Sam Crowe on June 18th, 2017

What is the only North American (U.S. and Canada) songbird that breeds exclusively in Canada?  It is one of our most beautiful, and one of my favorite sparrows – the Harris’s Sparrow.

The Harris’s Sparrow nests primarily in the boreal-tundra transition of the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and the northernmost parts of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario.

The species is primarily monitored on its wintering grounds in the U.S., where numbers have declined by nearly 60% since 1980. The Harris’s Sparrow was assigned the status of Special Concern on the basis of this trend, and concerns of ongoing threats such as habitat conversion, cat predation, and climate change.

Plumages vary. Harris’s Sparrows have dominance hierarchies in winter, with body size and the extent of black feathering on the bib contributing to a bird’s position in the hierarchy.  The winter range is limited to the central United States.

Sam Crowe on June 4th, 2017

This little bit if happy news is from The Birding Community E-Bulletin.

In a refreshing move of bipartisanship, Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) and Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) recently introduced the Federal Bird-Safe Buildings Act. The bill (H.R. 2542) is designed to amend title 40 of the United States Code to direct the General Services Administration (GSA) to incorporate bird-safe building materials and design features into public Federal buildings.

It is believed that as many as a billion birds a year currently die in collisions with buildings in North America alone. Achieving city-by-city, county-by-county, or even state-by-state compliance in assuring bird-safe design and seasonal lighting is an excellent conservation approach, and so is asking for state-government, company-wide, and now Federal policy to engage in this endeavor.

The bill calls for each public building constructed, acquired, or significantly altered by the General Services Administration to incorporate, to the maximum extent possible, bird-safe building materials and design features. Many bird-friendly design techniques – such as installing screens or grilles on windows, and minimizing the use of glass on lower floors – are already used in some federal buildings to control heat and light or building security. Where practicable, this new legislation would require GSA to take similar actions on existing buildings.

“By pursuing cost-neutral, responsible, and realistic solutions we can play an important role in preserving the intrinsic, cultural, and ecological value birds bring to our society,” Rep. Quigley said. “This bill will put an emphasis on constructing buildings with bird-safe materials and design features, which in turn will help eradicate unnecessary bird deaths caused by collisions with glass.”

You can read a statement by Rep. Quigley here:

And also see comments from the American Bird Conservancy here:

Audubon has launched a pilot program called Climate Watch. The plan is to use bluebirds and nuthatch observations to validate Audubon’s predictions on how birds’ territory ranges will shift in response to a changing climate.

Audubon released its Birds and Climate Change Report in 2014. It used Christmas Bird Count and Breeding Bird Survey data to model how different bird species’ preferred climatic conditions, like temperature and rainfall, may shift in response to climate change.  Although based on data the models were educated guesses.

By studying common, easy-to-identify birds the program hopes to establish base-line information and then track changes over time.

Many models that attempt to predict changes in territory rely on the fundamental assumption that a species’ preferred climatic conditions won’t change. That is, birds will search for the climate they’re used to rather than to trying to adjust to the climate change in their historic range. Climate Watch allows scientists to test this underlying assumption, in addition to seeing whether birds match the model’s predictions.

Birds included in the study include all three bluebird species plus White-breasted, Red-breasted, Brown-headed and Pygmy Nuthatches.

Mountain Bluebird

Mountain Bluebird

Details available on the Audubon web site:
Information on the participating in the Climate Watch Program.

The Climate Change Report with Audubon’s findings, their implications, and how to interpret the data is available in both a quick overview video and detailed information.

Audubon’s climate change news and programs.

Warmer weather brings noticeable changes in the Great Backyard Bird Count

Sam Crowe on May 21st, 2017

The australian bird guidePrinceton University Press has had a great year introducing new bird guides.  First across my desk was Raptors of Mexico and Central Mexico.  Raptors can offer a real identification challenge so this new guide was a welcome addition.

Next was the gorgeous Birds of India Guide. This guide featured over 4,000 stunning photographs of birds of India and the surrounding area.  (Both reviewed previously.)

The latest to arrive is the masterful “The Australian Bird Guide” with a blue cover.  The books skilled authors are Peter Menkhorst, Danny Rogers, Rohan Clarke, Jeff Davies,  and Peter Marsack.

The guide includes information on over 900 species, with 249 color plates and 4,000 beautifully drawn color images!

The descriptive information for each species is almost encyclopedic in nature, more than any other general field guide that I have seen.  Range maps are included for each species and a Visual Quick Reference guide to the different bird groups is included on the inside front cover and facing page.  This feature will be a great aid to anyone not already familiar with the great diversity of birds and habitats in Australia.

A nice touch is a narrow red ribbon attached to the spine of the book that can be used to mark a particular page in the guide.  This built-in bookmark will be very handy when studying a particular plate, especially when several species are very similar in appearance.

raptor images for the new australian bird guide

Sample plate from the Australian Bird Guide. Identification notes are included on most images in the guide.

