Sunday, April 27, 2014

Missing at Magee Marsh last week

Judy and I went to Magee Marsh (NW Ohio) and surrounds last week on Thursday (4/24/2014) to see birds and also to help us rekindle our memories and plan our longest trip ever during The Biggest Week In American Birding.

We saw some good birds, but here my post is about what was missing. Interesting! I stress missing! Yes I know many folks are like us and hate crowds, and yes, we chose to not go during the first year we learned about the Biggest Week because we knew there would be many people there. But now we always want to be there right in the middle of the whole international amazing event! This was a  fun trip to catch "early birds" and plan what we wanted for our longer trip in a week.

I guarantee it will NOT look like this in a week or so! In fact, judging from more recent birder's posts on Facebook and list servers, I do not think it looks like this now ...

(Note that most pics are from my cell phone. A really cool device that takes pics for scale when a larger lens does not have a story to tell!)
Entrance to Magee Marsh boardwalk!
Guarantee it will not look like this in the next few days or weeks!
In fact, very rare that it looks like this ever!
From near the entrance to boardwalk looking at roped-off area by nesting eagle
(black dot in tree - and, yes, Momma was home)
Where IS everyone??? Is this "for real"? Our car - alone? At Magee Marsh?

Can you believe it? Early migration at Magee? 

There were few people there - less than a couple dozen. Yes, it was early, and yes, some folks like to come earlier to avoid crowds like we did our first year. And also some folks like to catch the early migrants. But we really missed many things that will happen during the Biggest Week!

Only one birder near the newly-refurbished tower area by the entrance.
Hey! Your donations really help!!!
We saw many areas where they were able to fix up the boardwalk because of donations!
Looking great in some areas, but we also saw some areas that need help.Keep donating, please!!!

For example:

1) We missed all the "eyes"! During the Biggest Week there are so many people who are watching a bird and share its exact location with everyone. We were basically on our own!

Judy is happy we are there!
And it is always nice to be out and about alone with her,
but where IS everyone??
2) We missed all the good birders who tell us the name of the bird we are looking at! Yes, in a way it is "cheating" - I sort of think I should have done it on my own by using the guidebooks - but if I took the time to try to look it up, the bird would be long gone! Far better to make notes and memories, and then to look it up later! Far better to have a name (I guess I am really compulsive about names ...) and have the time to really study its patterns and coloration, and take a few pics, and then to later compare my recollections and pics (assuming they turn out ...) with the half-dozen books I carry in the car.

3) We missed meeting so many friends in the same place at the same time! Many of our birding friends are Facebook friends, and many of them we have yet to meet. It is always more  fun to "bird" with our friends!

4) We missed counting license plates from so many states. It is amazing how many state plates we usually see there! Of less than a dozen cars in the Magee lot, we saw West Virginia and Georgia plates, and later met a couple from Maryland when we were dining at Blackberry Corners. Bring on the migrant plates! Fun!

5) We missed many bird species. Indeed we were a tad early for the "big show". But we got some great birds anyway!

6) We missed the "ears" to tell us what songs we were hearing. Actually I am not really good with bird songs, and being older,  I probably do not even hear many of them, but is fascinating that someone will say they heard a "whatever bird". What talent! Often I DO learn. It was great that just as I was hearing the sound I call a "jungle sound" (I knew I had learned that before but could not place it) that a birder was walking by, and when the bird "fired up" again he said it was a Northern Flicker. Yes, I knew I had heard that before - just need to recharge my ears each year. Thanks!

7 And, of course we missed all the scheduled activities of the Biggest Week like the walks and talks and trips and all the things that come with registration. Maybe these are the best learning opportunities of all! But, we are registered and ready to take full advantage of all the great stuff that starts in slightly more than a week. Many events are already fully reserved, but especially the great talks and seminars might still be available at registration at the conference center (internet registration is closed).


We saw some great birds and took a few of our best pics ever - especially of the very cooperative Prothonotary Warbler! (Well worth the trip itself!)

And, interestingly, we picked up our own copies of the Biggest Week Guide at the motel as we checked out. I knew we are among the first to get a "hard copy" because it was not there the day before! Cool! When you get there you can get your own FREE copy at many local establishments. I think that is SO welcoming that when you arrive at a lodging they have Biggest Week guides by the counter! Welcome indeed!!! Yes, the guide has been on the web in electronic form for awhile, and I would highly recommend you use the web version to help plan your trip, but having this lovely guide in hand is far better than on the electronic bush! Great job on the guide everyone!!!

