Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Roots: Looking Back at 50 Years of Birding

For some reason I had it in my mind that I got my first bird book on Christmas of 1964.  I  figured that was as good a date as any to be the date I started birding. I was going to do something to celebrate the event.  Problem is  I looked at the book a few days ago and was shocked to discover I got it for my 4th birthday in MARCH of 1964. Dag nab it,  I missed the date!  But I must have been interested in birds before that anyway.  So I can probably still celebrate something.  I am probably at the end of my 50th year of birding rather than the start, but close enough.  So where did this bird brain come from?

There were some casual birders on my mom's side, but all of my birding experience comes down from my dad's side. The first Archer birder was my great-grandmother, Bessie Chandlee Archer, she is the one on the right next to my great-granddad (circa 1899). 

Above is her bird book, Bird Life by Frank M. Chapman , signed "Bessie C Archer June '04".  It is in rather poor shape.  That is a Barred Owl staring out of the pages at me. I never knew my great-grandma.  She was a strong independent person for her time. Her oldest son (Morse) was my grandfather, we called him "Duke".

 I lived in California until I was 10, then we moved back to South Jersey to be closer to the grandparents.   Once I lived nearer to him in Moorestown, we birded together. I was his sidekick, we put up bluebird houses all over South Jersey, we tried to stop the loss of marshlands behind Long  Beach Island. We would bird all the hotspots around the area.

Other big birders in my family that I spent time with include Duke's sister Aunt Sunny Guthrie and her husband Uncle Henry Guthrie (top photo) . My Aunt Joy (dad's sister) would also bird with us when she came up from Williamsburg, VA..  All the other bird brains lived up in Vermont, I would see them from time to time but not as much as this gang. 

This is the inside cover of my first bird book, a birthday present in 1964.  This was my favorite page of the book.  Not sure why I felt the need to scribble all over the Lark Sparrow and Mockingbird, but other than that the book is in great shape for belonging to a 4-year old.  I also liked those cool tabs you  put on your book to get quickly to the species you wanted. You can see them on the right side of book.

One of the lucky things I got to do as a kid was sail in Maine on my Aunt Sunny's sailboat, "Snowflake", this was my first real pelagic experience.  

This seemingly harmless picture of two trees was taken out of Cutler, Maine in 1975.  It was blowing hard that day and we decided to stay in the harbor.  I was out walking with my binoculars and camera ( one of those cheap little boxes they used to have) when I thought I would try taking a picture of birds with the binoculars in front of the camera as an extra powerful lens. This is my first digiscoped or should I say cameranoculared picture.  I took a bunch that day of the birds in the area. I remember being bummed when I got the pictures back that this was the only one they developed.  I have scanned this photo carefully to see if I caught a gull or anything, but zippo.  I cannot claim it as a "scoped" picture of a bird.  

As a kid, one of my favorite spots to bird was Brigantine National Wildlife Refuge.  Above is my list from Sept, 27, 1973.  My favorite thing to do was to look for bittern in the marsh.  I am sure I am the one who spotted bird 14.

Another favorite spot was Barnegat Light.  This must have been about 1975 or so, we were on the jetty looking for birds when this tractor started backing back off the jetty from a construction site.  I can still hear the beeping as it barreled down on us.  we all managed to step to the side :).

I got an eastern version of Peterson when I moved to New Jersey, I do not know where that book is now.  I suspect in a box at my sister's.  She has looked for it and has said it is not there. The other bird books I had available at the grandparents where ancient texts on various subjects and areas.  They are all still an interesting  read.

The artwork is just beautiful.  I did not appreciate these books then as much as I do now.

Surprising how much information on ducks was gathered by talking to the hunters.  This is a page from the Cape May book.

I came out to Oregon to go to OSU, I birded some in the hills around Corvallis.  During my last few summers at OSU I worked on the charter boats out of Newport. This was my first real pelagic experience on the Pacific.  Here is an albatross at Perpetua Bank in 1982. I know,  I know , 32 years later and my photos still stink.

After college I was a skipper on a private sailboat. It was hard to figure out what pelagic birds I was seeing,  Peter Harrison's book was the first specific identification guide I ever bought.  It was great but still it was tough.  I remember often asking other's opinions and many species were ruled out because "they just do not occur this far north", how much we have learned in a very short time!    I never cared too much about where I was when I saw birds.  I always assumed Oregon stopped at three miles offshore.  I was rather surprised when I learned the limit was 200 miles.  The weather can make it fun as well, this is running downwind off Oregon in 50 knots in about 1987.

