Thursday, 31 May 2007

I and the Bird # 50

I and the Bird is back again with its sparkling 50th edition! For those who like to surf the waves of global birdblogging, check it out here on A Blog around the Clock.

"I and the what" is up? Am I missing out on something?

Keep your cool, buddy, and relax, it's just "I and the Bird", hear me? Just those birds again!

Man, always birds, birds, birds. I really don't know what all the fuzz is about. If it was "I and the Squirrel", okay, but birds? Highly overrated if you ask me...

Monday, 28 May 2007

Doin' the Britney

Music and Birding: One of the great and most incredible harmonies this world has to offer!

And I am not talking about the wonders of a morning's bird concert or the song of a Red-winged Blackbird. No, I am indeed talking about human-made music and the pleasure we receive from watching the feathered creatures of this earth.
This interwoven and inspiring relationship however is often little realized by today's birdwatchers and I have thus decided to shed some light onto the subject in form of a blog post.
For starters, here are a few examples:

Many of us have probably picked up their first pair of binoculars and subsequently this fantastic hobby just to finally know what Iron Maiden were talking about in their epic Rime of the Ancient Birdwatcher.
And walking the trails at the migration hot spots of North America's Great Lakes would surely only be half the fun if it wasn't done to the tune of AC/DC's Warbler Struck.
Or - to give you more examples in case you aren't entirely convinced yet - just look at the huge impact Styx had on global birding tours with their song Come Bird Away.

But it isn't just Rock or Heavy Metal that have shaped and been shaped by birding, this fertile symbiosis goes far beyond that. Historians have now agreed that one of Jazz' most eternal songs, Tick Five, was inspired by a weekend's twitching in Cornwall, or possibly Manchester. I am not entirely sure about that but Tom would know...

Amazingly (when we consider factors like creativity and quality) pop music also had a shaping influence on birding. One of the most fundamental and recent interactions between birding and pop music can be seen in Britney Spears' first real hit, you know, the one where people still didn't mind that she can't sing because she looked cute in her school uniform. I don't particularly like it, especially as it stands for an unpleasant situation encountered once in a while when birding, but okay, here's the link to her song, to maintain fair play on this blog: Baby one more time.

Where is the interaction with birding? Ha, you see, that's where the quality-thing or the lack thereof in comparison to Rock kicks in, so I need to explain.
What are lovely Birtney's first words at the very beginning of the song? Exactly:

"Oh baby, baby [she only sang that to sell more records and also reach the non-birding crowds] how was I supposed to know that something wasn't right?"

Ah, now it dawns upon us, clearly she is singing about the subspecific identification of North America's wood warblers!

Here's the classic situation: you see a warbler that looks somewhat strange and you think it might show characters of a subspecies that normally shouldn't be where you are seeing it right now, e.g. a Western subspecies around the Great Lakes. So you take some pictures and compare them to the information provided in the leading warbler guides of North America and surely, it indeed seems to be a strange bird, not a typical Western but also not a typical Eastern, and you remain clueless. What to do next? Easy, you post your pictures on a local birding Internet forum and seek advice there.
And what do you get as an answer by experienced birders (like long-year ringers/banders) who really know their birds and what they are talking about? Nothing unusual about it, just a rather normal Eastern, and field guides can't always show the full range of individual variation.

Yet again, you have nurtured a "stringy" reputation and are forced to do the Britney ("How was I supposed to know?").

The following warbler is the most recent example of a bird that had me do the Britney:

Female Yellow-rumped Warbler, Dolph Park, Ann Arbor, May 2007

It was a female Yellow-rumped Warbler that lacked an obvious white supercilium, showed no dark mask on the auriculars and I found the yellow on the flanks quite reduced, which - according to my field guides - all seemed to point towards the bird showing some characters of Audubon's instead of Myrtle's. Sure enough, all other features of the bird clearly were pure Myrtle, so my guess was it might be just a strange Myrtle or a bird from the introgression zone between the two forms.
But boy, was I mistaken - again. Just an ordinary Eastern Myrtle's Warbler, these things, like the lack of a supercilium, just happen to happen once in a while.
Oh baby, baby...