(BTW, this humble blogger has a photo and reference to my blog on page 16 - an honor I do not take lightly!).

Happy with a first hard copy of  BWIAB Visitor's Guide!

Since you made it this far, I will reward you with a couple more pics. Thanks for reading!

Here's Judy at "Prothonotary Junction".  I call it that because this beautiful warbler had been hanging around there (Thanks to the cool birder who pointed it out to us and who had watched it for at least a half hour the day before!). The bird made many similarly long visits since - based on the blog from Jerry Jourdan a couple days later and also Kim Smith's blog about seeing the bird the day before. I suspect it so far might be the record for the most photographed bird this year!!! Who knows what will happen during the Biggest Week!!!
On our way back from walking the boardwalk.
Bird left and people left. But we learned the bird came back for the "show" the next day!
Prothonotary Warbler - Judy SX50 pic
Her best ever! And the best for either of us!!!
Great gift to us from a great  bird!

Yes, I took a few myself. Also my best ever. But I wanted to showcase Judy's photo! Even one photo like this is well worth the drive and time spent!!! Great place and great time!!!

Hope to see you all there and to meet our friends again!!!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

I never met a warbler ...

Sounds like a comic's joke? Are you waiting for the next line?

Bottom line is "That I did not like" ... but you will have to wait and read quite awhile to see this!!!

First, my "trigger":   In thinking about the upcoming Biggest Week (our favorite annual event - Hey! click the link! It happens in two weeks!), It occurred to me I have no recollection of ever seeing a warbler on the US west coast where I spent over 3 decades. Ever! I always carried binocs (big, clunky 7x50 binocs (better light in the SF fog) and my hands were steady enough to use them, but I never saw a warbler!!! So tonight I spent some time digging out the published field guide I used then (I think the only guide then!!!). At the same time I was hoping that I might have used the checklist in this 1961 field guide book at that time to record all my west coast birds (no such luck...).

It was fun anyway... and makes an interesting "ramble" - at least for me anyway...!

First I need to post a disclaimer: I did all the pics quickly to tell a story tonight, so they might be a bit fuzzy.

I took a Vertebrate Zoology course at UC Berkeley (UCB) back in the 1960's (I think I was seventeen).  I bought the required books, one of which was the Peterson guide shown here. Overall it was not an experience that would ever convince anyone to become a birder. My main memory of birding was that the TA graded on taking field notes. Never mind the name of the bird, just take notes! I did. My only remembered note from the required field notes was "a bird flew from a tree into a bush"! To this day I hate that memory! What bird??? Teach me! Don't grade me! I already knew more scientific names of critters than most people learn in a lifetime, but did not learn any new birds! To be fair, birds were only part of the class, and their IDs were not the focus. And, it did get me used to the idea of taking field notes - a habit I still follow.

As a budding (botany talk) or an unfledged (birder talk) taxonomist, this was the antithesis of what I wanted to learn! And, I am sure all birders' first questions are like mine was then  - "what IS it?"! How indeed (!) could I ever write any notes without knowing its name?

Without further elaboration, I might suggest things, like  "I observed a mammal eating something in my home tonight"; "I set my drink on the large wood thing"; etc.  I am sure everyone will understand what any communication would be like without names! (i.e., taxonomy ...).

Anyway it was interesting tonight to see my old book. Geez!!! Fourth edition! 1961! Darn near the start of "birding" as we know it! And, yes, this was when "bird watchers" were thought of as very strange people!!! Wonderfully amazing how the image of birders has changed over the decades!!!

It is dirty, tattered, sun-faded, and partly wine-drenched. And I had bought and pasted special tabs to denote each section. You can see that it must have been used, but mostly after the class was over!

OK, my checklist in the book will tell me life birds to add to my "life list"! No such luck!

I am not at all sure what the dots on my checklist mean - like "=" equals  "=", right? But, I will guess that all I was trying to do was pass the class, and orange dots were either mounts or pictures I had encountered in the lab. These I had to study! Blue dots - did I see the birds? Maybe.  Useless anyway!

Then I quickly ran thru the book to see what else I had done. Maybe I made notes by each species I had encountered as I started to do in my more recent Peterson guide in Michigan (before I became a "birder")? No such luck!!! About the only check I found was for a bird (Warbler! Fascinating...) everyone would love to see in the Midwest! Did I see it? Or did it fly "from a tree into a bush"?

