Friday, June 17, 2011

2011-06-17 New eBird - much nicer - a common-man review

2011-06-17 New eBird - much nicer

A couple of days ago I entered eBird to submit a new bird report and found the submittal page had changed. I knew eBird had a beta test going on, and wondered if maybe because I was a subscriber to eBird Tech Talk (a really cool idea of behind-the-scenes action) thay had pushed it on me for trial. I posted a note on the Michigan Birders list that included the question. Only one birder responded. (Thanks Sarah!) Sarah told me that the new eBird data entry had indeed gone live! She agreed that she liked it better.

I am writing now about a great new feature. When you go into "Submit my observations", on the right side you are allowed to select how to present the species list. The default is the new version of the old form. The new version is much cleaner and much easier to use in itself. It much more readily allows scrolling to visually identify the group in which the search object might appear. I had gotten used to the old form and generally had an idea of what bird group preceeded what group. The same order is maintained.  Lacking any specific info, I have always assumed it might be partially related to the evolutionary emergence of bird groups. In my case looking for a bird to record, I postulated jays are more ancient that warblers and sparrows, and that doves predeeded both of these groups. Heck, it is my blog, and this is what the eBird organization of groups told me. I would be interested to hear from ornithologists on this...

There are many other enhancements - like in the area of allowing direct species searches - but I really like playing with my quasi-phylogenetic idea right now and just want to know who is before whom.

The really cool thing (!) today is that there is an option on the right side to request the presented list to "Group by Most Likely". An underlying algorithm analyzes your most recent bird submittals, and presents these at the top of the entry page.

WOW! As a faithful procrastinator, I had finally decided to catch up on adding my daily feeders records to eBird. It was a New Year's resolution of mine to keep up with it ... so be it.

Anyway, I added the last two weeks of April, and then wondered about the new grouping thing. Couldn't hurt. WOW! The "Group by Most Likely" put all of my recent records at the top of the submittal screen. Instead of scrolling up and down all over, the most likely were all in one place. This is fantastic for birders mostly recording feeder activity. It is especially fantastic for procrastinators! I can enter a stack of feeder observations over many days (weeks...) without scrolling hardly at all. Yes, I can enter an infrequent visitor easily, but for the main part, I get about the same "dirty dozen" (or so) visiting my feeders day to day.

I already dropped in the first two weeks of May, and had to pause to write this note. I love it! Procrastination actually works sometimes.

Yes, you have to uncheck the box to see the normal entry list (phylogenetic order???) for reporting, but if the majority of your sightings are in the same area it is a blessing.

Here is a pic of the top of the entry screen I see now. Note the "Group by Most Likely" box is checked.

The list goes on to include the rest of birds in Michigan, but I really had to move away from the top only once. Cinchy! These are my normal guys. I already printed off the list so now I can just add numbers and notes daily without writing down my shorthand for each bird's name. (Pretty cool in itself!)

Another really cool feature of the new eBird is that when you enter a number for some species, you are immediately given an option to enter more data. In "the old days", you had to enter quantity data for all species, then you went to a second screen (but only if you had selected "enter more data" on the initial entry screen) to add sex/species comments/etc. info. As a "long-hand" recorder it forced me to go thru my list twice. This is so much easier. Caveat: Yet, for now, this feature is slow in response ... albeit bearable from the "old days" when I might have decided entering additional information was boring. OK, yes, my computer is "small" in RAM memory (2 gB), but I imagine many people have much smaller boxes. Newer computers might not experience the same problems.

Here is a pic of the "Group by Most Likely" with expanded options for additional data:
After you enter all your data, you get a page that said you did it successfully. It also gives you options for sharing. I successfully emailed myself the results. I also shared a recent list from Wetzel when we birded with Janet Hug, and she successfully added it to her eBird account.  Janet also successfully shared the Facebook link to our trip by clicking the button.