I have a few more birds that could easily get me into the Britney trouble again, but I sometimes learn from my mistakes, and since I don't like to see myself seen as a stringer (although I do like strings, especially when they are attached to a bass guitar and are played by Steve Harris - yet again, a remarkable correlation between birding and music), I won't say they show characters that might point towards unusual subspecies. I won't even say they could suggest one may be lured into doing the Britney by these birds, nope, they are just a couple of warbler pics and if someone has commented in the captions about possible characters of other subspecies or whatever, it wasn't me, it was a stringing hacker!

Common Yellowthroat, showing a rather white band across the forehead and a yellow breast that's quite reduced, which might have one think it could be the more western subspecies campicola instead of the Great Lakes regular trichas.

One of the characters of western (chryseola) Wilson's Warblers are supposedly, according to the literature, the almost completely yellow cheeks. These should be greenish in the regular Eastern pusilla. How's your judgment on the cheek colouration of the following Wilson's Warblers?
Would you dare a guess and risk having to do the Britney?

Wilson's Warbler at Ann Arbor's Dolph Park, showing slightly greenish cheeks, but not really greenish if we are honest.

The same Wilson's as above, suddenly not so greenish anymore...

This Wilson's at Ohio's Crane Creek State Park was rather -easterly - dull.

This bird however, seen on the same day, is not so dull after all, as can be seen on the following portrait, a cropped version of a picture posted earlier on this blog.

It's a good thing the Western subspecies of North American wood warblers can be recognized by a characteristic introduction to their song:

Hit me baby one more time

Friday, 25 May 2007

Mighty cool Mimid challenges East Coast dominance

A few days ago, Bruce took me along to another day's birding in and around Crane Creek State Park, Ohio.
Shortly before we got there, he casually mentioned if I wanted to see a Northern Mockingbird.

Now, did I?

Well, to answer that, two stories need to be told.

Story No. 1
Northern Mockingbirds are somewhat special. Sure, they are neat birds and sing nicely and do all sorts of nice stuff, but there's something else you only notice when participating in the blogging game:
In the virtual world, they are almost unique to the East Coast of North America. Bird Blogging is the domain of the North-Eastern US. Yes, it may be bitter to swallow for others but we have to admit or rather acknowledge this fact. Just look at the number of blogs from that area or check out the Clustr-Maps on bird blogs: East-coast North American birders are everywhere, they rule. They (as a community, on average) write the most, comment the most on other blogs and often see good birds. And one of these birds is the Northern Mockingbird. The species has a very wide distribution that covers almost the entire southern half of the USA, but it is almost exclusively - frequently- mentioned on East Coast blogs. No one else seems to be blogging about Mockingbirds as much as East Coast birders. And when you live on the Northern edge of the species' range where it is not commonly seen and you have in fact not seen it in a long, long time, this can somewhat hurt. Especially when you are generally spoiled by warbler migration and all the other goodies the Great Lakes have to offer. This, the Northern Mockingbird, is the emblem of East coast bird blogging dominance, and when they write on their blog they have seen "a couple of Mockingbirds again", they are really saying "we won - again".
So there he was, Bruce, asking me if I wanted a chance to show all these New Yorkers and their allies where the real good birding is happening...
My answer?
Hmmm, maybe we should look at story No. 2 first.

Story No. 2
During my time as a high school exchange student in southern Ontario, way back in 1987/88, we - the four excessively cool German "exchange boys" - were sent on a short trip to see the Big Apple, commonly known as New York City. When you're 16 years old and basically have a year off in another country, you tend to neglect birding somewhat and go for the more socially orientated attractions in life. However, one can't deny their roots entirely.
Cruising through the streets of Manhattan we ended up at Central Park and decided to take a break from the concrete. And while we unsuccessfully tried to get a (well, how to call that) double-double date with four female exchange students we met there, amazingly also from Germany, I still remembered to check for other birds as well in the trees and bushes and I managed two lifers, a Tufted Titmouse and a Northern Mockingbird. The titmouse was easily seen again around Ann Arbor in May 2005 and especially since we moved here in November 2007, but that one Mockingbird in Central Park remained alone on my list and the observation now dates back almost 20 years.
And that's a long, long time, as I had mentioned earlier.

