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The science behind a bird fallout…there’s an app for that!!!

Birding the Sioux Falls area in April and the first half of May was…sloooooooooooooowwwww. With the late cold weather and snow, and continued wet spring precipitation, there was certainly plenty of water around (and there still is). But shorebirds were very slow all spring near Sioux Falls (perhaps just spread out?). Sparrow migration was utterly spectacular in April, but other songbirds? Once the sparrows left, it seemed like there weren’t any other songbirds filling the void. Certainly not warblers, which were few and far between for much of May. With the South Dakota Ornithologist’s Union (SDOU) meeting in Brandon on May 17-19, and with an incredibly wet forecast, the prognosis for good birding wasn’t great.

And then a funny thing happened…songbird migration ended up being utterly spectacular that weekend. The birds seemed to have arrived overnight, with warblers galore, and plenty of other songbirds as well. I personally had a 20-warbler day that Saturday (the 18th), and that’s with me whiffing on a few species that others saw in the area. It was one of the best, if not the best, warbler and songbird days I’ve had here in the 20 years I’ve been birding.

So what happened? As a scientist, I say LET’S CHECK THE SCIENCE behind it! You know how they say “There’s an app for that?” Well there’s also typically a scientific explanation behind…everything, if you look hard enough. That’s certainly true in this case.

For one, let’s check the weather radar for the overnight period from Friday, May 17th through Saturday May 18th. The weather that Friday was cloudy and rainy, driven by a low pressure system and a slowly moving front moving northeastward out of Nebraska. With the system predicted to generally stall over our area for the weekend, the forecast was bleak.

May 17th, 2019 - Weather Map
Weather map on 6:00AM (CST) on Friday, May 17th, showing a stalled to slowly moving stationary front just to our south. The forecast was for the low pressure system in Colorado to slowly move northeastward, bring showers and thunderstorms to the region for Friday night and into the weekend.

The weather system did move northeasterly through the afternoon and evening, triggering storms both along the trailing warm front to the south through Nebraska and Kansas, as well as more unsettled weather wrapping around the low pressure system. Moderate to strong northeasterly winds were found behind the low pressure system, but in front of the low were southerly and southeasterly winds…including in the area around Sioux Falls. It took until daybreak for the low pressure system to reach the Sioux Falls area, basically sitting directly over the region. But from the previous evening through daybreak on May 18th, an area from Sioux Falls, southward into extreme eastern Nebraska and all of Iowa and Minnesota were subject to south and southeasterly winds.

Surface weather map at 6:00 AM CST, showing the low sitting almost directly over Sioux Falls. But all night long, the counter-clockwise winds around the low funneled southerly and southeasterly winds through an area from far eastern South Dakota, and eastward into Iowa and Minnesota.

Given how slow the migration had been all spring long, the birds had to be…somewhere. But where? How could science have explained the fallout of warblers and other birds that weekend? The weather map and the southeasterly winds provide one clue, but the other is provided by weather radar itself. Since the 1950s, it’s been understood that weather radar could potentially identify features in the sky other than the weather…and that includes birds. There’s even a term for it now…Radar Aeroecology. A 1956 paper by Bonham and Blake discussed the radar echoes provided by both birds and flying insects. While research continued in the decades since, it’s only recently that the information has been made available for a birder’s benefit.

The animated map below shows national-scale radar returns for the night of May 17th. The advancing low and front, and associated precipitation, can be seen as it moves out of Colorado, through Nebraska and into South Dakota. But what of the radar returns in the eastern half of the country? Those are birds…birds taking flight just after sunset to resume their spring migration northward. You can identify the “bloom” around each radar location shortly after sunset, with the blooms appearing east to west as the sun sets. Where are the heaviest migration “blooms”? Look at the radars lighting up after sunset in the Midwest…St. Louis…Des Moines…other radars in Missouri, Illinois, and Iowa depicting heavy densities of birds taking flight.

Radar loop from approximately 6:00 PM (CST) Friday, May 17th, 2019 through 6:00 AM Saturday, May 18th, 2019. The areas south and east of Sioux Falls show a clear, very strong signal representing heavy migration of birds taking flight that evening.

But how can we translate those radar echos to where the birds are moving? In recent years, Cornell University, in partnership with multiple academic institutions, have developed “BirdCast“. They have developed algorithms that use weather radar returns to quantify the density of birds, while using short-term weather forecasts to project likely movements. The resultant “BirdCast” provides a 1- to 3-day look on likely bird migration hotspots.

