Meme Monday: Hey girl, bird with me?

If you’re not active on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter or Google+, you may be missing out on the joy of Internet memes. A meme (rhymes with cream) is “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture.” An Internet meme can be as short as a catch-phrase or as complex as a video clip. A lot of memes are simple graphics which are altered to suit different topics. When a meme is hot, you can be sure there will be variants related to birds or birding.

Canadian actor Ryan Gosling is the subject of several single-topic Tumblr blogs / meme themes. Images of Gosling are accompanied by captions that often begin with, “Hey girl,” followed by a sentence that would only be uttered by the world’s best boyfriend. After Gosling himself read some of the captions on MTV in December 2010, the meme took off with derivatives like Feminist Ryan Gosling, Hey girl. I heart NPR., Law School Ryan Gosling, and of course, Hey girl, bird with me?

While the popularity of this particular “Hey girl” variation probably reached its peak back January or February, you can still follow this brilliant birder meme via the Hey girl, bird with me? Facebook page or the original Hey girl, bird with me? Tumblr blog.

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It takes a lot of work to look this good

Wood Duck

How does a Wood Duck know when it’s time to take a bath?

Wood Duck

I happened to be watching this one when it was time. He looked quite clean to me, but what do I know?

Wood Duck

After a whole lotta splashin’ was going on, he joined his companion on a nearby snag for some serious preening.

Wood Duck

Wood Duck

Wood Duck

All done.

Wood Duck

Lookin’ good, hot stuff.

Wood Duck

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Bird-a-Day 100!

Today is the 100th day of the year, and I’m still alive in the Bird-a-Day Challenge! My original goal was simply to beat last year’s lame total. In my previous update I figured I had a least 6 more weeks to play, which brought me up to the end of March. Now, at 100 birds, I have a new goal. I hope to make it another four weeks until I visit my family in northern Illinois next month. It’s going to be tough. First, a quick look back at birds 50-100. You can see the list (for this update, from February 19 to today) here.

I picked up two great birds over my birthday weekend, with a Green-tailed Towhee on February 26 and a Long-tailed Duck on the 27th. Neither is common in Florida. Speaking of uncommon, the rarest bird for this batch was undoubtedly the pair of Whooping Cranes Arthur and I went to see in Lake County.

On a visit to the theme parks, I picked up my first Purple Martins of the year at a colony at Epcot.

Purple Martins at Epcot | 21 March 2012

I picked up 8 birds in our yard. Burning through these is usually bad in terms of the game, though it does mean I didn’t spend any fossil fuels to find a bird that day. 24 more birds were found locally, either at Gemini Springs, the Spring-to-spring Trail, or via short non-birding errand trips outside the neighborhood.

Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk in our yard | 31 March 2012

Pine Warbler
Pine Warbler on the Rail-to-trail bike path in Deltona | 18 March 2012

I found six birds while volunteering at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland. My best bird there was a House Finch at the feeders – my first House Finch in Florida! One day, I learned of a couple of rescued baby owls that were recently returned to nests in DeBary. Arthur and I went to check on a Barred Owlet placed in a nest box after its nest tree was cut down, and a baby Great Horned Owl who fell out of a flimsy nest and was returned to its parents in a brand new man-made nest platform. Technically, I counted the adult owls (perched in an adjacent tree) that day, but this image of the baby looking down at me is much cuter for sharing purposes. 🙂

Great Horned Owlet in fancy nest platform
Great Horned Owlet in DeBary | 22 March 2012

Today I checked off another yard bird. Arthur found our FOY Brown Thrashers in our front yard two weeks ago. That was after a long day of birding on 28 March, when I used Purple Sandpiper for my Bird-a-Day. Today the pair returned. Arthur got me out of bed to see them – I’m glad he did. 🙂 The thrashers stuck around; we saw them later in the day and I managed to take this picture through our wavy windows.

Brown Thrasher
Brown Thrasher in our yard | 9 April 2012

The prognosis for my future in this game is a bit shaky. I really want to last until May 8th – 29 more days. That’s when I’ll visit my parents in northern Illinois, where adding a week’s worth of birds should be a breeze. My list of probable / “easy” local birds is down to just 20-something, with a measly five being common in our yard (when you see me use Northern Cardinal, Carolina Wren, Carolina Chickadee, Northern Mockingbird or Great Crested Flycatcher, you’ll know I’m in trouble). And of course nothing is certain. I don’t want to start driving around the county to remain in the game… but if it’s May 5th and I’m outta birds — a few little road trips will certainly be very tempting! A day trip to Titusville is already scheduled for next week, and one or two long birding days aren’t out of the question. More than than, though, I can’t say. Stay tuned – I’m going to try for weekly updates from now on.

