Tuesday, May 30, 2006

I Hate Gulls: Mystery Gull Photo

OK, I must admit it: I HATE gulls.

But I know there are quite a few masochists out there that love gull identification, so this post is for you.

Name this gull:

OK, so it's not a super-tricky photo, but perhaps a bit trickier than it would appear to be at first glance. Can't say any more without giving it away.

The photo was taken by one of Chicago's best young birders, Jim Giacinto, and I'll tell the full story of this bird after (if) we get a few comments.

ABC Updates

Well, our ABC efforts went fairly well in Chicago this year. In the fine Chicago tradition, we are still counting, and will have a final total in after all of the other locales report their totals. It is entirely possible that we will report a total that is precisely one species higher than every other participating city and county, but that is pure speculation on my part.

Here is an update e-mail that was sent today by the organizer of the competition, Phil Pryde of San Diego:

Greetings again to everyone,
With one more day to go until June arrives on the scene, I'm hopeful everyone has had a very successful ABC/C outing in your local area, and are busily tabulating your sightings. Many thanks to those who have already submitted their results.
As usual, there has been a spirited battle along the California coast for the Birdiest County title. The front-runner at this point, due to excellent organization this year, is Los Angeles County with 265 species. In hot pursuit were San Diego with 261 and Monterey with a preliminary report of 252-253. Under the heading of "don't look behind you, something might be catching up to you", Kern County (inland!) has reported an inland record 246 species. One shudders to think of their total if they had a coastline!
New inland entrants San Antonio and Bexar County had an outstanding first effort at 195 for the city and 205 for the county. No reports yet from the more northernly entrants, who usually do their count a little later in May. Keep those cards and letters coming in! And again, please send me your results, even if they aren't as high as you would have liked; I never post the lower results, but I would like to know the total of how many locales participated. Thanks.
And now the big announcement - I have mentioned in previous e-mails that I was desirous of turning over the national organization of the ABC/C to someone else, preferably an organization, that could perpetuate it, and perhaps increase participation, better than I've been able to do working as an individual.
I'm happy to announce that an enthusiastic offer has been received, and accepted, from the Dauphin Island Bird Sanctuaries folks, last years small coastal city winners. Following the final results for 2006, the official Robe, Scepter, and triangular key to the secret vault at 24 Rue Haxo will be turned over to them. The contact there is Mike Wilson at Ylhammer1@cs.com . They're looking into the possibility of setting up a web site for the ABC/C competition. So things look promising for 2007!
As you submit your results over the next week or so, please note that I'll be away leading a bird trip to Alaska from June 3 through June 11, so there won't be any responses to your e-mails after this Friday, until at least June 12. If you can get your results posted to me no later than June 11, I'll immediately begin determining winners in each of the several categories, and hopefully have final 2006 results sent out by the 15th. That's the goal anyway.

Breaking News: New Treasury Secretary is a Birder!!!

President Bush today formally (it has been rumored for some time) nominated Henry M. Paulson Jr. to replace John Snow as treasury Secretary. The best part of this nomination is that Paulson is apparently one of us--he's a birder!!!! Check out this snippet from the wire article:

Paulson was known on Wall Street for his dedicated support of environmental causes. Earlier this year, he made a gift of $100 million in Goldman stock to a family foundation dedicated to conservation and environmental education. Even after that gift, Paulson has a net worth estimated at more than $500 million.
Paulson, who was known to favor bird-watching in New York's Central Park to playing golf, is chairman of the Nature Conservancy and the chairman emeritus of the Peregrine Fund.
Hoorah! We have quite a few NYC readers, can anyone out there confirm that Paulson is truly a birder? I have heard other people tell me in the past that the Chairman of Goldman Sachs (ie Paulson) was a birder but I want first-hand info.

Friday, May 26, 2006

BINAC on the radio

There will hopefully be a short story on WBBM-780 radio today about the city's plans to hire dogs to chase birds off of the beaches. They are streaming on the web at www.wbbm780.com.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Chicago's "bird-friendly" mayor declares: Let's hire dogs to chase birds off of our beaches!!!

