Thursday, December 20, 2012

There's an app for that! The FieldSurvey App

I love birding, but I hate checklists. It just takes too long to find the bird in the list. Does anyone else feel that studying field marks is way more interesting than memorizing taxonomic order? 

Ahh, but now there’s an app for that-- the FieldSurvey app. Imagine doing your Breeding Bird Survey, then submitting the data on your iPhone or iPad before you head home. Just such an app has been developed by birder David Rabenau of Stray Dog Software. It’s available in the App Store for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch for $1.99.

FieldSurvey allows you to quickly enter each species and the number of individuals seen. Global positioning records the location where you enter the data. When you're finished, it's easy to email the list or export it to bird listing sites.

The design is simple and elegant. Begin by creating the name of your survey. You can add notes including hours in the field, weather conditions, etc. The GPS function puts a pin in the map at the point where you click to add a species to your list. Each time you click, another pin is added so that when the survey is completed, you'll see accurate representation on a map. It’s interesting to see clusters of birds and lone birds on your route. 

Now, enter the birds seen. You can type in the name of each species you see, or if you prefer, you can use the standard four-letter abbreviation for each. The flexibility to create your own list means that this app can be used for any kind of inventory. It’s easy to create your own list as you go, but recent updates offer preloaded lists of North American birds, dragonflies, and butterflies—in-app purchase, $0.99. FieldSurvey can be used for sruveys of insect or plants, bio-blitzes and, of course, Christmas Bird Counts!

I’ve tested this out around my neighborhood, but last weekend I wanted to try out my newly purchased bird list, so I headed for one of the best areas for land birds around here, Busch Wildlife area, in St. Charles County, Missouri.

When you touch the number next to the name of the bird, the phone vibrates, letting you know that you successfully counted one of the selected bird. This simple feature is actually a big help, because you've got a lot to handle when you're walking through the holding phone, binoculars, and a leash with a young and rambunctious dog on the other end. If you come upon a flock of thousands of Snow Geese, just tap to pop up a box to and enter the number in the count field.

The list of birds of North America, of course, is huge. I thought this might a bit too much like a checklist. However, the Field Survey list is in alphabetical order—and I already learned my alphabet. On the right of the screen letters appear. It was easy to tap “C,” and swipe through to “Caroline Wren.”

Having a gadget to list the birds is nice, but if you had to then transfer it to some other form for record keeping—well, you might as use a checklist. When I finished my list, I tapped the “send” icon at the bottom, and selected “Export & Email” in the eBird Record format. Once I signed in to my eBird account, I chose “import,” and uploaded my file. There was no need to convert or adjust—my whole list, including locations, was completed in less time than it took to log in. You can also choose to your list to export to Eremaea, or as a CSV file (can be opened with MS Excel), as a .kml file (used by Google Earth) or .gpx, or email it to yourself. 

Thanks to Eric Bégin for his outstanding photo of a handsome Blue Jay, licensed with Creative Commons.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

How to report a butterfly

male Funereal Duskywing, photo by Bill Bouton
It's hard to imagine a more dramatic name than the Funereal Duskywing's (Erynnis funeralis). The name conjures up an image of a dreary black butterfly, possibly one whose preferred habitat is a graveyard. 
But let's be fair. This little guy is certainly not as dark as, say, a black swallowtail or pipevine swallowtail

Identifying the funereal is not as hard as identifying most Duskywing butterflies. It's hind wing shows a white fringe that's absolutely cheerful. No other butterfly in my area has this characteristic. I managed to get a photo that was good enough for identification, though not as gorgeous as the above photo by Bill Bouton, who shared his through Creative Commons.

I had a Funereal in the backyard a few years ago, before I knew that it was a rare species for my area. In the world of birders and butterfliers, "rare" means excitement. My mood was anything but mournful when I spotted it this time. The range map in Jeffrey Glassberg's Butterflies through Binoculars: The East shows the nearest population in central Kansas--500 miles or so west of my yard in Saint Louis Missouri. In Butterflies of North America, Kenn Kaufman and Jim Brock show it as uncommon as close as Rolla, MO--less than 100 miles from me.

