This morning I looked out the window to see a smallish female House Sparrow (HOSP) eating sunflower pieces from one of my "HOSP-proof" feeders. I rattled the window blinds to scare her away, and had to do this several more times as she returned to the feeder. She hasn't been back recently (knock on wood).

If you're curious about my "HOSP-proofing" saga, see:

Saturday, January 23, 2010

One thousand or more crows on Bloomington's east side!

I made a quick trip to Dick's Sporting Goods in Bloomington's College Mall early this evening. As I got out of my car I noticed many, many crows flying just to the south of the mall. The crows looked like they were flying out of a gathering point or staging area in Latimer Woods (Latimer Woods is just across Buick Cadillac Blvd from the southern edge of the mall).

When I first saw the crows, they were flying in a line from Latimer Woods to the far western horizon. And they just kept coming for several minutes after that. When I went into the store it looked like there were still several hundred crows in the trees in Latimore Woods.

I'm conservatively guessing I saw at least 1,000 crows in flight. I have no idea how many had already passed over the western horizon before I got there. And I'm not sure exactly how many were still in Latimer Woods when I eventually entered the mall.

Let's just say that it was an impressive number of crows! :-)

Seven new species for 2010

The weather wasn’t very conducive to good birding this week...fog, freezing fog, rain, freezing rain, and generally dismally dark and gray. But I did get to pick up seven new first-of-year (FOY) and BIGBY species.

My BIGBY count now stands at 70 species for 2010. That’s a new personal record for a January BIGBY count, and well ahead of my 2009 pace (I didn’t get 70 BIGBY species until March 1 in 2009). The downside of getting my birds this early is that I’m most likely to run into a serious BIGBY drought until spring migration gets underway.

The seven new FOY/BIGBY species are:

* Red-winged Blackbird – 1/16, IU XC course

* Eastern Screech Owl – 1/17, heard in early AM

* Hermit Thrush – 1/17, IU XC course, scrounging around for the last few dried-up honeysuckle berries

* Belted Kingfisher – 1/17, perched in a tree above a patch of open water in an apartment complex pond near Pete Ellis Drive. I had to go looking for him. I wouldn’t have known he was there if I hadn’t heard the call first.

* Barred Owl – 1/18, early AM, flushed from woods near IU XC course. I love these birds.

* Northern Bobwhite – 1/18, five birds flushed from field north of IU XC course. Only my second sighting in the last seven months.

* Eastern Phoebe – 1/18, perched on wire along Indiana Railroad tracks, maybe 200 feet east of Pete Ellis Drive. Fourth January in a row I’ve seen a phoebe.

* Rough-legged Hawk – 1/23, flying over IU golf course...only the second one I’ve seen this winter

I watched a female Northern Cardinal singing this morning...something I don’t get to see all that often. Seems a little early in the season for a singing female. Of course, it was only a couple of years ago that I found out that female cardinals could sing. :-)

I’ve also noticed what seems like a bumper crop of cardinals this winter. There are a LOT of cardinals in the brush along the sides of the IU XC course, as well as in the brush along the Indiana Railroad tracks south of 10th Street. Seems like more of them than in past winters.

Speaking of cardinals, I was listening to what I thought was a cardinal singing fragments of its song when I realized it was a Tufted Titmouse singing a slightly different song. That makes maybe about the fourth species I’ve mistaken for cardinals over the years. The other three? Common Yellowthroat, Carolina Wren, and Ovenbird.

A few other highlights from this week:

* About 200 American Crows on the ground along Pete Ellis Drive. It appeared they were feeding on small acorns. They didn’t fly away as I approached, but just sort of edged out of the way. The crows closest to me faced towards me and looked for all the world like they were barking at me. :-)

* Four Red-bellied Woodpeckers on my feeders simultaneously, two on each feeder. A yard record.

* A Pileated Woodpecker on a feeder. Very rare occurrence, even though they are plentiful a few hundred yards away.

* Northern Harrier over IU XC course.

* Merlin perched in tree on XC course.

* Many Canada Geese flying low over my house in numerous flocks Sunday evening...750+ birds.

* Watched a flock of 40-50 Canada Geese fly low over me one morning in fairly thick fog. Very ethereal, with muted honks. As they flew away from me they each disappeared in the fog, as if someone was turning off a string of lights one-by-one.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Interesting photos of a Great Blue Heron "mousing" in the snow

Ever wonder what Great Blue Herons do for food when the water ices over?

