Wednesday, April 30, 2008

"It’s Time To Play, 'Who Was Mr. X?' ”

For example:

Who was Mr. Wilson’s Warbler?


Alexander Wilson was an early 19th century painter whose prolific production of nine bird volumes approached the virtuoso quality of John James Aububon’s now-classic renditions of avifauna.

In fact, while illustrating 268 bird species (including 26 species never described by ornithologists until Wilson himself identified the birds), he produced eight classic editions of "American Ornithology" (Or the Natural History of the Birds of the United States) between 1808 and 1814,

The result: Wilson’s unlikely yet mercurial advancement in the budding field of ornithology in the early 1800s granted him rarified status among his era’s peers, both artists and scientists, and remains intact today.

Lastly, several bird species carry his name, including Wilson’s Storm Petrel, Wilson’s Plover, Wilson’s Phalarope, and the aforementioned Wilson’s Warbler (in addition to the wood warbler genus Wilsonia that contains the Wilson’s Warbler, Wilsonia pusilla, and two other New World, Parulidae family/wood warbler family members). Even the Wilson’s Journal of Ornithology is named in his honor.

(This post's contents were assisted by Robin Dakin.........and references used included 1) Birds of North America online; 2) The Birder's Handbook; and 3) Wikipedia)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Females Sing in the Wood-Warbler Family?

Yes, it's true -- female wood-warblers sing.

The question (see quiz on right side) is which females are so talented to memorize and learn their song (ala the males that MUST have a singing mentor from which they hear, learn, and memorize a vocalization).

In general, wood-warblers are like most other songbirds. They experience a period of practicing a song in a stage that is called "plasticity."

Depending on the species of wood-warbler, true, definitive adult song is achieved by no later than the commencement of the following breeding season after a newborn singer arrives in a previous year's brood.

When that moment of virtuosity appears, it's called "crystalization."

Now there's a magnificent term that rings a chord of delight in any birder's heart.

(I still haven't revealed who the female singing species of wood-warblers are on the landscape. If you wish to know before the quiz deadline occurs, please feel free to email me:

Monday, April 14, 2008

“Back By Popular Demand, ‘Birding By Ear’ Song Ecology Class Draws a Crowd at the Oakland-based Merritt College”

April 2, 2008
For immediate release
Contact: Daniel Edelstein,, 415-382-1827,


“Back By Popular Demand, ‘Birding By Ear’ Song Ecology Class Draws a Crowd at the Oakland-based Merritt College”

Thirty-five Merritt College students in one classroom is a challenge for any instructor, but how about the same number on a narrow nature trail listening to an American Robin?

Or was that a Black-headed Grosbeak?

Both birds sound similar.

Merritt College Adjunct Faculty Biology Instructor Daniel Edelstein (M.S.) is the one to tell you the difference. He’s been identifying bird songs for more than 30 years.

So it’s no surprise, as he peeks over the shrubs in the low-growth forest that abuts the sprawling East Bay junior college’s hillside environs, that he announces a nearby skulking Spotted Towhee’s voice has revealed its hidden presence in the nearby dense shrubs. The lively song of a Bewick’s Wren is next heard. Then a more rare Hermit Thrush sings, or so says the trained ear of Edelstein (who is able to identify more than 500 birds by their distinctive calls and songs).

For his Merritt College class that begins on the evening of April 17 (as the first lecture/slide show (7-10 pm) of three (4/17, 4/24, 5/1/08) along with five all-day field trips (9 – 5 pm) (4/20, 4/26, 4/27, 5/3, 5/4/08) to prime Bay Area birding landscapes where diverse songs are heard during the spring), the 50-year-old Edelstein explains:
“Sure, people enjoy learning bird songs from among the more than 75 different singing and calling species that are common on the landscape this time of year. But there’s plenty of other hands-on, interactive devices I employ to make the class fun and interesting – from slides, videos, DVDs, handouts, bibliographies/resources, and Internet Web site searches related to song ecology in the classroom to “ears-on” (i.e., hands-on, interactive) techniques on the field trips that utilize my iPod (that plays songs with the aid of a portable speaker), a SonicEar amplifier that you wear as a headset (to more easily hear the bird vocalizations in the field), and binoculars (that I lend to students for free, if they don’t have a pair).”

