Saturday, December 8, 2012

Back to the Tropics!!

Isla Cozumel

In about 16 hours, I will be on a flight back to the tropics.  This time, the destination is Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, Belize and Guatemala.   I, along with a couple friends, will be alternately backpacking, birding, hitchhiking, bus-touring this region for the next two weeks.

Our goal is to see as many birds as possible including as many of the region's endemic species as possible.

After flying into Cancun, our first destination will be Playa Del Carmen to catch the ferry to Isla Cozumel to search for the four endemic species of birds found there.  

We will then bird along Vigia Chico road for a couple days before catching a bus to Belize City, and from there, to the small town of San Ignacio.  Once there, we will head up into the Mountain Pine Ridge preserve which is a spectacular preserve of sub-tropical pine trees, mountain streams, rocky pools, and awesome scenery.  

After birding there for a few days, we will catch the bus to Guatemala where we will head to the world-famous Tikal National Park where we will spend a day and a half birding the ancient Mayan ruins before catching a bus back to San Ignacio.

From there, we'll head back to Mexico to spend a couple days at Calakmul reserve where it sounds like we have our best chance for seeing a Jaguar, among other things.  

After that, we'll head north to Ria Lagartos estuarine preserve for some coastal mangrove and waterbirds including Flamingos.  Two days spent birding there will end our tour of the Yucatan Peninsula. We'll catch a bus back to Cancun and be back in the States for Christmas.

I will then have much to blog about and many photos to share.

Til then,
Happy Birding!
See you in a couple weeks!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Chasing the Hawk-owl

Pine Grosbeak

When my alarm went off, I wondered why it had.  It was still dark outside. Glancing at my phone, I noted the time. 4:30am; not any time for any reasonable person to be awake. Unfortunately for me, since I'm a birder, this was "normal" time.  I hopped up, grabbed my gear and headed downstairs. Rob was already awake.  By 5, we had loaded all our gear into my car and were set to take off.  No snow in the air just yet, but it was bitterly cold for a November morning.  I was glad the heat in my car has always worked better than any other system.

A cold, bleak dawn found us well on our way, headed north and east past Green Bay towards Door County where a Northern Hawk-owl had been found.  On the way, we chattered about birding, records, chasing, doing a big year, etc., the usual kind of chatter you hear from crazy birders like us.
After a short stop in Green Bay to grab some food (apparently Rob can't run on just birding alone... who does that? jk :D ) we were well on our way to where the Hawk-owl was hanging out.

Northern Hawk-owl is a fairly rare winter visitor to Wisconsin.  As far as I can tell, the last one to be seen in the state was seen during the great owl irruption of 04-05 at Harrington Beach State Park.  
I've seen dozens of these awesome birds in Northern Minnesota, where they are regular winter residents, but this was my first chase of one in Wisconsin.

After driving most of the way to Sister Bay, we arrived at the Hawk-owl spot around 8:30am.
The Hawk-owl obliged us by sitting in the open, on the power line as we drove up.  Two other birders were already present and watching the bird from the warmth of their cars.

We managed to get a few photos off before it flew back into the Spruce trees across the road.  It perched up momentarily where a flock of White-winged Crossbills mobbed it. Then it flew down out of sight before popping up farther back among the trees. The bird hung out among the trees for the better part of half an hour (during which we spent some time observing the other birds in the area (Crossbills, Redpolls, Pine Grosbeaks, etc) before finally emerging and obligingly perching at the very top of a tall Spruce:

After a customary high-five and watching the bird for about an hour and a half, Rob and I called it quits (it was bitterly cold with a stiff 10mph breeze) and headed home.  

7 hours round-trip, an hour and a half on site, and I added a new bird to my WI state list.
It's not often I get to see two new state birds in the same week!  The Hawk-owl was a lifer for Rob and #312 for his WI year list. That's pretty impressive!

Til next time, Happy Birding!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Birding the Lakefront

It's been some time since I've posted a birding report here. Facebook has taken over much of the blogging world and few of the old bloggers remain. Some retain their relevancy and some newer ones attempt to maintain it, but blogs now take the second seat in this day.  Given that, I still try to maintain this one.

I hadn't been to the lake since late last winter, so on Sat, I decided to take a jaunt on over to see what I could find.

I started off at Grant Park on the south side of Milwaukee where I ran into a few friends; Rebecca Setzer, Seth Cutright, Paul Sparks, Joan Sommer and a few others.  They were gathered near the tennis courts where most of the winter finches had been hanging out.  As I arrived, they pointed out the five Red Crossbills that were partaking of the grand selection of cones in the area.
They proved difficult to photograph with the light, but I did get one decent shot:

Female Red Crossbill

Unfortunately, these were the only boreal birds in the area that morning save for a lone Common Redpoll.  It was better than nothing, but not the birds I was looking for.

