Thursday, January 28, 2016


Kalalau Lookout, Koke'e State Park, Waimea, Hawai'i, USA
December 2015
Member of the Finch Family
§A Hive of Honeycreepers§ (nb. although technically most closely related to finches, the 'Apapane and his compatriats are still collectively referred to as 'Hawaiian Honeycreepers'. In reality, they are not that close to the True Honeycreeper family, although you can see why someone would think so.)

~true bird fact~ While most of the impressively colorful group of birds known as Hawaiian Honeycreepers are threatened by extinction (for the usual reasons), 'Apapane appears to be doing ok for herself. In fact, some groups of 'Apapane appear to be developing resistance to Avian Malaria, one of the bird's most dangerous threats. Great job, 'Apapane, you're really staying ahead of the curve!

~true bird history~ In per-colonisation days the 'Apapane played an important role in Hawaiian feathercraft. His red feathers were used to adorn the ceremonial robes, hats, and leis of the noble class, the Ali'i.

Takes great care and effort in the things she does. Very mindful
Yogurt fan
Makes others feel secure with her stable attitude

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Common Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye aka. "Whistler"
Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California, USA
December 2015
Member of the Ducks, Geese, and Swans Family
§A Flush of Ducks§

~true bird fact~ Usually when you see a duck with a whole bunch of babies you assume its a family unit, but this isn't always the case. In Common Goldeneyes, it's not unusual for one mother duck to abandon her brood after a few weeks, and for them to join up with the chicks of another. Furthermore, if mother ducks have a territorial fight, the babies will often scatter, and when they return to their parents, sometimes the children have gotten all mixed up. Don't worry though, these ducks end up ok! Or maybe they have some emotional issues to work through, but they can survive is what I mean.

~general bird fact~ How do ducks and other diving birds see underwater anyway? Well, your amateurnithologist just found this out while looking on wikipedia. It's called a Nictating Membrane, and it's basically a translucent third eyelid that can draw over the eye from the side. It turns out tons of animals who have a need to protect their eye, but still see out of it, share this evolutionary feature. It's most common among things that have to go underwater, but lots of stuff has it- birds, sharks, dogs, polar bears. As someone who finds goggles kind of cumbersome, I kinda wish I had a nictating membrane.

Exasperated often
Good at finding bargains, "sale hunting"
Quick to shut down any disagreement or debate

Very embarrassing, just look at this dumb thing he's doing right now
Perpetually put upon and beset by misfotune
Doesn't really get it, but tries

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Hawaii's Cardinals

Cardinal A

Cardinal B 

Welcome back to 2 Different Birds, the popular feature in which we help you step up your amateur birding game by explaining how to tell the difference between two different birds. In this case, I feel like the name is going to give away a lot, so I'll hold off on that for a minute. Today's subjects are a pair of non-native Hawaiian birds with a lot in common. First, they're both called Cardinals, and neither of them actually are (although you can see why someone thought maybe they were). They're tanagers native to South America. The most striking similarity is their distinct coloration pattern, but their shape, size, habitats, and behavior are all pretty much right in line. So what do you think, dear reader, how would you tell these birds apart. I'll give you a minute to think about it...

Have you thought about it? I know you have, I trust you. We here at Amateurnithologist all trust you. You might be thinking that it's that crest, right? The mohawk-style hairdo that only one of these birds appears to be rocking. You would be mostly correct, but actually this crest is not always on display. What else do you have? A minor difference that could help is in the coloration- the dark wings of Cardinal A are darker, almost black, while Cardinal B's dark wings are more of a grey color. There's also a dark triangle on the chest of Cardinal A, where Cardinal B continues to be red there. If you're a longtime Amateurnithologist reader, familiar with our motto "Always get Light on the Feet" you might have already stumbled upon an even more obvious difference. Cardinal A has yellow legs, Cardinal B, grey. Finally, and most helpfully is that beak. Cardinal A has a bright yellow one, and Cardinal B is again, you guessed it, grey. So how did you do, reader? Did you win the game? As always on 2DB, the lesson here is one that can be generalized for even greater bird learning. Pay attention to beaks, as well as legs, because those things are specific colors. Let's close by learning a few things about our Two Different Birds.

Cardinal B is...
Red-crested Cardinal aka. Brazilian Cardinal

Hanalei Bay, Kaua'i, Hawai'i, USA
December 2015
Member of the Tanager Family
§A Season of Tanagers§

~true bird fact~ Introduced to Hawaii in 1928.

Always willing to fight for what he believes in. Like, physically fight. Just likes to fight, really
Not one to let others get in the way of his personal relaxation time
A philanderer

While Cardinal A is revealed to be...

Yellow-billed Cardinal
Kailua-Kona, Hawai'i, Hawai'i, USA
December 2015
Member of the Tanager Family
§A College of Cardinals§

~true bird fact~ A popular caged-bird throughout South America, their population on Hawaii was probably established by escaped pets.

Prim and proper, good manners
Resents being associated with cardinals, who he sees himself as better than
Highly alert to his surroundings

Friday, January 8, 2016


Nene aka. Hawaiian Goose

Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, Kilauea, Kaua'i, Hawai'i, USA
December 2015
Member of the Duck, Goose, and Swan Family
§A Blizzard of Geese§
★Hawai'i's State Bird
★Rarest State Bird
★Rarest Goose

{Etymology Corner} They make a 'Nay Nay' Sound

~"true" bird fact~ Unlike other geese, the Nene doesn't migrate. In fact,he generally doesn't even leave his home island. He's somewhat more terrestrial than other geese, having his webbed foot partially evolved into a non-webbed one, to make him better at walking on bare lava rock. He has an extinct cousin called the Giant Hawaii Goose, who was 4 times larger (!!!) and couldn't fly at all.

How endangered are they? There are only 2500 Nene. At one point, the bird was extremely common on the islands. Anyone want to guess when? If you were thinking 'before white people got there', you would be correct. Between 1778, when 'discoverer' Captain James Cook arrived, and 1952, the population dropped from 25,000 to 30. Three Zero. Drastic action was taken to save the bird, and an extensive captive breeding program helped bring them back from the brink, enabling them to make a comeback to the point where they could be reintroduced back into the wild. Much of the credit for saving this species falls to Sir Peter Scott, a british naturalist and conservationist who founded the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust. He oversaw their recovery at the Slimbridge WWT, a reserve in Gloucestershire, England.

Bears a mysterious smile
Overeats and doesn't mind
Has no ill-will towards others, although it would be very justified
Lives on 'island time' for sure

Friday, January 1, 2016

The 2015 Birding Year in Review: Amateur Status Intact

Let's start with some statistics. In 2015 we blogged 49 blogs (coming in at just 1 under last year's 50, keeping our rate of 1 almost every week of the year). The blog has gotten more popular too. Although nothing seems to be capable of taking down That Flappy Bird Post as most clicked, we had our second brush with 'virality' this year when we co-started the #WorstBirdPic hashtag on twitter. Karl Mechem, @TheIneptBirder (funny bird person and overall great-seeming guy) even interviewed your intrepid blogger for the Audubon website. It was a trip. Even more interestingly it happened entirely outside of the confines of this website, on 'The Twitter'. I'm not nearly as active on it as I should be, but I am managing to Social Media, at least to some degree. We also started delving into Etymology a little bit and visited some great bird locations (look for Hawaii birds starting very soon!).

On the more negative side of things, I was unable to get a photo accepted for the Golden Gate Audubon Society Bird Calendar this year. I guess I had assumed it would be not that unlikely that I get in again, since I was chosen the first time I submitted. I have high hopes for some of my pictures this year. Also disappointing- I failed in literally every one of my birding resolutions. I gave an honest shot to finding a golden eagle, a condor, a painted bunting, and went out of my way for owls several times (I actually half way completed this one, since I did see one new owl, and several others in captivity [DOES NOT COUNT]). And I just straight up missed the window of opportunity to go to the Farrallons this year.

Still, we accomplished a lot. In today's blog I'm going to highlight some of my favorite moments from the last year.


Ridgeway's Rail A great image of a rare and endangered bird. I thought this one would be a shoe-in for a calendar for sure. Another great endangered bird we got was the Snowy Plover. This one has a double bonus of having both a funny .gif and a super cute baby bird. I also think the Pygmy Nuthatch image was a real standout.

Rest in Peace California Towhee A truly sad bird blog post. Rarely do we flirt with anything like serious emotions on this blog, so it's notable when we do.

Bird Relationship Status Update I enjoyed the short bird fiction style I was able to come up with for this one, and I like that it was a timely, holiday-related blog. We can all learn a little something from birds and their love lives. The Baby Birds of New York City entry took a similar format.

Red-tailed Hawk The story of the Red-tailed Hawk's cry is one of the most endearingly interesting and quirky anecdotes in birding, and I'm glad I was able to get it down on the blog in somewhat competent fashion. It's a decent pic too. Also in 'interesting stories', we got to talk a little bit about convergent bird evolution in our Spotted Towhee blog. A good, quick read.

Both Belted Kingfisher and Roseate Spoonbill are just super cool looking birds that I got real good pictures of. Good job, me.

I always enjoy the .gif entries, and kept going with my Life of Birds series. However, my favorite moving images this year might have come from the Spooky Halloween Bird Gifs article. This is mostly new territory for me, but look for more stuff like it in the future. The best individual .gif, however, might've been in a mystery bird entry.. You be the judge.

Our most popular blog of the year was The Roosters of Key West. Again, an interesting story, and I'm always glad to blog about domestic birds. Along the same notes, I got to continue with one of my favorite rarely recurring features, Bird Reviews with African Goose (he is not a popular goose).

We'll wrap with some birding resolutions. It seems like wishing for specific birds is wishing for disaster, so I won't go there. Instead, let's try these-

1. Submit photos to more calendars and contests

2. Become more active on social media

3. Write more timely blogs that tie into current events. This was a plan I've always had, and occasionally remember to do (see The Bird Cup, The National Birding Championship), but have fallen down on somewhat this year.

4. Remember to go to those damn Farrallons

And of course 5. Continue to produce great weekly content for this here bird blog. Happy New Year everyone, and keep on birdin' in the free world.