Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Birding the St. Louis Area: a Tale in 8 Lifers and 1/2

So I am back from St. Louis.
I have actually been back for a while, but then there was work to do, a book to read, a spam-rating to overcome and all these other little snacks that spice up our daily dish of duties. So I am blogging a bit late - again - but am in good hopes of catching up. Not so much because I'll speed up my blogging (you see, work and all these things), but because now that I am back, there won't be that much birding and subsequently not much news to blog about.

Therefore, I have decided to split the St. Louis Story into different parts instead of packing it all into one long, long post, and it is therefore my pleasure to now present to you ...

Lifer 1: Carolina Chickadee
Well, well, the North American chickadees. We, in Europe, might not have wood warblers and the bird species we call "warbler" would be called "sparrow-stuff", "gimme-a-break" or "what-the-heck" in North America.
But then again, we have our tits, real beauties.
You see, the members of the family Paridae are called after their calls, and while the North American species all call "chicka-dee-dee-dee" or "Tufted-tit-mouse-mouse", the European members just call "tit, tit, tit".
And while European tits are great to look at, the North American forms are somewhat less attractive at first sight.
These are the main differences.

However, the North American species fall into a category that has its very own and peculiar attractiveness to birders and due to falling trees while eating mushrooms, a nice essay has been written about this category here which makes further explanations on my blog unnecessary for the moment. Just a few words: some of those chickadees are truly birder's birds!
Like the Caroline Chickadee, about which I will tell you a few things now.

There I was in Missouri, freshly arrived and full of hunting spirit for a few lifers, when I ventured out into the immense artificial wilderness of the Shaw Nature Reserve / Arboretum. Mind you, this really is a nice place when you just forget it wasn't born this nice but made this nice by man, and the birding was quite exquisite, as will be seen in a later post as well.
I had entered a small wooded ravine that would lead me down to the lowland forests along the larger river of which I have forgotten the name, and it was there I hoped to seek and find my main target species of the day, Yellow-throated, Kentucky, Prothonotary and Worm-eating Warblers. Little did I realize that my first new bird would be of a different kind and lurking just around the next corner of the path, when I went around the next corner of the path and was confronted with my first new bird for the trip by following a familiarly unfamiliar song. This indeed is not contradicting myself, it just means that I had never heard that song out in the wild but had familiarized myself with it through listening to bird song CDs.
So I knew what was coming my way, but still enjoyed a moment of great astonishment: all winter long I had tried to find a Carolina Chickadee amongst the Black-capped Chicks of Michigan - in vain of course or I would have chosen another headline - and always imagined it to be really hard to identify.
Well, it really wasn't, to be honest: at the first sight of the birds, a small party, it was clear and obvious that I was looking at something completely different: smaller, shorter-tailed, drabber etc., all the field marks were there, obvious and easily perceived and in combination with the song, there was no doubt I was looking at Carolina Chickadees for the very first time in my life.


But to every story, there is a "but"...

Here is the breeding bird survey data for the Carolina Chickadee, and as can be seen, St. Louis is right on the edge of it, still inside its range, but just marginally so.
According to this, however, St. Louis and the Shaw Nature Reserve are right inside the zone of overlap or even within the range of the Black-capped Chickadee.
And if you look at the breeding bird survey data of Black-capped Chickadees here, this latter picture of its distribution is really the truth.

When I got back to the car and re-listened to the Carolina's song on my CDs again, I noticed that typically Carolinas have a four-syllable song. The once I had just seen and heard however had only a three-syllable song. An intermediate song however doesn't necessarily mean I had seen a hybrid as songs are learned in chickadees and a rather pure Carolina might therefore still mumble intermediate songs.

Sometimes, frustration can be an unpleasant thing to feel.

A few days later, while birding Castlewood State Park, I encountered a few chickadees again and was able to secure the following documentation - I won't call them pictures as I had to use ISO 1600 to get somewhat sharp images.

Now, if we check our copy of Sibley's or do some reading on the Internet, e.g. here, here or here, it seems that at both places where I encountered chickadees closely enough to take a thorough look, they were closer to Carolina than to Black-capped.
In fact, I had difficulties even finding a single typical Black-capped feature on the birds except for their intermediate song.
So for the sake of my own personal satisfaction and as this is a blog about a hobby birdwatcher and not a scientific publication / research project, I have decided that those chicks were good enough to appear as Carolinas in my book.