The animated map below provides a depiction of estimated bird migration traffic that night. Ahead of the advancing front, southerly and southeasterly winds were favorable for migration, particularly as large densities of birds were already stacked up from the previous days and weeks. Sioux Falls was on the western edge of this migration hotspot, a beneficiary of favorable weather patterns bringing in birds from Missouri, Iowa, and Minnesota.

Birdcast depiction of migration traffic rate (bird density) and directional movements, from about 6:00 pm Friday, May 17th, through 6:00 AM Saturday, May 18th. with northerly winds and lower bird densities in the western Great Plains, very little bird movement is noted. However, ahead of the advancing front, extremely high migration densities are noted from Missouri, Illinois, and Iowa radar sites, with southeasterly winds pushing them northwestward…towards Sioux Falls. The solid lines represent the advancing sunset (red) and sunrise (yellow).

The map below depicts the situation that occurred throughout much of the first half of May. Prevailing weather patterns and storms, along with the cool weather, kept birds stacked up to our south and east, with a very slow spring migration to this point in South Dakota. The week prior to the big Sioux Falls fallout, birds were so far south that the Houston area birders declared a “Lights Out” period from May 9th-12th to avoid confusing the mass of migrating birds. But they had a long ways to go to get to South Dakota.

Houston Audubon "Lights Out" for May 9-12
Image from the Houston Audubon site, calling for a “lights out” period from May 9th to 12th. Heavy migrations were predicted the week before the Sioux Falls fallout…but FAR to our south and east.

The result of the changing weather pattern…an absolutely spectacular weekend of birding in the Sioux Falls area the weekend of May 17-19, particularly as the forecast deluge mostly fizzled out. I admit that even I as a scientist was somewhat skeptical of the Cornell BirdCasts. But after the events of that weekend, count me as a firm believer!

Here are some photos of the spectacular birds of that weekend:

Scarlet Tanager - Piranga olivacea
Scarlet Tanager – May 18th, 2019 Good Earth State Park, South Dakota
Magnolia Warbler - Setophaga magnolia
Magnolia Warbler – May 18th, 2019 – Good Earth State Park, South Dakota
Henslow's Sparrow - Ammodramus henslowii
Henslow’s Sparrow – May 19th, 2019 – Newton Hills State Park, South Dakota. Great weekend of birding overall, AND a lifer? I’ll take it.
Great Crested Flycatcher - Myiarchus crinitus
Great Crested Flycatcher – May 18th, 2019 – Good Earth State Park, South Dakota. Flycatchers in general seemed almost non-existent, prior to this weekend.
Mourning Warbler May 18th, 2019 Good Earth State Park, South Dakota. Not a great photo, but Mourning Warblers are a species I see occasionally, some springs. On May 18th, I ran into probably a dozen at Good Earth State Park.

Life-sized Carving of Ivory-billed Woodpecker!

Ivory-billed Woodpecker - Carving

A life-sized carving of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker in flight! A wonderful piece that my son is absolutely thrilled to now have hanging in his room. My (rather shy) son is holding the piece here.

February 11th, 2004…Gene Sparling was canoeing through the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama. A very large, very unusual woodpecker flew towards him and landed in a tree about 60 feet away.  Knowing it was an unusual bird, he posted a possible Ivory-billed Woodpecker sighting on a website. Sixteen days later, two curious ornithologists from Cornell visited the location, and were rewarded with a definitive sighting of the bird!  A bird thought to be extinct…yet here was a confirmed sighting by respected and experienced ornithologists. In the next year and a half, Cornell researchers had 5 more sightings of the bird in the same general area.

I still remember the day when the sightings were publicly announced. I was at work, and we had visitors all week.  As we were getting ready to head back into a meeting room, one of them came up to me very excitedly (knowing I’m a birder), and said “did you see the news??!?!”. I still remember the goosebumps as he told me about the “re-discovery” of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in the forested wetlands of Arkansas. In the subsequent weeks and months, a research group from Auburn identified Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in the panhandle of Florida. An elated birding world celebrated the sightings.  And then…

Nothing. Nothing, as in no clear, definitive photos of the species. With a handful of sightings, that’s hardly a surprise to a bird photographer like myself. For example, Red-headed Woodpeckers are very common around here.  I see them about 50% of the days when I take gravel roads to work in the summer. And yet despite many attempts to photograph them over the years, I have precious few photos.  They have a tendency to cling to a telephone pole or tree, and hop to the backside of it, placing the tree between the camera and themselves!  With maybe a dozen half-way decent sightings of an Ivory-billed in the 2004-2006 time frame, I’m not surprised no definitive photo was obtained.

