Tuesday, May 17, 2016

New Patch Record

I know you don't care about the few species I see on my daily dog walks, but screw you, I've got a dog that I need to walk and I may as well look at birds while I do it.


Reminder: I walk my ten-year-old dumb awesome dog Gibson (most) evenings after work up The Yards Park along the Anacostia River in Southeast Washington, DC.  As I've covered before, I count birds when I leave my apartment building on South Capitol Street, past Nationals Park, along Yards Park up the Anacostia River to the dog park, then down along the Navy Yard to where the USS Barry (recently!) was located. Then I turn around.  Technically, I am counting birds on more than The Yards Park, but I don't care because screw you I don't care.

I didn't expect much out of this afternoon. It was drizzling, like it has been for the past frigging forever out here. I left the house in the rain, and the birds weren't cooperating for the most of the walk. Starlings, Fish Crows, Grackles, and House Sparrows at the stadium. Ospreys nesting in their typical spot. Robins in the little yard thing. Six species before the boardwalk does not a record-breaking walk make.

Even after the dog park - usually a hotspot - I was expecting a typical 15-18 species walk. A Common Yellowthroat on the slope was nice, but there were no good sparrows -- the recent Swamp Sparrow, Gray Catbird, and Eastern Towhee were gone -- and not much good habitat left.

But then things picked up. A pair of Goldfinches in the small tree near Due South was a rare spotting, and signaled a crazy run of good birds. An American Crow, rarely identifiable along the river, called as it flew overhead.  Then, a little bird in the birches by the parking lot, where I always expect to see birds but never see a goddamn thing: a Black-and-white Warbler! New patch bird!

Immediately afterwards I saw some white birds flying down over the river. Must by the typical groups of Ring-billed Gulls, I thought, but these have black hoods ... Laughing Gulls! Very unusual in summer, and probably the first time ever I've tripped an eBird filter on my walk. Sweet.

With some dumb Mallards on the river, I was suddenly at 20 species, a mark I'd only reached once before. Then, on the way back down, there was a whistle in the birches: a goddamn Cedar Waxwing! Another bird I'd never seen in the park before. A Barn Swallow (expected), Great Blue Heron flying upriver (fairly expected), and a Great Black-backed Gull under the South Capitol Street Bridge (unusual!) later, I was at 24! A record breaker!

What bird kept me away from a tidy little 25? Frigging Rock Pigeon. Well, gotta leave some for next time.

Here's an image numbered with each new bird I found. Orange are new birds for the park.

1. European Starling
2. Fish Crow
3. Common Grackle
4. House Sparrow
5. Osprey
6. American Robin
7. Song Sparrow
8. Double-crested Cormorant
9. Ring-billed Gull
10. Common Yellowthroat
11. Mourning Dove
12. American Goldfinch
13. American Crow
14. Chimney Swift
15. House Finch
16. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
17. Northern Mockingbird
18. Black-and-white Warbler
19. Laughing Gull
20. Mallard
21. Barn Swallow
22. Cedar Waxwing
23. Great Blue Heron
24. Great Black-backed Gull

Monday, May 9, 2016


In cased you missed them, I've published a couple article on Audubon.org recently, here's a quick recap:

The Barred Owl, as part of the Sketch series.

As part of my Birdist Rules of Birding series:

Rule #12: How to Misidentify a Bird with Grace and Dignity

Rule #41: Identify your First Warbler

Rule #8: Bird Alone

Rule #22: You Can Always Impress Your Friends by Showing Them a Bald Eagle

Rule #63: Go Someplace Weird

Finally, I responded to that survey that supposedly found that people think birders are creepy.


Sunday, May 1, 2016

Top Fives of Florida

I take an annual ABA bird-finding trip each spring. In 2012 it was southeast Arizona. Then California, though I guess I didn't do a post on it, before Alaska in 2014 and the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas last year.

This spring I went with a buddy Jake to the mosquito-soaked, sun-pelted, Bud-Light-Lime-a-rita-caked shore of South Florida.  In the same way I did for Texas last year, here are some top fives.

