Saturday, June 30, 2012

Most Eponymous

Not too long ago I was talking with a friend about common English bird names and the people some of them are named after. We were also trying to tabulate who has the most North American birds named after them. John James Audubon seemed like a good guess but despite his notoriety, we could only come up with two species: Audubon's Shearwater and Audubon's Oriole. Perhaps the reason has something to do with Audubon's rivalry with Alexander Wilson and the politics of American ornithology in the 19th century.

Cassin's Finches - Jackson County, CO

Speaking of Alexander Wilson, by my count he shares the top spot with another 19th century ornithologist, John Cassin (both with five):

Cassin's Auklet

Cassin's Kingbird

Cassin's Vireo

Cassin's Sparrow

Cassin's Finch
Wilson's Storm-Petrel

Wilson's Plover

Wilson's Phalarope

Wilson's Snipe

Wilson's Warbler

Cassin's Finch - Yellow Variant - Jackson County, CO
(extremely rare according to Sibley Guide)

You might be thinking that Wilson & Cassin named the birds after themselves, but there is an informal rule of nomenclature that you are not supposed to do that. There is only one exception to this rule for a North American bird as far as I know. William Gambel accidentally named Gambel's Quail after himself when he wrote his name on the specimen label of a bird he presumed to be a California Quail. When the bird was later determined to be a distinct species Gambel's name was applied to it.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Birdie Num Num

It's the time of year when parent birds are busy provisioning hungry nestlings/fledglings. Not coincidentally, it is also the time of year when prey items are abundant. It's mind boggling to think about the volume of insect food that breeding birds consume throughout the spring and summer. It is really a land of plenty for the birdies.

Grasshopper Sparrow eating... you guessed it.

Not only do they eat a lot, but they seem to like to show it off. Oftentimes I will see a bird with a fat, juicy bug in its bill, positioned on a conspicuous perch making a big racket as though boasting about its catch.

Them sure is good eatin'.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Times They Are A-Changin'

Things are changing up at the Carden Alvar.

Wilson's Snipe

Since 1998 the Nature Conservancy of Canada has been acquiring land; the Katherine McGuaig MacDonald Nature Sanctuary was donated to the NCC in 1998, while the Cameron and Windmill Ranch properties were purchased by the Nature Conservancy in 2003 and 2006, respectively (with the support of the Couchiching Conservancy, Ontario Parks, and others). Just this year Bluebird Ranch was also acquired. Of course there is also the much-hyped Loggerhead Shrike reintroduction program. These changes have been slow and incremental. This year however, there is a noticeable change in the look and feel of the entire area. Signage has been improved. The bluebird boxes have been repainted and labelled in a more sophisticated manner. There are nice parking spaces along Wylie Road, and the surface of the road is smooth and graded. There is a fantastic new 1 km walking trail that takes you along the edge of the Sedge Wren marsh. There is a portable restroom at bluebird box 10 for crying out loud. Most shocking of all was a sign declaring "Birders Welcome".

Signage for New Sedge Wren Marsh Walking Trail

To top things off there is currently a notice on the Ontario Environmental Registry of a proposal to establish Carden Alvar as a regulated natural environment class provincial park where members of the public are encouraged to submit their comments.

Black-billed Cuckoo
Upland Sandpiper

Yes, this all seems like really great news for Carden.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Meet Chuck


He is a Chukar Partridge (Alectoris chukar) and for a brief moment in time, he was a regular visitor at our backyard feeder earlier this spring. I have heard of other people who have had this Middle Eastern native arrive on their back doorstep in Ontario before, so when we got home one weekend from a birding trip and opened our back curtains to find a Chukar under our feeder, despite my surprise, I knew what he was!

Chuck stayed with us for about a week and we enjoyed his company. "He" (sex was not confirmed) was rather cute and pudgy and had a funny way about him, but he was very alert, and kept a safe distance from us. We thought (or hoped) he might permanently set up house because he had the advantage of the woodlot directly behind our backyard to seek shelter and he had a reliable food source (us). I was even willing to put up with his rather messy and abundant droppings all over my new patio if it meant we could be friends. 

