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.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Google Street View Birding VI: Canada

O Canada!
Birds' Home and Native Land!
Loons, Crossbills, and Doves in all thy bins command!

That doesn't make a lick of goddamn sense, sorry, but it's a great anthem anyway.  Canada is a marvelous place, and millions upon millions of birds make their way up to breed each summer.  Also making their way up in the summer, apparently, is the Google Street View crew, who unwittingly managed to capture a number of those birdies in their jaunts.  And I, during slow moments of my days, have been able to track a few down.

For those interested in previous installments of Google Street View Birding, check here:

OK, back to Canada.  Let's go birding, and start out West.

The West Coast of Canada has a bunch of gulls that I don't usually see out here on the East Coast.  Gulls are great for Street View Birding because they're big, often sit in conspicuous places, and let people and cars get relatively close. Western Canada and the Pacific Northwest have a couple of fairly easy-to-identify gulls that I thought I could find in Street View.

The trouble with gulls is that they hang out by the ocean, i.e. not where Google Street View cars are driving. Thankfully, cars aren't the only way Street View gets images.

I found this gull resting on a dock from which the Street View guy was leaving on a boat trip at the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, south of Vancouver. Not a great view of the head, but a big gull with very light wingtips? Looks like a Glaucous-winged Gull to me. 

Here's another one I found, somewhere in the same park. This one's tougher, because of the light, but it looks darker and with dark wingtips. Maybe? It's possible that it's a Western Gull, but ... I dunno. Hard to say, so I won't call it for sure.

Nearby, the Street View guy straps on a backpack and walks down a big tidal spit. Very cool.  Along the way he or she passes this group of dark shorebirds. Black Oystercatchers! What, ten? We should eBird that!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

New Patch Record

I know you don't care about the few species I see on my daily dog walks, but screw you, I've got a dog that I need to walk and I may as well look at birds while I do it.


Reminder: I walk my ten-year-old dumb awesome dog Gibson (most) evenings after work up The Yards Park along the Anacostia River in Southeast Washington, DC.  As I've covered before, I count birds when I leave my apartment building on South Capitol Street, past Nationals Park, along Yards Park up the Anacostia River to the dog park, then down along the Navy Yard to where the USS Barry (recently!) was located. Then I turn around.  Technically, I am counting birds on more than The Yards Park, but I don't care because screw you I don't care.

I didn't expect much out of this afternoon. It was drizzling, like it has been for the past frigging forever out here. I left the house in the rain, and the birds weren't cooperating for the most of the walk. Starlings, Fish Crows, Grackles, and House Sparrows at the stadium. Ospreys nesting in their typical spot. Robins in the little yard thing. Six species before the boardwalk does not a record-breaking walk make.

Even after the dog park - usually a hotspot - I was expecting a typical 15-18 species walk. A Common Yellowthroat on the slope was nice, but there were no good sparrows -- the recent Swamp Sparrow, Gray Catbird, and Eastern Towhee were gone -- and not much good habitat left.

But then things picked up. A pair of Goldfinches in the small tree near Due South was a rare spotting, and signaled a crazy run of good birds. An American Crow, rarely identifiable along the river, called as it flew overhead.  Then, a little bird in the birches by the parking lot, where I always expect to see birds but never see a goddamn thing: a Black-and-white Warbler! New patch bird!

Immediately afterwards I saw some white birds flying down over the river. Must by the typical groups of Ring-billed Gulls, I thought, but these have black hoods ... Laughing Gulls! Very unusual in summer, and probably the first time ever I've tripped an eBird filter on my walk. Sweet.

With some dumb Mallards on the river, I was suddenly at 20 species, a mark I'd only reached once before. Then, on the way back down, there was a whistle in the birches: a goddamn Cedar Waxwing! Another bird I'd never seen in the park before. A Barn Swallow (expected), Great Blue Heron flying upriver (fairly expected), and a Great Black-backed Gull under the South Capitol Street Bridge (unusual!) later, I was at 24! A record breaker!

What bird kept me away from a tidy little 25? Frigging Rock Pigeon. Well, gotta leave some for next time.

Here's an image numbered with each new bird I found. Orange are new birds for the park.