Not a bird, but while at there, we saw two Bucks, staying safe from hunters in the confines of the city park. Both of them had large racks:

After birding Grant park and finding next to nothing (our only other notable bird was a flyover Rough-legged Hawk) I took off ahead of the group and headed north.  An Eared Grebe had been reported at Bayview Park just up the shore. Alas, all I could find were endless streams of Red-breasted Mergansers:

After checking Texas Ave, South Shore and Discovery World (only a few Greater Scaup here), I resigned myself to the notion that the Eared Grebe was either not present, or hiding.

North Point in Milwaukee turned out to be the most productive spot of the day. When the group arrived, I already had my scope on all three Scoters. Also present were: a Common Loon, two Long-tailed Ducks and an adult Bald Eagle fishing out on the lake.

Horned Grebes were present in several places in Milwaukee as well as farther north.

At the harbor entrance under the Hoan Bridge, I discovered a single Red-necked Grebe, though the light proved too difficult for any photos.  Two out of three isn't too bad.

After Milwaukee, I headed to Port Washington. Port was quiet, but a flyover Wood Duck was a surprise.
After grabbing lunch at the Dockside Deli (excellent sandwiches) I hopped on the highway to Sheboygan.  

Just south of Sheboygan is Kohler-Andrae State Park. It's actually two state parks right next to each other that are treated as one.  This park has had some pretty awesome birds in past years.  This time, the park was pretty quiet. There were zero passerines save for a few birds around the feeders.
I ran out to the beach and scoped the lake. A dozen Black Scoters were just offshore along with a few Horned Grebes and more Red-breasted Mergansers. Just beyond the heat shimmer was a large raft of Long-tailed Ducks. My minimum estimate was a thousand.  After picking through and finding nothing else of interest, I headed north to Sheboygan.

The Blue Harbor area in Sheboygan was largely devoid of birds. Most notably, the Snowy Owl that had been hanging out there.  I quickly ditched that and headed up to the marina where this Snowy Owl gave us awesome views:

While viewing the Snowy Owl through the scope, we heard the calls of Waxwings behind us.
Picking through some fruit trees across the street from the marina were about 50 or so Cedar Waxwings. Since Bohemian Waxwings had been seen in good numbers in the southern part of the state already, we gave it a go.  The lone Bohemian Waxwing in the group flew right past my head and landed up high in a nearby tree where I quickly pointed it out to the others. We all got scope views eventually. It was an awesome bird to end the day with:

This was not only a new state bird for me (WI #330), but also a new one for my Lower 48 list.

With the sun setting, I started the long trek back home.  Not too bad a finish after a slow start to the day.

It's sounding like it's going to be some pretty sweet birding this winter. We'll see what turns up in the next two weeks before I head out.

Til then, Happy Birding!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Word Games

On occasion, I do post things other than birding-related.  With the development of "internet english" we're starting to see some uses of certain words get confused with others.  Here is a piece I wrote last night that details the correct usage of some of the common mis-uses of words:

It's You're not Your and Yours not You'res, 
Theirs not Theres and There's not they'res. 
It's, its and its' are not all the same, 
and y'all know all y'all or all y'alls game. 
Use of Lose is loose at best, 
but I'd advise to give advice and not to rest. 
Ask who's and whose when you know not whom, 
but be sure those affected have an eff
ect on the room.
Further's not farther but farther's too far,
Fewer is less, but not less than the few.
Would of and Could of, Should've been banned.
But our principal is principle in that command.
Then isn't than and than can't be then,
because then we'd be lower than low in our den.
Since we have started and because we are here,
We're not the same as at one time we were.
Continually changing at continuous pace,
our language out-plays us and laughs in our face.
Whether's not if and you may, and you might
But I wish y'all good grammar, and to all y'all a good night!

Recent happenings in the midwest

Barred Ow

Hasn't been terribly much going on, or even very much to blog about lately.  Work has gone on as usual these past few months and birding has slowed down and sped up according to the season.

My work season ended this past weekend with a couple trips to see migrating waterfowl. Thousands of Swans and ducks populate pool 7-9 on the Mississippi River every fall on their migration south. Every year, we take people out among the ducks to view the passage of scores of birds.  The migration still goes on, but our work season is done. It has been another awesome year working out on the river, but now I must find other things to do until the season starts again.  Amazingly, my schedule has filled with trips, Christmas Bird Counts, guiding gigs, festivals, etc. It's amazing that I actually have time for any leisure birding anymore.  I'll be updating on the key events of the winter as they draw closer, but it should be a fun year.

