Wednesday, February 29, 2012

North American Bird Phenology Program

Most of you know that phenology, and really all things related to that amazing, sometimes mystifying topic of migration and bird movement, is fascinating to me. This site North American Bird Phenology Program is a really great source of information, as well as an opportunity to help get involved in a great project. Some of the information about the effects of climate change we are able to gather that is based in real science comes from projects and mining data like this.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Spring bird migration forecast from NOAA and Cornell

From e-bird news:

We are pleased to announce a collaboration between NOAA and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to provide this newest eBird feature: the Bird Migration Forecast. When a particularly interesting weather event develops that we think will impact bird migration, we’ll post a short story. We hope this inspires you all to get out birding and see what migration is occurring and what new species have arrived. Your observations will be an integral part in helping us develop better predictive models relating to birds and weather. The eBird BirdCast will be an intermittent feature this spring with the goal of heightening birders' awareness about the connection between bird migration and weather. ((The photo shows the forecast wind speed for Sunday morning (26 Feb 2012). The green areas show the highest winds (50kts) and the thatched arrows show the wind direction and approximate speed (more thatches mean stronger winds). Birds will move on these strong southerlies.))

Below are some of the species groups to watch for as this unusually
early blast of warm air sets spring bird migration in motion. If you
live in the southern United States or Mexico, you might watch for the
early departure of some of these birds.

Geese and swans – Snow, Canada, Cackling, Greater
White-fronted, and Ross’s Geese should all be on the move with this
weather system. Watch for them to potentially move north to staging
areas in Nebraska, and possibly to Quebec and points further east.
There is also a possibility that some western geese (Cackling, Greater
White-fronted, and Ross's) could be displaced eastward with the strong
southwesterly flow. Watch also for Tundra Swans departing the
mid-Atlantic and heading up through the Great Lakes.

Ducks – A range of puddle ducks and diving ducks
could be moving, including Mallard, American Black Duck, Northern
Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Canvasback, scaup, Bufflehead, and many
others. The first arriving Blue-winged Teal and Wood Ducks may also
appear. We expect waterfowl concentrations primarily at traditional
staging grounds. Also watch for species like Northern Pintail in flocks
of northbound Snow Geese. Since there is no significant rain forecast,
inland duck fallouts are unlikely.

Turkey Vulture – A classic March migrant, Turkey
Vultures have been occurring as earlier and earlier migrants in recent
years and have been overwintering with increasing frequency in more
northern areas. Expect a good push of them on this warm blast.

Osprey – In many areas where Ospreys don’t winter,
they return in March, with exceptional arrivals (on the East Coast, at
least) back at nests by late February. If you need Osprey for your
local February list, this year could be your best bet!

Other Raptors – Many hawks are on the move already
in late February and March, and with conditions like these, the Great
Lakes hawkwatches (e.g., Hawk Ridge (Duluth, MN), Braddock Bay, Derby
Hill, and others) are apt to do quite well, depending on the daytime
winds at each site. Many Rough-legged Hawks (and possibly a few Snowy
Owls) will use this weather to move northward, along with Golden and
Bald Eagles and Red-tailed Hawks. Northern Goshawks could be on the
move through the Great Lakes region.

Killdeer – A late February/early March migrant, we
are already seeing Killdeer on the move this year. Check out the
2012 January map compared to
the February one and note the incursion into the upper Midwest. We
can certainly expect more Killdeer with next week’s weather, setting up
an earlier than average arrival across a broad front.

American Woodcock – Woodcocks typically move into
mid-latitudes starting in late February, with arrival in more northerly
states in mid-March. Many places (as far north as Maine!) are already
seeing pioneering woodcocks up to three weeks ahead of schedule, and
like Killdeer, this pattern can be expected to continue. Watch for them
in the evening in areas where old fields mix with younger woodlots. On
calm evenings, you may hear them 'peenting' and displaying.

Belted Kingfisher – Arrival in the northern half of
the country usually begins in mid-March, but many have wintered farther
north this year due to the unusual amount of open water. This could be
an interesting species to watch; will their migration begin two weeks
early given the mild winter and favorable winds?

Swallows – Early returning Tree Swallows or
(exceptionally) Barn Swallows could occur under these conditions too,
so be alert for the vanguard of the swallow arrival.

Sparrows – This early in the season many sparrows
are stealthy migrants whose migration is difficult to discern. Song
Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos are two species that could be on the
move, both of which are often ignored since they winter widely. Watch
for both species in higher numbers or in areas where you haven't seen
them this winter. American Tree Sparrows could start withdrawing back
to the north, and Fox Sparrow is a well-known early spring migrant,
with movements well underway in March.

Blackbirds – Species such as Red-winged Blackbird,
Common Grackle, and Brown-headed Cowbird are the first signs of spring
migration in many places, usually first appearing in February. Look for
legions of blackbirds to move north with this system.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


Interesting article introducing the idea that some birds can discern certain tree species, which provide dietary items.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Male Downy Woodpecker

Gratuitous shots of handsome male Downy Woodpecker. Check out the tail - the two middle feathers certainly show the wear from using it to balance/brace against tree trunks, but this tail is far less "ratty" than others I have seen. Both sexes incubate eggs, and so get brood patches. All of the Downys I have seen at last couple of banding sessions have the beginnins. Spring is coming!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Birding for All

My tabby Oscar is not easily impressed when it comes to the plethora of birds out the windows at our house. Usually it takes something like the mallards who fly in for spilled seed, or a blue jay, as long as it's loud and active (which isn't normally a problem.) Rose-breasted Grosbeaks - not so much. My dad suggested that Oscar is perhaps more of a Big Game Hunter. (I do interject at this time that my cats are indoor cats only. They also contribute to bird conservation with the donation of their shed haircoats going to nesting material bags that I will soon be hanging out on the clothes lines.)