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Purple Sandpiper at Lighthouse Point Park

At the end of March, Arthur and I took a day off to do some birding at a few spots in Volusia County. Lately I’ve been really interested in increasing my home county list, so I trolled eBird for birds missing from my year list. I determined our route based on a rather long wishlist of needed birds.

Our first stop was a hotspot I’d never been to before: Longleaf Pine Preserve outside of DeLand. Here I had a target list of way too many birds. We had a very nice 6 mile hike where we recorded a total of 15 (!) species, only one of which was on my target list. We first heard and then had very nice looks at a male Bachman’s Sparrow singing in typical habitat for this species. This one target was also the only potential lifer we expected here, so, you know, mission accomplished!

Next we stopped at Port Orange Causeway Park, located under Dunlawton Avenue where it crosses the Intracoastal Waterway. Part of the park looks over the Port Orange Sanctuary, though birds can be viewed from all over this eBird hotspot. My two targets here were American Oystercatcher and Reddish Egret; we found both. After this short visit we headed to our final destination for the day, to search for the subject of this blog post.

Lighthouse Point Park is located in Ponce Inlet, close to the lighthouse, natch. The lighthouse isn’t in the park, though, as signs at the park entrance take great pains to inform all visitors. Anyway, the beautiful beach and clear water attracts families and sunbathers, and, during our visit, lots of surfers. I had just one target species here: Purple Sandpiper.

Purple Sandpiper

We found an active bird as we walked along the jetty. This was not a life bird, but it was new to my U.S. list.

Purple Sandpiper

Previously we had seen Purple Sandpipers along a different jetty on the other side of the Atlantic, at IJmuiden.

Purple Sandpiper

I’ve submitted this post to the current Bird Photography Weekly. BPW is a regular collection of user-submitted bird photos from all over the world. The new edition comes out every Sunday. Go have a look at this week’s submissions!

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Birthday Birds

For my birthday back in February, Arthur and I had a nice little two-day trip to the west coast of Florida. I based our loose itinerary on recent rare birds reported to Florida birding listservs. We started out on Sunday the 26th with a Green-tailed Towhee in the morning, pelicans, shorebirds, and ailing seabirds in the afternoon, and a Lark Sparrow late in the day. On Monday, my birthday, we first headed to the Courtney Campbell Causeway on Old Tampa Bay to look for another target bird.

We drove up and down the access roads on either side of the causeway, looking for our target in the water, and checking out the birds that were loafing along the roadway and in the bay.

Scanning Old Tampa Bay

Horned Grebes
Horned Grebes

Black Skimmers
Black Skimmers

Black Skimmer head on
Thin skimmer bill!

American Oystercatcher
We had better views of American Oystercatchers after the previous day’s flyover lifers

After several hours of searching, we had a nice list of birds for both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, but we still didn’t have our target. One last round, we said. One last look around, we decided. And on the last round, close to the county border, we found our bird, swimming alone out on the bay.

Long-tailed Duck
Long-tailed Duck!

Long-tailed Duck butt
He was extremely active; most of my photos look like this

Long-tailed Ducks don’t typically range this far south, though stray birds show up across the south and elsewhere out of range fairly regularly.

We, and the bird, were in Hillsborough County. The duck was swimming towards Pinellas County… so we waited for that extra county tick. 🙂 It wasn’t a lifer but it was certainly nice to get a new state bird, in two counties even!

Our next stop, somewhere between Tampa Bay and home, was another Florida birding hotspot: Circle B Bar Reserve near Lakeland in Polk County. I didn’t have any specific target birds here. We were lucky to see a pair of Purple Gallinules who were not kind enough to pose for photos. First though, there was an American Bittern who was so accommodating that we actually left the bird while it was still in plain view – this after many minutes of intimate observation.

American Bittern
Preening American Bittern

American Bittern
Rousing American Bittern

American Bittern
Serious American Bittern

Later we were delighted to find a male Painted Bunting land in the path directly in front of us. And there were waders and gators everywhere.

Painted Bunting
Painted Bunting

Green Heron
Green Heron

American Alligator
American Alligator keeping cool

Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret

Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk

American Alligator
American Alligator warming up

Circle B lived up to its reputation and we are looking forward to future visits! And in the meantime I have some very nice memories of a birthday birding blitz.

