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Blog Birding #265

Dave Irons wades into the blogging pool at Water Cooler Birder, and he opens up his web presence with a fine take on whether birding festivals are worth it, both in terms of time and money. If you’re on the fence, give it a read.

Most of those who ask this question of me are looking for participant’s perspective, which is a bit tough for me to provide. Full disclosure here, my involvement with birding festivals has been as leader and not a participant. That said, I believe that the elements of a birding festivals that bring joy to participants are exactly the same as those that keep leaders coming back year after year. I’ve led field trips for a number of birding festivals over the past decade, but none more times than the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival (RGVBF)in Harlingen, Texas. In addition to seeing the same leaders back year after year, I’ve seen many repeat participants on the trips that I’ve led. What is the appeal?

American Kentrels are incredible and incredibly diverse, even in the ABA Area. There’s a great reason we chose them as our inaugural Bird of the Year, and Judy Jottings at It’s a Bird Thing gets to the heart of it.

The breeding season has already started for New Mexico’s smallest, as well as most prevalent and wide-spread falcon. During the winter, the males and females often don’t associate. Clearly the season’s change has started.

Previously known as a sparrow hawk, the American Kestrel will chose a woodpecker-hewn or natural cavity bordered by open areas with short vegetation. The mowed fields at Los Poblanos Open Space where we were birding, with a few suitable trees along the edges is the perfect habitat for them.

Birders are active sorts, out seeking birds and experiences. But there’s a value that comes from letting both come to you, as Neil Gilbert of OC Birding explains.

Want to learn more about beech-maple forest? Sure, you can read books, peruse websites, and consult experts, but there is no replacement for sitting on a stump. Go and sit! Sit in the morning, in the winter, at night, in the rain. Bring a notebook and record what you see. If you are artistically averse, fear not—you don’t need to write nature poetry or paint watercolors. Write simple observations and questions: “Just saw a squirrel with a mouthful of leaves climbing up to a drey” or “I see a skinny tree with lacy yellow flowers…what is it?”

Three years into Project SNOWstorm, we’re learning a lot about what Snowy Owls do and where they go, but there’s one owl that has told us more than any other. Scott Weidensaul shares the journey of Baltimore.

“The information we’ve gotten from Baltimore is by far the most detailed record of the movements of any snowy owl ever tagged,” Dave said. “We have locations — accurate to a meter and in three dimensions, including altitude — every 30 minutes for almost his entire migration. That’s more than 14,000 GPS points, and counting. No snowy owl has ever been tracked for so long with such precision.”

Even among gull partisans, calling a Thayer’s Gull in the east is never a sure thing. There’s a certain amount of risk involved, as Alvan Buckley at Birding with Buckley explains.

Truth is that our criteria for a “real” Thayer’s Gull is much more stringent than the rest of the continent. We get thousands of Kumlien’s Gulls every winter and with their immense variation there are always a few that could easily pass as Thayer’s in other provinces/states. But not here. And I tend to agree with these strict rules.

To really be happy with a Thayer’s in Newfoundland, it has to go a few steps beyond the minimal requirements for that species and a few steps beyond the most extreme Kumlien’s Gull.


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Nate Swick

Nate Swick

Editor, Social Media Manager at American Birding Association
Nate Swick is the editor of the American Birding Association Blog, social media manager for the ABA, and the host of the American Birding Podcast. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Danielle, and two young children. He is the author of Birding for the Curious and The ABA Field Guide to Birds of the Carolinas.
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