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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Review #4

Putting down Kaufman's Advanced Birding is practically impossible - even now my eyes are super glued to the pages making this post rather difficult to create. Kaufman goes all out in this epic book describing the most common ID dilemmas and then turning two feathered peas in a pod (say a Black-capped and Carolina Chickadees) into a pear and a cranberry (say a Glaucous Gull and a flamingo).

The book is illustrated with black and white pen drawings by Kaufman, which just at a glance shed light on the questions of the universe most namely "was that a Franklin's Gull...?" But what I really like about this book is the text which radiates identification information. Who ever knew that an immature Blackpoll Warbler may have dark legs but a Bay-breasted never has light?

As noted earlier this guide (part of the Peterson Field Guide Series) discusses only the more common problems that one might happen upon in the field. So, if you were hoping to identify a juvenile Lesser from a juvenile Greater White-fronted Goose (not that you're likely to even be considering the possibility of a "code 5" Lesser White-front) then you're out of luck. But if you're trying to identify an Empidonax Flycatcher or a (nonbreeding plumage) Spizella Sparrow then you need look no further than the pages of this book.

The first chapter of the 35 chapters in this paperback titled "The Challenges in Birding and How to Approach Them" talks about...well I guess it talks about exactly what the title says its about. In the front of the book is a spread depicting, on the left, a shorebird and a songbird pointing out the different feather types, and on the right, some drawings of bills. Luckily the bills are not the paper kind for they would be very off topic and quite boring ("Ooh look its a five dollar bill! Cool!"). This right hand page shows the beaks of birds that are useful or essential for identification of the species.

The Thumbs Up
Everything is good about this guide!

The Thumbs Down
Nothing in this guide I in any way dislike.

Here's a list of the enlightening chapters in this book (just a note: this book is not a field guide, but more a bedside delight):
The Challenges in Birding and How to Approach Them
The Winter Loons
The Western Grebes
Medium-sized White Herons
The Dark Ibises
The Scaup
Brief Notes on Other Ducks
The Accipiters
Basics of Shorebird Identification
The Dowitchers
Sharp-tailed and Pectoral Sandpipers (okay, I guess some rarities are discussed in this book)
Semipalmated and Western Sandpipers
The Jaegers
Basics of Learning the Gulls
Franklin's and Laughing Gulls
The Thayer's Gull Complex
The Medium-sized Terns
Brief Notes on Other Terns
The Screech-Owls
The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Complex
The Wood-Pewees
The Empidonax Flycatchers
The Chickadees
Bendire's Thrasher
The Philadelphia Vireo Complex
Tips for Identifying Fall Warblers
The Blackpoll Trio
The Waterthrushes
Notes on Other Warblers
Identifying Sparrows: The Generic Approach
Cassin's and Botteri's Sparrows
The Spizella Sparrows
The Carpodacus Finches

Definitely not a bad list. You won't find yourself saying "Was that an Arctic Tern?" ever again! Now that in itself is worth the price of this book!

On the 20th at Colt State Park in Bristol I had three Ruddy Turnstone and a Snow Bunting
(a year bird).
Snow Bunting

Ruddy Turnstone

We have been unable to go for any nice walks since Ben tore the cartilage in his knee. Now the gorilla can be found patrolling our backyard (dirt) jungle on a shiny pair of crutches. We are practically under house arrest with him for the next 4 to 6 weeks.

Good job to anyone who identified the Marsh Wren in the last photo quiz. Here's your next quiz!
This photo was taken at RISD Beach on the 4th of October

Sunday, November 13, 2011

11:00-12:15pm Moonstone Beach Nov/8/11

We pulled into the unpaved parking lot of Moonstone Beach at eleven sharp. The sky was clear and the sun shone down upon us; countering the cool breeze with its pleasant rays. Both Mud and Cards Pond had high water levels, covering up the muddy banks ringing Mud Pond and the more sandy banks of Cards. This lack of mudflats ruled out the possibility of any shorebirds. Anything other than a lone Greater Yellowlegs would be unlikely due to the lateness of the year and the habitat. (Incidentally I saw a Least Sandpiper yesterday at RISD Beach. This Least Sandpiper is apparently the latest record of a LESA reported on "eBird" (The website were 'e's and birds collide) in RI. Pretty neat ay?)

The least likely

Scanning Cards Pond I came up with a few Buffleheads, a lone female Hoodie ("Hoodie" is the cool way of saying Hooded Merganser), and a Double-crested Cormorant. Making our way up to the beach I passed a pair of Song Sparrows going about their daily business while ranting about the economy now a days and the high cost of fuel.

Looking out over the Atlantic through my spotting scope I found that there were more loons on the water than you could shake a stick at (if thats your idea of a good time!!!) Most of the loons were Red-throated but I counted four Common Loons as well. The Red-throated Loons were for the most part drifting about in a large flock of about twelve birds. I have never seen loons flocking before. Apparently a flock of loons is called a "Loomery" you'd expect it to be a "Loonery" right?.

A Red-throated Loomery

Walking about an 8th of a mile down the beach we came to the place where the main birdy action happens: the Trustom Pond overlook (at least I think overlook is the right word for it). Here the dunes had been worn away creating a wide sandy path that leads from the beach to the still waters of Trustom Pond. Here we had countless swarms of Ring-billed and Herring Gulls, Double-crested and a few Great Cormorants, Canada Geese, and on the far side of the pond American Coots. Floating about with the geese were 7 Common Goldeneyes, 5 female Common Mergansers and a pure white, pink billed Snow Goose!