That was story No. 2 associated with the Northern Mockingbird and we are back at the beginning, with Bruce asking me casually if I wanted to see a Northern Mockingbird.

Now did I?

Oh, this is obvious, of course I did!

So he simply pulled off the main road at a lonesome farm building somewhere besides the highway in the middle of nowhere, we got out of the car and there it was, my second-ever Northern Mockingbird!
Local knowledge and the exchange of information, I tell you, nothing surpasses local knowledge and information exchange!


The following pictures of the bird were taken on the way back when we were joined by Laurent...

A Northern Mockingbird playing hard to get

A well-maintained lawn, the realm and prime habitat of the Mockingbird

As drab as it may be when perched, it's looking pretty good in flight

But when you're a Northern Mockingbird in Northern Ohio, you know what you owe to the birding crowds: some spectacular flying!

And a bit of a riot: take that, East Coast!

Friday, 18 May 2007

Help from fellow Bloggers: I and the Bird # 49

Ooooh, conditions are currently not good for birding, the are excellent!
So I am basically off while writing this. I have a few important things not even remotely connected to feathers on today's agenda: even in May, life is unfortunately not only about birding, as even a birder must gather food, keep the nest tidy or visit the Secretary of State, just to sound important after mentioning all the uncool household stuff. But if I am really quick, I might fit in an hour or so of birding.


"Oh!" you say? Birding again? But you were promised something to READ, and yet again I don't deliver but choose to be away?

I know, this is hard.

But you see, this is why birders embed themselves in the sheltering community of the bloggoshere: a shoulder to lean on and firm support in hard times like these. Right on time and with a precision regarding the achievement of excellency that's almost frightening,
I and the Bird is back, this time edition Number 49!

If you feel the need to read, visit this astonishing edition here on Via Negativa, a spectacularly unusual perspective on birding! Well worth the clicking around.

By the way, the last post - if I am not mistaken which is actually not likely as I often am, especially when I think I am not mistaken - was the post number 100 on Belltower Birding.

Frankly, I was not paying attention, I had only realized that long after I posted or else I would have taken this as yet another opportunity to write something intelligent, at which I would have failed again. I like traditions.

Here are a few pictures of yesterday's trip to Crane Creek with Laurent. It was really cold and sometimes we even walked away from a good warbler spot just to increase our body temperature through moving our muscles, but we eventually logged 21 species of wood warbler (missing out "only" on three different Prothonotaries others saw but seeing two Mournings), watched a Sora walk around freely and un-skulkingly on a mud flat and had a Woodcock 5 metres besides the trail. Other highlights were three species of Empidonax-flycatchers, a Merlin and ... you get the picture ... just a whole lotta birds!

I still haven't gone through all of my pictures (conditions are good for birding, remember?), but here are two for your valued visual enjoyment!

American Redstart

Wilson's Warbler

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Gone birding...

...normal blogging will continue next Friday.


If the conditions aren't good for birding.

If they are, normal blogging will continue next week.

Unless of course, conditions are good for birding.

If that's the case, normal blogging will continue ... well ... in June.

Come to think of it, there's never been anything that was close to "normal blogging" on this blog.
Not that I'd know of at least, and as it is my blog, I should know...
So what the hay am I talking about!?

Anyway, here are a few of the reasons why blogging is not what it used to be in March and when I still didn't have a camera. You might enjoy it and come back when there's stuff to read again.

Which will be Friday.


Or perhaps next week.

Well, June for sure.

Some of the highlights today and yesterday at the Arb:

American Goldfinch

This may be heavily crapped or cropped, but it is still an Olive-sided Flycatcher!