This year, winter finches of every species have been reported in large numbers far to the south of their normal winter ranges.  Pine Siskins have become common lately and Redpolls are increasing in number.  Red Crossbills have been reported into mid-continent states and Evening Grosbeaks are currently experiencing a massive irruption year with reports as far south as Chicago.  Pine Grosbeaks also appear to be starting a large-scale incursion into the south with reports into central and southern Wisconsin and Minnesota.   The owl year is shaping up to be a good one with lots of Boreal Owls being banded in Duluth and at Whitefish Point and one caught last night at Linwood Springs in Stevens Point!  Reports of Great Grays have been farther south than usual and hopefully we'll get an influx of Hawk-owls soon.  A Gyrfalcon has already been seen in Northern Minnesota and it is my hope that one of these magnificent birds will hang around for the winter.  Bohemian Waxwings are another that have staged a massive irruption this year and are spreading far south of where they're normally found.

Hopefully, this winter will shape up to be an awesome one and hopefully I'll be able to pick up every one of these species on one of my several trips to Duluth this winter.  

Til then, I'll keep you updated on the happenings in the awesome world of birding.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A day with Nigel Marven

Below is a post I wrote for The Eyrie in Jan of 2010, about a day I spent guiding Nigel Marven, the world-famous TV host, in the mountains of southern Arizona when I was living down there in 2009.
It was a day I shall never forget.  Enjoy!

The persistently beeping alarm on my phone brought me back from the realms of dreams.  For a second, I wondered why I had bothered to set it the evening before. Then I remembered. I glanced at the clock. I was supposed to meet Nigel Marven in half an hour.
  I lay back on the pillow for a second, remembering the day he first called me.  I had come home in the afternoon one day to find the light on the message machine blinking. The caller had a distinct British accent. "Hi Chris, this is Nigel Marven. I'm calling to see if you're available to guide a couple days nextweek."  My jaw had dropped open in disbelief. Nigel Marven?  THE Nigel Marven..... was calling me?  I knew I had been having a lucky summer, but surely not that lucky!  I had quickly called him back and arranged the day and place.  
 I hopped up and grabbed a package of the ultimate quick breakfast food, Raspberry Pop Tarts, to munch on while I filled the feeders for the morning.  After a quick check to make sure the solar panels were in position, I jumped in my car and headed off down the 2 mile stretch of road to the Portal store.
 Nigel pulled up a few minutes later. "Hi Chris, Nigel Marven. Nice to meet you."  I replied, "and very pleased to meet you Nigel."
 It had been some time since Nigel had visited southeast Arizona and he had quite a mixed list of target species. Some were lifers, but some were also species that he hadn't seen for several years.   
 I grabbed my scope and camera and we took off. The plan was to head up to Sierra Vista and hit up the canyons for hummingbirds, then on to Patagonia and Madera Canyon. 
 Beatty's B&B was the first stop for looks at White-eared and Berylline Hummingbirds. Nigel knew Tom Beatty from a hummingbird show he had filmed several years ago in which Beatty's was the film site.  After finding our targets, we made a quick stop at Mary Jo Ballator's for excellent looks at Lucifer Hummingbird.  
Deciding that we could get Botteri's, Cassin's, Rufous-crowned and other sparrows back in Portal, we hot-footed it to Patagonia. The Sinaloa Wren ended up giving us some trouble. It was not in a cooperative mood at all, but, after hearing it sing for half an hour, we did finally manage a quick scope view as it flew out of the nest.  
 The Patagonia Roadside rest proved its worth: The Thick-billed Kingbird was sitting on its predicted perch.  It has been, and still is, the single most reliable bird I have ever seen. It always seems to perch on exactly the same perch in exactly the same place, every single time I have looked for it.  
 Running short on time, we decided to head for Madera Canyon and hopped on the highway for Nogales. Passing through the border patrol checkpoint proved interesting since I hadn't guided a foreigner before.  Apparently, Nigel hadn't encountered a checkpoint before which made it all the more amusing.  "Y'know, I left my wallet and passport at the hotel."  He said.  I hadn't expected that. I wasn't sure what the border patrol had the authority to do, but I assured him it would be fine.  We pulled up to the checkpoint and an officer asked if we were American citizens. Nigel replied "No, I'm not. I'm from Britain. I'm Nigel Marven. You know, I'm a host on Animal Planet. I do the walking with dinosaurs show."  The officer didn't appear too impressed. "Oh, you're Nigel Marven?"  Nigel replied, "Yes, and I forgot to bring my passport...... I left it at the hotel."  The officer appeared slightly amused at this. "Oh, you forgot your passport?"  "Yes, I left it at the hotel.”  The officer shook his head and asked me, "Are you an American citizen?"  I replied "yes" and he waved us through.  "See?" I told Nigel "that was simple."   Nigel just shook his head, slightly surprised that it had been that easy.  
 We arrived at Madera Canyon just as dark clouds were building on the horizon. Our search for Rufous-crowned Sparrows began with complete silence. It was early afternoon and everything went quiet for a siesta. Then, the dark clouds moved in, temporarily cutting off our search. Knowing that the showers would not last, I suggested waiting it out. Nigel agreed and we ran down to the Green Valley gelato shop to escape the heat of the afternoon and enjoy the excellent selection of gelato ice cream.  
 About an hour later, the showers subsided and we headed back out.  This time, the mesquite was full of song. At the first stop, there were well over a dozen Rufous-winged Sparrows singing full blast. I quickly located one perched high on a mesquite and put the scope on it. After spectacular views, I managed to get a couple decent photos.
 With darkness closing in, we headed out for the three-and-a-half hour drive back to Portal.  It had been a good day, with all target species being mostly cooperative and great looks at many.  It was very similar to a day with any other birder. The only difference being some of the stories he told about his adventures while filming wildlife in various places, and of his upcoming special about Burmese pythons that he had been filming in the Everglades only a week before. 
 He is definitely an interesting guy and someone I would highly recommend meeting if you ever get the chance.  His "Walking with Dinosaurs" show was one of my favorites during the time it aired on TV.  His latest show is about finding a jaguar and is filmed in the Brazilian Amazon.   If you wish to know more about Nigel Marven, visit his website at:
 For those who have not heard of me, I am a young birder, photographer and writer based out of southern Wisconsin.  I spent four months during the summer of '09 working as a local birding guide while living in the small town of Portal in the Chiricahua Mountains of Southeast Arizona.   

