Saturday, March 16, 2013

Oh, e-, please tell me (At what level do I record birds for eBird?)

I am up to date for my eBird records for this year! Well, at least I think so ... I do have lots of 3x5 cards on my desk and may find more reports.

Tonight I faced a familiar dilemma while entering data for a local place.At what level do I  want to enter data?

When I first started entering eBird data, I tried to be as specific as possible. For large areas with diverse habitats, I knew there was a huge difference between Nature Centers with bird feeders and the ducks on the lakes in the same park. Hey, even as a new birder, I could figure this out ... :)

I initially thought about how the data might be used, and as a person who previously ran biological surveys (albeit in the marine environment), I tried to go with the more specific.I made lots of personal sites.

As I learned more about the workings of eBird, I saw many more  "Hotspots" start emerging. I wanted my data to be included. I was pleased that a few of my suggestions as Hotspots were accepted for eBird (Thanks eBird - I do not suggest hotspots lightly...). And so it (i.e., the family of Hotspots) grows. ;)

Anyway, I started recording data more into Hotspots than the more specific personal locations I had previously used. Heck, I am not doing surveys, and get my birds into the right area. I am positive that on the national level of eBird, it matters little. I learned how to merge my past location data (yes, I still need to do more merges) into Hotspots.

It matters not at all from a "listing" point of view. My birds are recorded. I can see my records anytime I want! And, it does not matter from a county review, or the "top one hundred", or basically any eBird slice of data. I feel great that I am making a valuable contribution to national (and now international) bird distributions! Cool!!! Most of my records are birds I see on my deck each morning over coffee, and even those records are valuable. After a couple years of recording data, I now really get to see when birds appear and leave my deck. It has been fun recently to see the winter/spring border of arrivals here and comparing them with past records - and I can see my reports over time without going back to my journals!!!  Cool!

YET .. something is missing!

By "taking the easy route" for most sites, I have lost data (no - not really, most of the data are still in my journals - which BTW probably no one will ever see... not that it matters on a grand scale...)

Tonight I entered all my deck birds for the last two weeks (up to date!), then went on to record birds Judy and I saw at Belle Isle (BI), Wayne County, Michigan  last week and other places. I discovered a Hotspot that I think was not there when I first started recordng BI birds. I had a personal site called Belle Isle Nature Center. I found an eBird Hotspot at the same place called Belle Isle Nature Zoo (actually a more correct name because the Nature Center (NC) there is really an extension of the Detroit Zoo - they have Steve - a horny special deer - and his gals in an outside enclosure ... except when Steve is too frisky...). I merged my site with the Hotspot.

OK. But I had given up thru lazieness separating my bird data between the Nature Zoo and the remainder of Belle Isle (main Hotspot). It is so much easier to record Belle Isle for everything! It bugged me because of the huge difference between we see there at the feeders and what we see on the rest of the island. The difference is especially huge in winter!

Again I doubt it means little to national eBird data. Yet I know a great birder, Allen Chartier, has been studying birds on Belle Isle for several years and has extremely refined data. Allens's recent BI checklist on eBird can be seen at:

And I also think about the the fact the Nature Zoo folks probably would love to have data to justify their existance (and probably also the cost of bird seed) and the eBird records would be invaluable for this.

Far beyond the present example, I have always been bothered that the local Metro Parks show up in eBird as Hotspots; for example, Stoney Creek Metro Park - Oakland County or Stoney Creek Metro Park - Macomb County. I guess at Stoney Creek, I can see the smaller chunk of Oakland County as one Hotspot. Fine. You are either looking at the lake itself or walking the trails at West Branch, and the areas are very close and you can guess at where the bird (aquatic vs. forest) was seen.

The problem remains with the much larger Macomb County part of Stoney Creek that includes the Nature Center with feeders. I do not know if anyone is doing surveys there, but if I worked at the Nature Center, I would certainly love to have records of birds seen in my immediate area of responsibility!

Similarly, Kensington Metro Park. Most of the park is in Oakland County. The smaller piece in Livingston County is basically watching birds from the boardwalk or taking a hike around the smaller lake. OK.  Fine. Yet, the Nature Center is in Oakland County - an area with quite diverse habitats!  The Nature Center with its trails (where people can place seeds in their hands and have birds feed - WOW!)  is a very special place indeed!

Oh! Dilemma!

Why should I care? Heck, the same thing exists at Streamwood Estates (where I live). We have a wonderful fairly long stretch along the Clinton River, but especially in winter, a walk along the river yields few birds except near areas where neighbors have feeders. Makes sense to me... I would much rather hang out near a fast food place in winter! I record my deck (feeder) birds separately from my river walks. And my site (combined = eBird "yard") is not anywhere as large as the afore-mentioned parks. Well, I guess this area is my survey site and it matters.

