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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

First of Season (FOS) Tree Swallow

Tree Swallows were reported last week at Peace Valley and elsewhere in SE PA but I hadn't seen one yet this spring until I was driving back from the gas station today and had one on a power line north of Perkasie. Spring is here more and more each day!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Birdchaser Quoted in Bird and Aviation Story

I am quoted a couple times in this interesting article on bird hazards to aviation in the trade magazine Flight International.

Nuisance Nightjars

So here's a fun email I got today. Any thoughts on what you would say if your neighbor had a complaint like this?

I have a Chuck Will's Widow that is nesting about 50 ft from my backyard in a wooded area. He sings ALL night long and even with the doors and windows closed he can be heard which is affecting our sleep. The neighbors are also complaining. Can anything be done?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Digiscope Fail: Red-breasted Merganser

Yesterday I stopped by Peace Valley and was able to find all three mergansers, though there were less than a dozen ducks on the whole lake. A female Red-breasted Merganser (uncommon here) was close by the shore, but by the time I got my scope up it dove and I wasn't able to get a shot of it until it was way out in the lake. Ugh! I got 15 seconds of blurry video, but it rivals the 2005 Arkansas Ivory-billed Woodpecker footage!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Poodle vs. Bird Poo

Got a great question today by email:

The front yard of our house slopes gently down to a small pond. Every year around this time we get three or four nesting pairs of Canada geese, then later another 40 to 60 geese show up to party for the summer. We don't mind seeing them on water or on the other three sides of the pond -- we just don't want to them on our lawn because they chew the sod and poo all over our driveway. We have two giant poodles that are trained to drive them back into the pond whenever they see them, but then they eat the goose poo which caused them to vomit. I'd like to find an inexpensive way to encourage the little vandals to stay on their side of the shoreline without interfering with mowing of our grass.

Canada geese problems are nothing new. But poo eating poodles. That's a new one for me!

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

NGS Guide to the Backyard Birds of North America

With several high profile bird guides being released this year, one deserving new guide may not be getting as much attention as it deserves--the new National Geographic Guide to the Backyard Birds of North America by Jonathan Alderfer and Paul Hess. Scheduled for release later this week, this attractive guide is a great book to give to those backyard birdwatchers in your life--or any friend or neighbor who might appreciate the birds in their yard.

This 256 page resource is attractively designed and chock-full of useful and interesting information--including two major sections, the first on backyard bird basics (by Paul Hess) and the second larger section (by Jonathan Alderfer) with species accounts for 150 of the most likely birds to be encountered in backyards across the United States and southern Canada. Most of the bird illustrations are from the larger original National Geographic guide, so they will be familiar to long-time birders, but the still do the trick. There are also many additional high-quality photos to round out the visual appeal of this guide.

I really like how this guide provides many ways to approach, identify, and enjoy birds. Each section includes noteworthy features that make it not only beautiful but useful.

Visual Indices: This NGS guide provides six different ways to find and identify birds, beginning with the inside and back covers. The covers fold out to reveal a visual index, showing each of the birds in the guide. This is takes advantage of the key innovation of several brands of laminated pocket guides (such as Local Guides and Pocket Guides) that have become popular over the past decade or so, allowing anyone to quickly see and compare many birds in order to find the one that most looks like whatever bird they are watching.

In addition to this visual index, there is a Color Index showing head shots of all the birds included in the guide, organized by overall color. This feature goes back to the original National Audubon Society guides. While this schema doesn't necessarily work as the only way to finding birds (which was a handicap for the original National Audubon Society guides), it may be useful here as four pages of indices, and is a great innovation.
There is also a quick index inside the front cover, allowing people to look up popular birds alphabetically. For those counting, the other ways to find birds quickly in the guide are the table of contents, index, and just flipping through the 150 species accounts.

Species Accounts: I have to admit that when I first looked at the species accounts I was a little put off by the layout. Each species is given its own page (some have up to two pages), with large illustrations from the original National Geographic guide, as well as a large map. The maps are large, well designed, and beautiful. The large size of the maps makes them especially attractive and is exactly what one would hope for from our friends at National Geographic! What put me off initially was the layout of the text into two columns, separated by a line, along with various icons and several different colors and styles of font. On first view the pages look overly busy. But with time, this became less bothersome as I became more aware of how the various icons and font colors organize what is a huge amount of useful and interesting text.

