Monday 30 April 2012

Bird Song Quiz #14

Another youtube video from the guys at "wildbirdvideos".
They've been posting a new video at least once a week - which is pretty amazing considering the quality of these videos!

This should be good practice for the imminent rush of birds into Ontario and Newfoundland (end everywhere in between)!

Quizzes by | SnapApp Quiz Apps

And as usual, if you suspect I've mis-ID'd something, please let me know!


After finishing my last exam I went to Hindhede park for a quickie.
It was nice to finally get some proper exercise and see some birds other than the usuals from my window!

My main target was a Blue-eared Kingfisher that is apparently on breeding territory at the park. I also have a thing for Kingfishers, so it was an easy choice to look for this bird.

It turns out that I wasn't the only one looking for the bird. I row of local photographers had already claimed the best vantage points to photograph the bird... if and when it comes into view.

Not long after I arrived I heard it calling very close by. The bird flew right underneath our feet (almost literally - we were on a raised platform) and hid in some bushes nearby.
A few minutes later it popped out, caught a fish, rested on this log for a mere 5 seconds and quickly disappeared, never to be seen again:

Olive-winged Bulbuls were nearby:
It's a rather common species here in SG, but for some reason they're usually seen in the distance or at the top of a tree.

Anyway, I had hoped to get some decent photos today, but came up empty handed. Both birds were in fairly dark spots so there wasn't enough light to get a 'crisp' image.

Friday 27 April 2012

One week to go

... and one more exam to go.
I managed to get out for some birding this afternoon. The local grasslands were beckoning. I branded this spot as my patch within my first month in S'pore, but have been really slacking with coverage lately.

Although I did manage to find a Common Kestrel there a few weeks ago. I heard it was only the 2nd record in Western SG, and the only one recorded so far this year. I didn't realize their status when I found it, luckily I did grab a few distant shots - no one believed me when I first claimed this bird without showing pics ;)  (I would say the status is equivalent to a Swainson's Hawk in Ontario) :

Luckily some other birders managed to see the bird a few days later.

Raptors are actually rather common in Singapore. Probably the most common is the Brahminy Kite:

Blue-throated Bee-eaters are beautiful resident birds in SG:

And of course there are plenty of butterflies. I haven't put any effort to identify many of them though.

I'll try to post some more pictures of the local insects before I return to Canada!

Sunday 22 April 2012

Bird Song Quiz #13

Thanks to everyone who has been participating!

Quizzes by | SnapApp Quiz Apps

All of the questions in the last quiz were for the most part answered correctly. The exception was #4, with the thrush. I'm not entirely sure that it is a Swainson's but that's what I'm leaning towards...

Saturday 21 April 2012

Rarities in Ontario

While procrastinating for my exams the other day I created a graph that shows the number of rarities found in Ontario for every day of the year:

Notice anything surprising?
The general trend was expected. But that peak in May is way over the top. And it doesn't even seem like a coincidence.
Here are the numbers (date in May on the left, and frequency on the right):

11 75
12 64
13 73
14 74
15 64
16 56
17 76
18 56
19 59
20 54
21 54

That's a solid 11 days when 50+ rarities have been discovered over the years on that date. Yet every one (and I mean every single one - see for yourself) of the other days in the year have less than 50! So in terms of statistics, that is a "p-value" of 0.05 or less (or  >.95 depending on how you choose to calculate it)!

Anyway, I thought it was an interesting observation. Of course the data will be a bit skewed towards having higher values in May because that's when many birders come out of hibernation. But I'm pretty sure those people are birding all of May, not just May 11-21? And I have a feeling that they aren't the rarity finders... but I could be wrong?

*Credit goes to the guys at Long Point for compiling all the data in that file*
The 4000+ plus records for Ontario puts the ~300 Newfoundland records to shame! I do have another 300+ in the works though (that's a summer project).

Anyway, I've got 3 megas (aka exams) this week... so I should be working on those.

Don't forget about the Bird Song Quiz below. I don't think anyone has aced it yet!
And thanks to everyone who has been participating. If you're eager to continue learning check out this new site/software - it's pretty impressive.

Wednesday 18 April 2012

Bird Song Quiz #12

The last quiz tricked a bunch of people! The recording was mis-identified as a Vesper Sparrow, it was actually 'just' a Song Sparrow. And then the Loggerhead Shrike pretty much got everyone in the second part!

This one should be a bit easier (no unexpected surprises or tricks)!

I also tried spacing out the questions so that you can listen/watch the whole video without pausing to answer each question.
Again, this video isn't mine. It was filmed by Garth McElroy in Maine. Check out all their great videos here.

Quizzes by | SnapApp Quiz Apps

Any mistakes? Let me know!

Monday 16 April 2012

Singapore Straits Pelagic

Last Sunday I joined a group of birders from Singapore for another pelagic.

