Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013 in review

Well, I think that we all agree that '13 has been an awesome year for BBFG! With 17 posts, this has been our most productive year. I really have nothing more to say than:



Tuesday, December 24, 2013

"And a partridge in a pear tree..."

A merry Chrtsmas to you from the team: +Court Capbat, Buddy Finch and I!

Hoping you have a wonderful Christmas,


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Birdlog #2 - 12-10-13: Birdy small talk and vacation sightings

Not a lot of birds today; mostly House Finches. That means nothing good to pose for a picture. Doesn't make much of a difference, anyway - I'm missing my camera.

I remember when we took that road trip to Indiana. At the Fair Oaks Farms in Fair Oaks, IN, I saw tons of robins and starlings, and even a couple Barn Swallows! After we had gone back to the hotel, I saw no birds for the rest of the evening.

The next morning, three of us went on a short hike around the perimeter before breakfast. We saw a couple House Sparrows, and robin or two and a dead frog in the pond.
That day, we drove to the Indiana Dunes National Park, on the border of Lake Michigan. In the gift shop, I bought a national parks "passport" and an Audubon bird call. Later, on our family hike through the park's forest, we came to a stop at an elevated platform with big, mounted binoculars on the deck; a "bird observatory." On the platform, I saw two Yellow Warblers, one male and one female, two Belted Kingfishers, probably mates, one raptor of some sort, and a Blackburnian Warbler! I was so excited that I cried just a little (it's still a little embarassing to admit it).
Afterwards, out of the forest and onto the beach, we saw just massive flocks of Ring-billed Gulls; that was the only species of gull on the beach, I think.

Mallard, adult female.
Next month, we traveled to The Abbey in Fontana, WI, right on Lake Geneva. I like where our room was: the second floor, meaning we had a deck, facing the lake! We saw a lot of Mallards there, along with a weird-looking black-and-white domestic version. I ever did get a picture of that one...
While we were sightseeing in Lake Geneva (the city, not the actual lake), I saw a lot of Ring-billed Gulls, some House Sparrows, starlings, herons and robins. There were a couple other species, but I can't remember what they were.


Monday, December 9, 2013

Birdlog #1 - 12-09-13: Juncos and bird photography

We got juncos really early this year. I think the first ones were in mid-to-late October. And we've had a ton since then! Sometimes, the males look gray, and sometimes they're slate-black, hence the name "Slate-colored Junco." And the females look like sooty Oregon Juncos (which's a subspecies of the Dark-eyed), with brownish wings and a gray head.
The Yellow-eyed Junco (not a subspecies) differs from the Dark-eyed in one way: A yellow eye. Other than that, almost nothing.

I like taking pictures of birds. It's especially fun when you're photographing a rarity or one in a funny position. It's even more fun when you have a camera, unlike me. My "dream camera" is the Canon PowerShot SX500 IS. I know how to use it because I know someone who has one. The main feature that I like is the image stabilization. A close second is the 30x optical zoo, for taking pictures of a bird really far away. Overall, it's a good camera.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Birding podcasts

Just posting to say that I recently found some birding podcasts:

  1. Peterson Online:
  2. This Birding Life:
  3. The Author's Spotlight:
  4. Ray Brown's Talking Birds:
The last three are on the same page, which is why I put the same link for them. Hope you enjoy.

Happy birding,
Mr. Bird

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!

I knew you'd expect me to post something, so:


-Mr. Bird

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Why vultures aren't buzzards, why nighthawks aren't hawks, and why all gulls aren't seagulls

Have you ever heard someone say, "Look! a buzzard!"? I have. It's annoying. And one time heard is one time too many.

Don't. Misuse. Bird names. EVER.

Turkey Buzzard Vulture, adult, in flight.
The term buzzard came from Europeans, who used the word to name Buteos, or large hawk that soar. But us silly Americans have, like so many other things, misused it. And now (unfortunately) too many people think that a vulture is a buzzard. Incorrect, I say! Incorrect!
But I have more evidence. Buzzard hawks (Buteos) kill and eat freshly killed prey. They're hunters. Vultures eat carrion, or things that have already died. They're scavengers.

Common Nighthawk, adult.
Nighthawks aren't hawks. They're just nocturnal, flycatching birds that look like hawks. Their diet, behavior and "cousins" are totally different! Nighthawks are members of the "Goatsucker" family because they were mistaken to drink goat's (and other livestock's) blood! But they don't, so you farmers don't worry. What nighthawks do for a "living" is pretty much a duller version of what hawks do. Nighthawks eat flies and other flying insects. Hawks eat birds and other flying creatures (along with rodents, but that's not what I'm trying to get at).

