Friday, March 31, 2006

Goin' to Brazil.

Going to Brazil. That's the name of a very catchy Motorhead song, but it's also what some of the folks behind this site may be doing in a few months.

This will be our standard "I have a job and don't get European vacation time" trip. Meaning the trip will be relatively short, to conserve our precious two weeks for another trip later in the year, and will probably only visit one or two main sites, plus a couple of day trips. Do one site and do it well.

Our target is the Atlantic rain forest, one of the most critically endangered habitats in the world.

We are trying to decide between staying at Tropical Birding's Guapi Assu Lodge and Serra dos Tucanos.

Any comments or suggestions would be appreciated

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Still no Curlew cousin explanation.

For reasons completely unknown to us, Monday was the busiest day ever for this site. We had at least 127 people searching for "curlew cousin" or something similar, our total hits were 232.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Curlew Cousin?

We have had a ton of hits today (more than *65* this morning) from people using the search term "curlew cousin."

Can somebody please tell us what the hell a "curlew cousin" is, and why everyone is searching for it???

A lot of these searches are coming from Canada...our guess is that either a Canadian guy named Curlew just killed his cousin, or a lot of people are searching for info on birds that are related to a curlew (Eskimo, Long-billed, whatever)???

10,000 Hits!!!!

This site just had its 10,000 hit today.

Not bad for a goofy birding blog.

Anyway, hopefully we will have some updates tomorrow; Blogger has been down (again), for this site at least.

Until then, if this post ever gets published, here is something to whet your appetite:

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Plane Game: Using the Skies to Track the Search for Indiana University's New Head Basketball Coach

This is a bit off-topic, but every now and then I see something that just deserves to be blogged...anyway, my alma mater, Indiana University, is currently searching for a new head coach to take over the Men's Basketball program. Rumors are flying everywhere, and some of the best ones are getting deleted by the moderators on the various Indiana boards. That's where we come in...

Some other high-profile coaching changes have been "tracked" by following the path of private planes that are used to ferry the candidates (or the AD) in and out of town. This doesn't work if the candidates are flying in and out of, say, O'Hare or JFK, but in a small college town with a small airport it works very well. So, assuming the candidates aren't driving into Bloomington (where IU is located), and aren't flying into Indy and driving down to Bloomington, we can probably learn quite a bti by following the travels of various planes associated with the University, or various University friends and donors. So anyway, here's the scoop...

At 7:00 am this morning, a twin-engine Gulfstream Jet owned by Cook Aviation of Bloomington, Indiana landed at Port Columbus Airport in Ohio. That plane was scheduled to leav Columbus at 7:45, and lifted off at 8:14 headed for Bloomington. The plane arrives in Bloomington at the Monroe County Airport at 8:50.

Another leased private plane left Bloomington at 12:59 and is headed towards the airport at the Ohio State University right now. This plane also made a round trip between Indianapolis and Ohio State yesterday. The Cook plane has added a flight back to Columbus, leaving Bloomington at 3:30 and arriving in Columbus at 4:11.

All this could mean nothing...or, it oculd mean that someone currently employed in Columbus (ie Thad Matta) is interviewing for the job today.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Another Ornithologist Weighs in on the Ivory-billed Woodpecker Controversy

Tonight noted ornithologist Doug Stotz of the Field Museum of Natural History, who was one of the original "ringer" volunteer searchers in Arkansas, was on the radio on WGN-720 AM here in Chicago.

An astute listener (who is an excellent writer, quite witty, and, I might add, incredibly handsome) sent in a question asking Doug what he thought of Sibley's article, and asking him whether he thought the IBWO still existed.

The verdict? Doug is still a believer! Although he did qualify his answer by admitting that his good relationship with Fitz makes him a not totally unbiased source.

We don't just report the news here, we make it!!!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Pearls of Wisdom from the Pearl IBWO Spotter

Note to all Virginia birders reading this blog: If you don't have MacGillivray's Warbler on your VA state list yet, you must be an idiot, because one of the country's best birders has determined that about 80 of them show up in your state every year:

Mike Collins
Tue, 22 Sep 1998 19:14:30 -0400
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Greg's and Tyler's posts have struck a nerve. So let me put
out a "soapbox message" of my own.

