Dave Irons at Birdfellow shares a fantastic post illustrating how aging shorebirds before seeking to identify them can make all the difference. They key? Messyness vs. orderliness:
Unlike most species of birds, shorebirds (sandpipers and plovers) retain their juvenile plumages through much of their southbound (Fall) migration, thus in order to properly identify them it's important to first determine whether you are looking at an adult or a bird of the year (juvenile). If by chance you find and report a rare shorebird from a local mudflat, before asking anything else, your local field notes editor will want to know, "was it an adult or a juvenile." For many birders, even some with years of experience, this can be a stumper. Here's an easy first step to start learning how to make such determinations.
Want to get involved in the hawk-watching scene, but need a few pointers about this exciting birding sub-community? Anna at Speed Birding offers some pointers:
I've met a lot of people who want to start hawk watching. The best piece of advice I can give is that you must really put in a lot of time to improve your hawk watching skills! Anyone can learn to hawk watch if you put in enough time. The best way to start is to find someone who already knows how to hawk watch and has at least a few seasons of hawk watching experience. It is best to learn by example, and learning from someone will be much less frustrating than trying it alone. If you miss ID a raptor, it is great to have someone around who can tell you exactly why your ID was wrong, and how to improve on it for next time. Don't get discouraged! I've been hawk watching for a few years now, and every season, I learn something new.
In a response to David Sibley's post last week about orange throated Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Sheri Williamson offers a post that exemplifies the sort of public interactive discussion furthering our knowledge about the world around us that the bird blogosphere allows us to witness and learn from:
Though they don’t fade in the way pigment-produced colors do, the iridescent colors of hummingbirds do change over time. The exact mechanism by which this happens has yet to be documented (at least in published form), but the short answer is that it involves wear and/or bleaching rather than an additional complete molt. To get to the long answer, it helps to know a bit of the science behind the colors.
Christopher Ciccone of Picus Blog is one of the finest amateur photographers on the web. His shots of Least Terns in Massachusetts are breathtaking:
Nevertheless, here are some pics I took recently at Sandy Point, which is the public beach at the south end of Parker River NWR on Plum Island. This is a pretty well know spot for nesting Least Terns and Piping Plovers, and the photo ops can be pretty good, assuming that you are able to read behavior, and know when you are not stressing the birds. The terns, interestingly enough did have some chicks, yet there were also several 'nests' (scrapes in the sand really) that had eggs with parents who were doing their dutiful best to incubate them while still keeping predators at bay.
John Vandort of On the Road looks at a species that's gone from rarity to dirt-common in a surprisingly brief period of time:
This bird – a Eurasian Collared-Dove, of course – has steadily conquered North America ever since its first release in the mid-1970s in the Bahamas. It is still spreading rapidly, including into areas that already have a rich columbiform avifauna, like Mexico.
In central Veracruz, where I arrived yesterday for another fall season of hawk watching, this bird was still rare as recent as 2008. That fall was my first season here, and around the village of Chichicaxtle, where the Pronatura counters are housed and one of the two count sites is located, I saw it a few times in 2008. Then, in 2009, I found it to be regular in a few isolated spots.