Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Northern Pintail

Northern Pintail aka. "The Greyhound of the Air"
Wetlands Edge Park, American Canyon, California, USA
March 2015
Member of the Duck, Goose, and Swan Family
§A Paddling of Ducks§

~true bird fact~ Seems unusually prone to misfortune as a species. Their population dropped from 10 million to 3.5 million in the 7 years from 1957 to 1964 as a result of  avian diseases. A similar die-out happened in 1997, when 1.5 million waterbirds died of avian botulism, most of which were pintails. Furthermore, they're one of the more popular ducks for hunting. They are also disproportionately impacted by the lead poisoning that results from the shot used in aforementioned hunting as well as sinkers in fishing. All that being said, they're got a healthy and fairly stable population for now. You have to wonder though, with that kind of record...

Loves sports, a big part of hislife
Strives to give back to the community
Owns many fancy suits and watches
Needs "time to think" alone

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Could you Bird the 12 Days of Christmas?

It's always been an interesting quirk to me that the 12 Days of Christmas (abbreviated hereafter as Xmas, in line with personal tradition) is so bird-heavy. I mean, aside from those rings (the real thing everyone wants), it's all birds or weird performers. I don't know how I would even deal with eleven pipers piping at me. But anyway, I think it's a fairly short leap from that realization to wondering how likely it is to actually see all those birds oneself. At least for birders, who are naturally competitive and achievement-oriented types. So could you or I get all those birds? And if so, where? Could we do it on Xmas? We're going to attempt to answer that question today. First, let's define our birds.

Seven Swans a Swimming

We don't have a lot to work with here as far as identifying the swans, since all we know about them is that they're swimming, which all swans do. Fortunately, there are basically only 6 types of swans: Black, Black-necked, Mute, Trumpeter, Whooper, and Tundra. Swans can live most places, but they aren't generally equatorial birds, meaning we can eliminate the most of the Mediterranean, Middle East, and Central America. Furthermore, you are unlikely to be able to complete the Xmas birding challenge if you are in Africa. We've made some progress, but that's still a lot of ground to cover.

Six Geese a Laying

These are probably domestic Geese, since they are given the designation of 'laying'. Unfortunately, this means they could be almost anywhere. Fortunately, this means it should be pretty easy to find 6 of them. While I will generally try to only count birds in their native habitat, even this degree of nit-picking will not help up, since Geese occur naturally almost everywhere. The consensus best goose for laying is the China Goose, so maybe we're talking about Asia here. Let's keep going.

Four Cally Birds

Yes, I said 'cally birds'. I am assured by multiple internet sources that these aren't 'calling' birds as I have always assumed. And we might finally have our big break in the case, since a Cally Bird is unambiguously an anachronistic name for a member of the Thrush family called (ironically) the Common Blackbird. Coal-y bird. Get it? Anyway, they're native to most of Europe and have a sizable population in Southeast Australia and New Zealand. Now we're getting somewhere!

Three French Hens

Sigh, another domestic bird.. You can find domestic female chickens that originated in France anywhere in the world, as evidenced by this handy list of French Chicken Breeds. But let me make a supposition here. Would you really call it a French Hen if you were in France? Like, in that case, it would just be a Hen, right? Not the strongest evidence, but it could be a tie-breaker.

Two Turtle Doves

pictured above: Not a Turtle Dove (a Collared Dove)
Turtle Doves. Finally, someone has something specific to say. While Turtle Dove can sometimes refer to the whole family of Collared Doves, there's not a reason to be broad when what we want is specificity. There are 4 birds with Turtle Dove in their name, and fortunately 3 of them are ruled out by their ranges. Our also-rans, by the way, are the Oriental Turtle Dove (most of Asia), Dusky Turtle Dove and Adamawa Turtle Dove (both African). The one we're looking for is the European Turtle Dove. They live throughout Europe in fairly high numbers, as long as you don't go too far north.

A Partridge

Oh god, there are 56 types of partridge. They live on grasslands throughout Eurasia, and I've been able to verify that you're going to find partridges just about anywhere we've already got on our shortlist. Between the Grey and Red-legged varieties, you'll be able to find a partridge anywhere in Europe.