It's important to be skeptical about rare bird reports, but
there are times when arrogance comes into play. I've had a
few experiences of the skeptical kind lately regarding my
reports from Wakefield Park. I don't mind skepticism because
it's an important part of the process of verifying reports
as much as possible. I actually expected it because I couldn't
believe some of the birds that kept showing up. I had hoped
that the skeptics would go silent after other birders who
were attracted to Wakefield Park by my reports saw Sedge Wren
and Connecticut, Mourning, and Brewster's Warblers. But then I
saw a MacGillivray's Warbler on Saturday. Having recently
experienced skepticism, I was extremely reluctant to report
this bird. But I did and my report to the hotline was completely
ignored. You'd think it would have at least warranted a few

How many other reports of MacGillivray's Warblers in this area
have been squelched? I'll bet a fair number of them find their
way to the east coast every year. Good numbers of Mourning and
Connecticut Warblers stray far to the west of their ranges.
About 80 of them have been observed at just one site in California.
Why wouldn't one expect similar numbers of MacGillivray's Warblers
in the east? And if one were to show up, wouldn't Wakefield
Park--which has had 9 Mourning Warblers and 5 Connecticut Warblers
this year--be a reasonable place?

To end on a positive note, I'd like to add that it's been a lot
of fun meeting those of you who have stopped by to check out
Wakefield Park. Hopefully we'll get another front and more good
birds in the next few days.

Mike Collins
Annandale, Virginia
Let's be serious for a minute. To be totally honest, the number of MacGillivray's Warblers (or Connecticut Warblers or Mourning Warblers) Mike Collins has seen in Virginia has absolutely nothing to do with whether he has seen an Ivory-billed Woodpecker. And, frankly, I wouldn't have posted anything about his original sightings if I didn't think they were at least somewhat credible. OK, so you might be wondering, why, all of a sudden, am I giving this guy such a hard time?
Well, it's because Mike has made the same mistake Cornell did in Arkansas -- overselling. When you oversell, you have to do silly, childish things, like tell everyone you went to MIT, or threaten to dig up dirt on anyone who doesn't believe your sightings. Shades of Mr. Guppy if you ask me. Remember how *before* Mr. Guppy "revealed" that he had seen an IBWO, he cried about how he couldn't handle the criticism he would face if he claimed he did see one??? Well, if you can't stand the heat, get out of the freakin' kitchen.
At this point, I really don't care if Mike Collins has seen an IBWO. If you go around telling everyone how smart you are, how well you can add 2 + 4, how great of a birder you are, and how stupid the entire birding community in Louisiana is, then you better damn well be prepared to back it up.

More on Mike Collins and the Ivory-billed Woodpecker

Well, I sort of hate to wade into the muck on this one, but I think it's necessary. I have been getting a ton of requests from people for info on Mike Collins, and I have had a ton of hits today from search engines from people searching for info on Mike. Not sure if that is related to the BirdForum thread or if there is something else going on here. Some of these searches are from people in, let's just say, educational or governmental positions. I know this is a bit hard to read, but go find the whole thread for yourself if you want to read the whole story.

So, without further comment, here is an old e-mail from Mike that involves a "first state record" MacGillivray's Warbler, and some of what people are whispering about on BirdForum and other places:

Mike Collins

I previously mentioned that some of my reports have been questioned.
I think a certain amount of skepticism is a good thing. My razzing of
Kurt Gaskill in a post earlier today was motivated by some grilling
I received from him last month. Some of the other skepticism and
criticism I've been receiving lately has gotten to be a bit tiresome,
including the dialogue appearing below. I've only been birding for a
few years and don't take criticism lightly. So I'd be interested to
know how other birders feel regarding the identification of some of
the species in question. By the way, isn't it true that Connecticut,
Mourning, and Brewster's Warblers and Philadelphia Vireo are regular
migrants through our area? It's my understanding that these species
are rare but regular. I'd also like to pass on some advice that I've
learned the hard way: If you see a MacGillivray's Warbler in this area,
don't dare to mention it to anyone!
Mike Collins
Annandale, Virginia

