Barred Owls & Other Bird Cam Wonders

If you enjoy this few minutes of video above, click the link below to see all the variety of bird cams that the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has on tap:

2021 Barred Owl Season Highlights | Cornell Lab | Wild Birds Unlimited

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As winter fades each year, cam viewers anticipate the return of the Barred Owls to their springtime residence in Zionsville, Indiana. Activity at the nest box in late February signaled the owls’ preparations for the new breeding season. It wasn’t long before the female laid two pearly white eggs in the nest box in early March. Continue reading

A Bit Of Merlin’s Backstory

Heather Wolf. Illustration by João Fazenda

Five years ago David Owen wrote a short article that fit well with the recycling and upcycling themes we frequently cover so we linked to it. Since then his writing caught my eye again on a related theme, and then earlier this year wrote one of my favorite profiles of recent years. This week I am drawn to his work again. Seth first introduced us to Merlin, after his three years working at the Lab of Ornithology. Merlin has been improving, and we have given it a few more looks since then. But today I am happy to learn more about the app’s backstory:

Meet Merlin, the Bird-Identifying App

How Heather Wolf, a part-time juggling impresario, turned her birding habit into an app that pegs species—even on the Brooklyn Bridge—using both images and birdsong.

Heather Wolf earned a degree in sociology at U.C.L.A., then spent six years playing electric bass in a travelling band. She earned a master’s degree in information science, moved to Brooklyn, and worked as a software developer for a company based in Manhattan. Continue reading

Celebrating Urban Birds, Uptown Story

A mama hawk in West Harlem. No big deal. Dave Sanders for The New York Times

Yesterday was Global Big Day, an annual birding event that we have participated in each year since we became aware of it. We became aware when Seth began working with the Celebrate Urban Birds initiative, which was also when I started paying more attention to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology‘s important work in citizen science. We have been featuring that work in these pages ever since, including non-bird citizen science. This story from uptown New York City gives a fresh perspective on a citizen non-scientist celebrating urban birds:

He Wasn’t a Bird Person. Then a Hawk Built a Nest on His Fire Escape.

Life, death, renewal and social media ensued.

Alba, at 2 weeks old. Dave Sanders for The New York Times

Michael Palma Mir’s first encounter with the hawk was not auspicious. Around the first of March, he noticed it outside his West Harlem apartment.

In his 57 years living there, Mr. Palma Mir had never seen anything like this beautiful bird, a killer. He grabbed his camera and stuck his head out the window for a better shot.

The next thing he knew, it was right there. “It was three feet away from me and coming in real fast,” he said. “All I saw were the talons coming right at my head.” He yanked his head back inside and slammed the window, never expecting to see the bird again.

He was wrong. Continue reading

Bee Survey, Bee Hotels & Other Bee News From The Netherlands

A ‘bee hotel’ in Hennipgaarde in the Netherlands. Photograph: Andre Muller/Alamy

Any time we see news on new bee hotels, we are inclined to share. Seeing this news from the Netherlands about a bee survey is also particularly smile-producing. Our thanks to Anne Pinto-Rodrigues and the Guardian’s Environment section for this article:

Bee population steady in Dutch cities thanks to pollinator strategy

Scheme involving ‘ bee hotels’ and ‘bee stops’ reaps rewards as census shows no strong decline in urban population

More than 11,000 people took part in the national bee survey. Photograph: Martijn Beekman/Hollandse Hoogte

Bee hotels, bee stops and a honey highway are some of the techniques the Dutch are crediting with keeping their urban bee population steady in recent years, after a period of worrying decline.