But since then, there have been very few (credible) reports of the bird, and nothing as definitive as the sightings from dedicated ornithologists from Cornell and Auburn. Even worse, since then, many others have rebelled against the Cornell and Auburn sightings, claiming they were faked, either by a good-faith mistake, or by some weird evil intention. The one aspect of birding (and humanity!) that I absolutely DESPISE…mean-spirited people who love nothing more than tearing down the accomplishments of others. Some well known birders published their opinions about the sightings, claiming wrong-doing by the researchers who saw the birds. That spiteful, small-minded, petty hate/jealousy has since infected the debate, with far too many people dismissing the original sightings as faked.  There’s a history here, as sightings of the bird going back decades have been decried as fakes, even when photographs were obtained. The best example…Fielding Lewis took very clear photos of a female Ivory-billed in 1971. George Lowery, head of the American Ornithological Union, excitedly presented those photos to the group’s yearly meeting…and he was greeted by catcalls and jeering.  Even the most respected ornithologists in the world aren’t immune for the mean-spirited, EVIL treatment from the jealous birding crowd who will never accept a sighting regardless of the evidence.

In the years since the Auburn and Cornell sightings, I’ve tried to follow the story, looking for evidence of additional sightings. One website I look at is “Ivory-Bills Live???!”. During the early years after the Cornell sightings, the site and others had many enthusiastic updates, and it seemed like better confirmed evidence of the survival of the species was just around the corner. As the years have gone by, that enthusiasm has waned and the reports have become few and far between, but I still check sites like this quite often.

Over the summer I checked Ivory-Bills Live, and saw a post about some beautiful Ivory-billed Woodpecker carvings that were being done by a Dean Hurliman in Burlington, Iowa. The post stated that he was going to finish perhaps 8 more, bringing his total to about 50 of his carvings that were in the hands of birders and other collectors. The post had some words from Dean, saying he was looking for homes for his final set of carvings, and to send him a note if there was interest.

Given the fascination I had with Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, I immediately thought of sending an email to Dean, but more for my son than for myself. My son is a teenager now and my part-time birding/fishing/rockhounding/outdoor buddy!  He already had a bird painting hanging in his room, one he bought with his own money while we were on vacation. He also had some small carved birds he bought. I thought, what better way to continue that “spark” for a budding young birder, than having this unique piece?

I crafted an email to Dean, noting where the carving would end up, and hoping that it would continue that birding spark in my son. I was hoping it would become one of his most prized possessions.  To my surprise, Dean responded, and said he would start work on a carving to send our way!  The carving arrived today…what a beautiful creation!  What a magnificent creature! What a great rendition! I absolutely adore the pose, and Dean has it perfectly balanced for hanging. When hung, it’s in the perfect position, as a bird gaining altitude after taking off in flight.

The carving now occupies a place of HONOR in my son’s bedroom, hanging from the ceiling in the “bird corner”, along with the painting he bought. Dean Hurliman…THANK YOU SO MUCH for your beautiful work! You have a heart of gold for doing this, and have you yourself become part of the lore of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker!

Ivory-billed Woodpecker carving

The final display location for the carving, in the “bird corner” of my son’s bedroom. I can think of no better item to get a budding birder excited about the hobby.

 

Trying to stump “Merlin”

Cassin's Sparrow - Peucaea cassinii

A Cassin’s Sparrow, a rather plain, non-descript sparrow found in parts of the southern Great Plains and Southwest. Merlin was able to easily ID all of the “little brown job” sparrow species I tried, including Cassin’s, Vesper’s, Rufous-winged, Rufous-crowned, Black-throated, Black-chinned, and other sparrow species.

I’ve been birding 15 years now, and there aren’t really many occasions any more where I’m stumped on a bird ID.  The only occasions I have any difficulty are with species that are inherently damned hard to tell apart by sight, things like the Empidonax flycatchers or others where hearing a song/call or other audio clue might be needed to make a positive ID. I rarely ever even have a field guide with me when I’m out birding.  I do love field guides in general, and they certainly were a godsend when I first started birding, I hate to say it, but they’re a bit obsolete now, when you can put the equivalent of every major field guide directly on your cell phone.  I DO nearly always have my cell phone with me, and while I don’t use it much for visual ID issues in the field, it is handy for trying to figure out what call or song I heard.