Laughing Gull, adult, in flight.
Gulls... I don't know a single person who hasn't heard or said "seagull". Everybody's so used to saying it that nobody says "gull" anymore! I know what you're saying: "But some gulls live by the sea!" Yes they do. And those and only those are seagulls. All the rest are gulls. It's that simple.

So what I'm trying to say is that many people use many incorrect names for birds, and if you're not sure about it, look it up. Happy birding!

"Look! A yellow finch!"
He means Goldfinch. Whoopsie daisy.

-Mr. Bird
Goldfinch. Not yellow finch. Remember that.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Birding hotspots

Okay, okay, so I haven't posted anything for a few months. So sue me. I've been busy. But this post isn't an apology; it's about birding hotspots. For some people, seeing the same birds at their feeders every day is satisfying. But the others (like me!) don't think that's quite enough. That's why we visit the birding hotspots: The locations that a lot of birders go to because there are a lot of birds that go there. Places like Rio Grande Valley, or Central Park.

I've never been to any, seeing as I live in the middle of nowhere when it comes to hotspots. If I had to choose one, it would be Central Park, New York. Not just because it's a small patch of green in the heart of New York, but because it's the only one. Meaning it's the one stop for birds on their way north. Some even use it as a spot to breed!

South Florida promises vists from exotic birds, like the Budgerigar (of which I have two) or the Common Myna. This hotspot is the best, seeing as it has the most bird variety. 

Cape may, New Jersey offers Golden-crowned Kinglets, Common Redpolls and Red Crossbills.

Southeast Arizona also has some cool ones: Groove-billed Anis and Spotted Owls.

I'm not saying that you have to go to any of these; I'm just suggesting a few good birding places. Even I haven't been to any of these! Just remember these places, and try to visit one or two if you can. Happy birding!

-Mr. Bird

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Spark Bird

"What is a spark bird?"

A spark bird is the one bird that "lights" a single spark, which eventually leads to a "fire": A lifetime of birding for you, and some pals that you may encourage to go birding with you. Many birders' spark birds are colourful, loud songbirds seen in the spring. For others, it is a drab, elusive sparrow, hopping from one branch to the next.

"What was your spark bird?"

My spark bird was relatively quiet; a White-breasted Nuthatch. Nuthatches are small, tree-clinging birds that eat suet, peanut butter, most common birdseed and a handful of other stuff. This one in particular was a male. I named him Nutty, and a Red-breasted Nutso. He crept down the tree by our feeders; a pal blue back and black cap intrigued me. Because I had borrowed a Golden Guide from the library, I flipped through frantically, as most beginners do. There it was, plain as day, on page seventy-seven. In pure excitement, I felt a strong urge to scream, but somehow held it back. I immediately became attached to the bird and the guide, and didn't want to give it back. Reluctantly, I did. For years, I searched for it. One day, at the library bookstore, I made a beeline for the birding section. And there it was, a Golden Guide to the Birds of North America. Although it was from 1939 and I don't use it ever, I still keep it. Then, last week, me and my family drove to Half-price Books, a place that rips you off when you sell your books to them. I found the science section, and at eye level, there it was (again), except this was a 2001 copy! I was extremely happy when we took it home.

"I wonder what mine will be..."

It could be anything. A Hooded Merganser, Ring-billed Gull, Great Egret, or a small bird, such as the American Robin. Roger Tory Peterson's description was on the ball: "The one bird that everybody knows." What will it be?

-Mr. Bird

Monday, April 15, 2013

Birdy Quotes

"Some people are drawn to the beauty of birds, or the variety of songs the birds sing. They may love the sight of a bird they’ve never seen. Others like the social aspect that naturally comes along with bird watching. Bird watching is growing in popularity and many people choose to travel on group trips in order to learn about the world of birds. There’s no doubt that bird watching is very peaceful, but it’s also exciting. There’s an element of mystery involved when you begin a bird watching outing. You never know what you might see; you can’t always predict what sort of bird you might spot on your trip. And of course there’s the thrill that comes when you finally spot a bird you’ve been hoping to see. One of the other benefits is that it can be done anywhere (anywhere outdoors, at least) and there also isn’t a lot of gear required to enjoy it. What do you need? You will need a good pair of binoculars, some hiking shoes, a field guide so you know what to look for, possibly a notebook, and a great place to go!"
"Birds have wings and tend to use them."
"Here are the Seven Pleasures of Birding, at least as I've determined them:

1. The beauty of the birds.
2. The beauty of being in a natural setting.
3. The joys of hunting, without the bloodshed.
4. The joy of collecting (in that the practice of keeping lists - life lists, day lists, etc.; appeals to the same impulse as, say, stamp collecting).
5. The joy of puzzle-solving (in making those tough identifications).
6. The pleasure of scientific discovery (new observations about behavior, etc.).
and saving the best for last,

7. The Unicorn Effect - After you've been birding for even a little while, there are birds you've heard of or seen in books that capture your imagination, but you've never seen for yourself...and then one day, there it is in front of you, as if some mythical creature has stepped out of a storybook and come to life. There's no thrill quite like it."
-Chris Cooper
"Birds have wings; they're free; they can fly where they want when they want. They have the kind of mobility many people envy."
"Hunting, fishing, drawing, and music occupied my every moment. Cares I knew not, and cared naught about them."

Of all the quotes I have listed, my favorite is short and sweet: "Birds have wings and tend to use them."

-Mr. Bird 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Creeper, Creeper, Creeper!

Brown Creeper.
No, not the green four-legged kind. I'm talking about the brown two-legged bird kind! The Brown Creeper can be extremely hard to spot. This bird is closely related to Nuthatches, but its stiff tail and long, thin beak help separate this bird from look-alikes. It's call is very similar to the Golden-crowned Kinglet, but Kinglets almost always give three distinct notes: "Seet, seet, seet!" whereas the Brown Creeper gives one.
Creepers, like most birds, depend on trees greatly (I'm NOT an environmentalist). They fInd their food in tree's bark, they nest behind peeling bark, and they even look like bark!
Brown Creeper: Brown morph
It can be brown or red, depending on the subspecies. The brown morph usually has a white "eyebrow". The red morph has none. The brown morph also has spots on its back, and, yet again, the red morph has none. But they both acquire off-white bellies and necks, as shown in these two photos.
The full-grown bird is 5 1/2" long.
Brown Creepers usually live in mature evergreen-deciduous woodlands, but once they find a suet feeder, they will visit regularly. In the West, you can find them as high as 11,000 feet!
Brown Creeper: Red morph
In many bird field guides, I found, the guide may say something like, "Remember: This bird only climbs upward." I find this to be a big mistake. Although they never face downward, they will climb downward if necessary. This unique behavior makes it easy to separate these birds from nuthatches.
The Brown Creeper really is a fascinating bird, so get to a window or get out in the field and get birdwatching! Happy birding!

-Mr. Bird

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Stokes Sticks Out!

I think one of the field guides I own has excelled many others: "The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America."
The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America
This guide, however, does not hold any history on the birds, like "The Young Birder's Guide to the Birds of Eastern North America," or "Birds of Illinois." It is strictly dedicated to six things: Shape, habitat, voice, subspecies, hybrid birds and range. There are eight hundred fifty-four species, from your backyard favorites, to those magnificent high-interest rarities that you are just dying to see. Updated range maps and spectacular descriptions make this guide excellent! With more than thirty-four hundred astonishingly good photos all by Donald and Lillian Stokes from every angle imaginable, this guide makes for easy identification and a great learning opportunity. All plumages from almost every bird are there, right at your fingertips:
  • Male
  • Female
  • Immature
  • Summer
  • Winter
  • Morphs
  • Notable subspecies
  • Birds in flight
If you purchase the full version (eastern and western region), you will also find a special downloadable CD at the back of the book, with over six hundred songs, straight from the backyard! In the front and back, there are two flaps. The front flap shows a quick identification guide, ABA birding codes and a range map "decoder." The back flap is a biography of the authors, Don and Lillian Stokes, "Parts of a Bird: The Basics" and a key abbreviation "dictionary." You can buy this book on Amazon for $16.49. I won't guarantee (just to be safe, o course), but this book is bound to take your birdwatching to the next level. Though, it does have its drawbacks. For one thing, it is a little too cumbersome for some people's tastes (myself included) out in the field. The other thing is, all of those high interest rarites get in the way! Overall, I would give it , out of ten stars, a deserved 8.75. Happy birding!