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Birding Gemini Springs, March 2012

I completed 11 eBird checklists for Gemini Springs in March, recording a total of 66 species. Nine of these were new for the year (bold indicates new to my all-time Gemini Springs list): Wood Duck; Wild Turkey; Sora; Black-necked Stilt; Barred Owl; Marsh Wren; Prairie Warbler; Swamp Sparrow; and American Goldfinch. The complete list of 66 birds is at the end of this post.

Chipping Sparrow; March 6 2012

Anhinga; March 9 2012

An American Coot swims dangerously close to a croc; March 9 2012

Extremely fragrant flowers (sorry I don’t know the species); March 9 2012

Singing Carolina Wren; March 12 2012

Yakking at Gemini Springs
Kayaking in DeBary Bayou; March 16 2012

Kids at Gemini Springs
A large group of children visiting Gemini Springs; March 16 2012

Red-shouldered Hawk; March 19 2012

Habitat for Humanity wristband I found on the ground & placed around a post; March 20 2012

Osprey; March 20 2012

Wild Turkey
A lone Wild Turkey; March 25 2012

Southern Black Racer [maybe]
Southern Black Racer (I think); March 25 2012

Pileated Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker working around a palm trunk; March 27 2012

a type of webworm / tent caterpillar, I think
A type of webworm or tent caterpillar (I think); March 27 2012

March 2012 bird list, Gemini Springs

Wood Duck – Aix sponsa
Blue-winged Teal – Anas discors
Wild Turkey – Meleagris gallopavo
Pied-billed Grebe – Podilymbus podiceps
Wood Stork – Mycteria americana
Double-crested Cormorant – Phalacrocorax auritus
Anhinga – Anhinga anhinga
American Bittern – Botaurus lentiginosus
Great Blue Heron – Ardea herodias
Great Egret – Ardea alba
Snowy Egret – Egretta thula
Little Blue Heron – Egretta caerulea
Tricolored Heron – Egretta tricolor
Cattle Egret – Bubulcus ibis
Green Heron – Butorides virescens
White Ibis – Eudocimus albus
Glossy Ibis – Plegadis falcinellus
Black Vulture – Coragyps atratus
Turkey Vulture – Cathartes aura
Osprey – Pandion haliaetus
Bald Eagle – Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Red-shouldered Hawk – Buteo lineatus
Red-tailed Hawk – Buteo jamaicensis
Sora – Porzana carolina
Common Gallinule – Gallinula galeata
American Coot – Fulica americana
Limpkin – Aramus guarauna
Sandhill Crane – Grus canadensis
Killdeer – Charadrius vociferus
Black-necked Stilt – Himantopus mexicanus
Forster’s Tern – Sterna forsteri
Mourning Dove – Zenaida macroura
Barred Owl – Strix varia
Belted Kingfisher – Megaceryle alcyon
Red-bellied Woodpecker – Melanerpes carolinus
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – Sphyrapicus varius
Downy Woodpecker – Picoides pubescens
Pileated Woodpecker – Dryocopus pileatus
Eastern Phoebe – Sayornis phoebe
White-eyed Vireo – Vireo griseus
Blue Jay – Cyanocitta cristata
American Crow – Corvus brachyrhynchos
Fish Crow – Corvus ossifragus
Tree Swallow – Tachycineta bicolor
Carolina Chickadee – Poecile carolinensis
Tufted Titmouse – Baeolophus bicolor
Carolina Wren – Thryothorus ludovicianus
Marsh Wren – Cistothorus palustris
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – Polioptila caerulea
Ruby-crowned Kinglet – Regulus calendula
Gray Catbird – Dumetella carolinensis
Northern Mockingbird – Mimus polyglottos
Cedar Waxwing – Bombycilla cedrorum
Black-and-white Warbler – Mniotilta varia
Orange-crowned Warbler – Oreothlypis celata
Common Yellowthroat – Geothlypis trichas
Northern Parula – Setophaga americana
Palm Warbler – Setophaga palmarum
Yellow-rumped Warbler – Setophaga coronata
Prairie Warbler – Setophaga discolor
Chipping Sparrow – Spizella passerina
Swamp Sparrow – Melospiza georgiana
Northern Cardinal – Cardinalis cardinalis
Red-winged Blackbird – Agelaius phoeniceus
Boat-tailed Grackle – Quiscalus major
American Goldfinch – Spinus tristis

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Big White Birds

Efforts to save the highly endangered Whooping Crane included the attempted establishment of a non-migratory population in central Florida. Since this effort was deemed unsustainable due to high mortality and low reproduction, the flock today is down to just 20 birds from 53 individuals in 2006.

