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.

Sam Crowe on March 19th, 2017

Whooping Cranes visit the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge along the Texas coast from September to early April each year. Survey estimates for this year are not complete but April 2016 report indicated the presence of 329 Whooping Cranes, up from an estimated 308 cranes the previous year.

Before human interference, there were believed to be 15,000-20,000 whooping cranes, so the Whooping Crane population was never very large. Habitat loss and hunting drastically reduced the whooping crane population. By 1860 the number had dwindled to about 1400 cranes.  The all-time low fell to 15 birds in 1941.  From there conservation efforts, while slow because of the very limited number of Whooping cranes, have increased the population to a little over 500 birds, some wild and some in captivity.  This includes a non-migratory population that is being established in Louisiana.

There are many online resources for learning more about the conservation efforts dedicated  to save the whopping crane.  Here are a few.

Texas Tracking
Tracking device study by Texas Parks and Wildlife has been attaching trackers to cranes on their wintering grounds on the Texas coast.  As of Feb, 2014 68 birds had trackers attached.  The devices record 4-5 locations every 24 hours and help identify migration routes, habitat use, nesting areas and more.  Here is a YouTube video about the program.

Eastern Migratory Flock
An Eastern Migratory Population has been established in Florida. Efforts began in 200 and the current population is estimated at about 100 birds.  Visit the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership web site for details on this effort.

Cows helping Whooping Cranes

Sam Crowe on March 8th, 2017

Last month, the Boreal Songbird Initiative released a short but important report that helps underscore the importance of Canada’s boreal wetlands. The report, called “Wetland Wonders,” focuses on six specific boreal wetlands zones.

Canada’s boreal forest is home to 25% of the world’s wetland and the largest concentration of wetlands on earth. The report calls upon Canada to increase its wetland conservation for the billions of North American birds that nest there (many of which winter in the US), the caribou populations, and other wildlife that thrive there, and to ensure that 700 years’ worth of Canada’s industrial greenhouse gas emission are kept safe in the ground.

The entire boreal region faces stresses of industrial development (logging, mining, hydro-power, and oil and gas – including tar-sands extraction), transportation, agriculture, and settlements. These factors demonstrate the need to conserve large portions of the boreal forests to create a sustainable balance.

The six carbon-rich wetland regions that are described in the report significantly contribute to global bird life, provide healthy habitat for caribou, and are either in need of conservation planning or are still awaiting final, permanent protection designation.

You can download the 11-page report in PDF format.

The 2018 International Ornithological Congress (IOC) will unite about 2000 scientists and conservationists from 100 countries around the world. The event will be held in Vancouver, British Columbia from August 19-26, 2018.

The event is only held every four years so this is a rare opportunity for U.S. and Canadian birders to visit with and learn from the top scientists from around the world.

The Congress roster of nearly 50 symposia has just been released, complete with abstracts. Topics include:

Avian cognition
Evolution of birds and dinosaurs
Human-raptor interactions
Millions of migrations
Navigation from arctic to desert


IOC President; Biodiversity Research Centre, Taiwan:
“Avian ecology’

University of East Anglia, UK :
‘Migratory birds in a changing world’

Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behaviour, UC Davis, USA
‘Avian olfaction’

University of Buenos Aires, Argentina
‘Evolutionary ecology of brood parasites’

Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, USA
‘Bird pathogen interactions’

University of Colorado, Boulder, USA
‘Phenotypic variation, sexual selection and speciation’

Australian National University, Australia
‘Behavioural ecology of a cooperative breeder’

The Edward Grey Institute, University of Oxford, UK
‘Social ecology of wild bird populations’

AGNeurosensorik/Animal Navigation, University of Oldenburg, Germany
‘Sensing the magnetic field’

Registration information is not yet posted on the event web site but the event is sure to draw a large audience so it would be wise to check back regularly to insure a spot at one of the host locations.  Visit the site to sign up for their email newsletter.

Sam Crowe on December 13th, 2016


If you think the above image is of a feather and not of a frond, you would be correct.  But that’s not all there is to it.  What you are looking at is a feathered dinosaur tail with primitive plumage trapped in Mid-Cretaceous amber! WOW. The amber is thought to be about 99 million years old.

We normally think of dinosaurs of being very, very, large creatures. But there were also very small dinosaurs. The tail was from a feathered dinosaur about the size of a sparrow. It was found perfectly preserved in amber from Myanmar. Detailed examination of the structure of the feathers revealed they were from a dinosaur and not from a  bird.

The amazing piece of amber was found by Lida Xing from the China University of Geosciences in Beijing at an amber market in Myitkina, Myanmar.  The amber had already been polished for jewellery and the seller had thought it was plant material.  The sharp-eyed Lida Xing recognized it as something much more exciting.

One of the co-authors of the article published in the journal of Current Biology Prof Mike Benton, from the University of Bristol, noted: “It’s amazing to see all the details of a dinosaur tail – the bones, flesh, skin, and feathers – and to imagine how this little fellow got his tail caught in the resin, and then presumably died because he could not wrestle free.”

3D imaging of the fossil has reveled how the feathers were arranged on the creature, something impossible to tell from fossils in sedimentary rocks.