So far, it has not worked for me to share on FB directly as my FB status after I submitted my data. Maybe I just do not understand. Everything else works fine, and I have email anyway!

Successful submittal page:

Not a bad "ramble" for a day's work! We have a great new tool available!

Go bird. Try the new eBird!

- "Dr. Bob"

2011-06-15 Wetzel SRA (Macomb County), Michigan

2011-06-15 Wetzel SRA (Macomb County), Michigan
I will probably put more words and pics here later, or at least add other pics to my PBase site. I got lots!

Judy and I had the great fortune to bird with Janet Hug today at Wetzel SRA. We had only met her once before - at Kensington MetroPark - serendipity! - but we have been Facebook friends for a long time. Janet is a really great photographer - especially for birds.

We slowly birded for about 2 1/2 hours and walked a mile and a half (per Judy's inseparable pedometer).

I was really proud to able to put Janet on her first Bobolink of the year. Other birders have done that for me ("do you have a whazzit?") on many occasions, but this was my first time leading the way. Better yet, the Bobolink came with a matched pair - even I got great pics of both the posing male and the much harder female! The male kept up antics - including overhead aerial when a nest is nearby - to draw attention away from the family. Once we figured out we were near the nest location, we shot a few pics and left them to their normal activities.

Singing male Bobolink
Janet's pics will be much better. I just felt really proud I could put her on the exact spot for the Bobolinks (must be the name - smile...) she needed this year.

In addition, Janet had brought her iPod, so when we saw a brief glimpse of a dinky bird at the edge of the pond, she could play and verify the lovely song of her lifer Marsh Wren we were hearing. High fives! What a lovely gurgling wren song! Lacking Aaron Copeland, anyone have ideas of an extant classical music composer to whom to suggest the song as an adapted inclusion in a musical score?

My "lifer" companion, photo-biographer, and general love of my life - Judy - took a pic of Janet and me at the start of our walk.

Judy took another on the trails. It is fantastic that DNR keeps the main trails mowed but does not mess with the natural habitat! In my experience locally, Wetzel is truly unique! We are in the Savannah Sparrow habitat. Bobolinks are just "aways down the road". You might notice the fact Janet has her pant legs tucked into her socks. We do as well. Our normal protocol at Wetzel is to "tuck and spray" lower extremities with DEET as a tick barrier. It is not a big deal, but it is easy and helps.

The Bobolinks were in the same area as last week , but a different specific location. It leads me to suspect that there at least two breeding pairs there this year. We started at "6", and the Bobolinks were at "3".  Round trip was 1.5 miles. Last week they were between "3" and "4".

We were lucky enough to get pics of both the posing male, and the feeding female. We watched the female with bug in mouth - probably a dragonfly - checking out several locations before heading back to the nest. My guess is that she wanted something for everyone.  On many occasions I have seen my "deck birds" stuff their cheeks before leaving. Maybe a big family is why? I suspect Momma Bobolink was just trying to make sure everyone would get something. She tried (bug in mouth) in at least 4 spots before heading to the nest. Fascinating! I think if I ever wanted to take home a dragonfly for the kids, I would take one first, and then go back out for more for the others. On the other hand, I am not sure what I would do faced with gaping mouths and no knife or ability to wield one to slice my catch. Certainly I would not want to give my kids the impression of playing favorites!  "Sorry 'Bobeeta', 'Junior' eats first!"  Well there were plenty of d'flies, so I am sure "every-bob" got fed! :)

Female Bobolink with d'fly food for kids
The most abundant bird was the Savannah Sparrow. We must have seen at least two dozen, and were quite amazed at the morphological variations we observed.

- insert Savannah pics -

Oh! Not to forget other "flappy things". Lots of dragonflies and many butterfly species. I think dragonflies must be the preferred food of the blackbird family - which includes Bobolinks  - who would have thought about birds eating dragonflies?  OK, I can see the resemblance between Bobolinks and RWBB. Learning am I!