My Flickr page can be found at:

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park.  That was where my family chose to make our vacation destination this year. I was pretty happy because the birding would be awesome, I had a few friends that lived out there, and, best of all, it wouldn't cost me much.  I had been to Glacier twice before. Once for about a week in '04 when we had spent some time and hiked a bunch of trails and spent time there.  The second time was a few years later on our way back from Banff National Park. Unfortunately though, this was earlier in the year and the Going-to-the-sun Road was still closed in most of the upper elevations. This was the first year we would be back to do some more exploring.

If you haven't been to Glacier yet, I would highly recommend visiting.  The scenery is spectacular and the birding is pretty sweet.   If you visit in July like I did, you should hit the wildflowers pretty nicely.

At the top of Logan Pass, the Glacier Lillies were blooming:

In the lower elevations, you can find Thimbleberry blooming in July and fruiting in August:

In the high mountain valleys, Mountain Bluebells can be found in large numbers:

and Indian Paintbrush makes up a good percentage of the flowers at all elevations:

Throughout the park, mountain streams run, carrying rainwater and meltwater from glaciers and snowfields. Most of them tumble through a jumble of stones, boulders and fallen trees:

In the thick forests blanketing the slopes, birds like Varied Thrushes can be heard, their songs echoing through the glades, Chestnut-backed Chickadees forage in the thick cedars, Western Tanagers call from further up the slopes, and Boreal Chickadees call their lazy "schlicka-zee-zee"

The beauty of the park cannot be told in words, and images only tell half the story.  In this and a few future posts, I will try to convey at least some of that beauty.

Til next time, Happy Birding!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Apologies for not posting more.....

Hey everyone,

I haven't been too active in the blog world lately and I just wanted to explain why:

I've been working more this year and this whole last month has been extremely busy for me.
Also, my internet service provider at home just re-vamped their entire service policy and now I have fast internet, but at the same time, they cramped the amount of space so much that just checking email, Facebook messages and other basic functions is taking up my entire daily limit of space.  It doesn't help that in my house there are 4 people attempting to use the internet at the same time.  This translates to about a total of three hours of usage per person spread over the entire day. This equates to checking messages about 3 times a day per person.

Hence, I have about a month's worth of blogging backlogged as well as several other things I haven't been able to get done due to lack of internet.

It doesn't help that WiFi in town is also limited and extremely inconvenient for anyone needing to get anything done beyond checking email.

So please bear with me on this.  I have several book reviews that I am attempting to get posted as well as some trip report backlog from May and some daily posting type stuff.

I am also going on vacation soon and should have regular internet for at least a few days of that trip and will try to get somewhat caught up there as well.

