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Blog Birding #49

More great stuff from Nathan Pieplow’s Earbirding.com, in which he points out an avant-garde composition using the song of that most famous avian composer and appropriator, the Northern Mockingbird:

I like thinking of mockingbirds and other birds that imitate as “recyclers” rather than “mimics,” and so do some biologists.  It’s been argued that using the term “mimics” to describe mockingbirds is misleading, because in most branches of biology, “mimics“ are organisms that take on or use the characteristics of other organisms in order to be mistaken for them.  The palatable Viceroy butterfly, for example, profits from its similarity to the poisonous Monarch only if predatory birds can’t tell the difference.  It may not be clear why a mockingbird chooses to belt out the song of a Carolina Wren, but everybody agrees that it isn’t trying to pass itself off as a wren; more likely its motives are closer to those of a human hip-hop artist who creates remixed songs entirely from samples.  It’s not mimicking, it’s “appropriating,” to use biologists’ favored term — or “recycling,” to use Andrew May’s analogy.

Greg Gillson of Pacific NW Birder takes on one of the big questions in birding, how can two experienced birders occasionally come to two completely different conclusions on the same bird:

One reason is that some birders recognize birds based on clues in addition to the standard “field marks” listed in the book. Besides the plumage description (color pattern, wingbars, etc.) in the field guide, each bird comes with a certain shape, a set of behaviors, a certain habitat and specific niche within that habitat. Flying birds have a characteristic flight pattern. And most birds are not silent. And we’re seeing them on a certain date, a specific season or time period during the year. (Birds in photos lack these supporting additional clues, thus why they sometimes fool even the best birders.)

Rebecca in the Woods decides to take a giant leap forward in appreciating fall warblers. Welcome to the club, Rebecca!:

See, I’ve started carrying my little journal around with me to keep track of what birds I see, and today I was finally inspired to try and make some notes on the birds I was looking at so that I could compare them to field guides when I got home and maybe figure out what they were. The problem was that I was looking up at the birds from underneath, and all I could really see clearly were the undersides of their little feathery butts, so… that is what I drew. Only someone who really, really loves birds spends time memorializing this part of their anatomy with paper and ink.

Birdfellow‘s Dave Irons spins a tale of Bob Lockett, an Oregon birder with an amazing, and ongoing, streak:

In the movie Bull Durham, Kevin Costner’s character (“Crash Davis”) offered up several memorable lines,” including “respect the streak.” Bob Lockett has been been doing just that for 48 years. Now 60 years of age, Bob has added at least one new ABA Area bird every year since 1963, when he was 12 years old.  Early on, keeping this streak intact probably wasn’t too tough, but as one’s lifelist for a geographic region grows there comes a point of diminishing returns.

Laura Erickson shares an amazing and comprehensive post on the storied history of the North American field guide:

The history of bird field guides has been one of steady innovation and improvement, but also of casting aside really worthy guides without proper recognition of their innovations and improvements to ever promote the newest ones. Not counting treatises that were simply too large to be useful books in the field, such as Audubon’s Birds of America, the first field guide to be published in the United States, as far as I can tell, was not the original Peterson guide but, rather, Florence Merriam Bailey’s Birds Through an Opera Glass, published by Houghton Mifflin in 1889.

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