American Birding Podcast



Blog Birding #280

Pokemon Go is a full-scale phenomenon right now, and many birders have noted the similarity to our own hobby of seeking and finding. Anna Fasoli at The Nemesis Bird goes deep.

The parallels to birding are uncanny. In a nutshell, you are on a quest to find these adorable yet intriguing creatures, and some of them are even quite rare, as you know from the years of research you have been doing. This is a real life scavenger hunt. Your Pokemon cards from your childhood are your field guide, and you’ve probably studied them so much, you don’t EVEN NEED the cards anymore (but you throw them in your backpack anyway, just in case). You’ve also conveniently got your phone camera on hand to document these rarities through the app, and the common ones when things are slow. The app guides you to the locations that these Pokemon reside, much like the BirdsEye app maps out species you are in need of for your lists.

The AOU Check-list Supplement has been getting around, and you would certainly expect a blog called Aphelocoma to have a comment on the marquis split this time around, and Alex Burdo is certainly up to the task.

In one of the most exciting annual AOU Check-list Supplements since I started taking interest in them almost a decade ago, Western Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica) has been split into two species: California Scrub-Jay (A. californica) and Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay (A. woodhouseii). Being Scrub-Jays, my favorite group of birds, this is a really thrilling occasion.

And yet, there are some birders who do not look forward to the AOU supplement with its regular re-jiggering of families, species, and orders. Steve Tucker at Bourbon, Bastards, and Birds covers that end of the spectrum. It is slightly NSFW (mild language).

What fascinates me is that there are a number of birders out there who are can’t stand all this tinkering with species. They are neither splitters nor lumpers, they just dislike the amount of splitting and lumping that goes on. They are essentially against taxonomic revisions altogether. They dislike the new names, the new species. To them, this is just a nuisance, something they have to endure. Why is this so?

Birding, or Field Ornithology if you’re feeling full or yourself, is one of the few scientific fields where amateurs contribute a great deal to real-deal science. In fact, the interaction between skilled amateurs and professionals is an important one to cultivate, as Terry McGlynn at Small Pond Science explores.

The ornithological community has been particularly successful at tapping into the community of bird enthusiasts. If I come upon birders, they’re usually blocking the trail or the road, or shushing me. But these birders have been integral to the creation of long-term databases that have been a treasure trove for biogeographers, ecologists, and anybody else who needs to know where and when birds have been seen.

And speaking of birds that appearl to both amateurs and professionals, birders and conservationists, Laura Erickson writes a bit on the wonderful Kirtland’s Warbler, a conservation success story.

Kirtland’s Warbler is rather the Sally Albright of the bird world. It nests in areas of pine, but not just any pine—Kirtland’s Warbler must have jack pines, and want them in stands over 80 acres in size. The jack pines must be growing on well-drained soil, and not just any well-drained soil—the birds want what’s called Grayling sand, which has very low humus content so water percolates right through and the nests don’t get flooded. And Kirtland’s Warblers won’t accept just any old jack pines—the trees must be no younger than about 5 years old, and no older than about 20 years old.