A Rainy Day

On a day where people just stay inside, birds are busy with their normal routines.

Northern Cardnial

Northern Cardinal

American Robin hunting for insects.

American Robin hunting for insects.

Chipping Sparrow

American Goldfinch

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White-breasted Nuthatch

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes

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Send Ethan to Africa

When I was 7 years old I saw an amazing film. A film that would change for the rest of my life. That film was, March of the Penguins. Ever since that moment, I wanted to be a wildlife filmmaker.

You all have seen me post videos here before so this should not be a real surprise to you, but what I have to say next might be.

In South Africa there is a facility that specializes in the making of wildlife documentaries. You immerse yourself in it for an entire month, learning everything for writing to editing. They supply meals, lodging and equipment.

My family can’t afford it with the myriad of expenses that have cropped up lately. If you could find it in your heart to donate a dollar to my campaign if you’ve ever liked something that I wrote. If I taught you something, made you smile, or made you laugh, a dollar is all I ask.

If you can’t please share the link with others who can!

Thank you!

gofund.me/ethanstriptoafrica

How to Win the Youth Birding Competition (Part 3)

This is the final part of a three part series on how to win to Georgia Youth Birding Competition. Elements of this series can be applied to having a successful big day anywhere, but it has been tailored for the state of Georgia.

Buy the book on competitive birding. 

Read Part 1.

Read Part 2.

Part 3:

Understanding Bird Identification

When the mind’s eye rests on objects illuminated by truth and reality, it understands and comprehends them, and functions intelligently; but when it turns to the twilight world of change and decay, it can only form opinions, its vision is confused and its beliefs shifting, and it seems to lack intelligence. -From Plato’s Republic

It is dreary overcast day. Somehow you have been talked into going birding. You spy a bird with an erect posture, red belly, and a black back.   You quickly assume it is an American Robin.

american_robin_6You lift your binoculars to find:

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How could this be? How could a blue bird turn into the black one?  You have learned your first lesson in the fallibility of basic bird identification.

Knowing the parts of the bird is necessary to identifying it. Regardless of the circumstance you may find yourself in. It allows you to understand the whole. You see the big picture. Even if you can’t figure what is, it makes communicating what you saw a lot easier.

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Always use concrete field marks instead “cheats”. For example…

Savannah Sparrow

This is a Savannah Sparrow. It has no yellow on it whatsoever, but it is still a Savannah Sparrow. Its size and light streaking on the breast tell me so. People often use the yellow lorre as a cheat, to identify the bird, but in reality, all of them just don’t have it.

How to Win the Youth Birding Competition (Part 2)

This is part two of a three part series on how to win to Georgia Youth Birding Competition. Elements of this series can be applied to having a successful big day anywhere, but it has been tailored for the state of Georgia.

Buy the book on competitive birding. 

Read Part 1.

Part 2:

Ornithologists and You

 Imagine you are standing on the beach, there is a light breeze, the sun is setting, and a small group of Sanderlings are running away from the water like they’ll melt. You are scanning the horizon for anything interesting. It is relatively quiet, but then you see it in all of its glory. A Razorbill, out in open and just sitting there.

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You call over your teammates and they confirm. You enthusiastically cross it off the list, laughing manically. Time passes, it is finally time to sleep. You are just about to close your eyes, then hits it you sharply in the gut like the bill of a… Razor. No one took any photos and you’re so tired you can’t remember which beach you saw it at. ‘Don’t worry’, you tell yourself, everything will be okay. You arrive at the banquet, with your checklist. You heard rumors about your nemesis team’s list. It looks like you have beaten them by one,as it should be. You’re sitting down on at your table talking with your team about that “Northern Flicker” your dad got for cutting that guy off in traffic on the way over here, when a bearded man calls you over. He must the ornithologist counting up the list.

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You and your team walk over to the table. He explains that he has one problem with your list, as he strokes his beard, the symbol of his authority. The ornithologist asks if you have any proof of your Razorbill sighting. A single drop of sweat rolls down your back. You knew it would come to this. “No sir, but it was out in the ocean. It-it-it was black and white and had a thick bill.” You notice your team left while you weren’t looking. Birds of a feather, huh? The ornithologist shows you a picture a Black Skimmer. “Are you sure you didn’t see one of these jobs?”, he asks calmly with a Subaru like hum in his voice. “No it was a Razorbill.” “I’m sorry I can’t count it without a photograph.” And that was that. Your team lost only by one. How could this be avoided?

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Bring a camera along! If you can’t see a rare bird it does not exist. Biologists are learned men (and women) of science. If they don’t believe in Dendroica, they won’t believe in your Emperor Penguin.

Not real.

Not real.

Of course, you don’t need to have amazing photographs of your birds to qualify. They simply need to contain all of the major field marks of the bird.

How to Win the Youth Birding Competition (Part 1)

This is part one of a three part series on how to win to Georgia Youth Birding Competition. Elements of this series can be applied to having a successful big day anywhere, but it has been tailored for the state of Georgia.

Buy the book on competitive birding. 