After my sailing experience I moved to Oregon to become a landlubber.  My first rare bird report for Oregon was a Broad-winged Hawk out at the Roaring Springs Ranch..notice the committee felt the need to mention my "poor" photo :)

I do not know where the binoculars are that I used in New Jersey as a youngster.  When I got to OSU I bought a cheap pair of Bushnell's.  I used those up to when I got on the sailboat. Actually earning money allowed me to buy a pair of Leitz Trinovid 7x35s, just a great binocular.  I used those up until a few years ago when I moved up to the Pentax 10x43s I use today.

After a period of non-birding to raise kids I have been back to serious birding for the past 14 years or so. It has been a huge part of my life and has been a great joy.  My hikes on Mt Hood, trips to explore Malheur, wanderings of the coast have all been driven by my quest to find birds.  I thank all those people who have helped me along the way!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Sauvie Island CBC

My second Christmas Bird Count (CBC) of the year was the Sauvie Island count in Columbia county Oregon on December 21, 2014. . The atmospheric river (What is that?) that has been over Oregon was supposed to dump more rain on me during the count.  The weather turned out overcast and threatened rain but I made it through the count without any raindrops.  

The idea of a CBC is simply to identify and count all the birds in your assigned area.  One of my favorite areas is north of Rentenaar Road. I have surveyed this area for the past few years.   The area is bordered by a dike to the west and north, Rentenaar Road to the south and the Columbia River to the east.  Some of it is private, so not accessible.  However most is wildlife refuge. We are given permission to access the area by the refuge manager for this count.  Usually all except Rentenaar Road is closed during the winter to protect the waterfowl.

The shaded area is where I surveyed.

My camera allows me to take movies as well. I need to practice using this feature so I can post videos from my upcoming pelagic trips.  For some reason my view finder does not work on the movie setting.   I need to hold camera out in front of me and look at the screen.  Here are some dancing Sandhill Cranes.  I can use my 500 mm zoom lens while taking movies, which you would think should get me some great videos..

I will need to get much better at holding the camera still if I want to take a video on a bouncing boat! 

A Peregrine Falcon was keeping an eye on all the ducks in the area.

Lincoln Sparrow's are one of my favorites.  Hard to get a good photo of one.  

Here is my complete bird list for the area.

Greater White-fronted Goose  1
Cackling Goose  1600
Canada Goose  120
Canada Goose (occidentalis/fulva)  150
Cackling/Canada Goose  200
Tundra Swan  130
American Wigeon  12
Mallard  43
Northern Shoveler  25
Northern Pintail  110
Green-winged Teal  10
Canvasback  14
Ring-necked Duck  250
Bufflehead  12
Common Merganser  5
Double-crested Cormorant  4
Great Blue Heron  3
Great Egret  3
Northern Harrier  4
Sharp-shinned Hawk  1
Bald Eagle  3
Red-tailed Hawk  2
American Coot  190
Sandhill Crane  220
Greater Yellowlegs  32
Herring Gull  1
Western x Glaucous-winged Gull (hybrid)  5
Eurasian Collared-Dove  4
Mourning Dove  26
Belted Kingfisher  1
Downy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  8
American Kestrel  3
Peregrine Falcon  1
Western Scrub-Jay  7
American Crow  9
Black-capped Chickadee  12
Brown Creeper  3
Pacific Wren  1
Marsh Wren  3
Bewick's Wren  4
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  5
American Robin  2
European Starling  90
Spotted Towhee  5
Savannah Sparrow  6
Fox Sparrow  4
Song Sparrow  30
Lincoln's Sparrow  7
Golden-crowned Sparrow  41
Dark-eyed Junco  35
Red-winged Blackbird  150
Western Meadowlark  6
Brewer's Blackbird  100
House Finch  15

Thanks much for visiting and have a great day!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Columbia Estuary CBC Sandpiper

Today (12/14/14)  I went down to Seaside to participate in the Columbia Estuary Christmas Bird Count.  I was looking forward to birding the south jetty of the Columbia River.  Below is a map of the area I covered.  I walked the woods and beaches from Parking Lot B to D.  The weather was clear but very windy.  Gusts in the area were in the 25-30 knot range.  That was enough to kick up lots of sand and knock my tripod over with my scope on it. No damage done, but I had to be careful walking on the jetty with the wind pushing me around.

While I was walking along the river beach I saw this sandpiper.  I have not cropped the picture at all.