I looked it up on Butterflies and Moths of North America. They include a map of reports, which showed a sighting as far north as the Illinois Wisconsin border. I decided to submit my report also. Their process is a little more rigorous and some citizen science websites. I'll go through the steps.

Step 1: In the menu of the website, click on "get involved." 
Step 2: Get a free account with Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA for short). 
Step 3: Fill out the submission form online. You'll need to submit a photo of your butterfly or moth, and the photo needs to be cropped so that the insect fills the frame.  Stay with me here. This photo editing could be an obstacle but it doesn't need to be. I used to edit my photos on the photo-sharing website Flickr, with a free website/tool called Picnik. Picnik is no longer partnered with Flickr. They moved to Google+. Editing is still available on Flickr however, in a new tool called Aviary. Just use the action menu on the Flickr photo you want to edit. Of course you can also crop your photos with iPhoto or Google's Picasa--which looks a lot like Picnik. But wait! There's more. BAMONA also would like you to add your user name as a "watermark" to your photo. That's a lot easier than it sounds. Just use the text tool in the editing program you're using. Mine looked like this when I finished editing.
To complete the report you'll need to indicate on the map where the butterfly was seen. Just enter the address in the address box then check to see that the point on the map goes just where you want it. Finish by adding the state and county where you saw the butterfly or moth. 
Step 4: Wait anxiously for a reply from an expert in your region. The expert hopefully will confirm your report. My region's expert turned out to be a friend of mine, the chair of the entomology group of Webster Groves Nature Study Society.
Optional step 5: Send an email offering to let them use your photo on the website. The full instructions are on BAMONA.
 My thanks to you for staying with my blog. Now that I've cleared up the spam that led to my site being listed as "suspicious," I thought I'd better get cracking and write a post!
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Emma Peel as a Butterfly

Of Cabbages & Checkered Whites

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Word Clouds with Tagxedo

I've been playing with word clouds with Tagxedo. In a word cloud, you paste paragraphs (or a web page) into a website such as Tagxedo or Wordle. The site creates a graphic, showing the words used most often as the largest. Tagxedo also lets you pour those words into a shape, as I've done above. I used the words from last August's posts on Gardening with Binoculars. I uploaded a some clipart from Free Butterfly Clipart and followed the instructions on Tagxedo's blog to create this graphic. Move your mouse over the words and they become links. Cool!

Unfortunately this graphic doesn't show up when I use Safari on my laptop, although it does on my desktop machine. Here's a static image of it you're seeing blank space above. For more information about Wordle and Tagxedo, check my other blog, Ed Tech Training Wheels.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Those Terrible Pterosaurs

Notice the fearful claws & and the murderous look in his eye? Black-capped Chickadee photo by Eric Bégin

Yesterday, as I pulled out of the garage, something in the driver’s side view mirror caught my eye. A fuzzy ball of black and white—a bit larger than a prickly gumballs—came crashing down from the sweet gum tree. Then the ball broke apart into at least three Carolina Chickadees. They rolled on the ground, kicking, punching, and talking about each other’s mommas.

I recently attended a presentation by David Peters about the evolution of birds, sponsored by Webster Groves Nature Study Society, St. Louis Audubon and Eastern Missouri Society for Paleontology. The boundary of the Cretaceous and Jurassic is not my area, so most of what was said went right over my head. I apologize in advance for the mistakes I'm about to make. Peters’ theories about the taxonomy of pterosaurs is somewhat controversial; again, for reasons that are beyond me. His website is fascinating. He explained how the shoulder (coracoid bone) and fused clavicles (furcula, or wishbone) allowed the arm/front leg of a reptile to become the abducted, elongated wrist/claw/wing of a pterosaur.
Largest pterosaur, by Mark Witton

Now I hadn’t really thought of pterosaurs as the direct ancestors of birds. They looked like bats to me. I didn’t realize they had the modified scales we call feathers. Think of Quetzalcoatlus—the largest pterosaur, with a 40-foot wingspan, a spear-shaped head, and a ring finger that functioned as the wing. It looked even less like a bird when Peters analyzed the fossils of its tracks, demonstrating that it walked on its wings/knuckles like a reptile walks with its front limbs. 