The birds are still being monitored, however, and last year camera traps were set up to study nest sites. One nest site is also being monitored by a data logger, which measures temperature change and other data.

Birds from the Florida non-migratory population are spotted by birders fairly regularly, so when a pair was reportedly seen on a farm field in nearby Lake County, Florida, Arthur and I drove out to see if we could find them. They were hanging out close to a flock of Sandhill Cranes and very easy to find. We kept a respectful distance and observed them, using our car as a hide.

Whooping Crane with Sandhill Cranes

Whooping Cranes

Whooping Crane
Distortion from heat shimmer was intense – this photo has not been filtered

Whooping Cranes

Whooping Cranes sightings should be reported. Birds seen in the eastern United States can be reported to USFWS using this form. Based on the band colors these birds are wearing, we knew they were part of the non-migratory population. Migrant Whooping Cranes are also found in Florida during the winter, and those sightings should certainly always be reported to USFWS. Although we are grateful to be able to see these birds after their location was mentioned on a public mailing list, we believe that all sightings of Whooping Cranes in the wild should be shared with extreme discretion.

Whooping Crane

Whooping Cranes

Flying Whooping Crane

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Fooling Birders

Beware, internet surfers – today is April Fool’s Day. Birders are not immune to being played for fools, if these pranks from years past are any indication.

The exciting headline Extinct Carolina Parakeet Rediscovered in Honduras appeared on April 1, 2009. This one came complete with a news release from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which added authenticity to an unbelievable discovery. If you fell for this one, you were certainly not alone!

Last year Ted Floyd revealed a list of ABA Checklist Changes that had some birders just a bit freaked out. The list highlighted crazy splits, maddening lumps, and major, unprecedented changes to the ABA Area.

Also last year, blogger tai haku broke the story of ESPN’s entry into the competitive birding market: Email from ESPN: the “American Big Day Birding League.”

Bill of the Birds had a great prank last year, too, when he revealed a major change at BirdWatcher’s Digest: Our New Name!. The magazine was to be rebranded Wild Bird Watcher’s World (and Blooms).

By now, readers of 10,000 Birds must know they need to be on their toes on April Fool’s Day. Last year they got us with an unbelievable giveaway opportunity: Win a Free Trip to Thailand! In 2010 Corey revealed a shocking overseas birder conspiracy: Short-toed Treecreepers Do Not Exist. And in 2009 Corey reported seeing a Pileated Woodpecker in Queens, complete with photo documentation.

Google has been offering up pranks on April 1st for years. They featured birds in an early prank: Google’s PigeonRank was revealed on April 1, 2002. The search engine’s cruelty-free method of determining page rank uses trained pigeons to recognize objects regardless of spacial orientation. It’s all very complicated.

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A Mockingbird, a Lark

If you want to be a better birder, observe the birds, right? Even the common ones. Especially the common ones. Learn them backwards and forwards so you’ll recognize something special (they’re all special!) when it comes along.

Arthur and I visited Fort De Soto Park in Pinellas County, Florida last month. It was a short visit, just four hours or so to explore one of the most productive and popular birding spots in the state. We hit a few parts of the park and then ran into a birder whose name I knew (and she knew mine, blush) from the state birding listservs. She showed us around a part of the park known as a warbler hotspot and helped us look for a couple of overwintering grosbeaks (neither of which were located that day). Despite the dips, it was great to meet someone who knows Fort De Soto so well and to put a face to an email name.

In addition to the Rose-breasted and Blue Grosbeaks recently seen at the park, I knew that a Lark Sparrow (which is not normally found in Florida) had been hanging out there, but I didn’t know where exactly (I was unprepared; the trip to Fort De Soto was rather impromptu). As we walked back to the car at the end of the day, I stopped to observe and photograph a Northern Mockingbird.

Northern Mockingbird
Northern Mockingbird at Fort De Soto

It had just popped out of a bush and was perching in the open, posing nicely while it looked around the immediate area.

Northern Mockingbird
Northern Mockingbird calling

I noticed something moving inside the bush, and suddenly the mockingbird flushed. This is what took its place.

Lark Sparrow
Lark Sparrow!

Observe the birds. Even the common ones. You never know what you’ll learn — or who you’ll see.

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Willet Threat Assessment

The Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary is located right on the beach in Indian Shores, Florida. During our visit, we found this sleepy Willet on the white sand. Though the bird stood on one foot, it rotated its body slightly to watch us pass (we gave it wide berth).

Alert Willet
Alert Willet checks out the birders walking by

Curious Willet
Curious Willet assesses threat level of passing birders

Sleepy Willet
Sleepy Willet resumes nap

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