Part 1:

The Route

I know what you’re thinking ‘The competition is about identifying birds, why is he starting with the route?’ Well, bird identification is important, but we’ll get to that. Without a good route, your chances of victory are low despite your best ID skills. If you have a new team, it’s a good idea to get a route set up and have them learn the birds at the locations. Then, they can add more locations as the learn, slowly expanding the route as their knowledge grows.

The state of Georgia can be divided into three sections: the Mountains, the Piedmont, and the Coast. Each have their pros and their cons.

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Let’s start with the mountains. When you go to the mountains you increase your chances of seeing migratory warblers significantly. Kennesaw Mountain is a good place to see Cerulean Warblers, Bay-breasted Warblers, Magnolia Warblers, and more. Pine Log Wildlife Management Area is another good area to hit. The Etowah Indian Mound Sod Farm (I think it’s official name is “Legacy Sod Farm”) has chances for both Yellowlegs, Horned Lark, American Pipit, and other birds of note.

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The Piedmont is a mixed bag. Less chance for rare warblers, but more habitat for grassland birds. The Nongame Office at Rum Creek has chances for Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Orchard Orioles, vireos, and feeder birds. The office has a hummingbird feeder if you are having trouble crossing the Ruby-throated Hummingbird off the list. The MARSH Project is good for Swainson’s Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Wood Duck, and Yellow-breasted Chat. The road from Rum Creek to the MARSH Project has Eastern Meadowlark, Loggerhead Shrike, and swallows.

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Piedmont Natural Wildlife Refuge has Bachman’s Sparrow and the Red-cockaded Woodpecker. It also has Prairie Warblers, Field Sparrows, woodpeckers, and nuthatches.

Charlie Elliot Wildlife Center is a good place for sparrows. The fields behind Teal Pond has Song Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, and Palm Warblers.

Behind the Visitor’s Center there are feeders, if you are still missing feeder birds. Also, it is a great place to listen for Louisiana Waterthrush.

Georgia has a beautiful coast. Plentiful species all around. Jekyll Island is a migration bottleneck. A lot of birds come through the island going south. South Beach is a great spot for Laughing Gulls, Ring-billed Gulls, Caspian Terns, Forester’s Terns, Least Terns, Willets, Wilson’s Plovers, Black Skimmers, American Oystercatchers, and more. Occasionally you get lucky,and get birds like Black Scoters. The Amphitheater on the island has nesting Great Egrets and both nightherons. Ovenbirds, Black-and-white Warblers, and Wood Storks can be found there also. Even the campground on Jekyll is good for birding. Across from the campsite J7 is a group of feeders that hosts Painted Buntings, American Redstarts, and Northern Parulas. Just outside of Jekyll Island, is its Welcome Center. At low tide you can see Short and Long-billed Dowitchers feeding along with Black-bellied Plovers, Semi-palmated plovers, Killdeer, Whimbrels, and Ruddy Turnstones. The Jekyll causeway is good place to stop for Seaside Sparrows.

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Andrews Causeway is a decent place to stop. On your way to the causeway you’re sure to pass the Bald Eagle while you’re crossing the bridge into to Brunswick. Andrews Causeway is home to Clapper Rails and American White Pelicans in addition to the normal coastal species.

I once wrote an essay in 5th grade that Altamaha Wildlife Management Area in Darien, was my favorite place to go. Black-bellied Whistling-ducks, Glossy Ibis, White Ibis, Marsh Wrens, Mottled Ducks, Black-necked Stilts, and more, could you blame me for like it so much? At night at Altamaha you can hear Barred owls and Common Nighthawks.

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Paulk’s Pasture in Brunswick, is a good stop for night birds also.

Now that we have discussed the different locations that can be part of a route, we can discuss which ones make up a good one. All the teams that have won the YBC have gone to the coast. The Coast has too many different species you can’t get anywhere else to be eliminated. The official YBC checklist has over forty species listed just as coastal. Successful teams have then gone to the Piedmont or the Mountains. Going to the Mountains makes sense on paper. Yes, you will get warbler species and possibly Common Ravens you can’t get anywhere else, but you run the risk of being trapped north of Atlanta with no way to get to Charlie Elliot. Or you plan for this and sit in traffic wasting valuable birding time. Going to the Piedmont is less risky. The record has broken by people using both strategies so it is a matter of personal preference.

Here are three tips when planning a route that will help you out considerably:

  1. Get everyone to agree to the route before to competition.

  2. Remember the tides.

  3. Plan to eat.

Try to have everyone voice their concerns about the route early on, so you can avoid having to defend it on the day of competition. Also, your teammates might have valuable information about the locations that could change the route drastically.

Having a tide chart will make your life a lot easier.

Remember to eat! Obvious, right? Well, time flies when you are mesmerized by an American Redstart. Plan for that, or your teammates and drivers might turn on you. It isn’t pretty.

The most important element of route planning is diversity. You must be constantly be asking yourself ‘How many species will get there?’, and ‘Can we get this anywhere else?’. The more species you can get at the least amount of locations, the better are your chances of victory. If you do want to go after species that are very localized like the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, try to keep the stop short. Don’t get dazzled by the idea of one species. Focus on the competition as a whole.