Thanks for understanding and please keep following for more updates!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I'm back!

...Again, I know. The month of May proved too busy for me to even think about blogging. Now that June is almost here and my schedule is slowing down a bit, I'll have time to fill you in on the last month that I literally spent on the road, add some new book reviews (I just received the new Princeton Press Birds of India) and fill you in a little on some more things I see out on the river while I'm at work.

For this post, I'll just say that the birding is slowing down and the Dragonflies are picking up!

Halloween Pennant

I saw Green and Canada Darners, Cobra Clubtail, Twelve-spotted Skimmer and Prince Baskettail this past weekend! The Pennants are out and about and Eastern Forktails and Northern Bluets are around as well.  

As the summer goes on, I'm hoping to pick up a few more lifer Dragons and Butterflies, as well as maybe a few new state birds here and there. :)

The Widow Skimmers will be out soon. Keep an eye out for them as they skim ponds, lakes, rivers and streams!

Widow Skimmer

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Almost time for the Biggest Week!

I've been in Ohio for not quite two days and I've barely had time to think. BSBO employees have been scurrying around like ants, scrambling to get every detail in shape for the festival, which starts tomorrow. I have been birding the heck out of Magee Marsh. The last two mornings, I haven't left the boardwalk until after noon. Both mornings were 20+ warbler days. Today, I totaled 23 for the morning. Best so far were a Prairie yesterday and a Canada today. Summer Tanager, Upland Sandpiper, Am Pipit, and a vireo slam were special treats as well. The festival itself starts tomorrow and I am double booked on field trips most days. I'll be attempting to blog in the evenings about the adventures of the day.

Many many people have come down for the festival. Our ABA president and first lady arrived last night and many other nationally known birders are here.

It's going to be an awesome week!
Stay tuned for updates and follow my twitter feed @Uppiesand for sightings updates.

Check the twitter hashtag #biggestweek for tweets about the festival.

Til next time, Happy Birding!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Book review: Petrels, Albatrosses & Storm-petrels of North America

What. an. awesome. book! 
What else can I say about it?   Let's see, it's a must have for anyone wanting to study pelagic (that means sea-going!) birds!  The detail in the book is amazing and the photographs are even more so.
But enough of my describing, let's take a look inside the pages:

First of all, let's start with the layout. This is a typical field guide by Steve Howell. Lots of illustrative pictures with helpful accompanying text and plenty of highly detailed text in-between.

Take the first page of the introduction for example. Mr Howell starts with the basics: What are Tubenoses?  In the first page, he writes "Tubenoses are a well-defined group of seabirds that comprise the order Procellariiformes, and are so-named because their nostrils are encased in tube-like structures on the bill. Tubenoses are represented by up to five families worldwide: northern storm-petrels, southern storm-petrels, albatrosses, petrels (including shearwaters), and diving-petrels."

The author goes on in detail about tubenoses in the following pages, which I will save for you to read for yourself.

Elsewhere in the book, photos of seabirds abound, as is typical for a Howell guide.

This one above details a flock of Sooty Shearwaters. They are by far the most plentiful seabird seen during west coast pelagic trips.

The photos in the book are of superb quality. Here is one example:

Each species is accompanied with a range map. Here's a scan of the one for the pacific population of Sooty Shearwaters: 

At the start of each section (Petrels [including Shearwaters], Albatrosses and Storm-petrels), Howell also gives a short intro to the family and some tips on ID.

The sheer amount of information in this book is utterly astounding. Just the introduction has enough info in it to give you a thorough understanding of ocean habitats and how seabirds use them, not to mention the accompanying text with the species accounts (which often covers two pages and details status and distribution, similar species, habitat and behavior, detailed descriptions, molt patterns, etc)

From the press release:
"The book is the first of its kind, this guide features an introduction that explains ocean habitats and the latest developments in taxonomy. Detailed species accounts describe key ID features such as flight manner, plumage variation related to age and molt, seasonal occurrence patterns, and migration routes. Species accounts are arranged into groups helpful for field identification, and an overview of unique identification challenges is provided for each group. The guide also includes distribution maps for regularly occurring species as well as a bibliography, glossary, and appendixes."

Overall, it is a superb book and definitely worth purchasing if you wish to learn anything about seabirds.

About the author of the guide:
Steve N.G. Howell is an acclaimed field ornithologist and writer. He is an international bird tour leader with WINGS and a research associate at PRBO Conservation Science in California. His other books include the Peterson Reference Guide to Molt in North American Birds, and Hummingbirds of North America. 

Petrels, Albatrosses & Storm-petrels of North America: a Photographic Guide can be purchased at for a little less than $30. 