Last week, more than 11,000 people from across the Netherlands participated in a bee-counting exercise as part of the fourth edition of the national bee census. Continue reading

Author’s Discussion Of A World On The Wing

When a respected naturalist mentions eBird, or the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, our family’s attention is rapt. I now realize that Scott Weidensaul first appeared in our pages in 2012, and then twice  since then before today. This time is different because he is interviewed by Dave Davies, one of the great conversationalists of our time, and they are discussing Mr. Weidensaul’s new book (click the book image above to order it from a non-Amazon source). The discussion does not shy away from the challenges related to bird populations, but has plenty to smile at too:

Naturalist Traces The ‘Astounding’ Flyways Of Migratory Birds

Scott Weidensaul has spent decades studying bird migration. “There is a tremendous solace in watching these natural rhythms play out again and again,” he says. His new book is A World On the Wing. Continue reading

Kelp Forests And Invasive Urchins

Purple sea urchins have boomed off Northern California, destroying kelp forests that provide a crucial ecosystem. Steve Lonhart / NOAA MBNMS

Kelp is being farmed now, but where it is a naturally occurring forest it needs help. Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for this:

In Hotter Climate, ‘Zombie’ Urchins Are Winning And Kelp Forests Are Losing

They’re purple, spiky and voracious, and just off the West Coast, there are more of them than you can count.

Purple sea urchins have exploded in recent years off California, covering the ocean floor in what divers describe as a “purple carpet.” Continue reading

Birding Manners Matter

A crowd hoping to see a snowy owl gathered at the reservoir in Central Park. Some birders complain that large groups can disturb rare species. Dave Sanders for The New York Times

You do not need to be a bird nerd to appreciate that an avocation like this one needs some rules of the game, especially at moments like these, which seem to come around every few years:

Twitter Is Turning Birds Into Celebrities and Birders Against One Another

A Twitter account helped spread the word about rare birds in New York City, but publicizing their locations exposed a rift among birders.

A barred owl, whose visit to Central Park has been promoted by some birders, including one who maintains the popular Twitter account Manhattan Bird Alert. Dave Sanders for The New York Times

In 2018 it was the Mandarin duck. Last October it was the barred owl. Just weeks ago it was the snowy owl.

All three avian species catapulted to celebrity status after they landed in Central Park, becoming the subject of news reports from Manhattan to India and attracting gaggles of groupies, snapping away on their smartphones.

These rare glimpses of nature in the heart of New York elicit a dose of joy in the best of times. Continue reading

Snowy Owl In Central Park, Our Kind Of News

A snowy owl in Central Park drew flocks of people (and crows) on Wednesday. Maryté Mercado

If you tend bird-nerdy, you will want to read this. To state the obvious (if you visit here regularly), we live for this kind of news:

Snowy Owl Is Spotted in Central Park, for First Time in 130 Years

The hordes came running and the snow-white raptor became the latest celebrity bird of Manhattan.

In the winter of 1890, a snowy owl was spotted in New York City’s Central Park, part of what a contemporary account called an “unusual abundance” along the East Coast of the large, strikingly beautiful predators that make their home in the Arctic tundra. Continue reading

Migration Modeling Magic

Prothonotary Warbler by Jillian Ditner; Coastal black mangrove photo by Nick Bayly.

Thanks to the Lab of Ornithology for this:

Where Do Migrants Go in Winter? New Models Provide Exquisite Detail

By Gustave Axelson; Illustrations by Jillian Ditner

Part of the magic of migratory birds is their annual disappearing act—one autumn day there might be an oriole in a treetop, and the next day it’s gone, not to be seen again until spring.

Back in the 17th century, scientists had lots of ideas about where birds go during winter in the Northern Hemisphere, including one theory that they migrate to the moon. Today we know Neotropical migratory birds are intercontinental travelers, chasing summer as they leave the North for the warmer weather and longer days of the New World tropics. Continue reading

The Count Is On

Anna’s Hummingbird. Photo: Matthew Olson/Audubon Photography Awards

This time of the year we always save some time for the census, and not surprisingly 2020 necessitates some adaptation to methodology:

Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count Will Look Very Different This Year

While some local counts may be cancelled due to regional COVID-19 rules, many community scientists across the hemisphere will carry on one of the longest-running wildlife censuses in a socially distanced fashion.