I knew Cornell’s “Merlin” app has been out a little while, but hadn’t downloaded or tested it.  Merlin is an app for IOS or Android that allows you to identify birds in two ways.  If you see a bird but are stumped on an ID, you can enter the location, size, colors and other characteristics, etc., and Merlin will spit out the likely species.  More intriguing to me is the photo ID option.  You can simply choose any photo on your device, or take a photo, and have Merlin try to identify the species.  The “Take a Photo” option isn’t very useful, as your iPhone or Android phone just aren’t going to be able to get good bird photos unless  you’re at a feeder or other setting where birds are extremely close. However, I was intrigued by the option to identify the species from an existing photo, so I gave it a spin.

I have a huge number of bird photos, but most are on my desktop computer’s hard drives. The only ones I actually had on my phone were ones I processed on my iPad that got integrated with my photostream, from a trip to Arizona.  Still, I did have photos from quite a few species.  Some were quite clear and distinctive, photos that should be easy identifications. Others weren’t so clear, and I also had photos of several species that just aren’t that common in the U.S. How would Merlin do in identifying my Arizona bird photos?

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher - Polioptila melanura

OK, I probably wasn’t being fair to Merlin with this one, but I tried photos of a female Black-tailed Gnatcatcher. Both photos are of the same bird, but different angles and postures. For the first, Merlin mis-identified it as a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, without giving the option of Black-tailed, even when I told it the photo location. The second photo it handled without problem, likely because in that photo, you can see the distinctive darker coloring on the underside of the tail. Even there though…Merlin was impressive! The tail underside is shaded and not all that distinguishable, but Merlin handled it.

In short…pretty damned good!  It took me a while before I was able to stump Merlin.  I started with some easier ID’s. I had been to Madera Canyon south of Tucson, and had a number of hummingbird species at the feeders there.  Merlin easily handled all the male hummingbird photos, and to my surprise, did a good job on identifying female and immature hummingbirds as well.  I was fortunate to see and get decent, but not great, photos of an Elegant Trogon in Florida Canyon.  Merlin handled the rarity without issue (OK, that one SHOULD be easy to identify!!).  Lawrence’s Goldfinch, partially obscured by a weed?  No problem, although it did give me “alternative” answers other than the primary choice of Lawrence’s Goldfinch.  Multiple different sparrow species with sometimes not so obvious plumage differences?  No problem.  Birds in flight?  Did just fine on White-tailed Kites, a Gyrfalcon flight shot I happened to have on my phone, and other flight shots.  I quickly went through about 35 species, and Merlin handled them all flawlessly (although like the Lawrence’s Goldfinch example, there were a some cases where “alternative” ID’s were provided in addition to the primary ID).

I was thinking Merlin was infallible!  It is awfully good, but it has trouble with some of the same species I might have trouble with in an ID.  I tried two photos of a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, one of which was at an angle that was “unfair”, in that you really couldn’t see the tail characteristics that might distinguish it from a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.  It missed the ID in that photo, but was able to correctly ID the same bird in a photo from a different angle.  Another it had trouble with is one that I myself would definitely have trouble identifying.  I had a photo of a Gray Flycatcher (one of those nasty, hard to ID Empidonax flycatchers), and Merlin whiffed. It was a clear photo, and I even entered the photo location, but that was the one case where Merlin didn’t find a single “match”.

Merlin is a really nice piece of software, and it’s an app I’ll keep on my phone.  In the real world though…it’s an app that’s going to be most useful to new or casual birders.  For an experienced birder, Merlin is going to have the same identification troubles that we may have. Feed it a bad photo, or a photo of species that are just difficult to visually identify, and Merlin will struggle just as a birder might struggle. There’s also the issue of actually getting a photo to the app to be identified.  As I said previously, people just aren’t likely to take good, identifiable bird photos with their cell phones, so Merlin is likely most useful for photos taken on a DSLR or other camera body.  For me and my Canon 70D, it’s always an adventure trying to get photos transferred from my camera body to my iPad or iPhone, with a wireless app that is balky even on its best days.  For that reason alone, even if I were a beginning birder, Merlin might be less useful to me (through no fault of Merlin itself).  Merlin also might be less useful for rarities, as it seems to cover most native/common birds in the U.S. and Canada, but misses some of the rarer or exotic ones.

