Thursday, October 8, 2015

Birds at Large: Bloodline

I watched the Netflix series Bloodline last week and enjoyed it, for the most part. Very well acted by a stellar cast that includes Kyle Chandler, Linda Cardellini, and Ben Mendelsohn doing the creepy menace thing he perfected in Animal Kingdom.  And, set and filmed in the Florida Keys, it's got atmosphere to spare, much like another recent noir, season 1 of True Detective.

But I said I liked it "for the most part." The part I didn't like, the part that ruined it for me the way it always ruins things for people like us, is the constant stream of incorrect bird songs in the soundtrack.

Look, I've said it again and again: because this stuff really isn't that hard to get right it pisses me off when it isn't, and it makes me wonder about all the other stuff the show is probably getting wrong.  It would take 15 minutes on eBird and Xeno-Canto to get a full suite of geographically and seasonally correct bird sounds, but instead we're left to listen to a bunch of garbage.

It started with promise. Set primarily at a family-run inn on Islamorada, there are a lot of shots of broody people at night doing broody and/or suspicious things. In some of those early night scenes I started hearing a lot of Common Nighthawk peents in the background, including this one:

(I'm not going to do audio or clips or anything that's probably illegal, OK? Just use your imagination to put a bunch of CONI peents behind broody Kyle here.)

Nighthawks, nice! Not quite the extra-credit that I would have given a Key-appropriate Antillean Nighthawk, but a plausible species nonetheless.

But the quality of the night-scene birds started getting screwy. There were a few instances of Northern Parula song in a few of the daylight scenes - totally appropriate - but look at the tender scene below and imagine a Northern Parula just belting out a song right in the middle of it.

I suppose that having the old man yell, "Holy shit did you hear that Parula just now? Why is it singing in the middle of the night?" would ruin some of the emotional gravitas of the scene, but if it were me I don't know that I could resist.

It just got worse from there. Florida inappropriate Black-capped Chickadees were singing all day and night. Broad-winged Hawks were singing for what is likely the first breeding pair in the Keys. It was all very distracting.

For much of the season these avian errors were limited to the soundtrack, but I was lost completely in Episode 10 when the show tried to work birds into the script. I won't spoil anything, but the character below at one point tries to distract some boat passengers by looking up and saying something like: "Oh that's a good omen, a flock of ..." A flock of what, would you guess? Pelicans? Royal Terns? A flock of flamingoes? That's both lucky and Florida appropriate! Nope, he says "A flock of...

... Razorbills." Razorbills.  The seafaring alcid that breeds in the North Atlantic. This dude just casually looks up, no-binocular IDs a flying (!) flock (!) of razorbills and is like "oh that's lucky." You god damn bet that's lucky, tubs, that's like a second state record! Get a pic! It'd be like me looking up and seeing a flock of tropicbirds flying over DC and being like "oh, cool, nice."

Now, technically, this isn't an error.  This guy's not a birder, and neither are the people he's trying to distract, so he could have said anything just to get them to look up. I get it, but Razorbills? Why such a specific and specifically insane bird? Is this a reference to the Razorbill invasion of 2011?  No, I don't think so. It's just dumb.  EDIT 10/9 So, maybe I'm the dumb one. The Razorbill invasion of Florida and the Gulf was the winter of 2012/13, not 2011. The show was announced in Oct. 2013, and presumably written before that...right during the time of the Razorbill invasion. I give kudos to at least connecting the reference to an actual event, though it's still presented incorrectly in terms of tone.

Being the nice guy that I am I offered to help the show's second season get things right. I haven't heard anything back yet, and I'm not holding my breath.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Photographer Todd Forsgren's Book Now Available

Todd Forsgren is the fantastic photographer whose vivid images of birds tangled in mist nets caused a bit of an internet stir a few years ago. I interviewed him about his images and his life birding in 2013.

At long last, Todd's mist net photos have been collected into a book called Ornithological Photographs, now out through Daylight publishing.  I urge all forward-thinking birders out there, all the hip birders, to pick up a copy. You may not look at birds again the same way.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Couple things for you to read & enjoy

Thanks to Audubon for letting me do these:
Wilson's Phalarope: The Rebel

John James Audubon: Crazy, Wrong, or Neither?

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Birds at Large: Teal Owl

People are again clamoring for a crazy-colored owl! Thankfully, is once again on the case.

Back in 2012 I linked to an entry on - the online investigator of popular myths and rumors - about a "newly discovered" "rainbow owl."  It's quite clearly a hack photoshop job, but that hasn't stopped the hordes of blinkered, googling citizenry from making it one of my all-time most visited posts (which, honestly, isn't that hard to do).

But apparently those devious tech geniuses are at it again. Behold, the teal owl!

My goodness! How could this gorgeous species have eluded scientists for so long?? Again, Snopes looked into it and revealed that it's literally the easiest photoshop job.  It's a Guatemalan Pygmy-Owl (here's the original photo from Owl Pages).

Thanks again, Snopes, for setting the record straight.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Breaking Records or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Patch or: A Pedestrian's Guide to the Unspectacular Birdlife of Yards Park, DC

In patch birding, it's all relative.  You're not after huge numbers, you're not expecting rarities. Instead, it's about really knowing a place, and learning its rhythms.  When you're stuck with a patch long enough, you learn to love it no matter how few birds there are.

And there aren't a lot of birds on my patch, Yards Park along the Anacostia River in DC. It's where I walk my dog most every day after work. Despite running along a big ol' river and featuring at least some greenery, I've only managed 62 species despite visiting a few times a week for a year and a half.  I dunno, that's not a tiny number, but it's less than I could get on a decent spring day at a park just up the river. (Also, it's enough to make me the hotspot leader by about 30 species).

But it's what I've got, you know?  And I love it. I especially love it on days like yesterday, a gray and dreary afternoon where I somehow beat my previous dog walking record and saw 17 different species.  Check out that list!  The clincher was a solo mourning dove that cruised overhead when I was back on South Capitol Street, almost home. My dog had no idea what I was yelling about.

Anyway, in honor of my record-breaking afternoon I made a quick. annotated bird finding guide to Yards Park. It's oriented South to North, which is the way I walk it, but it's a little confusing that way. It's displaying small, but you can click to enlarge. Or you can just not do that, and go on with your life.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Black Skimmer and Wilson's Storm-petrel on Audubon Website

I recently posted a couple articles to the ongoing The Sketch series on highlighting quirky, cool birds, this time featuring the Black Skimmer (the only bird with cat eyes!) and the Wilson's Storm-petrel (fishes with its little feet!). Enjoy!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Google Street View Birding: Antarctica Part III: Antarctica

Antarctica. The Great White Desert. The Tundra Down Under. The Big Ice Cube. The Cold-tinent. Ol' Snowyface.  We've finally made it.

Like the polar explorers of old, we've slowly made our way across the stormy seas to our destination. We've seen a lot of amazing things along the way, including endangered wrens in the Falkland Islands and nesting albatross (260 times larger than the wren) on South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands. We've seen adorable seals. And terns. And shags. And weird ducks and caracaras and oystercatchers and geese and vultures and a whole lot of penguins.

We start - led by our intrepid Google Street View friends - at the Antarctic Peninsula, that long point of land sticking out towards South America. We start on a small outcropping called Half Moon Island, just off the mainland of Antarctica. According to the informational overlords at Wikipedia, the 2010 images taken here were the first to put Google Street View on all seven continents. There to welcome them, of course, were penguins.

These are chinstrap penguins, named for the stripe running along their throat that looks like that bad haircut worn by the burnout kid in your 1995 high school class.

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