Notes From The Field

Bell’s Vireo (Virco bellii) is one of those nondescript Vireos that pretty small, has a very distinct song, and is known to be a skulking bird that loves to hide in some dense cover. Uncommon even within it’s range, occasionally they make their way to my part of Ohio. If you happen to be a yearly “Bird Lister”, the annual go-to location for this bird has always been Smith Tract Park. For some unknown reason every year a lone Bell’s Vireo goes to this on location in the park and sings away. Sure they show up else where, but if you need to tick this bird off your list, this is the place. Until about a week ago.

Given their nature of staying out of sight I’ve not been able to get a photograph of a Bell’s Vireo, despite countless tries. So when one is sighted at Voice of America Park just 20 minutes away I made it a point to try my luck again.

This time we have success.

What was even better was that the sun was perfect, which in turn gave me these beautiful shots of a really good bird to add to anyone’s list.

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Notes From The Field

Situated north of Xenia, south of Springfield, and east of Dayton Ohio sits the quaint and quirky town of Yellow Springs. A town left behind from the 60’s, it’s one of my favorite places to visit and explore. And just to the west of the 3 block downtown there’s a very small conservation area which is probably no bigger than 10 acres with a small pond in the center.

Well guess what someone sighted early in the week while birding? A King Rail!

No Way!

Yes Way!

I’ve only seen one and that was several years ago near Columbus. So my plan was to go up this Saturday while my wife was at work and check it out. But this plan was interrupted when another birder sighted a Red-necked Phalarope in the same pond with the King Rail.

WHAT THE…!

So off I went yesterday afternoon. Less than 90 minutes later I was creeping around the edge of the pond with a few other birders.

Luck was with me this day.

Now the Red-necked Phalarope was feeding within 20 feet of me, and that’s why these photos turned out so good.

“Editorial”

To all my readers: If I happen to offend anyone with this editorial, this wasn’t my intention and any comments relating to this post will get a reply from myself. 

 

If your child was working on a math problem and was having trouble figuring out the answer, would you:

A. Help your child work through the problem to determine the correct answer.

B. Tell them the answer

Of course it’s “A”. How does the child learn if the answer is just given over. Helping them with how to figure out a math equation will only benefit them when it really matters. Like the next math exam.

Let’s keep this scenario in the back of our minds as I get to the point of my editorial.

I belong to 8 different Facebook groups that relate to birds and birding. And I’m noticing something that’s really puzzling. With the advent of affordable digital cameras and Facebook are birders new to this hobby becoming lazy when it comes to identifying birds?  Has it become too easy to take a photo of a bird, post it on Facebook and ask for ID help? Do birders new to the hobby carry a field guide with them, whether as a hard copy book or an APP?

Think about that for a few minutes.

Now granted I’ve been birding for a very long time, and even the name of this blog refers to a “Notebook”. But before Facebook and the ability to post photos from our digital cameras (if you could afford one), what we were left with was our respected Listserv for the given state we lived in. Info about rare birds, field trips and questions about birds had to be typed out and then read by others. If you were birding by yourself and saw a bird you couldn’t identify, you’d go to your field guide and try to find it using field markings, range maps, and the general habitat the bird was seen. And after that if you still couldn’t figure out which species you saw your only other outlet was to ask another birder or post your sighting on the Listserv with a description of the bird and hope someone could help you. The operative word here is “Help”.

Do we remember those days?

When you’re in the field birders on a whole will help anyone out with identifying a bird. However this is also the time to help the birder with future birds they may come across. We’re just passing along those pearls of wisdom, right? Nothing is more rewarding (other than spotting a rarity) than being able to ID a tough bird by looking at it’s field markings, and noticing the birds behavior. It’s the culmination of hard work on your part to become a more skilled birder.

Now if Facebook was around when I first started to bird, maybe things would be different. However some things remain a constant, we identify birds through their field marks. And the only way to do this is either ask someone or use a field guide. And what I’m seeing on Facebook is to just ask someone.

Resources that are available for the birder to help them identify birds are countless. Even Cornell Lab of Ornithology developed “Merlin” to help birders enter field marks into the APP, then the Merlin gives you some choices of birds it might be. Pretty easy. I tried it out when it first came out, and for a beginner it would be helpful.

However are new birders using all the available resources to ID a bird, or is it too easy to just post a picture and ask, because someone will tell me. Which leads me back to my math problem. Do we as birders try to help them make a positive ID by guiding them with our knowledge, or is it easier to just tell them?

Case in point. On a recent conversation I was having with a new birder on Facebook in regards to a 1st summer Orchard Oriole that she posted along with a pretty decent photo. She wanted someone to help ID the bird for her.

The first person to reply told her what it was. I replied with  2 questions. What was your first impression of the species and did you have a field guide? I think you know where I’m going with this. I just wanted to help someone out who’s new to birding to improve their skills. I wanted to start a conversation about field markings, where you saw the bird, etc.etc.etc.

Harmless right?

Instead of getting a reply from the person who posted the photo, I get this response from someone different saying” What’s wrong with just helping her and answering the question”?