Carolina Wren

Scarlet Tanager

And a few pics from the Crane Creek tour of May 10th:

Black-throated Green Warbler

Northern Parula

Monday, 14 May 2007

Magnolia Magic

The last few days were yet again amazing and I have now decided (or rather was obliged) to change my blogging strategy and go from day-to-day accounts to galleries or something more in that direction.
Why, you may care to ask?
Well, if you spend a day at Crane Creek and worry your camera's memory card that allows you to save 500 pics won't be enough and then you get home and find that most of these pictures would really be nice to keep, you've not only had a great day, you have a problem as well regarding the length of your posts and the time necessary to write them.
Last Thursday was such a day at Crane Creek. One may say we (a party of four) were somewhat unlucky. Tuesday and Wednesday apparently experienced one of the best migrant fall-outs in the last 30 years at Crane Creek. I was there alone on Monday and then returned on Thursday and it was much more quiet on both these days.
Thursday however still provided us with great warbler birding and a total of 24 wood warbler species recorded by us (plus 3 or 4 more we missed). The highlights when it comes to rarity were surely a female Cerulean Warbler and a Yellow-breasted Chat. The highlight apart from rarity however clearly was the massive number of Magnolia Warblers seen that day.

According to the Sibley guide, there are 54 species of wood warblers in North America. Of these, a rough estimate of 54 are extremely neat birds and amongst this chosen elite of North American wood warblers, the Magnolia Warbler must be amongst the top - say - 54 species.
So you see it is a very special bird, and I will try to demonstrate this by showing you a few of my pictures of male Magnolia Warblers from last Thursday's trip to Crane Creek. I will keep the females for another post, in case you've been wondering...

Some of the Magnolias are a bit camera shy ...

... but they are usually of a more inquisitive nature ...

... and seem to be quite curious about us humans ...

... or are they just checking out if the camera equipment pointed at them is up to their high standard? This one apparently wasn't entirely convinced by my optics ...

...while this one thought he'd give me a chance.

And this one was quite convincing in proving that a wet Magnolia in the mist is still better than no Magnolia in the mist. And guess what, I think it is right!

Friday, 11 May 2007

Good times at Ontario's Rondeau Provincial Park - a while ago

As some might remember from one of my recent excursions into self-pity, I am somewhat busy birding at the moment and have difficulties keeping the blogging up to date. I had thought about posting this next week and start with "Once upon a time" to show some good humour but eventually decided that this was not all that funny anyway and got down to writing today.

This post is about a visit to the always beautiful Rondeau Provincial Park in southern Ontario, a park that marked the end of a 2 hour drive my wife and I undertook last Sunday in very fine weather, albeit a bit windy as a birder has always a reason to complain about the weather.
I like Rondeau very much and so does my wife, and even though last Sunday was only a short visit of around 4 or 5 hours, we are considering future visits. Furthermore, Charlie of the famousbirdblog here and I had the idea of writing about certain birding hot spots, comparable to the fun Waterthrush article we both wrote. So if I sum these things all up, the result is that this will not really be an extensive post about Rondeau, with all sorts of background information and useful links to everywhere that's connected with the park as you're used to encounter on this blog (sure thing). Nope, that will have to wait for later while this is only about our short trip. Sorry to disappoint and also apologies for this and that, but a link to the other might be a bit of a compensation...
Okay, on we go to Rondeau:

If I was to characterize Rondeau in one sentence, it would be:
Like Pelee but not so busy: less people, less rarity sightings.

Rondeau therefore seems to be the ideal place for someone who has seen it all and just enjoys watching whatever comes their way in the (often) solitude of some nice woodlands or marshes, but the park is not so ideal for the keen lister who likes the chase.
What makes this place so attractive, apart from the calm, quiet and less stressful birding, is that two true avian gems are very dependable there from mid-May onwards: Prothonotary Warbler and Red-headed Woodpecker.
So when we got there on a late Sunday morning just about at the beginning of the middle of May, we had certain hopes of spotting the super nova of the forest, the gaudy Prothonotary.
Well, our inquiry at the information office somewhat lowered these hopes ("There are rumours of the first bird having been seen today around the Pony Barn...") but that only meant we were up to the challenge of finding the first one on its breeding grounds along the TrippleT. Oh wait, no, that's not another action movie of the Tripple X series, no worries, that's the Tulip Tree Trail, and you try saying that three times in a row real fast.
That's why it's TrippleT.

