Friday, October 30, 2015

A Big Day in D.C.

A crack team of legendary birders saw 136 species in the District of Columbia on May 6, 1989, and on May 6, 2015 I joined two friends to take a shot at the record.

I wrote about our attempt for National Parks Magazine (any day spent in DC necessarily means a lot of time spent on National Park Service land), and the article is now available online.

Did we break the record? Click here to find out.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

In Your Face, Teddy Roosevelt

I got up early on Monday morning and rushed down to Hains Point to try to re-find a Black Scoter that had been seen floating in the Potomac the evening before. I couldn't find it with my binoculars, but A.P. came with his scope and he found it almost immediately.  Once I slapped my eyeballs onto that big yellow honker the Black Scoter passed from the wild realm and into my growing stable of Species Seen in DC, my 200th species, in fact.

200 is a big number in DC. No one on eBird has 300 yet, and according to a very good birder in the city I am the 35th person to hit 200. (eBird only has 20, not sure how he knew of the rest.) I'm in pretty good company with some of the best birders in DC.  What's more, I'm now clearly ahead of one DC birder who has a big reputation but whose DC list was, in reality, crap: President Theodore Roosevelt.

26th President? Great. Father of American Conservation? Big whup. All that stuff was just distracting him from chasing rarities in his backyard.

Yeah, yeah, you're saying, but eBird didn't even exist for Theodore Roosevelt!  Hush, now. We actually have a pretty good idea of which species Roosevelt saw in DC. In 1908, Lucy Maynard, working for Bird-Lore Magazine ("The Official Organ of the Audubon Societies"), asked President Roosevelt for a list of all the birds he'd seen in the District. He agreed, because he was an awesome dude, and sent Lucy a hand-written list of all the species he could remember.

How many species did Roosevelt see? 93.  The Father of American Conservation only managed to see 93 species in DC.  Amateur hour. I did a Big Day in the District back in May and broke 100.

Click the link above to view the whole list.

Look, I'm not going to deny he saw some good birds. Kentucky Warbler? I don't have that. Eastern Screech-Owl? Don't have that either.  But are we sure about all these? Did he have anyone reviewing these records?

He claims that a pair of Saw-whet Owls "spent several weeks by the south portico of the White House" in 1905.  Sure they did, Teddy. There hasn't been a DC record of Saw-whet Owl since 1987 and we're just going to believe you that some hung out in your back yard? Cool. Oh, and no one is allowed to come see them because of "national security" reasons? Yeah, gotcha. COUGH stringer COUGH.

So, I just wanted to take a moment to appreciate an important American: me. If I ever hit 300 in the city, I'm carving myself into Mt. Rushmore.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A Crudely Drawn Guide to Birding at DC's Rock Creek Park

The best and most popular birding spot in DC during spring and fall migration is Rock Creek Park. Sure, some birders will try to play the hipster card and say "oh yeah Rock Creek is played out I'll be at Battery Kemble or Fort Dupont or whatever" but that just means they'll be stuck in traffic when ceruleans are reported on the Ridge.

Rock Creek is great but not everyone knows how to do it right. Like, although the park is huge and there are (probably) a lot of great birding spots, the vast majority of us focus our attention on the Maintenance Yard and the Equitation Field.  What the heck do those words mean, you ask? Let me show you.

Alright, though the park is the whole green thing there, we're really only focused on what's in the red circle (and west of the Creek, at that).

Why so limited? Well, in general , RCP is the biggest green space in the city, a natural target/trap for migrant birds.  But why limited to this circle in particular? A couple reasons. First, these are some of the highest points of the park, so it's sort of a natural landmark for birds.  Second, there are some open areas here that provide views into the canopies that aren't found in many other parts of the park.
So, here's a basic layout.

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.

About Us | Site Map | Privacy Policy | Contact Us | Blog Design | 2007 Company Name