I well remember watching a dragonfly last year at Holland Ponds and waiting for it to land so I could get a pic, when a female Red-winged Blackbird caught it in the air and took off. I wonder about the "ode guys"  (dragonfly catchers) with big nets trying to catch dragonflies when a bird with essentially tweezers (i.e., bill) can catch them in mid-air. Now THAT would be a pic! I can just imagine a cartoon of good buddy Darrin O'Brien chasing "odes" with tweezers. Ha!

OK, Darrin, here are a few for you to ID for me. I am calling them all "clearwing dragons" because I can see right thru the wings. For communication reference I named them all myself. I'll update after you have a look.

Note: I just updated the photos with the right names per Darrin's IDs - Thanks Darrin! Not a true "Clearwing" in the bunch - so much for my naming efforts... I must have been thinking about the Hummingbird Clearwing I shot on the next trip - but that was a butterfly ... OK, now I can see it - or see thru it as the case may be - clear wings are rare in b'flies, but too common in d'flies to mean anything. Interesting!

Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) - I called it Yellow-striped abdomen clearwing
Common Whitetail (Libellula lydia) - I called it Rocky Clearwing 
Per my reference, this  looks like an immature male. Interesting that I thought it was a totally different species than the abundant bulky white-tailed things that are so common there.

Dot-tailed Whiteface (Leucorrhinia intacta) - I called it Yellow-butt-dot Clearwing

We had a wonderful day, and can't wait to bird with Janet again. Great fun! Not only that, but she again showed me a new trick with my camera. I actually read my camera booklet, but never knew what some things meant in practice. I have been too complacent just getting a pic to possibly adjust to get a better pic - and obviously need help. (Thanks Janet! My Clay-colored Sparrow pics a couple days later benefited greatly!)
Wetzel is an amazingly unspoiled natural place so relatively near us. I highly recommend any local birders to visit the Wetzel  "Friends"  website, and if you are a Facebook user, to "Like" them (link on the referenced page). Community support for such unspoiled places is essential to guarantee perpetuity - especially in these hard economic times.

We anticipate birding with Janet again soon.

What fun!!!

Note: Rob Golda (Hiking Michigan) made a great map for Wetzel SRA. Another fantastic addition to Wetzel was the recent posting of trail maps by the Michigan DNR (per my photo above) on posts at trail branches so you can see where your are and where you might want to travel. We really appreciated these - thanks DNR!!! Between Rob's map and the DNR signposts, it is really easy to navigate! Check it out!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Michigan Prothonotary Warblers and Great-Crested Flycatchers!

2011-06-03 West Bloomfield Birding - OC Nesting Prothonotary Warblers

Following postings of Oakland County Prothonotary Warblers on the Southeast Michigan Birders list, our friend and mentor Ed Lewandowski called us up and asked if we wanted to bird with him. He knew it was perfect "Setzer birding" - that is: it was local, nice weather was predicted, a rest facility was available if needed, and there was a decent chance of seeing new birds. Ed knows us well. Sure; yes, yes, yes! What a great teacher and mentor. Thanks again Ed!

I also offer many thanks to Leslie, Kathy, and Mike for pin-pointing the location and increasingly accurate directions on the "Michigan Birders list" and for "firing Ed up"!

First to set the stage:

Last night Judy and I were walking/birding around Streamwood. Birding was not great - too many leaves! After awhile, we just really enjoyed sitting on our neighbors' deck and chatting awhile while watching the forest. We told Gary and Linda we were going out tomorrow with a friend to see a Prothonotary Warbler. (Geez. This does not look like much in print - but just try saying Pro-tho-no-tary Warbler (wrong!) or Pro-THON-o-tary Warbler (correct). And say it in mixed company. Well, anyway, off goes Linda - bending her recently hurting neck looking at imaginary birds in the forest behind her home! Fun!