The Pear Tree

Finding the partridge in a pear tree might be a little more difficult, but pears grow just about everywhere we're already considering. If you really want to play the odds though, you'll want to go to Spain, Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands, or Austria. These are the big pear-producing regions of

So could you bird all the birds in the 12 Days of Xmas? It seems like you definitely could, as long as you live in Central Europe (or even parts of Turkey). However, given that the origin of this Xmas carol is 1780's England and France, we can confirm that you could do this birding challenge in the song's country of origin. If you really want to maximize your odds, we can combine our pear data with our bird data, and come to the conclusion that Belgium is your best bet. Big shout-outs to the IUCN Red List website for its unparalleled animal range data. Merry Xmas everyone, and may all your presents be bird-related again.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler aka. Northern Shoveller (Brit.) aka. Shoveller aka. Spoonbill aka. Spoony (colloq.)
Wetlands Edge Park, American Canyon, California, USA
December 2016
Member of the Duck, Goose, and Swan Family
§A Team of Ducks§

~true bird fact~ Lets talk about that bill, which is unique among ducks, and is this bird's namesake. In addition to the unusual spatula shape, the bill is surrounded by 110 fine 'teeth' called lamellae. These allow the duck to filter out plankton and tiny crustaceans from the water's surface. This adaptation means they eat a lot of stuff no other duck eats, and having a unique food source is no joke, evolutionarily speaking. Shovelers have even been observed working together by swimming in circles, stirring up the water and skimming the food particles up.

Surprisingly multi-lingual
Seems to attract unlikely events
Might believe some pretty crazy stuff about aliens and history
Puts little value on expert opinions or scientific research

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Cinnamon Teal

Winter... the days get shorter, the weather gets colder, and here in my beloved Northern California it gets rainy (when we're lucky). It's kind of a lousy time of the year, to be honest. One thing, however, that winter offers is ducks, which fly through or overwinter in the larger Bay Area. That's right, it's duck season once again here on the blog! For the next few weeks, our business is ducks, and duck business is booming.

 Cinnamon Teal
Wetlands Edge Park, American Canyon, California, USA
December 2016
Member of the Duck, Goose, and Swan Family
§A Seasoning of Teal§

~true bird fact~The female Teal makes her nest in big piles of dead foliage, so that it's covered on all sides, and from above. She gets to and from her nest through a tunnel in the vegetation. I'm picturing kind of like a duck bunker. You can never be too cautious in these times.

(male) (female)
crossfit fanatic
dabbles in the customs of other cultures. It's hard to say whether this is offensive, and to what extent
hard to know his real personality

deals with problems in measured, considered ways. This often involves list making
does, in fact, love cinnamon
belongs to this motivational/self-actualization movement that seems a little cult-y

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron, Filtered

Today, dear reader, you're going to get a rare glimpse behind the scenes at the post-editing and production process here on the greatest bird blog in the world. You see, Microsoft, in all of its infinite digital wisdom, has decided to keep making changes to the program I use to edit my photos. Currently, I use something that's just called 'Photos'. Extremely basic, I know, but I wouldn't be the Amateurnithologist if that wasn't the case. While it might seem like a setback that all the things I've been doing up until now have been disappeared (twice!), I look at it as an exciting new opportunity. We're going to learn about the new set of filters they have gifted me with together. Certainly they wouldn't just give me a bunch of garbage after taking away options I found useful, right?

Let's find a test subject.

Ok, looks like a winner. I'd say this is a middling photo by the standards of my blog. Not an all time great, but certainly good enough to put up here. The only reason its gone unused is that I've already talked about Black-crowned Night Herons and don't have enough juvenile birds to make a post out of it. This was taken in June of 2016, by the way, at the Russian River in beautiful Northern California. A photo like this doesn't usually get much editing. I play with the enhance feature a little, crop it to maximize the bird-age, and let er' rip. Let's see what happens when I hit the enhance button now..

Oh dear god! This, to me, looks terrible. Well, it looks like 'enhance' is off the table. At least it didn't do that thing where it tilts the whole picture. Let's see what happens to our picture when we select the only other option besides that. Filters with fun names, away we go.

Does our heron look best in the "Vanilla" filter?

What about "Burlesque?" Maybe a little too risque for a bird blog.

How about "Neo?" No, I think I'll take the blue pill on this one.

Ok, I guess I worded that wrong, because now my bird is completely blue. The "arctic" filter is not for me either.

And now he's see orange he looks like he ought to run for president. Why is this called "Zeke?" Your guess is as good as mine.

Well, that was a lot of fun, but our bird still looks pretty bad. I guess I could post it unedited, but that's just a little too low effort, even for me. After mucking around for a while, I found some more detailed settings. Turns out I don't want to 'enhance' anymore, now I want to 'adjust'.