So this was it, the tale of lifer No. 1.
A bit fishy maybe, but i was fun and that's the most wonderful thing about birding anyway.

I have been offended!

Blogger checked my bog and after all I've done, all my posts and all the effort, this is what I get:

Blogger Beta non-spam review and verification request: http://belltowerbirding.blogspot.com/

Your blog has been reviewed, verified, and cleared
for regular use so that it will no longer appear
as potential spam. If you sign out of Blogger
and sign back in again, you should be able to post
as normal.
Thanks for your patience, and we apologize for any
inconvenience this has caused.

The Blogger Team

So, I am NOT Spam? Oh NO!

What else am I then, what's left for me?

Oh well, at least I can blog again in a "normal" way, AS IF ...

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Two One-Species Wonders

Michigan is often referred to as a One-Species Wonder, with the emphasis all too often on the One-species part and not - more deservedly - on the Wonder part.

Of course, I am talking about the Kirtland's Warbler, Michigan's own and the main reason most birders from near or far will consider a visit to this state at some point in their birding career.

This of course is utterly unfair as the regular accidentals and vagrants to my blog (notice the "to", not a typo for "on") are probably well aware of it. Certainly the Kirtland's Warbler is a deservedly sought-after bird not only because of its limited range but also because it is a downright neat bird with a perfect song. But Michigan deserves more credit than it receives just for hosting this specialty. After all, as mentioned before on this blog, the early pioneers named the Great Lakes after the great birding along their shores and that's no exaggeration. And I am sure they were more impressed by the numbers of Passenger Pigeons and other migrants (see e.g. here, here and here, admittedly from nearby Ohio) than Kirtland's Warblers.


"Shared Agony is half the Agony" as we say in Germany and even though we use this in a slightly different context, it is still a bit of a relief for Michigan that it does not stand alone in this injustice.

Of course, I am talking about St. Louis in Missouri.

My wife will attend a meeting at St. Louis from Sunday to Wednesday next week and I am coming with her. Well, not to the meeting but to Missouri.

And the way things are looking (good!) there might be some decent birding coming my way.


Ever tried to find out about good birding spots around St. Louis on the Internet?
You'll surely be quite satisfied when you are a native American as you'll get all you need to find Eurasian Tree Sparrow, but when you come from a region of Germany with an estimated population of 150,000 to 250,000 breeding pairs on an area not even a quarter of the size of Michigan, you might just be more interested in Bell's Vireos, Bewick's Wrens and Least Terns, just to mention a few.

And then things are looking rather bleak.

Of course, a short inquiry on the local "birders" email forum was met with a flood of very good advice and I'm all set and ready to go, but it is remarkable just how much certain areas are only known for one small fraction of their natural wealth.

This is what makes the world such a small place.

Monday, 16 July 2007

A Falcon Calls

There are positive and negative sides to living in a high rise building in downtown Ann Arbor. The negatives are a general lack of biota and an abundance of concrete. The positive sides haven't revealed themselves to me yet but must be around somewhere and can't stay hidden forever.

So this post will at first be centred around the concrete and asphalt aspect.

When you haven't been outside for a while except for medical institutions' waiting rooms or shopping malls and grocery stores, this view from your bedroom window (admittedly the picture was taken in April) towards the Burton ("Bell") Tower does not provide an amount of refreshment one would call copious.

And when turning your head to look up from the laptop monitor in the living room towards the outside world, the Maynard Parking Structure doesn't feel like viewing Victoria Falls anymore when you've not been birding for a month or so.

So I knew I was in trouble and needed help, but could not see a way out of it - literally.

Gratefully, I am a birder and have friends in high places - again literally - and these friends hadn't seen me for so long they felt it was time to send someone over to my place to see what was going on.

And so it happened that I looked out of my window over to the Maynard Parking Structure last Saturday trying to conjure images of Yosemite National Park when I discovered that - to my amazement - one of the Bell Tower Peregrines, the male, had come to call. Well, it wasn't calling, but I have recently read a few of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories and liked that particular expression. So there it was, for the first time in 9 months perched upon the top fence, looking at me as if it was wondering why the heck I hadn't been out chasing birds in a manner similar to his but more sustainable for so long.

That's why I like birds: true friendship you can count on.