Here is a rather comical video we were able to get:  

Alas, the day came when he was no longer able to cope with the stresses of urban life. It was getting warmer outside, which meant that there was more activity in the backyard. Our neighbours were getting ready to install a patio, and we were planting a tree and working in our gardens. Lawn mowers were revving their engines. One day it just got to be too much for him, and the last I saw of him he was running down the middle of our subdivision road at full speed without a glance behind. I waved goodbye but he didn't notice. I hope he is somewhere safe. It's a concrete jungle out there. I'm sure it must be terrifying for a bird who is native to the open hillsides of Asia.

Which takes us to the fact that sightings of this species in Ontario are an uncommon but regular occurrence. If Chukars are a native of Asia (according to Wikipedia from Israel and Turkey through Afghanistan to India, along the inner ranges of the Western Himalayas to Nepal), how the heck do they wind up in our backyards in Canada? This species is actually a popular gamebird. It is in the pheasant family Phasianidae. And since hunting gamebirds is a popular pastime for many people all over the world, there are businesses who breed them for recreational hunting. Or, some people may just keep them as part of their hobby farm collection.

Where there are ways to escape, an animal will try. And so Chukar escapees, like waterfowl and other wildlife that are kept in confined spaces, may find themselves "free" and in their travels beyond the fences that were meant to keep them in one place, they wind up showing up on people's back doorstep so-to-speak. This species appears to be fairly adaptable to other climates - it is believed that there are actually feral populations in the province, as well as other areas of North America. So watch out for Chuck in your backyard, you might be next :)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Birding's Dirty Secret


It's the steroids of birding. It used to be that only specialists knew about its advantages, and few had access to the recordings and/or equipment needed to utilize playback as a method in the field. Now every Tom, Dick and Harry has an iPhone with the ability to broadcast the vocalizations of every North American species.

Virginia Rail walking out into the open for no reason at all

I won't bother to tell any stories; we all have tales about the abuses we have witnessed. It is a direct consequence of making something so readily available. It is easy to feel righteous indignation towards other people who use playback, and it's also easy to rationalize our own uses of it.

"I never used playback" - Roger Clemens

Playback is occasionally beneficial for wildlife management. For example, a combination of playback and decoys was used to attract and re-establish an Arctic Tern breeding colony on Eastern Egg Rock off the coast of Maine. However, what most of us do lacks this kind of merit.

There are times when playback is simply too tempting. But we should try to use it less often. And by "we", I am including "me".

Here endeth the sermon.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A Name Change

So I have to admit it is a challenge to come up with a blog title that isn’t: a) lame; or b) already taken. I thought I was doing alright with “Field of View” but it turns out that BirdWatching Magazine (formerly Birder’s World) already has a blog by that name.

So I guess I should change names but that puts me in the rather awkward position of selecting a new one. Everything I can think of seems to run afoul of one or both of requirements that it not be lame and not taken. Here are some examples:
  • Mostly About Birds (lame)
  • Bird Notes (taken)
  • The View (invites comparison with a ladies' daytime talk show)
  • On the Wing (lame)
  • Bird Lore (taken)
  • Consolations of Birding (really lame)
  • Birdcraft (fruity)
Prairie Warbler
One direction I could go is to take a jab at some of the egos in the birding community. C’mon you know the types. The ones that think they are God’s gift to birding. The ones that don’t hesitate to broadcast their daily list to OntBirds but then can’t be bothered to give you the time of day on the trail, or when they do speak it is only to indulge in their own sense of superiority. I’m sorry to say it, but the birding community reeks of these individuals and their influence. These people are legends in their own mind. So in that vein, I could rename my blog: “Legendary Birder”.

Another direction I could go would be to point out that birding is a subculture, and like other subcultures it makes no sense to outsiders. Some people like cars, some play golf, some fancy shopping, and some go birding. So I could rename my blog: “Some Go Birding”.

Both of those ideas involve a political statement to some extent, but it is meant for amusement only. I do not actually want to politicize birding more than it already is, but at the same time I think it is important to engage people.

It is always dangerous to ask for input because you risk receiving none, but does anyone have any suggestions?