by Nate Swick
Think you know how the Prothonotary Warbler got its name? Rick Wright, writing at Birding New Jersey and Beyond shares a deeply researched post suggesting that what you always thought you knew was completely wrong:
The reason for all this silence is simple: even the most learned, even the best-informed ornithologists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries did not know why the French-speaking inhabitants of the lower Mississippi had christened their “golden bird of the wooded swamps” Prothonotary. Elliott Coues, the greatest ornithological lexicographer who ever lived, could do no more than quote Pennant in the second edition of his Check List; twenty years later, the etymology offered in the final, definitive edition of the Key ends with a simple question: “Why?”
We're always trying to figured out precisely how many birders there are in North America. Nick Lund of The Birdist reinterprets some old data:
Birders seems to have a bit of an inferiority complex in the world of outdoor recreation. Some of it I think is social (we lack the macho chest-puffing of hunters), some of it is institutional (we lack the political organization and historical traditions of hunting and fishing). I used to think that part of it was simply that there are fewer of us. But, apparently that isn't true.
At The Nemesis Bird, Erik Bruhnke has been really enjoying this Boreal Owl winter:
Boreal Owls are a tiny owl species that have densely-feathered legs and a copious amount of insulation throughout their feathered bellies. They are well-built for surviving the cold winters of northern Canada where they originate from. The colors of a Boreal Owl are rich, dark, and secretive... hosting a spectrum of colors that are found within the boggy thickets of northern Canada. Their bellies are streaked in white and dark-chocolate brown, as are the backsides of their heads. A Boreal Owl's face is surrounded with a beautiful black outer edge, speckled with only the finest white markings. Their forehead is densely speckled in white spots that trail throughout the top of their head. Their deep yellow eyes contrast against their silvery-white feathers that insulate and protect their face.
Writing at the Stokes Birding Blog, Lillian Stokes gets some amazing photos of Least Bittern, perhaps our least approachable wader:
When you least expect it you might get a chance to see a rather hard to find bird, as we did when Don and I heard of a Least Bittern on our local FL birding listserve. Least Bitterns are widespread breeders throughout the eastern part of the country and into parts of the West, but they are secretive. So I went to photograph this Least Bittern in a park in Ft. Myers, FL. I had seen some beautiful shots of this bird, out in full sun, taken by other photographers. Of course, when I got there, the Least Bittern did not cooperate, photographically speaking. It stayed hidden in its chosen place in the cattails.
It's the time of year when hawks are easily found along roadsides everywhere you go. David Sibley offers a couple tips on identifying those birds based on their relative size, shape, and position in the tree:
Hawks are generally solitary and territorial, and will not tolerate another hawk nearby. The only exception is mated pairs. You won’t see two Rough-legged Hawks, or a Red-tailed and a Red-shouldered Hawk, sharing a tree like this on the wintering grounds. Therefore, whenever you see two hawks sitting this close to each other, it’s safe to assume that they are the same species and that they are nesting nearby, which greatly reduces the number of candidate species.