But the question I propose (Hey did you think this was just a "ramble" without a question?) is:

At what level of detail do we want to record eBird sightings? For the referenced cases, I guess I would like to think someone cares about the difference between nature center feeders and what birds are sighted "in the wilds". One solution is to have hotspots for NC areas, then label the remainder of the larger (eg., park/county) area as - for example, "Belle Isle except Nature Zoo"; "Stoney Creek Macomb County except Nature Center", and so on. Using eBird, it is easy to create a "patch" or "yard" that includes multiple sites, so if you wanted to see all  Belle Isle Birds, or all Stoney Creek Metro Park birds, you just select and include them as part of the yard or patch!

I also think of Pte Mouillee (again with diverse habitats in a major area) as a candidate for more specificity (and I do see more hotspots there now than before...).

What do y'all think?

Thanks for reading my "ramble"!!! And - do please use eBird! It makes it easy to record your sightings and see your "life list" and offers an amazing variety of ways to "cut your data".

- "Dr. Bob"

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Great Blue Heron hike on March 23 at Holland Ponds

Good friend Rob Golda just put out a Hiking Michigan (HM) note about a hike on March 23 (12:00 -3:00 pm) to see Great Blue Herons (GBH) nesting at Holland Ponds.

Please check out the imbedded links in the following URL:

You will see (and be able to click on and print) a flyer about the hike and a great map of the area – Holland Ponds, Shelby Twp, Macomb County. (I helped a bit on the map awhile back, but as always Rob’s maps are just fantastic and I suggested only a few changes!)

Even if you do not make this easy hike, be sure to see the area this year while the herons are still there. No one knows what effect the proposed (basically already a done deal) bike path thru the area might have. I suspect it might be fine – as long as the bikers stay on the main road and not go “mountain biking” on the trail near the rookery. And, yes, I love the bike paths of Michigan – a leading state for these – just keep them away from special areas!
In addition, Rob posted earlier (he continually surveys the rookery) that one of the main trees in the closest rookery fell over this year taking 6 nests with it. It is just a fact of nature … silly baby herons do not leave the nest to go to the bathroom somewhere else (and what baby kid does …) and heron excrement builds up, and droppings weaken and kill trees, and winter takes its toll, and so on … Yes, nature is always a learning experience for me…

I suspect the rear rookery will build up, but it is much harder to view, and even harder to photograph the birds.
The GBH are back already. If you go thru the whole season with them, you can see them bringing sticks and nest building; raising young; feeding the kids; teenagers leaving home. So cool! It is always an incredible experience!
Rob has followed this for years - go thru the links at HM.
Holland Ponds has always been a special place for Judy and me ever since Jan Olesen (now retired and living in Florida) told us about it the first year we began birding and joined the se-Mich birders list. Wow! What a place! Long-legged wading birds nesting in tree tops – who would have thought they do that?! Amazing! On our first visit, by chance, we met Rob Golda photographing the GBH, and Rob has been an inspiration to us ever since!
Just “rambling”, but I highly recommend a visit to Holland Ponds this year to see the herons – and if you can make the scheduled hike, you will surely learn about far more than the herons. In the past, Dan Farmer from Shadbush Nature Center (Shelby Twp) has helped lead this hike. He is an expert naturalist in almost everything at Holland Ponds – I hope he will be there this year, but I have not heard anything yet.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Mystery "punker bird" and pig-walking

Geez! The winter birds are still around and the Red-winged Blackbirds are back! In a week, I shot so many memories! I am working on some tonight.

But here tonight I only start with a trip to the DNR launch site (Harley Ensign) at the end of South River Road in Macomb County last week. I told my Facebook friends we saw a lovely woman walking a pig and some suggested they needed proof. :) I post a few pics here. I will drop the URL to FB friends. And, no, I sadly did not see the Gyrfalcon reported there earlier...

Before the pig-walker, I saw a very strange bird that I need help to identify! I called it a "punker duck". See below ...

So, FB friends, here is the lovely gal walking her pig on a bright sunny day in the mid-40s.Yes really!!!

Judy and I saw them from afar, and wondered. Weird dog? No - a pig!

Cute gal! Cute pig!

Judy just had to pet it! She started at the head end. "What is the pig's name"? "Dino"  - "my boyfriend thought it was a good Italian name".

By the time Judy got to the other end ... pig tail! Huh?

