Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Let's Take A Look At This 1982 Playboy Ad About Bird Feet

I was at my buddy's house over Thanksgiving and he had this Playboy from 1982 sitting on his counter and I started leafing through it, as one does.

I found, immediately and before I got to any of the other stuff, this ad for Converse shoes. It's amazing. It's all totally wrong, and an embarrassment, but it's amazing. Let's take a closer look.

Let's start at the top. Here's what Converse thinks the foot of an American Flamingo looks like:

It's, uh. It's not what the foot of an American Flamingo looks like. It looks like this:

So, yeah, flamingo feet are actually webbed. Simple mistake! Maybe the artist just ran out of pink color pencil. Let's see what's next.

These actually look pretty good! What's up! It should be Ring-billed Gull, though. Small things. Moving on.

I mean, sort of an odd choice, considering that this bird and these feet are like smaller than any of there other bird's feet on here. The sizing is way off, is what I'm saying. Plus, again, and I hate to harp on this, but it's Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

"The Golden Crested, Green Footed Larry Bird." Oh man, so great. Remember Larry Bird? I hope you do. He is the man, and is probably the most beloved player in Boston Celtics history. He was three years in the league at this point and had just started to kick ass. Look at this guy.

Golden-crested indeed! Last thing:

This is just a completely incorrect, insane statement. Birds aren't readily identified by their feet. They just aren't. There are some birds whose feet are extremely helpful for identification, like Semipalmated and Ringed Plovers, but c'mon no one is looking at the feet first. No one is "readily" identifying birds by their feet. Plus, these idiots got the feet wrong! How can they say that you can identify birds by their feet when even the artists can't even get the feet right?! And another thing! Who is identifying basketball players by their feet? They wear jerseys with their names on them for goodness' sake!

OK bye.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

I Am the Very Model of a Modern Twitching Birdwatcher

There's a famous song in Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance called "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General." It's sung with gusto by a stuffy military man who's well-educated and seems to know everything about everything ... except the military.

I thought the message of the song would be a good fit for birding, where we all know someone with a life list a mile long but no clue about ornithology. (I might be one of them!)

So, I've updated the lyrics for your enjoyment. Here's the Gilbert and Sullivan version to refresh your memory on the pattern, it's pretty specific:

I am the very model of a modern twitching birdwatcher,
I’ve checked off every species between Monterrey and Labrador,
I’ve driven thirteen hours for an out-of-season Whip-poor-Will,
I skipped Thanksgiving dinner for a third-state-record Ivory Gull;
My days are spent in landfills and my nights straining for flight chip notes,
I’ve had my share of leeches and have plenty tick bite anecdotes,
About the lump/split process I am teaming with a lot o’ news,
With very strong opinions on the splitting of the Common/Mews!
I’ve ticked off every Ammodram from Saltmarsh through to Grasshopper;
I’ve spent more time in rice fields than a workaholic sharecropper;
I’ve checked off every species between Monterrey and Labrador,
I am the very model of a modern twitching birdwatcher.

I zip across the country in a birder-style Whack-a-Mole;
I’ve ticked the Social Flycatcher and Oriental Pratincole;
I’ve seen a Smew on Attu and a Thick-knee on the Rio Grande,
My Mecca is in Portal and Tortugas is the holy lands;
I’ve seen all of the warblers — Fan-tailed, Dusky, and Pallas’s Leaf;
No heron has eluded me from Chinese Pond to Western Reef;
I’ll push down all your mothers for a bird I have not seen afore;
Saw a Spoon-billed on the Pribilofs and saved a trip to Singapore!
I keep a separate checklist for each county, block and avenue,
I eBird every bird I eat, each turkey leg and cordon bleu;
In short, for every species between Monterrey and Labrador,
I am the very model of a modern twitching birdwatcher.

In fact, when I know what is meant “tibital” and “scapular”,
When I can learn the difference between hummingbird and jacamar,
When, alone, I can distinguish between jaegers and the canaries;
And I know what is meant when one says “molting of the primaries”,
When I can speak with knowledge of the lengths of supercilia —
When I split the aves from the order crocodilia —
In short, when I’ve a smattering of basic ornithology —
You’ll say no better birdwatcher has ever lifted bins as he.
My avian understanding, though I’m wealthy and unquenchable;
Is limited to rarities, thus rather one-dimensional.
But still, for every species between Monterrey and Labrador,
I am the very model of a modern twitching birdwatcher!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

California Trip - Not Birds

I went to California recently and saw a ton of birds and also lots of things that were animals but that were not birds. Here is photographic proof.


Douglas's Squirrel!

A crappy photo of a Belding's Ground Squirrel!

California Ground Squirrels were everywhere!

Western Gray Squirrel!

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Birds at Large: VW Golf Alltrack

Volkswagen is coming out with a new Golf with some thing called Alltrack that I guess makes it better for driving outside or something, and they're promoting it with a bunch of commercials with terrible crap about wildlife.

