Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Finishing Breeding Bird Surveys in the Great Plains

Over the last few weeks, I have been finishing up some breeding bird surveys from the Niobrara and North Platte Rivers in Nebraska to the Little Missouri River in North Dakota.  I even spent a day counting breeding birds in the presence of four great Presidents in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  From avoiding bison, to avoiding rattlesnakes, and miserably failing to avoid mosquitoes, my last month had very few slow days. 

A typical view in the badlands of North and South Dakota
The birds didn't disappoint either.  Northern Cardinals in western Nebraska were exciting until I had many, many more along the Niobrara River.  Some eastern birds that are difficult to see throughout the western Dakotas and Nebraska abounded along the Niobrara River.  Listening to Western Wood-Pewees singing next to Eastern Wood-Pewees was a real treat!  

A view of the Missouri River in North Dakota

Monday, July 21, 2014

Book Reviews: Birds of Kenya's Rift Valley and Larger Mammals of Tanzania

Rob writes: Two great field guides were just recently published about a place I've wanted to visit for a long time - Africa! Both guides cover locations in East Africa, so I've decided to include my reviews of both guides in the same post.

Birds of Kenya's Rift Valley covers the species that are likely to be seen when birding in one of the most productive birding areas in Kenya. The intro chapters give a great overview of this amazing part of Kenya and help you understand how the rest of the book is organized.

The heart of the book - the species profiles and photos - is beautifully laid out. Each species is shown with phenomenal photographs. Multiple plumages are also shown if they are needed to fully illustrate a species. The information for each species is interesting and helpful. Just be sure to follow the arrow pointing from the information to the photos or you might find yourself calling a species by the wrong name.

I also found the useful resources section at the end very helpful and really liked that the author included information on local guides that you could hire while birding in the Rift Valley.

This book is a must-have for anyone that plans to go birding in this region. I will certainly have this book with me whenever I happen to make my first trip to the Rift Valley.

Title: Birds of Kenya's Rift Valley
Author: Adam Kennedy Scott
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication Date: May 21, 2014

A Field Guide to the Larger Mammals of Tanzania covers the area just to the south of Kenya's Rift Valley, the country of Tanzania.  This is another fantastic field guide just like the book above.

As with any good field guide, you need to start with the introductory chapters. From information about how important conservation is in Tanzania to tips on watching mammals, the intro is loaded with great information.

The species accounts are very informative and provide the reader with a good understanding of the ecology, distribution, population, and conservation status of each species. If I were planning a trip to the country, I would find the "Where to Look" section of each species account to be extremely helpful in deciding where I needed to search in order to see each species.

At the end of the field guide, the authors provide species checklists for every national park in Tanzania. All of the checklists indicate the population status of the species as well as your likelihood of seeing the species at the park. This would be very useful when planning a trip to see the mammals of Tanzania.

As an added bonus, all of the author royalties from the sale of this book will be donated to the Wildlife Conservation Society to support the Tanzania Carnivore Project and other conservation initiatives.

I can't imagine heading out on a safari in Tanzania without this book in hand. Not only can you purchase a very high quality field guide, you can be sure that the authors are supporting efforts that are working to make sure that all of these species survive for years to come.

Title: A Field Guide to the Larger Mammals of Tanzania
Authors: Charles Foley, Lara Foley, Alex Lobora, Daniela De Luca, Maurus Msuha, Tim R.B. Davenport, and Sarah Durant
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication Date: July 9, 2014

We received a copy of these books from the publisher to review on NuttyBirder.com. The links are to our Amazon Affiliate account.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Spotlight on a Hotspot: Estero Llano Grande State Park

Rob writes: I've decided to start a weekly series here on NuttyBirder.com that will highlight a great birding hotspot. Each week, I'll feature a location that I have birded and will tell you a little bit about why I feel it's an amazing place to go birding.

For my first post in this series, I've selected one of my favorite birding locations in the United States, Estero Llano Grande State Park in Weslaco, Texas. Anyone that's ever birded in the Rio Grande Valley should know this park quite well as it's a great place to find all of the Valley specialties and has also hosted more than its fair share of rare birds.

I visited this park on my first trip to the Valley in 2010 and have been sure to go back at least once every time I've been in south Texas since. The park offers a fantastic diversity of habitats leading to its list of birds being long and varied. From ducks and wading birds in the impoundments to passerines in the tropical zone, this park offers a little bit of everything.

You can see a large number of species just by spending some time on the covered deck that is attached to the visitor's center. From that spot, you can see many herons, egret, ducks, and shorebirds.

Least Grebes are commonly found just off the large deck at the Visitor's Center.
The impoundments at Estero Llano Grande can be a great place to photography waterfowl like this Northern Shoveler. 
Another wonderful part of this property is the area called the Tropical Zone. This area was a campground  that is now part of the park and is the best place to find more woodland species. It's also a great spot to look for rare birds!

Although the photo might not be great, this was my lifer Rose-throated Becard. This is  a rare bird in the Valley, but the Tropical Zone at Estero Llano Grande State Park is a great place to look for one.
Estero Llano Grande also happens to be one of the best parks in south Texas to find day-roosting Common Paraques. I've never visited this park without one of the park rangers having pointed me in the direction of this species.

This Common Paraque seemed to not even know that we were looking at it!
To me, this park is a can't miss location in the Rio Grande Valley. I can't imagine not stopping here on a trip to the area! You can learn more about visiting this park by reading our location guide to the property on NuttyBirder.com. Click here to see our guide.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The NuttyBirder.com Bird Quiz is Back!

