Sunday, December 27, 2009

Stratford-Milford CBC

Just a quick report from today's uneventful CBC; my territory was part of coastal Bridgeport.

Highlights included 14 Lesser Scaup, 163 Long-tailed Duck (several flocks moving west towards Penfield Reef once the fog cleared), 17 Killdeer, 4 Purple Sandpipers, 1 Iceland Gull (adult), 1 American Pipit, 1 Lapland Longspur.

fogged in for the first couple hours of the day

adult "Kumlien's" Iceland Gull on the flats at Seaside Pk

as always, we ended the day with the compilation at Milford Pt with Clapper Rails calling

- NB

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Merry Christmas!!

- Nick

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Windsor Landfill, Northwest Park

Made a visit to the frigid Windsor Landfill today with EJ Raynor and Brian Webster. Temps were stuck in the 20s but we managed to keep from freezing. Gull numbers were lower than usual - in the vicinity of 2000 birds. Highlights were 3 "Kumlien's" Iceland Gulls (first cycle, second cycle, adult). We also had 3 White-crowned Sparrows in the brush piles, 4 Bald Eagles (kept the gulls from settling down), and an immature Peregrine Falcon chasing gulls, crows, and starlings around the dump.

2c Iceland Gull

adult Iceland, paler primaries and eyes than the adult on our last visit

We had this pale-headed first cycle Herring Gull a couple times today, which stood out pretty strongly among the flocks. Possibly a bird from a more western population, as birds that winter on the west coast tend to be paler-headed (per the literature).

Before the landfill we checked Northwest Park for the immature Red-headed Woodpecker, which continues where previously reported along the second leg of the Brookside Trail.

- NB

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Review: BirdsEye for the iPhone

UPDATE March 2011:
BirdsEye has undergone a few important upgrades (i.e. use of personal locations) and will certainly be updated in the future (with the ability to enter eBird sightings from the field).

I will also say that, while I haven't used this app all that much locally, it has proven extremely useful in finding birds when I've been traveling. And as eBird becomes more popular, there are more and more reports to help you find your birds.

Check out the official web site for a description of the current version and latest updates.

Original post:
A new App called Birdseye (AppStore, $19.99) hit the iPhone/iTouch in early December, and it is sure to pique the interest of any birder who owns Apple’s extremely popular smartphone.

The premise is simple: to help you find whatever bird species you’re looking for. Birdseye uses up-to-the-second eBird data to show you on a map where and when a particular species has been reported, then gives you directions to the location.

I’ll show you how it’s done:

When you enter BirdsEye, you see the Home screen. The app is quite intuitive; you can probably figure out what to do just by looking at this one screen.

First, let’s set our location. We tap the fourth menu option called “Select Birding Location.” Once in this screen, you have two ways to set your desired location. First, you can tap the target icon under “Current Location” and the iPhone will use its built-in GPS to find your current position.

Or, let’s say you want to look up a location different than your current one. In that case, simply tap “Select a City” and you’ll be brought to a menu where you can select your state and town name. Doesn’t get much easier than that.

Now that we’ve set our location, we click “Done” to go back to the Home screen. Now we’re ready for business. Let’s try the first option, “Find Nearby Birds.” This will bring up a list of all birds seen in your area over the past 3 years. This large list can be filtered down further with the tap of a finger to show only Recent sightings (within the past few weeks). Or, you can tell BirdsEye to show only rare species, or those not yet on your life list (more on life lists later).

Let’s say that the recent Ring-necked Duck sighting catches our eye, so we tap Ring-necked Duck on the screen. A map pops up with a green peg at the center representing your location and several red pegs signifying recent sightings. We see on our map that Ring-necked has been seen at a location just north of Hartford, CT.

We tap that red peg and are told that the bird was seen at Station 43 about 2 weeks ago. For directions to Station 43, we click the left-most arrow (the one in the rectangle), which takes us to Google Maps and their directions to the spot.

