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.

We all have our problems

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird conservation Updated: October 13, 2014 - 3:41 PM

It's not about glass. It's about the roasting pan.

Ortolans are birds in the bunting family, found in northern Europe. In France they are regarded as a culinary delicacy, consumed head, bones, all in one mouthful. Hunting Ortolans, however has been illegal since 1999. Now, French chefs are asking for one weekend a year when they can legally serve Ortolans. Birders are protesting. Ortolans are trapped by poachers as the birds migrate from Europe to Africa. The birds,weighing less than an ounce, are prized for their fat. Captured, they are kept in darkness for three weeks, and sometimes blinded, according to a story in today’s “New York Times.” The birds are fattened on millet and grapes. When the bird has tripled its fat, it is “drowned with Armagnac, plucked, roasted, and served hot in its entirety.”

The decision on one legal weekend is pending.

Warbler at sapsucker well

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird biology, Bird feeding Updated: October 13, 2014 - 10:51 AM

As migrating warblers moved through Duluth last week, Will Stenberg took this photo of a Palm Warbler drinking sap from a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker’s well. Sapsuckers drill wells, often in large numbers of rows, to draw sap. The birds eat the plant tissue, and drink the sap. They also eat the insects attracted to the leaking liquid.  Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are one of four North American members of that family. The warbler might have been thirsty, might have liked the flavor. Very nIce photo. Thanks for sharing, Will.

New National Geo reference book -- excellent

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird books Updated: October 9, 2014 - 12:04 PM

National Geographic Complete Birds of North America, Second Edition, edited by Jonathan Alderfer. Hard-cover, 744 pages, illustrated with paintings and photographs, index, list for additional reading, $35. Available on Oct. 7.


If there is one book I would consider essential for the library of any birder, this is it. If you have only one book besides your field guide, let it be this one.


As you might guess from the page count, this is not a book to be used in the field. This is the book on your desk, for reference before or after the trip or sighting. 


It has very good identification information, both detailed text and helpful illustrations. It gives you information on similar species, voice, status and distribution (well mapped), migration and wintering, and population status. This is done for every species reliably identified before November 2013, the publication cutoff date. Over 1,000 species are covered.


This book replaces and improves upon the 2005 edition. Text for that edition was written 24 by the field ornithologists. This new edition contains additional text by additional authors, including 12 new avian family accounts and more than 60 new species accounts.


The species accounts introduce each family section, i.e. Ducks, Geese, and Swans; Sandpipers, Phalaropes, and Allies; Shrikes; Wood-Warblers; and so on. One might be tempted by skip these introductions, but shouldn’t. The overview of family structure, plumage, behavior, distribution, taxonomy, and conservation does a fine job of putting individual birds in perspective. Identification will be easier with this information in hand.


When asides are called for, when extra information would be helpful on separating species, for instance, clear, brief illustrated text gives the reader a leg up.


You might recognize some of the artwork. Most of it comes from the 2011 (6th) edition of the “National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America.”


I have collected shelves of books I always hope will answer any birding question I have. This book does not do everything those books do — there are limits to size, after all. But this book will be the place I begin my search for whatever. It is complete, complete and well-done.

New book on Minnesota amphibians and reptiles

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird identification Updated: October 9, 2014 - 11:51 AM

Amphibians and Reptiles in Minnesota, John J. Moriarity and Carol D. Hall, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, softcover, 372 pages, heavily illustrated with photos, range maps, index.


I am not exclusively a birdwatcher. When in the field I look at everything that moves, usually briefly, but often long enough to wonder about identification and names. I know some frogs by sound and sight, but for toads, skinks, racerunners, whiptails, snakes, and most turtles, I need help.


“Amphibians and Reptiles in Minnesota” has the answers to my questions.


This is not a field guide. It’s a book to be studied before venturing outdoors, or to be reviewed upon return. The text covers description, distribution, habitat, and life history. Text is clear and to the point. The photos are excellent. 


There are creatures out there, perhaps in your yard, that you haven’t seen and don’t know. They’re all described and illustrated in this well-done book.

Best places to bird in the metro area

Posted by: Jim Williams under Minnesota birding sites Updated: October 7, 2014 - 2:04 PM

Best places to bird in the Twin Cities region 
Minnesota River Valley NWR
Roberts Sanctuary 
Carver Park
Afton State Park
Battle Creek Park
Glenwood Park
Rice Lake Park
Spring Lake Park
Lake Byllesby
William O'Brien State Park

Locations available on Google

(My thanks to Bob Janssen)


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