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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Posted in Funny, Offbeat, Pop Culture | Leave a comment

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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Posted in Florida, Rare / Vagrant | Leave a comment

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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Posted in Behavior, Florida | Leave a comment

Meme Monday: Sh*t Birders Say

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” [Merriam Webster]. 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.

Sh*t Girls Say debuted as a short video series in December 2011. The clips of guys dressed up as girls saying extremely stereotypical (and sometimes offensive) things were very popular. Ever since this meme started spawning parodies, I was hoping someone would make a Birder version. But first, there was a Sh*t Birds Say.

And finally, this was posted on YouTube yesterday. Yay! “You brought a Crossley’s?!”

Hat tip to Laura Erickson and Birdchick

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BirdsEye BirdLog

While it did take me a bit longer to enter my list on the phone compared to jotting down notes in a notepad in the field, it only takes one click at the end, “submit,” to get my list onto eBird, which is my ultimate goal, anyway. This app is a huge time-saver and pretty slick besides. I can’t wait to use it again! Moar birding, yeah!

Read my 5/5 review of this new app for iPhone here: App Review: BirdsEye BirdLog.

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Posted in Aside, Magnificent Frigatebird | 2 Comments

Raising Baby Brown Pelicans

One of the most remarkable stories of the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary is the success they have had in breeding captive Brown Pelicans. In 1974 a captive pair of Brown Pelicans successfully raised a chick, named Pax, to fledge and leave the Sanctuary. This was the very first time a Brown Pelican had ever hatched in captivity.

At the time, in the mid-1970’s, the Brown Pelican was an endangered species. Between 1975 and 1982, over 130 baby Brown Pelicans successfully fledged into the wild after being reared by captive, permanently injured parents. Many more have followed since then. It was obvious during our visit that the Brown Pelicans continue to breed very successfully at the Sanctuary. The baby birds we saw will one day be freed, too. When the babies are ready, the top of the Brown Pelican enclosures will be removed and the healthy birds will be able to leave.

Baby Brown Pelicans
A parent sits with three babies

Baby Brown Pelicans
Though they are in an artificial environment, the birds are comfortable enough to breed successfully

Baby Brown Pelicans
Another nest, more sweet babies

Baby Brown Pelicans

Baby Brown Pelican
Look at that little pouch!

Baby Brown Pelican
Two adults sleep near their young chick

Baby Brown Pelican
Baby pelican skin

The Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary is located at 18328 Gulf Boulevard in Indian Shores on the west coast of Florida. The Sanctuary is open 365 days per year, from 9AM until sunset. Admission is free. The nonprofit relies on donations to care for up to 8,000 injured birds each year. Visit their website to learn more.

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Posted in Florida, Rehabilitation | Leave a comment

A lifer I need to get THIS YEAR

Today the American Birding Association (ABA) announced their Bird of the Year for 2012: the Evening Grosbeak. If you need a laugh please check out the wonderfully goofy video in the ABA blog post announcing the reign of the Evening Grosbeak.

I have somewhat mixed feelings about this choice, as I do not have this species on my life list and I don’t have much of a chance of getting it here in my home state! This might call for a road trip… Meanwhile my bins will be sporting the spiffy new ABA BoY sticker. I’m gonna spread the word while enjoying the birds! 😀

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Posted in Life List | 1 Comment

Sanctuary Residents & Loafers

The Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary in Indian Shores, Florida, is the largest wild bird hospital in the United States. They treat up to 8,000 injured wild birds per year, in addition to caring for around 600 permanent resident birds. Permanently injured seabirds, plus others including raptors, songbirds, waders, and seabirds, are given a home at the sanctuary.

90% of the birds cared for by the Sanctuary become injured as a result of accidental or intentional human action.

During our visit to the Sanctuary last month, we saw many of the permanent resident birds.

American White Pelican
American White Pelicans gather together in a corner of their roomy enclosure

American White Pelican
Later, the American White Pelicans spread out for some serious snoozing

Northern Gannets
Permanent resident Northern Gannets

A Sandhill Crane and Great Blue Heron shared an enclosure with other large wading birds

The Sanctuary also attracts wild birds, who know that it might be a spot for getting an easy meal. Black-crowned Night Herons were nesting in nearly all of the trees on the Sanctuary grounds. Other species of heron, along with Brown Pelicans and other seabirds, were also visiting the Sanctuary while we were there.