If we instead clicked the white chevron in the blue circle, we would be taken to the Station 43 hotspot page, which shows all species seen at Station 43: ever, recently, and those not on your life list (same setup as above). Very quick, easy, and cool.

Back at the map of Ring-necked Duck sightings, notice the 3 buttons on the bottom of the screen.

The left-most one, which is currently active, shows the map of sightings as we’ve discussed. If you tap the middle button, you’re shown a list of the nearest locations with recent Ring-necked reports.

If you click the right-most button, you are then brought to an information page about the Ring-necked Duck. You’re shown a photo; when tapped, this photo is enlarged and other photos are revealed. In this case, you are given one photo of a male and one of a female. The photos are meant to be representative of the species but not really used for identification purposes as this is not an identification guide.

Back at the Ring-necked Duck info page, you can read a paragraph about the bird in question, written by Kenn Kaufman. Kenn wrote the text for every species; his goal was to give tips on the species’ habits and habitat so that the birder knows where to look when they reach their destination. Remember that this is not an identification guide, so you won’t find any specifics about plumage details here.

From this screen you can also add the bird to your life list by clicking the check mark in the lower left (more about life lists later). You can also hear a recording of the bird’s call by clicking on the audio icon.

Now we know how to Find Nearby Birds and how to get info about any species. Back to the Home screen. If you’re more interested in finding one particular species, click on “Locate a Bird.”

From here you can search for any of 847 North American Birds. What if you really want to see a Tufted Duck? You can either scroll down or search for Tufted Duck; then tap that species.

You’re given a map of all recent Tufted Duck sightings in North America.

You notice that there are a couple reports near you, so you zoom in. You see one near Providence and one in Maine.

You’re willing to drive to Providence, so you tap that peg for more info. From here, like above with the Ring-necked Duck example, you can click the left arrow for directions or the right arrow for all birds seen at that spot.

You can also search by hotspot by going back to the Home screen and tapping on “View Birding Hotspots.” You’ll be shown a map with hotspots. As usual, tap a location for directions or a list of sightings.

You can also view hotspots in list format, ranked by distance to location.

Recall that for each location you can filter the list of sightings down to only those you have NOT yet seen. But how does BirdsEye know which birds you’ve seen already? This is also fairly easy to do. From the Home screen, click “Update Life List.” Tap “Edit” at the top left of the screen and you’re brought to a list all North American Birds. Just scroll down and tap a species to add it to your life list. A counter at the top of the screen actually keeps count for you, so you know your life list at all times.

For those who are avid eBird users, BirdsEye does NOT link to your eBird account to import your life list, so you have to enter it manually. Hopefully this will be addressed in the future!

Now that we know the basics about BirdsEye and what it was designed to do, let’s take a critical look at the application.

First let me say that this is the first birding app I’ve been legitimately excited for. The electronic field guides have thus far been a disappointment because, while they are conveniently located on your pocket-sized phone, they pale in comparison to printed field guides. I’d rather carry around the original Nat Geo book than be left with an incomplete version in my pocket.

The concept behind BirdsEye is a very useful one. I’d think that any active birder would be interested in its function. The layout is simple yet visually pleasing and extremely easy to navigate. After just a couple minutes of playing with it, I was finding reports of target species and getting instant directions.

There are shortcomings however. First, each sighting is usually entered under one general hotspot, but the exact location of the bird is not divulged. For example, you might be told that an Orange-crowned Warbler was spotted at a large state park, but not told where in the vast park the bird was seen. You can read the text paragraph to figure out the species’ preferred habitat, which can increase your chances of finding it, but it still may be a needle in a haystack. When trying to relocate a bird, nothing beats an exact location or written description telling you where to look. This would make a fine upgrade to a future version of BirdsEye.