NEW YORK — For the 121st year, the National Audubon Society is organizing the annual Audubon CBC. Between December 14 and January 5, tens of thousands of bird-loving volunteers will participate in counts across the Western Hemisphere all while abiding by Audubon’s COVID-19 guidelines. Continue reading

Bees & Citizen Science

A rusty patched bumblebee. Nature Picture Library/Alamy

If you are a regular here you have seen plenty about citizen science. And plenty about bees. We have posted only one time previously about the intersection of bees and citizen science. Today makes twice:

How You Can Help Count and Conserve Native Bees

Honeybees and their problems get the most attention, but scientists are using tactics learned from bird conservation to protect American bees. Continue reading

Thanks For The Birds

Can you name this bird. Caroline Tompkins for The New York Times

On this day each year, we reflect on things to be grateful for. Today, as tempting as it may be to talk about coffee, I am mindful of how important birds have been in our family. In 2014 I was on the terrace at Xandari with Seth. He was recently graduated from college, where he had worked on an outreach program for school children to get them interested in birds, and birdwatching. Now he was training to manage the type of lodge where birdwatching is an activity, and one of his sidelines at Xandari was guiding birdwatching tours in the forest reserve that was part of the property.

As we sat on the terrace discussing the day’s plan, a young couple and their son sat down for breakfast. I said hello to them, and I asked the boy if he was enjoying Costa Rica. He lit up, and said it was his first morning here, but so far it was great. I asked what was great, and without missing a beat he said, with cheer: the birds woke me up! The conversation that followed was a once in a lifetime pleasure. I asked why he was so happy about that, and he and his parents explained that during the school year that had just ended, his class had been “celebrating urban birds” in Brooklyn, NY. It turned out his class was one of the many that Seth had been doing outreach with during the previous year. I told the young fellow that if he wanted to take a birdwatching tour, I had a recommendation of who could guide him.

I am mindful about birds today thanks to Dan Sinker’s op-ed essay:

The Birds Are Outside

One bird feeder became two, then three. Months passed.

Dan Sinker

Me, my wife, our teenager and our 5-year old, we knew nothing about birds before the lockdown sent us inside in March. Our cramped home was suburban-convenient before the pandemic hit, nestled a few blocks from a school we don’t go in and a train downtown we won’t ride, and now it is just small.

It was a bedroom short and had nothing a person could call work space beyond the dining room table even before it became our entire lives. But it did have windows, sunny and bright in the morning, that looked out on the worn patch of yard just outside so I bought a bird feeder and some cheap seed and mounted it just outside our dining room window. We needed a distraction. Continue reading

Winged Victory Of Central Park

Barry’s fans, in the North Woods of Central Park. Dave Sanders for The New York Times

Two years ago when a mandarin duck caught the attention of New Yorkers, and others with avian interests, I was struck by the diversionary value. Now, even more than then, winged diversion is welcome. This one provided me a diversion within a diversion. A sculpture dedicated on a Greek island more than two thousand years ago honored a victory, and the sculptor chose the goddess of victory to represent that honor. At that time, the goddess was always depicted with wings. If victory has been on your mind lately, you might see this owl as a harbinger.

Barry the Barred Owl is New York City’s bird of the moment. Dave Sanders for The New York Times

That’s up to you. Even without thinking of victory, a good owl photo is always a welcome diversion. The photograph by Joshua Kristal (click the image below to go to his Instagram feed) is particularly well composed. My thanks to Lisa M. Collins for this story:

‘I Had to See That Owl’: Central Park’s New Celebrity Bird

New Yorkers are so obsessed with Barry the barred owl that some are concerned he could be scared away. So far, he seems to like the attention.

Joshua Kristal finally got to see (and photograph) Barry during a Birding Bob night tour through Central Park earlier this month. Joshua Kristal

It was late afternoon in the North Woods of Central Park, and the sun was setting fast. Joshua Kristal, a photographer with a penchant for birds, was starting to feel despondent as he searched along the creek, looking for any movement. This was the third time he’d traveled more than an hour from Brooklyn to see Manhattan’s newest celebrity bird: an ethereal and majestic barred owl.

