Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Skimming along with a Black Skimmer

Black Skimmers are odd birds, as I've noted before, here.

I hadn't had opportunity, though, to photograph them in their eponymous behavior, that is, actually skimming!

But a few weeks ago I found a single Black Skimmer skimmering around in the mouth of the Tijuana River!

To feed, skimmers fly low to the water with wings raised mostly above the horizontal in deep, slow, mechanical wing beats. The head is held down, with the bill knifing through shallow water. When a fish is caught, the head snaps up and the fish swallowed.

Black Skimmer
Black Skimmer, Tijuana River mouth, Imperial Beach, California. July 16, 2017. Greg Gillson.
Black Skimmer
Black Skimmer
Even when not skimming the water the head is held below the body in flight.
Black Skimmer
Black Skimmer

Saturday, August 26, 2017

eBird Tracks: What is it? What can it be?

eBird has added a new feature to their eBird mobile app. At this time it is only in Android, but they are working on an iOS version. I am really excited about the potential for this feature, called Tracks.

What is it?
eBird Tracks is a feature of the mobile app that creates a map with a track of your birding movements for each traveling checklist you make.

Screenshot: eBird Tracks of a recent birding hike I took on the Weir Trail at Palomar Mountain State Park.
What are the benefits now?
As stated, it came first on Android devices. So right now Tracks is only available on that platform. And right now the map track is only visible on the phone that created the checklist when you review that checklist. Not too exciting. The only benefit you get now is seeing on a map where you birded and having a very accurate measurement of how far your traveled.

What are the future uses for eBird Tracks?
This is really exciting for me to think about. Those tracks that only I can see now on my phone? They are captured in eBird and will be available for others in the future. Have you ever looked at the map for a rare sighting and found the Hotspot was a large area and you didn't know where in it the bird was? Well, with Tracks you'll at least have a map with the birding track on it. So you will know where to begin and what route to take.

When you visit the Hotspots section of eBird, you should be able to view the routes of recent birders to that location. This will give you a good idea of the route other birders regularly take, and maybe help you discover a new trail.

I also think that the eBird team should consider adding a feature to tag a specific bird's location. This function was available in the predecessor, BirdLog, and I've missed it for tagging exact locations in the comments section for certain birds.

The official announcement of eBird Tracks is here.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Transcript: Why birds? John Muir Laws

I found this little video on the Audubon California YouTube channel. It is so great I decided to transcribe it here.

It is just the last minute and a half of a talk by Jack Laws at Richardson Bay Audubon Center & Sanctuary in September 12, 2012.

You can watch the original here.


“The last thought is 'Why birds?'

"I am continuously amazed and awed by birds. If you are interested in observing animals and you want to look at mammals, they all hide from you. So what do the biologists do—the naturalists leading the field trips? They're like, “Oh my gosh, there's some scat!” Right? And they get all excited about looking at animal scat because the mammals are all hiding. Nobody looks at bird scat—because the bird is actually out there in front of you doing their bird thing!

"People say, 'I can't draw that because they fly away.' Yes, that's the point. Because they can fly away, they can hang around, right? It's because they can fly that makes them such great subjects. They can take off any time they want. And they kind of go like, 'You going to catch me? I don't think so, you land-locked primate!' So they will be out there in front of you courting and feeding and preening and cleaning themselves and doing all these sorts of things.

"You want to see mammals? You can go to the zoo. You can look at a nature special. You can look at scat on the ground. But it's nothing compared to the opportunities to see the real wildness that birds give us every day.”