Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Where Have New ABA Birds Been Found?

Below is a map of the locations of birds added to the ABA checklist since 2005.  I expected everything to focused on Arizona and Attu, but there's actually a pretty good distribution around the borders of the country.

Couple notes:

  • I only included new species, not splits (ie Pacific Wren)
  • These are birds that were added to the ABA list since 2005, but may have been sighted much earlier.
  • The list doesn't include birds that have been seen recently but aren't yet on the list officially, like the Rufous-necked Wood-Rail.
The tags are color-coded by the year they were sighted (not added to the checklist):
  • pre-1990 - black
  • 1990-2001 - gray
  • 2002 - turquoise
  • 2003 - none
  • 2004 - green
  • 2005 - orange
  • 2006 - brown
  • 2007 - purple
  • 2008 - blue
  • 2009 - pink
  • 2010 - yellow
  • 2011 - red 
(I can't embed it)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Google Street View Birding II: Midway Atoll

I don't care what crabby commenters say, I think Google Street View Birding is fun as hell.  Whenever I am bored for a few minutes at a computer, I can whisk myself away to far-off birding locations with the click of a mouse.  Screw you, I'll get my jollies where I can.

Street View birding is hard, though.  The resolution is never very good, and birds are rarely as close to the road as you want.  I think I did a pretty good job my first time around, but I've stumbled onto something that makes all my previous attempts seem like watching an empty feeder in March.  I've found what just might be the Shangri-La of Google Street View Birding: Midway Atoll.

As you (hopefully) remember, Midway Atoll was the site of a major battle in WWII and is still under the control of the U.S. government, which manages the island as Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.  And holy moses is there wildlife.  Situated as they are in the middle of the Pacific, thousands and thousands of pelagic birds visit them to breed.  I mean, thousands.  Albatross, noddies, frigatebirds, terns, tropicbirds.  And some lovely person from Google strapped on a camera backpack and walked around.  Check it out:

HOLY LORD LOOK AT ALL THOSE BIRDS.  The ENTIRE island is like this (Google maps only Street Views the western of the two breeding islands).  It's insanity.

Using this very helpful website, I cruised around the island and tried to find as many species as I could.  Midway is extra helpful from a Street View birding perspective because seabirds like this generally let folks come right up close, so you can see a lot of these birds in detail.

The majority of birds on the island are Laysan Albatross.  In fact, 71% of the world's population - more than 452,000 pairs (over 1 million individuals) - breeds on Midway.  Street Viewing your way around the island these birds are absolutely everywhere - on the runway, near the shore, in the bushes.  So incredible.  Wisdom, a 62-year old Laysan Albatross, also lives on the island.  I tried to find her in Street View but could not (where's the green building shown here?). 

Also numerous are Black-footed Albatross, including some with their faces blurred for some reason.  There are more than 25,000 breeding pairs of these guys on Midway.  There are also one or two Short-tailed Albatross on Midway, but I couldn't find them in Street View.

The island is also covered with the beautiful White Tern. In Street View they can be seen flying around almost everywhere, but above are some I caught in a tree.  Gray-backed and Sooty Tern also breed at Midway, but on the other island.

It's difficult to tell, but perched in that tree is a Great Frigatebird. Check for the long split tail. I'm sure there are other shots of these birds in the air in Street View, but I couldn't find them.

Finally, this is a noddy, I think a Brown Noddy.

Great times Street View birding on Midway. I encourage others to check it out, for the spectacle alone. If you find any additional species, let me know.

This Google project is especially nice because these shots were taken in June 2012, just a year after a tsunami did major damage to the island's bird population. If you wonder whether the scientists of the island are proud to have their work catalogued in this way, check out this Street View shot from the middle of the island. Good work to all involved.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Nick's Paradise

One of my favorite things about birding in Mississippi was that there are so few other birders around.  Every time I went out - especially into the Delta - I felt like James Audubon, ready to discover some new species or hotspot.  The east side of Mississippi is still unbelievably underbirded.

The lack of known birding spots in the Delta, along with the fact that I am friends with the state eBird reviewer, mean that I had a lot of sway when it comes to suggesting new hotspots.  I named one after myself, thereby ensuring ornithological glory for the eternity.