Second, BirdsEye depends solely on eBird sightings. There are a couple drawbacks to this. Of course only a certain percentage of birders currently use eBird. And those that do use eBird do not enter sightings directly from the field…often sightings aren’t logged until the next day or even later. So you aren’t really getting up-to-the-minute information. When a life bird is seen at a nearby park, you want to know ASAP! The upside to this problem is that eBird is continually growing in popularity, so more and more sightings will be available. On top of that, eBird is currently working on ways to enter sightings from your mobile device while in the field. In fact, the developers of BirdsEye promise a 2010 update that allows one to enter sightings directly into eBird via the BirdsEye app! Things should only get better, but you have to wonder if real-time eBird reporting will ever catch on. Time will tell.

Important note: This version of BirdsEye does NOT include sightings from personal locations…in order to prevent violation of private property. Such sightings make up a significant portion of eBird’s data, and not all of these personal locations are actually on private property. According to the developers, BirdsEye and eBird are working on a solution that should be available in the next few weeks.

Now to the real question: Do I use BirdsEye to find my birds? I’ve had this app for over a week now, and I have yet to use it to get me to a bird. I may represent the minority, but as a very active birder I have listserv sightings emailed directly to my phone. While in the field, I can find out about current birds with a quick email check. That way I get my information straight from the horse’s mouth in the form of a written report by the observer, which may include exact location, directions, tips for finding, plumage details, and time of observation. Those not in touch with the world of listservs may find BirdsEye to be a great source of sightings information, but I would think that someone tech-savvy enough to use BirdsEye is also tapped into their local birding listservs. One important reminder here: not everyone reports to listservs either. As eBird has become more popular, it has “recruited” its own group of birders who do not submit their sightings to the local listservs. So you might just find out about a rarity via eBird that was not even sent to the listserv.

In summary, BirdsEye is very well-designed and works beautifully. Its unique bird-finding function distinguishes it from all other birding apps. In addition to its bird-finding ability, the photos, text, and voice recordings are a really nice touch. The drawbacks noted above are expected ones during the early stages of BirdsEye. This app will become more useful as eBird catches on even more and as developers issue FREE upgrades. If you don’t mind spending the money, this is the most promising birding app available; it may soon become a must-have resource for the active birder. If you limit yourself to only the most useful apps, give this one a pass until full eBird integration is achieved.

Cost: $19.99 for the app including images, text, and audio for 470 of the most common species. (Images, text, and audio for the remaining 377 species cost an additional $19.99.)

In my opinion this is over-priced given its current function. Once eBird integration is complete, I could see paying $20 for BirdsEye, but for the current version it seems a bit steep. The additional $20 for extra content is hard to reconcile; why just as expensive as the original app? Something along the lines of $5 for the extras would be much more reasonable.

For more information, visit the official web site or iTunes.

- Nick

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Eastern CT coast (Common Eiders)

Today's trip along the eastern CT coast was dominated by Common Eider at every stop. Normally, Common Eider are scarce to absent in Connecticut waters, but this autumn has been different. Following a couple rounds of east winds several weeks ago, Common Eider have been remarkably...well, common, in eastern CT. By the end of the day I had seen over 100 eider in CT waters and many many more distant birds that were possibly in RI or NY waters.

The most exciting part of the day actually came around noon when two commercial fishing boats entered Fisher's Island Sound from the east with clouds of birds around them. Last Sunday Phil Rusch lucked out with a Northern Fulmar following a fishing boat into CT waters at this location...for just the third state record. So I watched the boats with excitement as they approached Stonington Harbor, in hopes of a repeat fulmar or something else like a shearwater, jaeger, or kittiwake. Unfortunately I could muster nothing more than a few dozen Northern Gannets.

On my way home I stopped into the Hammo campground for a walk. I was impressed with the numbers of Yellow-rumped Warblers, and I was able to relocate 3 of the lingering Baltimore Orioles.

- NB

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Larophiles, rejoice!

In late January there will be a gull conference near Daytona, Florida. A similar event took place in 2000 at Niagara Falls & vicinity. This sounds pretty darn cool to me. I'm seriously considering heading down for this.