Crows, however, are a big hit for Oscar. Nice pine in the yard next to mine that makes a good perch for lots of birds in the neighborhood. Oscar's fanny wiggle usually tells me when something "good" is outside.

Now Lily, my other cat, firmly appreciates a good hawk when she sees one. She tries her "cat chatter" to entice it closer, but as of yet, no dice. Oscar's approach is not quite the light touch; his noggin has recorded more window strikes than the feathered neighbors.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Not much exciting with this selection of pics - just a reminder that different types of feeders will bring in different species of birds. The platform feeder shown first is shared by a Northern Cardinal and female Red-bellied Woodpecker, and a while later the Black-capped Chickadee took a sunflower almost as big as his head. The latter also took to the suet cage with relish.

Monday, February 13, 2012

More Barred Owl

These pics prove that owls are not just out at night. Barred Owls are often active during the day, especially on cloudy days. They might not be at the top of their game - obviously this bird was pretty doze-y, but it was actively hunting in between "naps", as you can see from the pics here.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Red bellied woodpecker

A male Red-bellied Woodpecker too advantage of the suet at Lowry. The males have the red nape, crown and forehead, while females have noticeably less red on the forehead. Do you see how the bird uses his stiff-feathered tail as balance and/or leverage while he leans back or pulls chunks of suet?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Downy Woodpecker

This female Downy was at Lowry for a recent banding. At Springbrook this past weekend, we had a Downy - with a possible brood patch already coming in!!!! In addition to size - the Downy Woodpeckers are about 6 inches long, the Hairy Woodpeckers are about 9 inches - there are a couple of other ways to tell them apart. Calls are different, the bills are MUCH shorter on Downys, and if you look at the second to the last picture - the Downys have barring on the white outer retrices (tail) feathers. The Hairys do not have that same distinct barring.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Great words to think about

The writer Adam Frank posted this essay last week - it relates to why/how he (and I relate to this) uses science as the lens in which to view life. Or is that science is what shapes how we view life?

"In response I wanted to reflect on what science brings to the table. Some of what I have to say relates to the practice of science. I also think it's important to consider what science asks of us, and what it gives back as an approach to life.

Science certainly provides a powerful sense of meaning as an activity. Will my scientific papers be read 100 years from now? I hope so, but doubt it (sigh). Either way, the process of trying to honestly enter into a dialogue with the world establishes a context for my own life that sometimes allows me to rise above the petty day-to-day squabbles of broken washing machines and general knuckle-headedness. By entering into that dialogue with great effort and earnestness, the world ceases to be something merely "at-hand," something merely there for distraction or entertainment.

Instead, it's fully alive and fully present. The ever-opening sky, the wheeling stars and even the nightly stream of crows I watch heading to their evening roosts all become a poignant mysteries that speak of greater powers than I will ever fully understand. They surround me, whispering that there is more, so much more, to the world than my small concerns. Practicing science keeps my feet on the ground and my ear to the wind. It keeps me alert so that I might still hear that quiet call.
You don't have to be a practicing scientist to know any of that. You don't have to write papers to carry out your own research, your own fervent investigation into the texture of your own being.
The questions are always there.

They are waiting for you everyday when you open your eyes to yet another strange day in this strange world. The practice of science is just a codification of something that has always been possible for human beings. With integrity and honesty in our own investigations of what it means to be alive for these briefest of moments, we can all enrich our work, be it nursing, building, teaching or cooking.

Science always asks for excellence. In reality, life always asks for excellence, too. It asks us to give our best, to be attentive, to awake to the everyday miracle that is every day.
Nothing is more full of meaning and nothing holds out a greater hope for us all. As individuals in a culture we are forever re-inventing, this collaboration of investigation with the universe is the very essence of a meaningful life."

Thursday, February 2, 2012

American Tree Sparrows

The American Tree Sparrow has an odd name, since they are rarely seen actually sitting in trees. Most times you see them on the ground. From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology - "The name was given by early European settlers for the superficial resemblance of this species to the Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus).
In summer, males sing persistently to proclaim possession of territory. Individual males sing only a single song type each, although song types are widely shared among males. Females build a nest on the ground and incubate the eggs alone. Both parents help to raise the single brood of 4 to 6 young.
Although many aspects of the behavior and natural history of American Tree Sparrows are well studied, gaps still exist in our knowledge of this species; little is known of population structure, population regulation and dynamics, and dispersal, for example. In addition, most studies of the breeding biology of this species have been conducted in northern Manitoba. As American Tree Sparrows breed over a wide geographic area, it is likely that aspects of their biology may differ across their range."

They are always a winter treat! I love the bi-colored bills, and like all sparrows - lots of subtle colors.