Currently known as Barry, the owl has intense black eyes and elegant poufs of white feathers streaked with brown and gray. He looks like a perfect stuffed animal from a high-end toy store. But Barry is also unusual. Though owls are typically nocturnal, he makes regular daytime appearances, and has become something of a performer. Practically vogueing, he stares, preens and swoops into the shallow stream to wash and flick his feathers. Barry will turn his head 270 degrees right and left and up above to check for his archenemy, the hawk. He plucks chipmunks with his talons and devours them, seemingly unfazed by adoring fans and the paparazzi, many of whom have already made him Instagram-famous. Continue reading

Simile, Smile, Citizen Science & Civil Society

Michael Bohmeyer, center, riding his bicycle in the office of “My Basic Income,” the website he founded to provide a monthly basic income for 600 randomly selected people. Moving helps him think, he said. Lena Mucha for The New York Times

In the fifth paragraph of this article, which I started to get a better understanding of the European approach to universal basic income, my attention was caught by a simile:

“We have a lot of ‘citizen scientists’ counting birds, and giving the data to scientists. This is like that, but for civil society.”

Since we have featured so many stories and articles about bird-focused citizen science, the simile caused a smile. Continue reading

Common Octopus, Uncommon Story

My Octopus Teacher is available on Netflix

I was not avoiding it, exactly, but by night time my attention span diminishes. From a reluctant start at 7:30pm yesterday, assuming I would fall asleep less than half way through, my absorption became total from the first minute and remained so until the end. It was a compelling conclusion to a very long day. Film reviews rarely appear here, but New Scientist gives me good reason to share more than my own opinion:

My Octopus Teacher review: The strange lives of cephalopods up close

In many ways, the octopus is a tough proposition: a soft-bodied mollusc that carries the bulk of its brain in its arms, that can render itself solid without a skeleton or liquid despite its beak, that evolved separately from nearly every other organism on Earth. That otherness is at the heart of our fascination with octopuses: can we even aspire to understand something so foreign? A new Netflix documentary, My Octopus Teacher, follows one man’s attempt. Continue reading

World Shore Birds Day

Bird conservation goals play an important role on this site, and in the lives of many of our contributors, and Birds Caribbean has spearheaded many projects we’ve been actively involved in.

We look forward to hearing more about this initiative and wish all participants happy, healthy, safe birding!

Join Us As We Celebrate World Shorebirds Day: September 3-9, 2020

September is right around the corner and migratory birds are making their way south.  World Shorebirds Day 2020 is Sunday, September 6th and we need your help to count Caribbean shorebirds at your favorite birding spot (or spots)!

Wilson’s Plovers are one of the many shorebird species found in the Caribbean. (Photo by Hemant Keshan)

Where are these fascinating birds to be found? While you will find them on shores and beaches, some shorebirds use habitats further inland, including freshwater and brackish marshes and ponds. Shorebirds are also fond of salt ponds, mud flats, mangrove areas, and tidal flats.This year’s Global Shorebird Count will take place from September 3 to 9, 2020. All across the Caribbean, birders will be compiling checklists from island to island and recording them on eBird Caribbean. Our migratory shorebirds are more vulnerable than ever, threatened by human activities that have changed or destroyed their habitat. Most species of shorebirds are in decline around the world.

eBird Caribbean is a critical tool for tracking and understanding bird migration and population changes – never more so than for our shorebirds. If you do not have an account, it is easy to register – here’s a quick guide to enter eBird data online.  There is even a free eBird Essentials course to get you fully oriented.  Download the free mobile app for recording your data in the field.

Note that shorebirds are a type of waterbird and any counts you do at wetlands, mangroves, mud flats, coastal areas or beaches count as Caribbean Waterbird Census counts. To increase the value of your count to science, be sure to count ALL birds at your site, including seabirds, herons and egrets, land birds, etc.