Check out these interesting photos from Steve Coleman's blog:

http://stevesbirdnb log.blogspot. com

World's Longest Migration Found--2X Longer Than Thought

Interesting news about the migration of the Arctic Tern:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

My Top Ten Illinois Birds of 2009

I finally had a chance to leisurely review my birding records from 2009. I decided to come up with a “top ten” list of Illinois bird sightings. It was relatively easy to pick out my top ten birds, but not so easy to rank them. So I wimped out and decided to list them in chronological order. But I have to admit that the first bird on the chronological list would also rank #1 in terms of importance.

One interesting point is that I added four species to my life list in 2009 while hanging out in the small Champaign County village of Ivesdale (population 288). Goes to show you that you can find interesting birds in surprising places.

Here’s my Illinois 2009 top ten list:

* Snowy Owl – SW Champaign County, to the east of Ivesdale, early in January. I thought I might have been seeing things, but later read that these birds had been seen as far south as Virginia, Missouri and Tennessee during the irruption. And there were quite a few in Illinois farther to the north. I didn’t report this to any lists because I was without computer access for several days, and by the time I got back online I hadn’t seen the bird in days. A life bird for me.

* Eurasian Collared-Dove – Ivesdale, Champaign County, January. Another lifer.

* Prairie Falcon – Western Iroquois County, mid-January. Another life bird.

* Golden Eagle – Vermilion County, March. Not a life bird, but a cool find nonetheless.

* Harris’ Sparrow – U of Illinois South Farms, March. Darned if it isn’t another tick on the life bird list. :-)

* Bewick’s Wren - U of Illinois South Farms, March. Once again, a new life bird for me.

* LeConte’s Sparrow – U of Illinois South Farms, April. I’m not sure if this is a life bird. I think I saw one a long time ago, but it wasn’t ticked on my life list. Cool bird nonetheless.

* White-winged Dove – Ivesdale, Champaign County, June. A lifer bird, and a really cool discovery for me.

* Cliff Swallow – Ivesdale, Champaign County, June. Found a small nesting colony (just a few nests) under a rural bridge to the southeast of Ivesdale, later confirmed by Steve Bailey of the INHS. Yet another lifer for me.

* Yellow-headed Blackbird – Urbana’s Meadowbrook Park, July. Not a lifer for me, but the first I’ve ever seen east of the Mississippi.

Monday, January 18, 2010

My hunt for new binoculars

In mid-December I posted the following question to several birding e-mail lists:

“I'm in the market for new binoculars. I've been reading info on various binocular specifications like magnification, objective lens diameter, field of view, etc. Just wondering what experienced birders prefer as far as these specs are concerned? What do you think are the ideal specifications for binoculars for birders?”

For the past two years I’ve been using a pair of 8x21 Eagle Optics “Energy” compact binoculars. They’re pretty good for the money ($40), but they have some limitations. I was using these lower-end binocs for a reason. In 2007 I tumbled down 15 stairs and broke my arm. There were complications that required surgery a year later. To make a long story short, I was a one-armed birder, so size and weight trumped all other specifications. I missed some field marks with these binocs, especially in low light (I'm an early morning birder). Had to chalk up a lot of birds as “unknown”. On the plus side, I learned out of necessity how to sneak up on birds to get really close. :-) Also, I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on my one-armed binocs because I mistakenly thought I’d be using them for only a couple of months and then switch back to my “old” binoculars (Minolta 8x – 20x50 zoom binoculars…they are at least 20 years old and kinda heavy).

I’d gotten used to the light weight of the Eagle Optics and I’d become a one-handed birder by habit. But the lens coatings on the Eagle Optics were wearing off from years of hard use. The Minoltas seemed heavy, and I figured that maybe, just maybe, optics manufacturing had improved over the past 20+ years. Time for new binoculars!!