The book's page back at the Princeton Press website is here: 

I personally own every single one of Howell's field guides and can attest to their high quality and ease of use.  If you don't have a Howell guide in your birding library, you're missing some of the most valuable books you can own and I highly recommend purchasing them.

Til next time, Happy Birding!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Biggest Week in American Birding!

Yep, the above would be me.  This year, I have been asked to be an official blogger and a field trip leader for the Biggest Week in American Birding! This relatively new birding festival takes place along the northwestern Ohio lakefront in the area of Magee Marsh and Ottawa NWR.  With the help of Kenn and Kim Kaufman and the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, it is quickly becoming one of the biggest festivals in the country!

This year, the festival runs from May 3-13.  I will be in Ohio from May 1-12, blogging about the festival and leading field trips.

As of now, all of the pre-register field trips are full, but there's plenty of other bird walks, activities, etc to take part in. Of course, the area will be inundated with birders as well. Pretty much everyone who is anyone will be there. So come on down and join in the fun!

The best part about the Magee/Ottawa area is the awesome warblers! Warblers galore is the key selling point at this festival! Just like this one below.

See you in a little more than a week!

Cape May Warbler
Cape May Warbler

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

App Review: Birdseye Birdlog-USA

At last! We finally have an eBird data entry app for iPhone, iPod, and Android! 
It's called Birdseye Birdlog and just officially became available to the general public. This new app was created in conjunction with the eBird team at Cornell U and is now the quickest, easiest way to enter bird sightings to eBird directly from the field. 

I gave the app a test run today and was quite happy with the results. Entering data via the app takes no more time than it does if you did it via In some ways, it's actually faster since, if you're using an iPhone, the app will use the built-in GPS function to quickly determine your location. This also allows you to enter checklists quickly, directly from the field as you're birding. It doesn't replace the good old fashioned pencil and notebook, but it does remove several steps in between.

With this app, you can also access all past locations, any checklist you have entered via the app (under "my sightings", any hotspots in the area, etc.

What it does NOT do, is explore data. It is only designed for entering data. The original Birdseye app fills the exploring data part to some extent, but an official app for this purpose would be nice.

One of the nice things about this app is that it gives you the option to create a checklist offline, even if there is no Internet or cell coverage. You can then upload the checklist later on. 

If you're wondering about the date, time, effort part, that has remained fairly simple and in the same format as on the eBird site. The screenshot below details what it looks like: 

The app will work wonderfully for those who have a smartphone. Unfortunately, for iPod touch users such as myself, the only advantage I see is that you don't have to log in on your laptop any longer, so it makes it slightly more mobile. You just need to find the nearest WiFi before you can upload your checklist for the day.

You can check out the intro vid below for more on this awesome new app:

For those birders who like to travel abroad, there is also a world version available for entering bird sightings from countries outside of the ABA area. 

(note: this is a voluntary review and the app was purchased. Most of the review work I do is new field guides and only occasionally for new apps like this one.) 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Book review: Birds of Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire

Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, commonly known as the ABC Islands, are part of  the Lesser Antilles in a small chain known as the Leeward Antilles.  Discovered (purportedly) in 1499, they became the property of the Spanish empire. In 1634, the Dutch West India Company, after a spat with Spain, took control of the islands. After the company was dissolved, they became the property of the Netherlands.
In 1986, Aruba withdrew from Netherlands rule and became an autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. In 2010, Curacao gained similar status while Bonaire became a special municipality of the Netherlands proper.  Interestingly enough, Bonaire is the only one of the islands to use US currency. The other two have their own currency.

Bonaire is known for scuba diving, as is Curacao, and snorkeling in the crystal clear, caribbean water and the elaborate reef sheltering the island.  The birding on the islands doesn't compare in numbers to some other popular destinations, but over 200 species have been recorded on the islands, including a number of endemics.  

The new Princeton Field Guide: Birds of Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire does a nice job of covering ever single species ever recorded on the islands. In fact, it does so nice of a job, that even species that have been recorded only once are included.  This is ok in that it gives you a good idea of what species are likely to show up, but is slightly too much at the same time in that it can be somewhat confusing unless you read every text.

Due to the Islands' proximity to the South American mainland, many familiar species can be found there.  Species familiar to anyone who has visited central or south america, but also a few select species commonly found in the US.  This mix of species makes the ABC islands a nice starting point for anyone who will later be hopping the channel to Venezuela or Brazil.

If you open the front of the book, there is a small section detailing the history (both geologic and cultural) and biology of the islands. It is quite an interesting read and one I would recommend should you choose to purchase this book.

