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Blog Birding #296

Monday, November 7, 2016 7:22
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There are many ways to identify a bird, and, as Steve Tucker writes at Bourbon, Bastards, and Birds, there are just as many ways to misidentify one, too.

Birds are still getting misidentified by the truckload. Maybe we’ve been going about it all wrong? Maybe some birders actually do not want to identify birds, they want to misidentify birds. So in the interest of serving the birding community and giving the people what they really want, we will supply you with a truly comprehensive list…that’s right, the best misidentification practices to ensure that your identification skills will stay permanently stunted! Follow these tips and just watch yourself turn into an ace misidentifier of birds. Are you on eBird? Following these tips can get you banned! Are you a biologist who studies birds for a living? Kiss that job goodbye! Are you a beloved leader of local Audubon trips? Not anymore!

At The Eyrie, high school birder Patrick Newcombe shares his experience at the recent NAOC conference.

Imagine being in a room full of ornithologists, all sharing the same passion for birds. Then imagine the speaker had just returned from the tropics with scientific research re-shaping how we look at the evolution of birds. Then imagine that, at the same time, there were at least 10 other fascinating talks you didn’t want to miss.

The enigmatic Black Turnstone is far more specialized that its cosmopolitan cousin, and that’s for a particular reason, says Kenn Kaufman at Audubon.

First, a word about their total range. Unlike most things we call “shorebirds,” Black Turnstones really are limited to the shore. Most other shorebird species may migrate through the interior, or may fly to nesting territories hundreds of miles inland from the coast. Black Turnstones nest only along the western shoreline of Alaska and nowhere else. When I led birding tours to Alaska every summer, we made a point of looking for these birds along the immediate coast near Nome, at rocky river mouths or on rocks at the inlet to Safety Sound. Ruddy Turnstones might be anywhere on the tundra, but we saw Black Turnstones only within a mile of the sea.

It wasn’t until relatively recently that birders discovered that the “Semipalmated Sandpipers” that spend the winter along much of the east coast were actually Western Sandpipers. Bruce Mactavish, of The Newfoundland Birding Blog, explores what makes these birds so special.

Enjoyed superb views of the Western Sandpipers with binoculars and the scope. The rising tide brought the birds in around me. It was heaven for a couple hours on 24 October. Even winter plumage Red Knot and Short-billed Dowitchers were a novelty.

All of the Western Sandpipers were in winter plumage with plain gray scapulars. This is an excellent field mark for separating Western from Semipalmated Sandpipers during October.  Western Sandpipers moult into winter plumage in late September. By October all should be in clean winter dress.  Meanwhile Semipalmated Sandpipers do not moult all the way into winter plumage until they reach wintering grounds in South America.

Few issues get birders riled up like feral cats, and at 10,000 Birds, Mark Gamin reviews the new Cat Wars, an important new book on the subject.

It’s not just the effect of cats on wildlife that should be alarming, “Cat Wars” says. It’s also their role as “vectors of disease,” especially toxoplasma gondii. That parasite has the bizarre, powerful ability to manipulate the brain, and reshape the behavior, of its secondary hosts. Infected rats, for example, no longer shun cat urine but find it an aphrodiasic. There is evidence that toxoplasma leads, in humans, to an elevated risk of mental illness and depression.

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