When he showed Nemicolopterus crypticus, another pterosaur with a wingspan roughly the same as a chickadee’s, I began to see the family resemblance. The ruckus under the sweet gum makes more sense now that I no longer see them as charming chickadees, but tiny, terrible, pterosaurs.

Thanks to Eric Bégin and Mark Witton for licensing their photos with Creative Commons.

You might also enjoy:
For a Few Bags of Gumballs

When Butterflies Attack!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Not-So-Common Common Ground Dove of Weldon Spring CBC

Truman was President, Muddy Waters sang "Rollin' Stone," Lefty Frizzell sang "If You've Got the Money," "Sunset Boulevard" took the Golden Globe, and the Webster Groves Nature Study Society  counted birds in the cold December winds at Busch Wildlife Conservation Area near Weldon Spring, Missouri, Dec. 29, 1950.

Every year since then, Webster Groves Nature Study Society, better known as WGNSS--pronounced, "Wig-ness"--has participated in the National Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count (officially,  MOWS, "Missouri-Weldon Spring") by surveying the area we call "Busch." There are about 11 square miles to survey, including 3,000 acres of forest, 32 artificial lakes, and 100 bunkers once used for storing TNT during WW2. Throw in plenty of gravel roads, a thousand acres of grassland plus 200 acres of restored prairie and the same amount of old fields, and you've got a diverse and accessible birding area--all within 50 minutes' drive from the St. Louis Arch.The plan in a survey such as this is to count each species of bird seen, as well the number of individuals. We divide into territories, and take precautions not to count an individual more than once. For example, I might spot 3 Blue Jays in the tall oak by the creek. Some time later I drive past the same spot and see 5 Blue Jays. I record an additional 2 birds, not 5. On the way to my territory, I see a Bald Eagle overhead. I don't record that bird, but I do notify the count compiler in case the team in that area missed it. If so, Bald Eagle will be added.

This year we had 11 participants who counted 2,441 birds of 49 species, including one that has never been recorded on the Weldon Spring count, the Common Ground-Dove. For that matter, it's likely the only individual of its species ever to have been recorded on a Christmas Count in Missouri. It's a bird that's normally found in the extreme southeast and southwestern US and coastal Mexico. Records show that the species has never been recorded in St. Charles County. Thanks to Josh Uffman for making this information available online.

Our little dove--smallest in the US; half the length of the abundant Mourning Dove--was very kind to us, considering all the factors. It had been dallying in the fields of Busch for weeks, putting up with hunters and as well as unruly birders. It was our target bird, but rabbit hunters with their noisy beagles caused it to lie low. Fortunately, some of the group were very patient, including Bob Nieman who snapped this picture just as the sun set. Bob was visiting the area for the holidays--thanks for your help in making this a memorable count!

On my route, I was delighted to witness a  behavior I'd never seen before. I paused along the road where fields gave way to forest. American Robins and Cedar Waxwings crossed back and forth, feeding on and the waxy blue berries (really cones) of Eastern Red Cedar and the abundant red berries of invasive bush honeysuckle. Amidst the busy, noisy robins, two sleek waxwings rested on a branch. One passed a berry to the other's beak, who then passed it back. They did this for several minutes. Male and female Cedar Waxwings look identical, but the two were probably a pair engaged in courtship behavior (A Guide to Bird Behavior, Vol. II, by Don and Lillian Stokes, 1983).