Thursday, March 27, 2014

Making Avian Major League Baseball Logos More Accurate

God I love baseball.  It's the greatest American sport because it is a big fat apple pie baked with all the most American ingredients: quasi-athleticism, belts, anthems, expanses of green grass, bubble gum, sitting around, boozing, and fresh air.  It's the only sport I know where players can eat food while they're playing.   I've loved it forever.

Loved it longer than I've loved birding, in fact.  But that's another great thing about Major League Baseball - it treats birds pretty well.  There are three MLB teams named after birds: The Baltimore Orioles, the Toronto Blue Jays, and the St. Louis Cardinals.  First, these are great choices because they're specific.  No invented baloney "Thunder Falcons" or anything, not even generic "hawks" or "eagles." These are classic, small, passerines.  These are real birds.

In addition to the names of the teams, the logos do these birds justice.  For the most part they're accurate, ornithologically speaking.  For the most part, but not completely.

I wanted to take this opportunity to offer some edits to the logos of bird-named MLB teams, to see how different they'd look if given full respect to their avian inspirations.  Let's see how it'll look.

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays have a beautiful set of logos.  They'd tried to "toughen it up" a couple years ago, using logo showing an animated Jay angrily gripping a ball...but everyone knew it just wasn't them.  The side-facing Jay with the split blue and white lettering is the Blue Jays, and it came back to stay.  I grew up with them in powder blue, and I wouldn't mind it that came back full time.

Anyway, the Jays logo, frankly, takes few liberties with the actual Blue Jay.  The biggest difference - the only difference - is that the bill and neck stripe of the Blue Jay is black.  Well, the bill for sure.  The neck stripe is a bit tougher to see.  It's interesting, Blue Jays are such an easily-identified bird that field guides don't seem to pay much attention to the details.  It's tough to tell whether the neck is a midnight blue or a black, but most images see it as black, so I'll go with that.  A simple shift leads to a slightly different logo.

Interestingly, the Jays had shifted to black uniforms a few years ago, part of the "black for black's sake" (or BfBS) uniform trend highlighted by UniWatch.  The Jay's black uniforms were roundly criticized, partly because black wasn't a traditional part of their color scheme.  If the Blue Jays had simple changes their colors to more accurately reflect real Blue Jays, they could have adopted black uniforms with no problem.  Alas.

St. Louis Cardinals

One of the oldest and most storied franchises in pro baseball, St. Louis has been making cardinals cool for decades.  Northern Cardinals are an interesting case, they're not an intimidating or tough bird, but they're so colorful and common that they're one of the few birds that everyone knows.

As I've covered before, despite their ubiquity Northern Cardinals are frequently misrepresented in broader culture.  No one can seem to get the colors right, mostly insisting that they have bright yellow beaks.  They don't.  They just don't.

Friday, March 21, 2014

New Birding Movies

Hey folks I just wanted to post here that I've got a new article up on today about two new movies that do a pretty durn good job at relating birds and birding: The Birder and A Birder's Guide to Everything. 

It's not this movie:

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Boutique Big Years

Completing a Big Year is every birders dream.  Fame!  Adventure!  Blog posts!  The entirety of the American birding community watched with jealous anticipation as Neil Hayward took the ABA Big Year crown last year, and we all imagined what it would have been like if it were us instead.

Aside from the obvious financial and time-commitment obstacles to taking on a Big Year (seriously I don't know how anyone can do it), there's the equally-daunting shadow of not setting the record.  Can you imagine putting forth all that time and money and then finishing, like, 12th?  Yeah yeah experiences and all that, but it's hard!

As we've seen in the immense interest in the cool Biking for Birds Big Year, other versions of this tradition can also be fun.  One of my favorite ideas is something I read about in The Big Year Book, where some guy was sick (or old?) and bedridden for a long period, and he did a Big Year based on all the species he saw on TV.  I love that idea, and kinda can't wait to be a worthless old piece of crap so I can sit on my couch but tell my grandkids to leave me alone because I'm working on something important.

So when the ABA record is too much to chase after, here are some ideas for different kinds of big years.