We first found the Snow Goose resting on the bank with some Canada Geese, but when we approached the geese (the Snow Goose among them) waddled comically into the water - still half asleep and bleary eyed. As soon as this white goose had left the shore it tucked its pink bill back under its feathers and let its snores flow freely (in a manner of speaking). This sleepiness was probably due in part to the migration currently being undertaken by this bird and its fellows on their way to their more Southerly wintering sites (though Snow Geese do Winter in small numbers in this area).

A Snow Goose with a honking flock of canadians

Looking up I cried in excitement "GIANT Rubber Monkey?!!". Nah, I'm just kidding, what I actually said was "Snow Bunting!". But that call was a wild/hopeful but inaccurate guess. The smallish songbird that landed there on the sand actually turned out to be neither a super sized rubber monkey or a Plectrophenax nivalis (more commonly called a Snow Bunting). Nope, this was a Horned Lark. I have always loved larks there such jolly, cheerful birds always whistling and singing merrily. Soon it was joined by three more jovial larks.

Larking about on the beach

Out over the chopping waves of the Atlantic I spotted six fork tailed Forster's Terns. Nice birds for this time of year and almost certainly the last terns that I will see this year. Twice I thought I saw a Lesser Black-backed Gull fly over. Both gulls had dark backs and slim wings. They seemed to be smaller than the common Great Black-backed Gulls and lighter backed. I didn't get a good look at the mirrors (the small white dots on the primaries) and I couldn't see if they had the distinctive yellow legs of the Lesser Black Backed Gull. Either field mark would have confirmed my suspicion. Not cool.

We disappointingly missed many species reported at Moonstone such as the two American Bitterns seen here recently. We didn't have time to go looking for the Northern Shrike at East Beach and we couldn't figure out how to legally park at Perry Mill Pond where we had hoped to see the two Eurasian Wigeons reported there. Our (rare) South Kingstown excursion ended there.

Here's a list of birds seen:
Snow Goose 1
Canada Goose 300+
American Black Duck 4
Mallard 7
Bufflehead 20
Common Goldeneye 7
Hooded Merganser 1
Common Merganser 5
Red-throated Loon 20
Common Loon 4
Double-crested Cormorant 16
Great Cormorant 3
Great-blue Heron 1
Osprey 2
American Coot 80+
Ring-billed Gull 50+
Herring Gull 40+
Great Black-backed Gull 20
Forster's Tern 6
Horned Lark 4
Black-capped Chickadee 1
(politics discussing) Song Sparrow 2
and Northern Cardinal 1.

It was a fun day in the field.

Good job to anybody that ID'd the immature Black-crowned Night-Heron in the last quiz.
Here's your next photo quiz. Good luck!
This photo was taken on the first of November at RISD Beach.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Review #5

The Sibley Field Guide To Birds of Eastern North America

The Runup
By far my favorite element of this great guide is the voice description given for each bird. These voice descriptions include a hoard of songs, calls and quacks. Even the seabirds calls are given even if these say no more than "Generally silent at sea". No other field guide I, at the present moment, am aware of gives calls for EVERY bird as this book does.

Sibley as does a awesome job arranging this book. Each page has almost always two species described and illustrated on it. Right now I am studying page 144; this page displays Northern Jacana and American Oystercatcher. The two species are separated by a line (the oystercatcher being on the top of the page, the Jacana on the bottom). Each species is given four paintings; a painting of the juvenile and the adult perched and a painting of the species flying (generally at least two birds of one species are shown in flight). Every species, except for Bicknell's Thrush and some rarities, are shown in flight! The field marks are pointed out, and described.

The gouache paintings are stunning works. None of the birds shown are disproportioned (except for a few owls) as a number of other bird guide paintings are. The descriptions are very nice. They all give the general status, the English and scientific names, the habits and habitats, the size, wingspan, weight and plumage description, the voice (as already mentioned) and the even species favorite football team! Very few field guides give this much information (especially sport-wise).

If the species has an easily recognizable subspecies it will be shown below the species. The subspecies will be given two or more paintings plus a short description.

The range maps are very, very detailed. They depict all of North America even though this guide focuses only on half of the continent. They show where the birds have occurred out of range, where they breed and winter, where they are year round residents and their migration pattern.

In the beginning of the book Sibley discuses birding and explains plumages, variations, conservation and so forth. This a very informative and interesting set of pages. After this introduction comes a group of illustrated spreads depicting Sparrows, Gulls, Sandpipers and a Gadwall. All these birds are shown in black and white, pointing out the different feather types such as the tertials and the alula. These few pages are by far the best and most useful you'll find in any North American guide.

This has a turtleback binding, my favorite type of binding for a field guide because it seems very sturdy and is comfortable in the hand.

The Rundown
This field guide is pretty chunky making it harder to carry out in the field than some books. The subspecies scientific names are not mentioned. Some of the paintings (such as the Brown Thrasher) are too bright.

If anyone ever asked me to point out my favorite field guide to North American birds there is no doubt in my smallish mind that I would answer abruptly "The Sibley".

Good job to anyone who spotted and ID'd the Song and Field Sparrow in the last photo quiz.
Here's the next quiz!
This photo was taken at Blackstone Park in Providence on the 7th of October 2011.
Good Luck!