1. European Starling
2. Fish Crow
3. Common Grackle
4. House Sparrow
5. Osprey
6. American Robin
7. Song Sparrow
8. Double-crested Cormorant
9. Ring-billed Gull
10. Common Yellowthroat
11. Mourning Dove
12. American Goldfinch
13. American Crow
14. Chimney Swift
15. House Finch
16. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
17. Northern Mockingbird
18. Black-and-white Warbler
19. Laughing Gull
20. Mallard
21. Barn Swallow
22. Cedar Waxwing
23. Great Blue Heron
24. Great Black-backed Gull

Monday, May 9, 2016


In cased you missed them, I've published a couple article on recently, here's a quick recap:

The Barred Owl, as part of the Sketch series.

As part of my Birdist Rules of Birding series:

Rule #12: How to Misidentify a Bird with Grace and Dignity

Rule #41: Identify your First Warbler

Rule #8: Bird Alone

Rule #22: You Can Always Impress Your Friends by Showing Them a Bald Eagle

Rule #63: Go Someplace Weird

Finally, I responded to that survey that supposedly found that people think birders are creepy.


Sunday, May 1, 2016

Top Fives of Florida

I take an annual ABA bird-finding trip each spring. In 2012 it was southeast Arizona. Then California, though I guess I didn't do a post on it, before Alaska in 2014 and the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas last year.

This spring I went with a buddy Jake to the mosquito-soaked, sun-pelted, Bud-Light-Lime-a-rita-caked shore of South Florida.  In the same way I did for Texas last year, here are some top fives.

Favorite Non-lifer Birds from Loxahatchee NWR
5. both flavors of Little Blue Heron

4. White Ibis

3. Common Gallinule

2. Limpkin - with 6 chicks!

1. Swallow-tailed Kites. The best bird on earth.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Birds at Large: Better Call Saul

**UPDATE** 3/28/2016

Reader Mark H. sent along a link to a behind-the-scenes podcast called the Better Call Saul Insider where they talk about the hummingbird in the show. Unreal.

According to the folks on the podcast, all of whom work in the crew or production for the show, the hummingbird was not lured in with a green screen behind it, but just a stroke of luck. The crew was shooting the factory shot using an unmanned camera on a crane, and the hummingbird just happened to zoom into a take.

Bob Odenkirk (making his second Birds at Large appearance) cracks that the bird is actually just a tiny drone sent over from one of the CSI shows. But to you and me, it's a Broad-tail.

**Update over**

If you want to look for quality, look at the details. It's true for cars*, it's true for jewelry*, it's true for clothing.*  And it's true for TV shows.

Better Call Saul is a quality TV show, one of my current favorites. Care is taken in all aspects. The plot is intricate, the settings are rich, the acting is considered. Even the birds are right.

A friend sent me some screenshots from one of this season's episodes, showing a hummingbird flying in the foreground.  Hummingbirds are typically CGId when they appear onscreen - like the Xantu's in The Big Year, right? - because they're so fast and because not many people keep them.

But this bird doesn't look CGId, right? It looks real. Check it out:

I asked Benay Karp, the owner of an animal rental company in Los Angeles, if the bird was one of hers. She said it wasn't, that it was likely a wild bird that the production team brought to the camera with a feeder. She thought there'd be a green screen behind the bird onto which they could later project the scene as you see it above. Very cool.

So what species is it?

If we're going with the "live bird" thinking, this is some species that appears wild in New Mexico, where the show is filmed. That eliminates Ruby-throated, which is helpful.

I've never really looked into it because I haven't birded there much, but there aren't a ton of hummers in New Mexico. I don't see the red in this bird that would indicate a Rufous Hummingbird, and so for regulars in the state we're left with, like, Broad-tailed, Black-chinned, and Calliope?

I think this is too big-looking for a Calliope. I just think that.

I don't have a ton of experience with the other two birds, but the white tail corners on this bird look pretty extensive. The bill doesn't look super-long either. I think this is a Broad-tailed Hummingbird. Good bird! Thanks, Saul.

*I have never owned quality clothing, a nice car, or really any jewelry. I've just heard this is true.

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