This is just fan-tastic. Here is an excerpt from an article in today's Chicago Sun-Times:

Park District hopes dogs can keep lake clean
May 25, 2006
BY LORI RACKL Health Reporter

Barking border collies are just one of the new weapons the Chicago Park District will use to reduce the number of swim bans during this year's beach season, which starts Friday.
The idea is to decrease the amount of Lake Michigan's bacteria, which makes swimming off-limits when levels climb too high. A fair share of the bacteria is thought to come from bird droppings deposited in the water or washed off the beach into the lake.

Fewer gulls, cleaner water

That's where the collies come in: For four weeks at one of the city's 31 public beaches, the dogs will give an early morning wake-up call to the many gulls that spend the night on the sand, hopefully scaring the birds into finding a new home.

Another novel approach being tested this season calls for stringing a grid of wires about 12 feet above Dumpsters to keep birds from garbage picking. The grids are supposed to go up at three lakefront sites, most likely including Foster and 63rd Street beaches. These beaches are among those that log the most swim bans, which happened 78 times last year in Chicago.

"The wires keep the birds from diving down," said Joyce Coffee of the Chicago Department of Environment. "We'll see if the water is getting cleaner and if there are fewer gulls in the area."
The dogs and wires probably won't be used until mid-June because the city doesn't want to disrupt the migration pattern of piping plovers and other birds as they make their annual trek north.

More Illinois rarities: Bullock's Oriole, a possible second Mac-G Warbler

Well, the run of amazing vagrants in Illinois has continued. Today a female Bullock's Oriole was reported from downstate, while a possible/probable Mac-G Warbler was reported from the bush formerly known as the Magic Hedge at Montrose. Maybe an Ivory-billed Woodpecker will be next. Oh, sorry, the person who reported today's Mac-G has *already seen* an IBWO!

Could today's bird be the Kane County bird, just moving further east? What are the odds? What are the odds that there are two Mac-G Warblers in Illinois right now, when there has been only one prior accepted record in the last 100 years or so?

But, playing devil's advocate to my own devil's advocate, maybe the second bird shows that there is a pattern of dispersal for this species this year, similar to what some have commented on in Texas regarding some out-of-range Mac-Gs that have been seen there this year.

Or maybe people are just starting to see things that aren't there once the thought has been put into their heads. Or maybe people are properly identifying a species that always passed through in small numbers but has been consistently misidentified and "disbelieved" by the experts. Wait a minute, are we talking about a warbler or a woodpecker here? BINAC's head is spinning!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Mac-G, or not Mac-G: That is the question!

Well, in addition to the MacGillivray's Warbler that has been reported in the Chicago area, there has also been a report of a flock of (possible) Long-Billed Curlews, and of a Kirtland's Warbler. Up to this point, only the Kirtland's (seen at Gilson Park in Wilmette) has been photographically documented. (Anyone want to guess where the loyal BINAC staff will be tomorrow?)

So, are all of these birds legit, or not? The person who originally reported the "curlews" was not really even sure that they were LBCs (as opposed to Whimbrels) so that sighting is probably not going to be accepted by IORC, if it is even documented by the observers at all.

The Mac-G is a bit of a tougher question. It was seen by a few people on the "second day," but already I have heard some grumblings that a Mac-G cannot be safely identified in the field. I suspect that the IORC (Illinois Ornithological Records Committee) will have some healthy skepticism about this bird. There is one prior (very old) specimen record, so I think that the IORC may treat this as a first-state record, and will want to see a photo or sound recording.

The problem is that some Mourning Warblers (even adult males) can have at least faint eye-ring "arcs." I've been saying this for years, and people tell me I'm crazy, but it's Dunn and Garrett. D&G also states that some adult Mourning Warblers can have what appear to be black lores. So, even though the description of this bird strongly suggests Mac-G Warbler, I'm not sure you can totally exclude Mourning Warbler.

Hmmm, we'll see.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Vagrant alert: Southern Lapwing in Florida? MacGillivray's Warbler in Illinois?