A pretty neat view all of a sudden that was, out onto the parking deck.
But now that I have a camera, my expectations aren't easily surpassed by the wildlife around me anymore, and I was hoping to get some action packed shots of the falcon, like of it stretching its wings, scratching the ears or other exciting things birds do when they aren't just sitting on a fence on top of a parking structure.
Quite possibly, a high rise building doesn't inspire a Peregrine to anything beyond staying perched.
Possibly, a downtown area isn't to a Peregrine what Disney World is to a kid or rather,
very likely there just wasn't anything exciting enough to penetrate the receiving sensory nerve cells of the Falcon and touch its cerebral system in a way that caused it to do anything else but maintain body temperature and heart beat.
Whatever, here are the two most action-packed pics I got in about 20 Minutes ...

Admittedly, this short episode was not the kind of birding you'd get along Manu Road, but then again, and this may seem hard to believe, downtown Ann Arbor just isn't Peru.

I was still rather happy about the encounter and promised the bird to go check out the passerines with him soon again.
I hope I get to keep my promise.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

What, me?

Well, here are my 8 random facts that you never dared to ask because you never thought you'd like to know but now and thanks to Larry the Brownstone Birder, there is nothing you can do about it:

1. If I had become a forester, I would have been the 8th generation in my family in a row to take up this profession. My father nurtured a deep interest in forests and it looked pretty good for the largest part of my youth until I realized my dad had ignited such a deep love and respect for forests and trees in me that I would never, ever be able to have an old-growth tree cut down for profit. The most annoying sound to me is a chainsaw and I think it was the worst invention ever, even surpassing atomic bombs and butterfinger chocolate bars.
It is my strong belief that one should technically only be able to cut down a tree in the same time it took that particular tree to grow, just so that people appreciate what it is they are destroying and how long it will take that wound to heal!
I therefore studied Biology, which in my opinion is close enough to keep me from being stigmatized as a family traitor.

2. During my late high school years I was a member of our school's theater group and my acting abilities apparently weren't too shabby. I still have a few video tapes of the plays we performed and the whole idea of moving to the US for a while was to accidentally drop them in front of Steven Spielberg's house, become a Hollywood star and eventually the richest birder on this planet. I am still working on that.

3. I hope Bill Gates is no birder, or I'll have a hard time acting...

4. During my high school years I was also a member of a rock band. I used to be the singer until we found someone else who could actually sing and so I ended up playing the bass guitar because no one likes to play the bass guitar unless he's a singer who got kicked out of his position but still wants to remain in the band. I was - of course - also birding at the time and wanted to spend two weeks in late May/early June at the Varanger peninsular of Northern Norway. We had a gig planned just days after my return and the other band members demanded I step back from my trip plans. No way, and so I took my notes and bass guitar with me and practised each day at the camp fire up on the Norwegian coast, surrounded by Arctic Terns and King Eiders, with gloves. The gig went well, but I later decided life was about getting your priorities straight and stopped my musical career. What remained however is that I am incredibly fond of the bass guitar / drums section of songs which explains why Iron Maiden rules. Harris and McBrain, they rule big time.

5. As a Master's thesis, I studied the ecology of a Mountain Zebra population close to the Fish River Canyon in Southern Namibia and had an area of 600 square kilometres all to myself. Empty: no roads, no inhabitants, just one small building for me to seek shelter in, but plenty of the most fascinating rugged desert canyon landscape anyone could possibly imagine. The most incredible experience of my life. Times like these make riding a bus in metropolitan areas quite stressful though.

6. After a long day's birding, nothing surpasses a large piece or two of chocolate and a glass of milk, both right out of the fridge. Sorry, my dear American readers, I meant chocolate, not Hershey's...

7. As a baby I had disproportionately large ears. They luckily didn't grow as much as the rest of my body so that it was soon mended, but I noticed lately that I am starting to have disproportionately little hair on my head...

8. My all time favourite bird species is the Bearded Vulture. When I was a kid and got my first "real" field guide that you could also use away from a feeder, I was fascinated by this huge bird with a falcon's silhouette. Back then my parents traveled widely with me around the Mediterranean and all I wanted to see was a Bearded Vulture. In the course of these travels over quite a few years, I saw all the vulture species of the area, including Lapped-faced Vultures in Israel just before they went extinct, but had to wait until a birding trip to Spain with two birding pals in 1995 to finally get my first Bearded Vulture. Well worth the wait, and even though I now have around 1.300 species on my life list, only one came (very) close to the Bearded Vulture, and that is the New Zealand Fantail.