The following web site was useful for me as far as explaining binocular specs:

This related site was also helpful:

And offered some VERY helpful advice. It convinced me to find a store with a decent selection of binocs, rather than buying sight unseen online, especially where it says “Make sure the binocular will spread wide enough...for your eyes”. I have a big head, and some binoculars don’t “fit” right. Here’s their advice:

“There's something tangible but hard to define in the way a binocular fits a person's hands. It's a good idea to try a binocular personally before buying. Make sure the binocular will spread wide enough or close in narrow enough for your eyes. Notice the way the eyecups fit against your eyes or glasses. See whether you like the way the focus knob turns. Feel how your thumbs fit the shape of the binocular's body. Do you like the texture of the binocular's covering? In short, does this binocular fit? Does it feel right for you?”

What did birders on the e-mail lists recommend? Basically, most of the respondents used 8x42 binoculars. I didn’t specifically ask for info on brands/models, but that didn’t stop people from offering advice. A fair number of people said they'd had good luck with Nikon's Monarch series. Several others highly recommended Swarovsky. The Nikon Monarchs were a heck of a lot closer to my price range (~$300) than the Swarovsky's ($2,000+).

Someone mentioned to me that they’d had a good experience trying out binoculars in the optics department at a Bass Pro Shops store. So I went to a Bass Pro Shop. Nice selection (including Zeiss, Leupold, and Swarovsky). Helpful staff. I was favoring the 8x42 Nikon Monarch before I got there, but I also checked out more expensive models. Not knowing in advance what I preferred, the guy who helped me basically told me that, unless I had REALLY high standards for optics, I wouldn't notice much difference between Nikons and the higher-priced European binocs (one of the Swarovsky’s was $2,995!). The Bass Pro Shop guy was right, at least as far as my less-than-discerning tastes go. Some day maybe I’ll work my way up to something like a Swarovsky...dream on. :-)

I got a pair of 8x42 Nikon Monarchs (I tried out a 10x42 pair and I honestly couldn’t tell the difference). And I can't believe how much BETTER they are than my 8x21 Eagle Optics compacts. Of course, since the Nikons cost 7.5 times as much as the $40 Eagles, you’d hope they’d be much better. :-)

Finally, I need to mention that I’m not recommending the 8x42 Nikon Monarchs as the ideal birding binocular for everyone. I’ve learned that selecting new binoculars is a very personal thing. What works for one person may not work for another, your mileage may vary, etc. But the Nikons suited me, and were within my price range.

I'm hoping that sharing my experience will be helpful to someone. And many thanks to those who took the time to respond to my question!

subjects: birds birding birdwatching binoculars

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Keeping House Sparrows away from bird feeders

In mid-September I posted the following question to several birding e-mail discussion lists:

"Earlier this summer the House Sparrows discovered my feeders, with a vengeance. I was feeding no-mess seed and black-oil sunflowers in tube feeders. I hadn't had problems with sparrows before. I stopped filling my feeders about six weeks ago, hoping that the sparrows would forget about them.In a couple of weeks I want to start putting feed out again for the winter. I was wondering if anyone could suggest bird feed I could use that doesn't appeal to House Sparrows? And it would be an added bonus if it didn't attract House Finches too."

Evidently this is a popular topic. I received nearly 50 replies to my question, by far the most responses I’ve ever received for an e-mail question.

The responses ranged from despair ("It is a lost cause") to resignation ("We have decided that if we are going to have birds, we can't select what we feed. Take what comes."). Several people suggested violent but tempting solutions. For example: "How about a sawed-off shotgun?" and "I'm convinced that there is only one way to keep them from your feeder. Two letters...BB." :-)

The advice people offered can be broken down into two categories: 1) The type of feed to use (and/or NOT use), and 2) Equipment.

The most interesting aspect of the "type of feed" advice is that some people experienced contradictory results, i.e, what worked for some people did not work for others. For example, where one person said they got rid of sparrows by offering safflower seed, another remarked that their sparrows got used to safflower and started eating it. Where one person said they solved their problem by only using feed with no millet or cracked corn, another related that this did not solve their HOSP problem. A couple of folks said HOSPS didn’t like peanut pieces, while another said their HOSPs liked them ("we have 45 or so House Sparrows at our feeder and they consume everything, including peanut pieces"). And one person even said that black oil sunflower seed worked for them at one residence, but when they moved to another house the HOSPs there LOVED black oil sunflower. A couple of people suggested "diversionary feeding" (feeding cracked corn and white millet onthe ground away from the feeders), while others tried that without success.