Continue reading

Backyard Birding & Organikos

ViviBirding

Education Images/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Thanks to the folks at Short Wave for this brief tutorial on backyard birding, featuring a scientist from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. For those fortunate enough to be able to use some of their time in recent months for this purpose, the tutorial may resonate. A total novice like me finds it useful so I recommend it to others.

SETarrazuLabelI especially appreciated the advice of paying attention to the coffee that you purchase, because it can have significant impact on migratory birds. The new series of Organikos labels are almost ready for print-testing. One of the final decisions made in the last month was to let the label on the bag focus on the coffee and keep the bird-habitat mission messaging on the website and in places like this. A key part of that message is that the particular coffee offered matters most. We believe that if we start with the highest quality green beans, apply the perfect level of heat, and deliver them at the fairest price we will get what we need to plant more trees. So, the Tarrazu single estate is the second label I will share here. Along with the Hacienda la Amistad single estate organic, this is some of the most spectacular coffee grown in Costa Rica. And for every bag sold, the difference between what we pay to get this to you, and what you pay to Organikos, goes to bird habitat regeneration.

Citizen Science: 89 Years Old and Counting

Microscopic plankton: they provide a food source for fish, seabirds and other marine life, as well as absorbing CO2 emissions

Although we’ve highlighted citizen science so many times on these pages, it never occurred to me that some of these projects have spanned nearly 9 decades.This particular project’s device is called a continuous plankton recorder (CPR). An apt acronym, indeed.

Tiny plankton tell the ocean’s story – this vast marine mission has been listening

Since 1931 ‘citizen scientists’ on ships have enabled data collection on the tiny building blocks of the sea. Now this research could shape how we tackle the climate crisis

On a clear day, from their small, unassuming warehouse on the south Devon coast, Lance Gregory and Dave Wilson can see right across Plymouth Sound to the Eddystone lighthouse. Today, they’re watching a ferry from Brittany, the Armorique, pull into dock.

Behind it, the ferry is towing a one-metre-long device shaped like a torpedo. It doesn’t look like much, but it’s part of the planet’s longest-running global marine survey.

The device is called a continuous plankton recorder (CPR), and it’s one of 53 such devices that Gregory and Wilson manoeuvre using forklifts in their warehouse, surrounded by racks of distinctive yellow boxes and clipboards covered in spreadsheets.

They dispatch these CPRs in bright yellow boxes to “ships of opportunity” – ferries, cargo or container vessels that have agreed to volunteer for the mission. Once a ship leaves port, the crew attach the device to the stern using steel wire, then toss it overboard.

Trailing along behind the ship, it collects data for the CPR survey. The mission is vast but the subject is minuscule: plankton, the tiny organisms that drift in the ocean. Every marine ecosystem relies on plankton for its basic food source, and it generates half the oxygen we breathe. Perhaps more than any other organism, it is crucial to all life on our planet.

The CPR survey is the longest-running marine science project of its kind. It began in 1931 when the scientist Sir Alister Hardy investigated how herring were influenced by plankton in the North Sea. This month the distance surveyed will reach an impressive 7m nautical miles, equivalent to 320 circumnavigations of the Earth.

Since that first tow from Hull to Germany 89 years ago, the equipment has hardly changed. So far a quarter of a million samples have been analysed, representing a vast geographical spread over the course of the past century. The immense scope has allowed scientists to see dramatic patterns in ocean health, across both time and space, building a much clearer picture of how our marine environments are changing.

It is also, says Gregory, “one of the oldest citizen science projects in the world”. Continue reading

BirdsCaribbean Global Big Day in a Big Way

Birders, in general, tend to be an enthusiastic bunch – and the constraints of the current circumstances actually added extra incentive to find creative problem solving solutions, in finding new birding locations or ways to be safely be in familiar ones.

The BirdsCaribbean Global Big Day video compilation provides proof positive. Enjoy!