Students wishing to register for the class may do so online at or The class appears as both a biology (BIOL 80B) and environmental studies class (ENVIRO 80B) at the aforementioned Web sites with students needing to also note the class section as 1515 or 1516, respectively. Students may take the class as pass/fail or for credit (variable from .5 to 2.5 credits, depending on a student’s preference).

In closing, Edelstein explained that he’s glad to have students attend a portion of the class’s offerings, if they cannot attend all three lectures and all five field trips. “The important goal is to get students out listening and enjoying the amazing landscape of birds with which we host our world,” Edelstein said. He adds: “Learning a few new songs of different species each spring season is a lot of fun for students. A lot of the songs sound similar so I call them "Difficult Decisions," in terms of, for example, telling a trilling Chipping Sparrow from a similar-sounding Dark-eyed Junco.

"But what's birding without a challenge?" he continued. "Besides, in my class, students like knowing the reasons why birds sing, how they sing, how they learn to sing, and new techniques to distinguish them from sound-alike bird species. I guess that’s why my most popular handout sheet is called “Top Ten Techniques for Identifying Birds By Ear.”

Edelstein, who possesses a master’s degree in Natural Resources, has presented his bird song-related presentations in more than 20 states nationwide. As a wildlife biologist for the Santa Rosa-based SCS Engineers, he conducts field surveys for animals (including birds) and plants.

To learn more about the class, contact him at and/or see his Web site ( where there’s a link to register for the class (through the home page’s “Classes/Slide Shows/Education” button at the home page). The Web site also features free, printer-friendly birding information specific to the Bay Area and northern California, including a Nature Watch Calendar; a list of bird migrant arrival times in the Bay Area; 200 or more bird song memory devices, and a wood-warbler tips identification chart.

Friday, April 4, 2008

*Which species are the earliest arriving wood-warblers in northern CA?

(* = As a complement to the previous 3/26/08 blog posting (scroll down the page) focused on arrival times of wood-warblers in n. IL/Midwest, here's a northern CA/West Coast answer to the above question.


If you're in northern California where I live (Marin County in the Bay Area), the earliest arriving candidate is Orange-crowned Warbler (OCWA) (that may join winter resident populations that are never common to see during the non-breeding season, yet are observed annually from October-February in small numbers) followed by (in no exact, defined chronological order), Palm Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, MacGillivray's, and Hermit Warbler -- with some individuals (ala OCWA) for all of these species sometimes remaining in small numbers during many to all non-breeding seasons.

Common Yellowthroat is resident in the Bay Area/Marin Co., with more than one subspecies possibly occurring in the area, depending on the time of the year an individual is observed and where in n. CA/the Bay Area.

In recent years, n. Parula has nested in Marin County, so its arrival is probably occurring within the date range arrival window similar to Yellow through Hermit's (above). American Redstart transients also pass through n. CA regions, though they are more common to see in the autumn (e.g., Outer Point within Point Reyes National Seashore) given they often nest annually in small numbers within the northernmost latitudes of northern CA along the coast.

In addition, Yellow-rumped Warbler (an Audubon's subspecies) nests in Marin County at selected higher altitudes, and it's possible the breeding individuals are migrant arrivals in the spring, with winter residents of the same species leaving Marin County/n. CA for breeding sites at higher latitudes.

Another wood-warbler breeding species, Yellow-breasted Chat typically does not usually overwinter in n. CA, and may arrive later during some spring seasons than the species mentioned in the previous sentence. It is considered extirpated from Marin Co., but it is locally abundant in Sonoma County, especially in spots along the Russian River. I've enjoyed canoe rides down this waterway when repeated Yellow-breasted Chat songs filled the airwaves, one (enjoyable) river bend after the next.