>When you
>reported your MacGillivray's on MD Osprey, you neglected to inform people that
>it was an adult. In fact, you neglected to mention any details of the birds
>description. I think people were quite leery of your report because you
>reported it without details. I did ignore your report becase it was an
>extremely rare bird (first state record) and had no details. I did not ask
>you for details because the last time I did, you gave details that described a
>waterthrush better than a sedge wren. When I asked you for clarification, you
>ignored me. I figured you had no interest in giving details to accompany your
>rare sightings. I suspect that some others on Osprey were leery of the
>MacGillivray's report because it was a report without any details. Most
>birders will give at least a brief description of a rare sighting. It lends
>credibility to your report. Without it, I think many people just delete it.

I never received such a request from you. Did you send it to me personally?
As I recall, I mentioned that the key field marks on the Sedge Wren were the
dark markings on the back and the well defined (but relatively short) eyebrow.
I interpreted your question as to how we decided between Marsh and Sedge since
those would be the logical pairs to separate. The dark back is to me the most
obvious difference. In particular, the Sedge lacks the dull rufous patches on the
back and shoulders of the Marsh Wren. At any rate, I wanted to let Howard Youth
provide most of the details as a courtesy to him since he was the one who spotted
it. I only provided my comments so people could hear what both observers had to

Regarding the MacGillivray's Warbler, copies of my two reports are below. Exactly
what further details would you suggest that I include? A gray hood with a large
broken eye ring pretty much narrows it down. We're talking about an extremely
trivial identification here. We're not trying to differentiate something as tricky
as Long-billed and Short-billed Dowitchers. Since I didn't have much time to
prepare the first report, I submitted a follow-up report with additional details
in which I emphasized that the break in the ring was very large and that the ring
was very thick.

*** Original report to the Voice (also posted to MDOsprey)
At the risk of losing all credibility, I'd like to report a MacGillivray's Warbler
that I saw at Wakefield Park this morning. I was birding with Edna Aaron and Larry
Cartwright along the powerline cut that has been good for Connecticut and Mourning
Warblers this fall. We were on the west side of the cut a short distance south of
the tennis courts. There are willow thickets in the cut in this area. A few birds
flew from the cut into a tree on the edge of the woods. One of them was an early
junco. I was able to lock onto the other bird for about a second and clearly saw
the gray hood, large broken eye ring, and green on the back. I've seen dozens of
MacGillivray's out west and was sure of the ID. But I must admit that I was a bit
reluctant to call it out until the others saw it, too. Unfortunately, the bird
flew immediately and neither Edna nor Larry were able to get a good look at it.

*** Follow-up report to the Voice
This is a follow up to the MacGillivray's Warbler report of Sept. 19. I wanted to
provide more details, which I didn't have the time to do over the weekend.
Although I only saw the bird for about a second before it flew, it was at close
range and I was able to lock onto it and get a good focus. I clearly saw the gray
hood, eye ring, and green on the back. The eye ring had a very large break and
was very thick as in a typical MacGillivray's. The back was a rich, dark green as
in a typical MacGillivray's. The underparts were obscured by leaves. Although the
other observers, Edna Aaron and Larry Cartwright, did not get a good look at it,
Edna mentioned seeing a lot of white on the head, which was presumably the eye
ring. We immediately tried to relocate the bird without success. I searched the
willow thickets in the area later that day as well as the past two mornings
without success.

>Yes, I sent it to you personally.

I never received it. I don't ignore email messages. If anything, I have spent
way too much time for my own good giving people detailed directions how to get
to Wakefield Park and where to look and escorting them around the place. Just
this morning, I went out in the pouring rain to show someone around.

>Was it a break in the eye ring, or two crescents, one above and one below the
>eye? Also, you failed to mention the blackish mottling on the upper breast.
>Also, when I write-up a bird, I find it counterproductive to mention
>fieldmarks "as in" a specific species, especially if I am saying "as in" the
>species I am trying to describe.