Each species account provides an Identification section, which is very thorough and includes a similar species section--something that is especially useful for beginning birders, and something that is often missing in recent field guides. There is also a section on range, which more than just describes the range shown on the map, butt also includes information on habitat. A food section describes the favorite foods of each species, as well as feeding notes on how to provide these foods in your backyard. Finally, a nesting section summarizes the location and type of nest, as well as number of eggs and information on incubation and fledging--perfect for people curious about the birds they are watching nest in their yard.

Overall these species accounts are well done and will be very useful for people curious about the birds in their backyard. Additional information is provided in sidebars--actually full-page accounts dedicated to special questions or topics of interest, including bird sex, sleeping birds, attracting bluebirds, and how birds stay warm. A section on bird age provides a table including the longest-lived wild birds of sixteen species included in the guide. These mini-essays are great additions that will be very interesting to backyard birders and sure to increase their appreciation of the birds in their yard.

Backyard Basics: While it is easy to focus on the species accounts since they make up the largest portion of the book, it would be criminal to only lightly mention Paul Hess's great initial Backyard Basics section, which includes 34 attractive and useful pages designed to educate and increase people's awareness and enjoyment of birds in their yard. This includes pages with tips on bird feeding, bird housing, landscaping for birds, how to find birds, how to identify birds, and how to connect with birders and additional resources. I was happy to see a nice Citizen Science section introducing readers to projects including the Christmas Bird Count, Project Feeder Watch, the Great Backyard Bird Count, and eBird. Sidebars include links to other organizations and useful websites.

This whole section is attractively illustrated with photographs and loaded with succinct but useful information. The How to Identify birds section is very basic, just a single page describing eight features or criteria for identifying birds--with another page showing how these features can be used to distinguish between several similar species (Downy vs. Hairy Woodpecker, Gambel's vs. California Quail, and Black-capped vs. Carolina Chickadee). While there is an illustration showing the parts of the bird (inside the back cover), it is very basic so backyard birdwatchers won't be overwhelmed with unusual plumage terms (though there is a glossary included in the back as well so they can learn what a patagium is if they really want to!).

In addition, National Geographic has set up a backyard birding website where readers of the book can hear the vocalizations of the birds covered in the guide, as well as find more information and help identifying the birds they see in their yard (Backyard Bird Identifier). So readers of this guide can easily plug into great online resources and the online birding community if they desire.

Final Notes: Overall I found this to be an attractive and well thought out book, and would highly recommend it for backyard birdwatchers. Since it only focuses on backyard birds, it might be a bit frustrating if it is the only bird book owned by someone who also wants to go birding in local parks or wildlife refuges--as soon as they show up at a wetland they won't be able to find any waterbirds in this guide besides Mallards, Canada Goose, Killdeer, and some gulls. So beginning birders who range away from home will need an additional guide. But if you have someone who has feeders in their backyard, this is a great and informative book that they will be sure to enjoy.

Disclaimer: This review is based on a complimentary review copy provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Angry Birds is Evil

Angry Birds is Evil. With an uppercase E! According to Wikipedia, over 50 million people have downloaded this game, and globally people are spending 1 million hours a day playing it! That's a lot of time that could be better spent birding! Or saving starving children! Or something!

While I'm all for promoting birds, this is a bit crazy. If you don't know what Angry Birds is, just walk away now. Don't Google it. Don't download it onto your phone. If you want bird entertainment, put the phone down and go outside to look at real birds. Angry Birds is Evil I say! Evil!

(Yes, I did download it onto my Android phone. No, I will not play it an hour a day. But it's seriously calling my name!)

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Tundra Swan Stopover

While I was scanning the lake at Peace Valley, 13 Tundra Swans flew in and landed across the lake. I watched them hop out of the water up onto some of the last of the ice on the lake. By the time I had driven around to the other side, they were all up on the ice and napping.

Spring is here and birds are on their way north!

Turkey Lurkey

Had this guy walking through the woods with a buddy this morning at Peace Valley. Looking for Henny Penny?

Not bad for a one handed point and shoot shot from the car.
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