Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Warbler Guy, is it unusual to see wood-warblers at backyard seed feeders? Wood-warblers at feeders I can expect to see?


Jerry (in southern Michigan).....Great question, as in your area this time of year (November and, indeed, through ~February or so) I'd expect potential seed feeder sightings from a lonely, uncommon Pine Warbler or Yellow-rumped Warbler.


(Above: male Yellow-rumped Warbler, 
Setophaga coronata audboni, 2007, Cupertino, CA (male breeding plumage). Photo courtesy of creativecommons.org....Note: Obviously, winter-time sightings of this species do not typically "wear" breeding plumage like the individual shown above.)

On the West along coastal California (where I live in the SF Bay area), it's not common, but Townsend's Warbler could show up along with Yellow-rumped. 

Yellow-rumped subspecies in the lower 48 states —both Myrtle and Audubon's — are able to digest waxy coatings on seeds (such as privet and wax myrtle berries), unlike most other wood-warbler species....That's because they have hearty digestive juices to process seeds (as does Pine Warbler).

Otherwise, I have to admit in my 40 years of birding, I've never seen any other wood-warbler species at seed feeders.....though backyard nectar feeders sometimes coax Cape May Warbler, among other songbird species.

OK, I'm out to watch raptors today, later, then soon conducting a birding tour soon to Bodega Bay (in Sonoma County, 60 miles northwest of San Francisco) so wishing you the best.....Please feel free to see my "Birding Tours" area at my web site: warblerwatch.com

Regards, Daniel Edelstein

Friday, November 2, 2018

Early Holiday Gift Idea: The "Warbler Guide" App. . . Here's An Interview With The Authors

Looking for an excellent birding app for your smart phone?



Consider as a complement to The Warbler Guide paperback (an excellent guide), the following smart phone app that is called The Warbler Guide App.

It is available at the iTunes Store and Google Play.

In the following interview, authors of the book and app — Tom Whittle and Scott Stephenson — answered some of my questions about their new app:

Why do an app when you have a book?



The Warbler Guide was an exciting project for us, and it incorporates a number of new features and tools such as Quick Finders, Comparison Species, and (for the first time) a complete system for analyzing and learning bird sounds.  But there are a few things an App can do that a book can’t. 

First, it can go in your pocket!  Our app works on iPhone and iPad, and that means you can bring it out into the field.  With that in mind, the app is also more focused on helping actively identify a bird you are seeing. 

Secondly, an app can respond to the user and sort information in ways a book can’t.  By using dynamic, real time filters, the Warbler Guide App let’s you quickly narrow down your selection by location, visual characteristics and sound.  So if you’re seeing a bird in the Northeast with a yellow head that’s singing a buzzy song, you can quickly enter that in the app and see what choices that leaves.  It’s a very rapid mode of identification.

Third, you can play sounds!  A book falls short there, and being able to just tap and compare songs in the app will prove to be not only a useful study guide, but and effective way to quickly compare and narrow down bird sounds in the real world. 

Finally, our app includes 3D models that let the user position and compare the bird exactly as they see it in the field.  This is a new and powerful tool that is only possible with computers. 

Are there parts of the book you left out?

The app is not the book, and visa versa.  We didn’t want to just create an electronic version of the Warbler Guide – instead we built the app from the ground up as a working tool for field identification.  As such, some of the information in the warbler guide isn’t in the app, although the entire species accounts and comparisons are included.  We basically streamlined the app to be what we felt was the best possible tool for birding. 

What's different from the book?

As we mentioned, there isn’t as much secondary information, such as taxonomy, measurements, etc.  We also don’t include the six very rare vagrant warblers that are in the guide, and of course we don’t have all the sections explaining what to look for and how to learn songs.  The app is more of a field tool, and the book is more of a study guide, and in that way they complement each other well.



Which process did you enjoy more or was more difficult? Writing the book or developing the app?