Here's the first one, where a guy tried to murder a frog.

So, it starts with some guy in a glassed-in office who keeps a tropical frog in a tiny, airless glassed-in mini-office because he's a sadist who takes out his feelings of powerlessness on helpless amphibians. 

The guy goes insane, quitting his job and deciding to release his prisoner as some kind of pathetic act of contrition. Of course, he's an idiot, and tried to release his frog into a river in what looks like northern California. 

This is a terrible idea, of course, because the frog is clearly a Red-eyed Tree Frog, a resident not of rivers in temperate forests of the American northwest but rather of trees in the rainforests of Central America. It would have died in that river before this moron could even get his key in the ignition.

Thankfully, the frog somehow convinces this guy not to abandon it to a watery death, and the commercial ends with the guy driving off with the frog riding shotgun. Or, maybe it was all just a fever dream and the guy in reality is back in his glassy office, convulsing on the floor. Buy Volkswagen!

There is another Golf Alltrack commercial I just saw during a football game that had a CLASSIC, an absolutely CHOICE example of the "show a Bald Eagle but play the call of a Red-tailed Hawk" trope. I'll post it as soon as I can find it online.


Listen for the Red-tailed Hawk scream when the show the Bald Eagle in the middle of this goddamn awful commercial. Just listen, and weep for the future.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

California Trip -- Birds

Hi friends.

Sometimes life is crummy. Sometimes life is good. One of the good times was that I found out sorta last-minute that I'd be able to serve as a staff representative on a group trip last month to Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks in California. Good.  My wife then flew out and met me in San Francisco for a few days of travel around the Bay Area. Even better.

Believe it or not, I looked for some birds. Do you want to see photographic proof? Well, I hope so because that's what you're gonna get.

I saw three ABA life birds on the trip: the quasi-nemesis Red-breasted Sapsucker (spent a few hours looking for them last time I was in CA), Sooty Grouse, and the goddamn California goddamn Condor.

Here's the sapsucker. The first one I saw was outside the hotel in Sequoia NP but I was unable to get a photo, this guy was at Lost Lake Park north of Fresno, where I snuck for a few hours before my flight to SF. An attractive bird, looking like a YB sapsucker that dumped his head into a jar of raspberry jelly. 

Two female Sooty Grouse popped out of the woods near the top of the Sentinel Dome Trail in Yosemite. They were ... obliging. Even better with Half Dome in the background.

This is a California Condor, the largest flying bird in North America. (Don't give me any of that swan garbage.)  I saw five of them in total, none closer than this unfortunately. This first one was at Andrew Molera State Park, a beautiful place with an absolutely massive bird list. I saw a couple more condors elsewhere in the Big Sur area, all very high and very far. What an awesome bird.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Birds in Video Games: Overwatch

Reader Meredith Nickerson passed along a tidbit recently about an avian character in the popular online multiplayer shooting game, Overwatch. It's a cute little tiny bird named Ganymede.

I don't play this game and so pardon me if I don't know what the hell I'm talking about, but Ganymede follows around a giant robot character named Bastion, that actually does fights in the game. The backstory is that Bastion had shut down in a German forest and had overgrown with moss and stuff until Ganymede came along and woke him up. Now they're buds.  Wanna see a video of that? Here you go

Importantly, according to Meredith, Ganymede can take a number of forms, including some real life actual (sorta) birds.  Ganymede starts off as this little guy (gal?):

That is ... uh ... not a real bird. Some bastardized canary? I don't even know. Too bad.

The good news, however, it that Ganymede's got some other looks. You can change Bastion's skin in the game, and when you do Ganymede changes along with it. Check it out, as assembled by the folks at Overwatch Writing:

Pretty good! Check out that cardinal on top! ACCURATE BILL COLOR! The Rock Dove is spot on, and the Blue Jay ain't half bad either. The woodpecker could use a bit of work (if it is supposed to be a Pileated ... I couldn't find anything closer) but it's close. The White Dove is stupid but forgivable. 

Anyway, if I played this game I'd probably get my ass kicked because I'd just be watching Ganymede fly around instead of killing anyone. The end. Thanks, Meredith, for the tip. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Rare Blackbirds in the Verizon Center

Last night I saw Sir Paul McCartney play at the Verizon Center in DC. It was incredible, as I expected.

Among the medley of famous Beatles and Wings songs he played "Blackbird," indisputably one of the best goddamn songs of all time. Here's a little video:


A video was projected behind him during the performance, which prominently featured birds. Of course, my eBird mind started to work, and I could barely pay attention to the song because of my dumb brain working through IDs. Not much to go on -- mostly rock pigeons and backlit blackbird sps -- but I wonder if the Eurasian blackbird at the end is a first DC record?

Here's my checklist for the song:

Thanks for the tunes, Macca.

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