I think this is what I would land on. Hopefully you've enjoyed this meta-blog, and if you have any recommendation for post production, lay it on me, I'm glad to take advice. Oh, one more new feature I've discovered. I can write on the picture with my finger.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Revisiting the Turkey

My first portrait of a Turkey is from very early on in this blog's lifetime, 2012 to be exact. Back then I described the Turkey as a haughty blowhard and an awful dinner guest. I still sort of feel this way, and get the sense that I'm not alone in my interpretation of the bird. Why is the Turkey a disliked bird? Maybe it's that many people have had personal negative experiences with Turkeys (being attacked by them is not uncommon in some parts of America). Maybe we need to malign them to separate ourselves from the guilt we feel (subliminally or consciously) for farming them and eating them. Maybe we resent them for encroaching on human territory in an unapologetic and successful way (we also treat pigeons with scorn for doing the same). Today I'm going to focus on a different, more positive interpretation of the Turkey- with some Turkey quotes from my favorite website and yours,

"i have a tom who just follows me around like a puppy and he is the nicest turkey ever."

"i got a red bourbon hen about a month ago at auction and she is so sweet she doesnt exactly run up to you she just kind of stays out of your way but she will sit there and talk to you."

"Pros: sweet, docile, and good looking
Cons: none"

"never actually flogged me"

"We named all of our turkeys this year for dragons, so his name, due to respiratory issues, is Puff the Magic"

"In the video is my Royal Palm tom, Gerald, walking in his harness and leash. I have taken him to the pet store, to 4-H meetings and just down the road. Very friendly and easily trained to do about anything." 

And if that's not enough to convince you to take a second look at your Turkey bias, maybe a quote from one of our nation's founders will. Benjamin Franklin's  antipathy toward the Bald Eagle is well documented on this blog, as is his preference for the Turkey. Here is his justification from a letter to his daughter.

There you have it bird fans, if Ben Franklin can love the Turkey for its positive qualities, maybe we can learn to as well. With a perspective, The Amateurnithologist. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

American Wigeon

American Wigeon aka. American Widgeon aka. Baldpate (archaic)
San Francisco Bay Trail, San Rafael, Calironia, USA
March 2016
Member of the Duck, Goose, and Swan Family
§A Flush of Ducks§

~true bird fact~ Has a more vegetarian diet than any other dabbling duck. His short bill is built for this, as it allows him to exert more force, lever-style, to dislodge vegetation. Also, since I don't think I've ever fully laid this out, there are two types of ducks. 1) Dabbling ducks are the ones that stick their faces in the water and have their butts up in the air. They seem very buoyant and have smaller feet that are closer to the center of their body. This guy is a dabbler. 2) Diving ducks are the ones that fully disappear beneath the surface of the water and swim all the way to the bottom to eat. They have shorter legs and bigger feet, like these (all except the Mallard). Sea ducks are a whole other thing. So now you know something about types of ducks.

Projects a persona of tolerance and understanding, until you find something you disagree with him on
Values personal freedom very highly
Tries to play down his upper class background for 'cred'

female, male

Friday, November 11, 2016

Go Watch Planet Earth II (a recommendation with .gifs)

I've mentioned how much I love BBC nature docs, right? And their patron saint, Sir David Attenborough? Of course I have, because this blog is an honest and open place for sharing our passions. Well, in the midst of a year filled with bad news, the BBC gave us a gift. They dropped a brand new Planet Earth series on us almost over night, Beyonce style. Having now watched the first episode (Islands), I can heartily recommend it to you and declare it to be a winner. I don't think I've ever endorsed any kind of thing on this blog before, but buy this series (when you can). In the mean time I've taken it upon myself to give you a little preview in the way I know best- by making bird .gifs out of it.

Recommended use: When you see your best bro or gal for the first time in forever//when you have a complicated greeting ritual with someone
Recommended use: When you are feeling like an awkward third wheel//at a party where you don't know enough people
 Recommended use: After an epic fail of some kind
 Recommended use: Yoga//Instilling hope
Recommended use: When you're a crested penguin, just doing crested penguin things, that other, non-crested penguin beings just wouldn't understand

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Black-and-white Warbler

Black-and-white Warbler aka. Black-and-white Creeper (archaic)
Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, Delray Beach, Florida, USA
April 2016
Member of the Wood Warbler Family
§A Distinction of Warblers§

~true bird fact~ The warblers crawls and creeps up and down the trunks of trees unlike any other member of his family (hence his old name). He can do this because he's got an elongated back toe.. He's also unusually aggressive for a warbler, so don't even try to stop him from doing it.