The guides is roughly the size of the original Sibley guide, but slightly wider and quite heavy.  Most people will find it too large and heavy to slip in their pocket but will find it a great resource to have in the car.  On two previous trips to Australia I used the Slater guide to Australian birds, a smaller guide easy to carry in the field and an excellent guide in its own right.   The two guides together would be a perfect combination for birders visiting Australia.

For anyone contemplating a visit to the island continent, Australia is home to some of the most beautiful birds in the world, and some are quite common.  There are also some very challenging identification problems, so this new guide will come in very handy.

For those looking for something extra-special on a visit to Australia I recommend some time on Heron Island, located on the Great Barrier Reef.  Sir David Attenborough considers it one of his most magical places on earth.  If you spend time there you will also.  My wife and I spent a week on the island several years ago diving and relaxing.  At the right time of year birders will find 100,000 Black Noddys and 30,000 Wedge-tailed Shearwaters nesting on the island. Other resident birds include:

Bar Shouldered Dove
Black-Faced Cuckoo-Shrike
Buff Banded Rail  (One walked right onto our porch.   The birds on the island are not generally afraid of humans.)
Capricorn Silver Eye
Eastern Reef Egret (formally known as a Reef Heron)
Sacred Kingfisher
Silver Gull
White-Bellied Sea Eagle


Where to go first?
So India, Australia or Mexico and Central America – a tough choice but any of these new guides will make your birding trip much more successful.


Sam Crowe on May 14th, 2017

The 21st International Conference of BirdsCaribbean will take place July 13-17, at Topes de Collantes Nature Reserve Park in Cuba.

Cuban Trogon

Cuban Trogon © Max Schwenne

The five-day conference will bring together participants from the fields of  ornithology, conservation, education, ecotourism, and birding.

The theme of the meeting is “Celebrating the Diversity of the Caribbean.” This theme relates not only to the wonderful diversity of avian species found in the region, but also to the passionate and dedicated scientists and conservationists that work tirelessly to study and protect them. From todies and trogons to parrots, peeps and petrels, there is ample reason why the Caribbean is a biodiversity hotspot.

In addition to the five days of the main conference, there will be pre- and post-conference workshops and field trips to the best bird sites of Cuba.

Visit the BirdsCaribbean Conference Web site for additional information.

Sam Crowe on May 4th, 2017

Recently returned from a quick trip to the Galveston, Texas area.  About 2 days of birding yielded 118 species.   Warblers were only fair and numbers of other usually common migrant landbirds were way down.  Hopefully just the timing.  Laffite’s Cove toward the western end of Galveston Island was more productive than High Island for warblers and yielded a rare-for-Texas Black-whiskered Vireo.

Here are a few photos from the area.

Wilson's Phalarope and Lesser Yellowlegs

This Wilson’s Phalarope and Lesser Yellowlegs were palling around for 2 days.



Whimbrel’s were unusually common on Yacht Basin Road near Roll-over Pass.

cardinal eaten by snake

The water moccasin took a young Northern Cardinal that was not paying attention. It’s a jungle out there.


Spotted Sandpiper

Not the best photo of a Spotted Sandpiper but I love the way the bob their tail as they move along. Spotted’s are now along the golf course near my home in Dallas.


roseate spoonbill

A trip to the rookery at High Island is always worth the time. Hundreds of nesting Roseate Spoonbills and egrets.


rose-breasted grosbeak

This Rose-breasted Grosbeak was only about a foot off of the ground and paid no attention to attentive birders that walked by within a few feet of the bird.


long-tailed duck

A rare, for Texas, Long-tailed Duck resting on the beach on Bolivar Peninsula.


lesser scaup

Several Lesser Scaup were also resting on the shore.


Fluvous (left) and Black-bellied Whistling Ducks.

Fluvous (left) and Black-bellied Whistling Ducks.


The amazing legs of the Black-necked Stilt.

The amazing legs of the Black-necked Stilt.

Sam Crowe on April 23rd, 2017

Princeton University Press has released a beautiful new guide to the birds of India and the surrounding region:

A photographic guide to the birds of indiaA Photographic Guide to the Birds of India
Incluidng: Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh

It is promoted as the only comprehensive photographic field guide to the birds of the entire Indian subcontinent. Every distinct species and subspecies–some 1,375 in all–is covered with photographs, text, and maps. The guide features more than 4,000 stunning photographs, many never before published, which have been carefully selected to illustrate key identification features of each species. The text includes concise descriptions of plumage, voice, range, habitat, and recent taxonomic changes. Each species has a detailed map reflecting the latest distribution information and containing notes on status and population density. The guide also features an introduction that provides an overview of birdlife and a brief history of ornithology in India and its neighbors. The result is an encyclopedic photographic guide that is essential for everyone birding anywhere in the subcontinent.

• Covers all 1,375 subcontinental bird species
• Features more than 4,000 stunning photographs to aid quick field identification
• Includes up-to-date facing-page text and range maps
• Contains concise descriptions of plumage, voice, habitat, and much more

One of the most interesting features of the guide is the used of background colors behind the text and images.  Some backgrounds are a solid color and other images show the bird in its surroundings, with the text over the background.  This approach leads to a very beautiful guide but in some cases the text is difficult to read.  The range maps are small and some text is very small and may be difficult for some people to read.