There has been a report of a Southern Lapwing sighted recently in Florida...does anyone know if there are any prior Florida records for this species? And does anyone know why these type of birds never show up when I'm in the Sunshine State?

There has also been a Mac-G's Warbler reported from the Chicago suburbs. The last part of May is typically a great time for vagrants in the Chicago area, so who knows what will turn up next!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

From the Field: Birding Lake Park in Milwaukee

Bet you thought the next post would be from California, right? GOTCHA! I will post a California report when I have time to upload the photos, but as soon as I landed at O'Hare I had to high-tail it up to Milwaukee for work.

Today one of my meetings ended early and I was able to do a bit of local birding at a nice little lakefront park not too far from downtown Milwaukee: Lake Park.

For an hour or so of drizzly urban birding, I was rewarded with a nice selection of warblers, some that I haven't seen yet this spring because of my travel schedule.

I started out with the gimmes: American Crow, Northern Cardinal, American Robin, Black-capped Chickadee, Chimney Swift, and a couple of Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers. Then a few warblers were found on top of the bluff: American Redstart (male), Blackburnian (male)(yeah!), and a couple of Yellow-rumpeds.

I headed to the Ravine-to-Locust Street trail. There were very strong winds blowing out of the west, and while the bottom of a steep ravine is probably not the best place to be when it's raining, I figured the shelter would hide a few more species. I was right. The first sightings in the ravine were of a pair of Chestnut-sided Warblers (both male) and a Swainson's Thrush. A Wood Thrush popped up, followed by a couple of Indigo Buntings, a Chipping Sparrow, and a Lincoln's Sparrow. More warblers: female Common Yellowthroat, a Magnolia, a Nashville, and a Palm.

Finally, I reached the playground area, where there was a noisy group of at least three and possibly as many as five Red-headed Woodpeckers.

That was some nice "found" birding time, and if I'm lucky, I may be able to hit this spot again in the morning. (It's either that, hit a few closer parks, or look for window kills in downtown Milwaukee. Decisions, decision.) The nice thing is that I got plenty of "lakefront looks", ie up-close-and-personal views of warblers that you can often get in Chicago's great lakefront parks. The second nice thing is that most of the warblers were male, and there are still Palms and Yellow-rumps around (typically early migrants in Chicago), so spring migration really has some legs still. If we aren't seeing a lot of female warblers yet, warbler migration may even extend into early June.

Chicago Tribune Headline: Extinct Woodpecker is...Extinct

Well, it looks like Cornell has essentially conceded defeat in Arkansas. They just blew what may have been our last chance to save the IBWO because of their arrogance and elitism...if they would have opened up the "Big Woods" to birders immediately after the first round of sightings any IBWO that still existed would have been found. But no, they wanted to raise their money and write their books and now none of us may ever see the bird again. Greedy bastards.

Birders find no new confirmation of rare woodpecker in Arkansas
By ANNIE BERGMANAssociated Press WriterPublished May 18, 2006, 12:48 PM CDT

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Search teams exploring an Arkansas swamp for better evidence of the ivory-billed woodpecker said Thursday they had no new confirmation of the bird's existence, and wildlife managers said there was no longer a reason to limit public access to the region."Certainly we're somewhat disappointed," said Ron Rohrbaugh of the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, N.Y. "We've had enough of these tantalizing sounds and we still have a lot of hope that there might be a pair, especially in the White River area."The lack of confirmation after searching over the winter and spring "doesn't mean the bird's not there," Rohrbaugh said. The search will be expanded to other states next winter.
Wildlife officials said the Big Woods area of eastern Arkansas would be reopened to the public immediately."Based on the information coming from the search and research that we have done, I feel there is no need any longer limited public use within this area," said Dennis Widner, manager of the Cache River Wildlife Management Area.Cornell researchers supported the decision to reopen the area to general use. If new evidence is discovered, state and federal agencies can reimpose restrictions on access, Widner said.
Gene Sparling of Hot Springs reported seeing an ivory-billed woodpecker in the spring of 2004 while kayaking in the area near the White River between Little Rock and Memphis, Tenn.More than 100 volunteers and full-time researchers went through the area over the winter but failed to find additional strong evidence of the bird's existence in their primary search area.The National Audubon Society would continue to support search efforts for at least one more year. "The big woods was recognized as an important bird area many years before the rediscovery of the ivory-billed woodpecker," said Dan Scheiman of Audubon Arkansas.
Jon Andrew, the recovery team leader with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the search will continue next year across the Southeast. Paid and unpaid searchers would look for evidence of the bird in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina and Texas, as well as Arkansas, he said.Researchers believe they have captured audio recordings of the rare bird _ accompanying a brief, grainy videotape of what is believed to be an ivory-billed woodpecker.One volunteer searcher and three members of the public have reported seeing the bird, but none of the full-time researchers has sighted it, said Martjan Lammertink, also of Cornell.
Lammertink said in all four cases, the birds sighted had large amounts of white feathers on the lower halves of the wings _ consistent with an ivory-bill.However, Lammertink said members of the team "have heard knocks, calls. We don't have an existing recording of an ivory-billed so we have to make extrapolations from other recordings," he said. "It's a complicated process."Until Sparling's reported sighting Feb. 11, 2004, the last known sighting of the bird was in north Louisiana in 1944.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