For details, click HERE.

- NB

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Odd wigeon in Norwalk

Brian Webster and Larry Flynn found and photographed this interesting drake wigeon in Norwalk, CT on Monday, Dec 7. They noticed the oddly-plumaged head and wondered if it could be a hybrid Eurasian x American, or just an aberrant American. They saw a cream-colored forehead, lower cheek, and throat.

The bird also lacks much of the dark stippling that should be present on the lower cheek and throat of an American Wigeon. Also, the rear back appears to be rather pale gray in color, though this may be within range of American. Otherwise it appears fine for American.

Are these interesting features indicative of Eurasian genes? I'm not sure myself, but with a gun to my head I would probably opt for hybrid over aberrant, simply because the odd features all tend toward Eurasian. I'm really not sure though; maybe it is simply a coincidence. A check of many hybrid wigeon images online does not reveal a bird that looks quite like this one, so if this is a hybrid it is not a classic F1 bird.

As far as published literature goes, all I could find was this article by Merrifield regarding hybrid wigeon in Oregon.

Kudos to the guys for noticing a subtly different bird.

I have posted the images here for Brian and Larry. If you have any thoughts on the bird, please let us know. Thanks!

Lastly, here is a typical drake American from the same location:

- Nick

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Hammo's best kept secrets

Every birder in Connecticut knows of Hammonasset State Park in Madison, CT. The combination of geography and habitat has produced an impressive list of rarities over the years. The list includes Thick-billed Murre, several White-faced Ibis, several Ruff, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Great Gray Owl, Boreal Chickadee, Northern Wheatear, BT Gray Warbler, Lark Bunting, and Lazuli Bunting.

While the typical hotspots such as Willard's Island, Meig's Point, and the Nature Center lot are birded quite often, there are a couple locations in the park that perhaps do not get the coverage they deserve. Two such spots come to mind, and they both are best in the fall and winter.

First, the campground. Specifically, the part of the campground outlined by the white path in the image below. Some of you know this area for the Western Tanager of two winters ago and the hybrid Baltimore x Bullock's Oriole from last month. In the fall and winter this part of the park is as good as any for passerines. The scattered cedars, pines, and shrubs provide shelter and food. It has particularly high potential for western vagrants I think.

The second spot is the 'old' rotary & vicinity. While a fair amount of the habitat there was just removed for construction of a new pavilion, enough should remain to harbor fall and winter passerines. This area held the state's first Lazuli Bunting a few winters ago.

Two hotspots for passerines in fall and winter. (click to enlarge)

The beauty about Hammo is that any piece of habitat, no matter how small, can hold birds. I often wonder what's hiding among the coastal scrub and dunes I pass while driving along the park road.

- Nick

Monday, December 7, 2009

12/7 - Windsor Landfill (Iceland Gull)

I spent a couple hours midday at the Windsor-Bloomfield Landfill; several other birders were there. Nothing much to report. About 1500-2000 large gulls, highlights being 2 Iceland Gulls (adult with one leg, and a first-winter not seen by me).

adult "Kumlien's" Iceland Gull

gulls feeding on an active trash pile

- NB

Sunday, December 6, 2009

12/6 - American White Pelicans

Sometimes things just work out the way they're supposed to. I went to Hammonasset State Park in Madison, CT in hopes of intercepting the flock of 8 American White Pelicans that was seen yesterday in Providence, Rhode Island. As a birder all you can really do is put yourself in the best position and hope that you get lucky, but it usually doesn't work out.

I arrived at Hammo for opening at 8am and decided I would bird within sight of the beach in case the pelicans did fly by, figuring that being right on the coast would put me in the best position. Not much was moving early this morning on the heels of yesterday's storm...just some blackbirds, Horned Larks, a Pipit, a few Goldfinches and that's about it. As the morning went on things remained quiet, although a modest gull migration was underway in the form of small flocks moving east to west along the coast. A look off Meigs Point revealed 2 Surf Scoter, 81 Dunlin, 1 Sanderling, and 5 Ruddy Turnstones. At this point the cold wind was getting to me, so I decided to watch from the warmth of my car while parked at the Nature Center lot. A flock of Horned Larks in the lot didn't contain anything different until an unlikely mixed flock of 6 Cowbirds and 3 Snow Buntings arrived. Sometime before 1 o'clock I was getting bored and losing hope on the pelicans.