In my original note I also said I was considering feeding peanut pieces. Several people encouraged me to do so, saying it would attract many desirable species. But others warned of possible dire consequences: "If a squirrel or raccoon can get to the feeder it WILL be destroyed" and "The squirrels will tear your feeders apart trying to get to the peanuts. I really would discourage feeding peanut pieces for that reason." More on my experiences with squirrels and raccoons in a bit.

As far as equipment is concerned, several people suggested various solutions that used monofilament fishing line. They all said it worked like a charm in keeping the HOSPs away from the feeder. But two of them had experiences with other species getting tangled in the lines and decided it was not worth the risk. While it sounds like it has potential, I’d rather not risk the chance of having to untangle a bird from monofilament. From my experiences with fishing, it’s bad enough when monofilament gets tangled with itself, let alone with a bird.

Very few people had suggestions with regard to bird feeders. There were suggestions about how to keep squirrels away from feeders if I decided to feed peanut pieces, but very little about the feeders themselves. But the overall best piece of advice I received was about feeders. Leslie in Wheaton gave some great advice when she said: "The perches are the problem – get rid of the perches." Apparently HOSPs don’t like feeders without perches.

Intrigued by Leslie’s suggestion I went into my storage shed and found two feeders that would let me conduct a "no perches" experiment:

1. This feeder from Wild Birds Unlimited has perches, but they can be flipped up. I tied them up with garbage bag twisty ties, just in case an enterprising HOSP figured out how to flip them down. Birds cling to a metal mesh to get at the feeding ports. I filled this one with sunflower hearts.

2. This Duncraft feeder has no perches. I filled this one with a woodpecker feed mix (shelled peanuts, sunflower kernels, corn, pecans, pistachios, shelled pumpkin seed, and dried cherries).

Both of these feeders have the added advantage of being squirrel-proof. I’ve never seen a squirrel get anything out of them in the past. And I found out that they are raccoon-proof as well. The night after I added the woodpecker mix a raccoon destroyed my ceramic birdbath while trying to reach the feeder. It must have perched on the edge of the birdbath and tipped it over. The next night a raccoon knocked over the stand that holds the feeders and scattered the feeders across the patio. The feeders were fine and lost very little feed. I weighted down the base of the stand and have had no problems since.

The HOSPs definitely do NOT like the perch-less feeders. The Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, White and Red-breasted Nuthatches, Hairy and Downy and Red-bellied and Red-headed Woodpeckers, Goldfinches, etc. all LOVE the setup. I will occasionally scatter some seed on the ground to keep the juncos and other winter sparrows interested. Even so, I rarely have House Sparrows around.

CAVEAT: I'm not claiming that this solution will work in every situation. As I mention above, what works for some people may not work for others, so your mileage may vary. But after four months of this experiment, so far, so good.

Suspicious Birders?

Who'd think you could run afoul of the law while birding? pg/10017/ 1028530-140. stm

BIGBY writings

I thought I'd point to a series of brief BIGBY (green birding) articles that I wrote for the local Audubon Society chapter newsletter (I mentioned these in an earlier post, but for some reason the links in the earlier post weren't clickable):

In My Backyard: Big Green Big Year Satisfies. The Leaflet (newsletter). January/February 2009. ARTICLE ON PAGE 5.

Big Green Big Year — 2008 Summary of Four Experiences. The Leaflet (newsletter). March/April 2009. ARTICLE ON PAGE 6.

Big Green Big Year 2009: It’s All About Location, Location, Location. The Leaflet (newsletter). July/August 2009. ARTICLE ON PAGE 8.

Green Birding 2009. The Leaflet (newsletter). January/February 2010. ARTICLE ON PAGE 8.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Four falcon day - 1/17/09

Tomorrow is the first anniversary of my one and only day with four falcon species.

While driving from Bloomington, IN, to Wheaton, IL, for a family gathering I saw:

* A Merlin perched in its regular spot in a dead tree on the north edge of the Indiana University cross country course.

* Several American Kestrels in both Indiana and Illinois.

* The University of Illinois campus Peregrine, while making a stop in Champaign-Urbana

* Highlight of the day was a Prairie Falcon! The bird was in western Iroquois County IL, which borders Newton and Benton counties in Indiana.