About the authors:
Bikram Grewal is the author of more than twenty books, including A Photographic Guide to the Birds of India and the Indian Subcontinent (Princeton). Sumit Sen is an expert birder and photographer whose work has been published in books and journals worldwide. Sarwandeep Singh runs the popular birding website Birds of India and is one of India’s leading bird photographers. Nikhil Devasar runs the Delhi Bird Club and is a widely published bird photographer. Garima Bhatia is an avid birder and photographer who has traveled widely in India and beyond.

Another photo guide to India:
An earlier photographic guide to the birds of India and the surrounding area has a similar name:

A Photographic Guide to the Birds of India: And the Indian Subcontinent, Including Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka & the Maldives
By: Bikram Grewal, Bill Harvey, Otto Pfister

It was published in 2002, also by Princeton University Press.

It is an excellent guide but digital photography has increased the availability of much better photographs than were available in 2002.  The text and descriptions are informative but the presentation and photographs do not compare with the new guide.


Sam Crowe on April 15th, 2017

The following note is from The Birding Community E-Bulletin on the passing Chandler S. Robbins.  Many years ago I had the opportunity to spend about an hour birding with Mr. Robins in High Island, Texas.   I was a novice birder at the time and was amazed by his ability to identify the songs of the migrating warblers that were temporarily inhabiting the live oak tress of High Island.

“Sadly, the renowned ornithologist, author, educator, and public servant, Chandler S. Robbins, passed away on 20 March. Chan, as he was known to everyone, was 98 years old.

He graduated from Harvard with a degree in physics and began teaching math and science in Vermont. Robbins joined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1945 as a junior biologist at Patuxent Research Refuge in Maryland, where he engaged in early research on the effects of DDT and had his papers edited by his USFWS colleague, Rachel Carson. Also, Chan was the bander who first banded the Laysan Albatross named Wisdom in 1956. He re-banded her, the world’s oldest known banded bird, in 2002. (See last month’s E-bulletin for an update on Wisdom: )

For many birders in the 1960s, their introduction to birding and to Robbins was through his role as lead author of A Guide to Field Identification: Birds of North America. In 1966, this book – simply called “the Golden Guide” by many – was a breakthrough field guide with profound features. It covered all of the continental U.S. and Canada; all illustrations were in color; birds were presented in a variety of postures and often in some habitat; text and images were on facing pages; continental range maps accompanied the text; measurements were of live birds, and those puzzling sonograms were first introduced to an eager popular audience.

In the same year that the Golden Guide appeared, Chan launched one of the most important citizen science tools that we have today, the North American Breeding Bird Survey. The creation of the BBS was not universally and instantly appreciated, however. He actually received a disciplinary letter in his work file for its premature launch!

In 1981, he co-authored the memorable paper familiar to an entire generation of ecologists: “Effects of forest fragmentation on avifauna of the eastern deciduous forest.”  This article led to a national effort to identify and prioritize large, still-unbroken tracts of forest while there was still time. In 2012, Chan declared that this was the work of which he was most proud.

After his 60 years of full-time work as an avian biologist at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (he didn’t retire until 2005), Chan became “Scientist Emeritus” at Patuxent where he actually continued to work. One could often find him at his office at the far end of the library, at the Gabrielson building, working on the next paper, the next study, always keeping connected, and always making a difference. Chan Robbins was at the same time a giant in the field of bird study and also a gracious, quietly creative, and unassuming colleague.  The world has lost another of The Great Ones.”

Sam Crowe on April 2nd, 2017

If you are not familiar with the phrase, the The dawn chorus occurs when birds sing at the start of a new day. This is most noticeable in spring when the birds are trying to attract a mate or defend their territory.  Different species begin to sing at different times of the morning.

Dr Dan Stowell, a research fellow in machine listening at Queen Mary University of London, has been using machine learning to help decipher the sounds in the dawn chorus.   The goal is to both be able to identify a bird but to understand what the birds are trying to communicate to each other.

Dr. Stowell has real eased an app called Warlbr to help identify the songs of British birds.   The app has collected more than 25,000 bird songs, apparently many of them are people imitating the songs of birds.  the software is learning to differentiate between that of a person and that of a bird.

A video presentation of the research is available on the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council web site.

Sam Crowe on March 26th, 2017

If you are starting to plan your summer vacation a visit to the Nature Conservancy “Nature’s Road Trip” web pages may provide some excellent ideas for birding or a family road trip.

The Road Trip identifies 31 of the Nature Conservancy’s best nature preserves, from the Jersey shore to the Rocky Mountains and the pristine beaches of the west coast.

The web site provides detailed information on each location.  Stories from staff-members about their favorite road trips are also included.

Nature Conservancy summer trail map

Nature Conservancy summer trail map

The web site offers a great visual tour of the nature preserves even if you do not have the opportunity to visit one yourself.