Those are two very different things!  The book was exciting to develop, and it was gratifying to be able to create new systems and tools that we feel makes learning warblers much easier. 
The app, on the other hand, was more about creating an elegant, useful field tool that took all the information in the guide and made it quickly accessible and fast-to-use in the field.  That was an exciting process, too, and challenging in an aesthetic, workflow and design sense.

Do you need to have the book in order to “get” the app or find it useful?

Not at all – the app stands alone, and is a great tool for the field.  But if you want to sit down and do a little more studying, then the book is great to have, too.  There’s nothing to replace the experience of reading a real book, and we didn’t try to do that with the app.  So we recommend having both!

The app incorporates 3D models, sounds, and search functions in new ways. Let’s start with the 3D models – why was it so important to you to include 3D images? What was the process involved in making them? 

The 3D models are something we’ve been thinking about for several years now, and we’re so excited to be able to present them in the app.  Traditionally, an illustrator has to decide which viewing angles of a bird to include in book, since space is limited.  But with 3D models, we can literally show every possible angle of a bird. 
We created the models using professional modeling software, and overlaid photographs and applied various graphic design techniques to create a realistic “skin”.  That along with a little extra magic from the very talented artists we worked with for these images, and we were able to put together what we think is a lifelike and very functional model. 
It’s been amazing to see these things in action in the app, and we feel it’s a step forward to give the user the ability to exactly match their view of a bird in the field. 

Also, we’re used to seeing bird songs in apps, but The Warbler Guide takes this to a new level, allowing users to play back at different speeds and to look at sonograms. Can you take us through this? 

Yes – the way we treat songs is another really critical innovation in the app.  Teaching songs through books has always  had limited effectiveness, but with an app we’re able to give the user songs they can play instantly, and compare side-by-side with other similar songs.  Just the speed and seamless experience of this process should make studying songs much less cumbersome than in the past.
The sonograms are visualizations of sound, and they give us a way to describe and share specific aspects of a song.  Having sound without sonograms would be like having a bird guide without illustrations!  This, combined with the new descriptive vocabulary of the Warbler Guide, give us a method of teaching that is truly effective. 
And the ½ speed playback is part of that, too…playing the song at half speed without the usual pitch distortion that accompanies it (think Alvin and the Chipmunks) lets a birder really hear all the parts of a song.  Later, when you hear the song at normal speed, those little details become more apparent, and make it easier to describe and identify a bird’s sound. By carefully studying the structure of a song, which can be greatly aided by listening to it at a slower speed, the user will become much better at hearing that song, or even a call’s, structure in the field.

The search and filter functions are really neat and highly visual. Why did you decide to go in such a different way when it comes to searches and filters?

Many bird apps have some sort of filtering, but none of them use our visually intuitive system.  When you’re looking at a bird and trying to quickly match it to an image, it doesn’t help to have a lot of verbal description to get between you and the bird.  Birding is, after all, a visual and auditory experience first and foremost – not a verbal one – so why introduce that layer of words that just slows down the connection?  By creating truly visual filters we think the user will have a faster and easier filtering experience.

One of the things that is really distinctive about The Warbler Guide is the species comparison photos and information. How do you cover this material in the app?

The comparisons are very important.  First of all, people generally learn birds by comparison: for example, this bird is larger than that one, or this one is more yellow.   Secondly, in a traditional guide the only way to be sure that the illustration you’re looking at is the right one is by knowing all the other birds in the book!  Otherwise how can you be sure that there’s nothing similar?   We call these guides “Bird Dictionaries”, and trying to teach someone birds with a traditional field guide is a lot like trying to teach someone English by handing them a dictionary. 
So we took a different approach with the Warbler Guide, and curated each species with all its look-alikes.  That way, you can easily see all the birds that might be mistaken for each other, and then quickly and confidently ID your bird.
The app continues this approach – if the user selects a bird, then all the similar birds are presented on the species account page.  Not only that, but if you then select one of those comparisons, it’s displayed side-by-side with your initial choice, and can be viewed from any angle and in 3D as well.  Tapping the birds also brings up a list of important difference between the two – again, creating a confident, rapid ID process without having to know all the birds of the US!
It’s important to note that the comparisons also apply to the warbler songs. You can listen to each species’ song types and immediately see and hear any possible confusion species, along with our notes on what to listen for to help tell them apart.