Local birding - 1/16/10

The Indiana University cross country course has been kinda un-birdy lately, and today I think I might have figured out at least one reason why. I spent a little time looking, and I was hard-pressed to find a single honeysuckle berry. Last year there were berries around in mid-February, maybe later. And this year there was a bumper crop of fat juicy berries. I think the waxwings gobbled them up this fall. Just about any day you could find at least a couple hundred of them in October, including one day in late October when I counted 1,400+.

Also, someone put out a bait pile on one of the XC trails. Never did see any birds on it, but it did look like an inexpensive blend, lots of sorghum, etc. The bait pile was pretty much gone this AM, probably eaten overnight by a deer judging from the tracks in the mud. Funny thing is, it looked like a coyote had deposited some scat right in the center of the bait pile. :-)

I had a first-of-year Red-winged Blackbird on the XC course this AM. BIGBY species #63 for the year. Seems rather early in the season.

I also had my personal record high count for Pileated Woodpeckers this AM. Saw five of them in a relatively brief period of time in a relatively small area. Without going into a lot of detail here, I'm just about 100% sure they were five different individuals. I have to enjoy these magnificent birds while I can, as I'll probably be moving out of state this summer.

I had a white-tailed Junco under my feeders today. Odd looking bird.

And I had a first-ever gray squirrel under the feeders this AM. Over the years I've only had fox squirrels at the feeders. The gray squirrel looked like a scrawny little rat by comparison.

While I'm glad the snow has finally melted, I am really missing being able to go tracking. We had a solid week of good tracking snow, and it told a lot of stories, among them:

* The XC course always seems like a lonely place. I may see only one or two other people the whole time I am out there. Feels like a private preserve. But the snow tells a different story...walkers, runners, XC skiers, mountain bikers, sledders, etc. The last day the snow was there was like a time-lapse photo of a week's worth of activity.

* Looked like someone had been barefoot in the snow(!).

* I'm sort of surprised at how many deer and coyotes move into town during the night. The first morning after the snow ended I could see lots of signs where both animals crossed 10th Street, moving into a suburban-type area. The deer get almost as far south as 3rd Street.

* Not many rabbit tracks...haven't been seeing many rabbits this winter. But I did find one rabbit kill, probably by a coyote judging from the tracks. The coyote didn't leave much behind except a few tufts of fur and blood-stained snow that for some reason reminded me of a cherry snow-cone.

* Also saw quite a few sets of fox tracks. But, try as hard as I might, I couldn't come up with any bobcat tracks. :-)

* The snow told some bird stories as well. In several spots you could see where a mouse or vole met an untimely end at the talons of a raptor. The rodents' trails ended at a spot with wing marks in the snow. In another spot some crow tracks were juxtaposed with turkey tracks. I always think of crow tracks as large bird tracks, but they look tiny compared to turkey tracks.

Friday, January 15, 2010

I know. I know. It's mid-January. But the snow has been replaced by mud, and a small mosquito-like insect briefly buzzed me this AM. And it SMELLS like spring.

I've noticed a few more things this week that portend of spring:

* A brilliantly colored male House Finch was at the feeders yesterday. The other HOFIs that have been at the feeders this winter seem drab compared to this bright red bird. Looked like he was all dressed for breeding season. Note: I read yesterday that 2010 marks the 70th anniversary of the introduction of HOFIs to the eastern U.S. (Long Island).

* Along the same lines, there's been an American Goldfinch coming to the feeders this week that's obviously yellower than the birds I've had this winter. He's not the bright yellow of the AMGO in summer, but there's enough yellow to catch your eye when he flies to the feeder.

* This morning a House Finch was singing loudly and continuously from the top of a tree.

* And, for the past few days, a squirrel has been stuffing its mouth full of nesting materials and making repeated trips up into the spruce by the storage shed.

Bernie Sloan

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Birders vs Anglers in the UK

Interesting dynamic between "twitchers" and "anglers" in the UK.

I don't think we have the same animosity in the US between these groups?

My Big Green Big Year, part 4

Had a very early first of year (FOY) Brown Thrasher in the honeysuckle brush along the Indiana University cross country course! Earliest in the year I've ever seen one, by a long shot. BIGBY species #60 for 2010. Also had two other new BIGBY species for the year: Golden-crowned Kinglet (#59) and Eastern Towhee (#61).