It's here, it's here!!!

According to a post to the Illinois birding list, my second-favorite time of the year (after the CBC season) is finally here: It's America's Birdiest City/County weekend here in Chicago!!!!!!

It is time once again for the (4th?) annual America's Birdiest City/County Competition.

Cities and counties across the country compete to see who can spot the most species of birds in a specified time period. There are different categories for different sized cities, and for different parts of the country. Chicago and Cook County have always done well in this competition, usually winning at least one of the categories.

The rules have changed a bit this year. This year the competition lasts for three days, and we have chosen this weekend (Friday through Sunday) for Chicago's and Cook County's entries. Under the new rules, a person can bird all three days and report all of their sightings; you don't have to pick your "best" 24-hour period, you can submit all of your sightings.

If you don't send your sightings to IBET, you can send them directly to me. Just be sure that you somehow designate which species were seen in Chicago (they would count for Chicago and Cook County) and which were seen only in suburban Cook County.

We have had great participation in past years from groups doing Big Days or the CAS Bird-a-thon, but even if you just head out to your local forest preserve for an hour or two, you may see something that no one else will see this weekend.

Our goal, of course, is to maximize the total number of species seen in the three-day weekend, and the best way to do that is to blanket the lakefront hotspots and send other teams to search for particularly difficult-to-locate species, for example, owls, ducks, grassland birds that are within the Chicago city limits. I would like to try to organize teams to hit spots that might not have a lot of coverage this weekend, like Black Partridge F.P., Dan Ryan Woods, McCormick Place, the southern lakefront parks, the O'Hare Ponds, and certain spots in the Calumet area; if anyone is interested in birding these areas, please let me know.
Of course, I'm still not back in Chicago yet, but I will try to make it back for all the fun.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Still on the road...

...in California, will try to update when I can.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

WANTED: Link to Original Sparling IBWO Sighting

Even though I have made a conscious effort to stay away from the main IBWO/Cornell debate, there are still a few things that interest me, that I have not yet seen addressed elsewhere.

The Cornell IBWO lore has it that Gene Sparling first posted his sighting on a local canoe club bulletin board. I remember how excited I was last April about the IBWO, and I tried to find the original post at the canoe club site (can't remember the web address) and couldn't find it.

So, as doubts increase about the whole Arkansas episode, I am just wondering: can anyone out there provide me with a link (or Google cache) to Sparling's original post? Not something from a press account that "quotes" his post, but a link to his actual, original post.

Shouldn't be that hard to find, right? Which is why I am puzzled that I haven't been able to find it...

Monday, May 08, 2006

Birds and Buildings Web Site Hijacked By Terrorists!!!