It is a bit to the left of center behind the seaweed on the beach.  This is through my full zoom lens, so with my digital camera , that is about 750 mm effective zoom, or I think that makes it 13x.  You need to appreciate how hard the wind was blowing.  Blasts of sand are coming across the beach.  I can barely see through my spotting scope and I am hunkered down on my knees behind a stump to get out of the direct wind.  The reason the bird caught my eye was that it appeared a bit bigger than the other Dunlins on the beach in comparison to the gulls that were nearby.  The bill seemed to have a distinct even curve to it. I was fighting the wind to see the bird, I figured I might have better luck taking some pictures then cropping the heck out of them to see what it was.  After I took these pictures I went back to trying to hold my scope steady so I could see the bird.  At that point the gulls flushed the bird.  I tried to get back up on my feet to track the bird, the shorebird that I saw fly by had a very bright white wing stripe and seemed to have extensive white on rump but I would not say rump was entire white.  In my notes I said it showed a lot of white on  upper side compared to other Dunlin.  Of course I was using my 10 power binoculars at this time and was looking at a flying object perpendicular to the wind,  my eyes were watery and I was being pushed around by the wind. I lost sight of the bird and could not find it, or I should say all that I did find were Dunlin.  Below are a few of the photos I took cropped in get a better view.  The first shows the curved bill, it seemed more curved than this shows.  I could be the angle.  All the birds had to sit straight into the wind.  Any poor little Sanderling trying to feed was quickly pushed down the beach. So the bird never really moved and I could not view it other than straight down wind.  I did  not see a brighter supercilium and the bird seemed to be  light brown, lighter than a dowitcher.  The darkness of the breast was hard to judge. I would not call it chunky.

I was thinking I had a Curlew Sandpiper, but I decided, barring better views , it was a Dunlin with a more evenly curved bill.  I would like to see it again.

Otherwise it was a fun hunt but no great finds, I did flush a Short-eared Owl at the ponds near Parking Lot C .  And a Peregirne Falcon was doing its best to catch a phalarope there as well.  I thought it was an interesting strategy by the Red Phalarope to survive.  Rather than fly away and let the falcon give chase, the phalarope hovered in mid-air and just dodged the swoops by the falcon.

Here is a nice brown-backed,  clean-sided Dunlin. They were in a mixed Sanderling flock on the ocean beach.

Ruddy Duck at Parking Lot C.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

How to use Dendroica

   A few weeks ago I decided to put this blog together, on the tabs above I selected some of my favorite sites for birding information in Oregon.  A few of them concern ocean and weather  conditions but I also have one for Dendroica.  I have had a few people ask about this site. Dendroica is an inter-active web page that helps professionals, volunteer surveyors and others become familiar with birds in the Western Hemisphere.  The USGS, Environment Canada and others are involved in the site.  It has many very cool features and is free.  I also use Larkwire, both are good for their own reasons.  For fine tuning my birding ear, when not in the field,  I use Dendroica.

I thought I would post a few screen shots to show how I have used the site over the years.  Once you have signed in you get this page.  Select the USA. 

Once you select the USA, you will get to a page that lists all the birds on the AOU list.  This one opened to a Canada Warbler.  There are a few features I would like to point out (see below).  The print on these shots  is hard to read, but next to sounds on the bottom you will see 24 tabs.  On this site they have 24 recordings for this species.  There will be calls and chip notes.  Some of the rarer USA species, like Pallas's Bunting , may have only a few songs.  You will also see they have 17 photos.  I rarely look at the photos.  The cool thing is the tab at lower left, "View Spectrograms".  Here the photo will be replaced with a live spectrogram of the bird that is singing or chipping.  

Here is a screen shot for the Canada Warbler (see below) after I hit the spectrogram button.

Dendroica does a good job with their written descriptions of the song.  It is best to come up with your own written version so you can remember the way you separate out the songs. Their description is in the gray box where they list the source of the recording. 

Using a website that lists every bird seen in North America would be a bit complicated, there are features on Dendroica that get this site to work for you and where you live.

Where Dendroica really becomes powerful is when you click on the Manage Lists tab in upper left.  It is to the right of the "Lists" tab that in this case shows I am on the US list. Here is how it looks on the Mange List tab (see below).

You can create custom lists for whatever group of birds you want. Creat an "Oregon Woods" list. Create an "Oregon Shorebird Flats" list.  Or pick all the expected species you will hear on Mt Tabor and create that list. To start, hit the "Modify/Create Custom List" tab.  It will take you here (see below).

In the example below, I decided to create a list for "Finches" and other similar birds. The idea is to select birds from the master list in the box on right and move them over to your own list in the box on left.  Please note when you move the bird it will vanish from master list. In the past, I have moved a bird over then forgot that it was already on my list. When I did this I was wondering why Lesser Goldfinch was not on the master list, then I realized I already had moved it to my list.

Once you are done with your list, hit the "Submit" tab next to the list name (see above).  Then hit "Back to List Filters"  (see above).  When you are back to the "List Filters" tab (see below), load in your custom list "Finches".

Your screen will now look like this (see below). Please note all the birds in your "Finch" list are now listed in the box at right.  Also you can see the photos or the spectrograms.  Please note not all birds will have a spectrogram.

