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Blog Birding #255

In addition to bare part color, primary pattern, and mantle shades, there are other, more subtle, things to look for in large gulls. Amar Ayyash at Anything Larus explores head shape.

Why is this worth mentioning? I’ve read too many comments recently where people will eliminate a certain taxon based on the shape of its head or body – all this based on one still image. It’s important to note that these assessments can only be accurately made in “real life” or video recordings. Relying on still images is risky business, and quite frankly, sloppy. Of course if there’s a series of photos, an average can often be ascertained, especially if there are other bids in the frame for comparison.

Do birds learn how to avoid predators from each other? How much of a role do genetics play when considering avoidance behavior? At 10,000 Birds, Greg Laden has more to say about this interesting idea.

Just because selection could work on a trait does not mean that it did work on the trait. There is a tradeoff between being genetically programmed to be good at something and being flexible. Predation avoidance is a costly behavior, but important. But this behavior competes with other costly behaviors that are also important, such as finding food, nesting, and finding mates. So, if we think about bird evolution just a bit harder, we might actually expect that natural selection would not automate predator avoidance, but rather, predator avoidance, feeding behavior, nesting behavior, and mating behavior might all be somewhat variable, so that under certain circumstances an individual bird might give more attention to one thing and less attention to another thing.

It’s always nice to hear first-person accounts of seeking and finding rare birds, and Allen Woodliffe at Nature Nuggets has a story to tell about a Vermilion Flycatcher in eastern Ontario.

The word got out about an immature male Vermilion Flycatcher at the Cornelis home farm this morning. I missed the text message from Steve Charbonneau, as I was enjoying a meeting of mostly MNR retirees at a local hangout for a coffee clatch that we have every month or two. When I got home and checked the email before heading up to an afternoon meeting at Walpole, I saw Steve’s Ontbird posting about this southwestern flycatcher! Then I checked my phone and yep….there was Steve’s text.

Noah Strycker keeps gaining on the previously unthinkable total of 6000 birds seen in one calendar year. The last two weeks of the year are make or break, and he continues to push himself to bridge that gap of just over 100 birds to go.

We needed an early start today because of the heat. The temperature in Melbourne reached 43 Celsius (110 Fahrenheit) this afternoon, almost the hottest December day in the city’s history and, officially, the hottest day I’ve experienced anywhere this year. Local news called it a “stinker” and suggested people go shopping to take advantage of the mall’s air conditioning. Michael, Simon and I went birding instead.

Florida birders have enjoyed some amazing vagrants in the last several weeks, and Kenneth Schneider of Rosy-Finch Ramblings has been fortunate enough to enjoy a couple of them.

Chasing after rare birds can be a wonderful sport. In recent years I have lost some of my zeal to add new species to my life list. I passed by the opportunity to tick a Variegated Flycatcher in Fort Lauderdale’s Evergreen Cemetery. It persisted for about a week, during which time birders took some wonderful photos of this wanderer from Central or South America. This was only the second time it has been seen in Florida. When I saw the great photos taken by my friends I felt tinges of envy as well as guilt for my sloth in not bothering to pursue it.

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