The image showing the fine structure of the feathers is from the article in Current Biology.  Details of the research along with photomicrographs and SR X-Ray μCT Reconstructions are available online.

A report on the BBC web site includes an artists impression of what the tiny dinosaur might have looked like.

Journal of Current Biology

Authors of the article: Lida Xing13, Ryan C. McKella, Xing Xu13, Gang Li13, Ming Bai13, W. Scott Persons IV, Tetsuto Miyashita, Michael J. Benton, Jianping Zhang, Alexander P. Wolfe, Qiru Yi, Kuowei Tseng, Hao Ran, Philip J. Currie

Sam Crowe on December 7th, 2016

From The Auk
Smart female Wood Ducks live longer.  (our interpretation)
An 11-year study of almost 500 Wood Ducks found a positive correlation between annual survival rate and nesting success.  It seems female Wood Ducks that were better at raising their young were better at surviving from one year to the next.  Seems like a good indication of a variance in the intelligence of female Wood Ducks?

Female Wood Duck

Female Wood Duck © Alan Wilson

From The Condor
Breeding Bird Surveys and changing weather patterns.
Researchers using BBS data studied the populations of of several grassland birds.  They found that Grasshopper and Baird’s Sparrows were especially vulnerable to hot, dry conditions. perhaps indicating their populations could fall from further climate change.

Grasshopper Sparrow

Grasshopper Sparrow. © Greg Lavaty.


Baird's Sparrow

Baird’s Sparrow. © Greg Lavaty

Breeding Bird Surveys monitor the status and trends of North American bird populations. Following a rigorous protocol, BBS data are collected by thousands of dedicated participants along thousands of randomly established roadside routes throughout the continent. Professional BBS coordinators and data managers work closely with researchers and statisticians to compile and deliver these population data and population trend analyses on more than 400 bird species, for use by conservation managers, scientists, and the general public.

Participants in a BBS run specific routes from their vehicle.  They typically start early in the mourning during the nesting season.  The participant drives .5 mile, stops, looks and listens for 3 minutes, recording the birds seen and heard.  There are 50 stops in a route.

A vast amount of data has been acquired over the years and is available to researchers and the public.

Ground-Level Artificial Light Disrupts Bird Migration
Researchers studied the night flight calls of birds during fall migration.  They found that significantly more flight calls were recorded at lit sites than at dark sites.  It appears from the study that ground-level lights could be disorienting birds.  The lights could be causing the birds to fly lower (a danger) or they could actually be attracting the birds.

Tall, lighted buildings are well-known to attract migrating birds and are a major source of bird mortality.

While I have not seen any studies, while on a cruise ship south of Florida, during spring migration, I observed hundreds if not thousands of migrating birds flying around the ship, apparently attracted by the lights. I found Ovenbirds (2) and Common Yellowthroat on the ships’s deck.

FLAP Canada is one of the best resources to learn more about bird window collisions.

Sam Crowe on November 29th, 2016

The Institute for Bird Populations is an excellent organization for those interested in studying, what else, bird population trends and the development of conservation programs. Their web site is chock full of information on a variety of topics, including links to recent research publications.  Their programs include:

Information on the MAPS program
The MAPS Program is a continent-wide collaborative effort among public agencies, non-governmental groups, and individuals to assist the conservation of birds and their habitats through demographic monitoring.

The MoSI Program
MoSI is a collaborative, international network of bird monitoring stations across the northern Neotropics that bolsters conservation efforts through population monitoring. Since 2002, the program has operated more than 200 stations in 15 countries to help answer questions such as:

Pacific Islands Bird Conservation

Birds of the Pacific Northwest National Parks
Ranging from sea level to the top of 14,410’ Mount Rainier, the national parks of the Pacific Northwest encompass a stunning diversity of species and ecosystems, including temperate rainforests, rugged, undeveloped coastline, and glaciated peaks. Much of these are within vast tracts of roadless mountainous and forested areas.
In summer IBP deploys a crew of expert bird surveyors, who conduct point counts of all bird species heard and seen at pre-selected, mostly off-trail locations that are visited year after year.

The web site lists both paid and volunteer position for some of the spring surveys.

Great Gray Owl.

Great Gray Owl by Elaine Wilson.

Molt and plumage studies

Bird bander training

Burrowing Owl research and monitoring in California.

Black-backed Woodpecker

Black-backed Woodpecker. © Glenn Bartley

The Institute is home to the Sierra Nevada Bird Observatory.
The organization uses an array of research, monitoring, and conservation initiatives aimed at strengthening bird conservation in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. They use cutting-edge science, long-term population monitoring, short-term surveys, and thoughtful conservation planning – often in close partnership with federal, state, and private land managers – to develop practical solutions to conservation and land management challenges. The end goal is to help land managers safeguard at-risk bird species, ensure continued robust populations of common species, and promote good stewardship of the natural resources that birds require throughout the Sierra Nevada region.

Current studies focus on the Black-backed Woodpecker, the Great Gray Owl (in California) and the Willow Flycatcher.

An online, searchable database of 158 land bird species based on information from their MAPS program.