What’s next for you? A lot of people are hoping you’ll write a similar book for another family. Any plans to do this?

We will certainly be focusing on other types of birds, and are currently working with our publisher, Princeton University Press, to do that.  But the form of our next work may not be of one family, like sparrows. 
We have had lots of feedback on our approach to understanding and learning vocalizations and expanding this to other species groups is another direction we’re very interested in.
  
How will people in the field find app features helpful?

This app is built from the ground up specifically for use in the field.  We leveraged all the power of a portable device to create a new and effective tool for identifying a bird easily, quickly and with confidence as it’s being seen. 
The visual and audible filters are extremely effective at cutting down the number of species to just a few birds in moments.  The 3D view allows the user to position a model in the exact same viewing angle of a bird as they are seeing at the moment.  And the sound-playing aspects of the app help quickly play and compare songs to rapidly match songs heard while birding.  So we hope all those tools will help birders have a more rewarding and educational experience.

Will the app be applicable throughout the USA?

Yes – it covers all the warblers of the US, excluding a few rare vagrants like Slate-throated Redstart.  It is also filterable by region, so if you are in the Northwest US, you can select that area to show just the birds that are likely there.

Will a place for people to log their warbler sightings be present?

We defer to apps like BirdLog for that functionality.  The Warbler Guide App is really focused on its primary mission, which is to rapidly find and compare warbler species.

Will birders be able to track their sightings by date from one year to the next?

Again, we think apps like BirdLog and eBird already handle this brilliantly, so we avoided trying to repeat that functionality.

Does the app need to be connected to the internet to be effective? 

No.  One of the virtues of this app is that it’s stand-alone, so if you’re in some remote area without internet service, it still functions perfectly.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Warbler Guy, what's one quick tip to improve my birding by ear? Bird song memory is hard! -- so tips to learning bird songs and bird calls would be appreciated.

Here's two fast relief pills to take online for learning bird vocalizations and, in particular, wood-warbler songs:

1. Go to xeno-canto.org

Type in the name of the nemesis bird that has you flummoxed (It's free, but you need to create an account with your use name and password).

2. To assess warbler species' songs and calls, go to the following web site that's associated with the excellent, incisive book The Warbler Guide (by Scott Whittle and Tom Stephenson):

http://media2.macaulaylibrary.org/PMD/TWG/TheWarblerGuideAudioCompanion_Booklet.pdf

You may also wish to view:

thewarblerguide.com

and click on the "Companion Guide" button on the right side......Comprehensive information (!)



Otherwise, feel free to see my web site's home page and the "Birding Links" tab pulldown menu where a free handout titled "Top 10 Tips To Improving Your Birding By Ear" appears.

Happy birding and warbler hunting to all, Daniel

www.warblerwatch.cpom

http://warblerwatch.blogspot.com

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Warbler Guy, are there any New World warblers that occur in their own family and where shall I look?




The Olive Warbler, Peucedramus taeniatus,  is a small passerine bird. It is the only member of the genus Peucedramus and the family Peucedramidae.

Breeding from southern Arizona through New Mexico and south into Mexico and Nicaragua, the Olive Warbler is the only member of the genus Peucedramus and the family Peucedramidae. All our other New World warblers in the continental USA are in the Parulidae family (except for rare to occasional vagrant sightings of Old World Warbler sightings — among them being Arctic and Dusky Warbler).

The Olive Warbler status in its one-member family is distinctive in that it's the only bird family endemic to North America (including Central America). Before it was classified into its current family, this warbler was considered a Parulidae, but DNA studies suggest that it split early in its evolutionary history from the other related passerines prior to the differentiation of the entire New World warbler/American sparrow/Icterid group.

Where should you look for this species?

