Saturday, December 31, 2011

Birding 2011 Year in Review!!!! With Graphs!!!!

It was a great year for bird a-findin' and a-identifyin' (the new terms I am going to use in 2012 instead of 'birding'). I saw 38 new birds in the ABA area and broke through the 500 barrier. I saw 347 species in the USA, my biggest year ever. I birded in Mississippi, Florida, Oregon, Louisiana, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Alabama, Maine and Tennessee. I took boats out to the Dry Tortugas and the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. I sat in a suburban backyard in St. Louis and talked with the owner about Eurasian Tree Sparrow. I seawatched into the Atlantic, Pacific and the Gulf.

Here are some graphs and other visual illustrations!

This maps shows all the spots I got life birds this year.  Drag the map around and click on the blue flags to see what I saw and where.

View 2011 Life Birds in a larger map

Here's a graph showing my accumulation of year birds. The first bird I counted was a Swamp Sparrow at the south end of Sardis Lake, and the last was a vagrant Black-headed Grosbeak in Denton, Maryland. Steep sections in the middle represent trips to Oregon and Florida (March) and Monhegan Island in Maine (September).  Click to enlarge:

Here's a graph of the number of species I saw in the 17 states I birded in this year.

And another one for the counties:

Here's a picture that I didn't take to celebrate my 500th ABA bird - and a pretty damn good one if I may say - a Kentucky Warbler.

Looking forward to a big 2012!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

New York Celebrity Sightings

I was in New York City this past weekend for a friend's party.  I got into Penn Station early and had some time to walk around the city.  Having always wanted to see the Guggenheim Museum, I decided to take the 3-ish mile stroll up 8th avenue, through Central Park and over to the museum.

8th Avenue was packed, and after a minute I saw a tall guy with a white mustache walking towards me. John Cleese!  I've been a huge Monty Python fan forever, and seeing him in person - even if he was just walking past on a sidewalk - was a huge thrill.  Here's a cell phone picture I snapped:

Haha nah I didn't have time to take a picture.
Anyway, I figured my celebrity sightings were over for the day.  After checking out the Guggenheim (very cool) I headed back down 5th Avenue.  After a couple blocks I heard the distinct screeching of a Red-tailed Hawk.  Pale Male!  In the world of birding, I don't think there's a bigger celeb.  

OK, it's not the best picture, but like those paparazzi who have to get whatever shots they can get when they see a skinny-dipping starlet, I did the best I could. New York! City of the Rich and Famous!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Birds At Large: State Quarters

The commemorative state quarter program that ran from 1999 to 2009 gave each state a chance to show itself off to the rest of the country.  Something the state should be known for, something pleasant to stick in the minds of the rest of the citizenry.  No surprise to me, then, that birds were depicted so often.
My count shows birds appearing in twelve of the fifty-six quarters produced for the program (that’s fifty states plus quarters for DC, American Samoa, US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands).  Birds appear more frequently than any other subject, more than boats (9), bison (2), and stupid rock formations that fell to the ground in 2003 (1)
The frequency of birds on these quarters is easily overlooked, but I believe its important.  Because each state submitted its own design, these quarters show the states as they think of themselves.  Clearly, states are keen to tie their identities to birds, which are both literal and symbolic representatives of natural beauty.  That, or Oklahoma just genuinely didn’t know what the hell else to stick on there.  Either way, let’s take a look.
South Carolina was the first state to feature a bird in their design, in 2000.  It’s a Carolina Wren, a choice that perhaps fits less comfortably with my “literal and symbolic representations of natural beauty” crack and more comfortably with a “let’s put a bunch of crap from South Carolina’s Wikipedia page on there” strategy.  State nickname? Check.  State tree? Check.  State bird? Check and check. 
Louisiana is next, with a Brown Pelican.  It sits among another hodgepodge of state-related stuff, but it’s a cool bird and easier to etch than the state’s first draft design: a big steaming bowl of jambalaya. 
Maine, my beloved home state, is a bit of a cop-out.  Two McDonald’s-arch gulls drift above a ship-and-lighthouse scene.  No, I’ll admit they’re just background details, but drifting gulls is just the image Maine wants to project!  We don’t need to detail our seagulls, there are so many of them that they’re just around, everywhere!  Maine rules it.
Arkansas features a mallard duck flying into a floating diamond.  It’s the trippiest design, and I’m sure that duck is about to be gunned out of the sky in a hail of shotgun fire, but it’s a bird. 
California has the California Condor.  Awesome bird, good choice.
Minnesota’s quarter show a Common Loon cruising along a lake past a couple of (probably drunk) fishermen in a boat.  Minnesota’s a pretty relaxed place.
South Dakota’s quarter stirred up some controversy by featuring three invasive thingies: the Mt. Rushmore carvings, wheat (which replaced a lot of native prairie grasses) and the Ring-necked Pheasant.  Some people felt that since the state has the highest percentage of Native Americans, putting all-invasive items in their quarter was a dumb idea.  Those people are right.
Idaho just has a giant picture of a Peregrine Falcon.  It wins the award for everything. 
Oklahoma is a prime example of a state finding beauty in a bird.  What else would Oklahoma put on its quarter?  A dustbowl?  Kevin Durant?  The Oklahoma state PR guy – down on his luck ever since his Oklahoma Is OK license plates became a national joke – totally redeemed himself by suggesting the state feature the lovely Scissor-tailed Flycatcher on their quarter.  Welcome back, friend. 
US Virgin Islands features a Bananaquit, which is cool, and The Northern Mariana Islands quarter features an awesome pair of Fairy Terns.  USA!  USA!

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