TrippleT is a double-loop of boardwalks through a magnificent flooded forest right next to the information center and is really beautiful, as could be seen below if I'd finally work out how to take decent landscape pictures with the camera that aren't too white and harsh in their contrast...

Quite soon, my wife spotted a spec of bright yellow amongst the twigs low over the water! Excitement may one day take its toll on my heart, but a spot of yellow onTrippleT is worth the risk of skipping a few beats or increasing your pulse. Was it the one bird that pushes your retina to the limit? The one and only?
But then, fate played its nastiest card and revealed the bird to be quite yellow indeed but not quite as yellow as we had wanted it to be:

A Yellow Warbler along the Tulip Tree Trail, the only place on this planet where it is not really welcome - at all!!

And you see, the Yellow Warbler knew why it was placed there by fate and what its mission was, it knew it had us fooled and took further advantage of our weakness by always keeping a stick right in front of its face whenever it pretended to "pose" for a photo.
You say that stick on one shot is a coincidence and not a sign of bad character?
Well, think again as this below is another shot of the very same bird!

A bad example of a Yellow Warbler, when you're into photographing them

I am right, this is a mean member of its species!

Surprisingly, or rather not all that surprisingly due to the strong wind, there was not much action birdwise along TrippleT and we finally headed through the vegetated dune area seen below ... the lovely and wild beach, seen below.

On our way back to the car, we were finally rewarded with what was surely a sign of sympathy or even - may I dare - good will from the Yellow Warbler species as another bird performed some lovely and extensive posing in front of my camera and rewarded us with views of its beauty like this one:

A Yellow Warbler away from the Tulip Tree Trail where it is always a great pleasure to see

But then of course, North American birding in May isn't entirely about warblers (only around 95%), and this male Eastern Towhee was also highly priced by our party and fully deserved its fair share of our attention.

Eastern Towhee, Rondeau Provincial Park, appreciated where ever it may roam, unlike certain Yellow Warblers I know...

The most bird action however, and this may come as no surprise for experienced bird bloggers, was around the information centre's feeders.
Well, I am not particularly fond of feeder photos as you can mostly see they were taken at a feeder ("ah, that was easy, I could have taken that shot, seen it before" etc.) and are not very unique.
But if a Chipping Sparrow chooses such a great perch right besides you and you know that nobody will know that the background is the fence to the feeder area unless you tell them so, ...

Do I only feel or am I stupid?

Well, here are the pics:

Chipping Sparrow, out in the wild and far, far away from any feeder, seriously

What I do like about Chippies is that they are a) birds b) sparrows c) easily watched and d) just fun.
But their head pattern when seen head-on is really neat, as are 10 mega pixels on your camera that allow for heavy cropping:

"Don't call me Chippy!"

And something else about feeder pics:
You might have seen a picture of a White-breasted Nuthatch like this before, maybe even better than this:

A good old feeder pic of a White-breasted Nuthatch

But did you know what it looks like when you can see into a Nuthatch's bill when it is just about to swallow a bit of a peanut (or whatever it is)?
I bet not, but here it is, as Belltower Birding always thrives to increase your perspective on your hobby and the way you see birds:

A not-so-good but also not-so-old picture of a Swallowing White-breasted Nuthatch, new to science and exclusively on Belltower Birding

And finally something for the cute files at the feeder, a Chipmunk:

"There must be sunflower seeds around here somewhere..."

Apart from being a good place to be birding, Rondeau is also a very dependable place for viewing Raccoons during the day.

"What do you mean, a chipmunk is cuter?"

The Raccoon is called "Waschbär" in German, which translates to "Washing Bear", and who knew: these animals do know their bit of German! Cheers, mate, or is it "Danke schön"?

A Raccoon demonstrating language skills

And so ended another great day at this perfect destination, more to follow!

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Stressful? Sure enough...

