Sam Crowe on September 29th, 2019

What causes a bird to start migration?  The Germans call it “zugunruhe” or migratory restlessness.  There are several factors that influence the beginning of migration, including the amount of daylight. 

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker.  Northern Flickers are arriving in their winter homes in the southern U.S.

How birds find their way is a trickier manner.   A researcher at Cornell University used Indigo Buntings to study the migration urge and migration direction.  The buntings were exposed to a normal night sky and their behavior studied.  The birds headed south.  The night sky was then rotated.  In response the birds started moving in the direction of the “new north.”  It seems Indigo Buntings and other species use the stars to navigate.  Pretty smart, huh?

Sam Crowe on September 17th, 2019

A world apart, the toucan and the hornbill have an amazingly similar approach to feeding, designed to accommodate their large bills. One often seen feeding on the ground, an another favoring the trees.

Hornbill from Africa. © Mark Crowe

Toco Toucan from Brazil. © Sam Crowe
Sam Crowe on July 20th, 2019

The new “Dick Stamps” are now available for purchase. Duck stamps are used for habitat conservation and enrichment and benefit wildlife of many kinds.

Scot Storm, a native of Freeport, Minnesota, was selected as the winning artist of the Federal Duck Stamp Contest, and 16-year-old Nicole Jeon of Scarsdale, New York, was selected as the winner of the Junior Duck Stamp Contest. The Federal Duck Stamp costs $25, and the Junior Duck Stamp is $5.

The new Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp can be ordered at most large Post Offices, at many National Wildlife Refuges, and through a number of vendors.
Another easy way to get a current Stamp is to send a check for $25 made out to Friends of the Migratory Bird/Duck Stamp, along with a self-addressed stamped envelope to P.O. Box 2143, Columbia MD 21045.

Sam Crowe on July 14th, 2019

The end of July marks the start of a two week experience to the Pantanal region of Brazil. This is not a dedicated birding trip as I will be traveling with non-birders, my brother Mark, and brother-in-law Roger.

We have hired Fisher Sousa of Wildlife Pantanal Tours to be our guide for the 10 days in the Pantanal. Fisher is an expert birder, which suits me perfectly. We have two days dedicated to searching for Jaguars (Fisher all but guarantees a sighting) plus two days fishing for the famous peacock bass.

I have been considering a new camera for the trip, with my eye on the Sony RX10 IV ($1500). It is an expensive camera and a new version is rumored to be out by the end of the year. So, I decided to save some money down and purchased the Nikon P900 ($420). This bridge camera has a maximum zoom of 2000mm! I also purchased a Spider camera holster that holds the camera on the belt. I have never tried a camera holster but it looks like the prefect choice when carrying both a camera and binoculars. Hopefully I will get some great shots of birds like the Toco Toucan.

Photographed in the Pantanal by Greg Lavaty

Trip report to follow.

Sam Crowe on June 16th, 2019

This spotting scope features the Dual-Speed Focus system, allowing the user to move between near objects and long-range targets quickly, while enjoying the benefits of fine focusing and sharpness correction.

A notable innovation of the Victory® Harpia is the relocation of the magnification ring from the eyepiece to the spotting scope body, alongside the focus wheel.

This allows for quick, one-handed operation – even with gloved hands – and a constant 72° wide angle of view throughout the entire zoom range.

The revolutionary optical system features a 3x wide-angle zoom, up to 70x magnification and an objective lens diameter of 95 millimeters. The extremely wide fields of view prove their worth in every situation. The Harpia 95 also features precise focusing. Convenient automatic transition from rapid- to fine-focus adjustment, even at high magnification, sets the Victory® Harpia apart and places it well ahead of other premium spotting scopes.

Sam Crowe on April 21st, 2019

Birds can fly because they have low weight and lots of power. Their feathers, wings, hollow bones, warm bloodedness, powerful breast muscles, and a strong heart all contribute to this ability. Last week, we discussed body weight and feathers. This week we cover:

Strong Body Systems
The avian repertory system includes a unique system of five or more pairs of air sacs connected with the lungs. The air sacs provide a one-way traffic of air, bringing in a constant stream of unmixed fresh air. This is in contrast to mammals, where stale air is mixed more inefficiently with fresh. Birds also have a four-chambered heart, which allows double circulation. That is, the blood makes a side trip through the lungs for purification before it is circulated through the body again. Bird hearts beat rapidly, and relative to overall body size, they are large and powerful.

Golden Eagle in flight
Golden Eagle in flight

Even in the foods they select to feed their “engines”, birds conserve weight. Their foods – seeds, fruit, worms, insects, frogs, rodents, fish, and so on – are rich in caloric energy. They usually do not eat foods such as leaves and grass for this reason. Furthermore, the foods most birds eat are burned quickly and efficiently. Fruit fed to a young Cedar Waxwing will pass through its digestive tract in less than 30 minutes. Birds also utilize a greater proportion of the foods they eat than do mammals.

In all these characteristics, we see that birds are incredibly well-suited for flight and it is no wonder we admire them for this ability. Amazing!

The woodcock is a strange little “shorebird” of moist woodlands. Here is how it is described in the Bent Life History series.

