February 2013

-by Linda Orkin

The first day of winter is now a memory; and after a lag, as time almost stands still, we have been adding daylight hours minute by minute. Those spirit-lifting songs of Tufted Titmice, Chickadees, and Nuthatches are ringing out. The Cardinals are just waiting for a bit of winter sun before they fill their throats with cheery notes. Local song birds are tuning up and letting all know they are still here. You might hear the response calls of paired Great Horned Owls, with the female answering one full octave above the male. Red Tails soar in the blustery winds, a knife edge dance duet. Our spirits awaken.

I’d like to mention a few indoor resources that I enjoy for increasing both birding id skills and knowledge of birds’ lives. With Valentine’s Day approaching, the online course, Courtship and Rivalry, offered by the Lab of Ornithology, is a good way to spend some weeks. There are several components to this, and it is designed to help you become a careful observer and recorder and to help you reach good conclusions.

Recently, a test audience for Kevin McGowan’s first webinar on Beginner Duck ID was invited to sample. This will be a wonderful resource for beginning duck observers, but useful even to all levels as a reminder of what to look for as we scan large groups of ducks around on the lake. It is not certain when this will be offered to the public, or how often, but I just wanted everyone to know it will be coming up. With male ducks in full breeding plumage and pairs already established and here in view, this is a great time of year to refresh both duck id and behavior translation skills.

Let us not forget the website All About Birds offered by the Lab of Ornithology. It is always a little too easy to take this free website for granted. The Birding Skills section is comprehensive in its offering of tips and strategies to help all levels of birders elevate their abilities. While you are there, check out the Merlin Project which you can participate in to help build a program that will help people identify birds. You will see “Help us Build our Bird ID tool” to the left when you access the All About Birds Website. Do it, it aids the developers, but it can also help you articulate what you see when you look at a bird. Besides, it is fun.

Many of you may groan or refuse at my next mention, but I find Facebook to be a very good place for a birder to be. For those of you who don’t use Facebook, one of its aspects I most enjoy and use is the “Like Page” feature. There are so many birding sites you can easily connect with in this way, and they appear on your news feed with regularity and with some amazing up-to-date bird information. Just a couple of quick mentions, David Sibley has a page where he often offers quizzes on bird id, with scoring, answers, and explanations for answers. Another great page is the Macaulay Library of Sounds. It offers sound clips and video trailers and recently has been providing quizzes on bird sound and spectrograms with links to some discussions, such as reading spectrograms. You can “like” American Bird Conservancy, American Birding Association, pages of some of our best local photographers… the list goes on and on. When you like a page, you will be able to see such things as a recent review on the ABA page for a smartphone app called Larkwire Master Birder, not a song id app, but an app organized to help you learn bird song.

Wow! That’s only the beginning, and it seems as though you could spend hours and hours in on-line learning about birds. I hope instead of keeping you in, though, all of these resources will act as an invitation to experience. We all need the renewal of being outside, even at -3 degrees as it was this morning. So, don’t forget Spring Field Ornithology and Cayuga Bird Club field trips. Let’s all learn more and connect more deeply as the 2013 birding season ramps up.