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.

30 acres of Big Woods -- goodbye

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird conservation Updated: March 29, 2015 - 1:24 PM

A piece of wooded land near our home is about to be developed. This will mean removal of some trees that are 200 years old. The woods is a remnant of the Big Woods that once covered much of east central Minnesota.

The owner cannot maintain the land, and so chooses to sell. That’s understandable.

There about 30 acres of old trees there, a woods deeply shaded in the summer, an understory so thin that walking is unimpeded. I’ve spent a lot of time there; it’s beautiful. It’s not particularly birdy; old woods tend to be that way. It’s heavy on woodpeckers, chickadees, and nuthatches. Owls have nested there, and Red-shouldered Hawks, I believe. Wild Turkeys are common, as are deer and coyotes. 

Thirty acres could be called mostly edge. You can’t walk very far into 30 acres before you come out the other side. The impact of edges on use by animals extends far enough into this woods that little of it is untouched. But five homesites, an access road, and driveways all create more edges, and will turn the entire piece into habitat dominated by edge. All of it will change.

The negative impacts created by edges, according to a study in New York state, bring decreased nesting near trails, altered bird species composition near trails, and increased nests predation by cowbirds, skunks, raccoons, and foxes using the clearings, trails, and roads as corridors. The study also showed that some species of animals are reluctant to cross openings, even to fly across openings. This reduces land available for nesting territory and foraging. 

On the other hand, some species find edges attractive. Vegetation types change. There is more light and more rain. 

Plus and minus. 

Overall, though, with this change we lose more of a habitat type that is disappearing. 

A recent article in “The New Yorker” addressed the environmental impact of roads (“What Roads Have Wrought” by Michelle Nijhuis).

She quotes Prof. William Laurence of James University in Cook, Australia, as saying: “Roads scare the hell out of ecologists. You can’t be in my line of business and not be struck by their transformative power.”

Nijhuis writes: “No matter the ecosystem — forest, prairie, patch of moss — the effects of habitat fragmentation are ruinous.”

So, the woods change, the animals likely leave, and that's the way it goes.

Goldfinches showing the color of spring

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird biology, Birds in the backyard Updated: March 25, 2015 - 11:21 AM

If doesn't look a lot like spring today -- Wednesday -- unless you are looking at male American Goldfinches molting from their drap winter plumage into the bright yellow of spring and summer.

Recent carbon dioxide measurements

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird conservation Updated: March 25, 2015 - 11:12 AM

Week beginning on March 15, 2015:     400.76 ppm
Weekly value from 1 year ago:     400.61 ppm
Weekly value from 10 years ago:     381.26 ppm

Daily Average
March 23 - 401.61 
March 22 - 401.22 
March 21 - 400.73 
March 20 - 399.92 
March 19 - 400.06

Recent Monthly Average 
February 2015:     400.26 ppm
February 2014:     397.91 ppm

What isn't disturbing?

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird conservation Updated: March 24, 2015 - 10:13 AM

What impact do we have, as birders, as we walk trails in parks and reserves and other places we look birds?

A study in New York state concluded that disturbance from recreational use — noise and motion — of such land had “at least temporary effects on behavior and movement of birds.”

The study concluded:

Children and photographers were especially disturbing to birds.  

Direct approaches caused greater disturbance than tangential approaches. 

Rapid movement by joggers was more disturbing than slower hikers. 

Passing or stopping vehicles were less disturbing than people on foot. 

No studies specifically addressing bicycles were found in the research-paper search that formed the basis of this study. (Just wait.)

Road noise negatively affects birds (reduced nesting, etc.) at distances of up to 1,000 meters, so noise from trail users might also affect birds but presumably over shorter distances.

(Another study found that staying at home and thinking about birds wasn't disturbing. Just kidding.)

New Nikon camera -- 24 to 2000mm for $600

Posted by: Jim Williams under Birding equipment Updated: March 23, 2015 - 8:33 AM

Nikon has released for preview a new camera with a built-in zoom lens that reaches 2000mm. That's 83X magnification. It's the Nikon Coolpix P900, the latest combatant in the battle for zoom superiority among major camera manufacturers. The lens is fixed, not interchangeable. Size of the camera is larger than point-and-shoot, smaller than the D-series DSLRs. Nikon calls it a compact digital camera. It weighs two pounds.

It has 16 megapixels, vibration reduction, video, Wi-Fi, connection with your iPhone if it's handy, shoots seven frames per second, has 3-inch LCD swivel screen, and will make coffee. ISO range is 100 to 6400, shutter speed 15 seconds to 1/4000.

Video demos on YouTube show very impressive sharpness at 2000mm. 

The camera will be in stores in April priced at $599.95.

Talking with Kevin Smythe at National Camera today about this machine, he said it has several special shooting settings, including one specifically programmed for birders. Switch that on, and the camera automatically chooses the settings pre-determined as being optimal for bird photography. 

My only caveat is the size of the sensor: 1/2.3 inches. One-half point three. This is much smaller than the larger sensors found in the, for example, D-700 Nikon I use. Bigger sensor, better images. The P900 uses the same sensor found in point-and-shoot cameras. A caveat, yes, but, 2000mm extension, if it produces a sharp image, should help make up for that. Nonetheless, a buyer should make certain that the quality desired for enlargements of reasonable size, say 8x10, meet expectations. 


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