The only "real answer" lies in my field notes. If I ever locate them again, I will be able to tell eBird what birds I saw when, and add to my relatively meager (in comparison to many birders) life list (188 species and counting) as well as my diminishing memories. In my field notes, I recorded all my adventures. The notes originally included primarily fishing exploits with detailed notes of fish caught, and what baits were used. (A few decades later, prestigious fishing magazines like InFisherman and Bassmaster recommended this practice to their readers!) As I progressed into marine biology - primarily phycology (esp. marine seaweeds) -  the notes detailed every species collected, and my field note numbers were also documentation as an accession list for the source of the original record of the collection.

Maybe my field notes went to the University of Washington (UW) when I gave them my personal seaweed herbarium (4th largest on Pacific Coast). That would be appropriate, Maybe I left them with the University of Southern California Allen Hancock Foundation Herbarium (formally known as HAHF) where I was the curator for over a decade. That would be appropriate. Maybe they were lost in the transitions between HAFH and the LA county Museum (LACM) , or perhaps subsequently when LACM collections were transferred to UCB. Or maybe, when I put my personal collection on loan to an up-and-coming phycology star Geoff Leister at Cal State Long Beach (CSULB). Or maybe, somewhere in my basement boxes?  UW has searched with no results. UCB is possibly too huge to take the time? Geoff Leister has disappeared. And, I seriously doubt they are in the basement - I keep all the "good stuff" (i.e., personal) upstairs. Where did they go???

Geez! How I want to see my notes again!!!
Oh, sorry, did I digress???

So ... back to subject! "I never met a warbler"! With possible exception of that lifer Hermit Warbler I just learned about  - (and doubt?). In my West Coast days, I know I loved (and recorded) wonderful shorebirds. I also recorded yard birds. But warblers? Never!!! Dinky things that fly too fast! Dinky things at the tops of trees!!! Things that my Peterson had pages for called "Confusing Fall Warblers". Confusing? That was enough! I did not need it. No matter the season! Forget warbler birds! I am going to the beach!!!

Anyway, in two weeks the Biggest Week in American Birding happens. (click the link!) For Judy and me, this is the highlight of our year! It is the time we travel to stay "local" away from home and enjoy out birding the most. And what do we see? Warblers!!!

Now I say: "I never met a warbler I did not like"!!!

During spring migration, they (the warblers) are in breeding colors.That are beautiful!!! You can easily find their pics in a bird guide. And at the Biggest Week, there are SO many experts - including professional birders - to help you not only identify them, but also to SEE them! They are right there! And the really great thing is that they are often at eye level!!! (Even though the Magee Marsh used to be called Crane Creek, it referred to the many wading birds you will also see, and not necessarily the contortions of the cervical vertebrate as you play "follow the bouncing bird"!).

So, I also post a few pics of references about warblers. I take along a couple of regular field guides to eastern birds as well because you will see so many other interesting birds!

Recently I put a pic of me holding a great warbler poster and holding one of the warbler books on Facebook. I am not sure if Charles Owens' great poster will be available for sale this year, but it was SO wonderful he made his amazing pics available to BSBO and the Biggest Week for a poster to generate income for their causes!!!

Here I am also holding a warbler field guide by Don and Lillian Stokes. It was cool that when I posted this on Facebook Lillian thanked me. Birders are so friendly!

Before I started "rambling" tonight, I also dug out a couple more books that I need to review and take along for the Biggest Week.

The Peterson series now has a special warbler guide. A really cool thing is that it has "warbler butts" - like what you get in your pics when looking upward!

And a new book totally "blows me away" with comprehension, but really the most fascinating new feature is that it includes the graphical depictions of songs showing pitch and cadence!!! Former bird guides talk about songs as "words", and yes, they might be helpful to some, but my mind has yet to make sense of it, For example, the first time I heard "Drink your tea" (described song of Eastern Towhee), it was a Robin doing three syllables! If I had thought it was "drink" (first note") "your" (down!) " tea" (up and kinda multi-syllabic warbled), I might have guessed better! Yeah, whole another story ...! Maybe this book will help? Too much to handle!!!

Every book is great in their own way (and I will not elaborate now), BUT I note that you really need nothing other than your interest!!! There are SO many experts (published authorities and otherwise) in the area that I guarantee all your questions will be answered. Just ask!!!

And if you do not already have books, there are several places in the area to get them. Also, if you need binocs, you can get them there as well at"Optics Alley" at BSBO.

Also, be sure to check out the online Visitor's Guide before you go. Lots of info!

Here it comes again with the bottom line: I never met a warbler I did not like!!!

... Hope y'all enjoyed my "ramble"!!!

BTW check out my prior BW blog  (and its embedded refs!) for pics and more details ...