It was very significant to me! I realized that with a straight face I had said something that was always very strange sounding thing to me before, and a source of humor. I spoke the names of fanciful - yet real - birds. I realized that I now must have fallen into the very strange - almost sci-fi - world of being a "birder"! I talked some "weird talk". Whew! Am I "are one" now? Guess so ...

So back to the story.

Not only did we get the advertised Prothonotary Warbler, but we saw (and I photographed!) a pair together. And we saw their nest hole. Yes! They are nesting in Oakland County! We had seen them at Magee Marsh (Ohio) last year and also this year and marveled at their beauty, but this was a Michigan lifer. I think it was also one for Ed - certainly an Oakland County lifer! Whee!

Not only a Prothonotory Warblet (amazing in itself), but a great pic!!

A pair of the most fantastic warblers. In love  - in Michgan!

Prothonotary Warbler eats blue dragonfly

Not only the pair of Prothonotary Warblers, but also a Great Crested Flycatcher talked to us incessently and posed for pics! This was only the second time I saw one, and the first time I had really good looks. Great indeed!

There were lots of other birds as well, including a Hairy Woodpecker feeding young in another dead tree. Alas, it was too far away for pics, but we could see a small head occasionally pop out of the hole.

In addition to birds, we saw a snapping turtle on the path, many butterflies, and more species of dragonflies (bird food) than we have ever seen at one place before.

Incessant talker!

OK - just an amazing shot of a Great Crested Flycatcher in flight!

Geez! What deck talk this will make!!! (Yes, I think "I are one" - a birder ...). Makes for interesting - albeit bizarre - conversations with regular folks. Thanks Linda for understanding, and being so knowledgeable as to put on a great charade to exemplify what birders must look like! I do hope your neck is OK! Fun! And, it was all true.

Then we went to Drayton Plains to see Mike Mencotti's Common Moorhen (more good deck talk,and another local lifer), but without location specifics and with the flightieness of birds, we "dipped" = birder talk for we missed it. We walked the whole circuit around the ponds there. From its distinctive song, I added a Common Yellowthroat to my OC life list.

I plan to drop a bunch more pics on this blog (or more likely on my PBase site) later, but for now just want to get the initial story "out there". Ed has always been our "lucky charm" for local lifers, and indeed we seem to do likewise for him. Fantastic day!

Go to the West Bloomfield Woods Nature Preserve and Trail Network. This is off Arrowhead Road just south of Pontiac Trail. We parked in the main lot and walked across Arrowhead to a newly opened gravel trail on the bed of the former Grand Trunk Railroad.  As Leslie and Mike had indicated, the Prothonotaries were about a couple hundred yards down the trail. Ed was surprised to see that a formerly closed area was now open for hikers/bikers and birders. I was personally amazed that I found an alternative to our beloved Holland Ponds, and that it seems to have far more diversity and potential than Holland. Great day indeed! It will also be fun on return visits to explore the park itself.

Most Michiganders have no idea what it is like to live without easy access to public lands within a suburban environment (...says the guy from California ...). "Backyard birding". Magee Marsh may concentrate migrating birds, and the Prothonotary Warblers are often the birds people remember best, but they are nesting right here in Oakland County! Go local!

Thanks Ed!!! And thanks all for the inspiration and references from the list that started this fantastic day!!

Go Bird! Go local!
- "Dr, Bob"

Friday, June 3, 2011

May 2011 Ohio Trip

2011-May 08-09 Northwest Ohio - Magee Marsh and Metzger Marsh

This was the most amazing ever trip to the area. We actually went during "The Biggest Week in America Birding". Despite the crowds we avoided last year - we hate crowds - we really benefitted greatly from the combined talent of local and international guides as well as the expertise of "just regular" birders.  Next year we will again go during the most crowded week. Wherever and whenever else can you harness the expertise of so many birders at one time.

I have hundreds of pics to process before I fill out this blog, but needed to drop it in now as a "placeholder" ... Stay tuned ...