Rob writes: We have been going through the long process of updating NuttyBirder.com and while we were working on the website, we had suspended the bird quiz. Now, we're getting close enough to having completely redone our site that we feel it is time to relaunch the very popular bird quiz!

Do you know what species is featured in our latest bird quiz? If so, head over to NuttyBirder.com and submit your answer!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Book Review: Wildlife of the Caribbean

Rob writes: I've traveled and birded in the Caribbean several times and I believe that it would have been very useful to have this guide with me as I was attempting to identify many of the plants and reptiles that I saw. While a book like this can never cover all of the species of plants and animals found within the specified area, this book does a very good job of covering all of the commonly found species as well as many of the rarer species.

All species are illustrated using wonderful drawings except for the Marina Plants and Invertebrates, Seashells, and Plants which utilize photographs. The authors' decision use photographs for those sections makes a lot of sense to me and helps me better understand and identify those species.

Since we tend to focus mostly on birds here at NuttyBirder.com, it's probably no surprise to you that I spent most of my time looking over the bird section of this field guide. I was very impressed with the coverage of a large number of species had with how nicely and accurately the species were drawn. I suggest using this field guide along with Birds of the West Indies when birding in the islands. Both of these authors were also involved in writing Birds of the West Indies and it's a great companion to Wildlife of the Caribbean.

Overall, I would say that this is definitely a field guide to have with you when you are birding or watching wildlife in the Caribbean.

Title: Wildlife of the Caribbean
Author: Herbert A. Raffaele and James W. Wiley
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication Date: May 21, 2014

We received a copy of this book from the publisher to review on NuttyBirder.com. The links are to our Amazon Affiliate account.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Loggerhead Shrike Fledglings

A couple weeks back I was spending some time surveying breeding birds in southwestern North Dakota.  One evening, I came across a family of five Loggerhead Shrikes.  The four fledglings stayed on the edge of a bush while the adult would hunt from some nearby telephone wires.  Every couple of minutes the adult would have a successful hunt and come back to feed the fledglings.  Over about an hour period the adult had 6-7 successful hunts.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Prepping for Costa Rica

Rob writes: In just a few short weeks, I will find myself in Costa Rica for the very first time. As I've written before, getting ready for a trip to a place that you've not been before can be quite a long process. My two weeks in Costa Rica will be split between 2 groups. First, I will be leading a group from Ohio to Rancho Naturalista and Savegre Mountain Lodge. Then I'll be meeting up with Brian Zwiebel to bird and photograph a few locations in the northern part of the country. I've been studying all of the birds by both sight and sounds as well as reviewing as much information as possible about what species I should expect to see in each location. The following items are key parts of the process of getting ready for a large trip such as this.

The Route:

It took us a long time to nail down our routes for both portions of the trip. After much deliberation, we decided on Rancho Naturalisa and Savegre Mountain Lodge for the first week of the trip with the group from Ohio. It was even harder to decide what to do for the rest of the trip because the options seemed endless. In the end, we settled on Laguna del Largato and the La Selva area.

The Resources:

The Birds of Costa Rica is one of the best field guides in all of Central America. It's a must have for anyone traveling to Costa Rica and actually several other countries in the region as well.

Almost as important as learning to identify the birds by sight is learning to identify them by sound. I've been using many sources as I try to learn a huge number of songs and calls. The first source I've been using is Voices of Costa Rican Birds: Caribbean Slope . This is a set of 2 CDs by David Ross and Bret Whitney which was released all the way back in 1995 but is no less relevant now.

My other favorite source for learning bird songs is Xeno-Canto.org. I've mentioned this site before on my blog and still find it to be the best source for listening to a variety of songs and calls for pretty much any bird in the world! I use it to listen to bird songs before every birding trip that I go on.

In order to figure out which species I was most likely to see, and thus which ones I should spend the most time studying, I have been using eBird data. eBird's Explore Hotspot option allows me to select the locations that I'm visiting, see the recent reports from those locations, and also limit sightings to those reported during the month of July. All of these things help me take a rather large list of over 800 possible species and whittle it down to a more manageable list of species to study.

Another eBird related tool that I have been using is the Birdseye Central America App. This app, only available on iPhone right now, shows you a map of all of the eBird hotspots and puts together all of the reports from the last 30 days. This allows me to see up to date reports of the species that are being seen in the locations that I'll be traveling to. Being able to figure out what I'm likely to see at each stop is very important for quickly and accurately identifying the birds.

This Gartered Trogon is one of the species that I hope to show my group while we are in Costa Rica.
The Studying:

After looking through all of the data that I gathered from eBird as well as the checklists for each property that I will be visiting, I worked up a list of birds that I was likely to see during my trip. This gives me a great list to study from!

I began studying the birds in the field guide first, trying to learn and memorize as many of them by sight as possible. In addition to the field guide, I like to also look at pictures online to get additional angles that aren't illustrated in the field guide.

From there, I started playing the songs and calls of each species while I looked at it in the book. I've found that this helps me better remember the song if I can see the species while listening to it. I've done this process over and over for the last several weeks, as well as listening to the song whenever I have the opportunity (even if I don't have to book out to see the species).  My wife says that whenever I prepare for a trip to Central America, our house sounds like the rainforest!

Check back to see photos (and hopefully videos) of many of the amazing species that we see during the two weeks in Costa Rica.