Thursday, July 21, 2016

Who's that Pokebird? pt.2

Welcome back to the world of birds! I may not be a real bird professor, but I'm definitely a bird fan. If you didn't see last week's blog, we've got a trending topics special: Identifying the bird-type pokemon that (theoretically) appear in recent smash hit Pokemon Go. Check out part 1 here, and then come on back.  Make sure you save your game and change your gameboy's batteries, because these are some birds you won't want escaping.

Defining characteristics: definitely a duck, brown coloring, black brow, yellow bill

Who's that pokebird? Mottled Duck
I was hoping to find a duck with Farfetch'd distinctive tuft, but there was no bird that had both that and his coloring. I feel like this is a pretty good match, at least better than Golduck from last week. One fan on facebook pointed out that the Psyduck line might resemble more of a platypus than a bird. Blasphemy for a monster with 'duck' in its name? It might be more possible than you would imagine, since the etymology is not especially on point in pokemon, especially in the first game.

Defining characteristics: flightless, thin beak, brown, long legs, two heads..
Who's that pokebird? North Island Brown Kiwi
This is for sure a Kiwi and bears little to no resemblance to its namesake, the dodo. A very good match as far as shape, color, and beak, there's little doubt in my mind. Historical evidence of a kiwi with two heads is lacking, but we can allow for a little fantastical element in this, a video game. It's not going to get any better from here on out, that's for sure.

Defining characteristics: crest, long sharp beak, elongated tail, often depicted running

Who's that pokebird? Greater Roadrunner
Ok, so I'm not super satisfied with this one. There is simply no bird that matches the unique coloration pattern of dodrio (brown on top, black on the bottom, red tail). I was unsatisfied with my options among flightless birds, but the body shape never felt right, and none had crests. I settled on Greater Road Runner eventually, as I felt it best captured the je ne sais quoi of Dodrio. In my research I did learn of a species of flightless rail who lives someplace called Inaccessible Island. It's name? The Inaccessible Island Rail. Marvelous.

Defining characteristics: blueish, distinctive crest, long tail, powerful wings, appears to be a bird of prey
Who's that pokebird? Harpy Eagle
I think this guy looks great. You can even find some pictures where the blue-ness is played up. What eventually sealed it for me was those head feathers, despite this guy living in South American Jungles. Other good options included the Gyrfalcon and Stellar's Sea Eagle, who actually live in icy environments, but the coloring and shape made the Harpy Eagle the best match. It also helps that it's an insanely large bird, befitting of legendary status.

Defining characteristics: yellow, black elements, pointed beak, splayed feathers

Who's that pokebird? Northern Yellow-Shafted Flicker
I know I just talked about it working out nicely that a large, imposing bird should be the inspiration for a legendary, but this guy is just totally in the woodpecker family. This is backed up by one of his signature moves being 'drill peck', something neither of the other legendary birds learn. This might be the best match of all, and if a Yellow-shafted Flicker got struck by lightning, who can say for sure that it wouldn't turn into this. If you wanted a little bit of a fancier alternative, maybe I can interest you in a Greater Bird-of-paradise.

Defining characteristics: reddish coloring, wildly bushy feathers, angry eye, sharp + pointed beak

Who's that pokebird? Reddish Egret
Egrets? I've had a few. And this bird clearly is one. He's at least in that crane/egret/heron family somewhere, as indicated by body/neck/head shape. I went with Reddish Egret for obvious coloration reasons. There are redder options such as Roseate Spoonbill or Scarlet Ibis, but they lacked the right beak shape.

Whew, there sure are a lot of these things... birds I mean. At least they don't come out with another new hundred you have to catch every few years. I think for now I'll be refraining from IDing the 'mon from the next generations, mostly because they got a lot more obvious. I mean, do you really need amateurnithologist telling you that Pidove is a dove or that Noctowl is an owl? Well, never say never, I suppose. Until next time, may you bird them all.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Who's That Pokebird?

Hello there! Welcome to the world of birding! My name is Professor Amateurnithologist. It's quite a mouthful. This world is inhabited by creatures called BIRDS. You might encounter these strange creatures sometimes when you're out playing Pokemon Go. Sometimes pokemon are birds too, but which kind of birds are they really? Sometimes its easy to tell, sometimes not so much. Fortunately for you, I'll be joining you on this journey. Gotta bird em' all!

Defining characteristics: bushy brow, black eye-mask, drab coloring

Who's that pokebird? Lincoln's Sparrow
Very possibly your first bird pokemon, the pidgey is what convinced me that this article needed to be written. It's name implies strongly that it's a pigeon, but looking at the characteristics it clearly is not. The match for this pokemon needed to be a somewhat small and unimpressive bird, considering it's half normal typing and common/unexciting nature in the game.

Defining characteristics: Red crest, brown body with red elements

Who's that pokebird? Female Northern Cardinal
Yes, that's right, all Pidgeottos are female. I never said the process was going to be perfect. Originally I assumed that I'd only need to do one bird for each evolutionary pokemon family, but looking here, it seems clear that this is an entirely different bird that doesn't really look like a sparrow at all anymore. Ruby Crowned Kinglet was a good match for this too, color wise, but I wanted the bird getting bigger, not smaller.

Defining characteristics: longer crest, eye mask, elements of red and yellow on wings and tail, more aerodynamic shape

Who's that pokebird? Cedar Waxwing (could just as easily be Japanese Waxwing, especially considering that's where these games are generally considered to take place)
Artistic interpretation? Maybe, but I feel like this is a slam dunk match for pidgeot, especially considering you're not going to find any bird with such luxuriously flowing hair.