Okay, these were the 8 random things about me you struggled so hard never to learn. As everyone has apparently already been tagged, I won't list other blogs right now but if I come across one or two in the next few days, I'll make sure they won't escape!

Friday, 6 July 2007

Migration Oddities: Gray-cheeked Thrush

Mike over at 10,000 birds recently wrote something very remarkable about the Bicknell's Thrush:

It is a birder's bird.

Being the huge Catharus-fan that I am, this was ... well ... something that struck me as a very nice and fitting description of the whole genus: birder's birds.

What are birder's birds?

Generally speaking, birder's birds are birds only a birder would consider worth birding for.
Oh well, okay, it's better explained with a few examples:

This here is NOT a birder's bird.

Black-throated Blue Warbler, Crane Creek Ohio, May 2007

Don't get me wrong, birders will invariably love this species, but it is not a birder's bird as also non-birders will find it nice or at least understand why anyone would find it amusing to look at such a creature.

This on the other hand, is a birder's bird.

Lincoln's Sparrow, Crane Creek Ohio, May 2007

Unless you are a birder, you won't find any reasons for bothering to even raise a skeptical eyebrow at the sight of this bird, let alone consider taking a fully-grown and extensive look at it. It's just plain brown boring to most people.
Birders however see beyond the looks and look deeper than the pigments on the bird's plumage. They go for the true qualities in life, like rarity for example. They value species simply because they are aware of the difficulties that need to be overcome when trying to catch a glimpse of it. They take geographical factors into account as well when deciding if they like or really like a certain bird species , like endemism or restricted range.

Aren't birders grand?

All these qualities are elusive to the non-birder's eye and they therefore simply don't get it: these brown jobs can be amazing!

And the Gray-cheeked Thrush is right at the heart of the amazing brown bird bunch. It's just plain great if you're a birder!

And here - finally - is why.

When I first visited Michigan and Ontario in May 2005 I was delighted at finding a few Hermit Thrushes and a Gray-cheeked Thrush at the Arb in early May. These were my first encounters with Catharus thrushes and it was great. I later learned that Gray-cheeked Thrushes were rather scarce migrants at the Great Lakes and sure enough, I only saw them on one more day at Point Pelee, whereas the other species were seen in relative abundance. It was therefore with some surprise that I saw Gray-cheeked Thrushes again ... at Ontario's Rondeau Provincial Park at the end of May, with three individuals!

I know I shouldn't have done it back then and I should avoid it now as well, but I can't help it, it's in my blood and I may beg you to forgive and not condemn me for it:
this strange occurrence of the Gray-cheeked Thrush, with two apparent peaks in early and late May, made me think.

And here are the results of my thoughts.

This impression of two spring migration peaks of the Gray-cheeked Thrush was not only verified in May this year, it is also evident when looking at long-term monitoring programs, like eBird. Take a look for example at the great diagram of the Gray-cheeked Thrush occurring at Ohio's Crane Creek State Park as seen at eBirds here ( unfortunately I can't link directly to certain diagrams, so you'll have to type in the information provided on the link yourself by "starting over". I have however maintained the links so you have the basic information I used, like location and species).
Admittedly, these two peaks are not obvious at all of the hot spots, e.g. this is the graph for Point Pelee, but as this is a blog post and no Science Magazine contribution I still think it intriguing to have these two peaks in spring and fall in Ohio.
If you have two distinct peaks in fall, these can often be explained by different migration strategies of adult and young birds. But in spring, two peaks for one species are kind of unusual.
So at first I figured this might be caused by different migration timing of the two distinct populations, the one breeding on Labrador/Newfoundland and the one breeding West of Hudson Bay. To get an idea if this might be the reason for the two peaks, I looked at other migrant bird species with a comparable range that is subdivided by Hudson Bay. The only species I found were American Pipit and White-crowned Sparrow, although both are not migrating as far as the Thrush and even winter in the southern USA. Nevertheless, I thought a look at their migration pattern might be worth the effort.
Here is the migration pattern of the American Pipit at Metzger Marsh, right next to Crane Creek, which supports higher numbers of that species than a board walk through a forest.

One peak.

And here is the White-crowned Sparrow diagram for the Crane Creek board walk.

Two peaks, just like Gray-cheeked Thrush!