This year I'm out to beat my record early date for 100 BIGBY species. My goal is to record 100 species before April 26. I've made a lot of progress, with 61 species in less than two weeks. But if my past history holds true, I'm about to enter a big drought that won't ease up until spring migration starts.

In an earlier posting I mentioned I was having a hard time choosing between Whooping Crane and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher as my 2009 BIGBY highlight of the year. After looking at my list I now have a third candidate: Ruffed Grouse. This is a rare bird in Indiana, with the remnants of the population hanging out in my neck of the woods (south central Indiana). This was a life bird for me, and I'll probably never see it again, especially since there has been heavy construction traffic (environmental remediation project) in the area where I saw it.

Maybe I should have a top five list for 2009 BIGBY highlights! :-)

Wishful thinking, Part 3

Wishful Thinking, Part 3

January 12
Cold but sunny
Snow covers the ground
Chickadees and Titmice in full song
Cardinal singing tentatively,
Shaking off the rust of a winter’s silence
Carolina Wren bursts out loudly…arsenio-arsenio-arsenio
Tree Sparrows call like the soft tinkling of broken glass
A few House Finches carry on
Somewhere, a Dark-eyed Junco sings loudly as if on territory
Birdsong everywhere
A tonic for the winter-weary soul

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

My Big Green Big Year, part 3

After having done Big Green Big Years (BIGBYs) in 2008 and 2009, I don't think I'm going to focus on a Big Green Big YEAR in 2010.


1. I think I've pretty much tapped out my walking BIGBY area. I don't think there's a chance I can beat my walking BIGBY record in 2010 (I recorded 184 species in 2009). Quite a few of my 2009 species were seen maybe only once or twice during migration. I may not see them again in 2010.

2. I'll probably be moving out of state in mid-year.

So I've decided to focus on several shorter term BIGBY-like green birding exercises. Since all my BIGBYing is done on foot, I'll refer to them as "Big Foot" activities:

1. Early Big Foot 100 - break my personal record earliest date for reaching 100 walking BIGBY species. I found my 100th species on 4/26/09, so I'm aiming to hit 100 walking BIGBY species before that date in 2010. I'm at 60 species right now, twelve days into the year. After such a quick start, past experience dictates that the going will now be tough until the early spring migrants start to show up.

2. Big Foot Day - how many species can I see in a single day while walking from home? My personal walking BIGBY high count for one day is 74 species on 5/7/09. I didn't intentionally start that day out as a Big just sort of happened. Actually, I tallied those 74 species in just three hours of birding. I wished later that I'd stayed out longer on that day. I have a goal of 100 species in this category.

3. Modified Big Foot Day - I can drive to a location for birding, but I can't use a car for ANY purposes (not even to go to the store) between midnight and midnight on my Big Day.

4. Big Foot Hour - pretty self-explanatory.

5. Big Foot Week - ditto.

6. Big Foot Month - yes, that's right, the number of walking BIGBY species recorded in a given month.

7. Photographic Big Foot - combine with any of the above categories, except I can only count species I've photographed or videotaped.

My Big Green Big Year, part 2

I noted in an earlier posting that I had 184 BIGBY species in 2009 in Monroe County Indiana. I'm still trying to figure out my top BIGBY highlight for 2009. It's down to two birds:

1. Whooping Crane - one of the the rarest birds in the world, with only a few hundred individuals in the wild.

2. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - a relatively common bird in its native habitat, but a rare vagrant for Indiana, with only about 20 sightings since the first state record in May 1947. This bird was seen in the fall, and most Indiana records are from the spring and early summer. Also, this is the only November Indiana record for this species. Normally this species should be living the high life in southern Mexico by the time November rolls around.

The eastern flyway Whooping Cranes aren't ABA-countable, but it's still an incredible treat to see one in a flock of migrating Sandhill Cranes. The irony is that, even if they were countable they wouldn't be a new life bird for me (I've seen a couple of countable Whoopers along the Platte River). On the other hand, the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher is a life bird for me, and, believe it or not, they are rarer in Indiana than the Whooping Cranes that pass through in the spring and fall.