Overall though, very cool piece of software, and one that I do wish I had when I had started birding 15+ years ago.

 

From Australia…a BETTER story than our own Ivory-biilled Woodpecker

Drawing - Ivory-billed Woodpecker - Terry Sohl

The only image I’m ever likely to make of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker! The recent sighting and capture of a Night Parrot in Australia brings to mind the uproar over the Ivory-billed Woodpecker sightings of several years ago. It also brought back distasteful memories of how some skeptical birders reacted to the Ivory-billed news

I still remember the day at work several years ago when a colleague and birder friend came up to me in the hall and excitedly said “Have you heard? Have you HEARD!?!?”  That was the day it was announced in the media that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker had been found again in Arkansas. A species not seen in decades, one that the vast majority of “experts” had declared extinct, yet reports of a number of good sightings from the reputable Cornell ornithology group sent the birding world into an excited tizzy.

A story of similar significance was just published, noting that the famed “Night Parrot” of Australia had been confirmed still alive.  Researchers in Queensland not only recorded instances of the species by sight and by sound, they actually managed to capture a live bird.  A confirmed live bird hadn’t similarly captured since the 1800s, and as the story notes, even despite a pair of dead birds found in the last 30 years, many experts considered the species extinct. The species nests in ground burrows and introduced species, particularly feral cats and introduced rat species, pose a grave threat.  Many thought it was a mortal threat and that the species was forever gone, despite intermittent reports of sightings over the years.

A birding “miracle”, ala our very own Ivory-billed Woodpecker!  Alas,the story of the night parrot is even better than the Ivory-billed Woodpecker story, in that the clear photo and capture of the night parrot was irrefutable evidence of the bird’s continued survival. In the case of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, almost immediately after Cornell announced the sightings of the Arkansas bird(s), doubters emerged from the woodwork. Despite sightings from a number of reputable ornithologists associated with Cornell, and despite more sightings in Florida by Auburn University researchers, an outcry emerged from many in the birding community that without a clear, definitive photo, the sightings didn’t constitute “proof”.  Prominent birder David Sibley was one who led the charge against the published reports, In short, instead of being met with excitement and joy, many in the birding and science communities instead chose to attack the reports, and indeed, to personally attack the Cornell group itself.

Ah, what a difference a photo makes!  One thing I’ve come to truly HATE in the birding community is the competitive nature many birders have.  Given then names involved in the Arkansas and Florida sightings, and given the number of DIFFERENT people who saw and/or heard the birds, I have no doubt that Ivory-billed Woodpeckers were seen.  Alas, however, in the birding community nothing brings scorn as does lack of DEFINITIVE proof. Unfortunately, even a CLEAR PHOTOGRAPH doesn’t constitute proof in the eyes of some skeptics, as George Lowry found out in 1971, when two photos were rejected by “experts” as likely fakes.

My opinion…I’ve never met him personally, but thanks to his VERY vigorous reaction to the Ivory-billed episode, I will now forever think of David Sibley as a pompous jackass.  I will now FOREVER equate his name with the many other PJB’s (Pompous Jackass Birders) that I’ve run across over the years.  What did Sibley and others stand to gain by personally attacking the Cornell group? Without a clear photo, Sibley and others COULD have taken the high road, expressing excitement and joy in the sightings, while at the same time encouraging additional work to photograph or even band a live Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

Instead, the (jealous?) PJBs chose the low road, looking at the glass as half-empty and interpreting every bit of evidence in the most skeptical and negative way possible.  All for the lack of a photo.  Congrats to the Queensland group for the wonderful work. I look forward to the day that similar “proof” is found in the case of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.  I look forward to the day of vindication for the Cornell Group, Geoffrey Hill from Auburn, John Dennis for his sightings from the 1940s to 1960s, George Lowry (he of the photos from 1971), and the many others over the years who have been open ridiculed for DARING to publicize a sighting of a species that the jackass PJB’s hadn’t THEMSELVES seen.

 

 

What kind of birder are you?

Eastern Kingbird

Are you a “Kingbird” birder, for which birding is a competitive event?

I had a conversation recently with someone about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.  She was talking the latest Sibley guide, and how either the Ivory-billed Woodpecker wasn’t listed at all, or it was listed but shown as “extinct” (I don’t remember which she had said).  Later I thought about what she’d said and it got me a little riled up.  From the moment Cornell published their materials about the Arkansas Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, Sibley criticized it.  Why does that rile me up?  This is the kind of reaction that for DECADES has dampened any kind of search for Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, or restricted any efforts to save remaining habitat.  Those who have claimed to have seen an Ivory-billed Woodpecker since the 1950s have primarily been met with scorn and skepticism, rather than excitement.