Note: in my recollections of the incident, I thought a pig probably would not have been much protection for a pretty girl walking in an area away from much traffic.Then, I remembered she was accompanied by her mother with a massive pit bull on a leash. And, the pit bull seemed to not like my appearance. Whew! I love leashed dogs!!!  (Note:...if you are a pretty girl and take your pig for a walk, be sure to take a pit bull mother and her pit bull dog along...! At one point the mother had to remind the dog "it's only Dino...") Whew!

Before that encounter, I had gone before Judy along the trail on the other side of the peninsula, shooting a weird new duck. I ask all of my birder friends to help with an ID - please.

I am thinking a female Common Goldeneye with a deformed bill? It was solitary. It is really strange! I called it a "punker duck" as I thought about some of the FB things people post of young adults (and some not so young) with bizarre disfigurations. As I see it, it looks like something triggered the genes of the bill to go crazy (i.e., cancer?) and make a horny (no - not horney) substance grow from the lower mandible. Bizarre!  
But, birders, check out the yellow on bill. Possibly a hybrid with Barrow's Goldeneye? There are no pics in the guides to help me here. I need your experience! Thanks!!!

I do have a few more pics, but the silly bird always kept moving away. I suspect it is just a deformation - but of which species???

Anyway, it was a great day to be "out and about"! Certainly the first time I shot a "punker duck" and a pretty lady walking her pig!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

New yard bird - Sandhill Cranes. And the GBH are back at Holland Ponds!

Yesterday I was really lucky to see a new yard bird flying over my yard as I went to the door to take my daily pic of the yard. Three Sandhill Cranes flew over. They came from the southwest, and over the Clinton River behind our yard, they turned north. Maybe they were heading for Seven Ponds? Wow! What are they? Large graceful out-stretched birds with long deep breast strokes. Not believing my eyes I checked four bird books – no doubt! Cool! A new record here!

BTW, I try to take daily pics of the yard with my older Kodak hoping to someday make a video of the changing seasons I see. Sadly even with camera in hand, I could not zoom and focus fast enough to shoot the cranes. Geez! If I had not chosen THAT moment for the daily pic, I would have totally missed them!

Today I received a post from Hiking Michigan that said some Great Blue Herons are back at the Holland Ponds rookery:

Here is a pic I took previously (2009) - much later in the season. What a "trip" to see huge wading birds nesting in tree tops! This pic has a bunch of hungry kids looking for "take out" food from parents!

Great Blue Herons nesting at Holland Ponds
 Sadly the HM post noted that one of the trees in the closest rookery (where we shoot most of our pics) fell over during the winter taking 6 nests with it. Yet, it sounds like the far rookery (and I add quite far from the proposed new bike path) seems healthy. For us it means we cannot shoot pics. You will need a scope or a long lens. But as of last year, the far rookery was quite visible from the bench farther down the rookery path.

Note, the path continuing beyond the main rookery gets quite muddy, so it is better to walk down the "main road" to Waterfowl Pond, go left and backtrack on the middle road, and take the "first right" into the forest; then in the forest, take another right. There used to be another sign to the rookeries there but vandals trashed it ...

A report of the 2012 GBH nesting is at:

A previous video (2010) of the herons is at:

Indeed think Spring! Not only RWBB, but also the big birds!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Avian philately - just make your mail pretty!

I was just playing around tonight with the newest Philatelic Catalog from the US Postal Service. (If you cruise the catalog you will find details for the stamps I show below).

As a reforming (I used to do it a lot, but not so much any more ...) philatelist (shhh! ... look it up, it is not as dirty as it sounds ...), I always love this catalog. And, yes, I admit I do look at the pictures!

I found a wonderful new set of stamps I want to share. SO cool! They are for the 3 ounce domestic rate, and now they need an extra 1 cent stamp with them for that rate, but they are gorgeous! You could just buy them and frame them!   
Birds of Prey stamps
Yes, I wish these were regular letter rate and I could use them on all my letters, but I offer that you  can do as I do, and use a combination of stamps to make up the cost of any package you might mail by USPS. It sure makes a decorative package for the recipient! If they are stamp collectors, often the stamps mean as much as the contents! Oh, the artsy packages I have sent! Geez, at $5 or more to send a priority mail package, you can put lots of cool stamps on the package! Buy them in advance because your local PO may not have them, but take them with you to the PO when you mail a package and stick them on after they tell you how much! Fun! Meaningful!

Here is another lovely more recent one for the 3 oz rate (no additional postage necessary at the moment ...).
This FDC has a great digital postmark! Cute! I love the fish hanging off the mouth!

