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.
Photographer Michael Thompson spent about five hours Saturday watching for opportunities to photograph the Snowy Owl that has been seen for several days near the intersection of U.S. Highway 10 and 147th Avenue in Ramsey (which is about 10 miles east of Elk River). His cold fingers were rewarded with many excellent shots of the bird. These two show it approaching its landing point atop an evergreen tree at the edge of a public street. Thompson, shown in the third photo as he watched the owl, kindly agreed to share them.
There have been some problems with photographers and a Snowy Owl in Dakota County. Those particular photographers have been trespassing, and approaching the owl close enough to flush it. One day last week someone was seen tossing live mice to the bird as photographers waited for a" hunting" shot. (How happy or proud can you be of a photo that was faked?). All of this is photographic and birding behavior at its worst. Birds never should be disturbed. And feeding an owl is unethical, habituating the bird to humans, which can only lead to problems.
The photographers at Ramsey, and there were five in addition to Thompson, kept their distance from the owl, waiting for it to give them photo opportunities. All were working with telephoto lenses. The bird was allowed to behave in a natural manner. Excellent photos obviously were available without cost to the bird. And Mr. Thompson obviously was equipped to wait as long as was necessary.
The Dark-eyed Junco is probably the most common feeder bird in North America. In fact, recent FeederWatch data from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology indicate that among 15 feeder-regions monitored in U.S. and Canada, the Dark-eyed Junco is the first, second, or third most-common bird in nine of those regions, occurring in from 77% to 97% of the feeders.
Different forms of Dark-eyed Juncos are to wintering right now here and at lower elevations in the West and across multiple wide swaths of the East.
The presence of this bird in our backyards, woodlands, and edges comes at the same time as the general distribution of a fine video, called the Ordinary Extraordinary Junco. This is the project of a team of biologists at Indiana University led by Drs. Ellen Ketterson and Jonathan Atwell, and film student Steve Burns, and it is accessible free at http://juncoproject.org
The video highlights how biologists study birds in the wild and in controlled environments, using a highly variable bird that even the most casual backyard bird watcher can identify. The video was funded by the National Science Foundation and Indiana University.
Eight sections can be viewed separately or appreciated as a single feature-length piece, whether one wishes to study diversification, natural selection, breeding biology, or much more. The different forms are examined, among the Dark-eyed and Yellow-eyed taxa.
The eight sections of the video can be short (3 minutes) or long( 20 minutes). They are broken down as follows:
2 Chapter 1, the pioneers in junco science
3 Chapter 2, Appalachian Sprint: studies in Virginia
4 Chapter 3, diversification in Dark-eyed Junco
5 Chapter 4, diversification south of the border
6 Chapter 5, the mysterious juncos of Guadalupe Island
7 Chapter 6, campus juncos in San Diego
8 What we can learn from the junco The website includes related materials for teachers.
Juncos are so much more than "snowbirds," so much more than most observers ever considered.
(From Great Birding Projects, email newsletter, October 2013, Paul Baicich editor. Electronic subscriptions for this monthly publication are available by contacting the editor at email@example.com)
Photo is of a Slate-colored Junco seen in Minnesota.
Some of our best birding books are now available in digital format from iTunes. Princeton University Press has published six of its recent books in ebook form. They are as good-looking in digital form as they are on paper. Katrina Van Grous’s “The Unfeathered Bird” is one of the books. Her detailed and incredible drawings of avian skeletons lose nothing in the translation. “The Crossley ID Guide” also is available, with plates shown in greater detail. Ditto “The World’s Rarest Birds.” Take a look. Princeton will be adding titles regularly to its new digital book shop.
Author and artist David Sibley will speak at the Bell Museum of Natural History at 7 p.m. on April 2. He will talk about his new book, "The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition." The book contains 600 new paintings, additional information, and includes 111 bird species rare in North America. The event will be co-sponsored by The Bell Museum and The Bookcase of Wayzata. The event will require tickets, cost of which can be applied to purchase of the book. Ticket information is yet to come. The book will be in stores on March 11.
Free quick-find warbler identification pages are available from Princeton University Press. There are seven pieces in the set, all downloadable as pdf or jpg files. Each opens as a full-color image 10 by 7 inches. The guides are taken from the book “The Warbler Guide,” a Princeton publication by Tom Stephenson and Scott White. There guides are: warbler faces, birds at a 45-degree view, eastern warblers spring, eastern warblers fall, undertail view, complete under view, and western spring warblers. I downloaded faces and 45-degree-look as pdf files. ID is possible from the images. I think these would be very useful for photographers in particular, when a photo image poses ID questions. Compare your photo with the illustration on your pdf file, both there on your computer screen. If you have the book (and a fine ID guide it is), you have these quick-find pages. Having them on the computer, side by side with your photos, should make the ID effort easier. Go to blog.press.princeton.edu, choose the page for birds and natural history, choose free download quick finders, and download (very fast). Here is the faces guide. This is a reduction from the actual 10x7 size.
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