Maybe I should just call it a tie. :-)

My Big Green Big Year, part 1

A Big Green Big Year (BIGBY) is a big year in which you list those species seen while not using fossil fuels or the internal combustion engine. (See:

I became interested in "green" birding by accident. Quite literally. A tumble down 15stairs in late 2007 left me with a broken arm that required surgery a year later. I was unable to drive, and even getting in and out of a car on the passenger side was painful. I soon grew tired of sitting in a chair watching the birds at my feeders. I was anxious to go birding again, even though my injury pretty much ruled out driving (and riding) to my usual birding sites.

A few weeks after my accident I heard about the BIGBY movement. I decided to do a BIGBY for 2008, walking through my neighborhood, the nearby Indiana University cross country (XC) course, and the wooded hills north of the XC course. I started with short walks, gradually increasing the distance as the pain in my arm subsided. By the end of 2008 I had tallied 161 BIGBY species, which was more than I’d expected. As 2009 began, I set a goal of 170 species. By the end of the year my 2009 BIGBY count stood at 184 species.

I'm in the process of writing an essay about my 2009 green birding experiences, which I will share on this blog when I'm done. In the meantime, I thought I'd point to a series of brief BIGBY articles that I wrote for the local Audubon Society chapter newsletter:

In My Backyard: Big Green Big Year Satisfies. The Leaflet (newsletter). January/February 2009. ARTICLE ON PAGE 5.

Big Green Big Year — 2008 Summary of Four Experiences. The Leaflet (newsletter). March/April 2009. ARTICLE ON PAGE 6.

Big Green Big Year 2009: It’s All About Location, Location, Location. The Leaflet (newsletter). July/August 2009. ARTICLE ON PAGE 8.

Green Birding 2009. The Leaflet (newsletter). January/February 2010. ARTICLE ON PAGE 8.

Wishful thinking?

Quite a few birds were singing this morning, especially when the clouds/fog rolled off to the west and the bright sun came out.

A number of Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice were in full song. A Northern Cardinal started singing tentatively, as if trying to shake off the rust of a winter's silence. A Carolina Wren burst out loudly, singing arsenio-arsenio-arsenio. About 150 American Tree Sparrows were singing away, sounding like the soft tinkling of broken glass falling to the ground. A number of House Finches were carrying on as well. And, somewhere, a Dark-eyed Junco was singing loudly as if on territory. Sounded like spring was just around the corner. :-)

Bird Boxers - the perfect gift? :-)

New from Birdwatchers Digest: Bird Boxers!!

I can't help but think there's a little punning going on here in the selection of the two species depicted on the boxer shorts. American Woodcock? Hairy Woodpecker?

Very creative! :-)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Birding in the New Year

I love the beginning of a new year...the odometer resets to zero, and everything old is new again. Every time you turn around you see a first-of-year (FOY) bird. And new annual BIGBY birds pop up left and right. Too bad the rest of the year can't continue at this pace. :-) Despite the cold weather, I was determined to come up with 50 FOY/BIGBY species on the first day of the new year. I fell four species short of my goal on New Year's Day, recording 46 species.

The second day of the year was even colder. I went out for several hours late in the day as the shadows grew long and picked up five more species, bringing my two-day total to 51 species. I was chilled to the bone by the time I got home, with the sun nearing the horizon, but I felt warmed at having surpassed the 50-species mark.

I also had one mammal highlight. I was in the woods to the north of the Indiana University cross country course late this afternoon, trying to focus my binoculars on what I thought might be my 52nd bird species for the new year. I was distracted by some motion in the long shadows of late afternoon. I surveyed the ridge on the other side of a steep ravine and spied a bobcat leisurely walking down a game trail. It was illuminated by the golden light of the late afternoon sun, affording me the best view of a bobcat I've ever had. It was a very cool experience.

Last Bird/First Bird

Every year I keep track of the last bird seen in the old year and the first bird seen in the new year.

The last bird of 2009 was the traditional Northern Cardinal. I say "traditional" because it seems like every New Year's Eve there's a male Cardinal at the feeders right before it gets dark. The Cardinals usually tend to come in the evening rather than during the day. Maybe they're trying to avoid the neighborhood Cooper's Hawk.

I had a really good first bird of 2009. I stepped out the front door for my morning walk and a large bird flying high overhead caught my eye. Bald Eagle! Headed in the general direction of Lake Lemon. Very auspicious sign for the New Year. Happy New Year!