American Woodcock © Greg Lavaty

“This mysterious hermit of the alders, this recluse of the boggy thickets, this wood nymph of crepuscular habits is a common bird and well distributed in our Eastern States, widely known, but not intimately known. Its quiet retiring habits do not lead to human intimacy. It may live almost in our midst unnoticed. Its needs are modest, its habitat is circumscribed, and it clings with tenacity to its favorite haunts even when closely encroached upon by civilization. The banks of a stream running through my place, close to the heart of the city, were once famous woodcock covers in which the birds persisted long after the surroundings were built up; and even within recent years I have had a pair of woodcocks living in the shrubbery along the stream for a week or two at a time.”

Sam Crowe on February 18th, 2019

For some birds color is for camouflage.  For others, it is used to attract the right mate.  Even baby birds use color to get their needs met.  The inside of the mouth of many baby birds is bright red, a visual cue for the parents to feed them.  As the babies grow and become independent, the color becomes more subdued.

Among many species, such as House Finches and Scarlet Tanagers, the males that have the brightest feathers seem to be most successful at attracting mates.  But among flickers it seems that color is irrelevant, at least when it comes to mating.  Flickers come in three distinct colorations: Red-shafted in the west, Yellow-shafted in the east and Gilded in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, southeastern California, and Mexico.

Taxonomists continue to debate whether or not these represent three species (or two or one!), but the female flickers have already resolved the issue to their satisfaction.  They are philosophically, if not physiologically, color blind.  The vibrant red or yellow feather shafts that have given the birds their separate species status for years seem to have no effect on female flickers with regard to their desire to breed, their choice of mate or the success of their offspring when they hybridize.  The females may have other less superficial standards for choosing a mate. Or maybe it’s just that bright is bright; whether it’s red, yellow of anything in between.

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

Sam Crowe on September 21st, 2018

(From The Birding Community E-Bulletin)

On 13 April of this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced the successful recovery of the Black-capped Vireo, thus removing the species from Endangered Species List protection for this once-beleaguered species. Thirty years ago, the population was down to only about 350 individuals. Today, however, there are more than 14,000 birds estimated across the bird’s breeding range in Oklahoma, Texas, and Mexico. No longer will this species be listed among those species considered Endangered and Threatened.

The vireo was Federally-listed in 1987, primarily due to the impacts of habitat loss and nest parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds. During this time-period, Texas especially had a large number of goats on the landscape, browsing on shrubs and reducing the cover that Black-capped Vireos needed for nesting. Fortunately a serious effort to eliminate cowbirds, combined with habitat restoration efforts, had beneficial consequences. Part of the vireo’s recovery could also be attributed to decreasing goat densities in Texas, especially since the repeal of the National Wool Act in 1993, terminating wool price-supports by the end of 1995 and helping increase vireo numbers across much of the species’ breeding range.

Across Texas and Oklahoma, the USFWS worked with the U.S. Army, Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, U.S. Department of Agriculture, The Nature Conservancy, the Environmental Defense Fund, and other partners to help the Black-capped Vireo recover. Conservation activities included the use of prescribed fire, arranging for conservation easements, and the control of Brown-headed Cowbirds.

Using their scientifically rigorous Species Status Assessment protocol, the USFWS concluded that the primary threats to the Black-capped Vireo have been reduced or adequately managed, and vireo populations are now expected to be viable in the future.

But this does not mean that a “hands-off” approach will be justified. To ensure that Black-capped Vireo populations remain healthy, the USFWS has developed a post-delisting monitoring plan in the states of Texas and Oklahoma, along with Fort Hood (Texas), Fort Sill (Oklahoma), and The Nature Conservancy of Texas. This plan outlines the methods to be used to monitor the status of the vireo and its habitat, in cooperation with partners for a 12-year period, and it also provides an approach for identifying and responding to any future population declines or habitat loss.

“The delisting of the Black-capped Vireo clearly illustrates the value of the Service’s partnership-driven approach to conservation,” said Amy Lueders, the USFWS’s Southwest Regional Director. “By working with our partners including Fort Hood, Fort Sill, the states of Texas and Oklahoma, private landowners and others we were able to conserve a North American songbird that once perched on the brink of extinction for future generations to enjoy.”

J.D. Strong, director of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, added, “Now our challenge is to redouble efforts to make sure those partnerships continue – along with valuable habitat restoration work and research – so that vireos and Oklahoma’s other fish and wildlife populations remain healthy.”

Sam Crowe on August 6th, 2018

Birding Products Showcase to be held at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center.

Birders interested in a hands-on experience with the latest binoculars, spotting scopes and cameras will have the opportunity to do so at the American Birding Expo. This year’s event will be held September 21-23rd in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Admission is $10.00.

The American Birding Expo is a retail-sales-oriented showcase of products for birders and nature enthusiasts. Attendees will have the opportunity to visit with optics companies, tour companies and representatives from some of the major birding destinations from around the world.

The Expo is the largest and most diverse shopping experience available to bird watchers in North America.

A portion of the proceeds from the Expo will be earmarked for conservation projects.

The event is patterned after the British Birdfair, which attracts about 20,000 birders a year to the small village of Egleton, Rutland Water in England. The British Birdfair takes place later this month.