Cornell had several long-time ornithologists and birders who gathered evidence about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.  No, they didn’t get any clear video or photos, but the PEOPLE who reported sighting the bird certainly have the “cred” from a birding and ornithology standpoint.  I certainly believe them, just as I believe the Auburn group who claimed they saw Ivory-billed Woodpeckers shortly after the Arkansas sightings.  What I’ve found since I started birding 15 years ago though is that birders definitely fall in certain categories.  I’ve never met David Sibley, but based on his reaction to the Cornell group and the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, I can imagine what “class” he falls into in my mind.

Let’s put it into “bird terms”. If a birder were a bird, what kind of bird would he be?  Here are the general kinds of birders I’ve run across over the years:

The Peacock – Peacocks are all about appearance. How do I “look” to other birders?  What is my reputation?  For this class of birder, it’s less about the birds and more about their own reputation.  What’s that you say, non-Peacock?  You saw a rare Yellow-footed Gobbling Grouse?  Pfft…I haven’t seen one, and I’m not so sure you have either!!!  Besides, if you have, it can’t compare to the Whistling Chatter-billed Flycatcher that I have seen!

The Kingbird – Have you ever watched Kingbirds along a fenceline?  Life seems to be a never-ending competition, fighting for every inch of fenceline.  Kingbird birders view birding as a competition.  Life lists, “Big Year” lists, county lists, state lists…and most importantly…how does your list compare to MY list…these are the concerns of the Kingbird.  There are definitely many well-intentioned and friendly Kingbirds, for whom birding is a game, but a friendly and cordial game.  The birder you need to look out for though?  The Kingbird/Peacock hybrid, for which the “game” is deathly serious.  Don’t invade the space of a Kingbird/Peacock hybrid…you may not come back with all your limbs intact.

Black-capped Chickadee

The beloved “Chickadee” birder, always cheerful and willing to share their experiences.

The Chickadee – Have you ever noticed that Chickadees seem to be the “journalists” of the bird world?  They’re always letting the other birds know what’s happening. OWL!  DANGER!  Here comes a birder!  Be Alert!!  Chickadee birders are cherished because they love to share what they’re experiencing.  Hey birders!  A Broad-butted Cuckoo was spotted along Rosie’s Creek!  On the way back I saw a Pink-legged Wattlebird…here are the coordinates!  For the Chickadee, a major part of the birding experience is sharing that experience with other birders, and helping them to share the same experience.  A great class of birders, and one that we fortunately have many of in South Dakota.

The Yellow Rail – Have you met a Yellow Rail birder?  I’m sure you have while out birding.  Do you know their name?  Do you know where they live, what they do for a living, what birds they’ve seen?  Very doubtful.  The Yellow Rail birder lives an active birding life. However, they do so in anonymity, avoiding the crowd, not publicizing any birding activity they do, not reporting their sightings.  Yellow Rail/Kingbird hybrids definitely exist, birders that may obsessively “list”, but for them it’s a private activity, for which no sharing is needed.  Comparing to other birders’ lists?  Not important, because for a Yellow Rail, it’s all about leading a quiet, unobtrusive birding life.  The Yellow Rail and the Peacock are often mortal enemies, with neither fully understanding the mindset of the other.

The Coot – How often do you see a lone Coot? Not nearly as often as you see a gaggle of Coots.  For the Coot, birding is about camaraderie.  Birding is a social activity, something meant to be shared.  Going birding? It may also mean grabbing a beer or a bite to eat after.  Coots can be either quite serious or very casual birders.

While I’m sure you can easily slot some birders you know into one of the above categories, in reality I think most birders are probably hybrids.  If I had to classify myself, I’d definitely leave out the “Coot” component.  For me birding is “me” time, time to be alone with my thoughts and enjoy not only the birds, but just being outside.  In that respect I’m definitely part Yellow Rail in terms of wanting solitude, but I also have a lot of Chickadee in me, in that I do like sharing what I find.  In that respect though I admit I probably DO have some “Peacock” in me, particularly given my fondness for sharing my photos with the world!

As for the start of the post, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, and David Sibley…as I said, I’ve never met the man, but the attitude of complete disrespect and disdain for the Cornell work really turns me off.

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