Monday, July 27, 2009

the 15 mn/week county birding plan

It seems that nobody has any time for anything these days. I mean, seriously, did you look recently at the local bookstore best sellers? Make your pick : the 5 mn abs plan, the 3 mn diet, speaking french (or german, or japanese) in only 30 secs a day, getting rich in one hour a day

There is a book I have still to find (maybe there is a money making idea here), it is the "how to build a county list in 30 mn a week".

So far, unlike my 5 mn abs plan (nobody told me that future dads are also gaining weight during a pregnancy!!!), I have been doing pretty well on the quick county list business idea (maybe it is only a motivation issue!)

So then I realized last week that a field check was highly required in west washtenaw county for my job, I jumped on the opportunity. Cross checking the ebird data base, the south michigan birding email list, and my county list, I realized than my best chance to earn a tick on my county list was a marsh wren that was heard about a mile away from my field check. With luck, I was going to be able to squiz a county bird into my 30 mn lunch. They were other nice birds seen around (henslow sparrows, for instance), but I only focused on potential county birds....

It took me 10 anxious minutes (one third of my time!!!) to hear the bird..........

Marsh Wren. Jeeez these buggers are hard to shoot!!!!

Minutes later, I noticed an obvious empidonax flycatchers perched on a dead tree. It reminded me that the willow flycatcher was missing on my list....10 more minutes of anxious waiting, and the bird reluctantly emitted the "riittzzzbeuh". That was county bird #191 and 192!!!!!

Trumpeter Swan

Silvery Checkerspot

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Birding and Diaper Changing

I recently pushed the challenge of birding to new heights. No kidding. If any of you thought that the big year of Ken Kaufman or Sandy Komito were la creme de la creme in term of birding challenge, you guys got it wrong. Completely wrong.

I recently pushed the limits of birding far enough to make the rediscovery of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker in the buggy swamps of Alabama look like a pleasant boys scout scavenger hunt. Yep

What is this new challenge I am talking about?

I am talking about "BIRDING and DIAPER CHANGING"

(admiration from the crowd)

This is not an easy task, believe me. This new extreme sport involves many challenges, including dealing with sleep deprivation, extremely limited free time and restricted finances.
To deal with all of this, I decided to use several tactics, and for the most part, I think they have been proven to be quite successfull

1) Prioritize your goals.
Ok, at my level, you can not really prioritize your goals, because one goal is plenty enough. I just don't have time for any secondary goal. In my case, I choose to focus on my county list. Note that I did not have a lot of choices here, because the country or even the state are simply too big. County is great because you can go to any point in about 30 mn or so.

For example, I had a one hour window last sunday, so I went directly to the place where a pair of Orchard Oriole was seen. I ticked the bird, took a picture and came back

Male Orchard Oriole, in terrible mid afternoon light (as Jochen told me once, any birding is better than no birding!)

2) Learn the bird songs

It is simply more efficient. You can not change a diaper and look though binoculars at the same time, but you can listen. I happen to have a long commute to my job every day, so I am trying to listen to bird songs all the time. This was happened to be handy last month then, a few days before the birth, as we were watching the final of the french open, I heard a funny sounding bird in my backyard. I did not know the song, but I knew it was something special. So I went outside and quickly spotted a connecticut warbler!!! That was a lifer for Diane and I and obviously, a great backyard bird!!!!!

3) Take advantage of opportunities

Lunch breaks in a place as sterile and unbirdy as Dowtown lansing are not supposed to be great birding times, but sometimes, opportunities occur. Yesterday I spotted 2 juvenile red tailed hawk next to the capitole, and I was able to have great views and picture opportunities. Last winter, I also had some white winged crossbills!!!!!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Father's day gift

The title of this post should explain two news that are going to have a significant impact on the frequency and quality of this blog :

- First and foremost, I am now an happy Dad!!!!! Raphael was born on June 13th, and is obviously the cutest baby of the planet (admittedly, I am strongly biased).

- Second, Raphael managed to be born a week before Father's day, and I received a nice gift, which I had been waiting for, dreaming, anticipating, evaluating for many many months. A new camera!!!!!. The camera is a Panasonic fz28 and has a nice little leica superzoom lens, which will allow me to take some decent pictures of birds for this blog. This is the end of digibining!!!!

Choosing a camera for birding is a tough job, because it is all about compromising. At one end of the spectrum, I was tempted for a while by the DSLR cameras. Their quality is obviously a few steps above any kind of point and shoot camera you can buy, and are wonderfull toys to play with. One the other end of the spectrum, I could pick those nice little superzoom cameras which, in the $300-$400 range, provide a cute little zoom.

At the end, I choose the superzoom camera, for personal reasons :

- First and foremost, the price : An entry level DSLR plus an entry level 300mm zoom are probably about $1000-1500. That's $700-1200 more than a superzoom bridge camera. That's money that could be better used for many many things in a house with a cute little baby. Or maybe two plane tickets to south texas, or florida, for the next vacation (babies travel for free, I was told)

- Second, size and weight. I already carried my son for one hour in one of those cute little kanguru bags. Not too bad, but I was told babies are growing quite fast. I believe I am more likely to bring my camera for traveling and hiking if the camera is light and tiny.

Anyway, I was able to experiment a little bit with my camera during a trip at the sleeping bear national lakeshore. This was a short family trip, and I did not have the chance to do a lot of birding, but still, I enjoyed it

Sleeping Bear Dunes Landscape

Milkweed colonizing the dunes.

Piping Plover nest protection. I was tempted to get a bit closer to see if I could see a plover, but I thought it was better to leave them alone......

Indigo Bunting. The picture was taken about 5-6 meters away (15-18 feet), and I was pretty excited to take my first bird picture with my new camera!

Rose Breasted Grosbeak. My dad spotted first this "funny black and white bird". The bird was 20 m away (60 feet).