There are, of course, the usual mistakes here and there, as is to be expected in a first edition printing, but I'm sure they will be corrected in the next edition.

Unfortunately, I am not a fan of Mr Restall's handiwork. Not only is it, well, different (to put it lightly), but also, in many instances, inaccurate.  I do realize that there are island subspecies of certain species that may be different, but unfortunately, these are not the only species to have been unusually depicted.
Given the quality of artwork normally seen in a Princeton Press publication, Mr Restall's work isn't quite up to par, but is sufficient for the purpose it serves.

Listed at $28, the book is slightly on the pricy side, but still worth the investment should you wish to travel to the ABC Islands. It is simply a must-have since it is, to my knowledge, the only thoroughly complete field guide to the ABC Islands.

The Birds of Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire can be purchased here at the Princeton store:

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Travel maps: where have you been?

Blue: counties/states I've been to, Red: counties I've  lived in,
Copper: states I haven't been to, Green: counties I haven't been to

Birders travel. That's the plain and simple fact. It's what we do. Birds live in many habitats around the world and one must travel in order to see them. Whether it's 1, 10, 100 or a thousand miles, birders have always traveled and will continue to travel. Some of us, no farther than our back yards, others, to every corner of the globe. It is an inevitable consequence of being a birder.

I have been more fortunate than most. I've been traveling ever since I was 6 months old when my parents took me on my first trip. This map of the US details all the places I've had to good fortune to travel to. Let me tell you about some of them:

When I was old enough (i.e. around 3) I took my first trip to Colorado. I've been there over a dozen times since then. Florida was a regular vacation spot for my family as well and was a favorite destination for many years.  Single trips to Idaho, Washington and Glacier National Park added many of the counties shown there. A three-week trip through central and southern Utah put those counties on the map with places like Arches NP, Canyonlands NP and Zion NP.  Three trips to the Grand Canyon of Arizona also added the four corners, much of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico.
I lived in Cochise County, Arizona for 4 months one summer and was able to travel quite a bit and add many Arizona counties to my list. California was entirely on my own in the space of two separate week-long birding trips.

The western US was always a favorite destination for family vacations, but we managed to add a few trips to the east as well.  A week in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee was a great experience and included a jaunt into Kentucky to visit the world-famous Mammoth Cave.  A spur-of the moment vacation to the southeast coast added both Carolinas to my list of states as well as my lifer Swainson's Warbler.  Louisiana was done in two different trips, years apart. The first to the southeast, the second to the southwest. The first included a stop in New Orleans which fully qualified as the filthiest city in the country.  The second was a birding trip on my way home from Arizona that included birding the famous Cameron Parish.   Maine was an interesting trip that included driving through Toronto, Montreal, Quebec and Halifax before returning south through New England.

Being from Chicago and living in WI, snapping up counties in that general area is easy to do and I have almost completed all of the WI counties.

If you follow my blog, you know I'm an avid chaser/twitcher. That little bunch of counties in Maryland were from such a twitch, a crazy, non-stop chase for a Black-headed Gull in a Best Buy parking lot in Cockeysville, MD.

And that pretty much sums up the US for me. Twenty years of family vacations, twitches and birding trips.

But what about Canada?

Canada is a country that can be difficult to get around due to lack of roads. Fortunately, where the roads do go, is spectacular country.  The trip to Jasper, Banff National Parks started by heading straight up through MN and then cutting across the endless tracts of open grassland to reach the Canadian Rockies. We completed the loop by returning through Waterton-Glacier National Park into Montana.
Eastern Canada was as much a cultural trip as it was a vacation/birding trip. Stops in every major city were mandated for this trip. Toronto, Montreal, Quebec and Halifax were all included. The churches and old buildings in Montreal and Quebec were beautiful, but nothing compared with the harsh, rugged beauty of the Atlantic coast around Halifax and the Bay of Fundy.

Combined with my recent three trips to the tropics (Costa Rica, Ecuador and Peru respectively) and I can only wonder at how fortunate I have been to be able to visit so many wonderful places. Everywhere in the world has something different to offer, new scenery, new experiences, new things to try and do.

Traveling is something I will always do and always be eager to do. The one place I am most at home is en route to a new destination full of new things to do and discover. The anticipation of visiting a new place, finding myself there, not believing that I really am there, brings excitement beyond what words can describe. I will always be on the move, visiting new places, seeing new things. My goal is to visit every country on the planet and to see every sight that everyone dreams about seeing one day. Of course, along the way, seeing every bird on earth would be nice too.

Leaving you with that thought:
I hope to see you out there, somewhere, in the world of wonder, excitement and limitless imagination!