Well, the highly per-fessional folks at the Birds and Buildings web site have apparently been attacked by some sort of Islamic terrorists. The funniest thing is that we are probably the only people who noticed...maybe next Osama will start building a bunch of really tall glassy buildings at Cape May and High Island to decimate America's bird populations. Oh well, check it out, but if you get some sort of virus, don't blame BINAC:


The music is kindy catchy once you get used to it. (Hey, I wonder how low you have to be in Al-Q to be the person assigned to hack the Birds and Buildings Forum? If you do well at that job, you'll probably get promoted to collecting donkey dung.)

Friday, May 05, 2006

From the Field: Birding Virginia at York River State Park

On Friday, my plan was to do some "Battlefield Birding" -- to check out some of Virginia's fine Revolutionary War and Civil War sites, and see some birds along the way. I have had some success with this strategy, Chickamauga is one especially birdy battlefield that comes to mind.

However, that plan didn't develop, and I instead spent part of the day at the fabulous York River State Park. York River turned out to be a very pleasant, birdy park, and I had a great morning. YRSP is on the York River (surprise!) and has a wide variety of habitats.

I ended up with a modest 28 species, but it seemed very birdy, and it was a beautiful day to be outside. I had a bit of excitement when I had a glimpse of a yellowish bird that looked like a western-type tanager. A few minutes later I spotted a male Orchard Oriole and realized that bird I saw earlier was obviously a female Orchard. (Duh!) I also did a double take when, after I saw a few Indigo Buntings, I spotted another one with brown on the wings. Of course, that would make it a Blue Grosbeak, not an Indigo Bunting. (Duh again!) Hey, I don't see a lot of Blue Grosbeaks...that's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it!

I also made a quick stop in Colonial Williamsburg, where I had a great burger and dessert at the Trellis.

Even though it was the heat of the day, I saw 19 species, and picked up a few species I hadn't seen in the morning, including a bunch of Blue Jays, and my first Great Crested Flycatcher of the year.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Life in the Fast Lane

Well, it was a nice day 0f birding today in Virginia, but can't find my notes (left them in the car, I hope) so the update will have to wait until tomorrow.

In the meantime, I was having dinner in Short Pump (just west of Richmond) having a nice juicy steak when I noticed a very attractive young woman dining at the table next to mine. It was kinda odd, she was obviously very hot, but was "dressed-down" in a t-shirt and jeans, and the guy with her was no prize...unshaven, not exactly svelte, and wearing some crappy t-shirt as well...kinda dressed like me, to be honest. Anyway, I was trying to figure out what this girl was doing with this guy when they finished their meal and walked past me out the restaurant. I couldn't see the guy's face before but now...BINGO...it's NASCAR driver Ryan Newman! That explains a lot...and Purdue still sucks.

So I finish my chow and head out to the car, some crappy little Hyundai. (Why can't Hertz ever give me an American car?) As I'm starting to back out of my spot, some idiot in a red Ford Explorer flies through the aisle at 40 or 50 miles an hour...as I look at this moron in my rear-view mirror, my jaw drops when I recognize the driver...it's Rusty fucking Wallace! I shoulda know no mere mortal would be driving througha mall parking lot at that speed. Just to be sure, I followed the Explorer and saw him get out and start jabbering on his cell phone, that was definitely Rusty. Unreal.

ABC Update

It looks like all of the big guns in California held their Big Days/Big Weekends/whatever-you-want-to-call it this past weekend.

Up this weekend are some of the big guns in Texas, including San Antonio and Houston. I've always wondered why more Florida cities/counties didn't enter this contest, a couple of places (Tampa and Miami come to mind) would be hard-to-beat.

Us Yankees will have to wait a week or two. But we'll be ready.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Smith's Longspur and 4 Lark Sparrows at Northerly Island

Well, migration has really heated up here in Chicago over the last two days. It will be impossible to keep up with what everyone is seeing for the next two weeks or so, and hopefully I will spend more time birding than blogging! Typically, I get behind on my notes/AviSys-ing right about now, and don't catch up until about mid-June. Little pieces of papers with numbers on them are currently scattered all over the floor of Case de BINAC. It will get worse before it gets better.

