Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Chatham County fall count and transition to ebird

I have been meaning to post much sooner, but a few relevant changes have been taking up what would normally be blogging time:

1) A new computer! My 4-year-old Dell is on its last legs and rather than watch it die along with whatever data I hadn't managed to back up, I got a new sleek and light ASUS.

And this change led me to...

2) Move all my bird lists to ebird.

I only used Avisys listing software for a couple years, but I was never really that impressed. It could do a lot of things as a piece of software, but rarely in an intuitive or expedient way (somewhat reminiscent of Windows 3.1 in look and function). Surprisingly it is the best piece of bird listing software available based on reviews.

Anyway, in order to move my lists over from Avisys to ebird I had to first update my Clements checklist from 2005 to exercise in tedium that highlighted all that is wrong with Avisys.

(you should really skip reading this example, but I'm going to write it anyway as if you care)

Between 2005 and 2009 ornithological experts split, lump and rename dozens of bird species (i.e. White-vented Storm-Petrel should be renamed "Eliott's Storm-Petrel"). When trying to update to the new checklist with updated names, new species discoveries, lumps and splits, Avisys doesn't know what to do with my sighting of a now nonexistent bird--there is no White-vented Storm--Petrel anymore.
The solution? Sift through .pdfs from 2006, 2007,
2008, 2009 of Clements updates for the line that says: "White-vented Storm-Petrels shall heretoforthwith be knownst as 'Eliott's Storm-Petrels'" and manually rename the species. But often the bird will have changed names again, or the latin name also changes, or Avisys simply can't recognize a crucial apostrophe or hyphen, or for unknown reasons an error message still comes up when trying to update.
For "problem species" Avisys advises you (if you are patient enough to read through a page of instructions--which is necessary to achieve most things without problems in the Avisys world) to put that sighting in a different "safe" species temporarily, run find a pen and paper to scribble down the change you made in order to remember to change it back once the checklist has succe
ssfully updated. So I renamed my Storm-Petrel "White-faced" (a species that existed in 2005 and still exists today under the same name) and then repeated this process with 25 other "problem species" only to have to swap them back later after a successful checklist update.
Anyway, the whole process must have taken 2 hours and I had not even gotten started importing data into Ebird! There are at least 1,000 easy ways Avisys could easily make the update process run more smoothly. Why anyone puts up with this sort of insanity from a program that costs ~$100 when a superior free version (ebird) is available is beyond me.

end rant.

After using ebird for about 2 days, I already love it. Here are just a few reasons why:

1) It's free
2) My lists are accessible from anywhere with an internet connection
3) Checklists update automatically
4) Beyond normal features of listing software it allows all sorts of interesting data analysis
5) It combines every birder's data set into one worldwide database that is free to explore

Just messing around with it I can see that I'm 5th among ebirders for Rhode Island life lists (and only 5 ticks away from 3rd) link and 1st among ebirders for Ecuador for 2010 (though only by 3 ticks, so I may soon be surpassed!) link. Clearly not enough birders use ebird!

Before this post becomes nothing but text, check out this pic from the Chatham County fall count at Jordan Lake last weekend:

A 1st-year bald eagle.

And check out this Red-headed Woodpecker.

We checked the mudflats for shorebirds, but didn't come up with anything super exciting:

Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Least Sandpiper
Semipalmated/Western Sandpiper
Spotted Sandpiper
Pectoral Sandpiper
Wilson's Snipe

As always there were lots of Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets. We also saw two Forster's Terns and Caspian Tern.

We hardly had any warbler's worth mentioning:
Common Yellowthroat
Northern Waterthrush

Last year when the drought was worse the lake much lower and we saw a Ruff near the mouth of Morgan Creek. This is a pretty rare bird for NC, caused a lot of commotion on the carolinabirds listserve and required me to fill out paperwork for official record-keeping in Raleigh.

Anyway, nothing was spotted this time around to cause any waves, but I did see a Bobolink and two Wild Turkeys for North Carolina birds #206 and #207.

#208 showed up in my bird bath the other day:

A Veery (and yard bird #70)!

From now on I am going to try and include one video clip at the end of each post. I'll start (and end this post) with this one of a flock of 51 Purple Sandpipers I encountered on Wrightsville Beach on New Years Day 2010. Has anyone ever seen this many purples flock together before?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Blue Ridge Parkway, life bird #1447 and Brown Boobies update!

Last weekend I took the opportunity to visit Fancy Gap, Virginia and stay at a mountain house owned by legendary Carolina birder and naturalist, Will Cook.

While there weren't as many birds around as we might have hoped, the weather and views were gorgeous.
From the deck of Will's house I did manage to spot a couple Tennessee Warblers in a passing flock for life bird #1447! I also saw and photographed this Cape May Warbler.

It would have been a new bird for my North Carolina list had I been a few miles south. Instead it became bird #1 on my Virginia state list (which is now a whopping 18 species long)!

That was sarcasm in case you missed it. In Ecuador I couldn't make it to breakfast with seeing 18 species.

Anyway, here's a picture of a first fall female Cape May. Probably the best picture I got all weekend--ironically of a very drab bird. We also saw a nice-looking male Black-throated Blue Warbler at Will's.

After Will recovered from E. Coli poisoning contracted from all the old freezer meat we ate for dinner Saturday night we did make it down the Parkway into NC territory for a bit.

There didn't seem to be a whole lot of bird activity so we spent most of our time telling jokes to the bored hawk-watchers at Mahogany Rock.
We did get some good views of this great-looking male Hooded Warbler. It was also North Carolina bird #205 for me and I am now only 200 species away from overtaking Will in that category. The only other Warbler to add was a female American Redstart (yawn).

Despite the somewhat disappointing bird turnout it was a great trip. Thanks to Will for hosting and to Lisa for the great cooking that didn't even kill anyone!

Back in Durham I have yet to see much in the way of exciting migrants other than a Blue-headed Vireo and some Blue-gray Gnatcatchers in my backyard.

I did see one of the Red-shouldered Hawks this morning out by "Richardson Lake" along the Al Buehler Trail. A family has occupied this site for at least a couple years and it was good to see that they all hadn't been killed by stray golf balls.

As promised here's the big update on Brown Boobies.It still exists! Not only that, but it has just entered its third generation of leadership.

I have always said: "birdwatching is about the worst hobby a college student can have," (mostly in reference to the necessity of waking up early). On top of that, one would think that anyone clever enough to get into Brown and with a strong interest in birds would go to Cornell instead. Then again, when I was applying to Brown I didn't even like birds. And here I am.

Anyway, suffice to say I'm pretty thrilled that the club is still around. This also means there will be another order of for T-shirts made soon (see the logo above). These are super popular and always sell out so don't count on extras lying around to get at the last minute. Put your order in now!