American Birding Podcast



Blog Birding #172

Derek Lovitch, writing at Maine Birding Field Notes, shares the fascinating story of a single gull over four years, and the occasionally futile attempt at putting a name to it.

Once in a while, another Iceland Gull will spend some time at Riverbank, but they don’t tend to linger long.  The bird’s behavior is also more than suggestive – not only does it sit in the same three spots (including a church steeple that rarely has any other gull) whenever it near the park , but it is the only white-winged gull that is almost always present and comes down to feed on handouts with the contingent of Ring-billed Gulls.  The chance that a similarly-super-pale bird would do exactly the same things for four years in a row at a place that usually doesn’t have any other white-winged gulls seems rather far-fetched.  It also tends to show up at about the same time – early to mid-January each year.  I think it is safe to assume that this is the same bird.

How much has birding changed in the last few years, and what does that mean for those of us who practice it in the 21st Century? Chuck Otte explores.

A few decades ago, birders would gather in clubs at the local, regional, state or national level. Audubon chapters, state ornithological societies or the American Birding Association, became safe havens where you could meet other birders. Newsletters and publications became the source of knowledge. Field trips provided the opportunity for these like-minded birders to gather, enjoy each other’s company and for less experienced birders to learn from “the masters”.  Mistakes in identification were dealt with on the spot with the experienced birders explaining to the less experienced the subtleties of Empidonax ID, or the trick in quickly separating Northern from Loggerhead Shrike or Tundra from Trumpeter Swan. Learning occurred in a safe environment, friendships were made, people laughed at their mistakes and felt good about what they had learned.

Poison Ivy gets a bad rap for all the discomfort it causes in the warmer months, but it’s a bird magnet in the winter. Jim McCormac at Ohio Birds and Biodiversity shares some reasons to love the noxious vine.

Poison ivy fruit is a wintertime staple for birds and other animals. The hardy yellow-rumped warbler depends on the berries to ride out the winter. So do bluebirds, robins, mockingbirds and many other species. A number of mammals also eat the berries, and others use the dense vines as shelter. These creatures are obviously immune to the itch factor.

Rick Wright, of Birding New Jersey and Beyond, answers a seemingly obvious question – how accurate should we expect field guide illustrations to be? – in a way that might surprise you.

It doesn’t bother me because I don’t look for realism and “accuracy” in field guide illustrations, whether paintings or (much less) photographs. I don’t expect “beauty,” either, though Lars Jonsson spoiled us for a while twenty years ago.

The paintings in the Sibley Guide, in either edition, are to my eye neither realistic nor beautiful. I would not, in other words, offer them to a visiting alien seeking to discover exactly what a Blue Jay looks like, and I would not hang them on my wall just for the sheer visual pleasure. But those same paintings, in both editions, are the most informative, the most instructive, the most useful images of North American birds ever put between two covers.

Snowy Owls are still around, and birders are still amazed by them. Chris Petrak, of Tails of Birding, shares a few more stories.

That’s the months-old news alert. Even the general media has picked up on the unusually large number of Snowy Owls in New England this winter. What really got their attention was the Snowy Owl that was seen looking out of a building window (!) in Portland, Maine. Yes, somehow she got inside the building, possibly in the course of seeking out the building’s roosting pigeons. She was rescued from the building, found to be in good health and with no injuries, and released.