My response to this person was that I wanted to help her to try to figure out the species using field marks. And by doing this she’ll become a better birder. By just giving the answer we’re not really helping her. Wouldn’t you think this would be more rewarding? (Refer to my math question)

Then a totally different person replied with ” Be the kind of birder you want to be and let others be the kind  they want to be. We each can decide what is most rewarding for ourselves”.

I never got a response from the original person.

I just dropped the thread, thinking by this time it was a hopeless cause to help.

This isn’t an isolated occurrence, everyday very common birds are being posted wanting ID help, and someone will give up the answer. And when I say common, I mean as common as a House Finch. Does this person not own a field guide and why not? They take photos of birds and joined a birding Facebook Group, I would assume they would own a field guide or have at least one on their phone.

REALLY!

But it’s not just the question from the new birder that bothers me the most, the fact that they’re coming across in their post as not even trying. No mention of what the bird looks like, coloration, field marks, size comparison to other birds. Where the bird was seen, or any other type of observation, let alone the mention of using a field guide. No, they want someone to ID the bird for them. And if you want to help, you get the “snarky” responses.

The instant gratification of the digital camera and Facebook responsiveness is killing the thought process that makes the skilled birder. Facebook can be a great tool, and I use it everyday. To teach someone face to face is totally different, however with so many users of Facebook out there and their need to “know right now” attitude, trying to teach someone using this kind of media can be difficult, but it can be done, only if people are willing to learn.

P.S. The sad truth is if I posted this editorial on this one particular Facebook page, I’d probably be kicked off, that would be after all the “snarky” replies.

 

 

Notes From The Field

I’ve been getting in a little morning birding this week while the weather’s been good and migration is still among us. I hit up a few of my regular spring time haunts hoping for some decent birds, and some photo opportunities. So I was off to Magrish Riverlands Preserve and Shawnee Lookout Park, both are great spots for migrant warblers.

Cerulean Warbler has always been a difficult bird for me to photograph, and this individual located at Shawnee Lookout allowed me at least one decent shot, even if it’s not that great.

Blue-winged Warbler also at Shawnee Lookout.

 And how could you resist getting a shot of this Summer Tanager.

This Tennessee Warbler was found at Magrish Preserve yesterday.

Also at Magrish was this male and female Red-eyed Viroes. As I watched the male was putting on courtship displays, which I’ve never seen before.

“On The Road”

Red River Gorge Geological Area

I’ve been visiting Red River Gorge/ Natural Bridge State Resort Park, ever sinced I was a kid and my parents would take us there on vacation. Almost a 3 hour drive it’s a great getaway for just a weekend of a longer stay. There’s so much area to cover you’d have to come here for years just to see it all. And I’ve been coming for years.

This is without a doubt one of my favorite places to visit. In my 20’s I would backpack at the Gorge almost once a month, so I know the area pretty well and it’s dangers. And it is a dangerous place. Rattlesnakes and bears are a couple of critters you have to worry about, but I think the biggest dangers are the cliffs. People die every year falling from some of the sheer drop offs that make up this area. However with some common sense, and a familiarity of the area it is quite safe. The hiking trails are well marked and offer hiking for any level. However this trip was about the birds.

After arriving and setting up camp, I hit the trails. Like I said before this was a photographic trip with my target birds being Swainson’s, Hooded, Worm-eating, and Kentucky Warblers, plus anything else that’ll hold still long enough.

All told I totaled 57 bird species with 15 warbler species. Granted if I’d gone to the Lake Erie region I would probably have doubled the totals for both species and warblers. But I’m OK with that, and I’m thinking that maybe I’ll mix it up like this every other year. One year go to the lake, the next go to the Gorge.

 

Black & White warblers were fairly numerous while I was down there. Once you familiarize with it’s song finding them was pretty easy.

Black-throated Green and Blue Warblers were present, just not in large numbers.

 

Now Ovenbirds were probably the 2nd most numerous warbler I found. Despite being kind of difficult to spot, their song was almost constant as I hiked.

Without a doubt the Hooded Warbler was the most numerous. They were everywhere. And this bird was at the top of my list of “Get a picture of this bird” list. With it being mating season they were really active and didn’t sit still long enough for my slow photographic reflexes.

Another bird at the top of my list was the Worm-eating Warbler. Now there’s only one reliable location from where I live that Worm-eating Warblers can be spotted, and that’s Boone County Cliffs. However in the Gorge it’s a different story. They were pretty easy to spot and get a few decent photographs.

Now one of the birds I really, really wanted to get a photo of was a Swainson’s Warbler. I conversed with Jon ahead of time to make sure I went to the correct location where he had sighted them last year. The hike was about 1 1/2 miles from the trail head to where they were seen. A large area thick with Rhododendrons at the foot of a rock outcropping was the spot. After about 30 minutes of waiting I had a hard “chip” note to my right. It kept getting closer and closer till the bird jumped up. I was able to ID it as a Swainson’s Warbler, and that’s about it. It flew into cover across the trail and was never seen again. Then 2 of them started to sing. Well that made me feel a little better about this ordeal, but I really wanted a picture. I may have to go to Tennessee for that.

 A nice waterfall along Rock Bridge Trail

“On The Road”

Due to some technical difficulties, such as a corrupt SD card in my camera, my forth coming post will be delayed till I have the  time to recover my pictures and edit them. And we’re talking about a ton of pictures. Going back to my trip to the west coast.