 I found a couple of birdy new envelopes as well. They come in popular letter sizes. They are pre-stamped, so all you have to do is write a note, insert, and mail. These are good because they are "forever" rate - no matter the future increases, they will still work. The pics here are of "First Day Covers" (FDC). When a stamp is first released, there is one post office designated as the official spot, and usually there is a ceremony there commemorating the event. It is fun to see why they chose that particular city for the issue! Only they can only use this special cancel, and only on that first day. The envelopes you can buy/use are blank except for the stamp.
Bank Swallow
Purple Martin
 I also discovered a great new series of state flags. I have a couple of sets of previous ones (much cheaper in those days ...) that I just love. It is interesting to see that many states treasure their birds (depicted on the current stamps) as part of their heritage and "draw" to their state!. Here are examples (do not look too hard, that is the best resolution I could get - yet interesting ...):

 There are other current USPS stamps that you can buy, but cannot use. For example the non-profit Art Deco one I am sure most of you know:
Art Deco Bird
And a new pre-sorted one I hope the bulk mailers will start using soon:
Spectrum Eagle
It would be fun to try to collect this set!

Yes, that word - collect - really tells a lot about why I am a birder - I think. I was a stamp collector since childhood. I learned almost all my world geography thru deciphering wierd writing and looking up the weird-named countries I learned about from the stamp packages that I bought with "kid money" (allowance) at the stamp stores that used to exist then. I think the same fascination with learning by collecting manifested itself through my life - stamps, coins, seaweeds (my first real occupation - phycologist), books - always books. For awhile it was launch and landing postmarks for Space Shuttle flights (second occupation). After I came to Michigan, it was "collect" and release bass (tournament) fishing (collecting trophies along the way ...); then a fossil collecting phase (Geez! Michigan was a coral reef so long ago!); photos of the "lakers"and "salties" of water-borne commerce that made Michigan the industrial hub of the USA and which still ply our waters; and now birds! This recent phase all started with "collecting" photos of birds and wondering their names.  Fortunately I found a great home and support group with birders!!! Will learning ever end? Not for me...! But I suspect "collecting" birds (now thru binocs and camera and recording in eBird) will persist forever. Fun!

Once you start collecting bird stamps, you might go further and collect more birdie things on stamps. Here are some current stamps of weather vanes:

And this far I only spoke about US stamps. There are many countries around the world that exist financially by issuing stamps for almost everything, and there are great birds on stamps. Beautiful - but what of lasting value? I do not know. But I offer that at least by collecting US stamps, you can always use them for postage. Sadly it might take larger envelopes just to hold the affixed lower-value stamps to make the rate in effect in the future, but they will still work ... another story I will not write now.

And, you even can now make your own official stamps at different sites by using your own photos. So far,  I have only used these twice to make pics of Judy and myself (yes, they work!), but certainly you could make a birdie stamp from your own pic! (Hey! If you do, I want one!!! This might be a fun group to set up! Like a birdie "penpal thing"!)

If you want "real collectibles", I suggest state and national Duck Hunting stamps (early ones are worth thousands!) and current state wildlife stamps and Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation stamps ("Federal Duck Stamps"). See Conservation Initiatives for the Biggest Week in American Birding for details. Note that I can add this as an official blogger for the biggest week. You are going to be there anyway, so order when you register on the web or during the Biggest Week (May 3-12, 2013)

Read the full story there, but basically for every dollar you spend on Federal Duck Stamps, ninety-eight cents goes directly to purchase vital habitat for protection in the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Maybe like me, you sometimes think about duck hunting as a negative, but I assure you that at present, it is primarily the hunters and fishermen who really support bird habitat thru their license fees and political clout! I do think birders are becoming more recognized as a huge economic engine in some economies (like in Ohio thru the efforts of Magee Marsh, BSBO, and Ottawa NWR), but in most places birders have little political impact on regional and state policies. This MUST change. Energize. Make our presence known!

Oh, I really miss "mail"!!! And I bet y'all do too. Yes, we daily still walk out to the mailbox hoping for something from friends, but we find bills and the circulars (that BTW pay most of the USPS costs now ...). Can you imagine getting a letter or package with birdie stamps on it? Wow! Memorable.

Now most of the time all we get are emails or Facebook posts (often from people we barely know). If we are really lucky it might be from someone like "Dr. Bob" (winking and smiling here ...) Well, I know a rewarding trip to the mailbox with letter in hand sure beats two (most) emails...
OK. Just "rambling" again. I suspect if I had the money, I would still be buying stamps and making a great collection of birdie stamps to enjoy. Yet, now I tend to buy stamps to mail and give a thrill to the recipient. Hey, I gotta send mail anyway, why not make it beautifully birdie?!
I include the following as proof that I had permission to use USPS images (Thanks USPS!).