Now take a look at the "Quiz" tab on the upper right.  Hit that tab and Dendroica will randomly play songs and chip notes from your list.  You highlight the bird you think it is and hit "select".  Dendroica will keep tabs on how well you do.  You  get a point if you pick correctly the first time, but you can keep on selecting until you get it right.  I should add the picture  goes blank when you take a quiz.  There will be a tab on lower right to add the picture back in.  Best to use the quiz without the picture.

Below is a screen shot for my custom lists.  My "Impossible " list contains things like Red-eyed vs Philadelphia Vireo, I threw in Palm Warbler v Swamp Sparrow v Orange-crowned v Dark-eyed Junco v Pine Warbler.  Things like that.  As I get them under my thumb, I take them off the list.  My "Quiz List " consists of birds I have mastered on "Larkwire".

My final point will be my way of looking at bird songs and sounds.  The best way to find birds is to learn their sounds.   I have had many birders express to me how hard it is to learn the songs and sounds.  I have no musical ear and will quickly forget a tune right after it stops.  But I can learn these bird songs.  They way I look at it is to group them into similar tunes.  For example, consider a classic rock song, say "Alll Along the Watchtower". Bob Dylan wrote it and sings it, but great versions are also out there by Crazy Horse and Jimi Hendrix. They all  play the EXACT song, yet I have no trouble deciding if I am hearing Bob, Neil or Jimi playing the tune.  Birds are the same way.  Purple Finch, Cassin's Finch. House FInch, even Warbling Vireo  play the exact same song. But if you get the style down, you can id them.  

To carry the point on more, once you know the bird's style you do not need to know all their tunes.  I think I can recognize the huge chords of a Beethoven piece or the sound of a Stones song without knowing their full range of tunes.  Hermit Warbler and Townsend's Warbler come to mind as well as Yellow Warbler.

For a nice break, here is a great version of this song (If anyone can tell me why I cannot get a video to be posted right on this blog, please let me know).  I can load it in but it does not play.       (Thanks for the tips Jen, I pasted the html code directly into the blog under the html tab and it worked) 

Anyway back to blogging, no question who is singing!  Crank it up while you set up your Dendroica site :)

Back to birds..

The best way to learn songs and chips is to do it in the field.  But that only works for the birds you see all the time. A bird I use Dendroica for is the Virginia's Warbler. Its song and chip are very similar to Nashville, amongst other birds.  This time of year I brush up on my spring songs so I am ready for Malheur.  Below is a spectrogram of a Nashville and Virginia's song. You can see how similar they are.  Each bird can sing many variations of their song, so it is not always easy. 

So there you go. Hope this encourages you to try the site.  It is a good one.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The New Westmoreland

I had yet to  visit the new version of Westmoreland Park in SE Portland since work was completed on a major renovation to enhance salmon in the area.  The grand reopening was on October 25th, 2014.  I was wondering if it was still a good spot for gulls and waterfowl.  

I think I am standing out in what was once the pond in this shot.  I am looking south. They have built a few walkways across the stream/marsh area.

Here is a shot from the middle of the old pond out towards the railroad and Hwy 99E.

Looking north , I am out in the old pond again.  The big evergreen tree was once at the edge of the pond and was a spot were folks gathered to feed the gulls and ducks.

Another view looking south a bit closer to the play area than where I was in the shots above. The small bridge in the upper center is the same one that was there before.

As far as birdlife went, I saw just two gulls.  A few ducks were in the stream but not nearly as many as before.  The large flock of American Wigeon that grazed the lawns was
 not to be seen. Not sure if they were gone for the day or had not returned since the renovation. There were Yellow-rumps working the stream and chickadees in the area as well.

I met Jen and her two dog pals out at the park, she was scouting for her upcoming TGC (Taken For Granted Challenge)  tomorrow.  The TGC Rematch..very fun idea..anyway she mentioned a Cooper's Hawk having lunch so I walked over and took a peek.

The flocks of geese are still hanging around...

In the stream itself they have added a lot of structural items like downed trees to help with the fish habitat. This Great Blue Heron was sitting on a log in the stream.  The large square cement pool structure is still at south end of park, it had low water levels. There were about 6 Killdeer resting on a mud area there.  Might be worth keeping an eye on for other shorebirds?  The water level was low enough that geese were walking in it.

There were a few Mallards, American Wigeons, and Hooded Mergansers in the channels. Above are the wigeons and a pair of mergansers.

After not seeing any large numbers of ducks and no gulls except a Glaucous-winged Gull when I got there, I went over to the Crystal Gardens and snapped a few shots.

Name the headless duck..

Enjoy your weekend!