Place-named Species Big Year

OK, by my very brief count there are 45 or so birds found the ABA named after geographic locations in the ABA area.  Tennessee warbler, Savannah sparrow, California towhee, etc.  The challenge of this Big Year is to see as many of these species as you can in the place they are named for.  You get it?  You've got to see a Mississippi Kite in the state of Mississippi, then scoot down to Louisiana to see a Louisiana waterthrush.

The first tricky part would be figuring out the ground rules.  In the above-mentioned 45-ish species I counted birds you'd just need to see in "America": American white pelican, American oystercatcher.  I also counted Pacific loon and Atlantic puffin, figuring that they're named after those oceans.  I didn't include "eastern," "western," "northern" and "southern" birds, even though they're still named after parts of the US - just relative places not specific ones.  But if someone were taking on this Big Year I wouldn't hold it against them if they wanted to count the sighting of a western kingbird in California or a northern cardinal in Pennsylvania.  Some agreement of what to consider "west" and "north" would be needed.

I also didn't count birds named after pieces of their habitat - boreal chickadee or cactus wren - though if someone wanted to count the sighting of a cactus wren on a cactus, we could consider that.

I think this would be a lot of fun.  It might not take all year to complete, though I like the idea of some hapless birder frantically driving around the city limits of Nashville in December desperately looking for a wayward, late warbler.

State Bird Big Year

This is the same idea as above, but probably even easier: see every state's State Bird in that state in the shortest time possible.  The travel!  Regular Big Year participants do a crazy amount of travel - but I doubt they go to all 50 states (and yes, pushy "include Hawaii in the ABA" people, the aloha state would count).  How patriotic!  The downside, of course, as we've covered here before, is that the list of state birds is completely terrible.  Oh cool, I saw another cardinal!

Heard Only/Nocturnal Flight Call Only

Two variations on an "experts only" theme.  This one's perfect for those birding snobs out there who are above having to lift optics to their faces to get a closer look at a bird.  It would be a lot like a normal big year, really, except way way harder and with a lot fewer pelagic trips.

Alphabetical Big Year

Hahaha can you even imagine this?  You would have to start with the first bird in the ABA checklist - alphabetically - and had to move bird-by-bird.  I love it.  You can get an alphabetical checklist by downloading and resorting the .xcl from the ABA website.  So, you'd have to start on Jan. 1 by finding an ... anyone know it without me telling you? ... think ... an Abert's towhee.  Once you saw one, you couldn't count Bird #2 unless it was an Acadian flycatcher.  Bird #3 is back to the southwest for an acorn woodpecker.  This would be so fun.  There might have to be a rule that, like, code 4 and 5 birds don't count, otherwise you'd get stuck on #8 Amazon Kingfisher and never make it anywhere.  Someone do this c'mon I dare you.

OK are there other ideas? 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Thoughts on New Sibley

I mean, what do we want in a field guide?  What's the point here?  

sibley guide

I'm amused by all the griping about the new Sibley guide.  Not because I don't recognize that there are obvious changes in the color and texture in a lot of the plates but because, so what?  Will we lose the ability to identify a Scarlet Tanager in the field?

The holy status earned by the Sibley guide has perhaps worked to its detriment here, as the only place it can go is down.  Nevermind that this new edition has added more than 600 new paintings, enlarged most of the images and fully updated range maps, there's a hint of fallibility in this edition and people are overreacting.

Let's just relax for a second.  Let's take a second to remember that there are imperfections in this look like there are in every single field guide - imperfections that, for me, result in a much less complete and useful guide than Sibley.  Stokes has lighting issues and not enough poses.  Crossley doesn't have enough text or ID points.  Peterson and National Geographic are too limited.  Yet I don't hear people demanding refunds when those books come out.

The fact remains that even in this second edition - especially in this second edition - Sibley remains far and away the best guide on the market.  No guide is more complete, no guide is easier to use, no guide presents as many plumages.  It'll remain the go-to guide for identifications, and it's still be the first guide I'd recommend to a new birder looking to learn the scope of American birds.

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