Friday, May 31, 2013

Book Review: Imperial Dreams

Imagine what an interesting adventure it would be to set off on a quest to find a bird that is believed to be extinct in an area that is controlled mainly by drug traffickers...

This is exactly what Tim Gallagher did in Imperial Dreams: Tracking the Imperial Woodpecker Through the Wild Sierra Madre.

The Imperial Woodpecker is the largest woodpecker in the world and is closely related to the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (which Gallagher has also chased and written about in The Grail Bird: Hot on the Trail of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker). While there were dangers during the search for the Ivory-billed, they seem rather mundane compared the narcotraficantes (drug growers), guns, and incredibly rough terrain of the Sierra Madre Occidental where the last credible Imperial sightings have occurred.

You start to realize while reading this book that there isn't going to be an Imperial sighting. There is hope in the beginning that the author will find some undisturbed habitat hidden way in the mountains with a remnant population of this impressive species. But instead, the mountains have been completely exploited for their resources. Through conversations with many locals who remember seeing these birds when they were children, he is able to determine that not only did logging directly destroy the habitat for this species, but also that the timber companies were paying a bounty to anyone that would kill the woodpeckers to stop them from destroying their trees. With much of the area already logged, the new threat is clear cutting of the remaining forest for the use of growing drugs. While both the author and I hold out hope that this species still exists in some remote corner of the Sierra Madres, current events make it seem even less likely that this is the case.

This book is entertaining and engaging from start to finish. It keeps you on edge and always wondering who or what will be around the next turn!

Title: Imperial Dreams: Tracking the Imperial Woodpecker Through the Wild Sierra Madre
Author: Tim Gallagher
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, Inc, Atria Books
Publication Date: April 16, 2013

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

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Birding on CBS Sunday Morning

Rob writes: This past Sunday, CBS Sunday Morning ran an amazing piece on birding. I was very lucky to have been around at Magee Marsh while a lot of this segment was being filmed and got to see first hand just how interested Serena and her whole crew were  with birding. I was there for most of the footage that was shot on the boardwalk and I am so impressed with how they put everything together. All of the interviews were exceptional as well. I have included the video below and I hope everyone enjoys it as much as I did!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Birding San Bernardino NWR

Eric Writes:
Greetings from Chiricahua National Monument,

For six days, in the last couple weeks, I conducted bird surveys in San Bernardino NWR with a team from Fish and Wildlife.  San Bernardino is east of Douglas, AZ directly on the border of Mexico.  It was the pilot year for the surveys so none had ever been conducted.  Our first day was spent training; which involved teaching everyone the protocol and the birds.  Through the rest of the time we worked in teams to conduct the bird suveys.

The border fence at San Bernardino NWR

The refuge is open to the public but only to walk-in traffic, so our ability to drive through the refuge certainly helped us learn the birds and lay of the land.  If you have to walk in, it is over a mile to get to the good riparian areas that are full of birds.  There are also many small, man-made, marshes scattered throughout the refuge that support many bird species that are uncommon throughout the region.  Tropical Kingbirds, Green Herons, and many other marsh birds use all of these small ponds.

The RV we were able to stay in while working at
San Bernardino.  Many Scaled Quail, Lesser Nighthawks,
Eastern Meadowlarks, and Say's Phoebe were around
Many birders don't bird on the refuge because of the lack of access; instead they bird at Slaughter Ranch on the southeast corner of the refuge.  A few years back, Slaughter Ranch hosted two Blue Mockingbirds; which gives birders lots of hope when birding the area.  Some of the other avian highlights included daily Gray Hawks, Zone-tailed Hawk, Varied Bunting, Crissal Thrasher, Greater Pewee (as a migrant), and many Yellow-breasted Chats and Bell's Vireos.  The non avian highlights included a Regal Horned Lizard, a Coachwhip snake, and the endangered San Bernardino Springsnail.

The Regal Horned Lizard; it was awesome to hold this guy!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Book Review: The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors

Back at the end of April, Richard Crossley released the second book in his ID Guide series, The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors. The book is a completely new and different take on raptor identification. It starts with an extensive collection of plates arranged in typical Crossley fashion by taking a natural backgrounds and overlaying many images of each species onto the plate. This allows for a large number of photos of different plumages and angles of a single species to be included on one page. A set up like this works quite well with raptors, as it is important to be able to learn them from different angles so that you can identify them no matter how they might be perched or flying. At the end of the species plates are quiz plates. They offer an opportunity to learn the raptors by challenging yourself to identify them from many angles, and you can find the answer in the back of the book.