Again, the birding was slow, but this time it was steady. Every once in a while a bird would do a fly-by, keeping us on our feet and more than once, waking many of us up!

Singapore's harbour is one of the busiest ports in the world (it may even be the busiest?) Needless to say, there are some (a lot) of big ships there:

Occasionally we came across some patches of debris. Most likely swirled together by currents.

*All the following photos were taken by Francis Yap (a Singaporean bird photographer) who has generously allowed me to use them here*
He has photographed well over 100 species this year to help document the Singapore Big Year!

Lesser Crested Terns were the most common tern of the day. We came across almost 50 individuals.

The first non-crested tern were 2 Common Terns. The long forked tail, and dark primaries helps identify this bird in flight when you're on a rocking boat. They also fly differently than the crested terns. The crested terns seem to have a more direct and strong flight, while the Common Tern is more graceful and 'light' (that probably doesn't make sense) - I had a feeling these birds weren't crested terns when we originally saw them from a distance.

The most exciting birds of the trip were Aleutian Terns. No one got good enough looks at the birds to identify them. Only the photos were able to confirm the identity.

The best way to distinguish this species from the similar Black-naped Tern is the dark secondary band on the underwing

This photo shows the dark secondary band more clearly. Also, notice that this bird seems to have less white on the top of the head, indicating that it is still in non-breeding plumage, whereas the previous bird was in breeding plumage.

These birds have a 10'000+ kilometer flight ahead of them in order to make it to the breeding grounds in North Asia and Alaska. The wintering grounds of Aleutian Terns remain mostly unknown. However, every year they are seen in the Singapore straits indicating that they may over-winter in the region. However, where the bulk of the population over-winters remains unknown.

Interestingly, Aleutian Terns have been observed in Singapore waters in mid-May. Yet the birds begin to show up in Alaska by early May. You can see their world range on eBird.

We only came across 2 Little Terns during this trip (last trip we saw about 150):

One flock of about 15 White-winged Terns consisted of a wide range of plumage. This first bird was clearly still in non-breeding plumage:

While this one has almost completed it's molt into breeding plumage:

Here's the route we took. Singapore is to the North-West, Malaysia to the North-East and Indonesia to the South.

Don't forget about the Bird Song Quiz below! There's two parts to it, and so far the 'advanced' part has been confusing everyone!

Sunday 15 April 2012

Bird Song Quiz #11

I had a good turn out for the last quiz, so I'll try to keep them coming for April and maybe May while migration carries on.
Today I have a quiz featuring relatively common migrants in Ontario and one featuring uncommon-rare birds.
Again, these are anonymous, and the answer is now given immediately after you submit your choices.

Part 2:

Quizzes by | SnapApp Quiz Apps

Suggestions and feedback are always welcome!

Friday 13 April 2012

Central Catchment Forest

Last Friday I birded the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) with two local birders. I cleaned up on most of the species that are considered common in Singapore (only missing 3 or 4 now) and enjoyed great looks of many species I previously only caught glimpses of.

Along the trail there is a tower (called Jelutong Tower) which provides a good view of the surrounding jungle.

Blue-throated Bee-eaters were always easily seen from the tower, but too distant for a full frame shot:

I was happy to have this Greater Racket-tailed Drongo land nearby. I've been trying to get a photo including the whole bird and the pendants:

Asian Fairy Bluebird has a pretty awesome name, the female doesn't really live up to the standard, but the male is pretty good lookin'!

Pink-necked Green-pigeons are one of the 10 most common species in SG. Despite that, this female is the only decent photo I have of the species:

Wednesday 11 April 2012

Buffy Fish-owl!

And about time too!

More than a few birders have told me that they've seen this individual on my home turf (on campus). Yet after repeated attempts it just didn't show up for our rendez-vous.

After some how managing to finish my studying ahead of time I decided to see if I could find any Nightjars (actually, my main motivation was adding checklists to eBird :p)

Of course, I only brought my bins and head lamp. No camera or anything.

I saw the imposing figure from a fair distance away perched on a railing. I was surprised by its size despite knowing very well that they were big (about the size of a Great Horned Owl).
After satisfyingly close looks (this bird is rather tame due to the high density of nocturnal runners on campus) I decided to rush home and get the camera, knowing very well that Birding Laws were not on my side (Birding Law #3.c explicitly states that if you leave a bird behind to retrieve photography gear, the bird is guaranteed to not be seen again).

Needless to say, the owl wasn't there when I came back. Reminding me never to leave a bird behind.

I cut my losses and was happy to see this Long-tailed Nightjar - identifiable by the square white patch that is partially shown on its tail (outermost tail feather):

And then on my way back, the birding gods gave me a second chance in life (we only get 9 second chances). The large statue was back!