Next time you're in Tunica, follow the dirt road over the levee behind the Hollywood Casino and find yourself on the banks of the mighty Mississippi, in Nick's Paradise.  Tell me how you did. 


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Ornitholgical Accuracy of the New Orleans Pelicans

When the Atlanta Thrashers packed their sweaty skates and headed to Winnipeg to become the Jets in 2011, the Bird-Named Big 4 Sports Team Club was down a member.  Last year 11 of the Big Four teams ran behind a flapping mascot:

  • NBA's Atlanta Hawks
  • NFL's Baltimore Ravens, Philadelphia Eagles, Atlanta Falcons, Arizona Cardinals, and Seattle Seahawks
  • NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins and Anaheim Ducks (I don't count the Chicago Blackhawks, who were named for a leader of the Sauk tribe, or the Detroit Red Wings, who were apparently named after a Montreal Cycling Club), and
  • MLB's St. Louis Cardinals, Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays
Much to my surprise, though, events conspired over the NBA winter to restore the club membership to an even dozen.  Back in 2002, the under-attended Charlotte Hornets shipped their franchise to New Orleans.  Just two years later, however, all was apparently forgotten and Charlotte unveiled a new basketball squad, the Bobcats.  Well, the Bobcats suck, and worked a deal with New Orleans to bring the Hornets name back to Charlotte, where people still hardly give a crap.

That left the New Orleans team nameless, and after contemplating Mosquitoes (haha ok), Swamp Dogs (ughhhh), Bullsharks (cool) and Rougarou (what), the team owner went with the New Orleans Pelicans.

Fantastic!  I love this for so many reasons.  First, as I've said before, I just associate Brown Pelicans with Louisiana and always give bonus points for teams named after local birds (see: Baltimore Orioles).  Second, I also love it when teams pick birds that aren't typically "fierce" like hawks or eagles.  Third, the Pelicans name has New Orleans roots, once being the name of a minor league baseball team with this adorable logo.  Good times all around.

The Pelicans unveiled their logos a couple months ago, and I think now that the initial excitement about the name is over I want to look at these items with a critical eye.  Frankly, from an ornithological perspective, the jury is out.

The concern here is that they're not using the correct species.  There are two species of pelican in these United States: the American White Pelican and the Brown Pelican.  While White Pelicans can be found in Louisiana, it's usually in the winter, when they huddle in big groups in the middle of big lakes and reservoirs.  I've seen it.  They're cool birds all, but they're pretty pathetic in the winter time, and certainly not worthy of naming a cool NBA team after.

The New Orleans Pelicans need to be modeled after Louisiana's state birds, the Brown Pelican.  These are the cool pelicans: the ones that hang out at the beach cruising low lookin' at babes, the pelicans who will tell you they hung out with Dr. John before he went to med school.  If you know what I'm saying. [Below photo shows a Brown Pelican on the above left, and an American White Pelican below, with its feet in the water]

Looking at the logos, I'm not sure.  The baseball logo, linked to above, shows a white pelican, but it's old and colorless so I don't know.  The logos shown above are ambiguous.  The underwings don't match either species: White Pelicans are white and black, while Brown Pelicans are (mostly) just brown.  The face, shown head on, is white for both species, so we're good there.  The beak, I suppose, could match either species, but the red coloring in the logo looks more like a breeding Brown Pelican than the orange of a White Pelican.  Deal.

I just want to make sure everyone knows that it's a Brown Pelican, not a White.  Grantland's recent post on nicknames for the Pelicans illustrates the thing with a White Pelican.  I was unsuccessful in conveying jovial sarcasm when pointing this out to the author of the piece, but hey, it was his mistake, not mine (and who doesn't check the photos that go with the post?)

[Also, a not on the cap photoshopped onto the pelican in the linked-to blog post above: that isn't listed as an official logo or in the NBA team store for the Pelicans.  I don't know where that hat came from but if it's real, it's a White Pelican and completely inaccurate, speaking from a birding perspective.]

All in all, I'm thrilled to have the Pelicans in my life.  Louisiana's got a great birding history and reputation, and I look forward to seeing LA birders crank around Grand Isle in Pelicans gear.  I hope it's also used to teach non-birders about their state bird: a big cool bird, a survivor of hurricanes and oil spills, and just the kind of goofy mascot the an eccentric populace can get behind.  Go Pelicans.

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