Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.
Brown Creepers are common Minnesota yard and woodland birds, but uncommonly seen. They've evolved colors that blend almost seamlessly with tree bark. Their rapid and continuous movement up tree trunks is their most visible element. Today, as I was on our deck with a camera in my lap, a creeper began working a tree about 15 feet in front of me. The bird stayed on that tree for about 10 minutes, an opportunity I've never had before, especially while seated. Creepers cling to tree bark with long, sharp claws attached to long pink/buff-colored toes. I think the toes resemble spiders. They’re creepy. This species eats insects. Hunting on trees, it pokes a sharp, long, curved bill behind bark flaps, seeking spiders, spider eggs, and other bugs. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology web site reports a single spider will provide the bird with enough energy to climb 200 feet vertically. Creepers burn from four to 10 calories a day.
The bird's toes are long, the rear toe very long. The feet remind me of spiders.
Canada doesn't have a national bird, and it wants one.
Until 2017, citizens of that country can vote for one of 40 nominees chosen by "Canadian Geographic," the magazine of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Other candidates can be suggested.
On the National Bird Project website (www.canadiangeographic.ca is an essay encouraging people to skip the obvious species, like Common Loon, Snowy Owl, and Canada Goose, and vote for an "underbird." The list contains some good candidates in that category.
Black-backed Woodpecker is an example. You'd think Canadians would want to vote for a bird they have a reasonable chance of seeing. Ditto Spruce Grouse. Common Murre is another, perhaps good for observant coastal Canadians, but less so for inlanders. Glaucous Gull is a candidate, interesting in that gulls hardly ever get much respect, all of them seen by most folks as "seagulls."
There are 12 songbird candidates, three gamebirds, three woodpeckers, one hummingbird, four species found on water, plus Belted Kingfisher, the gull, the Arctic Tern, plus Great Blue Heron, Whooping Crane, and Sandhill Crane. Semipalmated Sandpiper is on the list. It would require explanation of semipalmated. There are nine raptors, including Snowy, Great Gray, and Northern Saw-whet owls.
My choices would be Canada Warbler, too obvious perhaps, but a beauty, Arctic Tern, or Great Gray Owl.
The owl suits the country -- quiet, dignified, with a no-nonsense approach to life. Another candidate, the Common Raven, shares those qualities, plus strictly minds its own business.
Early returns show Common Loon far ahead with 6,242 votes. Snowy Owl has 4,678, and Canada Jay 3,732.
Underbirds are not doing well so far. Glaucous Gull has 11 votes, the sandpiper 20, Common Murre 16, the woodpecker 23, and Harris's Sparrow 16. All seem longshots.
Here is one of the birds unlikely to be chosen, the Glaucous Gull.
First there were the little arrows used by Roger Tory Peterson in his classic and important birding guide book. The arrows marked important identification clues for the bird you were watching.
Then, identification books with photos. Then, better artwork. Today, many books, each seeking to catch your eye and help you find a way to name that bird.
Now, technology has gone one step farther. Or two or three.
Princeton University Press has released a bird-identification app for iPhone and iPad. It replicates in electronic form the recently published book “The Warbler Guide” by Tom Stephenson and Scott Wittle.
It also animates the book, and gives it sound.
The app offers what Princeton calls 3D images. You place fingers on an image of the bird and rotate. You can see the bird from any angle — up, down, profile, three-quarter view, whatever meets your needs. It’s sort of magical, simple and familiar if you are savvy about these devices, a frequent user, but certainly novel when it comes to birds.
There are photos (not all in 3D, but photos from several angles) of male, female, and juvenile plumages. You can view similar species as you view your target bird, make comparisons quickly, on one page. There are photos to help you age and sex the bird. There is text to explain similarities and differences.
There is a clever overview page that shows the bird in silhouette, drawings offering a summary of color pattern, including under-tail view, a map showing broad distribution of the species, and even an image of a tree and bush colored to tell you what part of that vegetation the bird can be expected to use (lower portion of tree, middle, top).
There are excellent range maps, large and well-colored.
And songs? Vocalizations? For the American Redstart, for instance, there are nine offerings: chip call, flight call, and seven types of song. Songs of all North American warbler species are on the same scrolling page, arranged alphabetically, so if you want to make voice comparisons it is easy to do. The app describes the song as buzzy, clear, trilled, or a variation of those choices. Pitch trend — up or down — is shown.
If you would describe the song as having, for example, three sections, click on “three” under the choice “song sections” and all calls having three sections appear alphabetical by species.
You can arrange all of this information by color groups, alphabetical, or in taxonomic order.
The app costs $12.99. The price is less than almost any ID book, and offers much more for your money. Purchase is made at the Apple Store.
A consideration would be convenient use of either the iPhone or iPad as you seek ID help. At home or in the car? No problem. In the field, certainly more convenient with the phone, although the size of the images could be an issue (it would be an issue for me). My purchase was for the iPad version. Will I take the iPad into the field? We’ll see.
Regardless, this is an amazing collection of identification information for our warbler family. If anyone else wants to do this, to publish what they might consider an improvement, they will have to work very, very hard.
Everything you might want to know can be found at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLG9b0fRtVfA3e1R74BozvgK7x3corNuqx
Below, an image from one of the app's pages. Photos at the bottom illustrate species that might be helpful for comparison. Image is to size for the iPad.
Six colors that should not dominate your clothing when you are birding. Choose quiet.
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