American Birding Podcast



Blog Birding #231

Winter is coming to a close, but that doesn’t mean that Project SNOWstorm is going to stop following Snowy Owls. Scott Weidensaul checks in with what to expect as those geo-tagged birds start making their way northward.

Although it’s been more than a week since the last post, we’ve been really busy — and so have the owls, which is why this is a long post. We’re seeing some spectacular spring flights, and hearing from owls that have been off the grid for a while.

And the grid — that is, the extent of the GSM cellular network, on which our transmitters depend — takes on particular importance at this time of the year.

You’ll recall that while the transmitters continually record GPS locations from the orbiting satellites that guide your smartphone and automotive navigational system, and can do so from anywhere in the world, they send those data to us over the cell network. That’s why when the owls are off on Great Lake ice sheets, or tucked in a cellular dead zone on a coastal barrier island, we sometimes don’t hear from them.

The early spring belongs to American Woodcocks, those bizarre birds with the bizarre sounds and display are the subject of a post from David Sibley explaining just how they make those noises.

There is now general agreement that (at least) most of the sound is produced by the three outermost primaries, which are unusually narrow. Presumably air rushing between them produces a whistling sound. This can be heard year-round whenever a woodcock is flushed, the wingbeats produce a rapid trill similar to the takeoff sound of other species like Mourning Dove.

We also say goodbye to our White-throated Sparrows, as they head to the boreal north for another breeding season. But they’re looking awfully sharp these days, as Andrew Baksh at Birding Dude shares.

This is a fairly large Sparrow and sexes are similar with females generally duller than males. The photos of 3 different birds below were all taken in my backyard on April 15th, 2015. You get an idea of the variation in plumage. Let’s look at the first photo which shows a rather handsome WTSP. This adult bird shows the striking head pattern showing the broad white supercilium and the bright contrasting yellow supraloral. The white throat is surrounded by a gray face and chest.

Just because a thing has birds on it, doesn’t mean those birds are accurate, as Nick Lund at The Birdist discovers with a mug with shorebird art that has gotten around.

Alright, let’s start with a nice Black-necked Stilt. Lovely bird, and a common summer resident. There’s a Lesser (I think) Yellowlegs next to it, good bird, pretty regular migrant. In the middle there is a Red Knot, which is, you know, not the most common bird, but I guess shows up in spring. Then, oh. Uh that next bird is a Piping Plover, which, hmm, well it doesn’t have any eBird records for Antelope Island. Hmm must be an oversight. No matter, let’s keep looking.

The Franzen New Yorker piece and the responses to it continue to ripple out into the conservation blogosphere, and Laura Erickson is the latest to cast her stone into the water.

I’ve long believed that as critical as it is to find sustainable ways to generate electricity, we must invest in research to ensure that the designs and placements of solar and wind generating plants are the safest possible for wildlife. Unfortunately, the pattern of our capitalistic society is to require research to be profit-driven. And as both of America’s political parties have further and further distanced themselves from environmentalism, we wait longer and longer, until foreseeable problems reach crisis levels, and then desperately go full-speed ahead with a few misguided projects.