Employees Only
Employees only, present company excluded

Black-crowned Night-Heron
Just one of many Black-crowned Night-Herons loafing around the Sanctuary

Non-releasable birds of prey, songbirds, woodpeckers and rails also live at the sanctuary. We got to see a couple of raptors as they were taken out onto the glove during our visit.

Red-shouldered Hawk
Non-releasable Red-shouldered Hawk on the glove

Short-tailed Hawk
Non-releasable Short-tailed Hawk on the glove

Among the many, many permanently injured Brown Pelicans at the Sanctuary, some birds tending to baby pelicans. Stay tuned – I’ll have more about the Sanctuary’s success with Brown Pelicans in a future post!

Brown Pelican
A Brown Pelican and a Double-crested Cormorant, both probably former patients, visit the Sanctuary

The Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary is located at 18328 Gulf Boulevard in Indian Shores on the west coast of Florida. The Sanctuary is open 365 days per year, from 9AM until sunset. Admission is free. The nonprofit relies on donations to care for up to 8,000 injured birds each year. Visit their website to learn more.

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Posted in Florida, Rehabilitation | Leave a comment

Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary Structures

Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary
Welcome to the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary

Following our slow chase for the Possum Branch Green-tailed Towhee last month, Arthur and I headed to the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary in Indian Shores, Florida. I first heard about the sanctuary from my friend Karen, who volunteered there last year after wanting to do so for several years.

Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary
Brown Pelicans and Black-crowned Night-Herons form part of the welcome committee at the Sanctuary

The Sanctuary was founded in 1971 by Ralph Heath, on the Heath homestead. The Sanctuary grew rapidly into on of the world’s largest wild bird hospitals and rehabilitation centers. Today the Sanctuary is comprised of several re-purposed buildings, plus many bird enclosures, cages, and mews.

Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary
Injured birds are cared for immediately upon arrival

Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary
Huge aviaries for permanently injured, non-releasable seabirds

Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary
Mews for resident raptors and songbirds

Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary
Owl mews

We had a lovely long visit at the Sanctuary, where we got to see a bit of the work involved in caring for up to 8,000 birds per year, plus a large contingent of permanent residents.

Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary
Arthur watches a video in the (temporary) educational center; founder Ralph Heath is on screen

Of course we were there to see the good work done at the Sanctuary, and to visit the resident birds. I will have more about both in the next post. I think you could guess from that photo of the entrance at the top of this post — not all of the birds we saw were inside enclosures…

Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary
Shall we visit the gift shop, or take photos of Black-crowned Night-Herons?

The Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary is located at 18328 Gulf Boulevard in Indian Shores on the west coast of Florida. The Sanctuary is open 365 days per year, from 9AM until sunset. Admission is free. The nonprofit relies on donations to care for up to 8,000 injured birds each year. Visit their website to learn more.

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Posted in Florida, Rehabilitation | Leave a comment

A slow chase

I wanted to do something special for my birthday last month, so I started planning a little getaway to the west side of the state. I was looking to chase a few birds, see a different part of Florida, and just bum around a bit. My original itinerary had Arthur and me hitting 3 or 4 hotspots a day over a long weekend, racking up life birds like Burrowing Owl, Snail Kite, and Red-cockaded Woodpecker. In the end I decided to scale down our adventure to just two days centered around the Tampa Bay area, and our first stop after an early morning wake up call on Sunday, February 26th was Possum Branch Preserve in Safety Harbor, Pinellas County. We were there to look for a western sparrow that had been seen regularly since December 10, 2011.

The bird, first thought to be only the 5th or 6th* Green-tailed Towhee ever recorded in Florida, must have been seen by hundreds of state birders. Thanks to regular mailing list posts by those who went out to see the bird before us, we had extremely detailed directions to follow when we went twitching over two months after the initial sighting (is it still considered twitching after so much time has passed?).

Green-tailed Towhee

We arrived in cool, rainy conditions, but were lucky to find the bird immediately upon arriving at its favorite haunt. It scratched, foraged and fed nearly continuously for the half hour we were there.

As a bonus, we found another lifer at Possum Branch Preserve: American Oystercatcher. This species was a target we had for our Tampa trip, but we didn’t expect to see it at Possum Branch. After two fly-by oystercatchers took us by surprise we had to do a second life bird boogie. 🙂

*This has been an exceptional season for Green-tailed Towhees in Florida. There may have been up to 8 different birds in the state in the past 12 months.

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Posted in Florida, Life List, Rare / Vagrant | Leave a comment