I drove to the campground and birded the general area where Mark Szantyr and I had the hybrid Baltimore x Bullock's Oriole the week before. There were a few pockets of birds including a Purple Finch, robins, waxwings, and a bunch of Yellow-rumps, but no sign of any orioles. After poking around some cedars in a half-assed attempt at owling, I stepped back onto the path, glanced up...and...$#&%! There they were. Eight of them.

Got my looks, made a quick call to Mark Szantyr who was also in the park, then fumbled with the camera to grab some record shots. Lucky enough the birds broke into a soar somewhere over the west end of the park, allowing for even better looks and a couple more photos. They continued to mosey westward until out of sight. I first spotted them at 1:26 and had them in view until 1:35.

all 8

Posted to CTBirds, made a few phone calls to folks to the west, and met up with Mark and Joy as we talked about how cool it was to track birds from ME to RI and then see them in CT. On my way home Julian Hough called at 2:21 to let me know he was standing on the West Haven side of New Haven Harbor waiting for the pelicans to appear. At the pace they moved over Hammo, being in view for 9 minutes, I thought I might have out-driven I decided to go the extra couple exits on I-95 and stand watch with Julian. I don't think I was there for more than a minute when Julian spotted the flock as it came off Lighthouse Pt at 2:36 and headed over the harbor. The flock then dropped low and continued across the harbor, crossing well offshore and not again making landfall until well down the West Haven coast. The flock then broke into a couple brief soars while slowly continuing to the west. I called Scott and Frank with the update. Incredibly the flock was in view until 2:58 when they disappeared into the haze, making for a 22-min observation.

distant views toward the west after the pelicans crossed the harbor

The crew in Stratford was ready and waiting. Scott first spotted the birds at 3:10 while standing at Stratford Pt. For the story from here, check out Scott's post.

So, it took the pelicans an hour to get from Hammo to West Haven (18 miles), for a speed of about 18 miles per hour (that's my kind of math!). Then another 40 minutes for the 12 miles from NH harbor to Short Beach, which clocks them guessed it, 18 miles per hour!

Another pretty cool tidbit is the fact that Scott was about 12 miles from me and Julian, and there was only a 12-minute gap between us losing sight and Scott's first glimpse. Goes to show you can see a flock of 8 American White Pelicans from quite a distance!

A little more math here. For those looking tomorrow morning, you're probably wondering where the flock might have landed for the night (assuming they did land). If we were to guess that they stopped flying at 10 mins before sunset, which would be 4:15pm, that would give them about 18 more miles of traveling. This would put them in the vicinity of the Norwalk Islands for touchdown, after crossing Sherwood Island at approximately 3:55. However, Tina Green rushed from Stratford to Westport so she could view them from Sherwood Island, but she didn't have any luck. So I wonder if they landed before they reached Sherwood.

Now Roy and Luke can stop giving me crap about their CT white pelicans :)

Today was a lot of fun.

- Nick

Saturday, December 5, 2009

12/4 - East Shore Pk; Orange-crowned Warbler

Unfortunately this was all I could muster of a cooperative Orange-crowned Warbler at East Shore Park in New Haven yesterday. Either my digibinning skills are fading or my camera's auto-focus is beginning to fail...probably the former.

Also seen at this location were a "Western" Palm Warbler and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Now that the weather is finally getting colder, the hedgerows adjacent to the sewage treatment plant should be monitored regularly for late passerines. When few insects are still out, the warm pools seem to keep alive enough insects to attract lingering insectivores.

- NB