The crescents were large as in a typical adult male MacGillivray's Warbler.
In other words, the bird did not merely have, for example, an abnormally thick
broken eye ring of an immature Mourning Warbler. They were the large crescents
that are unique to an adult male MacGillivray's Warbler. Furthermore, the bird
was definitely an adult male since it had a dark gray hood. I did not see the
dark markings on the breast because the vantage point was about 8 o'clock. As
mentioned in my report, however, I did see the rich, dark green of the upper
part of the back. This is a subtle feature, but I find it noticeably different
from other Oporornis warblers.

>I disagree. Any state record should not be taken trivially. Perhaps
>trivializing it is why it was not received very well.

I was referring to the fact that an adult male MacGillivray's Warbler
is trivial to identify. You don't have to get down to intricate details
to identify this bird. Any birder who is beyond the training-wheel
stage should be able to identify one at a glance.

>If you are willing to presume that "a lot of white on the head" was in fact
>the eyering, then that makes mentioning it useless. Nashvilles and
>Connecticuts have big eyerings. She could have seen the eyering of another
>species and still made the same comment.

That's true, but so what? I mentioned what the other observers saw just to
describe the event more completely and as a courtesy to the other observers.

>The key fieldmark to separate the marsh and sedge wren is the white streaking
>on the back of the bird. Marsh does not have any on its head, sedge does have
>it on its head. You never mentioned the white streaks. Howard did. Without
>doing so, it is a somewhat thin description of sedge wren.

The most obvious difference to me is the dull rufous patches on the back of the
Marsh Wren, which was prominent on each of the many birds I've seen. This
difference shows up well in the photos in the Stokes field guide. So what if I
didn't mention every detail of the bird? You asked how we identified the bird,
not for a detailed description of every feature.

>You if you are so certain of the ID, why were you reluctant to call it out?
>This makes no sense to me. If you are certain, you are certain. You were the
>first person to doubt your own sighting.

I didn't doubt the sighting. As I stated in my report, I was sure of the
identification. I was reluctant to call it out or report it merely because
people hadn't even believed my reports of regular species such as Philadelphia
Vireo and Connecticut, Mourning, and Brewster's Warbler. I could imagine
how people would react if I were to report a MacGillivray's Warbler. And I
was right. My reports to the Voice and MDOsprey were ignored. Not one birder
tried to relocate the bird. Not one birder even asked questions about it until
I mentioned that my report to the Voice had been ignored.

Later on, I developed a certain uneasiness about the sighting, which I
admitted in my report to the state records committee. It is possible to
have such feelings even when you are certain of the identification.
I had it when I heard a Mourning Warbler singing at Wakefield Park this
spring. Since I had read that they have eluded some birders for decades,
I never expected to find one in migration and couldn't believe I was so
lucky. I knew it had to be a Mourning Warbler because I had seen many of
them in Canada and knew their unique song well, but I still had a funny
feeling until the bird popped into view. I had the same feeling when I
started seeing Connecticut Warblers this fall. By all accounts, this was
supposed to be an extremely difficult bird to find. So I couldn't believe
my eyes when the first bird I saw the first time I went out this fall was a
Connecticut Warbler. I got excellent looks at the first three birds that I
saw, including the complete hood and bold eye ring. Since these field
marks are diagnostic, there was never any question of the identification.

Neverthless, I still had an uneasy feeling. I only became fully comfortable
after seeing one of them walking and then getting a good view of its
undertail coverts. Although it's possible to identify a MacGillivray's
Warbler in a fraction of a second, I'll bet that most birders would be left
with an uneasy feeling after seeing one in Virginia for only a second.
I'm extremely busy this week and don't have time for further lengthy
discussions about my sightings.

>Don't worry Mike. After a couple of the liberties you take with field
>identifications, as well as "facts" about birds, (especially deeming Philly
>vireo, Connecticut, mourning, and Brewster's "regular species") I wont be
>asking you about any more of your sightings.
>You have absolutely no interest in hearing about better, more diagnostic field
>marks to identify a bird, or regarding birds. You have a set of beliefs about
>birds and birding that is unbending.
Sound familiar?