Now that's intriguing. So possibly the two peaks of Gray-cheeked Thrush and White-crowned Sparrow can be explained by the two populations on either side of Hudson Bay.
Well, it would have been too easy to be true. I don't know about the thrush but at least for the sparrow, this seems unlikely. In comparison to the Gray-cheeked Thrush, the populations of White-crowned Sparrows around Hudson Bay look reasonably different and can be identified in the field - at least according to Sibley in which I place my trust here, lacking any more detailed literature on the matter.
Birds west of Hudson Bay show pale lores and an orange bill whereas those east of the Bay show dark lores and a pinkish bill.
And the Great Lakes migrants during the two peaks?

All pink-billed-dark-lored-Eastern-Taiga White-crowned Sparrows. Although I specifically checked them, I never found a single Western bird in both spring periods of 2005 and 2007. This one is a nice example of an East Taiga bird, taken on May 12th at Point Pelee.

East Taiga White-crowned Sparrow, Point Peele May 2007

Bad news for my Gray-cheeked Thrush citizen science project.
Or good news, who can tell?

Because there is yet another distinct population of thrushes once included within the Gray-cheeked forms, and that's the miraculously enigmatic Bicknell's Thrush. Now I know this thrush is supposed to migrate along the coast and this is probably well supported by ringing/banding data. But hey, why shouldn't one of the peaks, presumably the last one, not be caused by a certain percentage of Bicknell's migrating East of the Appalachians?

Because there are no ringing recoveries and no birds banded at Great Lakes bird banding stations yet?

Good point. Very good point indeed and entirely true. But - just for the fun of taking this a bit further - not entirely satisfying.

To investigate the matter just a little more, I examined the photos I took of Gray-cheeked Thrushes to see if I could spot any differences between the early and the late May birds.

Of course I couldn't.

The simple reason is of course that all very, very likely belong to the same taxonomic unit (non-Bicknell-unit) and that there simply are no differences.
The less simple but more frustrating reason is that no one currently can really identify Bicknell's by plumage alone anyway, so I knew right from the start it was rather pointless.

Nevertheless, here are the pictures with a few comments.

Early May Birds

This bird was photographed on May 10th 2005 at Point Pelee. It is a digitalized slide, so it is quite grainy. The primary projection exceeds 100% easily, the bill looks rather dark beyond the nostrils and the cheeks might be a bit stripy. Nevertheless, there appears to be a hint of half an eye ring. All in all though, this appears to be quite a classic Gray-cheeked Thrush.

This bird was photographed exactly two years later, on the 10th of May 2007, at Crane Creek. Long primary projection, blackish bill, stripy cheeks and lack of even a hint of an eye ring make this a typical Gray-cheeked in my opinion.

But then there is this bird, another individual photographed on the same day at Crane Creek. Primary projection and cheeks are fine for Gray-cheeked, but then there is this pale half of an eye ring and the bill is pretty orange as well at the base. No candidate for a Bicknell's for sure, but suddenly our confidence in some of the tentative field characters of Bicknell's is gone - if ever there was any confidence.

Late May Birds

These two shots of the same bird are from Crane Creek and were taken on the 22nd of May, during the last peak. Cheeks not very stripy, bill shows a lot of orange, there clearly is half an eye ring, and we're puzzled. Sadly the primary projection never revealed itself to us - thanks, leaf, old buddy - but it was a rather large bird and the tail and primaries should be a bit more contrasting reddish in a typical Bicknell's. But still it makes me wonder: can we safely presume this is a Gray-cheeked Thrush?

One day later, 23rd of May, at Ontario's Point Pelee. Primary projection might be a bit short but cannot be assessed with any certainty due to the wing's position, bill rather extensively orange at the base and half an eye ring present but contrasting reddish tail and primaries lacking and the cheeks are obviously "peppered" and not plain brownish as in typical Bicknell's. Anyone dare a guess?

The Gray-cheeked Thrush has once again proven beyond doubt that it is the true birder's bird, the champion amongst the lousy brown jobs. And I sure hope to see plenty more of them, but please, not as a vagrant on the German Baltic Sea coast. It would be too frustrating to find a Catharus thrush in Europe and to not be able to know if it was Bicknell's or Gray-cheeked, no matter how good the looks at it are.
A nice Swainson's Thrush would be better by far and I will leave my life Bicknell's for a foggy morning on a Catskills Mountain peak with a few fellow bird bloggers to celebrate with.