Favorite Non-lifer Birds from Loxahatchee NWR
5. both flavors of Little Blue Heron

4. White Ibis

3. Common Gallinule

2. Limpkin - with 6 chicks!

1. Swallow-tailed Kites. The best bird on earth.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Birds at Large: Better Call Saul

**UPDATE** 3/28/2016

Reader Mark H. sent along a link to a behind-the-scenes podcast called the Better Call Saul Insider where they talk about the hummingbird in the show. Unreal.

According to the folks on the podcast, all of whom work in the crew or production for the show, the hummingbird was not lured in with a green screen behind it, but just a stroke of luck. The crew was shooting the factory shot using an unmanned camera on a crane, and the hummingbird just happened to zoom into a take.

Bob Odenkirk (making his second Birds at Large appearance) cracks that the bird is actually just a tiny drone sent over from one of the CSI shows. But to you and me, it's a Broad-tail.

**Update over**

If you want to look for quality, look at the details. It's true for cars*, it's true for jewelry*, it's true for clothing.*  And it's true for TV shows.

Better Call Saul is a quality TV show, one of my current favorites. Care is taken in all aspects. The plot is intricate, the settings are rich, the acting is considered. Even the birds are right.

A friend sent me some screenshots from one of this season's episodes, showing a hummingbird flying in the foreground.  Hummingbirds are typically CGId when they appear onscreen - like the Xantu's in The Big Year, right? - because they're so fast and because not many people keep them.

But this bird doesn't look CGId, right? It looks real. Check it out:

I asked Benay Karp, the owner of an animal rental company in Los Angeles, if the bird was one of hers. She said it wasn't, that it was likely a wild bird that the production team brought to the camera with a feeder. She thought there'd be a green screen behind the bird onto which they could later project the scene as you see it above. Very cool.

So what species is it?

If we're going with the "live bird" thinking, this is some species that appears wild in New Mexico, where the show is filmed. That eliminates Ruby-throated, which is helpful.

I've never really looked into it because I haven't birded there much, but there aren't a ton of hummers in New Mexico. I don't see the red in this bird that would indicate a Rufous Hummingbird, and so for regulars in the state we're left with, like, Broad-tailed, Black-chinned, and Calliope?

I think this is too big-looking for a Calliope. I just think that.

I don't have a ton of experience with the other two birds, but the white tail corners on this bird look pretty extensive. The bill doesn't look super-long either. I think this is a Broad-tailed Hummingbird. Good bird! Thanks, Saul.

*I have never owned quality clothing, a nice car, or really any jewelry. I've just heard this is true.

Monday, March 21, 2016

March MADNESS! and Birds on Film!

Audubon is letting me run a competition to determine the best bird-named sports team! WE'LL FINALLY KNOW ONCE AND FOR ALL! We're doing it March Madness-style, meaning I've seeded some teams and they're facing off via Facebook "likes" to work our way down to a winner.

VOTE HERE ON THE AUDUBON FACEBOOK PAGE to find a winner, and keep watching for updates.

Also, remember when I was (once again) complaining about birds showing up in random places on TV but had a revelation about the Migratory Bird Treaty Act? Yeah, after the Super Bowl. Well, the folks at the Washington Post let me write up that story with a bunch more research. Good times.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Ray Brown's Talkin' Birds

I started listening to Ray Brown's Talkin' Birds a decade ago, when "podcasts" were not a household word, and when Ray's show was the only thing that came up when you searched iTunes for "birds."

It's a great program, and I was honored to be asked to appear on today's show to talk about my new Audubon column, and about how Massachusetts should cede its state bird to Maine, the far superior state.  Thanks, Ray, I hope to be back on soon!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

New Audubon Column!

Hi folks! I am excited to announce that I'll be writing a new column, The Birdist's Rules for Birding, to run weekly on Audubon.org. It's aimed at newish birders, and the "bird curious" among us who want to figure out what this hobby is all about. I want to thank my editors over there for giving me this opportunity, it's going to be a blast!

I don't post here too often, I know, but I will continue when I can, or when I have something to say that ain't right for Audubon. Thanks for reading all these years!

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