Artificial lighting from the streetlights helped illuminate the bird but it made it look unrealistic:

Check out the claws on this guy:

Don't forget to try the quiz below! I don't even try to ask you what your name is, so you won't be held accountable. And besides, it's good practice for the ongoing migration season!

Monday 9 April 2012

Bird Song Quiz #10

Participation has been dropping lately, so to re-energize these I'll change the medium. A youtube video + no delay for the answers to arrive.

Last week I came across the videos of Garth McElroy and Jim Zipp on youtube - they have many great clips of the birds singing with a lot of background species too - which is what I like :)
Check out their website here and even better, a list of their videos here.

Remember to fill in the questions while you're watching!

Let me know if you think this is easier to use, or any other feedback is welcomed as well! And if there's a mistake please let me know asap!

Answers to quiz #9:

Connecticut Warbler sang at 0:07-0:09.
Nashville Warbler at 0:19-0:20.
Yellow-bellied/Least Flycatcher at 0:32-0:33 (both participants guessed Least)

Interestingly the Flycatcher was recorded as a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, but it sure does sound like a Least, except that it doesn't sing continuously (as you would expect from a LEFL).
There was a good discussion about their songs here - I suspect that many YBFL's are overlooked because people assume that they're LEFL's.

Friday 6 April 2012

From the Window

The Straw-headed Bulbuls have multiplied!

For about a week I saw 3 adults visit the fruiting tree next to my window almost daily. All of a sudden there were 4 birds on Friday. I didn't take much notice to that fact and assumed that there may have been 4 all along. But a closer look revealed that there was a recently fledged bird.

The birds must have been nesting nearby, and Friday may have been this birds first day away from the nest!

It's easy to know when the Bulbuls arrive because one of the adults sings very loudly, after which the other birds come streaming out of the forest to come feed. Presumably the singing bird is a male, who may be announcing that it is safe to come feed? While the birds feed they have a very distinctive gurgling call. My field guide doesn't say anything about that call, perhaps it has something to do with feeding?

It seems that only one adult does the job of feeding. I'll try to keep track of which one (i.e. is it the singing bird?)

My field guide tells me that the bulbuls lay 2 eggs at a time, so perhaps I can expect another juvenile to arrive soon? And maybe there's even another adult who stays at home to take care of the other juvenile? Who knows...

If the birds are there, and I'm here in my room, I'll know that they're there. Every time I have seen the birds from my window I have submitted the sighting to eBird. Thankfully so, since I've noticed an interesting pattern. The birds arrive 3 times daily (or so it seems):
In the morning they usually hang around the area between 8 and 10 am.
In the afternoon they return at around 1:30-2:30 pm
And in the evenings they arrive almost precisely between 6:10 and 6:15 am.

I'll no doubt be keeping track of the times to see if they remain consistent or relate to weather conditions.

I should also keep a tally of how many fruits the juvenile eats. It should be easy to keep track of because the adult feeds it one at a time. I would estimate between 3-4 fruits per visit to the tree (actually there are a few fruiting trees that they feed from).

The adult does a pretty good job of stuffing the food down the throat:

Eventually the juvenile has had its fill and flies away, giving the adult a chance to eat as well.

As you can see in the last picture there's plenty of food to ripen still. So I can expect that these birds will continue to be daily visitors over the next month!

*No photos in this posting were digiscoped.

I've also started to notice a daily flight of White-bellied Sea Eagles flying over my building between 7 and 7:20 pm - it usually involves up to 6 birds but with my limited view I rarely see them all unless I'm birding in the field nearby (that's how I know/think that there are 6 daily commuters). I'm going to try to keep track of it on eBird and see if any patterns emerge (i.e. is the timing consistent, related to weather?, do numbers change day by day? - although the last one will be difficult to gauge)...

Thursday 5 April 2012

BirdsEye App - review - preamble

First, check out the new site for submitting butterfly sightings.

Recently a new app came out for birders to submit sightings to eBird via their iPhones (it already came out for Android users a few weeks prior) - it also works for iTouches (which is what I use).

This is something that I was eager for! Not too long ago I considered developing an App like this, but I decided that I didn't have enough time to do it on my own - and while looking into the idea I learned that others were already working on it.

So why did I want something like this?

The main reason had to with my trip to Spain. I was roaming around the country for a week without Internet access. Of course I was taking notes on the birds I was seeing and their location - but I was doing it at a much more broad scale than I usually do. So instead of having a checklist for a specific trail or side road, I was grouping all my sightings into one area, such as an entire National Park. I prefer the more granular approach, and really wished that I could do it - but it wasn't feasible with pencil and paper, especially considering that I have a nasty habit of losing many of those lists while I'm traveling.

