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.