Even with all my traveling, only a small fraction of the world has fallen under my gaze.
There is still much left to see
(Travel map idea thanks to my friend Ethan Kistler over at the Nomadic Birder blog)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Book Review: Antarctic Wildlife: a Visitor's Guide

I've been a bit behind on book reviews lately. I have a backlog of books still needing work.
This was one that I thought people might find somewhat interesting.

James Lowen is a naturalist guide for Polar Star Expiditions.  In the introduction, he writes: "On my first trip to Antarctica, I yearned for a compact, portable book detailing the region's wildlife."
Finding no such book, Mr Lowen undertook the task of writing one.  The result was this visitor's guide.

Everything you need for a trip to the Antarctic is contained within this book. Not just birds, but also mammals from Whales to Sea Lions with detail on where they can be found and how to identify them, along with some interesting information about them.   With this guide, multiple field guides are combined into one small package with beautiful photographs, excellent, detailed text and coverage of most of the regular places that cruise ships visit.

I could say more, but there really is little I could say without having the book right in front of you. You really just need to read it. ;)

"Antarctic Wildlife: A Visitor's Guide" can be found online or in stores for around $23.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

East-west migrations: Varied Thrush

Most people are used to the "normal" migration routes taken by many birds. This does apply to many bird species in North America. They migrate north in the spring to their summer breeding grounds and then migrate south in the fall to their southern wintering grounds.  In this ongoing blog series, I will be talking about some of the slightly less known migrants. Those that migrate from west to east and vice versa.

A number of species have been known and documented to migrate from their western summering grounds to wintering grounds in the eastern part of the country.  Included in this group are some surprising species that you might not expect. Birds like White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows, several species of western hummingbirds, many of our eastern wood-warblers, Townsend's Solitaires, Vaux's Swifts, Varied Thrush and others.  In this post, I will detail some of the migration patterns of Varied Thrush.

 Let's start with the bird itself:
Varied Thrush (ixoreous naevius).    
The word "varied" of course referring to the striking gray, black and orange plumage.
"ixoreous"means "belonging to mistletoe." Reference is to this bird's resemblance to the old world Mistle Thrush.  "naevius" is used to imply varied and is used in reference to the bird's plumage.

Isn't this an awesome-looking bird?

Varied Thrush has a summer range that stretches from the mountains of northern California, all the way up to the Arctic Circle in Alaska. Throughout breeding season, their haunting trilled songs can be heard echoing through the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest.  In winter, most field guides will tell you that while they can be found year-round in Washington and Oregon, a portion of the population heads south into central California to winter in the hills around the central valley. 
However, there is another wintering area that is not mentioned in most field guides.  It is an extra-limital wintering area: The Eastern US.  The numbers are small, but the birds are certainly present. Every year, Varied Thrushes are found in small numbers across the upper and lower midwest and partly into the east.  

Here in Wisconsin, we don't require documentation for Varied Thrush because they show up in the state in small numbers every year. The same goes for Minnesota, although, they do require documentation. Interestingly, Michigan, Illinois and Indiana also require documentation for Varied Thrush sightings.  

The birds are starting to show up more regularly though and it's only a matter of time before they're found in these states on a regular basis. 

Varied Thrushes are one of my favorite birds of the temperate rainforests of the northwest. The haunting, trilled song floats through the patchy, mist-filled spots of sunlight that filter down through the redwoods and sequoias. They are often hard to see, sitting in the tall, dense-foliaged trees, but you'll never miss their song.  

Saturday, January 21, 2012


I have not done much blogging lately. There are various reasons, much of it attributed to lack of decent Internet at home. But, rather than dwell on what is past, in this post I am looking forward to the future. This year, I have a few things planned out, and may have a few other things pop up unexpectedly, and I plan to keep this blog updated as regularly as possible with as much interesting content as I can.

You might be wondering what I have planned out. Well, here are a few things:
I have several book reviews on backlog that need posting. These will take up whatever space there is whenever I can't write my daily (read: almost daily) post.

Next month, I am guiding for the 4th consecutive year at the Sax-zim Bog winter bird festival.

In late April, I may possibly take a short trip to FL.

In May, I am driving east to western NY to attend a bird banding workshop at Braddock Bay bird observatory.

Come June, I will again be working for Mississippi Explorer Cruises as an Interpretive Naturalist.
All summer, I will be posting about the things I see on the river and some of the small things that most people don't see.

Overall, I will try to show you some of what WI has to offer through the seasons and do my best to portray it such a way that you may wish to come visit one day. :)

That's all I have for now, but keep checking back for there will be more to come.