However, here is a little tease...there was a Smith's Longspur found at Northerly Island on Monday evening. The Smith's was not refound on Tuesday, but there were 4 Lark Sparrows found at the south end of the Island. (Four Lark Sparrows may not be a big deal in a lot of places, but location is everything, and four Lark Sparrows on the lakefront exceeds the number of Lark Sparrows I have seen along the lakefront in the last ten years.) There have also been some massive Willets flocks seen in the last few days, ranging from single birds to flocks of more than 60 birds, I think one observer had more than 100 in a single day.

Tonight BINAC will temporarily relocate to Richmond, Virginia, and we will have some reports from the Commonwealth over the next few days. Hopefully we will close out a few older in-progress reports as well.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Early America's Birdiest City/County Results From California

I have been checking out Don Roberson's web site quite a bit lately, to prepare for my trip next week to Monterey, but also because he has a lot of interesting stuff on there.

Check out his comprehensive report on Monterey's entry into the ABC competition, which took place this past weekend. Now *that*, my friends, is how to run a birding competition! Pretty unbelievable participation, and it sounds like they raised a lot of money, too.

The best part, though, is the footnote at the end where Don addresses the "rule changes" instituted for this year:
* = footnote: We'd beat Los Angeles and San Diego counties (and every other county in America!) almost every time there's been a head-to-head 24 hour event (the only exception was when a northern California team of experts on a serious Big Day basically did San Diego's event for them). So the San Diego ABC compiler changed the rules again to add extra days (it's rumored they'll expand to the whole month of April next year). This effectively made it impossible for a county with limited observers to compete head-to-head with the large populations in Los Angeles & San Diego counties. They can send out waves of birders day-after-day and give everyone results by email each night. This is exactly what happened this year. According to web reports, Los Angeles County had a total list in the 190s after their first 24 hours, a list in the high 240s after their second 24 hours, and finally passed our one-day total on their third day, reaching the 260s. This is getting fairly silly. ...
I've got to say that I agree with Don on this one. Now, obviously, Chicago ain't playing in the same league as Monterey and San Diego, but we are definitely going to be hurt (on the County side for sure) by this extended time period. Counties with lots of habitat and small numbers of birders will be able to do exactly what LAC did this year, turning the ABC into more of a census than a true Big Day competition.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Wind Power Info

This site is particularly interested in human structures (communications towers, tall buildings, etc.) that kill nocturnal migrants. One particularly hot area right now is wind power. People are struggling to determine how many birds are killed by turbines, and how those numbers can be lowered.

Here is an interesting link (that I have not previously seen) containing quite a bit of information on the subject:


While I'm not sure I agree with everything on that site, there is a lot of interesting information.

Mike Collins Poll Results

OK, some of you might have noticed that I have kept my mouth shut on the IBWO for a few weeks now. This is despite the fact that there has been *plenty* of material for me to use...Sibley published his article, Mike Collins announced that he had contracted West Nile (but later deleted that from his web site), and Mr. Guppy even made a brief reappearance. (But don't worry about Mike, I'm sure he never really had West Nile...he must have just *assumed* he had West Nile, based on incomplete information, and jumped to a conclusion that was later disproven by the facts. I'm sure that's the first time he's ever done anything like that, right?)

So why did I lay off all of these juicy things? Frankly, I thought the whole atmosphere was just too negative. This site has been skeptical of Cornell from the start, but that skepticism has always been based on a dislike of their (in hindsight, obviously) flawed tactics, not on some crazy conspiracy theory. Reading some of the blog and other comments floating around out there, I get the impression that a lot of the skeptics don't want the IBWO to exist. Which is really, really sad.

Anyway, now that things have cooled down a bit, you might see a bit more in this space on the IBWO. Which brings us to the results of our last poll:


What do you see in the photos taken by Mike Collins and posted at fishcrow.com?


An Ivory-billed Woodpecker!!!

Some kind of woodpecker--species TBD.

Well, it could be *some* kind of bird.

I see nothing!!!

Who really cares?

98 votes total

Those results pretty much speak for themselves. I think the visitors to this site are a good cross-section of the birding community, comprised of both skeptics and True Believers, so the results are probably a pretty good representation of what the birding community at large (as opposed to the readers of Tom Nelson's or Cy's sites) is thinking.