-Mr. Bird

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Young Birder's (Review of the) Guide to Birds of Eastern North America

The Young Birder's guide to Birds of Eastern North America, written by Bill Thompson III, is an excellent guide for birders eight and up. Even I use it! I received it as a gift when I had just turned nine. I had been birdwatching for about a year, but didn't really understand it.

The Young Birder's Guide to Birds of Eastern North America
One quote by Richard Louv says, "The Young Birder's Guide is a terrific gift of nature." In the front of the book, it shows lots of useful advice, such as:

  1. What is Birding?
  2. Getting Started in Bird Watching
  3. Identification Basics
  4. Field Skills
  5. Birding Manners
  6. Birding by Habitat
  7. Be Green: Ten Things You Can Do for Birds
  8. How to Use This Guide
  9. Ten Tips for Beginning Bird Watchers
  10. Species Accounts
  11. Resources
  12. Glossary
  13. Acknowledgments
  14. Index

Inside it is sorted by family (I believe, anyway), and at the bottom of every page is a checklist. Also, there is an illustration hand-drawn by Julie Zickfoose, a "WOW!" section that tells something interesting about the bird, and a tiny map that tells you where to find the bird. It is a great guide for finding the bird quickly! At the top of the page, it shows it's scientific name and the bird's length or wingspan. It also has a "Look For" section, a "Listen For" section and a "Remember" section. And last, but not least, is the "Find it" section. You can buy it on new for $20.00, or used for $12.00. If you're a kid birder, I suggest you get it. Happy birding!

-Mr. Bird

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Birdfest #2

Today was a birdwatcher's lucky day! We saw a TON of birds. Here's another list of the species we saw:

  • 0 House Finches (hooray!)
  • 1 Gray Squirrel (UGH!!!)
  • 1 Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • 1 Downy Woodpecker
  • 1 Brown Creeper (cool!)
  • 3 Northern Cardinals
  • 5 Black-capped Chickadees
  • 6 White-breasted Nuthatches
  • 20 or more Dark-eyed aka Slate Coloured Juncos (again with the Juncos!)
But there weren't as as many birds on the feeders as I might have expected. These are my favorite pictures:

There's a male Cardinal. Looking heroic, as usual

A cute little Junco
Now who can tell me what that is?
Aww, how cute!
It's the best (and only) picture I have of the Red-Belly
This is the second time I've ever seen a Brown Creeper!
Last time it was fall 2012
I just love Nuthatches. Have I ever told you that?
It's really, really, really hard to see, but sure enough, it's a Chickadee.
It practically posed for the making of the picture! The blurriness
is just frost on our super old window
A nice-looking female Cardinal
Normally, birds don't visit our birdbath in the dead of (snowless) winter,
but we got a water heater for our birdbath recently
Okay, last picture:
I got to see the male, but I didn't have my camera ready.
That's a lot of birds! I've never seen so many in my life! I hope you can have (so-called) birdfests like me. Happy birding!

-Mr. Bird

P.S.: Okay, I take it back. My camera isn't THAT terribly bad. :)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The first birdfest of the year!

Wow! What happened in our backyard today was absolutely amazing! Me and my brother have seen lots of birds in one sitting before, but not like today. Here's a list of the species we saw:

  • 1 Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • 1 Downy Woodpecker
  • 2 White-breasted Nuthatches
  • 3 Pine Siskins
  • 3 Blue Jays
  • 4 Northern Cardinals
  • 10 or more Black-capped Chickadees
  • 10 or more House Sparrows
  • 15 or more Hose Finches
  • 15 or more Dark-eyed aka Slate-colored Juncos
That's a lot of birds in one day! They usually come for half an hour at breakfast, an hour before lunch and a couple minutes before dinner. Sorry I couldn't provide photos; my camera wasn't ready. Oh well. Happy birding!

-Mr. Bird

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Let the birdwatching begin! (what about the date?)

Hello to all! This is Mr. Bird speaking. I've been thinking lately about the date for the first birdwatching trip, and I remembered, we don't have a date for the trip. If you have a date that works for you, comment. On the right is a poll for where we should go for our first birding trip. Please vote! Happy birding!

-Mr. Bird

That's a lotta crows!

I looked out our window today, and guess what I saw? Two male Cardinals. Then, later, I glanced outside, and that was when I saw an absolutely massive flock of crows! I got out my Bushnell binoculars, and counted, "one, two, three, four..." I counted more than 25 crows, all sitting right next to each other! That was amazing! Then I saw a goose. Completely unrelated, I know, but I want to count every bird I saw. Happy birding, and happy New Year!

-Mr. Bird