And next time you see a Gray-cheeked Thrush in late May around the Great Lakes, you might just want to look the other way and sneak off to a whistle of this tune until one day more is known and we'll be able to cheer to this tune at every sight of a Catharus thrush!
Cheers, here's to that!!

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

A Taste of Home

Gosh, it's been quite a while since my last post.
I wish I could tell you that I was away taking pictures of breeding Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in Florida or documenting a family group of Sasquatches in California, with a nice film sequence of them chasing off a bunch of Condors from a carcass, but well, I've just been a bit busy lately here in Ann Arbor and had to focus on other things, like work (8 reports: ouch!), that mystery cormorant (still in the balance) and our return to Germany.

Yes, folks, it is now official and the flights have been booked: from the end of September onwards, this blog will not be a Michigan bird blog anymore but a blog from the German Baltic Sea coast.

... a moment of silence ...

No need to cry though, the birding there is absolutely fantastic as well and I hope there will be lots to blog about back home. Incidentally, I think Bell Tower Birding will then be Germany's first and only (??) bird blog, at least I haven't found another one yet. So it might not be too boring after all.

And recently, to be more precise: last Sunday, I got another nice reminder of home and a very unexpected one as well.

Cedar Waxwings.

Sure, we all know now that Cedar Waxwings are cool birds, which they are also aware of themselves, but the fact that they will readily use any source accessible to them to make themselves look even more special is yet again surprisingly remarkable. Such inquisitive and creative little creatures.

So there I was sitting at the Arb's section of the Huron river with my lovely wife on Sunday afternoon and looking dreamily at a flock of roughly 10 Cedar Waxwings catching flies over the river's surface when this one Waxwing caught my attention.
Sure enough, its eyebrow was in perfect shape, but its tail was special!
The terminal tail band was not yellow as in all the other Waxwings but showed a clear orange colouration.
I remembered the Sibley guide mentioning this and remained relatively calm (not preparing another Science paper in my mind just yet) but still decided that this was surely worth trying to photograph.

The results are rather dull. The background was dark so I either got blurry pictures or heavily grainy ones after switching to ISO 1600.
But you still might want to take a look.

Here's your nice average yellow-tipped Cedar Waxwing. Maybe nice, but not nice enough for some of its species...

And here's the Paris Hilton of Cedar Waxwing World, with an orange-tipped tail.

Crappy flight shot.

Another crappy flight shot.

A somewhat better flight shot, but with the light shining through the tail tip, I am not entirely sure this really is Paris and not your ordinary average Waxwing guy from next door.

Back home - in Ann Arbor that is, still - I searched the Internet for possible reasons to make a potential post on my blog more interesting, and I easily found a few pages that offered an explanation:

Orange-tailed Cedar Waxwings were unrecorded in North America until the 1960s. Since then, around 2-3% of the Waxwings are showing the orange tail bands because they - the really vain individuals - picked up red pigments (rhodoxantin) from berries of an introduced European plant species, the European Honeysuckle while growing their tail feathers.

This is very remarkable, like the invention of lipstick in the Animal Kingdom!

Who knew?

Here are the links to Wikipedia and Cornell, the pages I used to read up on the subject.

I should probably now be writing about how somehow touching it was to get such a nice and unexpected "taste of home" and how lovely the European Honeysuckle looks within its natural and original distribution, but sadly I am a Zoologist who has no clue when it comes to plants. I presume I have seen European Honeysuckle back home, but I just can't remember and therefore tell you anything about it.

So yet again: sorry to disappoint.

To make up for this, here are a few links to other pictures of orange-tailed Cedar Waxwings, significantly less blurry and grainy than mine:


Of course, the possibilities of the Honeysuckle were soon also discovered by other North American bird species. This fits my assumption quite well that other less attractive species thrive to obtain the same amount of affection from birdwatchers/ -photographers as the Cedar Waxwing by copying its appearance. As always, Julie Craves proves to be an excellent source of information regarding anything that is related to birds in North America, and here is a very nice link to something she wrote about an orange-lored White-throated Sparrow.

Intriguingly, she mentions the Asian "Morrow's Honeysuckle" as the culprit messing up American bird pigmentation, but as this would completely spoil the title of my post, I stick to Cornell, even though I tend to put more faith in Julie being right, quite frankly.

I will miss the Arb back home in Germany. There is always something unexpected to keep you entertained and you never know what you're gonna get. Like a decent box of chocolate.