Defining Characteristics: Hawk-like beak, brown head, reddish wings, pale belly

Who's that pokebird? Swainson's Hawk
Clearly meant to represent a small bird of prey, Spearow's name inexplicably implies a connection to sparrows. I also considered prairie falcon, but found the coloring and body-shape to be a closer match to a Swainson's. This one feels like a sure thing.

Defining Characteristics: Long narrow beak, long neck, red crest, predominantly brown coloring

Who's that pokebird? Sandhill Crane
This is where the mysteries of pokemon evolution really come in to stark relief, and why I had to completely give up on having pokemon in the same evolutionary line connect to birds of the same family. Spearow is very clearly a raptor who turns into something in the crane or heron family. There's one problem with this ID, did you spot it? It's those legs! It's uncommon for a bird to have a long neck and short legs, the only thing I can really think of is a cormorant, and that's just not what he looks like.

Defining Characteristics: Yellow, duck-like bill, clearly a duck of some kind

Who's that pokebird? Honestly, there are no yellow ducks, which leaves me to assume this is a duckling or gosling, which he does bear a good resemblance to.
I assume that psyduck is the young version of whatever our next pokemon turns out to be. For once something about this transformation system makes sense! Alright, let's take a look at his adult form and all will become clear..

Defining Characteristics: Blue color, yellow bill, gem in forehead, red eyes, kind of resembles a dinosaur actually. This is going to be challenging..

Who's that pokebird? Eared Grebe
I think this is the best we're going to get folks. He's got the red eye and the look of madness and a general dark coloring that could probably appear blueish in the right light. It's worth noting that New Zealand has a blue duck, but it lacks the requisite red eyes and gem in forehead. Also, Grebe babies do not look like psyduck at all, so it's time to throw everything we thought we knew out the window again.

That was a lot of work, way more than my last foray into video game bird identification, but now your bird-dex is really coming along. Join us next week when we ID the remaining pokebirds, including the 3 legendaries. In the mean time, try not to walk off any cliffs or crash your car into a tree.

*All pokemon images courtesy of, all bird images from Click here for attribution of bird pictures!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Point Pinole Regional Shoreline, Richmond, California, USA
June 2014
Member of the Titmouse/Chickadee Family
§A Dissimulation of Chickadees§

~weird Wikipedia quote masquerading as a true bird fact~ "It is often considered the most handsome of all chickadees"

~actual true bird fact~ In areas where they overlap with their close relative, Black-capped Chickadee, they divide up the trees in an orderly fashion to avoid nesting confusion. Black-cappeds take higher branches, Chestnut-backeds lowers. How they arrived at this division is unknown to me.

Gets emotionally close very quickly with new people, usurping older and more reliable friends
Obviously this creates drama. Whether the Chickadee wants this or if it's just an unwelcome bi-product of her actual personality is unknown
Sews and knits
Always searching for meaning

Friday, July 1, 2016

Struggling to get an Acceptable Picture of an American Redstart: A Birding Journey

Hi friends. I'm on a bit of a Florida birds kick these days (truth be told, this is largely because I haven't found the time for a real birding trip in a while). No bird gave me more trouble while I was in Florida than the American Redstart. Well, I guess I shouldn't say that, because the Redstarts made themselves abundantly clear from early on, while much desired birds like Painted Buntings and Snail Kites remained entirely absent. Simply put, I could not get a Redstart to sit still to save my life. Maybe my camera settings were off, maybe my skills were not where they needed to be, maybe it was just a bird I was not meant to get a great picture of. But I sure tried, folks. This blog is about that.

The first few pictures I got were at Morikami Park, in Delray Beach Florida. It's a heavily forested botanical gardens, and the Redstart(s) here flitted from tree to tree, staying mostly in the shadow.

Honestly these were probably the best pictures I got of them. My wife and family had to endure me doing a lot of standing around and staring up into the branches of trees. The pictures came out looking like this.

Truly a magnificent bird.

Lighting: poor
View: obstructed

Next time I saw him, he was down in South Miami Beach, Florida, amid the seagrapes. This one was so close to being perfect birdfans. Just a little tiny bit longer in this spot and I could've gotten the focus in on him, instead of the coral wall behind him. He was gone too quickly to get a second shot.

Oddly, the only time he sits still is when he's far enough away that I can't get a good picture of him. Almost as if being on the move around humans is a good idea or something. This is at the full 50x zoom my camera is capable of, so he was really a speck in the distance. All of the rest of these pictures are from Key Biscayne. It is a beautiful and undervisited park, but things did not get better there for our Redstart odds.

Out of focus level: medium
Still obstructed

This one, I think, would have been the shot, but the bird had other ideas. After this point, I had run out of other people's time to waste, and just figured I'd make the best of it when I got home. We've all been there, right? At least that's what I tell myself. I went to battle with the bird, and in this case, the bird won. Well, at least I was able to positively ID him. It's not called pro-ornithologist for a reason folks, and I hope that my continued struggles are an inspiration to all the other not-so-pro birders out there. Stay tuned next week when I hopefully have some really exciting stuff to share from a trip I'm taking this weekend.

American Redstart
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, Key Biscayne, Florida, USA
April 2016
Member of the Wood Warbler Family
§A Confusion of Warblers§

{etymology corner} American Redstarts are not part of the same biological family as other birds called Redstarts, and derive their name from their red tails (a start = a tail in olden times).

~true bird fact~ American Redstarts flash their bright tail and wingpatches while foraging, making them look like a blur of color. This startles their intended insect prey and flushes them out of hiding.

Feisty, responds poorly to rules and requests
Spends money recklessly
Always willing to stop what he's doing if something more entertaining comes up