Monday, January 27, 2014

Birding With Others

Here's a chart I made to explain what it's like to bird with different people. [Click to enlarge] No judging, just explaining.  An audio snapshot of a point on the left side of chart would be like this:
"OK so like I'm looking at the third tree in, the one with that kinda like splits into two trunks right off the ground?  Do see that one?  Yeah it's like the third big one back there, not that little one with that yellow bunch of leaves or whatever those are, the biggish one.  Yeah OK so, like, up on the left side of the split trunk there's a branch that goes off to the left probably likeeee 25 feet up?  Like right horizontally off to the left, straight, and it's got...yeah there's that cloud - the only cloud - like right behind it right now.  Yeah that one with the cloud behind it.  Just to the left of that cloud is a bird on the branch, do you see that?  You do?  Awesome yeah that's the woodpecker, a downy woodpecker.  OK so downys look just like this other woodpecker, the hairy woodpecker, but you can tell this is a hairy by the..."
But a point on the right side of the chart sounds like:
"Yup I'm on it.  Yeah man you're right there it is.  Wow.  Awesome."
It's fun to bird with different people.  Birding with experts saves your voice. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Where Do Birds Sleep?

New article up on last night about sleeping birds, brains, chimneys, fatness, middle schools, and sleeping upside down.  Hope you like it!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Series of Images Showing Commuters Unknowingly Walking Directly Below a Snowy Owl in Downtown Washington DC

I saw this bird in McPherson Square tonight from 7:15 to 7:45.  Several folks were watching with me.  Others were just passing through.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

How to Draw Field Sketches When You're Not a Good Artist

I have only birded outside North America once, in 2006.  I had just finished a winter ski-bumming in Aspen, Colorado, and I was flush with cash from a winter spent hustling vacationers as one of those on-mountain photographer guys.  My friends were also flushed, and we decided to go on a trip.

One of my friends knew a guy in Ecuador, and tickets were cheap, and so we went.

My friends were not birders, and we were not going to a particularly birdy part of the country.  In fact, although it sounds unbelievable for a country containing more than a thousand bird species, I came home after ten days in Ecuador only identifying 56 species.

I bought the enormous Ridgley Field Guide to the Birds of Ecuador before I left, but had not nearly enough time to really get a handle on what birds I might see in my travels.  Plus, the book weighs like 10 pounds and was too much to carry around with me.  Instead, when I'd sneak off to go find birds, I'd bring along a little notebook and make quick sketches of things I saw, returning home to figure out IDs later (I didn't have a camera, did I mention that?).

I expected to be frustrated by my lack of knowledge, but this kind of birding was far and away the most fun I've had birding maybe to this day.  I didn't know what to expect, I wasn't jaded to anything.  Every bird needed to be examined for possible differences from other, similar birds.  It was birding again for the first time.

I recently found my notebook in a box of old things and wanted to share the crappy little drawings I made.  They're a far cry from the detailed, shaded, dog-bottle watercolored (!) images that real artists can produce, but I think there's a certain charm in my rushed scribbles.  The pictures didn't scan very clearly, sorry, but click to enlarge.

The airline lost my bags on the flight to Guayaquil, and my buddy and I were stuck for three days shuttling back and forth between the airport and the beautiful Iguanazu Hostel that we picked at random (I think it's changed since 2006, those rooms are a lot more expensive than what we paid).  All the waiting around provided some good opportunities for birdwatching.  The page above contains birds I saw from a little outdoor seating area on one end of the airport.  Nothing fancy, but I remember being dazzled by the Saffron Finches and enjoying seeing the first of what seemed like a million similar-looking kingbirds.  

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Birds at Large: Rice Owls Baseball Jerseys

Rice University has got itself some new baseball jerseys, and they've got owls on them.  It's a logical choice, because Rice's sports teams are all named the Owls.  Rice has got owls on its seal, and on its logo, and the kids apparently do an "owl" hand signal to let you know they're Ricers.  Owls are a thing, understand?

As far as I can tell, no specific species of owl is used for the Rice Owl owl.  The use of owls comes from their seal, which uses stylized versions of the old Owl of Athena image, representing "wisdom."  Without a specific species to base its designs on, Rice has taken liberties with its use of the owl, employing this thing, whatever the heck this is, and this come-hither bird.

The new jerseys are a nod to the classic "birds on the bat" logo of the St. Louis Cardinals in the pros.  It looks pretty nice - lovely stitching and I love how the bat goes through the top of the R.  Gotta admit, it really bothers me that the birds aren't a real species.  Why not?  Why not just do it?

That's the thing that bugs me most about these Birds at Large posts.  It takes so little effort to just make it a real bird.  This guy was obviously modeled after Great Horned Owls...why not just slap a little orange around the eyes?  Great Horned Owl plumage is not copywrited!  I dunno.  Maybe they didn't want to introduce another color for cost reasons and fine (though you could probably fleck with the yellow and brown), but if you're gonna do something, do it right.  Rice you were close to something perfect, but it looks like your streak of owl insanity will continue.

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