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.

Posts about Bird identification

Wood Stork being seen near Blue Earth

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: June 21, 2014 - 11:36 PM

A very unusual bird has been seen for the past three days on a farm west of Blue Earth. A Wood Stork, a bird of Florida and the southeastern coast, has been entertaining birders since being reported to the birding community (email) on June 19. This is a juvenile bird, as indicated by its very pronounced head feathers. The Minnesota visitor is shown in the first photo. The second photo shows an adult Wood Stork, with its typical featherless head. Note also the difference in bill color. The Birds of North America monograph on this species explains that fledglings disperse widely after leaving the nesting colony. There are records for this species as far west as California and up the east coast into Canada. One other Wood Stork has been reported here, in Grand Marais several years ago. Both Dakotas, Iowa, and Wisconsin have records. In its usual habitat Wood Storks eat mostly fish. The diet can include insects, snails, crayfish, frogs, snakes, birds, small mammals, as well as some plant material. The Blue Earth stork has been seen feeding in standing water in a field adjacent to the farm. No one has offered comment on what it might be eating. Nor can anyone say how long it will remain. Wood Stork is the only stork species breeding in the U.S., and is our tallest wading bird, measuring just over three feet tall. Folk names for this species include Flinthead and Ironhead. The adult bird shown here was photographed along the west coast of Florida three years ago.

Crex Meadows on Saturday

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: May 11, 2014 - 10:52 AM

A grandson and I went to Crex Meadows at Grantsburg, Wis, Saturday, hoping he could see the Garganey. When we arrived about 10 a.m., no Garganey. There was a young man with a scope who had been there since 6 a.m. He had given the quest 11 fruitless hours on Friday. I figured he was not going to give up, so I asked if he had a cell phone (yes), gave him my card, and asked him to call me if and when the duck appeared. An hour later, as Cole and I were watching warblers, the phone rang with the anticipated message. Using the phone for an alert was just like the old days.

The Garganey made brief and distant appearances throughout the day. We visited with a couple that had driven up from Oklahoma, and another from Missouri. Guest-book records in the Crex nature center show entries by people from Kansas, Montana, and Oregon, the assumption being that they came for the duck. That certainly is not definitive of visitor travels, but it does indicate the importance many people placed on seeing this Eurasian bird.

The teal in the Garganey pond (County Road F and Abel Road) put on the best show waterfowl yesterday. Warblers were thin, just one location I would call good. There were few shorebirds, this collection of a dozen yellowlegs being the best we saw. We did find six garter snakes, five painted turtles, one snapping turtle, and a bat, all important to an 12-year-old a who loves those creatures along with birds. 

We also saw tens of thousands of spiders spread along 150 yards of webbing stretched from weed stems along Pump House Road at Crex. Very strange. If you got too close, as I did, they ran up legs and onto neck and hair. Not good. Larger ones were the size of pennies, the smallest maybe an eighth inch.

Broad-winged Hawk and frog

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: May 6, 2014 - 11:28 AM

Broad-winged Hawks eat frogs. This one was delivering take-out captured in our pond. The hawks are nesting a couple of yards down the street. The day this photo was taken we watched the hawk visit and pond and its marshy edges three times. We have chorus frogs, Spring Peepers, Wood Frogs, and Leopard Frogs out there. The meal looks like a Wood Frog.

Garganey and Cinnamon Teal

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: April 27, 2014 - 5:38 PM

The Garganey, a very rare duck visitor from Eurasia, was in place at Crex Meadows Wildllife Area as of Sunday afternoon. Crex is just north of Grantsburg, Wisconsin. The bird is being seen in a pond on the northeast corner of Burnett County Road F and Able Road. This is about a mile north of County Road D, which runs east and west at the northern edge of the city. County F runs due north from downtown Grantsburg. The Cinnamon Teal, regular in Minnesota but not easy to find, was being seen in a field puddle about half a mile east of Stewart, Minnesota. The puddle is along 75th Avenue, which is parallel to Highway 212 on its north side.


Garganey with Blue-winged Teal. 

The Garganey is the lead bird, flying with Blue-Winged Teal.

The Cinnamon Teal is second bird from the right.

Name that song? Princeton has an app for it

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: April 22, 2014 - 5:50 PM

Have you ever listened to a bird song first sung by the bird in front of you, and then sung by the presumed bird on a recording? Ever done that and wished that the two songs sounded more alike? Wished for help?

Help is on the way, coming via — what else? — a phone app. 

Princeton University Press soon will release two apps, one for eastern birds, the other for western. There will be approximately 60 species on each. (Yes, yes, you want them all; maybe next year.) For now, Princeton says BirdGenie™ will be at least 90 percent accurate in naming thel singer from the chosen five dozen. These will be, for the most part, species we commonly know as backyard birds. 

Most birds are heard before they are seen, and some are only heard. This app should add much pleasure for what we commonly know as backyard birders.

The apps will be available for Apple® or Android® smartphones or tablets. You will record bird songs with the device’s built-in microphone, the app working its Shazam®-like magic to provide you with the closest match or a list of possible matches. 

You can store the recordings in the app. Your can be share them directly from BirdGenie. The app is self-contained, so once downloaded, internet connectivity is not needed for field use.
You can read more about these apps (Backyard Birds East, Backyard Birds West) at the following links:
East: http://press.princeton.edu/titles/10411.html
West: http://press.princeton.edu/titles/10412.html


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