In addition to the wonderful images of each species, there are extensive species accounts as well. Jerry Liguori and Brian Sullivan collaborated with Richard Crossley to offer an amazing amount of information for each species, from distribution to molt and geographic variation.

The American Kestrel plate from The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors
ID Quiz for Hovering Birds
This book is a must have for anyone that is interested in learning about raptors. Having so many angles and plumages in one place really allows you to become familiar with the birds in a way that is useful in the field.

Title: The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors
Authors: Richard Crossley, Jerry Liguori, and Brian Sullivan
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication Date: April 24, 2013

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

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

My Time at the Biggest Week in American Birding

Rob writes: I spent the first 12 days of May in northwest Ohio preparing for and running the field trips for the Biggest Week in American Birding. The festival ended up being even better than I had hoped! The bus trips ran extremely smoothly, and we had hundreds of very happy participants. Thousands of birders were in the region, and everyone got to see some amazing birds!

Equally important is the fact that those birders are making a huge impact on the local businesses. Pretty much everywhere I went there were signs welcoming birders and copies of the Biggest Week Visitor's Guide around for people to pick up. Hotels were completely booked and restaurants were packed with birders. The city of Oregon sees such a great impact from birders that they made an official proclamation declaring May 3rd - 12th as The Biggest Week In American Birding and commending Black Swamp Bird Observatory for their efforts to bring economic development to the region. This all happened because of the thousands of people that travel to this region to go birding.

Since I spent most of my time leading field trips for the festival, I did not take as many photos as I normally do, but I did manage to get a few, and my wife snapped some great warbler shots on Sunday before we had to head back home to Indiana.

Blackburnian Warbler - This is one of my favorite warblers!

Blanding's Turtle - One of the species of turtle that can be seen along the boardwalk at Magee Marsh.
Hooded Warbler - One of the less common warblers in northwest Ohio.
Another shot of the Hooded Warbler.
Black-throated Green Warbler - This bird was showing off only feet from my wife as she took this photo!
Magnolia Warbler - A neat and different view of this species.
American Woodcock Eggs - The female happened to be away from the nest when I walked up and I was able to get a shot of the eggs!
Yellow-rumped Warbler - One of the more common birds along the boardwalk but still a cool bird!

Please join us at next year's Biggest Week in American Birding!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013 May Bird Quiz

Rob writes: Since I have been focused on the Biggest Week in American Birding and have not updated the bird quiz in several weeks, I have decided to offer just one quiz in May. The bird below will be our quiz bird for this month and you can enter the contest by submitting your answer on our website at One winner will be randomly selected from all of the correct answers and will receive a t-shirt!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Birding Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Eric writes:

Greetings from Tucson,

In April I made two trips to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument to conduct bird surveys.  Organ Pipe is located directly on the border of Mexico and Arizona, so the logistics of bird surveys becomes more complicated than in other locations.  There is lots of illegal traffic, both people and drugs, through this part of the state which we could run into at any time.  So, we were in regular communications with park personnel to make sure everything was going well when we were out in the field.  

An Organ Pipe Cactus, the namesake of the park
Whatever the dangers involved, this park has some beautiful terrain, and some special birds.  It is one of the few places in southern Arizona where Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls nest, although only in low densities.  Migrants such as Flycatchers, Warblers, Tanagers, Grosbeaks, and Sparrows stream through this area in April in May.  And, an uncommon bird in Arizona, the Vaux's Swift, can be seen occasionally migrating along a wash.  

I hillside with Organ Pipes and Saguaros

One of the best birding locations in the area is Gringo Pass RV Park that is directly on the border of Mexico, you actually bird right along the fence!  This RV park has nesting Great Horned Owls and Harris's Hawks, both of which give excellent views!  It is also a spectacular area for migrants; the combination of water, trees, fruit, and location in the desert, make it a perfect stopover location.   

Great Horned Owlet at Gringo Pass RV Park
Great Horned Owlet with adult, another adult was
close by.
That's the fence, the other side is Mexico . . . you never
know what might show up at a location like this!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Nesting Rock Wrens

Eric writes:

Greetings from Tucson, AZ

A couple weeks ago while conducting a bird survey in Saguaro National Park I came across a Rock Wren nest.  Luckily it was close to the parking lot along Kings Canyon Trail so I was able to grab my camera and go back for a few photos.  

This Rock Wren nest had at least four nestlings.

Just beggin' for more