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

WOW-Kenn Kaufman lays the smack down on the Ivory-billed Woodpecker!!!!

I assume that this is another sign that the Sibley IBWO "rebuttal" arrticle will be published soon -- Kenn Kaufman just posted a message to the Ohio birding list about the "rediscovery" of the IBWO, and I'll just post the last paragraph, which is the best:

Now, about these freakishly elusive, supernaturally un-photographable birds in Arkansas... Once you look at the only "proof," the famous four-second video, and realize that it actually shows a Pileated Woodpecker, you have to wonder: What's really going on there?
Kenn KaufmanRocky Ridge, Ohio
I am sure that there will more more IBWO fun in the next few days!!!!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Countability of New Mexico Yellow Grosbeak

Well, I have been chilling out (actually, warming up) at Casa de Binac a Celebration for a couple of days. Didn't really get a chance to do any birding this trip; I pretty much worked during the day, and went to see a few World Baseball Classic games at night. Tonight I finally heard one of the local Barred Owls from the back patio -- yard bird, cha-ching!!!!

Anyway, we have had some nice comments lately on a few "rare-bird" type issues, so I thought I'd throw out a new topic for discussion.

There has been a Yellow Grosbeak in New Mexico that has been seen by many birders in the last couple of weeks. Has anyone reading this site gone to see it? Is this bird going to be deemed "wild" by the New Mexico rare birds committee??? Why isn't it a "presumed escapee"? I bring this issue up because someone has recently noted that this bird has some odd feather wear (along with a few other abnormalities) that might indicate a captive origin.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Official Declaration of Neotropical Migration

WHEREAS the NEXRAD radar showed significant numbers of migrants entering the Florida Keys and South Florida last night; and

WHEREAS loyal birders in Florida have detected numerous arriving neotropical migrants, including warblers, in the last 24 hours; and

PURSUANT TO the powers invested in BINAC by Roger Tory Peterson; we do

HEREBY DECLARE that spring migration has


as of the seventh day of the third month of the second year of the Great Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Wannetta the Owl Lady saves the day!!!

I don't like to rely on simply posting things I find elsewhere, but with all of the controversy that has been presented here in the last week or two, I think we need a bit of a change of pace. So here is a story that illustrates what birding is really about. The post is written by Illinois birder Tim Kuesel; Wannetta the Owl Lady (that's what we call her, really!!!) actually used to work with my aunt at the Post Office. Small world, eh? Here's the story:

Since it hasn't yet been mentioned in this forum this weekend and it was truly an amazing event to behold, let it now be known that more birding enthusiasts are surely in the making as a result of a Saturday morning field trip down in Matteson.
Thorn Creek Audubon's annual outing to search for owls with Wanneeta Elliott, which normally has merely a dozen or so attendees, this year attracted quite a crowd.
You see the Chicago Sun-Times environmental reporter, Gary Wisby, put an enticing article in the Friday morning paper touting Wanneeta's owl-finding skills and announcing the time and date and meeting place of the field trip as being 8 AM Saturday at the small strip mall at the corner of Vollmer and Central, also mentioning that the trip was open to anyone to attend and that seeing owls was a virtual guarantee. There was also an endearing picture of a Long-eared Owl in the piece. This turned out to be an inducement many readers could not resist.
As for myself, I had been on this same trip once many years before and fondly remembered Wanneeta showing our group five Long-eared Owls in one pine tree and figured this would be an easy way to bring along my friend, Christine Tyler, who loves owls, and help me save face and recoup some pride after getting her thoroughly soaked several weekends prior up at Rollins Savanna on the one night those smaller Short-Eared Owls decided not to come out and perform, (though they have obviously been plenty active many times before and since).
So we showed up in at Vollmer and Central in Matteson at about 7:50 AM Saturday morning. So did 68 other cars and 142 other people, (my actual count). Thorn Creek Audubon had published the start time for the trip as being 8:30 AM, not 8:00 AM as the Sun-Times had it, so Wanneeta spent the early morning hours on Saturday visiting her spots to make sure of that morning's owl perch locations so she could go right to them with her anticipated small group of participants.
Imagine her surprise to drive into the lot at the strip mall and be greeted by this huge throng of people, filling the sidewalks and still walking over from their cars which now overflowed the parking lot and were being directed to a dirt road across Central, steered there by the local police, who had been called by the White Hen Pantry to force the birders to relocate so their coffee customers would have a place to park.
No one could have blamed Wanneeta Elliott if she would have thrown her hands up exasperated and called the whole thing off. Seeing the assemblage consisted largely of families with young children and new enthusiasts lured in by the publicity from the paper, she calmly adapted, secured the officer's assistance in moving the cars down Central in orderly fashion, got everybody safely off the road, entered the Bartel pine grove, refound her LEO, set up scopes, led people in and out in groups, and made sure all enjoyed good looks at an extremely cooperative bird. She then took these people on to see Great Horned owls sitting on nests in several locations.
Unless you were there to witness it, you just don't know the heavy weight of the patience required of this field trip leader and the consummate grace she demonstrated. I can only recall two other instances of birding field trips with attendance even approaching anything like this. One would be the Arb trip led by the Chapmans during Hermit Warbler days that attracted about 80 people and the other would be one of the WSO's New Year's Day Milwaukee Lakefront Caravans years back that brought in just over 100. You would expect huge crowds at those kinds of events. To overwhelm the owl lady like this with 142 eager participants was asking for the world. Yet she pulled it off with admirable aplomb.
I suspect many more budding birders are now hooked. Wanneeta Elliott should be saluted and Thorn Creek Audubon should be proud.
Now, wasn't that sweet and nice??? BTW, the birder in me compels me to note that the Long-eared photo in the Sun-Times article was actually captioned as a Great Horned Owl!!!

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow...

Yesterday was a nice, warm, sunny spring day in Chicagoland, and I even got out to do a little "local patch" birding, for the first time in a few months. Today, though, we are in the middle of a March snowstorm here in Chicago. It has been snowing for at least 3-4 hours here along the lakefront, and there is probably an inch or two on the ground downtown. This is the kind of day that gives me the opportunity to clean up my dvr a little bit, and catch up on some AviSysing. Right now I am putting in some of my notes from my Tokyo trip last November. (Maybe the "lost" trip report from my my day will eventually make it to this site.)

I am not a great record keeper, so I usually have to decipher my sightings from scribbled pieces of paper or index cards. I have switched over to using small spiral notebooks in the field, which has worked a bit better for me. These scraps of paper often contain scribbled non-birding notes as well, especially if I am on a foreign trip.

Here are some of the random notes from my Tokyo scribbles: They have green tea gelato in Japan...they have electric toilets in Japan...I saw, more than once, a sleeping businessman fall into another sleeping businessman on the Tokyo subway.

Can you identify this bird?

Here is an interesting photo of a bird that has been seen in Florida: What do you think it is?

Friday, March 03, 2006

Another "fraudulent" rare bird photo?

First we had Mr. Guppy with his very odd IBWO photo, a photo that is either the best photo of an Ivory-billed taken in the last 60 years, or an outright fake.

Then, Mike McDowell did some detective and discovered that the last (only?) color photo ever taken of an Eskimo Curlew may not be what it seems.

Now, eagle-eyed BINACer Mike Miller sent me a like to yet another "controversial" rare bird photo: this time the subject is a Barn Owl that was allegedly photographed in Ontario. The photo was taken by a photographer who had previously taken a stunning photo of a Harris' Hawk in Quebec; needless to say, there aren't very many wild Harris' Hawks in Quebec, further adding to the suspicion.

Check out the discussion here:

And the photo that caused the controversy is here: Note the bare legs, and then look at one of the photos Mike also provided to me of captive Barn Owls, including here; the part of the leg where the "jess" would be corresponds to the part of the leg that is bare on the Ontario Barn Owl.

OK, since the link no longer works, here is the original "fraudulent" photo:

I'm not really sold either way; if anyone can find a link to further discussion about this bird, please send it to me.

Who knew birding could have so many shady characters???