Oh dear, spring migration can be hard at times. Especially in May. Remember what I wrote yesterday, about the birding race?
Well, I just wanted to go for a short walk through the Arb between 4 and 6 pm yesterday to take a few pictures of whatever would come my way (Bachman's Warbler and Ivory-billed Woodpecker being the main objectives as always).
It was a good day, with low nmbers of migrants but a good variety, e.g. 10 species of warblers, Scarlet Tanagers and Indigo Buntings all putting up quite a show.
And while I was casually strolling along the fence of the Arb at the former Black-throated Gray Warbler site I saw this small brown bird:
It was hopping low through the bushes, not higher up than a foot or so, was clearly not a thrush, definitely no sparrow and the way it moved was very warbler-like. Of course it was so skulking, secretive, inconspicious and wary (great post there, Charlie!) that this alone pointed directly to its identity, but I never managed to glimpse a single field character.
Of course I wasn't taking my impression of the bird very seriously and walked on along the path.
But then, I had barely walked 20 metres, there came a bird song from precisely that area of the trail, and the song was not only pretty definitive, it absolutely matched the identification guess I had made about the little brown job and it was even (independently) recorded by a fellow birder Jacob Job and can be listened to here.
I give you three words:




Now, around the Great Lakes that's quite a species to come across and this was the second time I heard it but I have not managed a definite visual encounter yet!
Unfortunately I had to get back home in a hurry and it only sang once.

But of course, Jochen, you returned the next day?

Ha, I would have in April, but this is May, folks! No kidding.

Today I must urgently get some work done and it is raining anyway and tomorrow I'll be off to Crane Creek again and I had actually planned to write a post about last Sunday's trip to Rondeau Provincial Park today with a few cool photos of nice birds.

Too much, too much.

Here are a few of yesterday's pictures. I am doing my best, seriously, but May birding is not for the faint at heart and to be stressed out seems to be the experience of the relaxed days...

This Red-tailed Hawk was chased off its perch by Blue Jays. I like Blue Jays but frankly would also have liked a sharp pic of a perched Red-tail...

Nice male American Robin

Scarlet Tanager, the only bird that's even hot in the shade and cool to look at on heavily cropped images like the one above. You might have seen red before, but you've not experienced it until you've seen a Scarlet Tanager.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Birding May -hem

Birding is all about priorities.

It may (ah, again, the word) have been different a few years ago, but with the onset of digital photography and blogging, things changed, including the May ... whoops ... way we bird.

Back then it was all about grabbing your binoculars and walking the wild to see what you could find. Today, there are basically three distinct ways of birding, because it is not only about that which we go out to seek and see anymore but also about how we document and communicate about it.

These are today's three Mayn ... no ... main birding categories:

a) Go out to look for birds

b) Go out to take pictures of birds (missing out on the opportunity of seeing more birds because you hang around the once you've found already)

c) Stay indoors to bird virtually and blog about birding (missing out on the opportunity of actually seeing any birds)

Some readers might not quite realize where I am residing at the moment, those that complain about a recent drop in blogging since last Friday for example, or possibly even a slight lack of intellectuality that's been first noticed in my posts on November 30, 2006.

Well, sorry to tell you folks but this is the Great Lakes, this is where spring migration happens!! It happens in May, and - let me check my calendar - yepp, it's just about that time: MAY !!

And this - May - is precisely where the priorities thing kicks in:

No birding brakes around the Great Lakes

I will try and keep up the blogging pace with the birding race but it looks grim because the birding looks fantastic at the moment and - yes, shame - my birding priorities currently hover somewhere between the above mentioned points a) and b) .

You don't believe me when I May ... oh ... say that the birding is too Maymazing to stay indoors and blog?

Okay fine, you asked for it so here you have it, a few examples (not the best shots, just a few teasers) of the past four days when my wife and I rented a car and went to Dolph Park in Ann Arbor (Friday and Saturday), Rondeau Provincial Park in Ontario (Sunday) and I went to Crane Creek and Metzger Marsh, Ohio (Monday). All of these birding excursions will definitely - hopefully - maybe - soon be small posts of their own but now I first have to scan through roughly 1.000 images taken over the last few days, so give me some time while I give you these:

Gray Catbird - Dolph Park, Ann Arbor (Michigan)

Blue Jay, Rondeau Provincial Park, Ontario

Black-throated Blue Warbler, Crane Creek State Park, Ohio