Sunday, March 2, 2014

Weldon Spring MO Christmas Bird Count 2014

Eastern Phoebe, photo by John Benson, from Wikipedia

Thanks to all who helped with the Weldon Spring Christmas Bird Count, Jan. 4, 2014! We had 18 participants, 63 species, 8774 birds, and some really decent weather for the season. The Weldon Spring Count (also known as the "Busch count," officially labeled by National Audubon Society as "MOWS") has been held every year since 1952, sponsored by Webster Groves Nature Study Society. The count, like all Christmas Counts, is held between Dec. 14, 2013, and Jan. 4, 2014, and covers a 15-mile-diameter circle. In our case, the circle is centered on the town of Weldon Spring in St. Charles County, Missouri. It includes some of the best land-birding in the greater St. Louis area: Busch Memorial Conservation Area and, bordering the Missouri River,  Weldon Spring Conservation Area.

Only one species had an unusually high count this year: Red-shouldered Hawks totaled 22, topping the previous high of 18 in 2008. Out of 62 counts, Red-shouldered Hawk has occurred only 28 times.

Several species were unusually low. Only 2 Red-headed Woodpeckers were reported. The previous low was 1 in 1964, occurring 51 out of the 62 counts. Red-headed Woodpecker is a "species of concern;" one of 117 species on the "yellow list" in the 2007 WatchList. Only 1 Ruby-crown Kinglet was reported—previous low of 1 in 2012. Only 2 Cedar Waxwings and 2 Purple Finches were seen. The low for Purple Finch was a single bird in 2012. The House Sparrow count was also low—only 6. (Most of us feel that’s a good thing.) The all-time low for House Sparrow on our count was 5 in 2007.

A highlights for me were Hermit Thrush and Fox Sparrow, found along a seldom-used road in the north-east section of Busch. Another Hermit Thrush was found in Babler State Park. Hermit Thrushes are listed as "rare" in winter, and although the Fox Sparrow is considered "uncommon," but not rare, I've missed it a number of times on the count.

Our rock star was an Eastern Phoebe, found independently in the Weldon Spring area by two different groups. This is only the third occurrence out of 62 counts—one in 1986, one in 2005. Birds of the St. Louis Area: Where and When to Find Them describes the Eastern Phoebe as "hardiest of the flycatchers" on our area. The complete report is available to download at the bottom of the Birding page of the Webster Groves Nature Study Society's website. Happy birding in 2014!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Birding Legend, Bill Rudden

Bill Rudden at Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary  Photo by Al Smith, used with permission

"Bird watcher"--even today, for many people, the image of Miss Jane Hathaway leaps to mind. When Bill's hobby shifted from hunting to bird watching, stereotypes tumbled. Bill was a firefighter for the city of St. Louis, Missouri (retired as a captain), and an athlete. As recently as 2007, he competed in IronMan triathlons. I was shocked and saddened when I heard of his death on June 30, 2013, by way of a comment on this blog.

Bill is a legend in the St. Louis birding community for his role in finding what Birds of the St. Louis Area calls, "the most famous bird to visit St. Louis" in 1984. Bill was birding along the Mississippi River near the Alton Dam on a miserably cold December day and spotted a large gull with a dark mantle. He alerted other birders, including birding experts Phoebe Snetsinger and Ron Goetz, and together they identified it as a Slaty-backed Gull--according to  Birds of the St. Louis Area, "the first known occurrence of this Siberian/Alaskan species in the lower 48 United States (113)."

Bill gets a nod in Olivia Gentile's biography of Phoebe Snetsinger, Life List: A Woman's Quest for the World's Most Amazing Birds (89-90). A long-time member of Webster Groves Nature Study Society (WGNSS), he often birded with Phoebe. According to Life List, in 1978, Snetsinger decided to try to break the record for the greatest number of bird species seen in a year in the St. Louis area. She enlisted Bill's help, and succeeded in listing more than 274 for the year.

Bill led the WGNSS field trips on Saturdays for a number of years in the 1980s and was well-known in the St. Louis birding community. His sense of fun was as legendary as his mad birding skills. The first time I met Bill was about 1991. That year, the WGNSS annual banquet was held at one of St. Louis' premier birding spots, Tower Grove Park. A few of us gathered before the event to enjoy some spring birding in the northwest section of the park. Big Day was only two days away, so when we ran into Bill,  members of the group peppered him with questions about his latest sightings.  (Big Day: birding jargon for a competition for the greatest number of bird species seen within a single day.) Referring to his own Big Day plans, he told us, "Oh yeah, my team's parachuting in at midnight."

As a birder, you've got to know your birds, and it helps to know your birders too. I recall a trip to Riverlands, hearing someone say, "Wait--isn't that Rudden over there? What's he lookin' at?" The whole bunch folded their scopes and scurried over to hear what Bill had to say. He was always generous with his news, ID tips, and wisecracks. He was active on the MoBirds listserve, sharing photos as well as reports. His last post on the list reads, "5-30-13 Horseshoe Lake SP Madison county IL. Mostly cormorants were loafing on a snag.  Main lake off old dredge point."

I hope more folks will share their tales about Bill and other birders. If you're unfamiliar with blogs, just click the word "comments" below to read other's comments and leave your own. There's no need to sign in.

How to comment on a blog

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!
You might also like:
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.