Like many other New World warblers, it is an insectivorous species of coniferous forests.
According to the iBird Pro app I used to interpret its distribution range, Olive Warbler is restricted to breeding in central/east-central Arizona and a small portion of southwestern New Mexico. It's non-breeding season range includes southern Arizona most of western Mexico and a restricted area of northeastern Mexico immediately south of Texas.

Though it is often said to be non-migratory, most New Mexican birds typically leave the state from November to late February.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Warbler Guy, for vagrant warbler sightings, what's a good resource to check when I travel? Are West Coast vagrant warblers easy to find?

Gus (in Chicago), I'm looking forward to our upcoming birding tour for which I'm guiding you....and here's some thoughts on your questions:

1. I use ebird (ebird.org) as a primary source for checking updated, documented sightings.

So, for example, yesterday was a first record for a Golden-winged Warbler sighting in Sonoma Co., CA (in the SF Bay area where I live):

https://ebird.org/map/gowwar?neg=true&env.minX=&env.minY=&env.maxX=&env.maxY=&zh=false&gp=false&ev=Z&mr=1-12&bmo=1&emo=12&yr=all&byr=1900&eyr=2018



As you scroll down the page at the above link, you can see past sightings have occurred in the nearby Point Reyes National Seashore (to the south of of Sonoma Co.), BUT not yet in Sonoma Co.

I imagine the new record will soon be added to ebird.

2. County by county lists of sightings for CA appear via John Sterling's home page at:

http://www.sterlingbirds.com/california_county_birding_intro.html

See the link to a file here and, then, go to the CA county where you will be birding.

I hope this helps!

Regards, Daniel Edelstein
warblerwatch.com

Monday, August 20, 2018

Warbler Guy, which migrating warbler arrives first on the East Coast? Which warbler arrival shall I expect on the West Coast? Warbler migration has begun?

Lori, those are great questions.

The brief answer is look for the following warblers to initially appear as true returning migrants on the East Coast from the Mid-Atlantic north:

- Louisiana Waterthrush
- Palm Warbler
- Common Yellowthroat
- Yellow-rumped Warbler

For the West Coast, it's even more simplified:

- Orange-crowned Warbler (photo shown here) is often the most common returning nesting species, typically arriving by late February to early March, if you're in the San Francisco Bay Area where I live.


March 6 is the mean annual arrival date for this species on the coast in W. Marin Co. at the Palomarin (near Bolinas) bird banding station, based on 1967-1989 records. The earliest return date in this span is 2/27 and 3/16 was the latest.

Palm, Wilson's, and Yellow Warbler may also be early returnees on the West Coast, though it's challenging to definitively determine if sightings of these species are true migrants or "over-wintering" individuals.

Some Orange-crowned individuals in the Bay Area also may "over-winter," as Christmas Bird Count surveys in the San Francisco Bay Area often record this species and rare to periodic reports for this species persist throughout the winter during most years from Bay Area counties. In this case, if I hear an associated Orange-crowned song in February or March, then I usually deem the aria a returning migrant individual.

Happy birding, Daniel
danieledelstein at att dot net
warblerwatch dot com

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Warbler Guy, why does American Redstart occur in California more often than most other so-called "East Coast" warblers? Is American Redstart a vagrant on the West Coast?

Excellent question, Joey (in Santa Monica).



Fact is, American Redstart is not always a vagrant in California when detected during the spring and late summer/fall.

That's because its far western home range into Alaska places it in the pathway of where some individuals may migrate up and down the West Coast.

Equally important, a northern California breeding population in the farthest region of the state has occurred in the past.

As a result, it's plausible to suggest annual breeders in this area could be southward migrating individuals that California birders detect from August through November annually, for example, in the outer point of Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County or at Bodega Head in Sonoma County.

That written, it's ALSO possible some Midwestern and East Coast American Redstarts are seen in California. The species is abundant and locally common throughout much of its range, so, given the plethora of newborns each year, it's possible some become disoriented as vagrants spotted on the West Coast.

In summary, it's challenging to decisively determine the origin of an American Redstart observed from central to southern California. An observer would need to employ bird banding data and recapture a previously banded individual to find out its pathway of dispersion and/or migration.