Has an exotic and mysterious (but pleasant) smell
Loves esoteric collections (i.e. gas station signs, old coke bottles)
A little bit emotionally removed

Is that all for this blog? Well, I know what you're thinking and I'm not going to let you down. You're wondering what would black-and-white warbler look like if he were really black and white. Well, it might look.. a little something.. like this

Saturday, October 29, 2016

5 Crow .gifs for all your Ominous Portension Needs

Boo! Spooked you didn't I? No, not with my 'boo', but you were spooked that your beloved bird blog website (this one) hadn't posted any killer Halloween content yet. Don't worry reader, the website has not been a ghost the whole time, it's alive and well. But at this time of the year it's more like.. undead. That's why we're back at you for the annual spooktacular with some haunted bird .gifs. This year we're focusing on the most dreaded of birds, the crow. Never mind this writer's love of the corvid family, there's nothing we can do for them now, for they've been forever symbologised in pop-culture as signs of misfortune, death, and disaster. Today we present five examples from recent(ish) film in convenient .gif form.
Beetlejuice (1988)
Suggested use: Reaction .gif for negative birding experiences
Jurassic World (2015)
Suggested use: 1) For any conversation that turns to dinosaurs being related to birds 2) Any time you want to say the phrase 'putting my foot down'
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Suggested use: Road trips
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006)
Suggested use: To show displeasure when someone wakes you up too early or texts you at a time when you're sleeping
Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)
Suggested use: 1) When you're feeling like a style icon 2) A triumphant 'haters can't stop me' moment

Do with these .gifs what you will, dear reader. However, be warned that townsfolk whisper that these .gifs are cursed. MWAHAHAHAHahahahaha ha ha ha

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Golden-crowned Sparrow

Golden-crowned Sparrow aka. Weary Willie (*see below)
Carmel-By-The-Sea, California, USA
October 2016
Member of the American Sparrow Family
§A Rein of Sparrows§

*~true bird history~ An unusually wistful entry on informs me that this bird's song is "melancholy" and "seems to reflect the bleak beauty of its surroundings". This is an interpretation that was shared by early 20th century miners who interpreted his song to say "no gold here" and/or "I'm so weary". That's a lot of projection for such a little bird. Judge for yourself, I guess I kinda see it..

~true bird fact~ A bird we know relatively little about, especially in the summer months. He spends those summers in the tundras and shrublands of Western Canada and Alaska, places remote enough and far enough from human civilization that study isn't merited. I don't know about you, but I find the existence of such places very comforting.

This bird just has a great attitude, can't wait to start his day. Why would he be melancholy, he doesn't have to mine for gold. He's a bird.
Sometimes flies out of his way a little bit to get those really good berries
Big fan of 'roughing it'
Musically inclined

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Brandt's Cormorant

Brandt's Cormorant
Point Joe, Pebble Beach, California, USA
October 2016
Member of the Cormorant Family
§A Swim of Cormorants§

~true bird fact~ Impressive divers, they are built for the strenuous task of undersea hunting. They can dive up to 120 feet deep to seek their preferred prey of rockfish and pacific herring.

Has a cruel-sounding laugh
Mysteriously knowledgeable about narrow subjects
Quick to disengage with people who disappoint him
Well developed palate

Oh hey Amateurnithologist, who's this Brandt guy??

I'm glad you asked, very few people would actually care about that. You, reader, are a special flower. Anyway, you've given me an opportunity for another..

Naturalist Profile!

Johann Friedrich von Brandt
1802 - 1879
Like many of our eponymous naturalist, von Brandt was a bit of a renaissance man. In addition to his bird work, he wrote about medicinal plants, specialized in beetles and millipedes, and might actually be most well regarded as a paleontologist. Although he was German born and educated, he emigrated to Russian in his early 30's to found and direct the Zoological Museum of St. Petersberg. His description of this Cormorant came from museum specimens that had been collected by Russian explorers on trips to the Pacific coast, but never previously identified. He also is credited with the Spectacled Eider and Red-legged Kittiwake. So if either of those are your favorite birds, this is your guy, I guess. His wikipedia page is very dry and more in-german than any other english wikipedia page I've ever seen. My guess is a dry wikipedia page is a sign of a basically moral and drama-free life, so good for him. He also has a bat and a hedgehog named after him

Thursday, October 6, 2016

California Scrub Jay

California Scrub Jay
Coyote Lake Park, Gilroy, California, USA
September 2016
Member of the Crow and Jay Family
§A Party of Jays§

~true bird fact~ Tremendous news everyone, the delightful Corvid family has grown by two as of the most recent update to the American Ornithologists' Union's North American Birds Checklist. What was once considered Western Scrub Jay has now been divided into California and Woodhouse's varietals, separated mostly by slightly different plumage. Hmm, this news doesn't really fly off the page, does it? Let me try and word that in a more exciting way. Slightly different plumage, hooray! Making matters more complicated, two other species were once considered the same bird (Florida and Island Scrub Jay), and there are minimum 6 sub-species of the California Scrub Jay, also with slightly different plumage, coloration, and size than one another. Good thing I don't care about sub-species, or this would be a total lost cause.

Has an unplaceable accent that seems to shift from sentence to sentence
Believes in ghosts
Little self-consciousness, always willing to ask for help
Likes old, wooden crafts (i.e. barrels, toys, butter-churns, etc)