It simply seemed more convenient to be able to submit sightings directly to an eBird list at the end of the day instead of writing them all down.

So that's the main benefit. Being able to travel and have the option to submit sightings while you're on the go makes for more accurate data. Which brings me to the next benefit. You don't need to be traveling to another country to take advantage of this app. Even sightings from a day trip to a nearby hotspot can be optimized. If you're out with a group, you can submit the sightings while you're in the car driving to the next spot - or at lunch time when you're taking a break... (who takes breaks?)

That way you can better keep track of the birds you're seeing as well as their location and time of sighting.

On more than a few occasions I've been out on CBC's, or similar bird counts, and have asked the group "who's going to keep a list today?" Only to learn that the people I'm with have some crazy memory abilities. I used to believe that I was capable of it too. I thought that I could go birding for an entire day and easily remember all the species I've seen and keep a decent tally of the numbers. I've since learned that I was wrong, and anyone who claims to be able to do that is bull shitting! Sure you can remember the notable species, and sure you can get a decent idea on numbers - but being able to remember which species you saw at each location is sort of unbelievable. Humans have a short term memory capable of about 7 bits of information - assuming you're seeing at least 20 species at each location, you're almost guaranteed to forget a species, add one that shouldn't be there, or a similar mistake - for a CBC that's 'unacceptable' if you ask me!

You're out there to get 'good quality' data - and this app may be able to help you do that. Because, nowadays, there's a decreasing trend of notebook usage in the field - yet everyone is obsessed with checking their phones.

The biggest worry I have about this app is that people will be submitting sightings while they're in the field - when they should be looking for/at birds!
And considering that this is an app for data-entry, there's bound to be plenty of incorrect entries. Or someone might initially think they found something great and immediately submit the sighting, only to 'calm down' and rationally decide that it's just an aberrant form of a common bird. With the new hourly rare bird alerts from eBird, I can imagine a lot of disappointed twitchers.
But then again, the opposite can be true. If you find an Ivory Gull somewhere along Lake Ontario, you can submit the sighting within minutes, addict eBirders in Ontario (and around the world, for that matter) can see the sighting almost immediately - and if you have it set up, an email will be sent to you within an hour to tell you that there's an Ivory Gull not too far away!

I think this App has a lot of potential and I will certainly be using it on weekend trips to keep track of my sightings.

In the next entry I'll actually write more about the app itself - and my initial thoughts on how user-friendly it is.

Wednesday 4 April 2012

Withdrawal effects

I've been depriving myself of birding (thus the lack of posts). It got to the point that I would look out my window every minute or two just to see if there were any birds (I probably do that anyway). Turns out that there are some decent birds around!

As I've mentioned before, there was a Straw-headed Bulbul hanging out around my building. Turns out that there are 3, and they are daily visitors to a fruiting tree literally 5 meters from my window. They wake me up every morning with their obnoxious song:

Once I started checking the tree regularly I started finding some other birds. Two of the more attractive species I've added to my inexistent 'window list' are Oriental White-eye and Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker.

Oriental White-eye (not digiscoped):

Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker (digiscoped in January):
-not actually photographed from my window

I went for a short walk yesterday around sunset to stretch my legs. While on my way back there were a few Javan Mynas in the grass (dirt birds around here) - I didn't really pay much attention to them. While I got closer I noticed that 2 of them were getting jiggy with it - if you know what I mean ;)
Deciding that that was worth looking at (as you would), I was surprised to see 2 rails instead of 2 Mynas, enjoying themselves...

Rails are usually very secretive so I wasn't expecting to see them way out in the open not bothered by me or the other walkers. I assumed that they would hide after copulating. Instead they continued running around along the edge of the longer grass. Very unusual. Maybe it had something to do with their hormones - becoming ambitious? ...or global warming :p because everything that is unexpected can be attributed to climate change ;)

Here's a poor photo - this was after sunset so there wasn't much light to work with.
Slaty-breasted Rail:

The dearth of posts will continue for the next few weeks.

Sunday 1 April 2012

Bird Song Quiz #9

I'm starting to rely on these, studying all day, all week = no birding :(

You know the drill, it's easy - while listening to the song try to answer the questions in the survey - it doesn't matter if you get them wrong, it's anonymous :)

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world's leading questionnaire tool.

Answers to Quiz #8:
I only had 2 people try out this one. Both got one mistake - surprisingly the identifications that I assumed would be more difficult end up being correctly identified (not just this quiz, but most of them).

Wood Thrush calls at 0:18
Tufted Titmouse sang at 0:19-0:20 (1/2 got this correct)
Blue Jay calls at 0:26-0:27
Northern Cardinal sings at 0:44-0:46
Eastern Towhee sings at 0:48
A Fish Crow calls at 0:55-0:59 (1/2 got this correct)

Here's the recording: